Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Contemplative Puff of Smoke

Odd Musings on the Brave New World

Years ago, in the 1950s, when my work meant sailing away to Arctic regions for regular six-month spells, from May to November, to explore and chart remote and unknown seas and coastlines, there were two particularly pleasurable routines I religiously went through before boarding the train for the East Coast.
Firstly, I would visit several of the then many well-stocked tobacconist shops in Ottawa and buy enough wonderful Bulwark pipe tobacco, imported from England, to last me comfortably for the entire six months I would be far distant from any source of resupply.
Secondly, I would take myself to the Sparks Street branch of the very reputable Birks store, a pleasing emporium of luxury jewellery, china, haberdashery and top quality requisites for the carriage trade.
There, in a surround of excellence, I would seek out the one cut-price exception for merchandise amid all else offered. For, in a modest corner of the store, on the gentlemen’s vendibles counter, there stood a large glass bowl which contained two or three hundred pipes all heaped up together in wonderful disarray. These fine pipes were perfect in every respect, but deemed otherwise by purists, who considered them flawed owing to containing very minor marks, scratches, tiny pitting or other so-called deficiencies, many so minute as to be indiscernible even to a keen and practised eye.
Delving down into the magic bowl I would select a dozen or more of those excellent pipes, enough to well see me through my six months of living aboard a small, strengthened-for-ice, chartered sealing vessel. Days, weeks and months interspersed with the climbing of mountains, the tracking of meandering coastlines, all to be followed by weeks and months of fourteen-hour-long days, every day except Sundays, aboard rolling, pitching, 30-foot-long sounding launches while running long lines of echo-soundings to complete our hydrographic surveys.
Usually I needed a dozen pipes to see me through a northern season, because invariably, there was the odd pipe lost overboard, two or three others broken in a parka pocket when stretching to lean over the ship’s railing to hand down heavy equipment, and the odd one left forgotten on a rocky mountain top with little time or inclination to repeat a laborious climb for its retrieval.
Today of course, sixty years later, such past comforts for living are disapproved of and protested into near oblivion by the inanely bigoted, insipid, or politically-correct, whose concept of the good life is the scrutiny of their navels and the adoration of screaming obscene performers with their inevitable ear-splitting electronic guitars.
Cor! I feel so much better after letting that last paragraph out.
Ok! Ok! I’m just kidding. And remembering the freedom of olden days.
I think I’ll just wander outside to my little winter hideaway shelter on our back sun deck (I haven’t smoked inside the house for decades) and have my routine noonday glass or two of IPA, from the Wells Brewery in Bedford, plus a puff of Bulwark pipe tobacco, from The Black Swan Shoppe in Scarborough — both of England, and here, in my little Ottawa hideaway, I will continue my contemplative puzzling over the mysteries of life.

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