That’s right. I just had to step out of my incognito state. I’ve been away, not dead! Give me a break RCMP! Mr. Robert Dziekanski is dead, however, thanks to a bunch (one in particular) of Tazer-trigger happy goofs (oops, I mean officers) who zapped the life out of this poor Polish guy who simply had the bad luck to choose the Vancouver airport to land in on his first visit to Canadian soil. I guess he never got to the ‘soil’ part of Canada. He was too busy wandering aimlessly for a zillion hours, lost, tired, jet-lagged, jonsing for a smoke, in a bloody nightmare welcome to the land-‘O-moose- on-a- postcard, imitation- maple- syrup- products-come-Duty Free shops and baggage carousels, trying to get ANYBODY to speak to him in his own language in an INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT! His big mistake was picking up that most dangerous of weapons, the dreaded ‘stapler’. Yeah right, coppers, take down this exhausted guy who’s been on a plane for 15 hours and in an airport twilight zone for 18 hours with FIVE TAZER BLASTS! Then, goof around some more (make sure he’s REALLY dead, eh?) while you all try to decide what to say to the boss (that would be the RCMP big cheeses?… then a public Inquiry)…oh, I guess the whole damn country wants to know now, huh? Who would have thought that it would get all blown out of proportion like this?! I bet that’s gonna put a crimp in your Easter holidays. Ah, shucks fellows. You forgot to watch out for the babe walking by with her dreaded cell phone/video camera! May you (especially you, Millington) all get nailed to some big internal cross of conscience come this Easter time as you celebrate the christian tradition. Frankly, I’m not into that ‘jesus rises’ stuff, being a broad-minded, liberal thinking UU and all…but I still like the chocolate. Sigh. I guess I’m back from Hiatus
Dear Louis, happy birthday buddy. At your age (200), you probably take birthdays in stride. I am writing to pass along greetings and best wishes from a few kids here in Halifax. I gotta tell you, I was a little disappointed in the overall lack of interest at the Braille 200 Day booth at the mall today. I was feeling a tad depressed about the whole thing for a while there, having schlepped so much stuff over to the community booth, including my Perkins Brailler, a Braille alphabet chart the size of Manitoba, some items for the raffle, a ton of pamphlets and information sheets telling people all about you and the system you developed for blind people. I had made (lovingly and painstakingly), commemorative bookmarks. Preparation for your celebration have taken their toll on my wallet (Braille card stock, printer ink etc) and my time. I had day-glow yellow posters made up to advertise my offer to Braille anyone’s name for FREE!!! I had a neat display of Braille children’s books, metal tags (you know the kind I sew into my clothes to identify their colour- PK=pink, GN=Green, RD= red etc), phone and bank statements, playing cards etc. I got so bored sitting alone at my booth, that I started to write nonsense on my Braille machine, just to pass the time…”If one more person comes to ask me for directions to Athlete’s World or the washroom, I will ask Opal to attack…” I couldn’t believe that thousands of people could be so hell-bent on shopping and totally uninterested in you and your special day. Finally, some kids came to ask me for their name in Braille. I cheered up instantly. I sent them off with sticky labels and cue cards with the appropriate names on each. I told them about your birthday and they asked me to wish you all the best. Only ten people picked up my bookmarks and I have plenty left…looks like I may need to do another mall shift in the next week or so (groan). Maybe they’ll have shut down the Christmas music by then…Hey! Maybe I’ll bring some to church tomorrow and see if any UU’s want to feel you up! Take care, my friend. I hope you make it to 300 and beyond.
What if, when we awake tomorrow, to a new day and a New Year (and a boatload of snow in Nova Scotia), we also awake to…the complete absence of news items relaying the tragic traffic accidents and deaths which occurred after too many people got ‘happy’ with liquor in celebration tonight. What if we never hear another announcement of soldiers dying in Afghanistan and elsewhere? What if the federal and provincial governments suddenly decided to support their poor, elderly, ill and disabled citizens with programs, services and benefits that would allow these people to lead dignified lives? What if a collective consciousness suddenly finds world leaders talking about “the Interconnected Web of All Existence” (knowingly and lovingly) and galvanizes them into immediate action to resolve issues that threaten our planet, like global warming? What if individuals across the globe are hit by uncontrollable urges to be honest, kind, generous, patient, and loving to one another? Imagine that! …but, John Lennon already did, “and I’m not the only one”, he claimed. So, what if we just give peace a chance?…oh wait, John Lennon already sang to us about that too. (By the way, the ‘B’ side song on the single, “Imagine” was “It’s so Hard” in the USA and “Working Class Hero” in the UK). Happy New Year everyone.
I was about to blog a rant, entitled, “Canadian Tire is Uninspired”… (a rhyming title and a rant to boot). Actually, it was going to be a rant ABOUT boots, or the lack of the allegedly “on sale” boots that appeared in the Canadian Tire flyer this week. With aching feet, bad boots in my closet, and a Canadian Tire gift certificate to put towards anything my heart desires, I thought my problem was near resolution. Yes, I would head into the Christmas shopping fray at CT and buy those puppies for my sore dogs. My sweetie, ever the pragmatist (and maybe not so willing to go into the fray with me), suggested that I check their web site or call ahead to check on availability of my size. ‘Good idea’, I concurred. I entered the item code number into the Canadian Tire web site and yielded nothing except messages to ‘contact store for more information’. Then I dialed and dialed my phone some more, waiting on hold forever and finally talking to frantic staff people immersed in bedlam over in the Canadian Tire stores throughout Halifax. I thought one guy at the Spryfield Canadian Tire was having a breakdown. Lucky for me I have ‘Crisis phone line’ training and could talk him down from his counter top. Two hours later, I was back on the phone with the sweetie to announce “Canadian Tire is lying to me. There is not one store location in town with ANY of those boots in any size. They never had them to begin with. Those shysters just want us to get us into the store to impulse shop…’cause they know we would. What happened to the Canadian institution of my childhood? The one with the catalogues (just the right size) I would strap to my knees in lieu of real hockey pads ’cause we couldn’t afford the ones they sold in their store? (catalogue about to axed from publication) The ones who gave you Canadian Tire ‘money’ with every cash purchase? (about to be relegated to memorabilia collections too).” Sigh. The boot search continues.
I never got to that sole rant of a blog. Why? This morning I got the Warm ‘n Fuzzy Christmas feeling, not from any success in my search for affordable boots, but from two news items I heard on CBC radio. Very simple. First, a rescue dog called Ace, found a Hamilton woman, lost for THREE days, buried in in a pile of snow, ALIVE. She should have been dead. CBC found the story and put the ‘miracle’ tag on, just in the Saint Nick of time. Good job, Ace!
This was followed by a moving tribute (given by Jane Kansas) about a local homeless man, ‘Terry’ who died over the weekend at age 65. He was a colourful Halifax fixture, know as an eccentric, often irritatingly in-your-face kinda guy who could cry crocodile tears on cue if you were ‘nice’ to him, or dismiss you if you had no money or smokes to offer. The man was an alcoholic and suffered from schizophrenia. He wore dapper suits and sports jackets to panhandle, albeit dirty ones. His death is not the happy note here. The fact that his tribute made it to mainstream media IS. This guy’s passing could easily have gone unnoticed. If we can’t take care of our unfortunate citizens, we can at least mark their passing.
Yesterday, a memorial service was held at St. Georges Round Church to honour the lives of people who have lived and died homeless and in poverty. Perhaps more people could make it a point to attend this yearly service in future.
Sometimes, it pays to persevere. For years, I and other individuals have requested, pleaded with, and even demanded that the Halifax Shopping Center branch of RBC (formerly known as Royal Bank of Canada) install an audible banking machine. This branch has gone through several managers over the years, and all were less than responsive to the suggestion that accessibility in banking would be “a good thing” (to borrow a line from Martha Stewart). The branch went through a major retrofit last year, (INCLUDING INSTALLATION OF A NEW BANKING MACHINE), and despite reminders to the deadheads in charge of the dough (AKA the last manager) to order and include an audible machine, the branch ended up putting in a new, regular INACCESSIBLE machine. People who can’t see the keypad and display, cannot use it for quick, everyday banking, like other bank patrons. Instead, our options included going to the stand-up tellers while trying to juggle papers, guide dogs and privacy, or the grim death march-like wait with the ‘seniors’ at the sit-down service. The latter is the default choice of most blind people who bank alone. Many a time, I have sat…and sat, and waited for my turn to come. It irritated me beyond belief to wait endlessly for the privilege of depositing money into the coffers of an already obscenely profitable bank. Tic-toc! My time is valuable too! And to boot, any blind person in need of cash or depositing funds to cover bills etc after banking hours? was screwed! So one day, as I sat vacantly at the ‘sit down’ service, eavesdropping on some old geek’s long winded financial and personal history (in excruciating minutia) , the new branch manager came over to introduce herself. A big sigh went off in my head, but a cordial greeting coming out my mouth…and within two minutes, I redirected the conversation. I asked her if we might open the dialogue about accessibility problems with this RBC branch one more time. Result? Darlene, the new manager, just telephoned to announce (a mere three weeks or so after I sent her a detailed e-mail about accessibility, Accommodation, rights and obligations blah, blah, blah), that the RBC Halifax Shopping Center branch will, by April, install AT LEAST THREE AUDIBLE BANKING MACHINES AT THE BRANCH ITSELF AND WITHIN THE MALL!
Now, I can look forward to cruising over to the mall at any time, and being able to go the bank machine (the audible ones) , slip on my headphones, plug in, and listen to ‘bank guy’s’ voice croon his instructions to me, thereby allowing me to conduct transactions quickly….such as depositing my money…. into the coffers of an obscenely profitable bank. Nice going, though, RBC.
It doesn’t take much to excite me. My compadre , Troy (a blind guy) made the mother of all discoveries this week, after much finagling and phoning to the Yellow Pages folks in search of a free, searchable, information phone service for the Yellow Pages. He found a wonderful, little known tool and shared it with me. Now, we are sharing it with EVERYONE. This is free!!! What makes it particularly exciting, is that, now I can ‘browse’ the Yellow Pages, just like the sighted folk. It’s accessed through a toll free number here in Nova Scotia. You call the number, (you can opt for a short tutorial), and say, for example, “Halifax, Nova Scotia”. Then say, “pizza”, if you are hankering for a pie. The ‘automated attendant’ or voice menu will ask you if you want, “Pizza Restaurant, delivery, or any pizzeria”. I chose “delivery”. Then, the clever interactive voice offered me 10 choices. I didn’t really want a pizza, but hey, if I had… Then, I tried “photographers”, “shoes”, “plumbers”, “banks” and more. When searching for shoe store options, I was asked if I wanted to “search by neighbourhood, near a landmark, near an intersection or city wide “….and so on. I listened to a list, and could choose to “connect, get the address, or get the number”.
This is a minor miracle for me and other blind people who spend many an hour fritzzing around with the regular 411 service in search of numbers for stores or businesses. The only business or store umbers we can get from 411, are ones WHICH WE KNOW THE NAME AND LOCATION OF!!! So, for Nova Scotians, the toll free number is: 1-877-310-9356. Blind people! Program it onto your speed dial!! Let your fingers do the walking. For most of the rest of Canada, the number is even simpler: 310-0411. This works for land lines or mobile phones. The web site, is there too, of course for the computer geeks (www.yellowpages.ca). My only caution is, to speak clearly, ’cause sometimes the ‘automated attendant’ says, “I don’t understand you”…story of my life.
Yesterday, I received a blog comment from a fellow named, George. It came for moderation and was directed off the ‘about Helen McFadyen’ page. George asked why I had not mentioned the significance of the day, particularly in light of the many victims who were killed, disabled, blinded…and my oft-spun blogs on the subject of blindness , “but being a PFA (Person From Away) it might not be familiar” to me….To tell you the truth, I did not ‘twig’ right away. I thought he was referring to the tragic news item from Afghanistan, (100th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan) and that he was in some sort of reminiscing mode about Veterans. I’ve been woefully overworked, and writing ‘real’ articles and documents like a woman possessed (actually I’m a woman possessed by deadlines). so much so, that I had a restless night (that and my killer joint pain from this lovely, damp weather). But then, it struck me. I was mentally calculating dates (Christmas and all the billions of pot lucks and other events that require attendance) when I decided to get up and check my Braille calendar. Thank you for the wake-up call, George. Of course, I am very familiar with this significant piece of Canadian/Nova Scotian/Haligonian history. I obviously missed the radio news reporting on local ceremonies.
Yesterday’s date was December 6th. 91 years ago (1917) on this date, at approximately 9 am, the city of Halifax experienced the biggest man made explosion the world had ever seen. It came to be known as the Halifax Explosion. Before the sun went down that day, more than 1000 people would die, 1000 more would die later, and 9000 would be severely injured or maimed. Any person (including PFA’s) who lives in Halifax for a little while, will learn about this event. It is marked by solemn ceremony every year, and the local media always attempts to cover it in a big way. What happened? Canada was preparing for war (the Big One). The Halifax Harbour was busy. A Belgian relief ship (Imo) was preparing to clear the Bedford Basin, bound for Europe and the war. As it was going through the Narrows, the French munitions ship, Mont Blanc and the tug boat, Stella Maris which was towing two barges, all converged. A flurry of whistles followed, as the ships tried to figure which was passing to which side. The result, was a collision between the Mont Blanc and the Imo. The Mont Blanc was loaded with TNT, benzol fuel and picric acid. The immediate result of the collision was smoke and fire. The Mont Blanc drifted towards the shoreline as it burned and smoked. This scene drew curious people to their home and workplace windows to watch. The CBC sums up best what followed; …”The steel hull burst sky high, falling in a blizzard of red-hot twisted projectiles on Dartmouth and Halifax.” The aftermath also included a tsunami-like wash of water (as high as 18 meters) over the survivors.
Result of Halifax Explosion:
In the Richmond area, the destruction was so total that people could not recognize where their homes had been.
In the North end, entire streets were in flames as wood stoves, lamps and furnaces tipped over.
Firefighters came within hours from Moncton, Springhill, Amherst and Kentville, but their equipment (hoses) would not fit with differently-sized Halifax hydrants.
By noon hour the officials had gathered at city Hall, and The Halifax Relief Committee was put together in 45 minutes to begin to deal with issues of shelter, transportation, finance, food. Later that day, more committees formed; medical relief, mortuary, fuel and Dartmouth Relief committees.
Medical aid began to arrive to support local hospitals. Aid stations sprang up. Massachusetts was a significant contributor of assistance (Halifax continues to send a huge Christmas tree to Boston every year as a symbolic thank you). Emergency triage treatment included amputations, lacerations, eye removal, and life-saving surgeries.
Eye injuries and blindness were experienced by many Halifax Explosion survivors. One reason for this, is the tons of glass shards that exploded out of windows where people watched as the Mont Blanc drifted. Doctor G. H. Cox, an ophthalmologist arrived from New Glasgow to perform 12 hours of non stop eye surgeries. The explosion caused 600 people to suffer eye injuries and 38 were totally and permanently blinded.
Many of the 1500 who died that day, died as buildings collapsed and burned around them.
12,000 buildings were severely damaged. 1630 were completely destroyed. 6000 people were homeless.