March 2019

When I was 15 my parents moved across the north end of Toronto from the safe little enclave that was Parkway West to the wilds of Weston just east of the airport. I lost all my childhood friends in that one move, as I was too young to drive. Fortunately for me I quickly fell into a clutch of new friends all centered around music and literature. The lit crowd – Gail Burgess, Mike Fuhrman, and Pat Johnstone – helped me to develop a far deeper understanding of what would eventually become my career. Instead of passing notes, Gail, Pat and I would pass around the latest drafts of the poems we were writing and talk about Dostoevsky. Mike would later become a writer for Canadian Press.

The music crowd kept me sane through those turbulent teen years and gave me a sense of identity as I learned to play guitar, write music, and sing for our band, the Echoes of Tyme. Bob Macko, our drummer, would pile our pitifully small clutch of guitars, drums and amplifiers into his tiny little Mini, and off we’d go with Bob Trimble our lead guitarist, Mike Fuhrman on keyboards, Mike Dick on rhythm and John Holt playing bass and harmonizing on the vocals. We did rhythm and blues and loved Bob Dylan and the early Stones songs like King Bee, and You’d Better Move On. We played mostly in Legion Halls where nobody much cared if we drank or smoked pot.

None of us were any good but we did have a lot of fun and a fairly steady group of girlfriends that followed us around. Yorkville was alive with music in those days from The Mandela and Ronnie Hawkins, Gordie Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell and we hung around there picking up riffs and just soaking in the joy of that vibrant music scene. I hated being shipped off to Ottawa in Grade 13 and spent most of my weekends hitching back to Toronto to hang out with my friends. I totally bombed that year as a consequence and it was four years before I got back to university. During those years I gradually lost track of all those friends except John, who shared a flat with me on upper Christie for a while.

John was working at Manulife at the time, where he met and later married Bonnie Oxtoby. He was never much interested in coming with me on my many travels during those years, but he was always good enough to find room for me whenever I got back to Toronto and his friendship grew increasingly important to me. Once I got to Guelph I encouraged him to return to university himself and get a teaching degree; he encouraged me to consider teaching Industrial Arts instead of English as it would be a lot more fun. He was right, it was!

After I landed a job teaching shop at Scott St. Public School in St. Thomas, I recommended him to a friend who hired him for the shop position at Central in St. Thomas, a position he held until he retired. He was the best man at my wedding, and the only friend I insisted on inviting to my daughter’s wedding. I have known him now for 55 years, longer than anyone living except my brother and sister.

A few days ago my friend John Holt turned 70 and celebrated the event with his wife, Bonnie, their two sons and their wives, Bill and Golli (in the foreground) Mike and Kate, My 70th is not far behind. For all that our paths in life have gone in different directions; John has remained one of the cornerstones in my life. He connects me to my past, and reminds me of the value of excellence and the richness of the age in which were fortunate to have lived. He is a kind and good-hearted man, an expert craftsman and an accomplished cook. He is also a faithful father, husband, and friend. If you are reading this John, I wish you all the best on this milestone. Thank you for your friendship. I treasure the privilege of having known you so long.

Cayman Brac is one of the three islands that make up Cayman Islands. Despite being a mere 30 minutes away, we had never been there until this week. It was the cheapest getaway option that we could find for the three day March Break that we get at CIS, and Pam found us a very reasonably priced cottage right on the water with enough space for us and Tom and Jana Hartley who shared the expense and the cooking.

We were met at the airport by Hecton, who waited while we picked up a rental vehicle and escorted us the three miles down the road to the rental and walked us through the appliances, fans, and TVs. Tom was still in Dallas seeing his ailing Dad, so we got the place to ourselves for one day, which allowed us to snag the master bedroom with the ensuite bathroom and the patio door opening on the ocean.

Once we had unpacked, we went for a little reconnoiter of the area, picking up a few groceries and some charcoal at a very well equipped local market and checking out the local public beach for further exploration. We then took an extensive tour of the 12 mile long island, stopping frequently for pictures. We had a late lunch/early supper at the Star Island Café and retired to our idyllic little deck overlooking the ocean in time for drinks at sunset and lingered until Orion came clearly into view.

I would like to say we were up early enough to catch the sunrise, but we both slept in until 7 and with no real idea of what to do for breakfast, decided to go out and explore the local options. We ended up at Pat’s Kitchen, decorated in bright Jamaican yellow, where Patrick offered us his Jamaican specialty of Akee and fried codfish. We opted for the scrambled eggs and Irish (fried) potatoes instead before we headed back to the airport to pick up Tom and Jana. We met a German couple waiting for their flight out who had come all the way to the Cayman Brac for the diving, it is that world renowned.

After Tom and Jana got unpacked and settled in we decided it would be a good afternoon to explore the east end of the island and the brac (Gaelic for bluff) for which it is named. Along the way we discovered what looked to be the retirement home of some artistic former hippie from the sixties with his homage to the work of Led Zeppelin and the lingering effects of LSD.

After a short stop for pictures we continued on our way to the brac and were not disappointed as the cliff overlooking the ocean on that end of the island rose 150 feet above a brilliant sapphire blue sea. We looked in vain for the brown boobies that were said to use the cliff for nesting, but the view was most spectacular. Less impressive was Peter’s Cave on the north shore, used by locals for a hurricane shelter and decidedly mundane after the caves of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur.

Another short drive took us back to the cottage in time for an early supper. We had brought some decent steaks with us in a cooler from home and barbequed them outside and ate them along with an excellent avocado salad and some baked potatoes while we listen to the surf pound the shore outside the window. A short drive along the beach road brought us to the western end of the island from which we could see Little Cayman, just five miles away and afforded us a lingering sunset over the Caribbean.

Once again we lingered too long in a far too comfortable bed and missed the sunrise, but during morning coffees we were treated to a view of a dozen brown boobys and a few frigate birds out skimming the waves for their breakfast. We had an excellent breakfast ourselves of leftover steak and potatoes and scrambled eggs. We followed that up with a splash in the surf at a local beach and after a quick clean up headed back out to explore the south shore of the island. We drove as far as the road allowed and then hiked along the shale beach to where the brac falls into the sea. There were climbers on the cliff above us and massive breakers in the sea beside us. Pam got a little too close to a blow hole, and ended up drenched to the skin as a huge wave exploded through the hole.

We had already determined to try the local jerk chicken and Barry, who has a little stand by the airport, was happy to oblige. The portions were enormous and very tasty and the chicken and some rice and beans got us comfortably into the evening. Tom and Jana were game to learn how to play Rook, and we had a most pleasant evening together laughing our way through that. Some late evening stargazing over drinks was a perfect way to end that day.

On our last morning I was up shortly after 5 with my binoculars and StarChart App looking at the stars of Scorpio and the three planets visible in the morning sky: Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. Saturn’s rings were clearly visible, as were two of Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede, the largest, and Callisto, the second largest. I have seen the two inner so-called Galilean moons Io and Europa in a very clear sky, but they were not visible on this occasion. Pam and I had a very pleasant morning nursing our coffees and getting caught up on some reading.

After another leisurely breakfast we packed up and tidied up the rental place, leaving in time for Tom and I to play three games of pool back at Pat’s kitchen while the ladies chatted. I had already filled the car with gas, so there was nothing to sort out with CB’s rentals and while the plane coming from Miami was late, the waiting room was comfortable and the flight was short. It was a joy not to have to go through customs or immigration as we had not technically left the country, and we had left our own car in long term parking, so we were out of the airport in George Town and back in our own little condo in no time flat.

It was a wonderful little holiday: the maximum of rest with the minimum of fuss. As Tom and Jana split the cost of the rental, we ended up paying $60 Cayman a night for a fabulous spot right on the ocean with all the amenities. Airfare and hassle to one of the “sister islands” is cheap and easy. I just don’t understand why we haven’t done this more often!

My father taught me how to play chess when I was eight years old. He taught me how to play cribbage as well, but that is another story. Those hours spent with the two of us in a friendly competition over a game we both enjoyed are treasured memories of a loving father who always had time to spend with me. I loved chess as a kid and by the time I was 11 was able to beat my Dad pretty regularly. But in the days before the internet, finding other people to play was a problem.

Shortly after I started teaching I began a chess club at my school which grew into a county-wide tournament by the time we were amalgamated into the larger Thames Valley District. We then became part of the London Regional Chess Tournament, which at its peak attracted over 1,000 students to a venue at the Western Fair for an all-day competition. By then I was teaching at Locke’s Public School and some of my students – Cassidy Proctor, Andy and Peter Buczkowski, for example – were stiff competition at the Regional Tournament.

I started another chess club in Malaysia when I taught there, but as the students were only at the school for a year, it was hard to get any consistency and tournaments in that country were non-existent. For all their problems, tournaments provide motivation and develop student involvement. It is hard to keep a chess club going without them.

Coming to Cayman I was determined to do better, but I ran into the usual wall of “if it don’t bounce, it don’t count” mentality that often drives programs at elementary and secondary schools. It is hard to get attention for non-sport activities such as drama, art and debate at this level. I asked admin for money to buy chess boards, but was told it had been tried before and the answer was no. I bought them anyway – 12 tournament quality boards shipped in at my own expense – and started with the help of Gini Gaylon who saw chess as a way to motivate some of her special needs children.

This year I was able to bring on board another two colleagues, Shaun Schaller and Krista Finch, who each started their own chess groups at the school. With the help of the Cayman Islands Chess Club and some other local teachers, I started planning for the first Interschool Chess Tournament. I was greatly encouraged and helped by Glenda McTaggart of Dart/Minds Inspired, who sponsored the medals and awards. Last week 120 students from eight island schools came to CIS to play in age categories from 7 to 17 in three divisions, resulting in three gold medal winners awarded by a representative from the Ministry of Education.

There was a wonderful air of excitement and joy as the tournament began which gave way to an intense concentration as students worked their way through the qualifying round to the medal round. Although there were a few glitches, for the most part the tournament ran very well, far better than many expected. I got a lot of positive feedback from parents and colleagues.

The tournament would not have been possible without the cheerful and supremely competent group of seniors this year at CIS who helped with registration and scoring. There may only have been 16 of them handling 120 kids, but they were well up to the task and problem solved their way through to the end.

Chess is a wonderful social leveler that cheerfully ignores language, size, physical strength, gender, ethnicity, and economic status. It requires no team spirit or school support. The high school champion, Edmund P. was the only representative of his school to attend, but that didn’t slow him down. Ryan H. of our school, who won the middle school gold, was virtually unknown at the school and now he is seen as a winner.

Hopefully this tournament will now become an annual event that will help to provide some balance to the sports-related activities that excludes so many students. If chess can help to give these often marginalized kids some badly needed recognition, it is well worth all the effort.