Monthly Archives: December 2013

A day that changed my life forever

August 16th, 1969, the day I got married.

How I met my soon to be bride was funny. I was at a house party with my then girlfriend, Bev Jackson when Janice and her friend Lynn came walking down the stairs. At the time I did not know that Lynn had already warned Janice about me, saying I was a “sucker for blondes” and Janice had beautiful long blonde hair.

As soon as I saw Janice I jumped up and went over to her and said, “Hi. I’m Gary. Will you marry me?” She replied by telling me to f*ck off. I told her that we were going to get married and that she might as well accept it now. I don’t think I got much further that night. No surprise there. She no doubt thought I was a lunatic.

What I didn’t know and never really thought or cared about was that she had a pretty steady boyfriend, Doug. It didn’t sound like a great relationship as he was a control freak. She seemed terrified of him which I didn’t like. Somehow Janice and I ended up going out somewhere and when we came home to her parent’s place Doug came screaming up in his hot car. Janice was just getting out of my car and, true to form, he went for her and not me. Just then her mother came out of the house, sensing trouble, and tried to calm things down. That’s when, shocking as it was, Doug split in Janice’s face and stormed off. Both her mother and I could not believe he just did that but it was what it was. Pretty demeaning, not to mention gross.

In all honesty Doug was a pretty big boy and, if he couldn’t have Janice I figured some day he would go after me. I’m a lover, not a fighter, so I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I knew no matter what I would fight for Janice.

We were at a school dance in Bramalea and I was dancing with different girls I knew when all of sudden these arms are flailing away at me trying to punch me. I had no clue who it was but I just tried to keep him bent over towards me so he couldn’t get a good shot in. I assumed it was Doug but something wasn’t right. When they broke us up and I was outside someone finally told me it was Brent, a friend of mine, who, for some unknown reason, thought I was hitting on his girlfriend, which I wasn’t. It was my one and only fist fight and it sure was a weird one.

The fall before I met Janice my parents were planning to sell their place and move to BC, but they couldn’t sell and my Dad decided they would wait until the following spring. At the time I was working at the bank and playing in the band, so I doubt I would have gone with them anyway, but the decision became easy after I met Janice. Doug had eventually given up and Janice and I were together. We had a ball doing all kinds of things together and I was in love with her from the moment I first saw her. She got along great with my parents and my family, which was important to me. One thing led to another and she got pregnant. There was never any question about us getting married so the plan was on to get married as quickly as possible.

We got married in what was Streetsville at the time by the Reverend David Busby, who was more known for buzzing around town on his Harley than his sermons. After the pictures we headed to her parent’s place, planning on having an outdoor reception, but as we got closer the heavens opened up and it poured rain. We were terrified at the thought of all her Scottish relatives and my English ones being trapped together in the house. No doubt chaos would rein supreme and there was a good chance of a fight or two once they started drinking.

Our fears were for nothing. They all got along famously and didn’t seem to care if Janice and I were there or not. My favorite moment was when her cousin Billy fell all the way down the stairs with a case of beer he was carrying and after he landed at the bottom all he asked was if he had broken any beers. He was quite the character.

As we got ready to leave because we were heading off early on our honeymoon to Cape Cod my Dad gave me the room keys for what was the Thunderbird Motel at the time, not the classiest place in town. We had been planning to just stay at my apartment and leave from there, but Dad seemed so tickled that he got us the room for our wedding night so off we went. When we got in the room and sat on the bed we heard a tinkle sound. My crazy father had ripped open the box spring and put a child’s tinkle toy in, no doubt expecting we would discover it as we made love. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and it was the first sign I got that this marriage might not be what I was expecting. Janice slept soundly in the bed while I sat at the foot of the bed on the floor wondering what happened.

The next morning we were in a bit of a rush because we had a long trip ahead of us and we now had to go home first to grab our bags. We checked out and got in the car and then Janice remembered the tinkle toy still in the bed. She worried that if they discovered it they would probably go after Dad for the cost of replacing the box spring. So I had to go back in and ask for the key, pretending that we had forgotten something in the bathroom. After I managed to dislodge the fairly large toy I realized I had nothing to put it in so I got to walk through the lobby carrying the toy, to some very strange looks from the staff who knew it was our wedding night.

Despite the horrible wedding night we did manage to have a good trip to Cape Cod, well, maybe except for one incident. We had checked into a nice motel on the Western Summit in Massachusetts and Janice was feeling the romance of the place I guess. We were both naked and just getting up to put our clothes back on when the door flung open and in walked a member of the staff with an elderly couple, showing them the room they obviously thought was vacant. I was just outside the bathroom so I ducked in and I think Janice jumped back in the bed. The next morning when we went down for breakfast who should be sitting at the next table? Yup. The elderly couple who had barged into our room.

The rest of the trip was good except we overstayed our welcome in Cape Cod because it was so cold and we hoped the next day would be warmer. It wasn’t and I ended up driving straight back fourteen hundred miles in one very long day because I had to be back at work.

Our marriage lasted twenty-three years but there weren’t a lot of happy ones.

My Princess

She came into my world on October 2nd, 1977 and changed my life forever.

Her birth was momentous for several reasons. Back when Chris was born fathers weren’t allowed into the delivery room. I had to stand outside the entire nineteen hours of Janice’s labour listening to her moan and call out for me. With Heather things had changed and I was allowed in, although Dr. Thicke cautioned that he had lost more men in the delivery room and told me if I felt queasy I was on my own.

Dr. Thicke was a riot. He had always been our family doctor. His son, Alan (yes, Robin’s Dad) inherited his Dad’s warped sense of humor. Heather was born with a cleft lip, but Dr. Thicke said not to worry and that a bit of make-up would cover it. He lied, but he didn’t want to ruin our special moment. He then asked me if I wanted him to add a few extra stitches to Janice. Then, as he stitched her up he was singing Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder because we were keeping him from flying his plane up north. The biggest mistake I made, one I would pay dearly for in the next few months, was that I cradled Heather and walked up and down the hallway trying to get her to stop crying.

The next rather emotional moment was when Janice’s Dad first saw Heather. His reaction at her cleft lip was really scary. Of course he had been brought up in a time when a cleft lip was for life and he worried that this would be an emotional scar for Heather forever. We assured him that Dr. Thicke had not been worried about it at all and said it could easily be fixed so you would never notice it. He had lied.

On a first check-up Dr. Thicke told us the truth and asked if we wanted her to have the surgery right away. He said he had consulted with one of the top surgeons in Canada who was prepared to operate right away. I couldn’t stand the thought of exposing this tiny little baby to surgery, so I asked him if it was really necessary to do it right away. He said it was much better to wait until she was older, but that most parents want it done right away to show off their new baby. To me that was the last reason to do it and we wanted to do what was right for Heather.

When she was just a few months old she got the dreaded colic. She just cried and cried, twenty-four hours a day for three months. Although Janice stayed home with her and I worked, the only thing that would soothe Heather was for me to walk up and down the hallway, cradling her in my arms, just like I had after she was born. Those were three very long and trying months until she finally got over it and started sleeping again.

The day finally came when we had to go down to Sick Kids to have the surgery. Heather was always such a happy baby and I still remember her big smile as they took her away in the elevator. It was a gut-wrenching moment, but when you are at Sick Kids and see all the tragic children in the cancer ward and the burn ward you realize just how lucky you are. I still remember little Jason who had been burned over ninety percent of his body in a gas explosion. He didn’t even look human but he was the happiest, bubbly little boy despite his injuries.

After Heather’s surgery the next momentous thing was the panic phone call I got from Janice’s Dad telling me that Heather had fallen and I had to come right away. I rushed to their place, opened the door and there was Heather in Dad’s arms. She saw me and broke out into her usual smile, except this time her face virtually parted as she had broken all the stitches. Dad felt so bad and thought he had done a terrible thing but I told him not to worry. Off we went to Sick Kids again and they stitched her up all over again.

Unlike our very strong-willed and always getting into trouble son, Heather was a dream child. Chris was very involved in hockey and we seemed to spend every waking moment in an arena somewhere. It was a much different time back then and Heather used to wander all over the arena, meeting people because she sure wasn’t shy, proudly showing off her Cabbage Patch dolls to anyone who would listen. We never worried about her because she had every parent on our team looking after her.

My marriage had ended long ago, so as Heather grew older we started doing more things together. We always invited Janice along but she never came with us. Heather and I would go biking on the great trails around Brampton as often as we could. We had a great day at Professor’s Lake sailing and we spent a wonderful New Year’s Eve skating at Gage Park with a gazillion families, drinking hot apple cider out of a big kettle over an open fire and skating. It was like a picture postcard except Mom wasn’t there.

Her first life lesson was when she asked if she could spend New Year’s Eve at her friend Melanie’s house. I was never too fond of Melanie because she seemed a little wild but I knew Heather had never given me cause not to trust her judgment so I let her go. Later that night we get the call to take Heather to the hospital because she’s been drinking and she’s really sick. When we get her to the hospital the doctor warns she was close to alcohol poisoning and it could have been fatal if we hadn’t got her to the hospital in time. I still remember driving home in silence and she finally asked if I wasn’t going to say something. I asked her if I needed to and she said no. I knew she had learned a valuable lesson at a young age and she was unlikely to ever drink that much again.

In all the years as a child she never needed any discipline. She was a really good kid with a good head on her shoulders and she didn’t need it. The only time I struck her was a slap on her face when she said her mother was a bitch. She knew that regardless if it was true she had to always show respect for her mother. Lesson learned.

There were so many, many good times with Heather. One of my favorites was when I surprised her with tickets to see the Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. Even back then they were ninety-seven dollars so it was going to be a very special night. It was the experience of a lifetime and we loved every minute. When it was over I bought her the CD and it was always a hoot to hear her blasting it with a bunch of girlfriends in her room.

After I had driven out west to see my parents Heather and Chris came out for a three-week vacation. We had such a ball doing everything. Heather was just as fanatical about dirt-biking as Chris was and my Dad rigged up pegs on the back wheel for her so she could sit behind me. On the way home one time I took a wrong turn and we ended up going down the incredibly steep power line instead of the road. I would ask her to get off at the top of very steep inclines and I would slide the bike down and then she would get back on. I was so careful not to panic her by saying we might not make it, but she never doubted it for a minute. I wish she could have had her own bike because I know she would have loved it.

As happy as their vacation was, it ended on a really sad note. Both kids told me that they had never seen me happier and that I should stay out west. They said it was obvious that my marriage was over and that I had tried my best to make it work. I just couldn’t believe that my beautiful daughter wanted me to be thousands of miles away from her. After I dropped them at the airport I found a secluded spot and cried for hours. It was one of the lowest points of my life. Despite her advice I just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her, so I returned to Ontario and wasted a few more years. She has been right all along.

There were too many sad moments. My ex insisted on starting screaming matches and every time I would calmly ask her to save it for later or for when Heather wasn’t home. After the scream-fest I would go up to check on Heather and find her sobbing. It always broke my heart.

After I finally gave up and realized my marriage had been over for years I made the decision to go out west to spend what time my mother had left. She had been diagnosed with fifth-stage melanoma and wasn’t expected to live six months at best. The day I left Heather, although I was certainly sad and cried my eyes out at leaving her, I really thought she would come out for vacations and I would see her. I had no clue that it would be the last time I ever saw her and I haven’t seen her for more than twenty years now. I think about her every day and miss her so much. She was, and always will be, my Princess.

How it all started

Way, way back in the last century, at the tender age of fifteen, I was sitting in the cafeteria at high school and, for some unknown reason, I started drumming on the table with two plastic knives. A guy came up to me, Chris Hayes, and asked if I was interested in joining a band with his friends, Don Thurston and David Kirk. Sounded like fun so I said “sure”.

Me 1965The next thing I knew I was the drummer for the group, The Tempests. It’s too long ago for me to remember how we came up with that name but it worked for us. We started playing at various functions at our high school and I learned the first lesson of becoming a musician – girls love guys in a band! I went from relative obscurity to being a virtual chick magnet, which would last for my entire career.

The defining moment in whether this was just a hobby or more serious came when we went to what were called the Pepsi dances at the CNE, where I got my first taste of Jon and Lee and The Checkmates. They were simply awesome and I couldn’t keep my eyes off Jeff Cutler, their amazing drummer. These guys were the very definition of soul in the sixties in Toronto. Not sure where Lee is these days, but Jon Finley is still playing and still sounding great. Michael Fontana, the keyboard player, went on to play with many huge groups, like Rhinoceros, Blackstone, The Electric Flag, Downchild Blues Band and many more. Jeff would go on to join the Crazy World of Arthur Brown band.

At one point Vic Dimitroff, a keyboard player, joined the band and we started practicing downstairs at his parent’s place. His mother was always doting over us, bringing us food and checking if we needed anything. She was very proud that Vic was in the band. One day we see her coming down the stairs followed by someone. To our considerable shock it’s Michael Fonfara! Mrs. D taught him piano and he had dropped by for a visit. To our delight he sat down at the keyboard and blew us away.

Don’t remember why we broke up that particular band. The next version was Zac Marshall on keyboard, Alan McQuillan on rhythm guitar, Nolan Yearwood on lead guitar and me on drums. We started out as the Bow Street Runners and ended up as the goofy HappyFace Band. This group lasted almost ten years and we played some amazing gigs. We only played on the week-ends, usually for very good money for sports teams and corporations like Pepsi. We must have been okay because we were always booked for the following year wherever we played. Some of those corporate gigs were really great because they fed us great food and usually gave us some drink tickets as well.

Just a few of the more memorable gigs over the years –

We were booked into the little hick town of Meaford and while we were setting up a couple of the good ole local boys showed up to check us out. One of them asked me if we were any good. I said I thought we were cause most people liked our music and we tried to play a good mix for all ages. He replied that he hoped we were because the band last week-end had sucked and they threw them and all their equipment into the lake. I hoped they liked us, and, thankfully, they did. We had a lot of very expensive equipment.

Our agent booked us to play the North American Hockey League in downtown Toronto. Sounded like a good gig because we always had a good time playing for sports teams. What we didn’t know was that this was the North American Indian Hockey League. Our very white, attractive wives and girlfriends were with us and they were soon getting hit on by very drunk Indians, so we sent them home. Our contract always called for us to quit at 1:00 o’clock, so Nolan thanked everybody for coming and said our good-nights. The next thing we know a very mean looking Indian comes up and tells us to keep playing. There didn’t appear to be any arguing with him, so we kept playing right up until about 2:00 o’clock when things started getting really rowdy. There were fights breaking out everywhere and ashtrays flying. In all our years of playing I don’t think we ever broke down our equipment faster.

In those days we used a big bread truck to move our equipment. As we turned the corner at the rear of the building we came across hundreds of natives all swarming and fighting with each other. We could see they were rocking a police car attempting to turn it over. It was a virtual riot and we were terrified. Just then the same big native who had told us to keep playing hollered out at the crowd and they parted like the Red Sea to let us drive out. We were never more thankful that they liked the band.

Our agent called us at the last minute to play a gig at David and Mary Thomson Collegiate on the Saturday night. Only when we got there did we discover it was their senior prom and they had been expecting the Downchild Blues Band, who had cancelled at the last minute. We were a lot of things but the Downchild Blues Band we weren’t. Our first set was met with all of them sitting at the tables in their tuxes and gowns and no one got up to dance.

As we huddled at our table wondering what to do, Alan said “leave it to me” and he got up on stage by himself. He said, very nicely, that he was sorry we weren’t the band they expected but that we were going to play and enjoy ourselves like we always did no matter what. He told them that they had obviously spent a lot of money to be here at their prom and that they had a choice. They could sit there and sulk or they could make the best of it and get up and dance. He then proceeded to sing his favorite song, The Western Tech Whore, colorful language and all. He soon had them all laughing and clapping as he sang and the rest of us slowly made our way onto the stage. As soon as he finished Zak started tinkling the keyboard and saying he hoped they would all get up and dance. I think we played something a little newer, don’t remember what, but no one got up to dance and we figured this was going to be a very long night. About half way through the song a brave couple got up to dance and they were soon joined by almost everyone in the room. It turned out to be one of the best gigs we ever played and all the kids came up and told us how much fun they had.

That gig was a good lesson for a later one. At the time we were The Clyde Valley Show Band and we could easily be mistaken for what that name sounds like, all om-pa-pa and all. We were booked into the German Club who expected us to show up in leather shorts and all. Again, Alan got up, gave his little speech and played his song and, before we knew it, they were all up dancing away. I think right after that gig is when we changed our name.

Our very best gig was being the house band at the old Club Bluenote at Yonge and Gerrard. The club was the place for top name entertainers who were playing in Toronto to come over after their shows and do a couple of songs. We backed people like The Ink Spots, The Platters and many more. It was quite the learning experience because these groups obviously expected us to just know their music. Even though at the same time I was working full-time at the bank, so there wasn’t a lot of sleep every week-end, it was a great time in my life.

For a few months we were also one of the house bands at the old Maple Leaf Ballroom on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. We usually played there about every two weeks if we didn’t have anything else booked. My only memory of this place was that after a while the wives and girlfriends got sick of listening to the same songs over and over so they stopped coming. It didn’t take us long to find four very friendly girls to dance with and spend the evening with. The hot-blooded Nolan was even dumb enough to find two “regulars”.

After a few months of this cozy little set-up our wives and girlfriends suddenly decided to all come for someone’s birthday. We were all terrified at how our “regulars” were going to react. At one point while we were on stage we saw a couple of them talking to our wives. When we came off stage we didn’t know what to expect but it turned out all our other girls said was how much they enjoyed the band. Whew! Very classy of them.

Our last gig was one of the wildest ever. We played for the Metro Toronto Police Association and we assumed they would be a pretty reserved bunch. Boy, were we wrong! They were maniacs on the dance floor. Half of them were drunk out of their minds and really let loose. I guess being so proper at their jobs this was a chance for them to go nuts and they sure did. It was a great gig and a fitting way to end it all. It was great while it lasted and I have nothing but fond memories of the years I played. All I have left is the loss of my middle range hearing from all those years playing in front of the giant speakers. lol

The lonliest time of the year

Home-Alone-for-Christmas2-150x143Although the popularly held belief that suicide rates increase at Christmas time is a myth, it can be a very difficult time for those of us alone at this family time of the year.

With the increasing divorce rate, blended families, non traditional families and family members spread all over the globe, the idea of mom and dad and the kids waking up Christmas morning to see what Santa brought is also becoming a myth. Most holiday movies show the wonders of being in what was a traditional family and the joys of being all together at Christmas. This is not the reality for millions of people.

Divorced Mums and Dads struggle over who gets the kids when, often one for Christmas Eve and one for Christmas Day, or Christmas Day is split between having the kids in the morning and the Christmas dinner. It would be great if Mom and Dad could put their differences on hold for just one day of the year and spend it as a family, but this is just too awkward (who gets presents for who?) and may well create a false hope in the children that Mom and Dad are getting back together.

With the divorce rate in Canada fifty-four percent that means that over half the population faces a Christmas season changed drastically from that they had as a family. This can turn what was the most joyous time of the year into the most stressful and depressing time. Traditions are gone. The family unit has been ripped apart. Friends don’t know who to side with and usually opt for no one. Kids are shuttled around between parents. Who gets the better gifts for the kids? Who comes to dinner?? Even the weather can become a factor if there is long distance travel involved.

Personally, Christmas was one of my favorite times of the year for so many reasons. It started with the tree. In twenty-three years of marriage we always had a real tree. For me this wasn’t an option. Although lots of fun, I started a tradition that became very expensive over the years. Not only did we have to have the biggest most gorgeous tree, but every year I decorated it with a different theme. I was never a fan of the traditional red and green lights and a mishmash of ornaments. Our tree had to be special. Our house was always the gathering place for friends and family and they looked forward to seeing what I had done this year. The problem, of course, was that, unlike most people who drag out the decorations from storage, I had to go out and buy all new everything once I decided on a theme. And, of course, no one would ever let me get away with repeating my themes. Some years it was just a complete change in colour and I rarely mixed them unless they were complimentary. Then there were tress like an Angel tree, a Charlie Brown tree (my favorite), all birds and many, many more.

Christmas Eve was always a hoot. Although my parents, brother and sister had moved west right after we got married, we always had my much opinionated Aunt Ann and the in-laws. It was never officially Christmas Eve until my aunt and my darling father-in-law got into a heated argument over something. It never amounted to any animosity and I think they looked forward to the challenge of a good debate. In later years the kids got to open one gift on Christmas Eve. After everyone was gone Santa got to work assembling whatever gifts he brought.

Christmas morning, which always came far too early, had many traditions as well. The kids knew they weren’t allowed downstairs until Mum and Dad were up, so waking us was the first job. Then we would all rush downstairs and the kids would be squealing with delight when they saw their gift from Santa. I’d get the coffee and Bailey’s, another Christmas tradition, for Mum and I and we would then open our gifts, one at a time. Chris was originally in charge of handing them out so that we each took turns and the mantle was then passed to Heather when she was older. We were careful to note who the gifts came from so that the kids could thank them.

As the kids played with whatever they got and the wrapping paper was gathered up so that no one would step on anything and break it, I cooked a huge Christmas breakfast which included the traditional Malt toast. Usually another coffee and Bailey’s, then the turkey went in the oven and the clean-up started, getting ready for dinner. I cooked most of the Christmas dinners, but I do remember going to the in-laws a couple of times over the years.

For several years we also had a Boxing Day tradition of going to our friends, Zak and Joyce, where they always had a good crowd of people, most of whom we didn’t know. My two favorite Boxing Days were the year we had got Chris the football player who kicked field goals. I’m not sure the kids ever got near it because all the fathers loved it. The other was the year Zak got new cross-country skis and told me to go ahead and try them. What he forgot to tell me was about the river at the bottom of the hill. In the pitch dark I went zooming down the hill only to become airborne as I launched off the river bank and ended up lodged in the snow on the other side and then heard the horrible crack as the skis snapped under my weight. Walking back to the house and presenting him with the pieces of his new skis was not a great experience. I did offer to replace them but I can’t remember now if I ever did.

Christmas changed drastically after we separated, but, in a good way I had moved west so everything was going to be much different anyway. I don’t think I could have handled being alone that first Christmas if I had still been in Brampton. I had new traditions with my own family and that helped. My parents still went south for the winter so I never got to have Christmas with them but going up to Revelstoke to go snowmobiling at Christmas became a new tradition. I still missed my kids terribly and Christmas Day was always a depressing time for me no matter where I was.

Christmas, 2007 was spent on a bus to Vancouver and then planes to Boquete, Panama. Arriving in Panama on Boxing Day I was very surprised to see just how many Christmas lights and decorations there were everywhere. It was something I had certainly not expected. That year and the following year though, Christmas without snow is just not Christmas.

Since my return to Canada Christmas has not been great. Last year and this year in particular I spent it totally alone. I did put some dollar-store decorations on my door and railings, but I have nothing in my apartment. No tree. Nothing to say it’s Christmas. Why would I? No one is going to see them other than me. It’s mostly seniors in my building so they’re all going to be with their families for Christmas. Not me. Knowing that I have a son and daughter and five grandchildren who I’ve never met. not that far from me here, makes Christmas all the more difficult. My children seem to have forgotten all the wonderful traditions we had for twenty-three years and they deny me the same joy.

If you know someone who is alone this Christmas, give them a call just to say hi or maybe even invite them to your Christmas dinner. They will really appreciate it. I know I would.

Merry Christmas!

Never give up

In these days of horrible customer service and big companies who try to throw their weight around and ignore their customers it’s important to never give in to their tactics and just keep being a pain in their ass until they eventually listen to you. This past year I’ve had some real challenges but I can quickly become a pit-bull when people try to ignore me. These are just some of the fights, some large and some small, that I won by persevering.

logo_streamWrongful Dismissal

Stream Global Services wrongfully dismissed me from my lousy job as a call centre agent last November. They claimed to have fired me for cause, which was a lie. They tried to get my EI denied, but I filed an appeal with the Board of Directors with EI and it didn’t even get to a hearing. They approved my claim immediately.

I filed a complaint under the Employment Standards Act for their failure to pay me notice and just over a year later I got not only my two weeks’ notice, but a portion of the commissions they didn’t pay me.

Self Employment Program

logo_SEB_programThis was one of the most protracted fights I’ve ever had. After applied to take the program in London I was met with the most arrogant, ignorant man I have ever met in my life. He lied about emails and phone calls that never happened, all just to protect his ass. I appealed to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities and they bought all his lies and confirmed my denial into the program. I filed a complaints with the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office and, at first, they bought the lies passed on from the Ministry, but after an hour and a half phone call with a senior official at the Ombudsman’s office they went back to the Ministry and a further investigation turned up all the lies that had been told. I got a letter of apology from the Ministry and they allowed me to apply again through the St. Thomas office and even paid my cab fare there. I have now been approved to take the course at the St. Thomas office and they are paying my transportation for the entire course. If I am approved for the program I will receive $423 a week to aunch my business, which will certainly help.

Bell Canada

logo_BellLike all the big telecoms they are raising prices, nickel and diming us to death. I guess they need us to pay for their takeover of Astral and Maple Leaf Sports. We already pay some of the highest rates for TV, cell phones and internet in the world. Bell had a license to print money by having a monopoly for decades, all on the back of the taxpayers but their greed knows no bounds. They assault us with a ridiculous amount of advertising and force us to buy packages with channels we don’t want. Thanks to their cronies at the CRTC everything they wat is virtually rubber stamped. Bell has killed hundreds of good customer service jobs in Canada and gone with cheap offshore call centres. They are one of the worst corporate citizens out there.

I was sick of these ongoing charges so I contacted another company who, of course, were going to provide an even better service at a much lower cost. Having worked at one of Bell’s horrible call centres I knew the games they play so I called to cancel. The next thing I know they are sending me a new HD-PVR receiver for free and dropping my bill an astounding $40 a month with no change in service, in fact, they increased my data cap to 95GB, twice what I had. It pays to fight.

logo_RexallRexall Drugs

They are right around the corner from me so naturally I have been dealing with them for almost three years since I moved here. Not sure it’s a great thing, but all the staff know my voice on the phone. Their delivery driver, Nancy, was great and always brought me extra things like a bag of milk or a loaf of bread when I needed it. Most of my medications are covered under my drug plan, but my needles aren’t, and they’re expensive so I’ve always put them on my MasterCard with no problems. Monday I phoned to order my needles and was told that they can no longer charge my credit card. I could only write a cheque, which I don’t use, or pay cash, which I rarely have. The local staff were getting a lot of complaints about this new policy, no doubt instituted by some bean-counter at Head Office.

I called their customer service line and had a pointless conversation with an agent who didn’t even know they had changed their policy. After putting me on hold forever she promised that either the local store manager or their Regional Manager would call me back “right away”. I was out of milk so I said I needed to know if they were delivering or not. Naturally I got no call.

I walked to the closest pharmacy, Shoppers Drug Mart, and met with the pharmacist. He was very pleasant and said there would be no problem charging anything to my credit card or bringing me things like milk or anything else. I bought my needles and he threw in a sample box of needles which really helps. He said he would phone Rexall and get all my prescriptions, just over seven hundred dollars a month. Wednesday I finally get a call from the Rexall Regional Manager and I told her it was too late and I had moved to Shoppers. Ironic that she did not offer to change their policy back. I suggested that no company in this economy, especially those in depressed London, could afford to lose customers and she agreed.


Way back in May of this year I was having an incredibly tough time trying to get a new keyboard for my Dell laptop. This is a computer I have had for seven years and seven keyboards have had to be changed because the writing wears off. Finally I managed to reach a lady in Michael Dell’s office and the next day I received a new keyboard by courier, free. In one of our conversations she asked if I was considering getting a new computer, but I said there was no way I could afford it. I then got a call from a sales rep in Toronto who offered to sell me the computer I wanted at less than half price. An offer I could not refuse. I got the computer a few days later, and the trouble started. I could not adequately describe all the problems I had but they were things I had not seen in thirty years of computer consulting. Thus started the long and very trying saga with Dell.

A gazillion emails, two replacement computers, hours on the phone with Tech Support and it looks like I finally have a functional computer. I figure I’ve wasted at least three hundreds hours transferring data back and forth, transferring and registering my programs and on and on. Dell’s own backup program, which would have made all this much easier, didn’t work. Three months of back and forth emails on this one issue and we got nowhere. The backup finally worked yesterday. I hated not having a backup since September 13th. Things do go wrong at the worst possible time so I was very nervous all the time.

While this sounds like a litany of complaints about Dell, what I do sincerely appreciate is that they never gave up on me. Some were more helpful than others but no one tried to blow me off. They worked tirelessly to make this right and I sincerely appreciate it. If you bought a dud at a Future Shop I highly doubt you would get this kind of amazing warranty service.

Yes, it’s sad that we have to fight so hard for our consumer rights. That’s why a recent survey showed that ninety-five percent of people are unhappy with the customer service they receive. It’s no wonder.

What’s wrong with this country?

A recent survey found that over ninety percent of consumers are unhappy with customer service. Automated phone systems are often frustrating. Agents are untrained in the product or service. Offshore call centres are staffed with people who cannot understand or speak English. Large companies, mostly cable and telecom giants are viewed as greedy and out of touch with their customers.

What’s wrong here?

For whatever reason, companies have insulated themselves from actually dealing with customers. They put all kinds of walls up to protect themselves from criticism. They all profess lofty goals of offering exceptional customer service, yet their policies and procedures fly in the face of this goal. Call centres are measured on taking the least amount of time to deal with customers on the phone and not on the results of these calls.

My own experience over many years clearly shows the decline in customer service. Just a few examples –

I got word that the call centre where I work was looking at upgrading all their antiquated computers. Given that this was my business for almost twenty years I wanted to submit a proposal. I am a Dell fan, so I contacted their Enterprise sales department to build the initial quote for 600 work stations here in London. I also told them there was a potential 30,000 if we won the world wide contract, which only a company like Dell could handle. I got the usual form response that someone would contact me soon. Despite follow-up emails no one ever responded. Is Dell so comfortable that they can afford to ignore this type of contract?

Having been a fan of President’s Choice products since the day they came out, I sent a proposal to Loblaws suggesting they try a new concept store where you would be able to eat healthy meals, eat-in or take-out and sample their PC products. Nearby there would be a PC store where you could only buy PC brand products, along with fresh produce from only local growers, who would also setup farmers’ markets on Saturdays to promote their products carried in the store. I had researched a location here in London that would be perfect, a closed fast food joint out front and a closed dollar store, the perfect size for the PC Brands store. The response? Thanks for your letter. blah blah blah. Yeah, I’ll be really ticked off when they open this concept and it goes across the country.

After lying in a filthy bed in forty degree heat at a shelter I designed a shelter that provided some dignity for residents. I saw it as a public/private partnership. I overheard a staff member talking about a new resident and how they could make sure they got their $46 a night. Seriously? This for a disgusting bed in a dorm and eating mostly donated food? That’s over $1,200 a month. Where is all the money going? I contacted several local builders and sent my detailed renderings of a better shelter concept. Not a single one responded. One in particular owns several empty buildings around town which could easily be converted to my concept, but he would not even meet with me.

Thirty years ago I was involved in installing computer networks, desktop software and even computer furniture. It was the early days of both networking software (Novell ELS 1.0) and Microsoft Windows (3.1). On one customer site I had a particularly challenging install that involved an issue with the network card in the server. At 11:30 PM I called Microsoft and was soon on a conference call with customer service and a technician, who helped me solve the problem. Fast forward to today and just try to speak to a real person at Microsoft. They want something like $90 for fifteen minutes and that’s after you go through a myriad of pushing buttons trying to get to the person you need.

Even more telling is that over ten years ago, when I was working for Northern Computer in Kelowna, I developed a detailed proposal for what today we call the Cloud. I had worked with a number of small businesses who needed access to a computer network, but did not have the funds to buy their own hardware or software licenses. I worked with a local ISP (Silk Internet) who committed to buying the required hardware for a data centre where customers would share server space. I got all the way up to an assistant to Bill Gates, who told me Microsoft would NEVER share software access over the internet. How things have changed today! After I had developed a full desktop model for Windows and access from anywhere, something common today, Microsoft refused to even look at the site for fear of intellectual property concerns by their lawyers. Instead of losing market share to companies like Google, today Microsoft could have been the market leader without question.

Of interest is that, after Microsoft refused to look at my proposal, I contacted Google, Netscape, Apple, Facebook and several venture capitalists who had been involved in the internet. Not one of them responded, yet today they are all using some form of what I had proposed. Shortly after I had contacted Microsoft they launched several of the features that had been part of my proposal. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Over the years I have sent proposals, large and small, to many companies. Here in London Tim Horton’s has a small store downtown, with no seating and it’s always a crush of people trying to get their coffee fix. They also close at 6:00 every night, even though the downtown is swarming with people who would want Timmies. There was an empty store in a building right across the street, and next to McDonald’s, with plenty of seating and right on the corner where all the buses meet. I wrote to Tim Horton’s to suggest this was a perfect location. I got the typical “thanks for contacting us” form response, but nothing else. I sent three follow-up emails, again with no response, most importantly one after Quiznos had closed in the location, mostly because it took way too long to get service for people on limited lunch hours. Nothing. I sent a letter to Tim Horton’s Head Office, expressing my frustration that no one had responded to my emails. No surprise. No response.

After a poor experience with a filthy washroom at a McDonald’s I sent a letter to their Head Office. An exec did call me and tell me he was contacting the manager at the store and that they would “get back to me”. No one has called. I also sent a letter suggesting they use those little plastic shot glasses to sample their new smoothies. I have never been a fan of yogurt, but I would be willing to try a small sample. He also informed me that I could ask for one with no yogurt. Who knew? I think they would double their sales if they offered small testers, but, again, no one responds.

Probably no surprise that I’m dealing with the government on an issue that dates back over twenty-five years ago and I’ve written to everyone from the Prime Minister to the Governor General, but haven’t had a single response for three years. What happened to government for the people?

I spent several weeks developing a business proposal for a new way to connect job seekers with employers ( As a fan of the show Dragon’s Den I researched Robert Herjavec of the Herjavec Group and sent him the complete business proposal suggesting a partnership. His response? Nothing.

As consumers our voices are being heard less and less. These companies are putting systems in place to insulate themselves from their customers. They simply don’t listen anymore. Do you think if they did a survey asking if customers would prefer to deal with an automated phone system over a real person that these frustrating systems would have ever been implemented? No way. It’s amazing that companies are now promoting connecting with a real person as something new. Seriously?

My all time favorite was Rogers, with whom I had a disastrous experience. They frustrated me at every turn over three days, seventeen phone calls and trips by bus to their local store, only to discover that some idiot technician had disconnected my service by mistake. After all the wasted hours with them I remembered a site called IHateRogers. I went to the site and sent a detailed email to the contact number shown on the site. It came right back as “undeliverable”. I did some further research and discovered other contact addresses and sent emails off. All of them came back as “undeliverable”. I finally went to WhoIs, a site that provides the registration details for a website. Guess who owned the site? You got it – Rogers! They bought it to stifle complaints against them and promptly disabled all the contact addresses. How’s that for listening to customers?

The paradox of all these pathetic customer service failures is that other studies have shown that over ninety percent of consumers will return to a business based on the customer service they receive initially. Go figure.

Reflections on my 64th birthday

I suspect that, like many people, I am not where I expected to be at this stage of my life. In my romantic thoughts of youth I expected to have a loving family with a partner by my side, my kids and grand kids sharing their lives with me and maybe some travel once in a while. From the age of nineteen I worked hard both at my career and renovating whatever home we were in, building equity for that day in the future when we would downsize.

One of my favorite sayings has always been “life is what happens while you are making other plans”. My life has been that saying personified. Although we are in control of some things in our lives, like what we do for a living or where we live, most things are a result of things beyond our control and how we deal with what happens unexpectedly.

After a life best described as what most would call “normal”, a long term marriage of twenty-three years, two kids, a nice home and two cars, two things happened to change the direction of my life. The first was realizing that I was trapped in a loveless marriage that had no chance of getting any better. After a year of living apart but paying all the bills for our last house, while my wife sat doing nothing to help, not working and not even filing for unemployment, I knew it was time to end it. The other was my mother being diagnosed with fifth stage melanoma and being given only a five percent chance of surviving more than six months.

My parents, brother and sister, had moved out West in 1970 and had I not met my wife and she got pregnant I might well have gone with them and my life would obviously have been completely different. Given where I am today it would have no doubt been a lot better, for many reasons. Back then the Okanagan was full of so much opportunity, mostly in Real Estate. The prices compared to Ontario were insane. I wanted to form a syndicate, buy up properties, renovate them and put them up for rental. Homes on the lake that I could have bought for less than two hundred thousand dollars were soon selling in the millions. They weren’t making any more lakefront so I knew demand would force the prices up and I was right.

With the exception of a couple of visits back and forth and taking the whole family out to Expo 86, I missed having my parents be part of my life. It wasn’t my decision to move away from us but my feelings about that all changed when my mother was first diagnosed in 1991. The thought of losing my mother and not spending whatever time she had left with her made me feel selfish and guilty, especially when my own life in Ontario was falling apart. I made the decision to move out West in 1993, partly accepting that my failed marriage was over and partly to be with my mother during her last days.

When I left Ontario I naively thought that my kids would come out to visit us, especially because of my mother’s failing health and because we had such a wonderful time when both of them came out for a three week vacation in 1986. As I said a tearful good-bye to my daughter I was shocked that she told me to stay out West because she knew how bad my marriage was and she said she had never seen me happier. I didn’t listen and returned to Ontario mostly because I couldn’t stand the thought of being apart from her. It was a mistake.

What I never anticipated was that my kids would abandon me for the next seventeen years, something I have deeply regretted every single day since I moved. My mother did beat all the odds and lived until 2007 although she suffered from Alzheimer’s the last few years.

The next truly life-changing thing that happened was when my Dad died in my arms in 2005. Not only was this the most traumatic time in my life but it also sent my life into a downward spiral of bad decisions, bad timing and incredible bad luck.

Although prior to his death my father had struggled with caring for my mother, he had done nothing to get her into a care home where she belonged. His drinking escalated and he called me every night crying, telling me that he could not take this anymore, but he was consumed by guilt at putting my mother in a home. Finally he agreed to sell their place although he had no plan as to what to do when it sold. Their home was very dated and he asked me if I would renovate it for sale. I spent four of the toughest months of my life working long days, seven days a week, with them calling me from Revelstoke where they were staying with my sister, constantly pressuring me as to when they could come home.

After my father passed away and given my mother’s health we decided it would be traumatic for her to lose her husband and move, so we took the house off the market. I was elected to move in to care for her, although I hoped this would be short term until I got her into a care facility. It wasn’t. For months and months I did everything humanly possible to get her into a care facility with no luck. Her condition was deteriorating rapidly and she was put on an emergency first available spot basis. Unfortunately there were three hundred and fifty people on the same basis, so I had to spend my days harassing anyone and everyone who could get her into a facility. Finally I got a call that there was a spot for her and as much as it broke my heart I had to lie to her to get her to go. The day I left her there was the saddest day of my life.

How my sister ended up killing our mother by pulling her out of the care facility is another story, but it’s enough to say I have not spoken to her since and I don’t forgive her.

After the house sold I moved into a place where, no sooner had I got there than the by-law officer told me I had to move. On short notice I couldn’t really find anything decent, but I did find one basement apartment that wasn’t terrible in Kelowna. I was on my way to give the landlord the first month’s rent when, for some unknown reason I checked my email. There was an email from my Real Estate agent telling me about a place In the Princess MHP that was about to go into foreclosure. He said it was a mess but I could probably just take over the private mortgage, renovate it and sell it for a nice profit.

I ended up losing my deposit on the basement apartment in Kelowna and I moved into the disaster in Princess. Even with the pad rent I was paying less than the basement apartment and I had a place of my own, albeit a mess. Thus began fourteen months of very long days, seven days a week, completely gutting the place and redesigning the layout and rebuilding it from nothing but the shell. As I neared completion I started getting opinions of value from several local Realtors. Without exception they all said it was one of the best manufactured homes in the valley and they all priced it around $159,900. At the time I had been researching other places to renovate and had found three ideal properties so I wanted to sell quickly and firm offers on at least one of these other properties. I listed the place for $139,900, much against the wishes of my Realtor.

The day before it was to hit the market one of the local Indian Chief’s came out in the local paper stating that anyone who bought on native land was “stupid” because there was no long term tenancy and all the parks would be closed for redevelopment with no compensation to the owners of the homes. Overnight the market collapsed. No Realtor, lawyer or bank would touch a property on Native land. Even worse, the commitment I had for a private mortgage, just in case the place didn’t sell, fell through. Even the Band’s own credit union wouldn’t touch financing. My world fell apart and the stress was killing me.

My doctor told me to get out from under this stress or it would kill me. The cold, grey winters were starting to get to me so I started researching somewhere warmer and settled on Panama. Another huge mistake. I left my place in the care of my electrician friend who I had let move in when he split with his wife. Another huge mistake.

Long story, but I ended up getting ripped off for everything I owned in Panama, plus the guy I left in charge of my place back in Westbank let the snow build-up on my roof, something I had warned him about, and the roof collapsed resulting in twenty thousand dollars worth of damage. If the place was unsellable before, it sure was worse now. I ended up getting less than half of what I would have gotten if I’d sold it before the collapse.

I managed to sell everything I had left in Panama and returned to Toronto to stay with my cousin. Another long story but I met a girl from London on the internet who eventually came to Toronto and for me it was love at first sight. I ended up moving to London to be with her. Another huge mistake. She ended up screwing around on me with, surprise, surprise, a guy she met on the internet. My world had been shattered yet again and now I found myself stuck in a place I loathed.

London has not been kind to me. My wacko landlady threatened to seize all my stuff so I ended up moving out with no idea where I was going. I ended up sleeping on the vacant office floor of a friends and finally got into the Centre of Hope, only to be turfed out because Ontario Works screwed up my paperwork. I then went to The Mission men’s shelter, a disgusting, filthy, dangerous place. After also getting kicked out there I ended up at the Unity Project, a wonderful place full of caring people. With their help I managed to get a job at Home Depot and eventually got my own apartment. It didn’t last. My contract ended at Home Depot and I was laid off along with a whole bunch of other people. I couldn’t pay for my apartment but I got a call from London Housing that a place had opened up in my current building.

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