Saturday, 31 July 2010


ON ONE or two occasions in the past, I have been known to lament about the woes of having to sweat a little at work.

Being more inclined towards the leisurely elements of life has meant that the prospect of sustained exertion has always prompted in me some degree of horror. Occasionally though I come across someone like Antonio who rightfully fills me with shame for feeling anything other than grateful for my many privileges, among them the opportunity to work.

Amongst the group of Mexican workers on our site Antonio is the boss and, being the only one fluent in English, he is also the one with whom I converse the most. Only yesterday though did we get round to the story of how we both came to live and work in Vancouver.

In a nutshell (because that's all it's worth) I told Tony the story of how wanderlust had brought me to Canada and regular lust had resulted in my staying after the rest of my initial crew left.

Tony's trip to Canada started much earlier in his life than mine. At 16, with very little English, he left his home in Mexico for the US and settled a few hours south of Vancouver in Seattle. Despite the obvious language problems he managed to get enrolled in a high school where he would go on to master English while also keeping up with the other students in their regular classes.

Not having the support of a family in Seattle meant that once school ended at three, Tony would go straight to a nearby restaurant where he worked as a dishwasher until after midnight.

After proving himself to be a hard worker, and improving his English, he went on to become a busboy at one of the city's most exclusive restaurants. There he would sometimes make up to $250 a night thanks to the tips of the super wealthy clientele, amongst which Bill Gates was occasionally counted.

After he left school, he found daytime work with a framer and although it was lower paid than the busboy gig, Tony had found work for which he had a passion and an aptitude.

The most amazing element of this story, however, is not how Tony went from such humble beginnings to owning a successful framing company. Even more unlikely was the confluence of events that led to him meeting his wife, with whom he now has two children.

In the same month that he turned up in Seattle with almost empty pockets, Tony's wife enrolled in the same high school after her family had moved to the States from their home in Poland. Within a year the two were dating and within three years they were married and on their way to Canada and new opportunities.

"It's amazing the way things can work out to make two people from completely different parts of the world meet like that," he told me after we had finished work on Friday. Listening to him talk, it was obvious that the wonder and fortuitousness of their paths crossing has not been lost on him over the years.

Although he had a happy youth, Tony swears that he does not remember ever owning a single toy and having built a relatively comfortable life for himself in Vancouver, he now takes great pleasure in spoiling his two daughters.

And while he seems more likely to credit his life in Canada to God or good luck, I reckon it's down to his likeable nature and fierce work ethic, both of which I am most jealous.

Either way, I'm glad to have heard his story. Nothing like a dose of perspective to show up seemingly fret-worthy woes for the minor issues they truly are.

Monday, 19 July 2010

John, Jan, Joan or Juan?

FORGET whatever nonsense I may have spouted in the past - and spouted I have - about doing hard manly work in Canada. It has been made abundantly clear to me in the last week that during my sojourn as a landscaper I was labouring under the misapprehension that I was doing hard labour.

Two weeks into losing my building site virginity and only now have I been able to sum up the energy to do anything other than collapse in a heap and whimper after a day spent on site. The orchestrator of my agony is a framer who inexplicably decided to take a chance on me upon hearing I was unemployed.

For those not in the know - a group that included my good self up until a few weeks ago - there is another kind of framer apart from the one who creates a nice border for your photos.

Unlike all the concrete-built houses at home, builders in British Columbia use wood to make houses in the vast majority of cases. It's an obvious choice for a province with 149 million acres of forestry, most of which has remained unchanged since before Europeans came here.

Unfortunately for this European the lot of the apprentice framer seems to consist almost exclusively of hauling 16-foot two by tens (see how I've learned the lingo already?) from the side of the road on to the first floor of an under-construction house. Before my Canadian reader(s) accuses me of being a pansy, the first floor in Euroland is what you would call the second floor.

My co-workers are an interesting bunch, none moreso than the boss himself, a white amateur rapper who specialises in Christian rhymes. The religious element of his sounds is due to a turnaround in his life two years ago when he decided to shun alcohol and all sorts of other fun and replace it with religion.

There are a handful of characteristically friendly Canadians and also some very amiable Mexicans who could not quite agree between them on the pronunciation of my name.

"Hi, my name is John."

"Hello Jan, I am Antonio."

"Nice to meet you. It's not Jan actually, it's John."



"O, like Juan?"

"Close enough."

The Mexican workers remind me very much of what the Irish were probably like when previous generations came to North America in search of work and a new life. Fond of the occasional drink, they often come into work with more of a stagger than a spring in their step but they are ferocious workers and power through whatever task is assigned to them without a hint of hesitance.

They are in no doubt helped by the fact that they are seemingly unaffected by the scorching sun which from 9am onwards makes me look like I have been swimming in a sweat pool with all my clothes on.

It's back-breaking stuff at times, but the experience and company is good, plus there are rumblings of a potential journalism job, or alternatively a deportation, a few months down the line so I may not be here for too long.

But for now the building site is my new stomping ground, and thankfully it's providing me with plenty of material to potentially write about. Next week; The Honey Bucket.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Not yet a man

WELL I have further displayed my ignorance of all matters construction by failing to realise that on occasion builders can be unreliable. While this may have been common knowledge to some, it came as something of a shock to this still unemployed goon.

Two weeks after I was meant to start work, my Batman-reminiscent utility built is still hanging unutilised in the closet, I'm still as ignorant as ever about how houses are made, and my hands have become almost as soft and tender as they were during my tenure as a journalist.

The last fortnight has been a series of last-minute postponements by my future employer who says that he can't take me on until he is finished roofing his last house. I can't blame him in fairness, I wouldn't like to starting training some gormless immigrant from atop a roof either.

It's been a glowing, bulbous, throbbing pain in the arse not knowing from one day to the next if I'm going to be working any time soon but thankfully he has promised me that I will start this week. Fittingly, this week sees the start of the two-months-late Canadian summer so once I get on site I'll be addressing my dual problems of being broke as a beggar and pale as a pint of milk.

I'm closing in on two months without regular employment now and it's not at all been the joyride I expected. Apart from having the financial clout of a patch of moss, not having a job has also had the opposite effect on my creative juices than I expected.

For quite a while now, I've been mulling over the idea of trying to write a story, be it in the form of a novel or a script. While I have quite a few ideas committed to a notepad, nothing has developed in the way I'd hoped and I reckon it's to do with my lack of human interaction during the day.

Don't get me wrong, landscaping was about as mentally stimulating as a sleeping pill but at least I was interacting with people a lot more and I think therein lies the problem. Not being that interesting myself, I need to draw on the experiences of others as my source material.

Hopefully, that's all about to change though and by the next post, I'll be generating new ideas, funds and a nice even tan.