What rhymes with alma mater?

Sheldon Goldfarb’s history of UBC covers its start in 1915, with 400 registered students, many of whom were actually fighting overseas in Europe. Today, the campus boasts over 50,000 students. REVIEW

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#460 An island without Velcro

January 05th, 2019

Shoelaces are Hard & Other Thoughtful Scribbles
by Mike McCardell

Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2018.
$29.95  /  9781550178487

Reviewed by Sheldon Goldfarb

*

Mike McCardell likes editors. Oh, not the sort of editor who tells you what you mustn’t end a sentence with. No, he likes editors who give him story ideas for his daily piece on the television news program, or ideas for how to shape those ideas. And these editors don’t have to be “editors”; they can be his wife or his cameraman, or anyone who can give him a little help.

This book is in part about giving help. The title story is about how you can learn to tie your shoelaces if you get a little help. Another story is about how a kindly bus driver got him to his uncle’s funeral on time – by taking a detour off the bus route. (I wonder how the other passengers felt, though. Well, I don’t have to wonder: McCardell tells us they were puzzled and scared. But the point is … well, sometimes it’s not clear what the point is; it just gets lost in a parenthesis. Oh, wait, the point of that story was Hope: you can tell because that’s what it is called.)

So this is also a book about hope, hope and belief: belief that you can catch a fish where there are no fish, or belief that you can find a story to tell on the news each day. Every day McCardell goes out with his cameraman looking for human interest stories, light little things to leaven the darkness of current events. Not for him the unhappy story about a planter overflowing with garbage — but when someone fixes up the planter and makes it green again, that’s his kind of story. Uplifting, upbeat, sometimes offbeat.

Like the four-year-old who likes to let his toboggan fly down a hill and chase after it, which leads to a scene in which there’s a toboggan chased by a four-year-old boy who in turn is chased by a 48-year-old cameraman who himself is chased by a 74-year-old reporter, with the boy’s grandmother bringing up the rear, and with the reporter worrying about the camera getting wet from the snow and the television engineers being baffled because they’ve never heard of snow.

Oh, did I mention that he’s sometimes funny too, and wanders off into detours — I mean writing detours in these little stories, but of course also detours in the course of hunting for stories, which he does by going out and looking for something that he doesn’t know is there in the hopes of turning it into something amusing for the six o’clock news — and for this book of “scribbles.”

He has his pet peeves, though: he’s not always upbeat. He likes the old ways, the old playgrounds where you weren’t entirely safe and so might fall down and get hurt and cry and someone would hug you till you felt better. He prefers those to the sanitized playgrounds enforced on us by the Playground Correct people (PC people, a joke, get it?), the sanitized playgrounds where kids are bored. And he’d rather you just took the stairs for exercise instead of investing in gym equipment and modern gadgets telling you how many steps you’ve taken. Be natural — but not “natural” like the back-to-nature yoga practitioner being one with a tree because his leader told him to do that and who won’t talk to McCardell without his leader’s permission.

Mike McCardell signs at Coles Books, Chilliwack, December 2018. Photo by Jenna Hauck, The Chilliwack Progress

Mike doesn’t much like it when people won’t talk to him, and he gets positively grumpy about the rise of media relations departments that stop him from dropping in on firefighters and police officers. He doesn’t like bureaucracy and red tape and politicians with their five-syllable words and people without disabilities who use parking spots for people with disabilities. And he’s not a fan of guns (he tries a satire on this, which is not really his thing) and gets very angry at arrogant drug dealers who kill innocent bystanders.

But mostly he is gentle and upbeat and brings a smile to your face or a tear to your eye, or he makes you laugh by telling you about a grilled cheese sandwich in the middle of a story that has nothing to do with grilled cheese sandwiches, or he has some words of wisdom to pass along about thinking good thoughts or humility or the changeability of perspectives and the different sorts of truth.

And he has his mantras, like the one about “we the people,” people like the Puerto Rican bus driver who helped him get to the funeral and the recycling man from Smithrite who picked up a piece of paper. But he’s not too fond of rich people or of rules, like the rules for Masonic rituals that delayed his uncle’s funeral, which he almost missed except for the kindly bus driver. He’s a bit of an old-fashioned gentle populist celebrating ordinary people and reminding us to learn to tie our shoelaces because if we were on an island without Velcro, the tide might come in and wash our shoes away.

*

Sheldon Goldfarb is the author of The Hundred-Year Trek: A History of Student Life at UBC (Heritage House, 2017). He has been the archivist for the UBC student society (the AMS) for more than twenty years and has also written a murder mystery and two academic books on the Victorian author William Makepeace Thackeray. His murder mystery, Remember, Remember, was nominated for an Arthur Ellis crime writing award in 2005. Originally from Montreal, he has a history degree from McGill University, a master’s degree in English from the University of Manitoba, and graduate degrees in English and archival studies from the University of British Columbia.

*

The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Editor/Designer/Writer: Richard Mackie

Publisher/Writer: Alan Twigg

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for serious coverage of B.C. books and authors, hosted by Simon Fraser University. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. As of September, 2018, Provincial Government Patron: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

Mike McCardell. Photo by Nick Didlick

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