Letters to Myself 6

216 Clydesdale Road


Nova Scotia

July 3rd, 2017


Dearest Johnny-Boy,

This time Dorothy found your letter on the sideboard in the hall among a pile of other letters and other stuff that I had collected from the postbox and hadn’t looked through yet. We don’t have our own postbox at our house, but have to go and get the mail from one of about fifty boxes up the road.

This is a very big year in Canada’s history. I’ll keep this simple, because things can get very complicated. We just had Canada Day on July 1st, which is a national holiday when we celebrate Canada becoming a nation on July 1st, 1867. Before that Great Britain owned Canada, and Canada still recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as our queen, even though we have had our own government here since 1867. So perhaps if you can do some calculating, with  help if you need it, you will find that Canada is now 150 years old. Of course, that’s much much younger than England, but I don’t think anyone could say just how old England is—and of course nowadays it’s just part of Great Britain.  Most people think of England as dating from 1066, when William of Normandy conquered it (and he was French!).

None of these dates really mean anything, because people have lived in Britain for hundreds of thousands of years, and in Canada for at least 12,000 years. We call these early inhabitants indigenous or First Nations, and there are hundreds of different tribes, or small nations, with their own names and languages. The ones here in Nova Scotia are called the Mi’maq. Most people nowadays recognize that Canada belongs to these indigenous people, and all of us from Britain and other European countries are colonists who settled here and took over Canada from the indigenous people.

Okay, enough history! We’ve just had a big celebration, and I was part of a choir who sang what are called patriotic songs in a big gathering at our university, and all the important people of our town and county were there for a lovely party. It’s funny to think about this being my country, because actually Britain is also my country, and so is the United States of America, because I have passports for all three. But when I say they are mine, I don’t mean I own them! The English language is pretty funny sometimes, because the same word can mean lots of different things.

Anyway, I never liked History much in school, because it was all about learning dates of battles or other big events, just like the ones I’ve just been talking about. Our History teacher, Mr Radcliffe, had a quiet and boring voice, and his lessons were always in the afternoons when most of us were pretty sleepy anyway. One thing I’ve learned, if you’re sitting in a school desk and the teacher is funny, or finds other ways to keep you on your toes, it can make the difference between loving a subject and hating it forever. When I was teaching university students, I would often talk to just one person in the class for a bit, if that person was a bit of a trouble maker. Maybe I would stand really close, or even sit on his desk (it was always a him). And sometimes I’d go and stand at the back of the classroom and talk to the backs of everyone’s heads until they turned around. Funny stuff like that. It certainly got them to pay attention, and maybe they learned more that way.

Dorothy has a piano very like Mummy’s, and she plays a lot of the tunes that were famous back in your day and before. She can even play Loch Lomond and The Skye Boat Song, which Mummy loved, and so do I. It makes me cry a bit when Dorothy plays them. Dorothy noticed that some of the notes were out of tune, so she called a piano tuner to come and look. There are very few piano tuners in the whole province of Nova Scotia, and he couldn’t come for several weeks. Sadly, pianos are going out of fashion, and musical evenings like we used to have, with the four of us gathered around the piano for singsongs with Mummy, don’t happen much anymore. So older people are finding their children don’t want their pianos, and they can’t even sell them, so they have to pay to get them taken away to the town dump!

Today was the piano tuner’s second visit, and he has been here all morning putting a whole new piece inside, which meant he had to re-tune every single note. He had special instruments to do that, though I have no idea what he did with them. The first time he came a few weeks ago, he looked inside and found an abandoned mouse’s nest, complete with all the mouse droppings! Isn’t that awful? He said that he had never seen a piano in such bad shape, which is why we had to get a completely new set of insides.

I don’t remember Mummy ever getting her piano tuned, and it always sounded beautiful when she sang those Scottish songs. Anyway, now I’m listening from my study to Dorothy playing the piano down in our bedroom downstairs. And it sounds lovely!

Love and hugs, John xx