Monday, 26 July 2010


In July, we celebrate several of these days. I cannot get too enthused as most commemorate certain, often contentious, events that involved blood letting thus satisfying only those who are descendants of the winning group. They have become embellished with myths that cloud an honest insight into history.

I do applaud the United Kingdom which gets by with no national day, although its four parts do indulge:
01 March: Wales Saint David’s Day
17 March: N. Ireland Saint Patrick’s Day
23 April England Saint George’s Day
30 November Scotland Saint Andrew’s Day

But, are not all these Christian saints? What about the Celts and others contributors?

July National Days include:

01 July: Canada celebrates Dominion Day, that revisionists call Canada Day. At least this is one of the few national days not steeped in blood. It commemorates the 1867 confederation of 5 loyal British colonies: Ontario, Quebec (Upper and Lower Canada), Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, done largely for unified strength to deter further invasions from the United States. The name “Dominion” was taken from the Bible for the ‘Dominion of Canada’ name. That most important province, Newfoundland, did not join the family until 1949. Inuit Nunavut was not formed until 1999 and Haida Gwaii has just now regained its original name. And, what about Cabot, Champlain, Frobisher, Madeleine de Verchères, Mackenzie, Wolfe, Montcalm, the Habitants, the Acadians, Tecumseh, the United Empire Loyalists, the Algonquins, Hurons, Kwakiutl, Inuit, and so many others like my ancestors who were highly successful in producing progeny in Canada since 1669?

04 July: United States of America, Independence Day, 1776. This ignores all the great pre-colonial and colonial days, and commemorates a civil war between Britain and 13 of her 29 American colonies which the vast majority on both sides did not want. It did not give independence to all. It did lead to a great nation, but Californians had little to do with Boston rebels and Sam Adam’s preference for Dutch tea. The Texans had their own rebels but against Mexico, not Britain.

14 July: France, Bastille Day, 1789, exchanged one tyranny for another. It killed many great philosophers and scientists. It did give us fine words like équalité, liberté, and fraternité, which had to wait 50 years before beginning to be implemented. It gave us a national anthem dripping in blood and Napoleon.

20 July: Colombia Independence Day, 1830. Separation too often leads to further separation. On independence from Spain in 1819 Gran Colombia was made up of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. This broke up in 1830 and Colombia became Nueva Granada. In 1886 it adopted a new constitution and the name Colombia. Panama remained a part of Colombia until the US supported a revolt in order to build the Panama Canal. Of all of Spain’s former American colonies, Colombia retains Spanish customs the most.

21 July: Belgium: With support from France and Britain, Belgium revolted against being part of Holland. On 21 July 1831 the newly-formed Kingdom of Belgium elected Léopold I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as their first king. International recognition came in 1839. However, French and Dutch-speaking tensions persist.

28 July: Peru Independence Day: In 1821 Peru became independent of Spain. The Creole (Spanish born in America) were not unhappy with Spanish rule, but 60,000 Inca led a 1780 revolt which failed but sparked subsequent Inca and Creole revolts culminating in José de San Martin from Argentina landing with an army, followed by Simón Bolivar who defeated the Spanish at Junin and Ayacucho.

Countries evolve and boundaries change. Yesterday’s are seldom today’s and today’s are unlikely to be tomorrow’s. When we draw artificial lines around segments of this world it may be good for those living within such boundaries to build an earned pride of nationhood but one that needs to include appreciation of all earlier inhabitants. This dictates choosing a national day, preferably in the warmer months of the year, that has nothing to do with a specific event, religion, or person.

In 1919 the Commission Internationale de Navigation Aerienne chose one or two letters of the alphabet to recognize aircraft registration by country (G for the British Empire, F for France, D for Deutschland, N for the US, and so on with Canada later being assigned CF then C). Perhaps national days should be assigned in a similar manner.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


Some of us have partial control over how we direct our waking lives. Dreams can add new dimensions that, with practice, add pleasure, variety, excitement, and knowledge. But, untrained, they can be far more frustrating and with greater frightening dangers than our awake life. The two worlds are one, but the current awake world dismisses the dream world which actually is more amenable to behaving in accordance with our desires. It may be our most under-exploited resource.

I believe that I had, and have, the same range of dreams as you. I still remember a few, pre-kindergarten and scary, dreams that caused me to seek protection in my parent's bed - just as our children have done to us. I had the normal range of dreams during my school years, my 3-year banking career during which I trained with the Militia (Infantry and Artillery), and my training time in the RCAF.

My dreams changed after I started my nightly forays of flying through the greatest fireworks displays of all times and grieving the ever-mounting loss of valued friends. I experienced my first nightmares and even a bed-whetting experience. After I found myself in POW camps with time on my hands and amid many great minds from a score of countries, I would lay back on my straw mattress at night, analysing various discussions I had lost and being annoyed that my arguments had lacked effectiveness because I invariably thought of good points long after the topic had changed. Also, constantly in my thoughts were longings for my home in Canada and for my second home in England. Before falling asleep I would spend an hour or more mulling over all this , seeking improvements and escape.

In Stalag Luft III, Sagan, it took many weeks of this until I found that I could set up a situation in which I would like to be and spend what seemed to be the entire night there to the point that I dreaded waking up. Most of these dreams were with my wife and family but many had me giving detailed talks, writing skilled essays, and solving intricate mathematical problems.
Others also seemed to have developed this skill. In Nurnberg my hut had no beds but hundreds of bed bugs. One cold March 1945 night over a hundred of us were huddled together on the floor when I awoke to scratch my numerous bites. Beside me was Harry Wardle of Liverpool with a look of utter bliss on his face. Soon, I watched his eyes opening and seeing in disbelief stars shining through broken windows and holes in the roof, courtesy of Bomber Command. "God damn it!" he muttered. I laughed, "Yes, Harry, you are still in Deutschland. Go back to sleep."
After the euphoria of being freed and back with my families had worn off due to the harsh reality of creating a post-war career, I lost the ability to control my dreams although some vestiges remain. In 1960 I began recording my dreams. It has been intermittent. I may go months without bothering, then record for many consecutive nights. It does necessitate maintaining a pad of paper and a pen within reach to scrawl key words while still sleepy to aid memory when fully awake. I still have numerous recurring dreams.
They include: It is easy for me to fly. A special hop, that I tell myself I must remember when I awake, gets me airborne over people and endless landscapes. I am in the homes of friends, past and present, but they are larger with more rooms and objects than in "real" life. I am often with friends who died decades ago and they are still young, free of any blemishes they may have had. I tell them I can return to the land of the living and I ask them if they have any messages for me to take back. Always they answer, "No, it does not matter." Today, I have to write a final exam for a course I forgot I enrolled in, never having attended a class. I badly need to urinate but I am in a muti-storey building with no toilets. I am often in crowded public places in the nude, but no one notices. I often return to previous occupations, knowing that I have retired from them and can no longer perform as I used to. For many of these I have been recalled and posted to command remote military units. I still in my dreams write beautiful essays, give sparkling talks, and solve problems in mathematics and physics. Many such dreams have permitted me to improve my waking essays and talks.
One dream during my Sagan nights remains vividly with me. I was questioning life. Answers were coming in with lucid, logical steps. Suddenly a huge wall with a tiny door sprang up before me, and a voice said: "You may go on, but if you do there is no turning back. The choice is yours." I was curious to go on but I knew I could not desert my families so I forced myself to wake up - in a cold sweat. I often feel that that dream is still waiting for me. So far I have lacked the courage to return to it.
I would be grateful for some insight into your dreams. They conceal a beguiling mystery.