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We become Couch Surfing hosts

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I’ll be off with my family over Yule until Jan. 3 — do try to cope.

We’re looking forward to hosting our first Couch Surfer, who’ll arrive late the night of Jan. 1. We joined back in October after we saw how many Couch Surfers were taking in child the elder all over Upper Canada and the U.S., welcoming him with incredible trust and generosity.

This is our second Couch Surfing request — remarkably, no cyclists so far, no travellers heading north and west in the heart of a prairie winter, rather than south, as my son is doing. The first request was a couple from France, driving across Canada along with a huge Newfoundland dog. I found the request at 12:30 a.m. early on a Sunday morning after we got home from the theatre, in fact the day after we joined Couch Surfers. They hadn’t got in touch ahead of time as most people do, were already in the city, had no phone, and only occasionally logged onto the web.

When they finally saw my reply, it was the next afternoon, and they’d found another place to stay.

So we’re awaiting Andreas, a 25-year-old student from Sweden who’ll stay with us three nights until residence reopens at U of M. His university in Sweden has been developing a partnership with U of M.

Meanwhile, child the younger has come home for the holidays, and child the elder will be spending the next three days in Orlando with relatives of friends of the family, the first time we haven’t all been together this time of year.

As you’ve learned on child the elder’s on-line daily journal — Crazy Guy on a Bike, click on the link over there to the right of the blog you’re reading — he’s going to University of Victoria law school in September. So lots of travelling in both directions next year, child the elder in Victoria — Harry, Dave, Delores, I’ll let you know when I visit Lotusland — and child the younger in Peterborough.

And moving along....

I had one of those awful moments Sunday, as I popped into Starbucks on the way to work, and couldn’t for the life of me remember the person who knew me and spoke to me.

No, not Hugh, I recognized Hugh.

This other person, I knew the voice, I knew the mannerisms, but I totally blanked on the name. Later, I realized who it was, and think I know why I blanked, though that’s got me worrried about how far gone I may be. Please, please, tell me you haven’t had that beard all the time I’ve known you.

In other matters.....

I received another of those occasional emails about a school-division-wide conspiracy against the correspondent’s child, a conspiracy so vast that Oliver Stone would need at least a trilogy to film it properly. The parent wanted me to trash the division thoroughly, without, of course, using her name or drawing any attention to the family or to any of the alleged incidents perpetrated against the family.

I emailed back, saying it’s impossible to even consider such a story, unless the family will talk to me.

Still waiting — does that surprise you?

Another seamless segue....

Sara Beth Dacombe has left her position as media relations person at Providence College in Otterburne. Thanks for your help over the years.

Other stuff.....

I had five soccer games last weekend, but nothing all that much to tell you about. I came down on someone on the bench of one team at UM, but since I couldn’t identify the culprit, just went all stern — 14-year-olds should know better than to invoke negative racial stereotypes, with loud whooping out of a 1940s cavalry movie.

And someone else should be telling them not to do it, before I even get anywhere near the bench.

Sigh.

Two sets of coaches that stood out for incidents this past season, both outdoors.

There was the coach of older teenaged boys, who went nuts as his team counterattacked and I stopped play. His team had gotten the ball because one of his players took a hard opposing pass in the pit of his stomach, and the ball bounced fortuitously to his teammates, who were off to the races. Meanwhile, the poor kid was on the ground, clutching his stomach, and moaning pitifully.....and I stopped play, and his own coach went berserk on me.

The other game was 17-year-old boys, a match in which I finally carded two kids with yellows for dissent, after taking a lot of guff, and after issuing verbal warning after verbal warning. And after the match, the two coaches gave me a lecture, telling me that 17-year-old boys will treat me with contempt the entire match, and if I don’t both expect it and accept it, then I shouldn’t be a referee.

As I said back then, if I wanted to be treated with open contempt on a soccer field, without consequences for anyone, I’d go back to coaching.

Finally, I received two cards this holiday season, one a nice aerial view of the Brandon University campus from president Deborah Poff.

The other is from U of M president David Barnard, a frosty morning woodland scene beautifully photographed by education student Helen Lepp Friesen. Inside, Barnard quotes a poem, Snows, by Micheal O’Siadhail.

The combination of photo and poem makes me want to ditch the office and grab my cross country skis.

It also got me thinking in the weird way in which my aging mind wanders, about a winter poem I studied in high school, which I detested then and detest now. It was The Skater, written in 1901 by Canadian poet Charles G.D. Roberts, in which the first-person poet skates along a frozen river, deeper and deeper and deeper into the woods, delighting in the wonders of nature until, suddenly, he gets a serious case of the creeps — alone, surrounded by woods, terrified by the realization of his isolation, he turns and flees as fast as his skates will carry him, "and the hair of my neck began to creep, at hearing the wilderness talk in sleep, shapes in the fir-gloom drifted near, in the deep of my heart I heard my fear, and I turned and fled like a soul pursued, from the white inviolate solitude."

Even as a city kid in high school, I didn’t like how Roberts portrayed the woods in winter — instinctively, it just wasn’t right. Now, if our cottage was winterized, I’d spend as much possible time in the Whiteshell as I do in summer, when there are far more people. I’m not paranoid about running into wolves, or an angry moose, and I’d certainly not go out of my way to recall the story of the Wendigo that terrorized me as a little kid, but I embrace the quiet and the solitude, and cherish our good fortune in living so close to it. It’s so inherently Canadian to be out in nature.

Looking at Friesen’s photo — sorry, it’s not a photo, it’s a piece of art — and reading the poem Barnard selected, I want to flee the inviolate solitude of this desk and keyboard, and rush off to the frozen woods.

Outraged English teachers and Canadian lit professors, I’ll be back Jan. 3.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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