October 1, 2020

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Plumbing the depths amid the global pandemic

Lessons in good coverage just part of life as big-shot newspaper columnist

Opinion

I think we can all agree there are certain words that you never want to hear in the middle of a global pandemic.

I will share them with you today. They go something like this: "Wake up, honey, we have a sewer backup in the basement!"

Doug Speirs / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>The One Condoms design contest seeks some more coverage.</p>

Doug Speirs / Winnipeg Free Press

The One Condoms design contest seeks some more coverage.

Those life-altering words were uttered the other morning by my wife, She Who Must Not Be Named, while I was hiding under the covers in our bedroom, trying to eke out a few more minutes of precious sleep before starting a day of professional journalism.

When I dragged myself out of bed, slipped on my robe and staggered downstairs, it turned out my wife was correct — the shower was awash in the sort of gunk we normally do not discuss in family newspapers.

If you have never had to deal with sewer backup before, I have one simple question — can I come and live at your house? Seriously, I don’t eat much and I’d be more than happy to let you operate the TV remote.

OK, I’ll let you think about that for a while. Naturally, we called a local drain-cleaning company, but they couldn’t come until much later in the day, so I bravely put my clothes on and headed into the office, leaving our two dogs to cope with the heady aroma wafting from the basement.

I was excited to go into the office because I knew, deep in my heart, that we are the sort of newspaper that has fully functioning toilets on every floor, not that I’m trying to brag.

Almost the first thing I did when I arrived was check my mail slot and — SURPRISE! — there were two packages sitting there waiting for me.

Inside the first, I discovered two stylish homemade face masks that, according to a note, were "constructed from pre-washed 100 per cent quilting cotton and lined with iron-on fusible polyester interfacing to make them safer." The masks were made from a fabric that was festooned with cute little puppies, including a basset hound, so they were clearly designed with me in mind.

It turns out the masks were a gift from retired Winnipeg school principal Arlene Skull, who has been busy since the start of the pandemic sewing stylish face coverings for pretty much anyone who needs one.

Arlene, whose mask-making efforts I detailed back in April, had made face coverings for a trio of women who had read about her new hobby in these pages, and they politely asked her to make some dog-themed masks for me, so that’s exactly what Arlene did.

My wife loved the dog fabric and laughed until I reminded her that, in my last column, I’d written about how Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, had made headlines around the world when she recommended people wear masks when canoodling with someone new to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Speaking of canoodling, the second package I ripped open had another big surprise inside — a large tin can loaded to the brim with dozens and dozens of condoms.

I have to confess that, despite being a big-shot newspaper columnist with steely blue eyes and naturally curly hair, this is the first time that anyone has ever sent me a package containing dozens and dozens of condoms. Or any condoms, for that matter.

"Hey, Doug! Hope you’re doing well. Enjoy this little box of goodies (smiley face)!" read a handwritten note from Milla Impola, who is the director of marketing for One Condoms, which is holding a countrywide contest urging Canadians to (cough) rise to the challenge and submit designs for condom wrappers that celebrate Canadian life, culture and history.

For the record, you have until midnight on Sept. 30 to submit your Canuck-themed condom wrapper designs to onecondoms.ca/contest. The public can go online from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 to select the Top 10. Along with cash, the winners get to donate 10,000 condoms to the health organization of their choice.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote an insightful column in July about the contest, wherein I suggested such subtle patriotic wrapper designs as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers holding the Grey Cup aloft and claiming: "It’s a game of inches!"

Anyway, as I sat there at my desk, trying on the masks and flipping through dozens of Canuck-themed wrappers from One’s 2017 contest — including a syrup bucket dangling from a maple tree with the cheeky text: "I’d Tap That!" — it occurred to me that face masks and condoms have two important things in common, namely: 1) No one really wants to wear them; and 2) They can slow the spread of a serious virus.

So you really should wear one when you go out in public. I am referring, of course, to the face mask.

While I can certainly use the cute doggie masks, I personally was not looking to stand on guard for a large quantity of patriotic condoms, so I suspect I will have to donate those to a local health group.

But I’m finding it kind of hard to think about this vital issue at the moment because, as I write these words, two plumbers are in our bathroom noisily using their drain snakes to try and clean out our clogged pipes.

They were making so much racket I almost didn’t hear the loud knock on our front door, which would have been a shame because it was a smiling fellow from Chaeban Ice Cream delivering two pints of frozen goodness that we’d won while supporting a charity event last month.

Call me shallow, but there’s something about free ice cream that helps you forget the pain of pandemics and clogged sewers.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

Read full biography

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