Monday 24 Oct 2016

Double Dutch
David Simmonds

Well you have to hand it to the Dutch. The Euro Zone may be in the tank, but they not only keep producing the world’s tallest people, and the world’s best cheese, they also keep coming up with the best ideas. Here’s a couple I’ve read about recently.

The first idea is the “Repair Cafe.” Why not, thought enterprising Dutch mother, Martine Postma, try to fix consumer appliances that break, instead of just junking them for landfill. Why not offer an environment instead in which you can drop your item off, and have a coffee while someone fixes it. The Repair Cafe Foundation has received over $500,000 from the government, foundations and individuals to pay for staffing and marketing of the cafes, which are not designed to drive paid repair people out of business but to make the hitherto not worth fixing, worth fixing.

The idea has grown into a group of 30 such cafes in the Netherlands alone, and inquiries have poured in from all over the world. They’ve already started a repair collective in Seattle, where they specialize in kitchen mixers, laptops and espresso makers; it had to be Seattle. In Toronto, they already have a bike fixing co-operative. 

Behind the idea, of course, is the fact that basic fix-it skills are being lost or how one makes items, the technique, discourages the application of such skills; why hand-make something when a robot can do it right, every time. As well, there is a strong element of community building, where older teaches and bonds with younger.

The second great Dutch idea is the “Divorce Hotel.” Check in to separate rooms on a Friday and leave all ready for the judge to sign off on your divorce settlement, with the help of in-house lawyers and mediators, by Sunday. A 33-yer old entrepreneur has struck agreements with six hotels in the Netherlands and is negotiating for more in the United States and Europe. The idea is to compress the divorce process and make it simpler and cheaper. The hotel employees consciously avoid the usual bonhomie, as instructed. “You don’t want the hotel crew wishing you a very nice weekend and hoping you have lots of fun here,” he states drily. 

The entrepreneur notes only one-of-three applicant-couples gain acceptance into the weekend programme: if the couple bickers or barely speaks, or if greed or vengeance is a motive, then they won’t qualify. Somehow, this point does not surprise me: as well, he negotiated a reality TV show built around the hotel concept. The U.S. producer says the audience could be big because “divorce TV is as huge as it gets; if there’s a conflict, it’s real because the stakes are real.”

Now, this is all something we might well pay attention to. With wind turbines scheduled to be approved for the County any day now, and with the Globe and Mail reminding us how fickle the Toronto jet set can be; who’s to say that the County’s downgraded natural beauty won’t cause tourist visits to drop like a stone? What’s the fallback plan to attract people to our hotels and restaurants? Well, when you’re busy spending the weekend getting a divorce, maybe you don’t care that much about getting out and around, or how suspicious the locals might be. Maybe you’d sooner spend your time at your hotel getting your divorce over and done with. Maybe, because you’re now going to need two of everything, you’d relish the opportunity to take that broken toaster or waffle iron to a repair diner. Maybe the County could start to specialize in repairing wine paraphernalia, and, maybe, if the original reality show idea is in use, it could become the home court for a reality show on divorcing oenophiles. The synergies leap from the page. 

Perhaps it would be a good idea for the County to get out in front of this one before our natural competitors. places, like Sarnia and Sudbury, grab the initiative from us. All the same, I’d sooner see a quickie divorce between wind turbines and the County.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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