Thursday 27 Oct 2016

David Simmonds

I was going to give it the benefit of the doubt. I hear so many other people grumbling about that I’m going to go public with my grumbles and bravely assume that my comments might resonate.

I talk of the new Belleville Via Rail station, that’s what. For any of us with connections to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and beyond the station is a place with which we have to become familiar, like it or not, take it or leave it. I guess we should be grateful for the persuasive powers of our local MP, for without federal funding there would have been no station at all. What a missed opportunity it represents.

Let me count the ways. I enter the station in ill humour, having fallen again for the first two of the three available left turns, only the last of which takes you to the station door. Then I dutifully pay the machine that stridently cautions me that parking is not free; only to discover once inside that in fact parking is free for the first hour, which is usually enough to handle meeting or boarding a train arriving from Toronto, although an even bet with a westbound train.

And speaking of meeting trains, gone is the old reliable ‘plastic letters in a glass’ timetable, which told you after a careful scan pretty well exactly all you needed to know about what trains were coming and going through Belleville, on what days of the week and at what times. There is now a flashing digital sign that somehow manages to tell you absolutely nothing about from whence the train arrives. This doesn’t make much sense to me, because if my math is correct, about the same number of passengers will be getting off as are getting on. Someone who wants to be sure they are meeting the right train will meet a good number of passengers. Knowing only that, for example, it is bound for Kingston, Brockville and points east isn’t exactly conclusive evidence that it is the train granny, traveling with a small suitcase, has taken from Woodstock.

Well, at least there is a spacious, almost cathedral-like waiting hall. Which is great if your ride home has been discourteous and showed up late, because a huge window looks out on the parking lot and you can just stroll out as you see your ride arrive; but not so great if you’re waiting for a train, because there are some small obstacles between the hall and the train itself. Obstacles like a 52-step climb up to the crosswalk, followed by a 52-step descent. Yes, I know there is an elevator, but the elevator feels like something out of a Halloween horror movie and the stairs are what expect to use, like it or not. 

Those stairs create two problems. First, you have to allow yourself about 15 minutes to navigate them, which makes the spacious waiting hall useless for the very period during which it would be most used. Second, climbing up and down the equivalent of a four-storey building is enough to tire out an ordinary being carrying an iPad and a lunch box, never mind your average granny with a small suitcase. This forces Granny to take and decipher the elevator, coming and going.

What happens during those 15 minutes when you wait for your probably-not-quite-on-time train? Either you stand in a waiting area at the foot of the stairs, which can comfortably hold about four people. Alternatively, you wait outside on the heated platform, which may leave your feet a little warmer, but still exposes all your upper extremities to the elements.

Speaking of the platform, there is next to no room for two people, such as passengers getting on the train and passengers getting off the train, say, two average grannies with small suitcases, to pass each other without knocking one of them onto the tracks. The problem becomes acute when train staff call for ‘all passengers for Ottawa’ to take car number five and ‘all passengers for Montreal’ to take car to take car number two. These trains, of course, are located at opposite ends of the track, which precipitates a mass hurried migration in both directions by the passengers getting on the train, even before anyone gets off; and another potential surge in grannies with small suitcases knocked onto the tracks.

The best thing I can say about this station is that perhaps we will eventually breed a population of grannies, with valises, who have some ruthless survival skills, which I guess might be a good thing. That’s not what we create public architecture for: we create it to be functional, and occasionally it performs that function beautifully. Every day that building stands will remind us how short we have collectively fallen. Would we settle for that standard for ourselves?

My solution, which will create many new jobs and shower our local M.P. with even more glory, is simple: knock it down and start over. It seems to me that given the amount of money his government spent on redecorating the town of Huntsville for a short elite event, it can afford to reinvest in the continuing safety of grannies with small suitcases. I know many people who have them. Grannies, that is and of course.

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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