October 01,2014


"Tales From Outside The Underbrush" is meant to succeed the monthly series of predecessor essays that were in effect, largely if not exclusively set inside "The Underbrush" of geological exploration and forestry, to a universe outside that specialized environment. This "outside world" is one where life is also lived and experienced, and though most often reflecting a different level of circumstance, is not necessarily suggestive of a higher level of civilized behaviour and experience nor a more intelligent reaction to such by the author; just different and outside the conventional underbrush. Hyperbole will continue to be employed for emphasis or effect, or just to avoid the boredom of straight fact or opinion. Reader reaction and comment is invited and welcomed if delivered in a civilized fashion.

This month's entry continues the tale.


"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Albert Einstein

"Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits."

Mark Twain

"Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken."

Warren Buffett

It appears to start in mid-life, gradually increasing in both intensity and frequency as one slip slides into becoming what is now euphemistically referred to in today's ludicrously politically correct society as a "senior"; but otherwise in those times when common sense, sanity and self-confidence governed our behaviour and social relationships, was deemed as merely becoming "old." Along the short path of life experienced by the younger generation, each step that marks that path is liable to be a new one, perhaps accidentally repeated at times but not likely deliberately so until the path has become more lengthy and well-trodden. For "seniors" such as me however, new and original steps along the path of life have become increasingly rare and the familiarity of a well-trodden path becomes the "new" normality.

I speak of course of habit, the repetitious act of a particular behaviour that given sufficient time may become a routine that in turn may further develop into the potentially boring, if not outright self-dangerous dimension of a ritual. Being that within the context of the past and present, I have now become an old "senior", I am developing routines and rituals that might defy in their rigidity and repetition any such of an established church. There will be few that will argue that there are good habits and bad habits. There might also however be a class of habit/routine/ritual that is neither grandly meritorious nor damagingly bad but merely quaint, silly, stupid, comic, innocent or the like.

One such routine of mine that might fit those latter descriptions is rather incongruously based on porridge, more familiarly known as oatmeal in North America, and a substance that some in my life might refer to as making up the composition of my brain matter. Nonetheless, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mark the days of the week in which breakfast consists of a large bowl of porridge and a banana, the latter a feature of every breakfast. The underlying reason for this porridge ritual lies not so much with the acknowledged health and dietary benefits of oatmeal, but with its defense against the enjoyment of good taste. How does that old adage go?........."everything that tastes great is probably bad for you."

On the other hand, the ritual of porridge might just reflect my Scottish ancestry, for after all, my Scottish father's parents lived to one hundred years based largely I suspect on a diet of porridge and Scotch, although without necessarily, even certainly, being ingested together. I am working on the Scotch aspect although given my taste for expensive, fine single malt scotches from the Scottish island of Islay, this part of my diet is under a consumptive restriction forced upon me by that extreme evil called money. In this case the term "extreme" is in effect a synonym for "insufficient!"

The "old adage" referenced above might indeed however be applied to my favourite breakfast…………………eggs, bacon and/or ham, toast and orange juice, and preferably all in prodigious quantities. Eons ago when I was but a young buck geologist starting out my professional career in the Quebec bush land, breakfast at the crack of every dawn inevitably consisted of at least a half dozen eggs, mountains of bacon and toast as well as such non-traditional breakfast items as leftover pie and other deserts from the previous night's dinner. The eggs of course were either scrambled or, horror of horrors by today's dietary standards….fried! I don't think that rural Quebec knew what a poached egg was in those days although I am confident that "des oeufs poché" could be found in the tonier locales in Montreal such as the Ritz Carleton Hotel. Breakfast in the bush was designed to get you through a twelve hour day in the Quebec wilderness when the horrors of black flies and their murderous cousins were inhibiting, even prohibiting factors in the enjoyment of a luncheon respite. The ravages wrought on the human condition by these tortuous beasties have been related in chapters of my book "Tales From The Underbrush."

Old pleasures die hard even when you might be too old to enjoy them. No, I am not talking about sex. I refer instead to the guilty if unhealthy pleasures of cholesterol laden eggs and sodium laden bacon and ham. So it is that I restrict myself to a couple of eggs and two small slices of bacon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the eggs steam fried in my own inimitable style. Saturdays normally feature dim sum brunches and Sundays are often "the world's greatest breakfast" made by Mary; a sumptuous meal of poached eggs, a small mountain of the best cooked bacon in the world, toasted olive bread and a gallon of orange juice not from concentrate. Heavenly!

Meanwhile, the more mundane world of porridge summons me on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The routine is simple and repeatable; a heaping measuring cup of oatmeal, a pinch of salt and crushed flax seed, plus two and a half cups of water. The mixture is then cold stirred in a pot to integrate the oat flakes and salt with the water. Turning on the stove burner to high, I then know I have sufficient time before the mixture starts to boil to do my fifty pushups, done in a series of thirty with a small rest then twenty. Time may even allow me to quickly check the stock market status on the internet and any newly arrived e-mails without pursuing their content, before returning to the kitchen where normally the porridge has started to bubble and boil. What follows is three and a half minutes of boredom that demands some sort of relief. There are basically three kinds of oatmeal that one can prepare. The traditional is so-called steel cut oats……don't ask me what that means………….that may require some twenty minutes of cooking and constant stirring to prevent burning and sticking, before the mixture has been sufficiently cooked. I recall that these were the oats that my Scottish father used to make on the weekend, producing what he would call porridge of a stiffness sufficient on which to host a football game and where leaving it to cool too long might require a jackhammer to penetrate. A second type is the so-called "instant oats" that require less than a minute of cooking or by even just pouring a pre-determined amount of hot water on to the oats. This type however is said to possess much less of the health benefits offered by the traditional oats. Furthermore, they taste lousy. In the middle of these extremes is the "quick" but not "instant" oats perhaps offered as the classic compromise between health and convenience. These are the oats in which I indulge myself and that involve some three and a half minutes of cooking time.

Notwithstanding this seemingly innocuously short period of time, I never thought that three and a half minutes of stirring could go so slowly, a seemingly endless stretch of time, stultifying in its extent. I have therefore been forced to engage in various strategies that allow me to survive what seems like three and a half hours. One cannot leave the porridge to cook without stirring as this invites the formation of a block of burnt concrete stuck to the pot. A small mirror hung on a cabinet wall over the stove allows me to watch the news on television should I wish, although I have to peer through a tangle of easels in my cramped apartment to do so; an unwieldy and not entirely satisfactory process. I used to read the morning paper during the cooking process but that option ceased when I restricted my subscription to only the Saturday paper. I found that reading about the daily atrocities around the world and the also daily stupidities of local politicians so depressed and enraged me, in that order, that the only solution was to restrict my subscription to the Saturday edition where although similar content can be found therein, some excellent columnists display their writing and analytical skills that make the perusal of their columns well worthwhile. The only other tempting if unsatisfactory solution would be to again take up fried eggs and mountains of bacon every day of the week.

At the risk that I will remember myself, or be remembered by others in the same fashion as a song by one of my favourite bands, The Waterboys, where the singer recalls all his favourite girl-friends, one being groupie Laura who is remembered "to this day still sitting there, stirring chicken soup", I have sought ways in which to minimize the mental stress of the three days a week porridge ritual. Fantasizing has therefore become one way of surviving three and a half minutes of stirring boredom, and no, not the fantasies that that suggestive word might envisage. No, my fantasies are much more mundane and might consist of recalling flights made during my piloting days, dreaming up a new recipe for a pasta dish, or engaging in a game of golf.

The latter has long been used to combat those nights when for one reason or another I cannot get to sleep. Under those conditions, I will start playing a round of golf in my mind on one of the many courses in the local area or abroad where I have previously played. Inevitably, I seldom get through the front nine before I drift off. Recently, I have begun adapting those fantasy golf rounds to the process of cooking my porridge. Given only three and a half minutes to complete the round leaves little time for looking for lost balls. But then again, I never lose any balls and par most holes with the occasional birdie and never any bogies so that the game goes quickly. In fact, I am usually in the bar having my first beer by the time the porridge is ready.

This Wednesday, having qualified by winning last year's Canadian Open, I am planning to play in The Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. I hope the weather is not too inclement since I may just be clad in my underwear.

"We first make our habits, and then our habits make us."

John Dryden

"It's like magic. When you live by yourself, all your annoying habits are gone!"

Alec Johnston

Copyright © 2014 Ian de W. Semple. All rights reserved.

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