The Interview Meme

Kateland, mother of The Last Amazon, volunteered for an interesting blog-meme known as “the interview” — in which one would be posed some questions from the last interviewee, and then post the answers up on one’s blog.  See Ocean Guy‘s original questions, plus Kate’s thoughtful interview.  Since she was nice enough to include me as a guest to a notional star-studded dinner party, I figured the least I could do was reciprocate with an interview.  So without further adieu, here are Kate’s questions and my answers.

1. How is it that you grew-up not only in the height of Trudeaupia but in one of its strongholds, and yet, you are not a card carrying Liberal?

Actually, I was a card-carrying Liberal from 1993 to 1995.  Some of you may know that my dad was heavily involved in the Toronto & District Liberal Association from the time he was a teenager until his untimely death in middle-age.  Through dad I was an unwittingly volunteer on the campaign of Liberal candidates in Scarborough-West through the 1979, 1980 and 1984 general elections.  Through dad I got to see the Rt. Hon. Pierre Yves Elliot Trudeau in person, and actually met his erstwhile successor, the Rt. Hon. John Napier Turner, at the Liberal leadership convention in June of 1984.  I even voted Liberal in 1993, the first general election for which I was eligible to cast a ballot.  Later, I signed up to join the local riding association.

All that came to a rather abrupt end in 1997.  In 1993, two soldiers from the Canadian Airborne Regiment were implicated in the death of a Somali civilian during OP DELIVERANCE.  In response, our Liberal government began an official inquiry and soon found major morale and discipline problems in CAR’s 2 Commando.  In 1995, the Hon. David Collenette, Minister of National Defence, authorised the disestablishment of the Airborne Regiment over the objections of the then-CDS, General John de Chastelain.  As someone who had hoped to enter the CAR through a local Reserve unit’s Airborne platoon (and deduced that the CAR’s discipline problems were not regiment-wide), this was a betrayal hard to forgive.  Two years later, the Liberals cynically curtailed the Somalia inquiry just before the 1997 general election.  This combination of events (plus a lot of discontent within the CF) convinced me that the Liberal party was not truly interested in remedying the problem, that it fundamentally misunderstood the armed forces, and worst of all, had no problem painting an entire regiment as bad apples when the problem was limited to one particular company.

I haven’t voted Liberal since that 1993 general election.  They have done nothing since then to convince me that they take issues of national defence (and especially the welfare and morale of the average soldier) seriously.  If anything, the Liberal party has consistently lived down to the worst of my low, low expectations for them.

2. Name the three most importants books you ever read and tell why.

This is a very hard one to answer because in general, I dislike accumulating books.  I don’t dislike reading, but I dislike having an ever-growing pile of clutter clogging the  bookshelves; I read it once and then off it goes to donation or recycling.  The only stuff I tend to keep hard copies of is gifts (which will usually survive for a few years), and books that fit into a category one might call the Canon of Western Civilisation — Plato, William Shakespeare, Adam Smith and other stuff that’s been around for a few hundred years.  But these books I count among the most influential:

  • A book about nuclear weapons systems and policies, whose title and author I do not recall. All I can remember is that it was in my high school’s library, in mint condition, and I found it while still a lowly first-year  “minor niner”.  What made it interesting is that it was the first time I had encountered the concept of the strategic triad, and the book explained the rationale — purpose, role and tactical employment — of Western nuclear forces.  It took a very level-headed, scholarly approach to the subject and was written so that my Grade-9 self could understand it.  The book was very much at odds with the “You can’t hug kids with Nuclear Arms / Ronnie Ray-Gun will destroy us all!” nonsense coming out of the media at the time.  The fact is, these horrific weapons have to be considered within a realistic context of their employment.  If a nation prematurely pledges never to use them, then they lose all deterrent value and that nation may as well scrap them.  Its adversaries will likely not.  The book gave me a certain sense that maybe the generals and politicians had actually thought it all through, and that perhaps the average citizen could begin to comprehend matters of national defence and nuclear strategy if they bothered to study them.  Really took the scare factor out of the nuclear equation once you realised what the decision tree was going to look like and what circumstances would end up triggering the bad stuff.  Of course it’s only non-scary for those of us that respect the profession of arms and trust the rationality of those in uniform.  =)  In short, the book gave me a certain respect for modern military thinkers and commanders, particularly those living through that dangerous era in human history.  I was probably the only guy who ever took that book out on loan; in fact I liked it so much that I eventually stole it from the premises.  No idea what befell it after high school; Mom probably trashed it or donated it.
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Although I committed my life to God at the age of sixteen, I did not encounter C.S. Lewis until I was in my mid-twenties.  Back then I attended a lot of air shows all over the province, with a half-dozen friends who were also smitten with a love of aviation.  One friend’s grandmother lives on the farmland that serves as “show centre” for the London Air Show, so we’d park ourselves out there in the field while fighters roared overhead and used us as aiming points in their feats of aerial derring-do.  One night while staying at the farm, I noticed this book sitting on the bookshelf.  I had heard of C.S. Lewis, but never before read any of his works. Professor Lewis was a man unlike any other I had read; a Christian scholar and soldier who made no apology for his faith, his intellect or his soldiering.  If you have read a lot of contemporary Christian literature, you will know that such a combination is hard to find.  He seemed like a kindred soul, and I stayed up practically all night devouring the book.  Mere Christianity will remain one of my lifelong favourites.
  • The Flashman series by George McDonald Fraser.  Twelve years ago I worked in the Real Estate division of a certain major auto-oriented Canadian retailer.  One of my colleagues was a fun-loving real estate manager named Mike.  Mike was an interesting character; he had about a thousand hilarious anecdotes of unlikely situations.  He was constantly pulling pranks, getting his ass in trouble, barely extricating himself in the nick of time by quick thinking or fast talking.  When Mike was a kid, he used to amuse himself by chucking the family cat at his older brother when said brother emerged from the shower.  Flying cat would engage claws for landing traction, claws would sink into towel-clad brother’s bare flesh, brother would chase Mike around the house and eventually outside, sometimes losing the towel in the process.  Naked brother would eventually give up pursuit and go back inside, having thoroughly shamed himself in front of the astonished neighbours.  There were also Tucker Max-style R-rated exploits I can not publish here.  Suffice to say that Mike was Harry Paget Flashman, so it’s no surprise that he liked reading about the fictional Flashman’s exploits.  He introduced me (and several other colleagues) to these books, which were full of both Mike-style caddish antics and astonishing, realistic accounts of 19th-century battles.  The Flashman books reawakened my love of history, which had largely lain dormant since I was a seven-year-old marvelling over the thundering cannons of Old Fort Henry.  I know you’re expecting me to say “Hornblower” here, but honestly I didn’t know those books existed until I saw the A&E TV specials, and they were filmed well after I read the Flashman novels.

3. Who was the one person who influenced you more than any other, and how did it affect your life?

It would have to be my father, both by his presence and absence.

My father was adopted as in infant, since my grandmother could not have children of her own.  Dad was an energetic, extroverted man with the gift of gab.  He could befriend anybody in about thirty seconds and thus was a natural fit for his job as national sales manager for a European computer company.  Like me, he learned several languages in high school and, for a brief time, learned to fly single-engine piston aircraft.  Dad taught me the basics of flight and radio navigation.  He was active in the Liberal Party since high school, and was a very strong proponent of Canada’s NATO and NORAD commitments.  I don’t think he ever wanted to be a politician per se, but he certainly enjoyed being one of the kingmakers behind the scenes.  He loved the outdoors, particularly camping and fishing. Played and coached softball, too.  We used to jet off on spontaneous road trips out into rural southern Ontario, one of which resulted in my first exposure to Shakespeare at the Stratford Festival.  My dad just loved being around people, and people liked being around him.  Curiously, he had no interest in finding and meeting his biological parents; he loved his adoptive parents — my grandparents — thoroughly and unconditionally.

One thing he wasn’t so good at was relationships.  My mom and dad had divorced when I was two, so I had always known our family as two separate households.  In fact the thought of my Mom and Dad living together under the same roof was, and is, a bit of an alien concept.  I did, however, see dad every second week, and sometimes for extended periods in the summer.

And one day, at the young age of thirty-three, he died.

When you’re a pimply kid of 13, of course, you don’t really comprehend what the nitty gritty of it all means.  You really can’t conceive of notions like dad not being there to see you graduate; dad not being there to congratulate you on your first “real” job; dad not being there to see you get married or have kids of your own.  At 13 Ihad no such ambitions beyond soldiering, and literally nobody in the family was particularly thrilled about that idea.  Most importantly, neither the offspring nor the surviving parent realises what is lost in terms of role models.  You are stuck finding your way through situations and emotions on your own, knowing that mom’s reactions to your antics make zero sense to you, but not really sure if your own histrionics are age- and gender-appropriate — or not.

For example, not long after dad passed away, mom and I were in a car accident.  Neither of us was seriously injured, but the car sustained a lot of damage.  Mom immediately went into shock.  People were knocking on the window, asking if we were okay.  Asking to exchange insurance information.  Asking her to move the car, if possible, out of the intersection.  Mom didn’t reply, she stared straight ahead.  I wanted her to open the window and start dealing with these people.  She didn’t move.  I told her to get in gear and get the car out of the intersection.  “I can’t”, she said, without moving.  She wasn’t physically blocked from doing anything, and she wasn’t injured.  I was furious.  I grabbed her arm and started hollering at her, “You need to clear the intersection and start dealing with these people”.  “I can’t”, she said repeatedly.  If you had asked my thirteen-year-old self, I would have said the thing to do next would be manhandle my mother out of the car and then move the damn thing.  Mom of course thought her shock reaction is perfectly justifiable and understandable, and is the way any sane person should react to that situation.  My thirteen-year-old brain thought it was defective and wrong and stupid; I didn’t experience any shock, therefore you didn’t either.  You were just too lazy / fearful / stupid to get moving and do what you had to do.  Suck it up and get out there.  In moments where Mom’s perspective and mine just couldn’t meet, it would have been nice to be able to discuss it with Dad, and ask “what exactly is a guy supposed to do under these circumstances?  Whose reactions are right, mine or hers?  Why does she make so little sense to me?”  Without another male to imprint on, so to speak, it’s difficult to know what the right course of action is, and at what intensity. Especially when Mom’s idea of maleness and mine are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  She thinks metro, I think retro.

It also doesn’t help that this family is one in which the males are all but extinct.  Slowly but surely, after dad’s death, all of my great-uncles passed away, too.  My grandfather died eleven years after his son; leaving me as the sole male Taylor at family gatherings for a decade.  Many guys think being the sole male in a room full of women is desirable.  Not when they are mostly 20 years older than you and tell the same stories over and over again.  It is the wedding shower that never ends; all monotonous girl-talk all the time.  If I were to tell them that last week I heard the Chief of the Defence Staff speak, they wouldn’t know his name or what he does.  The names Horatio Nelson, James Wolfe and Isaac Brock would be completely meaningless to them. Dad knew how to make his exploits in the outside world interesting to the female members of the family, but it’s something I simply can’t be bothered to do.  I would have to teach a week-long course on the history of Western civilisation, with a sidebar on the Industrial Revolution, before I could begin to get into my interests.  Things are a little better now that my cousin’s fiancé is on the scene, but as the ranking Taylor male I don’t say much beyond a prayer and grace for the meal at family gatherings.

Looking at my description of Dad above, I can see that his interests are often my own.  I didn’t select them because Dad enjoyed them, but often he was the instrument of introduction.  Like Shakespeare, aviation, the IT industry, and politics.  Like him, I would rather be the kingmaker behind the scenes than the guy under the spotlight.  I likewise have no interest in finding out anything about Dad’s biological parents; I know my father’s birth name but have no inclination to dig any further.  For a long time I had an irrational secret worry that maybe I wouldn’t make it past my early thirties either.  I’m happy to report that I am presently a year older than my dad ever got to be.

Mom, of course, had a significant impact too — a lot of her interests are also my own, particularly concerning the arts, the monarchy and all those British traditions of yore.  But if I had to choose, I’d say Dad, hands down.  I can see quite clearly the echoes of his life and his passions in my own, even if I didn’t set out to walk in his footsteps.

4. What is the one thing you have never done but would deeply regret not doing before you die?

This is easy.  I would like to stand on the quarterdeck of a British warship and pound a French naval vessel to pieces using authentic smoothbore cannons of the late 18th /early 19th century.  I realise this is highly, highly unlikely in my lifetime.  Yes, I know I am going to die disappointed.

My runner up is a sailing cruise of the Mediterranean (with real sails, damn it, not some bloated diesel-powered luxury liner).   With visits to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Malta,  Tangier and Gibraltar.  Hit all the high notes of the Classical Age with a couple of stops in current and former British Empire dependencies.  If we stop in France or Spain at all, it will be to conduct blockades and shore bombardment of Toulon and Cadiz.  You know why.

5. Dinner party motif with twist. What five world leaders/rulers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner and why?

It is tempting to give a lineup of history’s greatest villains, like Hitler, Stalin, Hirohito, Lenin and  Robespierre.  Not because I want to talk or eat with them, but because it would put them within punching distance and I would dearly like to give each of them the thorough shit-kicking they so richly deserve.  But I suspect that’s not the point of the exercise, so I’ll try to focus on people whose company I would actually enjoy.

  • The Rt. Hon. Stephen Joseph Harper. “Oh, you’re a Harper fanboy”, I hear you saying.  Not quite.  I think he had a promising start but has since lost his way.  Mr. Harper would be here to learn a thing or two from the other guests.  This latest business about appeasing separatist sentiment, for example, is pure unadulterated foolishness.  It is exactly the sort of thing Harper used to rail about before he got to 24 Sussex.  No Prime Minister of the Dominion should be stoking separatist sentiment in any province.  He should at all points defend the Canadian federation, and if that is not (absent massive infusions of federal cash) an attractive position in Quebec, then Quebec can and should make arrangements to secede from said federation.  Whether they get to keep their 1867, 1898 or present-day borders is negotiable.  I strongly favour an air/land corridor to the Atlantic provinces.
  • The Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Laird Borden. Another wartime Prime Minister who had to face tremendous challenges in the national unity department.  Like Harper, he sought to increase  Canada’s influence on the world stage.  Knew how to win influence with Allied partners through the decisive employment of Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen — operating as a cohesive force in specific engagements, not (by way of counter-example) dealt out piecemeal in small numbers to a hundred different UN missions.
  • King David. Warrior, musician and poet — Renaissance man of the Old Testament.  The king who conquered Jerusalem and established a dynasty.  Called “a man after God’s own heart”, he was also a notable sinner who committed murder and adultery, and whose royal family was chock-full of strife and discord.  David did not lead a sinless life, obviously.  So why did God call David a man after His own heart?  Three reasons, I think:  David confessed his sins, sought forgiveness from God, and yielded his life to God’s purposes.  Constantly — it was a lifelong process.  There’s a lesson in there for me.
  • Henry V of England. Nothing succeeds like success, especially against the French.  I simply have to know — what if he had outlived Charles VI and been crowned King of France?  Govern both realms from London?  Move the capital to Paris?  Two official languages?  What would history look like today if the English and French hadn’t spent centuries kicking each others’ asses?  How would all those heroic Hornblower, Aubrey/Maturin and Sharpe novels get written?  The mind boggles.
  • Alexandrina Victoria, a.k.a Queen Victoria. Queen-Empress of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas.   It’s hard not to like the woman who presided over the Empire at the zenith of its power and influence.  Also the sovereign who birthed our fair Dominion by giving royal assent to the British North America Act, 1867 on July 1st of that year.

You’ll note that my dinner guest list indicates a strong preference for dead rulers versus living ones.  I really don’t know what to say to that.  Goth or not?

Now like Kateland before me, I am going to post Ocean Guy’s directives and offer to interview someone:

1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.”

2. I will send you an email asking my five questions.  They will not be easy ones.

3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

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7 Responses
  1. Alan says:

    You can interview me if you like.

  2. Chris Taylor says:

    It would have to be you, wouldn’t it — the guy with mountainous archives. =) Okay, give me a day to dig through them and get the good dirt.

  3. Alan says:

    Hey, it’s not like it’s over 3500 posts or anything…oh…it is. A shorter course might be possible via the “Me and Mine” category. I include anything smacking of personal revelation in there:
    And there is only 598 or so of those posts.

  4. Kateland says:

    Good answers. I loved Flashman too. I suspect my oldest son often feels a similar kind of disconnect with me from time to time – though he has learned about war, weapons, shield walls and man o’ wars from me.

  5. Nathan B. says:

    Hello Chris. If you are willing, I would love for you to interview me.
    By the way, I was pleased to see Victoria appear in this post. I didn’t want to be late with my Victoria Day thoughts this year, so my post on the subject is up a couple of days early.

  6. Chris Taylor says:

    Sorry for the delay, Nathan. Sure thing — I owe Alan an interview, too!
    Loved your Victoria Day post, BTW. The coin is neat-o.

  7. Nathan B. says:

    Very good–I will wait for an interview. Glad you liked my Victoria Day post!