Saturday, June 10, 2006

Little Nell in the 21st Century

I’ve always thought that with a really good text book (thickly bound, with excellent, detailed diagrams and super-realistic drawings) and an extremely sharp steak knife I could probably take out an appendix. Possibly tonsils – maybe even a gallbladder. I wouldn’t try anything more demanding – heart transplants, bowel resections, grafts or limb reattachment; I know my limits – I am after all, technically, a complete and utter untrained, inexperienced amateur.
But that’s why I was so pleased when a friend who’d recently had an operation allowed me to assist the nurse when the long line of staples that held her together like a crazy meandering zipper were taken out. I had fantasies of actually removing a couple, but the reality was I was allowed to stand by and daub the incision now and then with an alcohol-soaked sponge whilst providing gay banter (though not too gay – she still has a fear of exploding) to distract her from the not deeply painful, but genuinely uncomfortable experience.
It’s a start is what I’m saying.
The friend though – I’d love her even if she made me sit in the waiting room reading out of date Harpers and Maclean’s. She’s a peach – of that there is no doubt.
And through her and her fame as an actress, I’ve been able to experience a little of the celebrity lifestyle. I’ve been her date at awards shows and movie premieres and the odd special appearance (most recently the opening of a new Chanel boutique – at which neither goodie bags nor free samples were on offer I am devastated to report) as her husband really isn’t all that into the celeb scene. Truth be told, I’m not either – a more boring or creepily self-obsessed crowd you’d be unlikely to find – but it’s all grist to the mill… all events I’d otherwise unlikely experience without her personal invitation. And besides, when we go home, we laugh like drains.
But through things I haven't done with her, on the basis of friendship alone, I’ve also got myself a six degrees of separation (and often less) attachment to some truly famous folks.
In one degree, I can lay claim to Angelina Jolie, which means in two and three, I’m this close to Brad and Jen. And the new baby. And the old babies. (And in four and five, Gwyneth and Vince and the whole cast of Friends and so on and so forth.)
The list goes on and on. Colin Firth in one; ditto Keifer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie (my personal fave) Sam Shepard, and Rocko, Cuddles, Bill and Buttons from Puppets Who Kill. There’s more, but you get my drift.
This is an entirely arms length (and were I try to get any closer probably electrified fence, razor wire and armed bodyguards-length) attachment, but true for all that.
But all on my own, all by myself, I have a connection to one of the most talked about men in Toronto this week, (maybe even the world) the head of the RCMP investigation into the alleged terrorists whose wicked (stupid, bone-headed, creepy, crappy) plan was to lay waste to some Canadian landmarks before decapitating our Prime Minister.
That’s right. If trouble were to stalk me I’d feel both comfortable and compelled to contact the Assistant RCMP Commissioner, Mike McDonell.
Back in 1999 when he was merely Inspector, Officer in Charge of National Security, Mike contacted me after reading a letter I wrote to the Toronto Star about my connection to the RCMP.
I’d written (and they printed – and sent out a photographer to snap an extremely unflattering photo of me) a letter in reference to a story they’d run about a little developmentally challenged girl, an American, who’d become enamoured with the RCMP as a result of her love of the TV show Due South. She’d identified with the main character who was a bit of an oddball but whose brave and honest portrayal gave her hope that she too would some day find her place in society, beyond the teasing and cruelty she’d experienced from the thoughtless, careless children she’d grown up amongst.
The Mounties apparently responded to her mother’s fan letter with an enthusiasm and joy that sort of knocked the kid and her mum sideways. According to the article, a slew of Mounties sent notes and pictures and video tapes and presents and personal letters thanking her for her kind words and encouraging her to keep believing in herself, as they intended to do so for her.
It was a touching story. I swear a genuine tear rolled out of my genuine eye and down my equally genuine cheek. I sat right down and wrote those Star folks a letter, explaining my experience and detailing my attachment to the men in red way back when I was a little girl too.
I wrote about how I had decided when I was ten years old to become an RCMP officer (after discarding movie star and veterinarian) because it was the only job I could think of where you got to ride horses.
So at the age of ten, as a sort of heads up to the then Commissioner, I wrote a letter describing my drawbacks (my age; my place of residence in England at the time) and my shining qualities (I could ride a horse, jump 3’ 6”, muck out a stall and clean tack) which I was sure would guarantee me a spot in the ranks.
Pretty cute eh?
My mother thought so, so she sent the carefully joined together printing and addressed the envelope and sent it off to the man in charge. She may have thought we would get a response, but I don’t think she imagined the then Commissioner himself would write back (including in the large envelope my original letter so that she could keep it) and congratulating me on my ambition. It was a very sweet letter. Though it informed me that as a girl I couldn’t be considered for the mounted ranks, he sent along a handful of brochures of other jobs I could do, and encouraged me to keep dreaming, as I was clearly exactly the sort of girl the RCMP was looking for.
(Presumably after they got their man.)
So this is the tale I spun the Toronto Star, and damned if Mike McDonell didn’t hunt me down, identifying me amongst all the other Jane Wilson’s (how did he do it? they have their ways I’m told…) and both telephoned me and sent me a handwritten letter to thank me for my story.
He wrote:
Dear Ms Wilson,
Just a short note of thanks to let you know how much I appreciated your letter to the editor of the Toronto Star. That you took the time to share your experience and express your continued respect for the RCMP touched me. Your thoughts not only served to pique my pride in being a member of the RCMP, but they also helped to remind me of my responsibility to the people of Canada to carry on the fine traditions of the RCMP.
Your particular interest in equitation hit a personal chord as I was a member of the 1980 and ’81 Musical Rides and my interest in our Equitation section remains strong.
Know that your letter put some of the spring back into this Mountie’s step and I am sure that of others as well.
Mike McDonell”

No ersatz six degrees of Kevin Bacon – my very own connection to my very own Mountie, (the man into whose step I placed a spring) and he’s the guy who is engaged – this minute – in saving us from the terrorist threat.
Who needs Brangelina or Kiefer or even Julie Christie or Buttons. I’ve got my man.
And I have no doubt that if I were tied to the railway tracks, Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonell would come to my aid.
I’m grateful. It’s an increasingly scary old world out there, with the burgeoning threat of terrorism and violence even here in Toronto; threats from which not even the most famous movie star, the thickest textbook or the sharpest steak knife can protect you.

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