Anecdote – Reflections on RMC’s School of Silly Walks!
One expects that life at a military college such as RMC would be tightly choreographed and shining in precision for all aspects of its quotidian experience. It is from some hazy reflections perched in a second-deck window of the Frigate reclining in a comfy, cushioned window arm chair (windows in the thick Frigate walls provided a solitary hide-away for those cadets who needed to read for hours for their courses) that I must refute that expectation! The academic staff who were crossing the square – a diverse and specialized lot -- were almost all world-renowned in their fields – global leaders in everything from Physics to Electrical and Chemical Engineering to Lexicography and Literature! And like the civil servants from Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, they all crossed the square in their own idiosyncratic way. This was an all-season sport: it could be bright, sunny fall days; foggy, wet November days; or for several months, frigid, blustery winter days. Or, finally, bright, hopeful spring rain days.
One recalls, Dr. Edwards (Low temperature Physics) – gap-toothed, brilliant smile, gymnast’s gait, whipping out small binoculars to count birds (he had seen over 10,000 species around the world!) and Dr. Harris-Lowe (Optics Physics) – serious with long, measured steps, intently considering the merits of his ornithological colleague’s words. Dr. Broughton (the “Brought” – electrical engineering – Avro Arrow lead) – bespectacled, dreaming up new impossible questions for the 3rd and 4th year exams. With Dr. Jarrett (Civil Engineering and rugby coach) and Dr. Pike (Head of Mech Eng) making their way across the square only to stop numerous times to get the form of a rugby passing play just right.
Every lunch hour, rain or shine one could spot Monsieur Maingon (French judoka!) – Fluffy, fur cap, thick moustache, judoka body, assured steps. Occasionally accompanying him. Suzanne and Jacques (Second Language wizards) – big glasses, big smiles, dreaming of motorcycle trips in la belle province!
Somewhat later and with slower pace, Dr. Avis and Mr. Binnie (the Dictionary Writer and the Philosopher King) sauntered across the square – Bearded, bespectacled, in intense debate with arms flailing, Persian-wool astrakhans in winter. Ready for a beer to bring forward Plato’s dreams!
On a slightly different but converging path, Dr. Binhammer (Economics guru) and Dr. Cairns (Economics guru!) crossed towards the Senior Staff Mess – Slow measured paces, long ties blowing over their shoulders, reducing macro-economics into bite-sized portions, and planning the next chess tournament via post cards from around the world!
There was Dr. Denton (History) – true to his US Army background, stick-straight and rigid, always a bow-tie, perfectly pressed suit, positively marching briskly across the square often beside Dr. Dennis (Australian historian) – chameleon on a tartan rug, emphatically gesticulating, and planning the next student dinner at his home (complete with musical interaction!) and routinely accompanying Dr. Haycock (Military History expert and Sir Sam Hughes biographer – with gun collection including infamous Ross rifle) – arms flailing, brush-cut hair and handle-bar mustache (almost a wide as his face – like a big cat’s whiskers) – titan’s laugh!
Then on the military side one could sight the senior NCMs’ Mutt and Jeff team of CWO Slaney and MWO Fournier – rigid, yet fluid movement, in time and space with their pace sticks, always precise, always aware of cadets’ deportment and drill
Finally, (my favorite), on a snowy winter morning, from my perch in the Frigate, one couldn’t help but notice two shadows, one large, one small becoming more distinct as they crossed the square. As I put my book down (I was on spare!), I figured out that it was Dr. Vincent and Dr. Parker (Both English Lit profs) ambling across the snow-covered square, side-by-side, gesticulating in a wild manner, debating some long-contested literary controversy. As their attributes became discernible, it was a veritable Thig and Thog matching to which I was witness. Parker was very small, wore granny-glasses, a Hudson’s Bay coloured winter coat, mukluks, and a bright orange tube-toque (with a green tassle); conversely, Vincent was quite tall with a long beard and wore an immense raccoon-fur coat, sporting big, undone galoshes, and, the piece de resistance, a green Shriners cap (with a red tassle) with the word “BILBO” proudly emblazoned in gold on the front. This was a military college – I proudly reflected that through their independent and somewhat rebellious and goofy attire, that all these professors and staff were a significant reason for maintaining sanity and a healthy sense of humour during our years at RMC!