Allan Fotheringham: the best job

I’m a one-talent guy. I wrote a column for the student paper at Chilliwack High School in British Columbia. The town’s weekly paper, Chilliwack Progress, noticed it and asked me to write a column. I wrote a column at University of B.C. for The Ubyssey, the celebrated campus rag that turned out such minor figures as Pierre Berton, John Turner, Eric Nicol, Joe Schlesinger, Helen Hutchinson, Senator Pat Carney, Lister Sinclair. I started writing a newspaper column in 1968. It’s the only thing I know how to do. If I didn’t do it, I’d have to get a real job.

I’ve scribbled in Vancouver, Fleet Street and Washington, endured in dreadful Ottawa, mildly (and currently) put up with Toronto until I can retire to Positano, Italy. It’s been a laugh and giggle all the way.

Along the way, I’ve discovered the greatest invention in the history of civilization is not the wheel. Not fire. Not introduction of electricity. It’s the expense account. I’ve been to 89 countries, seen every major city in the world and — best of all — done it on someone else’s money. I’ve invented with my typewriter both Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin. And with my mputer — not too proud of this one — Stockwell Day. Win some, lose some.

I’m also, while not boasting about it, the most hated journalist in Canada among other journalists. Not my fault. The guilty party is Doug Creighton, my then publisher at the Toronto Sun. One lunch, at the Toronto Club, he asked my travel plans. Why don’t you, he proferred, find the 10 most expensive resorts in the world?

His theory was my readers could be divided into two groups: the privileged who had been to these joints and would disagree with me; and those people who had never been anywhere, dreaming of the day when their lottery boat came in and they could realize their lifetime hope of seeing Paris, Rome, London and Madrid.

And so, for a year, I suffered through the odorous role of trolling through two fleshpots in the Caribbean, a $1,000-a-night dig off Fiji, a spot in Bali with an individual pool for every room, a stop in Thailand, a feast in France, a gig in Morocco featuring white stallions, a castle in Ireland, a retreat in Scotland where I bathed in Churchill’s bathtub and where Winston and Eisenhower met secretly during the war to plot strategy, and one more stop in French wine country. A bachelor at the time, I was allowed, decreed Creighton, to take various companions so as to fill out the tennis doubles regime.

As I returned, shame-faced, to the Sun newsroom, the hatred permeated the place. I didn’t blame them a bit. I would have hated me too. As someone said of George Bernard Shaw, “He had no enemies, but even his best friends didn’t like him.”

There has been, however, a price to pay for all of this.

In 1990, I received a tip that I should be in South Africa the next week. I divined it would have something to do with Nelson Mandela. I flew to Cape Town and walked — five miles in and five miles out — to Victor Verster Prison to see Mandela released after 27 years behind bars. By happenstance, my No. 2 son, Kip, had won at a St. Andrews Ball in Vancouver a door prize for an Air Canada ticket to anywhere in the world. He flew to Athens, got on a rickety sailboat with two strangers and crossed the Mediterranean to Cairo. And headed south on his thumb. I headed north by business class. We met on the Equator in Kenya and flew off to Lamu on the Indian Ocean where, sitting in the sunshine in the hotel garden, a small libation at hand, I tapped out my column on my laptop. Kip, watching, said, “Dad, do you have the best job in journalism?” Dad replied: “Nope, I have the best job in the world.”

No. 1 son, Brady, took his mountain bike to Beijing and retraced Marco Polo’s famous Silk Road, got into Afghanistan with his new beard and flowing robes, dined with the Taliban and wrote an acclaimed book, On the Trail of Marco Polo. Daughter Francesca, who went to Paris with Pops at age 12, has backpacked from Greece all the way to Morocco.

Thanks to the gene pool, my kids have inherited the travel bug.

I feel sorry for them.

Allan Fotheringham has written eight books and is a consistently controversial columnist.