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June 28, 2010

  • By The Numbers
  • image844/845: Two telephone exchange numbers in the town I grew up, Oakville, Ontario. My own phone number was 844; my best friend’s was 845. Most people I knew tended to have one of these two, though there were the occasional exotic friend or neighbour who would have the exchange 842. (People in the west end of Oakville often had 827, but our family didn’t know anyone who lived there). Once, while doing some research for a local history project, I read in a newspaper from 1962 that, using those old-style telephone exchange names, 844 or 845 was VIctory4 or VIctory5. I loved the idea of calling the operator, like Andy used to call Sarah on The Andy Griffith Show, and asking her to call “VIctory57501”.

    43 (38): For as long as I can remember, the GO commuter train leaves Toronto Union Station for Oakville at :43 minutes past the hour. Thus, for as long as I can remember, the number 43 has governed all my decisions about catching the train to either visit my parents or (during the times I’ve lived with my parents) get home. Thus, every time I go to leave, wherever I am, I check the time and gague if I have enough time to make it to Union Station by :38 past the hour. Usually I can, provided the wind is in my favour or I take a cab. Usually both.

    image15: When I lived in Britain, home was in the East End of London. There was one bus that went there from Central London, the number 15. It took a scenic route through London, passing by St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London before winding up on the slipstream of urban decay known as the Commerical Road. The thing was, in London in the late 1990s, the tube closed at 11:30 or something ridiculous like that, about the same time as the pubs closed. If I wanted to take public transit after a night spent drinking, it meant, inevitably, standing at the bus stops near Trafalgar Square, peering down the road and hoping that the bus coming around the corner would be a 15 (or, worse if it was past midnight, an N-15, which took a geological age to arrive). When you’ve drank enough for an evening in a London pub with early closing—which is to say a lot—this is harder than you might think.

    23-50-31: The combination to my lock in Junior High School. Frustratingly, this is the only lock combination I can retain, so I’m always having to come up with nmeonics rooted in pop culture, the dates of celebrity suicides and the age I was when certain events happened to me in order to remember how to get into my locker at the gym.

    1984: The title of my favourite novel by George Orwell. Except I’m a bit of a snob and always spell it out, Nineteen Eighty-Four, as that was how it was done on the cover of the novel. Never mind that Orwell wasn’t personally fussed about this and this was more the decision of the publisher, who has subsequently published it as a numerical title. Curiously, Orwell also tried 1980 and 1982 as dates, but I just don’t think Nineteen Eighty or Nineteen Eighty-Two has the same ring to it.

    10206: This was a cost code in a place I once worked. I had to enter it every time I made a long distance call. Given that everything beyond 20 miles constituted a long distance call and most phone calls tended to be long distance anyway, I came to loathe those five digits after a while.

    2005: I tend to situate anything that’s happened in the past six years based on how long after 2005 it took place. 2005 was the year Doctor Who came back to television and the year I proposed to the woman I love. Thank God she tolerates the fact I always recall the Doctor Who stat first…

    30: The number you put at the end of a news release to signify it has ended (it’s a holdover from the olden days when you used to send things out over an actual telegraph wire). Once, after a period of writing a lot of news releases, I had a day off and e-mailed my colleagues in the style of a news realease with the headline: “Burk to take day off: colleagues express shock, horror” and finished it with “-30-“. My manager thought my e-mail was funny and sent it our Vice President, a really decent guy, who also found it funny but over the next month kept sending me e-mails ending with “30” as though it was a catchphrase you used on a CB radio.

    image29: The jersey number of Mike Palmateer, my all time favourite Toronto Maple Leafs goalie. My Dad managed to replicate his mask design for my street hockey mask, using wide blue tape. It was impressive. To this day, Palmateer’s 1977 Leafs card is the only hockey card I own. (29 is also the number of Ken Dryden, another of my favourite goalies, but he played for Montreal). When I played amateur hockey as a kid, I tried to get number 29. I usually failed and wound up with 7. Lanny MacDonald ain’t bad.

    5, 10, 20: In the Jurassic age before debit machines existed in most Canadian stores and restaurants, ATMs for the different banks in Canada dispensed a different minimum denomination: CIBC and the Bank of Montreal gave out $20 bills. Toronto Dominion gave out $10s. The Royal Bank dispensed $5 bills. This was important to know when you were a student and often low on funds. I knew the location of every Royal Bank within a five-mile radius and where the TDs were as a back up. (In Britain in the ‘90s a similar variance happened—I was always on the look out for Midland ATMs because they dispensed fivers). Nowadays every ATM backed by a major financial institution only dispenses $20s. I think that’s a pity.

    77: For a year, I went to Canada’s only military school. My student number there was 77. Everything, and I mean everything—clothes, books, personal items, even my underwear—had the number 77 written on it somewhere. Consequently, 77 is my least favourite number.

    311 and 312: Probably the two most important classrooms for me during my time at Gordon E. Perdue High School. Room 312 was where I had grade 9 English with Mrs. Ashwanden, one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever known. Room 311 is where I took grade 12 and 13 English with Mrs. Whitaker, another of the most remarkable women I’ve ever known. Both of these teachers opened up whole new worlds for me and stirred up my passion for writing. I’ll always be in their debt. Recently I passed by where my high school used to be—it’s now the site of a Catholic High School that’s renovating. They tore down the wing of the school with not only the library and offices but also rooms 311 and 312. I felt like I had lost a piece of myself.

    image76: The number of the house on Orsett Street in Oakville, where I lived from when I was three to when I was seven. We bought the house new—my Dad still has the construction immortalized in slides—and it’s the first house I can really remember living in. It’s probably for that reason that, to this day, 76 is my favourite number.

    Posted by graeme | (2) Comments | Permalink

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    Kari  on  07/15  at  05:50 PM

    Speaking of Oakville phone numbers, I used to work at Bronte Creek Provincial Park.  Bronte’s phone system had this odd quirk where if you were calling Toronto, it was a long distance number, but if you were faxing Toronto, it wasn’t.

    If I recall correctly, the phone line originated in Burlington, but the fax line originated in Oakville.

    In any case, it was weird.

    Stu  on  09/22  at  12:04 PM

    Nice writing Graeme.  Didn’t you know anyone with 849 in Oakville?  I was 845, and back before ‘905’ we were all 416 like TO.

    Great work!

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