CBC radio host Bill Richardson on eccentrics.

Laughing at the Leacock

DIANA GRIER AYTON | Possibly Homecoming's most popular event is the Friday luncheon in honour of Stephen Leacock, where roughly 700 graduates, staff and friends come to eat and be entertained by a guest speaker and by the only McGill administrator who deliberately does stand-up comedy, Vice-Principal (Development and Alumni Relations) Derek Drummond.

Like any successful enterprise, the event is starting to franchise. A Leacock luncheon has been held in Toronto for several years and there will now be a repeat in Vancouver. According to Drummond, "Just as we do here, we will hold it on the last working day of the week. In Vancouver, that would be Wednesday."

Quoting Mark Twain's observation that "sacred cows make the best hamburger," he described the McGill dignitaries and invited guests at the head table as "the usual assortment of politically correct, marginally gifted and humourless overachievers. You're glad they're here, but you don't want them at your table."

He brought out-of-towners up to speed on the political climate in Montreal, saying, "Most cities experience boom or bust but the two distinct periods in Montreal are pre-referendum and post-referendum." He added that the six million sandbags left over following the flooding in Manitoba "had been shipped to Westmount, where they will be used in the event of a yes vote next time."

Politics at McGill got a mention when he referred to Senate as the University's highest academic body, "where all innovative ideas get shot down or sent back for further work. Senate did approve one thing this year  the Bre-X entrance scholarship. Students who apply don't need to send in an official transcript of their marks, just an estimate of what their final grades would be."

With a final warning that "if you laugh while eating the chocolate dessert, make sure you're pointed towards the middle of the table," he introduced radio personality Bill Richardson, formerly of CBC Radio Two's As you like it and now on CBC Radio One with Richardson's Roundup.

Richardson, the author of eight books, talked about conducting research for his latest work, tentatively titled Scorned and Beloved, which is all about Canadian eccentrics.

Apparently there is no shortage, and the Maritimes are an especially rich source, according to Richardson. He told of a one-armed inventor in Charlottetown who has nothing more than a recliner in his kitchen. From this, with a garage door opener, he controls cupboard doors, faucets and a nearby lathe. "A bank of lights along one wall flash on when something particular happens in the house," said Richardson. "My favourite is the one marked 'Big Dukie's in Bed'" which, he said, flashed when the inventor's large dog had climbed into his water-filled inner tube upstairs for a nap.

A Wolfeville, Nova Scotia, resident was so convinced he was going to live to be 100 that he had his gravestone carved years before his death to read Jack Marion. He didn't make it, said Richardson, "but none of his his friends had the heart to change the engraving."

Quebec provided a few eccentrics, among them Sylvie Montreuil from Repentigny who is a Barbie doll collector. Not so unusual, you might think, but Sylvie also models her wardrobe entirely on Barbie clothes, has identical wigs made specially in Italy, wears custom-made Barbie jewelry and shoes, and like her idol, owns two Afghan hounds and drives a Corvette.

All in all, the afternoon was a satisfying few hours of funny ha-ha and funny peculiar. And as we left, some of us pondered the deep question posed earlier by Derek Drummond. If women are so much smarter than men, how come they wear shirts that button down the back?