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At Large - The Colony Strikes Back
by Michael Coren

WHENEVER I fly to London from Toronto I reflect on those original settlers who made the contrary journey, by ship and with ideas of empire in mind. There is no doubt that colonialism is indeed an egregious thing and that Canada, and its arts community, is still suffering as a result of British ravages. I am making this particular journey for the launch of my new book, a biography of H. G. Wells. The British author was helped enormously, ironically enough, by a Canadian, Lord Beaverbrook; yet a recent biography of the owner of Express Newspapers dismisses his Canadian origins with a contemptuous and insulting alacrity. How typical and how sad.

My contemplations about this fact are broken by a flight attendant who kindly offers me a British Sunday newspaper to read. I accept two. The Observer is in good form, particularly its columnist Michael Ignatieff, who spearheads the publication's opinion pages. The elegant and eloquent scion of the great Canadian diplomatic family waxes lyrical about matters of British interest. The Observer done with, I set about the Sunday Times. Interesting. Particularly a coruscating and provocative column by Barbara Amiel, where this highly intelligent journalist advises Prime Minister John Major on how best to salvage the British economy.

When I disembark at Heathrow airport I make straight for my old haunts in London and visit some friends in Covent Garden. The flight is beginning to have an effect, however, and I need a drink. The nearest pub is in Maiden

Lane, an inviting venue known as the Maple Leaf. Hockey sticks, Edmonton Oilers shirts, and Canadian provincial flags adorn the walls and on a large television screen an episode of TVOntario's "Imprint" is being aired. This is all a little too much, and I take a taxi to my parents' house, picking up the magazine on the seat next to me. It is the Spectator, bursting with its usual eclectic jumble of witty essays and stylish reviews. It is owned, of course, by one Conrad Black, and this issue features a thrusting article about Canada and Black himself by John Ralston Saul.

The family home at last. A cup of tea, an armchair, and British television still the best in the world. Michael Ignatieff again, this time on "The Late Show," an arts program featuring indepth discussion and intellectual jousting. Ignatieff announces that a forthcoming episode will include a feature about Margaret Atwood. On another station is Mordecai Richler holding forth about Quebec, Canada, and anti-Semitism. And so to bed, with a much read copy of Joshua Then and Now that was on top of a heap of books in the spare room.

A new day. Lunch with my editors at Bloomsbury Publishing, one of the busiest and most accomplished publishing houses in Britain. Across the quintessentially Londonesque Soho Square and into the offices of the company. An enormous poster of Michael Ondaatje stares down at me from the wall and newspaper cuttings interviewing "The Canadian Booker Prize winner" cover the doors of the building like some extraordinarily literate wallpaper.

Juxtaposed with the Ondaatje material is an advertising picture of Barbara Gowdy and a few copies of a literary compilation published by Bloomsbury and named after its location, Soho Square. It is edited by Alberto Manguel and boasts articles by Robert Fulford, Marq de Villiers, Timothy Findley, Jane Urquhart, and Ronald Wright, among others. Bloomsbury's publicist informs me that with any luck the busy and increasingly influen. tial Noah Richler will do something on my book for BBC Radio,

Lunch. A good meal, a passable bottle of wine, and a newspaper. I opt for the Daily Telegraph. This is one of the success stories of British journalism in recent years. It is owned by, well, Conrad Black. The ambience of the restaurant is slightly soiled by the television being on. Only four chan. nels in Britain but a fifth is on the way. One of the people in control of the new station looks certain to be Moses Znaimer. There is also a feature about the Canadian entrepreneur who owns Toronto's City TV in that day's newspaper.

My final task in promoting my book. A discussion about literature in Kensington Library. A middle-aged, middle-class lady asks in suburban tones whether I have "ever met Robertson Davies?" I confess, to my chagrin, that I have not.

Back to Canada, to Toronto, to my office. A friend telephones and con. fides that a CBC-Radio producer has reservations about me. I am, he advises, simply too British. Only in Canada, you say? Pity.


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