Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things


As I noted in my unburied power lines story on Wednesday, I managed to stay better focused in my research this week, but I cannot spend hours reading old newspapers without occasionally getting distracted.

Fortunately, I have Fast & Curious as a sort of catch-all drawer; a place for things I otherwise wouldn’t know what to do with. So, once again this week, I’m going to share some items I’ve uncovered from 1984.

The first is a letter to the editor that I loved so much, I had to pull it from obscurity. The author was a woman named Carol Ann Kiley from South Bar who had recently spent about six weeks in Sydney’s City Hospital. Upon her release, she was presented with a letter from then-Health Minister Gerry Sheehy—a veterinarian who first entered Premier John Buchanan’s cabinet in 1978 as Minister of Agriculture and Marketing and Minister of Health—who was running a hospital “financial awareness” campaign at the time.

The letter was intended to make Kiley aware of how much her medical treatment would have cost her had it not been covered by Medicare. Kiley was told her 45-day stay in hospital, at $257 per day, would have set her back $11,565. (According to the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator, that would be $28,997.96 today.)

Kiley penned a response to Sheehy that was published in the Post on 15 September 1984. Having digested the $11,565 figure, she wrote:

…I was becoming aware of the financial burden I had placed on the governments of Nova Scotia and Canada and vowed to make every effort not to burden our government so heavily again!

I would like to publicly thank Dr. Sheehy, D.V.M. [Doctor of Veterinary Medicine], for graciously administering these funds on my behalf and although there is no mention in his letter, I am sure he wishes me a speedy recovery and I thank him for his good wishes.

Before closing, though, I have a question that is causing me a great deal of stress and perhaps someone would be kind enough to offer explanations. Where does the funding come from to pay for such astronomical medical expenses?

I almost stood up and applauded at the microfilm machine. Sheehy was trying to present her healthcare as a gift bestowed by government and Kiley was having none of it. It was such a bracing corrective to the stream of self-congratulatory emails I receive daily from government departments and agencies, patting themselves on the back for the many kind things they do for us. (Apparently, in 1984, this government need to present every check and announce every dollar of spending in public was a relatively new phenomenon, one I’d seen bemoaned in an August editorial.)

But Kiley saw right through this nonsense to the truth, which is that we have healthcare because we pay for it, not because generous governments give it to us. So, well played, Carol Ann Kiley. (I don’t think she will see this, I found what I’m pretty sure must be her obit from 2013, but I feel the need to express my appreciation regardless.)


Call for help

Black, rotary phoneThe second story is also health-related and concerns a service I’d forgotten existed until I ran across a reference to it in the Post: Tel-Med.

Tel-Med allowed people to dial a toll-free number and listen to taped information about a variety of medical (and other) issues. Tel-Med Cape Breton, which began operations in 1982, was modeled on a California program launched a decade earlier. This 1972 article about the original program from the Western Journal of Medicine explained it this way:

Authoritative information on a wide range of diseases—including many on which misinformation can be disastrous—is available to anyone in the San Bernardino-Riverside area who will place a phone call to an advertised number and listen to tape recordings in English or Spanish on the subjects requested.

The service—invented by a former aerospace engineer named Raymond Saar—was provided by the San Bernardino County Medical Society, which made the tapes from scripts authored by physicians then clarified and simplified by lay workers before being recorded by “professionals”:

The narrator is selected for qualities compatible with the subject—for example, a young woman for tapes on pregnancy and birth control, an older man for a tape on glaucoma.

The medical society “provided an operator who plays the recordings asked for by the caller, who remains anonymous.” The operator:

…handles ten phone lines on a rotary system with tape playback devices for each line. The caller can request a tape by index number, title or subject classification. The operator plugs in the tape which then plays over the phone to the caller and automatically disconnects at the end of the message.

The San Bernardino project began with a library of 35 tapes and public response was “overwhelming”—the system logged 15,995 calls during its first two weeks of operation. At the time the article in the WJM was published, the tape library had grown to 100.

Cape Breton’s Tel-Med service was the first of its kind in Canada and by September 1984, it was receiving an average of 1,000 calls each week and seemed to have expanded beyond medical information—the paper reported the addition of 100 new tapes to a library offering advice on “everyday problems from sex to retirement planning.”

Either the Post didn’t mention the size of the tape library or (more likely) I failed to write it down but either way, I can’t tell you how many tapes the system offered in total in 1984.  I can tell you that it depended on volunteers, who operated a switch board from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM on weekdays, playing the tapes requested by callers but, the paper stressed, not offering “additional counseling.”

I couldn’t find any information about Tel-Med Cape Breton on the internet (which rendered it obsolete) other than a phone number which, of course, I dialed but my call could not be completed.


Hotel Hell

Last night, I made popcorn, poured myself a drink, fired up the VPN and hate-watched all four episodes of Colin and Justin’s Hotel Hell, the Channel 5 reality series that follows “Scots design gurus” Colin McAllister and Justin Patrick Ryan as they buy and renovate the Point of View Suites in Louisbourg (or, if you prefer, “a hotel in rural Canada”).

The good news is, the show is terrible.

The bad news is, it’s not terrible enough to be entertaining; it is, to borrow a term from “the boys” (as the plummy-toned British narrator calls the 50-something designers throughout) a damp squib.

Colin and Justin's Hotel Hell, still from episode 2


If these four, 60-minute episodes represent the editors’ best attempt to conjure drama out of raw footage, that raw footage must have been of an almost exquisite dullness. The answer to the central question—”Will the hotel open in time?”—is [SPOILER ALERT] never really in doubt because the hotel isn’t really in bad shape (the pair admitted on their Instagram account that they were open during the summer of 2021, pre-renos) and despite supply-chain problems and an apparent allergy to hiring sufficient staff or providing them with adequate equipment (see: their carpenter sanding an entire porch with a hand sander) they finished their renos in seven months and opened with a star-studded gala, the guest list for which included (as the Cape Breton Post breathlessly reported) Cape Breton East MLA Brian Comer and CBRM councilor James Edwards.

You get a sense of how little the editors had to work with from the episode summaries, which say things like, “The restaurant build is under way and now they need to find a chef to run everything.”

Which is not to say this series is without its satisfyingly annoying aspects, because, oh my god, this series has annoying aspects—chiefly, its refusal to acknowledge the existence of the Fortress of Louisbourg, the national historic site located literally down the road from the North Star. Not until 26 minutes into the fourth and final episode do the designers, who’ve claimed to have the Cabot Trail “on their doorstep,” mention the Fortress and when they do, it’s to suggest the large metal heart they’re installing on their lawn will become just as big a local attraction: “Go to Louisbourg,” says one of them (I still don’t know which is which), “See the Fortress, see the Lighthouse, see the heart.”

But at least they mention the significant tourist attraction located just a hop, skip and a jump away; that’s more than can be said for Sydney, the existence of which doesn’t get acknowledged at all because admitting they’re 20 minutes away from Big Box stores and supermarkets would destroy the illusion they’re living in the back of beyond.  They prefer to let their unsuspecting viewers believe they do all their shopping at Louisbourg’s one convenience store, surviving the “brutal Canadian winter” on cans of Manwich and frozen Hungry Man dinners.

Perhaps the weirdest aspect of this show, though, is that the “design gurus” do almost no designing. There are 22 rooms in the hotel and you see them redoing precisely one (in a style they call “Scandinavian” by which they mean “IKEA”). The other 21 rooms and the interior of the hangar-like building that once housed the Beggar’s Banquet are all redone off-camera.

Which means the show is mostly Colin and Justin, one or both of whom is generally wearing, for reasons never adequately explored, camo, talking about how much money they’re spending.

This—do I have to say it?—does not make for compelling TV. It doesn’t even make for inadvertently funny TV. It just makes for TV so boring you may be tempted to switch over to another of Channel 5’s offerings, like “Call the Bailiffs,” a show that follows “enforcement agents as they attempt to recoup money on behalf of creditors,” or “When Dad Kills: Murderer in the Family,” in which the host interviews people who “grew up with a violent father,” or “Plastic Surgery Knifemares,” which looks at what happens when “dreams turn into plastic surgery nightmares.”

Or you might just turn off the TV.