One night in St. Jacobs, the old fable of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse played out in real life within the bland, beige box that was my childhood bedroom. I, as you rightly presume, starred as the Country Mouse.
It was 1985, most likely later March or possibly early April, and a rather significant minor hockey event was about to unfold in my home town. Our hockey association was hosting the Ontario PeeWee ‘A’ Finals. Perhaps you’ve never heard of it? On the grand scale of sporting events, the prestige of this annual tournament ranks somewhere between the club championship at your local golf course and Sidney Crosby’s most recent bowel movement, but for a bunch of 12 and 13 year old hockey players from the Amish heartland of Southern Ontario, it was a pretty big deal.
As hosts of this tournament, we were given automatic entry and joined the winners of three regional Ontario minor hockey leagues for a Memorial Cup style competition to determine the ultimate champion. We had not progressed past the quarter finals in our OMHA playoffs, as was commonplace for us back then, so the likelihood of us pulling a huge upset and winning this tourney were slim. Still, anything can happen in a short event like this and with home ice to our advantage there was cautious optimism that Cinderella could pay us a visit that weekend and make it one for the ages. Or at least one for the front page of the local newspaper, circulation 2,000.
Even if the pumpkin princess forsook us that weekend, there remained two reasons to be excited. First, we were given brand new custom hockey jerseys to use in the tournament replete with a new team logo and our surnames on the back, just like the pros. Second, each player on our team would host one or two billets from one of the other visiting teams.
Nowadays minor hockey is awash with excess but in 1985 having your surname permanently affixed to the back of your hockey jersey was a rare and revered thing. So much so, that I still have said jersey safely stored in a dry-cleaning bag in the corner of my closet. I guess I thought the Hockey Hall of Fame might want it one day. Furthermore, the front of those jerseys would be adorned with a special logo chosen via a design contest which only elevated our cachet. For one weekend, the fifteen of us on the Woolwich PeeWee A rep team were the top dogs in town and it felt great.
The billets were a different bucket of pucks. I had never done anything remotely like this before and I was definitely nervous. I got spooked during sleepovers with my school friends and here I was hosting two complete strangers for two nights. Not only were they strangers, but they were strangers from York Mills, a suburb of the sprawling metropolis of Toronto. City Mice!
I don’t remember a whole lot from that weekend. I remember that we only won 1 game, ironically against York Mills, a feat made even more ironic since York Mills ended up being crowned Ontario Champions by winning the tournament. A small, slightly bitter, victory for us, I suppose. I also remember hearing this song for the very first time. It was life-changing. And when I reveal the song you will quickly realize how sad that statement is.
The names of the two lads who stayed at our house have been lost to time. I’m sure I forgot them within the year. But they nonetheless made an impression on me. Their bold, big city confidence both shocked and stirred wonder in me. They weren’t rude by any means, but they certainly had more swagger than I ever dreamed of having. There was no fear of strangers or strange surroundings in either of them. They warmed to my parents quickly, something that befuddled me considering I was 13 and still struggling to do likewise. And they showed little trepidation in playing with me though I no doubt exuded a bumpkin factor nearing infinite.
Sleeping arrangements were as to be expected; sleeping bags on my bedroom floor. Sleep was hard to come by that first night. New surroundings, new acquaintances, and the excitement of the next day’s games kept us awake into the late hours of the night. As our mutual inquisition finally abated, discussion turned to music. For those of you familiar with this blog series, you’ll know that my musical awareness was, shall we say, limited. I was ignorant of nearly every act either boy mentioned and a look of startled disbelief washed over their faces whenever I mentioned a personal favourite. The Country Mouse was obviously behind the times.
Eventually, they took to enlightening me and began wandering through the frequency dial on my clock radio looking for a modern, urban station. My home was a solid hour drive from Toronto and those city radio stations were hard to get clearly, especially on my cheap bedside AM/FM clock radio. Success, albeit a bit staticky, was finally achieved and as the minutes became hours I earned a speedy indoctrination of current, popular music. This song branded the leather hide of my memory like no other that night. Thirty years later it still takes me back to that exciting weekend and the night in my bedroom when the City Mice opened the eyes, and ears, of the Country Mouse to a bigger world. I never did turn my radio back to the old station after they left.
I’m kicking off the weekend with yet another hit from 1984. A one hit wonder that had an outsized impact on my childhood. At the time I thought it was amazing. I also thought it was rap. I thought that made me sophisticated and cool. I was clearly neither, but an argument can still be made that this song is amazing, in a gloriously Eighties kind of way. This is “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head from a concept album called Chess released in 1984.
Official Video Version: