These are the Bills I’ve known

Peter Warland reflects on the universal reoccurrance of William

Peter Warland

There is absolutely no reason why I should suddenly have remembered Bill Ph. There never are any real seasons for anything in this crazy world, just pitiless indifference, but my memory of that particular Bill popped up into my mind and, although we did nothing memorable together nor to each other, except the enjoyment that I got out of the memory of height-deprived Bill fishing from a bit of a dam where ripples in the creek, dancing in the sunlight, occasionally reached up into his underwear and caused him some discomfort and me much merriment.

Bill and I taught in adjoining classrooms for a while and, because we both came from Britain, we were inclined to have similar weird senses of humour. By chance, we bumped into each other in a downtown bank and Bill was with a preacher, backwards white collar and all. Bill politely introduced me to his religious friend by saying, “This is Pete Warland. He doesn’t believe in God.”

There was no sudden flash of light; I wasn’t struck down but, outside on the street, that minister of some church or other grabbed me in a choke-hold and pointed down the street. “Who do’you think created that heavenly magnificence?” he asked me, his dander up and showing on the shiny black of his suit. I peered at the wires stringing across the road and finally focused on the distant mountains and thought quickly.

Ducking and weaving, I replied, “If you had been up there in that particular heaven lost in a storm with no shelter, no food, nor hope, you’d not think of it as magnificent or heavenly.” Then I escaped, planning awful revenge.

At one time I had so many associates called Bill that, when I called in at the city hall many, many years ago and told my very young son I was going in to pay my bill, the child asked me, “Which uncle is that?”

Anyway, in my own youth practically every other boy was labelled William and immediately called Bill. Many of the girls were also called William except those who were christened Jean, which, in itself is a French boy’s name, and there were millions of them. My dearly beloved future wife was called Jean as were most of the other girls who went with her on that first day to register for school and caused the teacher to throw up her hands and distribute different names to different girls; my own love was thenceforth called Jim.

I haven’t done my usual extensive research on the name Bill because, frankly, who cares but, it seems that William is a perverse English version of Guillaume, the actual name of the Bastard of Normandy who conquered England in 1066 by cheating and shooting the proper English king in the eye.

Anyway, from then, English history books are full of such characters as Bill Shakespeare and Bill Caxton, who invented printing so that school-kids just had to study his name-sake’s scribblings, and King Bill who invented oranges or something.

Now, back to people that I actually liked: there is Bill P. of Invermere with whom I have the most marvellous trips in the high country; Bill I, Ph.d., who studied oceans from about as far as he could get from them in Boulder Colorado; Bill G, whose nasty dissection experiments in his biology classes had frogs’ guts raining down into my cupboard in which were stored my valuable documents like those collectible Playboys; Bill Baillie, my cousin, who was named strategically after his father, who took off, leaving my aunt in the lurch (a very small house) with three kids to manage while the popular tune of the time happened to be ‘Won’t you come home, Bill Baillie;’ and, of course, the late Bill H, who was such a curmudgeon that, had he been given permission, would have shot any Albertan that dare hunt or fish in his Kootenays.

Anyway, there’s the mailman at the door; I don’t believe that he’s a William, a Liam or even a Wilheim but he’s probably packing another Bill for me.