Sunday, 31 December 2006

Seven Swans a-Swimming

Swans are very beautiful, graceful creatures in the water, and bloody violent monsters when they are on a towpath protecting their young. And in England, although that may well be in Britain, I'm not sure, they are themselves under the protection of the Crown, so you're not allowed to defend yourself from them very much, or not to any extent that would result in their death. The RSPB define the conservation status of swans as 'amber' that it to say in danger but not as imminently as species that they consider red, the bittern for example is one of the UK's rarest breeding birds and is classed as red for conservation.

There is a population of swans quite near here in Steveston Harbour, Steveston is part of the City of Richmond and is where a lot of the British ex-pat community live. The swans there have flourished more than the local fishermen and women would have hoped. They are not native and so there are no natural predators to keep the population down. Their faeces are polluting the water and this coupled with the fact that they eat water snails and water plants, both of which help to keep the water clear for fish means that they are changing the environment.
They also get in the way of the fishing boats as they come and go.
It sounds odd that swans should be in a harbour. A harbour we associate with the sea and swans we associate with freshwater. In this case the harbour is on the Fraser River.
Swans will normally live and breed in slow-flowing rivers and canals but will often lay their eggs beside salt and brackish water.

I find it strange that swans in the Northern Hemisphere are predominantly white whilst in the Southern Hemisphere they are predominantly black and white. There is an Australian swan which is entirely black. There is a Norse myth which explains the white swan however. In Asgaard, the home of the gods, there is a well, Urd, whose water is so pure and holy that all who drink from it turn white. The original two swans did just that.

An Irish legend, the Children of Lir, has the standard wicked stepmother turn Lir's children into swans for nine hundred years, but the story doesn't end well, when they finally become human again, they are very old and die quickly, but by then St. Patrick has come and converted Ireland, so they are able to be baptised and buried as Christians. So, depending on your point of view, maybe it does end well.

Lir had four children, and there are two in the Norse Myth. We need one more.

If you read Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' you will see that Jupiter, or Zeus as he was known to the Greeks, was always transforming into creatures so that he could have sex with beautiful but not-strictly-speaking-his-own-wife women. He turned into a swan to thus seduce the Queen of Sparta and so beget Helen of Troy.
Those things never end well.

Saturday, 30 December 2006

Six Geese a-Laying

The goose that laid the golden oeufs. The golden eggs of which I speak are TV proggies.

In yesterday's Guardian, or maybe today's, the time drift lends confusion sometimes, Richard Vine whets the British TV appetite by reviewing some shows that will be on screens in the New Year.

His first pick is Ugly Betty. I have mentioned this show several times, but it was very engaging indeed and I'm glad that C4 have picked it up, particularly as this is a terrestrial channel and means that all will be able to fall in love with our heroine. The only thing that niggles me a bit is that whilst I have given mention to the writer of the article, it's fairly obvious that he in turn gets all his info from my blog since he has made almost the exact same points that I have, but hasn't mentioned me. Bad form Ricardo.

'Heroes', which is to be shown on BBC2, is also something we have really enjoyed. It is hard to keep up with all the different characters and their strengths, but very satisfying doing so. I think my favourite is the Japanese guy, Hiro Nakamura, because of his continual facial expression of excitement and wonder and the way he spits out Japanese like so many pellets from a gun, although for all I know this is the way all Japanese is spoken.
A series which started here at the same time as Heroes, but which doesn't make it to the list, is 'Six Degrees'. Another show with fascinating and inter-connected characters. It hasn't actually been cancelled here, but simply suspended until the New Year. I anxiously await its return.

'Jericho' has been picked up by the Hallmark channel and very appropriate in my opinion. Hallmark in Britain is one of the lesser cable channels. I haven't been able to persevere with this one, if something doesn't engage me I have to have some really good reason to continue watching.

'The Lost Room', to be shown on Sky One, was a three part mini-series. Luckily for me, Kevin had recorded all three parts before I sat down to watch it because it was the equivalent of a book you can't put down.

I hadn't noticed at first, but in his write-up of this show, Richard Vine also mentions that 'Dexter' is to be shown later in the year. This was my absolute favourite from this year and so glad to see that eventually it will be shown in Britain. So creepy, so compelling. So good.

Finally, 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip'. We have also enjoyed this show about the making of an SNL-type show. It is rich and multi-layered although I may have to kill the irritating wet-christian, the type that makes Christianity look like some kind of playground for the feeble-minded.
But Matthew Perry is great in this, a good transition for him. He is able to maintain his dry humour while playing a serious role.

But I must add a few more eggs to the basket, I don't know whether any of these shows have been on in Britain or whether they will be seen at some point, but other programmes that I have greatly enjoyed this year and so to look out for (did I type that out loud?) have been 'Entourage', now in its third series but we only discovered it this year, 'How I Met your Mother', nice to see Allyson Hannigan back and in something this good, 'Always Sunny in Philadelphia', quirky comedy that had us glued and Danny de Vito to boot, and '30 Rock', a half-hour comedy by Tina Fey with a similar theme to 'Studio 60'. Alec Baldwin is the draw in this, he is just excellent as the bizarre studio boss.

On the other side of the coin, we have been entertained by BBC series that have long since shown in Britain, the best of which has been 'Life on Mars' and we are looking forward to getting the new series of it which Brits will see early in the New Year I believe, but probably autumn by the time we get it.

Friday, 29 December 2006

Five Gold Rings

Two Christmases ago we visited my cousin Penny and her husband Tim on Vancouver Island. They took us to Butchart Gardens to see the Christmas light display and the theme was 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'. It was stunning. The five gold rings were floating in a lake, huge golden circles of light.

Of course Vancouver continues to prepare for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the symbol of which is also five rings.
I have heard Vancouver many times called 'the most beautiful city in the world' and yet those who are in a position to make such decisions insist on putting in more eyesores.
Our skytrain is not a patch, not one pixel of a patch on the London Underground or the Paris or Montréal Métro, but it's what we've got and we're getting a new line on it, the Canada line. Of course it's all above ground. Visually less than stunning but apparently earthquake proof.
After the recent gales and snow and what have you, the power company, BC Hydro, have finally announced that they will be investing in putting more cables underground.

For some reason it has taken Canadian authorities 16 months to tell the world that a big old chunk of ice, a small island of it in fact, had broken away from the Canadian Arctic ice-shelf and looks set to make a nuisance of itself when the spring thaw comes.
In the Guardian's article, Dr. Vincent from the University of Québec is quoted as saying that,
"he had never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice and suggested the break-up indicated that climate change was accelerating"
further,
""This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead.

"We think this incident is consistent with global climate change. We aren't able to connect all of the dots ... but unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role.""

Ok, and they knew about this 16 months ago and yet here, as I have just said, we are still piddling around with a Mickey Mouse public transport system, we are still inundated with TV ads for SUVs (like 4-wheel drives), we still see popular TV police programmes showing single people being moved around in Hummers (stupidly large vehicles the size of a tank).
What the frell does it take? I'm serious, when will people stop talking out of their backsides about how it'll never happen and take individual and personal responsibility for this Earth?

Last quote from the Graun, the University of Ottawa's Dr. Copland,

""What surprised us was how quickly it happened," he said. "It's pretty alarming. Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is that, for one they are going, but secondly, that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it's all at once, in a span of an hour.""

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Four Calling Birds

If your beloved sent you four calling birds, how pissed off at them would you be? I mean, a partridge in a pear tree, well, pear tree can go in the garden, wouldn't notice the bird in it, two turtle doves, well, a bit soppy, but not too noisy, French hens, well, eggs I guess and you could eat them if you fancied it, but calling birds, now THAT would annoy me, and it just gets worse.....

Enough of that though. I made some horrid mince pies on Christmas Eve, wasn't feeling at all well, managed to make rock hard pastry, knew I only had a small jar of Sainsbury's finest mincemeat so put in too little, not nice even for those of us who like them.
But yesterday I made a new batch and they are lush. I had to make my own mincemeat to go in them and when you do that, you can put in just what you like and bind it together with the blend of alcohol of your choice. Heavenly.

Now I am really excited about the British Food Standards Agency's campaign to take on the advertising industry over the labelling of food. This is the stuff. David and Goliath. Some food manufacturers, especially those who produce breakfast cereal are worried that if people know the true level of unhealthy ingredients in their products, they won't buy them.
Well, first off, people know how unhealthy most of the shit they put into their bodies is and they still buy it by the ton, and secondly, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT THEN!!! Don't just sit and whinge.
The National Health Service, we are told, is stretched to breaking point by the ill effects of diet, so it would be a pathetic country that wouldn't attempt to do something about that.

An article on NetDoctor caught my eye today. It seems that pet owners are in general unhealthier than those who don't own a pet. This seems counter-intuitive, in fact the researchers even say this.
But fear not, it turns out not to be the owning of the pet that causes the depressions, high blood pressure, sciatica, diabetes, ulcers and migraines, but rather the owning of a pet is indicative of other factors. Ah the Finns, they are full of surprises.

We had rented the movie 'The Da Vinci Code' before I went to England, but we hadn't managed to see it. I feared it might annoy me. Finally yesterday we watched it and we both enjoyed it.
I had read the book and found it hard to put down in spite of the awful writing that made my eyes water and the poor characterisation that made me wince. But the film managed, of course, to avoid both those pitfalls. I say of course, but there are bad screenplays, there is dialogue that makes you say ouch. Another writer whose books I can't put down because of the story tension is Michael Crichton, but his characters are barely even one dimensional. And one of the films of a book of his, I think it may have been Sphere, managed to maintain intact the lack of dimension in the characters.
Not so in Da Vinci. I was not really a Tom Hanks fan until 'The Road to Perdition', but I really liked him in this. I think his ordinariness lends a flexibility and range that many Hollywood stars don't have.
The only character that made me wish that Ron Howard hadn't been so true to the book was 'Sir Leigh Teabing'. True of course, Sir Ian McKellen made the character come to life. But in the book, he irritated the hell out of me. Firstly, the stupid name. No British aristocrat would be called Leigh for a kick-off. Sorry if you have beloved friends called Leigh, but this would be the equivalent of having a 'Sir Wayne' or a 'Sir Darren'.
Then Brown made a horrible ham-fisted attempt at an English stereotype who obsessed over tea as his ridiculous name suggests, but who kept using American vernacular. Grated like nails on a blackboard.
That apart, I found the film thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying.

As for those calling birds, I'd have succumbed to all the pet-owner's ailments by now and had to release them into the wild.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Three French Hens

Third day of Christmas - three French hens. Yes, no, I know those are camels. And I have no idea who would want three French hens, although I do remember an advert for Sainsbury's or Tesco's free range chickens with some celeb chasing hens through the woods in a remote part of France.

Yeah, well yesterday, I gave in and clicked the button that kept bugging me to update my blog. Then it took me a couple of hours to comb through the copy of the old template that they had kindly kept for me to put back in some of the features I already had. The new and updated blogger in some ways is more user friendly, it prompts you to do this and that, but it's more difficult to find things in the actual html, so I am far from happy with it, but I was also fed up with it, so it will have to wait until I am overcome with patience again. Happens about as often as Halley's comet.

Whilst Kevin and I are fortunate enough to be able to continue celebrating the festive season, Laurence was back to work today and thus had to get up for the 7.30 bus again. I set my own alarm for 8.00 so that I could go down and check he'd made it and still have time to drive him to work if he hadn't, but he had. I shouldn't have doubted him but if I'm honest I'd have doubted my own ability to get up this morning.

On the National Geographic HD channel, a rather annoying man is following the route Moses took when he led the Israelites across the Sinai desert. He has two native guides and one explains to him about the substance that the Israelites called Manna. He says that when it is heated and melted it tastes like honey.
'Do you have any prepared that I can taste?' asks annoying man. Of course he does and of course he keeps it in a coca cola bottle. Why wouldn't he? Product placement is everywhere.

It seems that the desert Bedouin have very strong hospitality rules, everyone who comes by is given three days' shelter and food, after that the guest is 'as welcome as a snake'.
The annoying man doesn't mind who he foists himself on, he went to stay at a Greek Orthodox monastery that was built at the site of the Burning Bush (nothing to do with feminine itching before anyone mentions it). The Burning Bush had been shifted a bit and seemed to be a wild raspberry.
Tip for if you ever find yourself tempted to accept the hospitality of Greek Orthodox monks, Matins is at 4 am and isn't optional.

Last week we rented the movie 'The Devil wears Prada'. The story starts out like that of 'Ugly Betty' the TV series, but progresses differently. Meryl Streep was just brilliant throughout. Every time Meryl would do some subtle little Meryl thing, Kevin would say,
'Now THAT'S why you hire Meryl Streep.'
She had a way of letting you know she'd finished with you, she'd look away and say quietly but firmly,
'That's all.'

That's all.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

The Feast of Stephen

Ah, how I love Boxing Day, the feast of St. Stephen. Cold turkey, the actual turkey type, warmed up sprouties, cold bread sauce, cold stuffing, cold sausages wrapped in bacon, all kinds of pickles and when my mum was alive, cold squashy peas. Love it all.

Well, it's a bit different here, but we do have cold turkey, the actual turkey type, and spiced beef.
Pickles here aren't quite the same, 'pickles' here seems to mean pickled gherkins, whereas in Britain you would expect any or all of the following, Branston pickle, pickled onions (large) pickled cocktail onions (small and sweet)Piccalilli, chutney and pickled walnuts. Probably several I've forgotten too. We love our pickles.

I love the Christmas drinks that you wouldn't be inspired by at any other time of the year, Sherry, Port, well I'd drink Port at other times too, Snowballs, Whisky Mac, Baileys, used to be you'd only drink Baileys at Christmas, nowadays people drink it all year round. Oddly coloured liqueurs, mulled wine, Buck's Fizz.
Here we have eggnog, which is quite nice, I just can't drink too much of it, it's like a thin custard with rum and nutmeg.

Poor St.Stephen, like so many saints, suffered a violent death, stoned for his witness to Christ's teaching and resurrection, bet he wouldn't have turned down a cold turkey sarnie.

And nor would good King Wenceslas, born around 907 near Prague and King by the age of 18. You had to live fast in those days, Wenceslas died in 929 after a five year reign of beneficence and expansion of the Christian faith in his land of Bohemia.

Of course, there are ten more days of Christmas left and let us not forget that, Christmas ain't over til it's over.

Monday, 25 December 2006

Merry Christmas

Wishing one and all a truly Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

Christmas Eve

Tis the night before Christmas and all through the house...well, basically, not our house and people are boozing and playing pool. Same as most I guess.
We have the threat of more storms tonight and with that the worry of power cuts. From the news, both ours and the Seattle area stations, the trick is not to bring your propane BBQ into the house to cook on, there have been any number of people killed from carbon monoxide poisoning from doing just that. One Seattle family whose parents had succumbed in this way said that it was quite a normal thing to do in their native Afghanistan where apparently more houses are draughty.

Our Planet Earth watching had arrived at the desert. The desert apparently covers one third of the land on the planet. I can see the beauty in the desert and I totally get that many species have evolved there and that is their environment. But if I were boss of the planet I'd be greening it. Actually, even if I were boss of the US I'd be greening it. We have the technology, we could make it habitable for more people.
But then sometimes, when someone I really respect says something like,
'The desert is my favourite landscape, I love it,' I stop and think. It's a tough one, the needs of the people versus the integrity of the land.

The writer Kim Stanley Robinson who wrote a very thorough 'future history' account of the settlement of Mars, explored this very question. His characters set out with the intention of terraforming the planet only to find that a faction of the original settlers love the planet in its original form so much that they opposed any intervention.

Nonetheless, the segment on the desert was beautiful and interesting. Awe and wonder. Very appropriate.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

Caves

I think the internet gives you a kind of radar or spider's web vibration on your friends. There are friends I hear from from time to time and some I hear from more regularly and you kind of get a feeling for when that frequency gets disturbed.

I know if I don't hear from Sleepy for a couple of days that the most likely explanation is that she's gone rural.
Not hearing from another friend for a couple of days though got me anxious and when I checked she was on her back in hospital.
Another friend that I don't hear from regularly, but expect to at certain times had also gone quiet and that also turned out to be a worry well-founded as his mother has died suddenly.

Those times you want to be there for your friends and yet can't but then it isn't about me, those are times that each of us has to deal with according to our own feelings, sometimes we just need to go into our cave and be still. The knowledge of connection and prayer may be all that those of us on the outside can offer.

Yesterday we watched the episode on Caves from 'Planet Earth'. This was spectacular and although many of the scenes in this series make you wish you could see the places yourself, not so with caves. The camera people went down there so that we don't have to. And there were some breathtaking scenes. The Lechuguilla cave system in the States has the most spectacular crystal formations of any known cave system. The BBC were the first team to be allowed to take a camera crane down into the caves to film and they will be the last to film down there since no further permission will be given in order to maintain the caves in their natural state.
The BBC team squeezed their bodies and film equipment through spaces so small that it made me feel claustrophobic just to watch. They also negotiated underwater caves in Patagonia (I think) and there the fear was that the breathing equipment could get damaged and they would be fatally trapped.

Friday, 22 December 2006

Snow Leopard

TV here isn't what it is in the UK. Although Canada has always had way more channels than Britain, we are at the mercy of bizarre programming schedules. Thus, right now, and for the past week, there has not been a single programme on that we watch that has had new episodes. That's the way it is here, stop, start, stop, start.
But Nil Desperandum. There is always the Discovery HD Channel, which occasionally has some interesting Natural History shows. Last week we were watching something about the extremes of weather, fascinating, and you had to wonder how it was that the camera men and women just happen to be there in the right place at the right time. Yeah, well, at the end of the programme there was a disclaimer about how some of the scenes had been simulated.

Not so on the BBC's amazing 'Planet Earth' however. I brought the DVDs of the series back from England and we have been watching those. At the end of each episode is a diary about how one of the segments was made.
There was amazing footage of a snow leopard, apparently an animal that is rarely seen by humans and which has never been filmed before in the wild in this way. Then we saw the diary. A hardy Scotsman was sent up into the Himalayas with a tent and a camera, he had to set up his cover and just stay immobile for hours at a time, waiting for a sighting. The project itself took three years, but the snow leopard seemed to have taken something like seven weeks and several moves to capture on film, but it was worthwhile. Well, to us the viewers it was.

My son Austen is Head of English at Mayhem and he decreed that his department should take a term teaching poetry and a play about the first world war. So he also decided to take that particular year group to Belgium to tour the Battlefields. This is a trip that many schools take, but Mayhem hasn't done it before. Organising Mayhem kids into doing anything is like trying to keep water in a sieve, but finally he had all the money in, permission forms, the nightmare collective passport done and was all set to take off at 5 one Friday morning. Then gale force winds closed Dover and stranded any number of transcontinental lorries along the M20.
Austen got home from a parents' consultation evening late on the Thursday only to find that the travel company had been trying to phone him, they had various options for him, one of which was to cancel the trip. He did careful research and it seemed that the weather forecast for the day of the trip was more hopeful, so he decided to go ahead.
At 5 am, all kids on the coach, they took off, with dire warnings from the drivers that they wouldn't get to France. They took back roads because the M20 was all choked up with lorries that couldn't get back to the continent. Finally they arrived in Dover, which seemed fairly clear compared with what they were expecting.

Now there is a mythical thing that can happen when you take a coach load of kids across the channel. We always tell them about this because it could happen, yet never has. We could be sent into the customs shed and the coach thoroughly searched, bolt by bolt. Austen's coach was sent into the customs shed. He couldn't believe it.
'Will it matter that I have a knife with me?' asked one girl.
'Yes.'
The customs officers stood around, their poker faces like a bunch of funeral directors. Each child had to go through the metal detector. Austen noticed that the official with the most po-face of all hadn't taken his eyes off one boy. Finally Austen watched as he walked slowly over to the boy.
He pulled the boy's coat aside to reveal his shirt underneath.
'Do you support Pompey?' asked the customs official.
'We all do, we're a Pompey school,' said Austen. Suddenly the frigid atmosphere of the customs shed changed, the man said that he supported them too as he was from just outside Portsmouth and Harry Redknap (manager of Pompey football team) stories were shared. And the coach was allowed onto a ferry.

I don't understand the whole football thing, you all know that, but hey, in the customs shed, even I wouldn't argue that the Blue Army broke the ice.

And there will be more vicarious tales from Belgium to come.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Oranges and Lemons

Inexplicably this morning I found myself actually singing this nursery rhyme, many nursery rhymes have grim messages, but this one seems particularly macabre. I was mentally plotting the different bell locations on my inner tube map - I couldn't locate St. Clements though.

Then I thought about those orange and lemon candied fruit slices that used to be standard fare at Christmas and only Christmas, did I say standard? I mean compulsory. But they were nice.
In the days of the orange and lemon slices there were things you only had at Christmas, bags of nuts in their shells, liqueur chocolates, fancy cheeses,jars of peanuts and cashews, Cointreau, giant tins of Roses chocolates and Quality Street, selection boxes and the chocolates that hung on the tree.
It would all come into the house sometime leading up to Christmas and then put out on the sideboard on Christmas Eve.

Turkey of course used to be only eaten at Christmas, then it became Christmas and Easter, then finally all year round because it's good value for money and low-fat.

And that's the thing. Nowadays you can have anything you want all year round. Now we can have continental cheese, wine and nuts every week of the year. Ok, there's a tendency not to eat mince pies except at Christmas, but the rest, you either can eat when you wish, or once you realise you can have it anytime, the second realisation comes that you don't really ever want to eat it.

Now it all seems too much. In the hairdresser's today the women were trying to persuade the customers to help them out with the chocolates they keep receiving. Everywhere you go there is an abundance of baked goods and snacks, it's never-ending. Our way of eating has changed but some of our traditions haven't kept up.
There's an advert on TV that I remember seeing last year too. A man in an office keeps being offered food. Every time he takes something he has to do some nominal exercise, he can't keep up with it.

Christmas food can be the healthiest food we eat all year. Lean meat and lots of vegetables. I love Christmas dinner and I love the leftovers. But the thought of all the excess doesn't fill me with much enthusiasm any more.
It kind of all lost its point somewhere.

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Harmony

Our beautiful Stanley Park has suffered a great deal of damage due to gale force winds last week. Whole trees have been broken or uprooted, the Christmas lights and railway that have been set up by firemen destroyed or unable to operate. The City is asking central government for money for repairs to the park.

My friend sent me a CD of the Westminster choir singing traditional Christmas carols and I listened to it this morning while painting. For once the roads were silent, so the experience had a kind of surreal quality to it. Painting whilst heavenly voices were singing in the otherwise silent house. But it reminded me of something I had noticed before recently and that was on the television this morning.

On the News was a piece about a film about musical instruments that was helpful in teaching children about the different instruments and about harmony. I think that is a valuable lesson to teach children, being as the news item was French, I imagine there will be a citizenship lesson in there somewhere.

A single voice can be very beautiful, but a harmony of men's and women's voices, of child and adult voices can be sublime. Human creation from perfect cooperation, beautiful.

It is starting to really irritate me that the news broadcasts here always refer to the women murdered in Ipswich as prostitutes, they are women, prostitution shouldn't be what defines them.

We have seen a few excellent films recently. Woody Allen's 'Scoop' was superb, Scarlett Johansson and Woody really played off each other. Lovely, lovely film, very satisfying.
We also watched the previous collaboration between the two of them, this time a more serious tale, 'Match Point' but again, a very enjoyable, thought-provoking film.
A film that Karen had recommended some time ago but I hadn't been able to find at the video store was on TV this week. 'Junebug' was an understated look at tensions within a family, excellent.

On TV, the mesmerising 'Dexter' has just finished. Brilliant to the end, and I hope there will be a second series.

Well, the wild winds are supposed to be returning tonight, we'll just hope for no power cuts.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Reincarnation

I often wonder about reincarnation. I mean it isn't part of the Judeo-Christian doctrines, well unless you're a Witness because they believe in the physical resurrection of the human body which they probably don't see as reincarnation. But still, I wonder.

One of the things that is supposed to be the case is that there are more humans alive now than before in the whole of human history, so where did all the new souls come from? Unless it's true that humans can be upgraded from animals, in which case, where does the souls start? Is there soul to inanimate things on this planet? All part of the same substance kind of thing.

What about ghosts and spirits, why haven't they been reincarnated?
It would be a bit harsh if you lived a blameless life once and were then reincarnated as a being whose circumstances made them evil.

Science-Fiction deals with this question a lot. The Cylons for example, in Battlestar Galactica, in spite of being machines, have reincarnation off to a fine art, their non-physical selves can cross space instantly when the body dies and be resurrected in a new body.

In Richard Morgan's 'Altered Carbon' world, human consciousness can be simply downloaded into a new 'sleeve'. Very confusing because you retain your memories of your previous sleeve. Morgan has his hero who has previously been a man, wake up in the body of a woman just about to menstruate, that pretty much puts us in his hero's head loud and clear. And you can carry on torturing someone ad nauseam because everytime you kill one sleeve, you can download the consciousness into a new one.

Greg Bear in his 'Eon' world, describes human life extended by downloading into a computer simulation or a created ectoplasmic form. I suppose that technically this isn't reincarnation since there is no flesh, but the identity is retained in a different form.

There are aspects of the idea of reincarnation that I find comforting, others that I don't. Some mediums who believe in it tell us that souls have an attraction to souls they have known in a previous life, like a pack instinct for souls.
If there is other life in the universe, would they share our stock of souls? Could we be reincarnated as them and they as us?

Too many questions, but then it's the questions that enrich our lives, partly because of the intellectual stimulation they imply, but partly because they insist on being asked and to ask a question is to interact with another.

Monday, 18 December 2006

An Uncomfortable Truth

Last night we watched Al Gore's documentary film about Global Warming, 'An Inconvenient Truth'. It was an interesting and well-presented piece that dispelled the comfort zone of controversy like so much Scotch mist.
Admittedly there were some fudgey bits. Al showed us that the big argument against taking responsibility for the environment at government level is that it will harm the economy and he answered this with the truism that no planet = no economy and then by simply saying that as we move forward with environmental recovery strategies, jobs will be created. That really would have gone no way to silencing a critic and considering that he gave solid figures on the per capita output of pollutants from the US as compared with other major economies, I feel he could have explored how those other economies have achieved lower levels.
I also felt that he way he showed us what would happen if the population of the planet continued growing at the rate it has been over the last fifty years was not entirely objective, because I don't believe it is still growing at that rate.

That being said, what was unequivocal was the fact that it is not scientists who are disagreeing over planetary warming, it is politicians who want us to believe there is dissent among the scientific communities.
The picture was far from a comfortable one and you have to wonder exactly what has to happen before the US administration will acknowledge it and take some steps towards informing people and curbing their excesses, because there is no doubt, Al Gore's film isn't it.
The US may not have ratified Kyoto, but many individual US cities have declared their intentions to take responsibility for setting targets on emissions and other pollution. And who are the people who are going to watch the film? In my opinion those who can more than likely tick all the boxes on Al's list anyway - like us and like the citizens of those already active areas. Well, we don't get to vote in the US elections of course, but aside from that, all the personal measures he recommends, we already do, and I suspect that is true for most of his audience.
Still, he should be praised for making the film and I hope it does have some impact on policy makers as well as individuals. It posed not just an inconvenient truth, but an uncomfortable one too.

My friend the little traffic manager of Iran, has not done so well in his own elections. It seems that his countryfolk favour reform. Of course, according to the news he hasn't yet finished fiddling the figures, the counting of the poll is in the hands of his own people.
But what you have to notice is that not only did 60% of Iranians turn out for the election, but you could see women voting too.

I was naturally pleased to see that police are holding a suspect for the murder of five women in Suffolk. The odd thing about this man is that he has a MySpace profile available for anyone to see, and from it he doesn't appear to be anymore weird than any other weirdo, well, apart from listing Hong Kong Phooey as his hero, but then like I say...any other weirdo.

Cubans are praying for a miracle, I saw them on TV this morning, all weeping and wailing and doing strange things on their knees which looked like slowly pushing small statues of Castro along the ground.
The sad truth is that Castro is an old man, and the end has to come at some point, they need someone else they can believe in.

Sunday, 17 December 2006

Cells

For a long time, a higher percentage of the population of Canada been connected to the internet than most other countries in the world, and by the world I don't just mean North America. This isn't however, the same with mobile or cell phones, surprising since I'm continually getting almost killed by idiots using them whilst attempting to drive.

Ever since the explosion of pay-as-you-go phones in Britain, it seems like every kid has one, which is why there are always studies coming out warning of the effects of exposure to cell phones on the immature brain. Kids whose parents couldn't afford decent shoes or new shirts for their kids would buy them phones. Not only that, they would phone them during lessons. The beauty of the pay-as-you-go phone was that some, if not all of the kids would never have any credit so at least they couldn't phone out.

Of course phones could then be stolen, lost, confiscated - which would result in more angry phone calls from parents that anything and in general cause mayhem.
On the plus side, if you took school trips out and especially abroad, you no longer had to organise a complicated telephone tree for letting parents know if you were going to be late back or whatever.

Pay-as-you-go phones here however have not been as widespread as in Europe although that is changing. But there are limitations on both contract and p-a-y-g. Many contracts here make you pay for or take away some of your free minutes, for incoming calls. I may be suffering from false memory here, but I have some distant memory of this happening when mobile phones first came out in Britain. Perhaps someone can remember better than me.

When I left Britain, I was able to switch my contract phone to p-a-y-g by simply buying a new SIM card, er, I say that like I knew what I was doing, but in fact, Ben had to tell me what to do and how to put credit on it.

I have been thinking about getting a p-a-y-g phone for myself and as discussed yesterday, in encouraging Laurence to get one. At the moment, Kevin and I have a contract phone which we share, although it is mostly me who has it.
But after discussing p-a-y-g with a colleague of Kevin's last night, I realise there is a flaw in my plan.

When I was in England I put some credit on my phone. Next time I go back, that will still be there for me to use. But the system here as described to me is that when you buy credit here it last for a month or two months, and then, if you haven't used it, it disappears. So I'm wondering what the benefit of having pay-as-you-go is and maybe that's why it isn't so popular here.

Something I will have to look into more before making any decision.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Ripples

My Friday didn't go too well looking back. I'm not a very artistic person, by I am quite good with colour. The living room is the final room in the house that needs my attention, and the reason it was the last room to be done is that the colour it was already painted was ok, as opposed to the unpleasant browns and snot greens of the rest of the house. It was my intention to select a colour quite close to, but a little brighter than the current colour and I did. However it didn't work, so having painted one small wall I sat disconsolately looking at it as though doing so might coax it into being acceptable. It hasn't worked. In the cold light of the morning it looks like a delicious deep raspberry milkshake, which isn't what I want on my walls.

The other bit of bother we had yesterday involved my wayward son Laurence. On a Friday he often goes into town on his way back from work, has something to eat and goes to see a movie. So I wasn't too worried until midnight came around and there was no sign of him. Then one o'clock and we realised the buses had stopped running. Two o'clock and I am so far past my sell-by date that I am almost propping my eyes open with matchsticks, but now wet snow is falling and the streets are empty, so I drove the bus route back into town, circled the bus stops and came back down the road that I would walk were I coming back from town by Shanks's pony.

The last time Laurence didn't come home all night, you may remember, was because he was in the Hemel Hempstead nick, so I had visions of Mounties at the door. Yeah, no, not those kind of visions.

Finally at 2.30, Laurence rolled in. Annoyed of course that I had been worried about him and unable to sleep. He had done some overtime and caught the late showing at the cinema then had to walk home, I had missed him somehow. Pointing out that if I were expected back around 11.30 and wasn't getting back until gone 2, I would have phoned only went so far towards convincing him. But like the parent of the Prodigal son, I was just relieved that he was safe, not mugged, not run over, just back.

I want to wish my very dear friend in Britain, Karen, a very happy birthday today. Karen and I have been friends since we were five years old and that friendship has survived several moves, life crises, watched each others kids grow up and I think and hope that we'll be friends until one of us shuffles off.
Happy Birthday Karen, may there be many more.

Friday, 15 December 2006

A Mighty Wind

I had to walk for just five minutes behind our house to take this picture, a view which still has the power to stop me dead in my tracks.

We have some big weather. High winds, lashing rain, a possibility of snow forecast for the weekend. Yesterday when I was driving there was sleet, the snow component of it like tiny slush puppies on the windscreen.
A lot of our power cables here are above ground and we have many big trees. So, branches falling from trees or heavy snow plus exposed power lines, I'm sure you can join the dots. The power company, BC Hydro has just put its hands in the air and said they can't cope with the repairs. Friends here are muttering darkly about how they manage to bury the power cables in Manitoba where the ground is like rock and the temperatures in the winter forty degrees below.
Much of the Province is without power and we wonder whether we'll be next, the TV kept losing reception yesterday early evening.
On the radio, the company that is responsible for keeping the highway that goes to Whistler clear of snow, are not going to be getting their bonuses because they haven't been doing their job properly. Great to have snow on the mountains for the tourists, but not if they can't get to them.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in Paris, public transport goes from strength to strength. Tomorrow sees the return of the tram to the capital city, and very state-of-the-art they look too. My goodness. The French are rightly proud at this reintroduction, trams disappeared from Paris in 1937. Their return shows France's commitment to the environment.

Vermont is to become the third of the United States to introduce Civil Unions for gay couples. I consider this to be a huge step forward even though it seems so small, I mean surely the dominoes will all fall over eventually, well possibly not ever Texas. I do however still find it disquieting that there is this difference between Civil Union and Marriage and I am certainly coming round to the way of thinking that Civil Union is the way forward and should be available to all.

I like this point in the year, almost a pendulum turning moment of stillness. Dark, not yet Christmas, coming up to the shortest day but not quite there yet. A time for reflection and a short teatime of the soul, or perhaps more of an early supper. It feels as though, at our furthest point from the sun, the veil between darkness and light, life and death is stretched so thinly you can almost see the other side, hear the gentle sussuration of the sands flowing from top to bottom of the hourglass.

I know that sounds either wildly pretentious or melancholic beyond redemption or maybe a little of both, but I don't feel the infinite sadness, just a profound spirituality that is hard to convey.

Addendum : I've just gone and read my friend Sleepy's blog for today and she gives an account and quote from the recent case brought to court in Ireland where two women, married in Vancouver tried to have the marriage recognised in Ireland. If you don't already read Sleepy's blog anyway, I'd like to strongly encourage you to read this post.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Sparkle up.

When I was in England, I loved the gentle humour of my son's 'Bossy List' of things that needed doing during the day. For many years now I have worked daily from a 'to-do' list, in fact when I was teaching and managing a department, I had a hierarchy of lists, today, this week, this term, and then a daily one for home. Yes, I know this isn't earth shattering and many people have them, but it is quite an important part of my sanity.

One of the things on my to-do list today was to buy some sparkling wine. Now no-one could accuse Canadians of not liking their booze, being as there are so many Scots and Irish in the general population. Having said that, it's only here in Canada that I've ever attended a dry social thing in the evening, and that's bearing in mind I used to have friends that were Methodists back home.
But in general, yes, they like their tipple. It's not, however, as easy as you might think to buy alcohol. Instead of just being able to pick up a few bottles of wine and some whisky in the supermarket, you have to go to a Government run Liquor Store. Now these stores are most impressive in their range, most impressive indeed, however, let me put this into context. Think of how far you would have to walk in Britain to your nearest shop that sells alcohol. Five, ten minutes? Well I would have to walk for an hour, I know, I've done it.
Anyway, the sparkling wine was because we have a few limes left over and Kevin's mind immediately goes to what he can use them for and lo, a drink occurs to him. I like the way that works.

My friend Sleepy is not a fan of Champagne, although she'll have some in her wine for example, to 'sparkle it up'. I was thinking of this today not just because it was on my list, but because another item was getting some bits and pieces from the Supermarket. The woman at the checkout said,
'I like your accent.' This happens from time to time, but hasn't happened for some time so I thought, 'well maybe my accent got sparkled up when I went back to England.'

I'm never quite sure what the etiquette is, what I should say. If someone said they liked your jumper, you could feel complimented for your good taste, for your skillful selection of the jumper from 30 others in Dorothy Perkins or wherever.
But your accent is something you came by accidentally, you can't say,
'Ooh,thank-you, yes I got it off the rack in BHS,' no, it's more like,
'You have nice cheekbones,' or 'my goodness, are those natural?' no-one would ever say that to you, well unless you were both drunk and in the kitchen at someone's party.
SO I smile and say thank-you. Experience has led me to know that the conversation is going to continue anyway. Today it was poor Princess Di, so I gave the Princess Di look, you know, head coyly to one side, looking out from beneath my (rather dishevelled) fringe, showing that I shared the shop assistant's pain.

Ah well. Better go and sparkle up the floor ... or maybe the floor can wait and I'll sparkle up my coffee.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Invisibility

Shields up. How is your cloaking device working? Well if you're a middle-aged woman, probably pretty well.
It's not always a bad thing, this invisibility that comes with middle age, but it can be, oh yes, it can be a very bad thing indeed. The submerged part of the iceberg that keeps the whole thing afloat. I may come back to this. I probably will.

But help is at hand, we can all overdose on oestregen. Feministing's Jessica points us to an article about the dangers of eating soya. It seems as though the article is suggesting that eating too much soy is responsible for making men homosexual. Apparently the hormones in it can shrink the penis and feminise men. Now oddly, I'd never heard this theory about gay men having smaller penises, I'm sure most gay men hadn't either. And as for feminising everyone, he says this like it's a bad thing??

Perhaps Tom Cruise eats a lot of soy, I know that many of my friends feel he sets the gaydar off like a siren, I feel he isn't interesting enough to be gay, but on the plane coming back from the UK, I had an opportunity I would never have given myself, they showed 'Mission Impossible 3'.
Now back in the ...whenever it was, middle ages or something, when this was a TV show, I used to watch it faithfully. And for the times, it was good. Now the idea is old and worn and the Cruise-missile is having to throw more and more explosions and impossible building-scaling into the mix. It was like the proverbial dead horse. Flog it all you like, it ain't coming back to life.

I have been using the excuse of feeling under the weather to catch up on my back-viewing of TV progs that aired while I was away.
A woman who is certainly heading for middle age but never invisible is Mariska Hargitay, Detective Olivia Benson in SVU. Thank goodness she's back at last, not that there was anything wrong with rangy Connie Nielsen, but well, you know, there is just something special about Olivia.

I guess there are times, like I said, when it's good to be invisible.
The body count in Ipswich is up to five. Horrifying. The population are worried that the serial killer may move on to ordinary women. Yes, because he's just practising on the sub-standard ones.
Well, one of the prostitutes was a mother of three, so you'd think the 'ordinary' people would be able to empathise with that.
Still I suppose it must be said that it is mainly prostitutes whose work obliges them to get into cars with strangers.

Oh, Gott sei Dank, Old el Paso have finally invented a taco with a flat bottom, I think this may change lives, just not mine particularly. Unless I want to use some for holding more soy mince.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Shareef Don't Like It

Ben gave me the Clash's Singles CD for Christmas, a pressie that I was mightily happy with. By coincidence there is an ad currently on TV where some guys are singing the wrong lyrics to 'Rock the Casbah', for example 'lock the cashbox' and 'kick the catbox', so it's one of those ads that makes you sing along, or croak along in my case (still but improving).

Last night someone asked me about Tony's recent foot-putting-down over immigrants whingeing about British values. Someone else said that Holland, who for reasons best known only to Eternal Beings of an omniscient nature, seems to attract a lot of immigrants from essentially Muslim countries, has adopted an interesting way of dealing with this.
Applicants for immigration are shown pictures of everyday Dutch life, for example two men kissing and people smoking marijuana. It is then made clear to them that this is what they are signing up for. So if the Shareef don't like it, the Shareef don't have to come to the Netherlands. Sorted.

Today is my daughter-in-law Sue's birthday. I love my daughter-in-law to bits and any future daughters-in-law will have the unhappy task of measuring up to Sue. I'm also lucky that Sue and Alex get on so well. Of course, it may be every daughter-in-law's dream to have a mother-in-law who lives 5,000 miles away. Although just in case my own ma-in-law is reading, not me of course :)
In any case, Happy Birthday Sue.

Just a short post today, Lori and I are off to UBC to hear an impossibly titled lecture to do with First Nations. (I think).

Monday, 11 December 2006

Do's and Don'ts

Yesterday evening, well, more late afternoon really, we went to Kevin's work's do.

At Mayhem, the end of the Christmas term was always one long trail of celebrations, or perhaps a mish-mash. We'd start with the Eid party at the end of Ramadan, then we'd teach our classes Christmas songs and carols in French and German, and then there would be the classroom decorating, which at Mayhem was an extraordinary event. In other schools I've worked at, decorations had to be kept to a minimum because they were a fire hazard. At Mayhem, you were supposed to encourage your tutor group to be as over-the-top as possible. There were some outrageous offences to the eyeball. My own classroom had a very high ceiling, so young lives were risked in traditional Mayhem fashion, standing tiptoe on a chair perched precariously on a table.
Then Christmas cards would flood in and be blue-tacked all around the whiteboard until you were short of space to write, which may of course have been the intention.

During the last week of term, lessons were disrupted by the Christmas dinner. This was a yummy platter of overcooked and overboiled meat, gravy and veggies, but it had to be done.

Then finally, there were the actual Christmas do's, so fraught with politics. The department would go out. My own department was somewhat dysfunctional in this respect, in that one of my colleagues was a Jehovah's Witness and two of the women didn't get on with any of the men. Mostly we managed to put differences aside and go out, depending on the degree of rancour there had been during the preceding weeks.

I know another department where the whole department organised themselves to go out without the Head of Department.

The school itself didn't provide us with any sort of party, but usually some socially minded individual (Sleepy) or some bossy-boots (someone else) would organise a pub crawl or a pub that we could all go to where we hadn't yet been banned.
But even then, there may be factions, so the smokers for example, who as everywhere were actually the cool people, would go to this place, and the young things would go to that.

There was another Christmas event that was organised in this way, and this was one faction of the support staff's do. I was favoured by the leader of this group and was invited the first year I was there, and thereafter, but it had to be kept quiet. There was a kind of charm to that event, because it reminded me very much of going to my mum's work's do's back in the sixties. Big room, lots of different companies represented, dinner, which wasn't unlike the school Christmas dinner, followed by dancing. Good times, good people, the opposite of posh.

And this was the grown-up one, my sister and I always had to go to the special kiddies do in the afternoon, so now finally, I was able to go the grown-ups' party.
The lady who organised it was incredibly good at getting everyone, all ages, into the groove, all danced, and the music was great. Fabulous and totally Pompey. I loved it.

Kevin's work do was a more sophisticated version of this. It was held at the Hotel Vancouver, which I was less than impressed by because we had to spend too much time working out whether to trust what passes for public transport here, or try driving around downtown looking for parking. We settled for the latter since I knew we might have to make a quick getaway given my not feeling up to scratch.

Many people told me how prestigious the Hotel Vancouver is. Well firstly, if you have to tell someone that, then it isn't, and secondly, so what?
The Pyramids at Southsea wasn't prestigious, but it was totally appropriate and accessible and that's what counts.

The dinner was lush, absolute perfection. The ambiance was lovely and the music was dross. But we enjoyed it and got to talk to people we liked and the car was still in the car park and with all its wheels on when we got back, so you can't really ask for more.
Oh well, except for a DJ who knows what he's doing of course.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Turkish Delight

When I was in England and at Sleepy's house, we had some wonderful imported Turkish Delight, the type with pistachios in.
My daughter, Alex, also gave me some to bring back with me, it was in a beautifully decorated box, the balsa wood sort that you get Camembert in.
The actual sweetmeat was the traditional rose and lemon and as you expect, packed in icing sugar. You reach it by peeling back layers of fine paper. There is something very sensual about the Turkish Delight experience, I don't know whether it is from years of Cadbury-Fry's advertising of 'Fry's Turkish Delight - full of Eastern Promise,' cue dark-eyed beauty giving you a sultry look whilst delicately inserting a portion of chocolate covered deep rose-coloured confectionery between her perfectly painted lips or whether it simply is because it has such a delicate flavour and texture.

My goodness, that sentence was so long I felt it should have ended with a German verb. But back to the Turkish Delight. Compare it with some of the cheaper and more popular sweets available, things you have to bite into and masticate a bit. Is there any sensuality in that? No, just sugar rush. Oh no, I think the Turks knew what they were doing. Which is amazing, because there's nothing sensual about the kebab.

And so from the sensual to the violent.

When I was in London with Alex, we went to the London Dungeon and one of the exhibits and little cameos there is about Jack the Ripper. The whole London Dungeon experience makes you think that life in London in days gone by may well have been rather unpleasant. That's not to say that a brutal end would have been welcomed by anyone, but maybe it was just a matter of time. After all, what did a prostitute do when her teeth rotted or fell out? Probably charged less money I should think but who knows.

In Ipswich at the moment, a city which I have visited and is not without merit, someone is out there murdering prostitutes again. Horrible. But it makes me question how we label people. The most recent victim was a 19 year-old girl, her mother didn't know she was selling her body on the streets.
The previous one, a 25 year-old young woman who had somehow gone from being a 'normal' teenage schoolgirl who played the piano (ergo middle-class) to a drug addict and selling herself on the streets without her parents even realising what was happening. Had she not been murdered, chances are that she might have got through this period of her life and it would have just been an unpleasant memory for her, something that had to be revealed when a relationship turned serious, nothing more.
But now she is 'a murdered prostitute'. I don't mean to condemn other women who make a living in this way, far from it, I mean to question why we do label people so readily, especially when there is something so very negative about this particular label.

We are always hearing about young women who become strippers to put themselves through university. I think that's a bit spurious, it's not an avenue that is available to most men, nor is it one that most women take, it seems like a lazy way. But still, it is a job in the sex industry, and how would someone be labelled were she to die whilst in this phase of her life? Not 'law student' but 'stripper'.
The lowest common denominator, as ever.

When is the moment when it all goes wrong? Sometimes it's a chronicle, a story that begins in childhood and runs like a roller coaster towards a predictable end. And then sometimes there must be a pivotal moment, when the first drugs are taken in the wrong company, or the wrong person makes them feel good, a moment when the story could so easily have gone the other way, a sliding door.
And then that final pivotal moment when the young woman gets into a car with the wrong person. And her fate is sealed and written. Set in stone for ever.

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Chicken Soup

Drugs are good, but I woke up knowing absolutely that chicken soup is what I need. Was there any stock in the freezer, goddamn it, no!

I floated into sleep last night, hacking and rasping, but on a cloud of Nytol and Ibuprofen. I drifted in and out watching Pink Planet. Gay men and women and the former mayor of Vancouver, Larry Campbell, were telling us what a great city Vancouver was for gay tourism. We wandered down Davie Street with them, Denham Street, Commercial Drive.
Then I was back in England for a short visit, but in that time I had to re-take my British driving test. I seemed to now be married to Hugh Laurie who insisted on wearing a dress and calling me 'Old Girl'.
'Don't worry old girl, ' he said, 'you'll pass without any problem.'
My son Austen was trying to get money from the Church for Mayhem. I received a text from him saying that they had declined.
Delirium.

I woke up and it was three o'clock. Kevin wasn't in bed, I could hear him in the bathroom and I hoped it really was him and not Hugh Laurie wearing a nightie.

I woke again at eight and went downstairs in search of chicken stock. Now I realised the sofa was talking to me. It was making a noise like an imp coming down a zipline. I opened the blinds to see if it were something outside, but there was nothing. I sat down on the sofa and it spoke to me again, but I realised it was just Kevin's i-book.

Oh boy do I need that chicken soup. I'd also better watch those back episodes of House to get the spectre of Hugh Laurie in a dress out of my head.
Melissa Etheridge is also haunting me, she sings to me constantly since yesterday when she woke me as the random selection on the alarm. It would be scary to see her in a dress too.

Friday, 8 December 2006

Larynx

Mine has taken a turn for the worse. I arrived back from England with a raging sore throat and a slight sexy huskiness of voice, this morning I introduced the last school programme of the year at the Nature Park sounding like a broken piano, and now I have no sound at all. Completely gone. I also feel rather worse, though I shouldn't really garner any sympathy for this since I have spent the afternoon wandering around small and interesting shops in Steveston with Lori, Jo, Beth and Kimberley.

The rather random picture is of a carefully planted thicket of trees outside the Tate Modern on the South Bank.

Also randomly, my blog just published itself in mid-sentence. So many ways to silence me.

One of the things which I find unnecessarily rude and abusive at Christmas, is receiving cards addressed to some fictitious female version of my partner's name. I don't have the same surname as mine, let alone the same Christian name, so why is it that at Christmas, people have some kind of Dickensian lapse? If they do it deliberately to annoy me then they are successful, but why bother to send a card and mention the Season of Goodwill in order to wind someone up? Bizarre, bizarre, bizarre.

It rained last night and a little more of the snow has disappeared. As we walked around town today, we noticed an abundance of cars with crushed wings and bonnets.

Another thing that bugs me a lot is that when people can't get you on your mobile phone, instead of then texting you, they leave a voice message. People just don't seem to text here. On the other hand maybe we text too much in England, it was certainly a classroom curse at Mayhem.
But it's useful. My mobile phone in England was dying and I couldn't bring myself to buy a new one for the short amount of time I am there, but most communication was held together by texts. I had almost forgotten some of the functions on my phone. The day I had the strange French stuff, my sister texted me because she was eating skate with a friend and couldn't remember what it was in French. Don't you hate when that happens? But my point, which I almost lost there, was that predictive text couldn't cope with the French without being reset and I had forgotten my little shortcuts.

Ah well. Now that I've finished being a lady of leisure for the evening, I can curl up on the sofa and do some serious TV watching.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Return

...but not of the native.

Whilst residents of Kensal Rise, North-West London, were experiencing a tornado yesterday, I was becalmed and pondering my own lack of a plan B.

Austen delivered me to the station in good time for the train to Gatwick, and lo, it arrived and left on time. Then it got stuck about three stations before Chichester where a freight train was waiting to be shunted. We were warned that we could be sitting there for up to an hour. The railway carriage was full of horrible shrieking schoolboys in green uniforms, so that was less than the news I wanted to hear. If I missed my flight, which was a charter, I could have been waiting a week.
British Rail however, having presumably caused the hold-up in the first place, resolved it in good time.

The next problem was at check-in. Where security at Vancouver had been low-key, at Gatwick it was anal. In the end there was no time between security and getting to the Departures gate, no, no time until we were sitting on the 'plane. And then we sat and waited ...for some more fuel to arrive. Ok, sure, I don't want to take off in a plane that has insufficient fuel, but really.

We flew into Calgary, and Calgary looked very wintery indeed, snow, a soupy, snowy looking fog cloaking the airport. But it wasn't so wintery that we had to sit there for hours having our wings de-iced, so I did get here and in the end was only about three-quarters of an hour late.
There is still snow on the ground here, dirty snow, creamy snow, and there is snow on the mountains, so I feel blessed.

I was also pleased to be able to arrive back on my son Laurence's birthday, and deliver his presents plus his clothes, books and DVDs. And he seemed pleased to get them.

PS. I've added some pictures to the posts from when I was away, if'n anyone would like to go back and see them.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

London

Late night watching an old movie, early(ish)start. Woking, Ben, Panini, window shopping, back on the train. Waterloo, London Bridge, Alex.

Well, not quite, she was a little late, so while I waited at the front of the station, the newspaper vendor asked if anyone spoke French. Yep, me, me, I do. A woman who only spoke French was pushed towards me. The woman had instructions how to get somewhere....in French. So what was the problem? No idea, I read them through with her, they seemed perfectly clear, unless she either a) couldn't read or b) couldn't tell right from left, but she seemed happy afterwards and went off in the correct direction.

Alex and I did the Dungeon. Brilliant, a lot of the acts/sets had been improved/fine tuned since I was last there. More bizarre French. Two French people wouldn't come out of the labyrinth. I wouldn't go in, but they had got through it and simply didn't understand that they had to come out. So I had to go in at the end and tell them to come out.
Alex screamed and held tightly onto me the whole way round, but she seemed to enjoy it nonetheless.

And then we walked along the South Bank of the River Thames. We went into the Globe theatre. Well, more the gift shop really.
Then we continued walking. It was just spectacular. The now denuded branches of the trees along the river where strung with blue and white lights. They just took my breath away.

And so to Wagamama's. This is one of Alex's favourite eateries wherever she is. I was underwhelmed. Nice food right enough, but a sparsity of style that gave rise to inefficiency where it should have created the opposite.
Outside, someone was now filming a scene where we needed to go, but they seemed to be still in the rehearsal stage so they didn't worry about us wandering through.

Tomorrow - Vancouver.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Packing

Yes, I have started packing. I have started so early - my packing to come here was done about an hour before leaving for the airport - because I have twice the amount to take back. Not because I have bought very much, I haven't, but because I have some of Laurence's things which I collected from his dad's house to bring back, so I needed to have some idea of weight. So far so good.

Today started out sunny and clear. By the time Alex had departed for Londinium it was nearly time to feed the kids and put them upstairs for their naps. Afterwards, when we are all ready to walk into town, the sky had clouded over and rain was spitting at us.
I had a few last minute bits and pieces to do and we wanted the walk. We didn't have a great deal of choice, the bus can't accommodate a double length pushchair. But we enjoyed our potter around.
I saw another kid I used to...teach?...no, more wrangle, I think she was in a colleague's class but the usual spillage would occur. She was a nice girl, not too bright, but sweet-natured, but she was already, then at 15, in a seriously abusive relationship with a boy. Eventually the boy was excluded from the school but would continue to come on site and beat her up.
But she seemed happy now, full of hope. It's nice when they escape the gravity well of the whole thing.

There's nothing like Christmas leftovers for tea. I love it. Cold turkey (sic), cold sausages wrapped in streaky, pickles, fried-up veggies. Yummers. Austen's roasties yesterday and his sprouts with chestnuts were just awesome. Well, the whole meal was.
We went to the evening service at church. We were not expecting what it turned out to be, which was a candlelit service of Advent hymns and quite extraordinary singing by the choir, but it was soothing and just beautiful.

Tomorrow is my last day here. I am catching an early train to Woking, meeting Ben and going for coffee somewhere, then up to town to meet Alex, we are going to the London Dungeon. I am looking forward to this, but it was something Kevin and I had planned to do last time and didn't get round to. Nil Desperandum, you can never visit the London Dungeon too many times.

I am also waiting to hear whether one of my very close friends will be having surgery tomorrow. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for her, and bothering all my gods on her behalf.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Fake Christmas

Today is Fake Christmas at Schloss Schneereise.
What it really is is the first Sunday in Advent and also my friend Di's birthday. Di is my third oldest friend, again, not in years of age but in years of friendship. I think technically I must have met Eve and Kerry the same day as Di, but I was sat next to Di, so with Holmes-like precision, I figure I must have made friends with her on the first day of school. Happy Birthday Di.

This morning we all had Austen's world famous eggs poached in cream with sage and smoked salmon for brekker, yummy yum, yum, then off to church. I'm wondering if, when the smoking in public places ban becomes law next year, they'll have to stop filling the church with incense. I fancy not somehow.

My main annoyances with my own church are historical - killing lots of Catholics in a vile manner - and the continued patriarchy of it. Patriarchy in reality could be good, if it were followed in the way it was meant, kind and loving responsibility for a family, but what it more often is taken to mean is simply blokes in charge. Well bollocks to that.

But what is true for me and what endures is that the church is a stillness in the turmoil, a comforting and guiding light in the darkness. I wouldn't want it not to be there. I love that the seniors in the community are so well-represented, as though they, finished with the child bearing and rearing in their lives were using their years and wisdom to pray for us all. I trust the prayers of old ladies more than anyone.

After church, Buck's Fizz. They call this Mimosa in Canada, but here, nothing says Christmas morning better than Buck's Fizz. No musical pun intended.
And now we are about to sit down to turkey, sprouts, roasties, oh you know, the lot.
Thank-you for the greetings yesterday, and a Happy Fake Christmas to one and all.

Saturday, 2 December 2006

Twiglets

Woke up with Eraserhead hair, which must be catching because later on in the day Ben had it. It was not a Bad Hair day though.

I met my friend Karen in Gunwharf Quays at the HaHa bar where she had snagged the comfie leather sofa and thus the best seats in the house. We drank hot chocolate and caught up on six months' worth of gossip. Oh and of course re-ordered the world. Like you do. Then we shopped for a while then went to the Old Customs House for nachos and wine. Tis a hard life sometimes.

Tomorrow is Fake Christmas chez Austen and Sue. Ben arrived during the day and Alex is on her way down having spent the day at the Clothes Show in Brum. Tis a hard life sometimes.

Ben decided his Eraserhead hair was terminal somewhere around 17.30 so we went down Albert Road looking for emergency hair surgery, sadly however, the only one that was open, well, ish, was one we were avoiding, but which however spotted us. Two girls rushed out into the street shouting,
'Miss, Miss, hi Miss, see, we told you we didn't need Spanish/German.' So you didn't. Yet. On the other hand I was never responsible for actually making the law, merely implementing it.
'I'm glad you're enjoying hairdressing,' I said. They bounced back in again. So far as I was happy to see them, which wasn't in truth very far at all, I was glad to see them happy.

Back at Austen and Sue's, the beginning of Fake Christmas was signalled by the ceremonial opening of the Twiglets. Ah, Twiglets, so British, so full of marmitey goodness. Lush.

Friday, 1 December 2006

Hindhead and Hindpeople

Turns out my friend Nigel's campaign for getting an underpass at Hindhead is more than worthy. Sue and I were sat in the car with the two kids for about half an hour in the middle of the day on a weekday trying to get past Hindhead.
For those of you who don't know it, Hindhead is on the A3, the main London to Portsmouth road, I believe it used to be simply called the Portsmouth Road.

We were backed up as far as the Canadian Memorial Planting, quite a way back. Around the Devil's Punchbowl there was thick fog. That is a place of natural beauty that is well worth a visit if....you are the type of person who enjoys places of natural beauty. Today it looked like a steaming cauldron.

Sue told me about a Dickens book that featured a true story about a man who was robbed and killed on the then Portsmouth Road. The cutthroats were caught and hanged and there is supposed to be a plaque that marks the event and the gallows, but we have never seen it, so if anyone can pinpoint its whereabouts, don't be shy.

SO our purpose was similar to a trip my friend Sleepy made not so long ago to her great grandfather's grave, except I was visiting my parents. It was equally and equally surprisingly emotional. Although I have mentioned this before, my parents are buried in the same churchyard as Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer after whom Stanley Park and the Stanley Cup are named. I stayed awhile and then left to collect my son Laurence's belongings from my ex's house.

Quite an emotional day all in all. On the 'new things that have happened since I left' front though, there are now electronic road signs with sensors that can tell if you're approaching at a speed above the limit, if you do they flash the correct limit in bright red at you. Marvellous.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Peckham and Pompey

I had an enjoyable day yesterday in one of the dodgier parts of London, let's say not so far from Peckham and leave it at that shall we.
Alex and I did food shopping, food eating and post food relaxing. Perfick. I have a picture from Alex's room, but now that I am back to not being able to connect with my laptop, I can't load it.

I needed to get back so that I could look after Holly and Teddy this morning while Sue went out. I was greatly looking forward to this and equally greatly enjoyed it. They were both well-behaved and delightful but oh Lordy had I forgotten how utterly physically exhausting it is looking after a toddler and a baby.

You have to keep your eyes on both of them all the time. If one wants to go to the toilet you have to take them both, which will by necessity involve carrying one, but may involve carrying both. While you wipe one bottom, someone else's foot goes in the cats water bowl.

You cannot get out of your seat in a leisurely fashion, you have to leap like a panther everytime, as there is inevitably something about to occur that involves imminent death or disfigurement.

Don't be led astray by one of them claiming to know where something is, it may be an excuse to go into their parents' bedroom and apply Bonjela (mouth gel) to their eye.

No book can be read out loud just once, but rather three or four times, often with appropriate voices for the characters. Avoid Thomas the Tank Engine, because you have to do Ringo Star's voice doing someone else's, you're never drunk enough for that while kids are awake.

When I'm in Canada I feel free to whinge and moan about things that annoy me, but when I'm here, I feel obliged to talk it up. This was mostly fine at my sister's, since my nephew is determined to spend some, oh alright, quite a lot, of his mother's money doing a ski-instructor course at Whistler. But I came unstuck once.

When we were having lunch with my sister's friend, the one whose own sister had just returned from Vancouver, I made the mistake of asking how the children were settling into school here.
'Well, U. was surprised at the number of special needs pupils in M's class,' she said.
'Oh, that surprises me too, mostly over here we have actual school and separate classes for those kids, whereas in BC they're all in together, although I know that U's kids were in a private school, so maybe it just seems a lot because she wouldn't be used to having any in the class,'
'That's what U thought. Then she discovered that the reason there were so many special needs pupils in M's class was that M was actually in the special needs class here.'
'Ah.'

Oops.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

London bound

This will be quick, it's almost six thirty and Amanda and I are leaving at seven thirty to go up to town.
Yesterday we met up with my sister's best friend from school, whose own sister was living in Vancouver until this summer, but it was nice to see Thea again and we had lunch in a little pub.
My sister took me to see the village where our friends Beth and Dave used to live, who now live in Vancouver. That is worth a second look sometime, very quaint and English villagey indeed.

Today I'll meet up with Alex and we'll do some Londony stuff, although since she has some actual uni work to do, not too much, then back to Pompey. I'm posting while I still have the wonderful wireless connection here.

The weather still causes havoc in the Lower Mainland BC, not to mention Seattle I understand, but here, where I was promised biting wind from Siberia, can't even wear a jacket still.

Toodle pip. Must get my stuff together.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Beds and Nosh

I guarantee you that Liz Hurley is trying to buy Battersea Power Station. How do I know this?
My sister told me about a recent article in their local rag that started with a full page picture of Liz Hurley wearing red leather, progressed to a detailed description of a local almost million pound house that was for sale, and ended with the presumption that Liz had almost bought said house, based on the sighting of a helicopter hovering over it.
Well just before my train reached Waterloo, I saw a helicopter hovering over Battersea Power Station, so....

Beds. When I moved over to Canada, or in fact sometime before that, we needed to buy a bed, we'd had a futon, a good one, but it was getting a bit past its sell-by date.
We started out by looking in some well-known bed shops, this was before I had surrendered to the inevitable and seductive truth that Ikea is all anyone needs in the way of home furnishings.
Now the divan set seemed to be the way to go in many of these shops, but I prefer a slatted base. I asked. They showed me several in fact - all of which then had a complete divan set perched on top of them. I'm serious. Slats, then divan base, then mattress. Bizarre beyond compare. Before I went into sarcasm overdrive, Kevin ushered me out of the store and round the corner to a Danish furniture store where we found our ideal bedframe. Sorted.

When travelling of course, you get to sleep in many bed situations. I am very fond of the low-down to the floor kind of bed, and I seriously dislike the higher style of bed. One bed I look forward to is at Austen and Sue's, they have a more traditional style of futon for guests, very plain, basic, wooden slats and not too thick a futon. And I love it.

Nosh. Before I left, someone said to me,
'Oh, I think the food's better over there.' I was quite taken aback. I've thought for a long time that Canadian food is good, both home-cooked and restaurant, well apart from the Chinese and Indian which are miles better over here. And the idea that British food is good...that's a new one.
Except that I had to readily admit that we can get bloody good ready meals from Sainsburys, Waitrose and M&S, often as good as restaurant food. And Austen and my sister are both really good cooks.
So I guess it's just me then, the last remaining Brit flying the flag of inept cuisine.

Naughty Lambs.

The weather in Pompey continues to be balmy, the snow keeps falling in Richmond, darn it. I say that, but I know there'll be deaths because in spite of the fact it has actually snowed before, no-one ever modifies their behaviour.

Outside of Austen and Sue's living room is a short flight of stairs to the bedrooms. The bottom step is the 'naughty step' where Holly is sent to sit for a couple of minutes time-out if she is naughty, which isn't that often. She does however like to practise dealing with naughty children, and she has two cuddly lambs that frequently get sent to sit on the naughty step. No other animals get sent there, just the lambs. I CANNOT help wondering if this is something she gets from church, where every Sunday she must hear,
'Oh lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world....'maybe she send them there in case she is naughty herself.

This morning we took Teddy to the Health Centre to get him weighed, checked, normalised. Seems he is fairly normal. Apparently boys' laziness extends even to their eating habits, and Teddy is to be given food that he has to chew more from now on.
The Health Centre was of course in general full of the unhealthy, honestly, and uncharitably, some of those people looked as though they'd been unhealthy since birth.
It has made me wonder how the system works in Britain. In Canada we have a swipe card called a Care Card, and wherever you go, they just...swipe it and they have your details on the system. In Britain you just walk in.
On Saturday I had to take Ben to get new specs. Because he's under 18 a large percentage of the cost is paid for by the National Health, but there was no check whatsoever that he was entitled to NHS treatment. I suppose there would be no reason to question someone with a bog standard English accent, but surely that can't be it, the staff listening to your accent. I've never questioned this before.

It has taken me a couple of days not just to get over the jetlag, but also to get back into things. For example, when I left Britain I had to change my phone from a contract phone to pay-as-you go. Unlike most young people in the UK, I'd never dealt with pay-as-you-go before.
I had to remember to charge the phone up before I left Canada. I then had to work out how to top it up with credit. I was happier giving Ben my credit card and phone and asking him to do it for me, but realised that was too wussy for words, so made myself find out what to do.

So now I'm off to Siberia. I phoned my sister last night to tell her what time I'd be there. If you look at a map of England it looks like it should take about an hour and a half to get to Norwich, but I have to get four different trains and it'll take me four and a half hours, though I do love the trains. As you get further from the soft south the trains in general get more cruddy. My sister assures me it's cold in Norfolk, they literally do get winds from the Urals. I wonder if she can draw down some snow for me.

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Lagging

I'm lagging, I'm flagging, never had jetlag this bad before. I'm also missing snow back in Richmond BC, my most favourite weather condition of all.

However, in ample and over-compensation I had the most rip-roaring time at Sleepy's last night. The troops were summoned, drink was flowing, as ever chez Sleepy, very freely. It was the best of times with the best of people, warm, funny, welcoming, and had Tom Cruise's lawyers had any way of listening in, we'd be in a lot of trouble now. But they don't, so we're not.

Crisp-e and 'Chelle dropped me at the end of Albert Road so I was able to wander down the road that never sleeps, enjoying the noise and busy-ness.

In contrast to the snow that I begrudge them back in Richmond, it's too bloody warm for me here at the moment, I have had to go out without my jacket in order to tolerate the temperature. Ah the sunny south, well, apart from the sunny bit, although she did put her hat on and come out at some point today.

Alex and Ben have been here for the weekend, but they have now gone back to their various colleges/unis. I will miss them but I'm off to Norwich to see my sister tomorrow anyway.