Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Pancake Day.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fastnacht, Pancake Day. I have used my usual awesome scientific research method of asking two Canadians and neither know that it is pancake day. There are no jiff lemon adverts on TV, no packets of pancake mix at the ends of supermarket aisles. Boohoo. I will be filling the kitchen with smoking oil later on, pouring that batter mix into a sizzling pan and generally making a loverly mess. We won't be eating them with lemon and caster sugar though, in fact I couldn't even remember the word we use here for caster sugar earlier. But then we do have the divine maple syrup here, so that'll do me.

I'm a bit under the weather at the moment, throat feels like a small rodent died in it, temperature is slightly sub tropical. The reason I say this is to explain a certain lack of cohesion in my thinking. The brain is certainly not firing on all cylinders today.
So, working backwards. We eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday because we need to use up our jiff lemons? No, that's not it, to use up our fats and eggs before sending Jesus off into the desert to starve and hallucinate ? Yes, that's it. So before the 40 days of Jesus's exile and testing, we have to be shriven, confess our sins and be given absolution. Well, I remember when I worked in a catholic school the pupils had to go to mass in the morning of Ash Wednesday and then they would wear a mark of a cross made of ash on their foreheads all day.

Lots of people in Britain and Europe do still give things up for Lent. I used to observe Lent quite closely myself, I saw it as a time for reflection and meditation, of self-control.

Here's where my memory and logic is letting me down. What is the link with Passover? I have it rolling around somewhere from early RE lessons I guess, that there is some link between Shrove Tuesday, Lent and Passover. Did Jesus go into the desert to prepare for Passover?
There is a similarity between Easter and Passover, the BBC website tells us,
"Passover can be called the Festival of Spring and was an agricultural festival which marked the beginning of the cycle of production and harvest during the time the Jews lived in ancient Palestine.
It symbolises hope and new life and the importance of starting afresh. "
Passover also takes place around the time of or not long after Easter.

Oh well, maybe the little bugs in my throat are cleaning my soul, I wonder how I'll know if it works?

Monday, 27 February 2006

Red Ken

Red Ken is the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. He has been suspended from this job for a period of one month. Journos in general seem to be upset that he was suspended from a job to which he was elected by the people of London by a non-elected quango of henchpersons, the 'Adjudication Panel for England'. Jolly good. Fair point. Not, however THE point.

Red Ken was being pestered by journos after a do at City Hall last year. One, Oliver Finegold was in Red Ken's face and introduced himself as being from the Evening Standard. The Evening Standard is owned by the Daily Mail group who supported the Nazi party during the second world war.
When Finegold introduces himself as working for the Standard, Red Ken says,
'How awful for you.' He goes on to liken someone like Finegold who works for a group which supported Nazism to a concentration camp guard who is just getting paid to do his job.
Finegold tells Livingstone he finds his remarks offensive since he himself is Jewish. Red Ken points out that Finegold's being Jewish makes it even more unacceptable that he works for an organisation that supported fascism.

For this, Red Ken has been suspended. What has gotten into the people who are supposed to be talking sense? It does no service whatsoever to anyone who actually does suffer rascism or racial abuse for those who should be objective and know better to take something out of context like this and make a complete pigs ear out of the whole thing.

The only person who has come out of this with any dignity is Red Ken himself. I hope he wins his appeal, I hope he will be listened to. Here is what someone has to say who has worked with Red Ken.

David Irving on the other hand, a Historian of note, well, at least enough note for people to listen to his spew, offended the world and her partner by insisting publicly that the Holocaust never happened. Austria issued a warrant for his arrest. He went to Austria. He got arrested and is now behind bars. Well, well, who could know? Whatever we all think about free speech, the bottom line is he went, he opened his stupid fat gob and he got conquered.

I think I can feel a T-shirt coming on. Or it could be a sore throat with feverishness.

Oops again

Seems I missed a bit of the point about the post box. Apparently there WAS actually an Edward the eighth, the Edward who abdicated before he was crowned still counts. Wonder how many post boxes they managed to put up during his short little reign, I guess that's the point Di was making. I think they could recycle though :)

Catching up

Just some unconnected thoughts today. I should call them 'Pensées' like Pascal and thus give them more credence.

My friend Di sent me a picture of an 'Edward the eighth' postbox. I think that fate will have to be working overtime to give us an Edward the eighth from the present Royal Family, still, it happened that way with Henry's children, they all got to reign so who knows. If he does, then his postbox is already there in Sunningdale.

Although I do try to do spells whilst exercising, I am clearly not as skilled as my friend Simmi who has become very adept at influencing athletes by the power of thought from her sofa. I think it's my lack of real concentration. Instead of full time hexing I watch those improving shows as I have said before.
One show I watch is 'You are what you eat' and this has a tiny Scots woman who comes and abuses you into eating right. Her victims are always dead pleased in the end. Last week she almost met her match. She was faced with a large Scotswoman with a colourful vocabulary. Gillian McKeith asked her why she thought she was so overweight and the woman replied that it was because she was bulimic but she always forgot to throw up.

On a Friday, there is a programme called 'Groomed'. In this, an Aussie dressed as an English butler and inappropriately named Paul Hogan - like Crocodile Dundee - comes and sorts out the lives of other gentlemen.
Last week he was targetting a couple similar to Kevin and myself. Tamara had come over to be with her Canadian beau, Doug but he seemed oblivious to what a huge step she had taken. I must hasten to add that that particular bit is nothing like Kevin and me.
Fortunately Paul had allies to come and shout at Doug. By the end, Doug had woken up to the fact that Tamara had left her home, career, family, beloved doggies and much more to come and spend her days sitting alone in Doug's house.
Paul Hogan's take on his own success, his punchline, was 'You can't change the man you love ....... but I can.' My take on it is - very scientifically on a sample of two - wake up Canadian women, Brits are coming over and taking all your men! (That's for Karen really who could well be reading this.)

Yesterday, Karen came round and we had lunch which Kevin prepared and cooked, therefore it was yummy instead of being just eeh, then we watched last week's L-word and dissected it. We picked out three people that we thought we'd like to join our writers' group. One is Jenny who, in spite of having a publishing contract now, we reckon is really not a good writer. This is based on the fact that she has had one scene obsessively running through her head for three series - or seasons, they say seasons here and Karen and Kevin had the audacity to correct me on that, I said, 'Hey! I don't sit here and say, 'fewer, not less, fewer, a couple OF, the tenTH OF February two thousand AND six'' etc. Kevin said,
'Yes you do,' yes, I do.
Anyway, we picked Jenny because we figured she'd make us look good by being so lame herself. We picked the two women from the B52's because they looked like fun.

Yesterday my daughter Alex was talking to Kevin on the phone trying to sort out details of her visit in the summer. She asked him whether it was possible to cross Canada by bus.
'Sure,' he said.
'How long would it take?' she asked,
'Oh I dunno, about seven days,' he said. Sound of jaw hitting floor from other end. A lot of people simply don't get how big Canada is. A lot more people would if Shaw would allow me to send on the amazing set of pictures that my friend Anne has sent me. I prepared an e-mail entitled 'This is where I live' but my isp will not comply. Only Simmi has so far received them and that through msn.
Douglas Adams once wrote that Canada is like a beautiful intelligent 35 year old woman. I think the 35 was supposed to indicate a degree of maturity but not too mature. Canada really isn't that old. Older than 35 of course, but she is big and she is beautiful and this IS where I live.

Sunday, 26 February 2006


In the course of my constant weeding I came across a piece of paper on which I had written,
'Denken Sie zehn Minuten nach; wo steht ihre Mauer?' - Think for ten minutes; where does your wall stand?
I don't know whether I saw this in the Checkpoint Charlie museum or whether I saw it written on one of the remaining sections of wall, but it certainly made me stop and think for a lot longer than ten minutes.

Walls, actual, symbolic, imagined. The real Berlin wall separated families, stood as a reminder of the war to them, encouraged art, the panels have been tagged, graffitied, some have amazing artwork on them. I understood something about Art that I had never done before visiting Berlin, things can be expressed through Art that cannot be expressed any other way. The Wall was a divider like the surgery that stops one part of the brain from communicating with the other.

Hadrian's wall was supposed to protect the Roman part of Britain from the savages in the North. The walls we put up inside our heads, are they like that in a symbolic sense? Protecting the civilised parts of our minds from what we can't cope with ?

Moral walls, the architects of genocide within Germany must have erected something to stop them from seeing what they were doing to other human beings. And within, the German people must have built barriers to cope with the suspicions about what was happening to friends, neighbours, people they knew, dealt with, to survive, not knowing if this could be their families next, maybe it was - what started with lies about Jews soon became lies about gypsies, Witnesses, homosexuals, the less able, the disbelief that their country was being eaten away from within, so that at the end, when all is revealed, they didn't just all lose their minds from the horror.

Our own walls. What do we need protecting from ? The things we can't deal with, the wild things, the strange, unrecognisable forms, that which we can't pigeonhole or understand, the things that threaten us.
And sometimes we have walls that protect us from ourselves, walls that save us from self destruction.
I think the important thing is to know where our walls stand and why they are there, then we can decide whether we need to tear them down or live with them.

Saturday, 25 February 2006

Faîtes le plein

Not really time travelling, but I can see myself at the age of 11 sitting in the French classroom. There is some kind of transparency projector and the teacher has to roll it up every time she hears a beeeeep on the tape. Stick characters represent situations we might be in when we go to France. We learn how to ask for a train ticket, order things in a restaurant and now get the petrol tank in our car filled up.
'Faîtes le plein, s'il vous plaît,' we all repeat.

Most of the expressions we learned in what was then called the first year - as though school proper only started when you arrived at secondary school - we eventually got to use, just not the 'fill it up please,' one. By the time any of us passed our driving tests, for me at the age of 19, the world had moved on. Petrol stations the world over - if we assume the world to be one small corner of the south of England - were now self-service, there was no little stick person to rush out and fill your car up.

This is not however the case in 21st Century Richmond. Nope, not Canada, not Vancouver or any of the neighbouring cities, Delta, Surrey, just Richmond. This is an irritation for Kevin, whenever possible he will fill the car up when we go to visit his parents in Surrey on a Sunday. I too find it annoying, but at last I think in my twisted British brain, an opportunity to use the expression. I like to think of this plan as puckish, mischievous, quirky. I'm sure everyone else finds it obnoxious. I feel that since Canada has two official languages, I should be able to annoy people who serve me by speaking French at them. Many of them here in Vancouver do speak two languages, just one of them generally isn't French.

Yesterday I needed to buy petrol, so I headed out, determined to demand that the plein be fait. I get to the junction of five road and Westminster highway. Across the way is the petrol station. But I cannot reach the petrol station because at this major crossroads ..... the traffic lights have failed.

I need to digress a moment to bleat about something else. The four-way stop. In Britain, nay in Europe, we have the roundabout. The roundabout works because it is governed by one simple easily stated rule. 'Priorité à droite'. Actually, that works better in Britain because we drive on the left, so giving priority to whatever is coming from the right doesn't in itself result in complete gridlock of the roundabout. Just like to mention that this rule should never, ever be applied in politics.
The four-way stop relies on telepathy, first person to arrive goes, then the next and so on. But what if you think you're the first person and so does someone else? Suffice to say, I have not yet mastered the four-way stop and tend to rely on the person behind me beeping and letting me know it's my go before their head explodes.

HOWever.....yesterday, with the traffic lights out, I beheld the might of the four-way stop in all its glory.
Brits know that if ever traffic lights go out they have two courses of action. They can sit in their cars politely waiting for everyone else to go. OR they can put their fist on the horn whilst turning purple and shouting abuse at the world in general. Neither strategy ever works and gridlock ensues, police have to be called, troops have to be mobilised and arrests are invariably made.

Canadians on the other hand know that when the lights fail, the four-way stop protocol is instantly called into play. And there it was, in action. And when it is writ large like that, from four different roads, everyone taking their turn, it works bigtime. The traffic was slowed, but hell it WAS working. And I knew and everyone else knew when it was their turn because it was like a simply choreographed dance.

I got to the petrol station and the attendants were spared my English French. In the end I think this was a mercy, because even my English isn't what they are expecting. This time they didn't think I was speaking Spanish, but the guy did have to repeat what I said five times just to confirm that he'd heard correctly. But when I was there, I remembered my last solo visit. Another motorist, and I really do think he thought he was joking, was asking the attendant whether he was one of 'them there terrorists' because he looked like one. In comparison, maybe having a pompous Brit trying out her French on you isn't quite as obnoxious as it seems.

Friday, 24 February 2006

Health matters.

My own way of being responsible for my health is to do my hexercises every morning - hexercises is when you cast spells on people whilst using the treadmill - and paying out for health insurance. This is because I am in limbo between the two systems. Of course I can still get treated by the British National Health Service, but in case of emergency that could get tricky. Had I chosen one of our other Commonwealth countries to move to, for example Australia or New Zealand, I could have been treated because of reciprocal arrangements, sadly not so with Canada.

Canada, like Britain, has a National Health Service and I think this is something for both countries to be very proud of. It is a national pastime in Britain to complain about the NHS, but we sure wouldn't want to be without it. Of course there are people who abuse the system. When I was over recently, I saw a news item saying that one of the Health authorities had introduced an initiative to combat the curse of the crashingly stupid. They had found that it reduced costs considerably to have the Ambulance part of the 999 service staffed by paramedics. When people rang up to request an ambulance for something trivial, the paramedics could evaluate whether it was a real emergency, eg, kid having nosebleed, not an emergency. And that's an actual example passed to me by a friend who works for the Health Service.

Canada is also a front runner in the field of medical research, and their findings are frequently reported in the press. Britain too spends a lot of money on research and I wonder whether it's the stranglehold of the Animal Rights Terrorists that results in such toe-curlingly embarrassing reports as yesterday's 'Sunbathing blamed for skin cancer increase' headline on netdoctor. Are they serious? I suggest they do a study to find out whether stabbing yourself in the eye with a fork causes problems with vision.
The Swiss are not doing very much better. They have discovered that binge drinking causes a higher preponderance of injuries.
"Swiss researchers claim that the risk of alcohol-related injury is highest during a bout of binge drinking, with the risk of injury greater among people with high alcohol consumption in the 24 hours before hospital admission. "

In the course of conversation with Kevin the other day I discovered that there was one noticeable difference between the Canadian and British health services. We were discussing the number of medications his Aunt had and how the pharmacist had to check that they all worked together. I'm reconstructing,but something like,

'But then the Doctor must surely look it up first when the patient is still in the surgery,'
'Well how? During a consultation there isn't time to look up things like that,'
'It only takes a few seconds to look it up on the computer,'
'But that would mean the doctor leaving the patient and going off somewhere else,'
'Um it would mean she just looks at the screen she's sitting in front of,'
'Doctors don't have computers in the room with them,'
'Yes they do, they always sit behind a computer, otherwise how would they have your records, how would they have the results of your tests, and then print off your prescription?'

The reason I find it odd that Kevin's experience of consulting a doctor here doesn't involve his records being held on a central database is that Canada is one of the most computer literate countries in the world with a higher percentage of the population having access to the internet than, I believe, any other country.
So what is the explanation? I have no idea and nor am I qualified to speculate, but Kevin feels it is to do with a North American stress on privacy. I'm not sure that in Britain we could cope with such niceties. It's a small country with twice the population of Canada, and we also have to be able to travel within Europe and still be covered by the NHS. Britain has recently issued European health cards to replace the old E111's - a form that had to be filled in, stamped at the Post Office and carried around in mainland Europe - and about time too. But this complex a system of cooperation has to be dependent on computerisation.

I don't know what the answer is, nor whether there would be any benefit to all Canadians being on a National Health Service database. I do understand the Big Brother/Sister type concerns, but well, I don't know, think of the research opportunities offered by such a scheme. With all of that information to play with, they might come up with such gems as 'getting older makes your health deteriorate' or 'disease leads to hospitalisation'.
I jest, but personally, I'm happy for the government to hold health information on me, I just don't want the telemarketers getting hold of it.

Thursday, 23 February 2006


I always used to teach the months of the year with a diagram of the Earth moving round the sun. This theoretically made them think about it a little and involved them going away and finding out exactly where the Earth was at any given point in the year. We also used to teach them the signs of the zodiac, usually along with the future tense.

The Zodiac endures in both eastern and western cultures, in spite of there having been a shift over the years so that the constellations that are in the sky are one behind what we say they are. Or could be the other way round, could be they're one ahead, in any case, they're out of whack.

About now the sun moves out of Aquarius and into Pisces, from an air sign to a water sign, which I welcome, but I'm also having a slight lag because my thoughts are still fixed on the air.

As avian flu (flu, an illness that at best knocks you off your feet for a week, confines you to bed and makes you feel like complete shite, as opposed to a cold which is something you can sniffle through) moves across Europe spreading fear and loathing, well and of course flu, the building of the Airbus A380 brings unity and purpose across Europe. That's a very long article indeed by the way, so be warned.

I find the building of the Airbus a fascinating project for several reasons, not least because it has made one company out of pre-existing ones in Britain, France, Germany and Spain. The article emphasises how this is different from the building of Concorde which was a collaboration between two distinct companies, one British, one French, the result being that each and every plane was either French or English.

My interest is also in the environmental issues. The idea of a bigger plane which holds more people and yet which reduces the per person use of fuel has to be good surely, but the article warns us that since the major cost of air travel is in the fuel, better fuel consumption will lead to lower prices and thus to more journeys being made.

At the end of his book 'Absolute Altitude', Martin Buckley looks to the future and sees the possibility of more and more of us being able to own our own planes because the cost will soon potentially be within the car price range. If people can do it, they probably will, after all people own cars whether they really need to or not. He points out that there would be an environmental cost to this.

This is a dilemma for me personally. My life is very dependent on air travel and that isn't going to change, but I am also very committed to green issues. The world has shrunk considerably over my lifetime, air travel is quicker, safer, cheaper and cleaner than ever. While it remains as public transport I can tell myself that it doesn't pollute the earth any more whether I travel or not, even though that logic doesn't entirely hold up.

I am pleased that there is a European project like Airbus, because fuel economy has to be a priority since the EU is committed to environmental issues. I suppose for once we have to believe that the experts, designers, researchers, administrators and whatever will do the thinking and worrying for us, but as consumers we, I, do have a responsibility too.
Wings of aluminium or wings of feathers, all cause for concern, glad we're moving into Pisces for a bit.

Wednesday, 22 February 2006

Take two

Yes, a second blog in one day, I have rantings still left in me.

In science-fiction they always refer to 'the year of the tech wars', or 'the AI revolts' or the 'chimera rebellions'. So far, 2006 is looking likely to be 'the year of the Cartoon demonstrations.' Lacks gravity whilst being about as grave as it gets.

I was investigated for fraud this morning. It didn't take long. Strictly speaking it was someone else being investigated since I am after all, fully entitled to use my own credit card. I had booked Alex and Ben's flights yesterday and used my British credit card since they were quite reasonably, wanting to be paid in Sterling. I haven't used it in months so it triggered a red flag, damn good thing too.

Prince Charles, what a diamond geezer he is. Love him. He's been writing ranty letters to people that only Prince Charles can get away with writing ranty letters to. This has all come to light with the usual disloyal servant copying his private journals and selling to newspaper scam. The so-called 'Takeaway journals' (takeout in North American) contain his scribblings on the way back from such British classics as the handover of Hong-Kong autrement dit 'The Great Chinese Takeaway'. Bless his little cotton socks.

Yesterday I went to Fruiticana to buy some veggies. Normally I go to Delta Farms, but I wanted to check out Fruiticana's new shop - it has moved over by about two spaces. At the cash register I offered the assistant my re-usable Sainsbury's bag. The shop assistant had that heavy Indian accent like 'the Kumars from no.42' only x 10.
'You want me to put them in there?'
'Yes please,'
Hesitation on her part.
'I'm saving the planet on my own,' (self conscious laugh)
'I'm saving the planet on my own.'
'Do you speak Spanish?'
'Er...' *thinks, need to avoid escalating this into more complex Spanish than I have*
'My cousin speaks Spanish too,'
'Oh, cool. Erm, lovely language.'
Smiles all round. Surreal, and yet also so normal.

We're getting spirit bears in Vancouver apparently. I'm quoting from the 'Spirit of Canada' newsletter.
" Come May, Vancouver's streets will be teeming with creatively-dressed Spirit bears as part of the 'Spirit Bears in the City' project. A follow-up to the successful 2004 'Orcas in the City' programme, artists will put their stamp on fibreglass Spirit bears, which will be displayed around Vancouver. Follow the 'Spirit Bear Trail' walking tour and take in the city's sights and colourful public art. According to First Nations legend, Spirit bears, or Kermode bears, were created white to recall the time when the world was pure and clean. The bears will also be found elsewhere in British Columbia. "
Should be fun, the Orcas sure were.

The Other Hat

This is an homage to my friend Karen S's blog post ,'I miss my hat - my hat'.

I don't miss my hat. It sits there and taunts me. I can't remember what possessed me to buy it but I probably wasn't drunk. I surely wasn't right in the head that day. NB - mentally pronounce 'head' in the Glasgow way, 'heed'.

I bought my hat from Marks and Sparks, a store that has never incurred the wrath of Michael Moore - yet. You can't buy guns or ammo there, just really yummy food items and acres of middle-aged clothing, some of it quite good, all of it good quality. And bras that fit. hardly anything in there for MM to take exception to.

I had two hats to choose between, one was black shiny pretend fur and made my face look pasty. One was less black and more poodly in texture. I bought it. I wore it. It has a brim and the brim at the back catches on the collar of my coat, so I'm constantly pulling it down.
I soon realised it doesn't look at all sassy. It doesn't look cool. It isn't at all like Karen's lost hat. It in fact made me look like my old Welsh nanna, who in her turn looked like Queen Victoria. I told my sister, she laughed like a drain,
'You bought a hat that made you look like nanna! Whatever were you thinking?' I don't know, I just wanted a hat. I don't even like the fact that it keeps my head warm, too warm.
Oh woe, woe, and thrice woe, as Frankie Howerd used to say in 'Up Pompei'.

The hat gives me helmet hair. Even young people get helmet hair from wearing hats and their hair just springs right back into shape, unlike mine which takes on weird shapes at the best of times, sometimes I look like Eraserhead.

Now my hat sits on the peg in the hall. I thought of putting up a shelf for hats. At first it didn't occur to me how monumentally stupid this would be, a shelf for hats. How many hats do you have? Oh, just the one. Is it an important hat? Oh, no, not really, it's more ... one I bought and don't wear.

Perhaps I should take it with me to Buntzen Lake where Karen lost hers. I don't know where that is, but I am getting good at finding places now. I could maybe leave it on a bench for some more deserving hat wearer to find. Or put it in the clothes recycling at Shoppers Drug Mart. But no, I can do neither of these things, the hat has some power over me. It watches me. It won't let me lose it, and I don't wear it, so I won't ever accidentally lose it.

Oh well, *sighs* maybe I'll take it out for a walk today, try to frighten dogs and those extra large crows we have here.
My hat.

Tuesday, 21 February 2006

The Dreamscape

My fascination with fiction in its many forms extends to dreams. After my parents died and the darkness deepened, I found that I was having richly symbolic dreams and I kept a diary for a while. I struggled to describe the imagery in my dreams but I did my best so that I could look back and read them at some point.

Last night I had a vivid dream. I was on a raft, but it was quite an elaborate raft, large and full of people. We were going down a wide river or waterway, passing islands.
When you go on the ferry to Vancouver island you pass smaller islands, and at night the houses on them are all lit up like cottages in a fairy tale.
When you go down the Rhein, there is a point where there is a bank in the middle of the river and a miniature gothic house is built on it.

At first in my dream, my friend Eilish was steering the raft and I was looking out at houses. Then the river became more treacherous, dark green lianas hung overhead like a painting by Henri Rousseau. I realised now that Simone had taken over and was steering the raft.
That was all there was to the dream, just the raft, the landscape, the river and two of my friends.

There is something about the dreamscape that reminds me of an easter egg embedded in the programming of Excel. I think it is called flight simulator, but to me it is like travelling across the landscape of a dream all purples and blues and you can get caught in it, unable to escape.

It must be both scary and exciting to have dreams that foretell the future, like the character in the TV series 'Medium', but mine are generally easily traceable to their source. A couple of nights ago I dreamt that I was looking to my left and my mother, a light glowing from her was trying to tell me something. I woke and realised that to my left, Kevin still had the reading light on.

Last night I was watching Sunday's L-word. Dana, dealing with the double horror of chemotherapy and the butchery that is breast cancer surgery, had a dream that she was whole again and at peace. The writers are dealing with this tough subject so well. As the programme is about women mainly, there are no men standing around telling Dana that she won't be any less of a woman because of it. One of the characters in fact does the opposite, thoughtlessly reminds Dana of what she has lost, as the writers explore the parallel storyline of Moira who wants to lose her femininity. There were exceptionally well-written dialogues between Alice and Dana as Alice tries to help Dana to sort out what she needs to deal with from the mire that she is lost in. Dana's grief and horror at what has happened to her is also eloquently handled.

My most recurrent dreamscape is that of a house or flat where I am living in which I discover new rooms. The dream house is supposed to represent the mind. There is a famous house dream that is used to explore the difference between Freudian and Jungian interpretations of dreams. In Jung's interpretation, the lower levels of the house represent his idea of the collective unconscious, race memories that we share, for Freud the unconscious mind reveals things within ourselves that we are hiding from.
In the dream I work out what the room could be, what I can put in it, in the waking dream I am fascinated by each new room in the house, whether opened by others through fiction or by myself through introspection.

How often do we escape in dreams, how often do we have to escape the dreams themselves? Mine are calmer now, quieter, I no longer fly to escape demons and monsters, nor do I struggle to find scissors to cut spiders' webs that I am enmeshed in. It's a long time since I had to wake myself up deliberately from a dream or wake up with my heart pounding. Not so long since the dead spoke to me though.

Monday, 20 February 2006

Anne of Cleves

Still on the subject of royalty. Anne (not of Cleves) commenting yesterday on my blog raised the interesting question of whether the police would arrest members of the Royal Family should they continue to hunt. I agree that they would have no hesitation. But that in itself points to another question, would the Royals flaunt the law deliberately ?
There was a famous case many years ago when Princess Anne was caught speeding, and fined. If they flaunted the hunting ban however, I feel this would be a very much bolder statement and would possibly call into question their place in a modern state. It would also be contrary to the image we have of Prince Charles as a caring, quite green person. I would be surprised to learn that he rode to hounds at all, polo seems much more his cup of tea.

In the past, obviously, royalty have played a much bigger role in influencing public opinion. The wives of Henry the eighth interest me because individually they had very little power, but the result of their lives looked at together had quite an impact - in my opinion.

We have been watching the documentary series 'The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth' and it has been an interesting programme, although lacking in sufficient detail to really do the women justice.
From the TV series it might be difficult to see how Anne of Cleves was of any interest at all - though this may be something that will be mentioned further in the future.

I believe that Queen Elizabeth the first was the most important monarch that England ever had. She presided over a time of renaissance, of discovery and learning, of art, literature and poetry, a time of prosperity. She laid the groundwork for a truly united Britain. Most importantly, she consolidated the work of her father in allowing the Protestant church to flourish. I believe this was important because the reforms which were apparent in Europe allowed the Church to move forward in its thinking, the straitjacket of dogma to be loosened and in so doing, science was finally allowed to breathe and expand.

The first wife of Henry the eighth, Katherine of Aragon, unwittingly sowed the seeds. In being so ... I think I can only say reasonably pig-headed, she forced the strong-willed Henry to be somewhat alienated from the catholic church. By continuing this she created further tension, the Vatican did not want to deal with Henry's stupidity but they didn't want to turn him down flat either, so they prevaricated and Henry was obliged to accept religious counsel from within England and by acting on it, elevate it to the same level as had it come from Rome.

Anne Boleyn was important of course because she was the cause of Henry's estrangement from Katherine and because she was Elizabeth's mother, but she was also a reformist thinker. She may have further influenced Henry's thinking in the early days of their marriage, but she certainly influenced the thinking of her own daughter.

Jane Seymour was a catholic, but she angered Henry, almost to the point of losing her own head, by suggesting that his daughter Mary should be brought back into the fold, be re-legitimised. This served to strenghten the rift between Henry and Rome. I think that even this tension was also important because along with Jane's own son, the three chidren although of different faiths, were close. Mary ultimately was not a tolerant monarch, but Elizabeth was far more so.

When Jane died shortly after childbirth and Henry didn't have anyone else already lined up, he went searching abroad. A certain artistic licence on the part of Holbein brought him Anne of Cleves from Germany. Sadly, it seems possible that the marriage was never consummated because of Henry's revulsion towards his new wife. Anne was pragmatic and accepted the divorce that was thrust upon her, learning from the mistakes of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Her celibacy however, which she didn't seem too peturbed by, meant that she had no children of her own. She did have a need to nurture though, and she was pleased to have Elizabeth spend a lot of time with her. Being a protestant herself and a very intelligent woman, like Elizabeth, the two women became intellectually close. Anne of Cleves formed Elizabeth's thinking in a way that probably Anne Boleyn herself would have approved of.

I would argue that all of these women, used and disposed of by Henry, were important in shaping the future at a time when the monarch led the country.

Sunday, 19 February 2006


One particular section of British society have been annoying the bejabers out of me this week, rather a privileged section at that. The Hunt. Bunch of hooray Henrys dressed in red, which they call hunting pink, riding to hounds so that they can chase a fox around the countryside generally frightening all the other wildlife and finally catching it and tearing its living body to pieces. Except that it's now illegal. Except that they don't accept that and because they are moneyed tossers they carry on and the police don't have the personell to address this issue.

Now, compare this with when the law about not using mobile phones in cars came in. Everyone said at the time,
'Well, how are they going to police that one then? What are they going to do, have high speed police chases on the motorways to stop people using their phones?'
So what happened? Well by and large, people just stopped using their mobile phones whilst driving. I'm serious. The reason I bitch about it so much here is that it's so noticeable in comparison with Britain. Of course you will get the odd person taking a chance, and guess what, I would put money on those chance-takers being the same hooray Henrys who ride to hounds.

One problem is the number of loopholes the new law left them. They are in fact still allowed to gather as a hunt, chase the critter and then shoot it. But why do they think it's a good method of pest control anyway?
If you speak to a hunt supporter, trying not to be patronising because of their low intelligence, they always give you the old,
'Wawa, foxes pests, foxes steal farmer's chickens and children's guinea pigs and hamsters, waffle, waffle.'
Mmmm...caged rodents. I've never really understood why, unless you are an approved medical research facility, you need to keep small animals in cages. In all probability they, for some reason left outside and with the locks on their cages no match for the wily fox, would stick their little snouts out and squeak,
'Please Mr. Renard, put an end to this misery for me, I welcome your deadly embrace,' naturally they would talk in cliches because no-one has ever taught them otherwise.

As for chickens, well surely to goodness we have other ways of keeping foxes out of poultry houses than allowing a bunch of wealthy wankers to chase them around the countryside in a blood lust? I mean shoot them if necessary, but don't make them suffer first.

They also say, 'But our hounds would have to be put down,' to which I say, 'Bollocks!' have they been rendered so bloodthirsty they could no longer be pets like other dogs ? Do beagles have the same natures as Pitbull terriers? Well if they do then put them down, dogs in any case are put down humanely.

Now in the meantime, elsewhere in Tony's Britain, although not in honesty too far away, the animal rights activists are making the lives of builders constructing a new research facility in Oxfordshire, a living hell.

Decades of public debate have given a high level of accountability to the research establishment. I personally want drugs which will benefit myself and fellow Brits, Canadians and planet-dwellers in general to be well tested. I don't want them tested on other humans in Sachsenhausen-like hellholes. I don't want them tested on students trying to maintain body and soul whilst studying for a higher level of education that will benefit the whole of society. Ergo, I want them tested on animals. I want the conditions of those animals to be as comfortable as possible, I want them to be tested not tortured. I even want any toiletries that can come into contact with my grandchildren's precious bodies to be tested too.

How do people who purport to be animal lovers, like those imbeciles in the United States who pretend to be pro-life and yet terrorise doctors and woman at the worst times in their lives, turn into terrorists? That IS what they are those people.

Ideally, I would like all Hunt members rounded up and sent out on active duty, but then we don't really want idiots compromising the safety and work of the excellent and brave armed forces.
So here's a thought, why can't the blood-thirsty terrorists known as 'animal rights activists' vent their spleen on the Hunt? Yes, there are Hunt saboteurs, but they don't seem to be as effective as they need to be. Let the animal rights terrorists deal with the rights of foxes and hares and anything else the Hunt feels like shredding, because until this practice actually stops in Britain, we cannot hold our heads up and call ourselves a civilised nation.

Saturday, 18 February 2006

Saturday blues.

Pressed for time today because it's not a normal Saturday, not a stay in bed, watch a bit of TV, bond with the duvet kind of Saturday. I don't really relish the kind of Saturday it is.

One of Kevin's family, a venerable lady of 88 has hit a wall, figuratively speaking. At Christmas, she was just herself, just like anyone else, taking part in the conversations, hell, more than that, because of her age and experience she could always contribute far more to the conversations than anyone else. Unlike Kevin's parents, fourth generation Canadian, Barb had arrived in Canada in the 40's, on the Queen Mary I think, but yet again, I have left it too late to check, to have conversations with her with a notebook in my hand and my memory is, well, not first class.

A couple of weeks ago she was taken into hospital and now time has stopped for her. I don't mean that she has died, but she is trapped in a timeless place somehow. Of course one always hopes that she will be able to come back, that time will start again, but that probably isn't going to happen.

Today we are going to her home, getting a few things that will ease her into her new surroundings, residential care. Kevin's family have dealt with this whole situation with a great deal of love and care, but it brings back so much misery to me. Neither of my parents' marbles were compromised towards the end, but their physical ability to cope was. We seemed to be in a maze from which there was no exit. The exit in the end was their passing, but the whole thing still haunts me.

I'm only qualified to speak for what happens in Britain, but we don't care for our seniors properly. I believe we are still at a place where the passing from one world to the next, however long that takes, is done as crisis management. We as a people need to put as much thought and care into the life experience of seniors as they approach the end of their lives, as we put into helping our people to begin their lives.
Here endeth the first lesson, but only because I haven't even begun to think of a solution yet.

Friday, 17 February 2006

Time travelling

I'm time travelling through my own life. Karen and I have been friends for so long that there are only a few years of my life before knowing her family. Watching the news today on TV5 made me think of those short years. The news report moved from the avian flu in France, through Europe and back to Nigeria, it showed healthy looking chickens being collected, killed and burnt. Petrol was thrown on them and ignited. I can remember my father telling me about rough justice in Nigeria, Nigerians who would kill other Nigerians in a horrible manner, rubber necklace, put a petrol-soaked tyre around their neck, set fire to it.
British imperialism, by implication, was better than that, we meted out British justice, created the country itself, taught them government and legislature and then handed the country back to them - the year my sister was born.

My mother must have flown back to England to have me. I say must have because I have left it to late to ask, to clear up the little gaps in the story. Unbelievably I can't find my own life on the internet. Well, I haven't really tried, but obviously it's not there.
I was born in Birmingham, but I have never actually lived there. This is where my mother's family was so it stands to reason that she would have flown back there from Nigeria to give birth in a British hospital, far away from the diseases and heat of Africa.

Somewhere there are pictures of me in my old-fashioned metal pram, little sunshade bolted to the side, sitting up and looking at the camera, white blonde hair, sometimes a cotton sunhat. My father is in some of the pictures, young, bearded, dark-framed spectacles. Sometimes it's my mother, also young, dark, wavy hair, perfectly made-up, slim in cotton fifties dresses, so glamourous. It wasn't until she died that I even thought of her like that. My cousin Mike said to me, ' Your mum was always so glamorous, she and your dad would arrive at our house in that convertible with the hood down and your mum was like a film star, headscarf, shades, lipstick.' And that's how she was in the Nigerian pictures, years before.

My father referred to the servants who looked after me and kept house for us as 'boys'. The boys, Ironbar, Georgie-gee-wee, Daffodil. Yes, even Daffodil was a boy. When we went through my parents' stuff, we found letters from them that my mother had kept, beautiful copper-script handwriting, 'Dear Missus,' asking to have their pay early and for why. I'm sure my mother would always have given them what they needed, that was how she was.

And then my mother's worst fears came to pass, I caught maleria. This wasn't something you could fly back to the National Health Service for, this had to be dealt with there and then. I was saved by the Catholic mission, but not in the spiritual sense. I suppose that had I died they would have been there to give me that too. But my mother had taken care to have me baptised in the Church of England before taking me back with her to Africa. The Catholic mission served another purpose too. This was where you could always get a cold drink on the way back from work or from town. Not for the fun-loving Catholics the straitjacket of teetotalism.

But time, politics and the Crown Agents delivered us back to England and to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in Portsmouth before the birth of my sister. And now the pictures are of Karen and me and our respective sisters as little girls, birthday parties, dressed in frocks and ribbons and glittery shoes.

Halfway through the sixties, a military coup tore Nigeria apart, threatened the republic and the very existence of Nigeria. Some said the British should have stayed, some said it was better to let the Nigerians sort it out for themselves. It's difficult not to look back at that time of stability in the late fifties and wonder though.

Thursday, 16 February 2006


It seems that there IS a sports channel here - which we don't subscribe to and which doesn't manage to keep all the sport to itself either, still, it's a start. And yes, I totally get that all is certainly NOT right with the world, it's just .... well it's difficult enough trying to get TV fixed, reality seems almost impossible.

I need a way of differentiating between Karens. My bestest and most long-standing friend in England is called Karen and when I wanted to refer to her in a previous blog I couldn't bring myself to refer to her as 'British Karen' so I ended up lamely using her initials. Yesterday I was talking to my friend Karen here, and although I have referred to her as Canadian Karen, that's a bit long-winded. Also there's Karen out of Will and Grace who is frankly, a bit of a role-model for me. If ever my daughter Alex wants to excuse something she's done she just says, 'I'm Grace, you're Karen,' yeah, I know, but it works for us. There's also Steddy's Karen and Dean's Karen. So many Karens I can almost feel a sitcom coming on.

So Karen (Canadian, Karen S) and I were discussing the L-Word's Bette and Tina yesterday on the phone. These characters are just used outrageously by the writers. A character needs to maintain some stability, or be allowed to grow. But Bette and Tina keep doing things completely OUT of character. Kevin suggested that it's because there is an implied time-gap between series and we just have to accept that things have happened that are outside of the part of the story that we are shown. Ok, I can kinda go with that.

Last night, I watched several episodes of the TV series 'Bones'. Kevin had recorded them for me while I was away, and with the magic of mythbox we were able to watch back episodes whilst recording last night's. It reminded me just how good the characters are in this programme. I know a number of people groaned at the thought of David Boreanaz, Angel from Buffy, being an FBI agent, and I took it under advisement myself. But David has raised his game. Instead of brooding, he is now semi-brooding. I love that his character is so focussed on the job. In last night's episode he had to work with a local cop from LA who was interested in writing screenplay. David's character delivered a meaningful but in no way cheesy speech on how he couldn't respect that because she, he felt, was using policework to lead to something finer. In doing his job he did it for its own sake because there was nothing finer. And David made me feel that his character meant what he said, absolutely.

The character of Bones is a great one too. The character is, we are told, based on a real person who incidentally is one of the producers of the show. She is a strong woman, the best in her field and who doesn't have to dress as though she were taking time out from her day job as a hooker. Perhaps that should be night job. She isn't full of herself, she just knows what she can do. When pushed, and only when pushed, she can also defend herself physically. She speaks other languages because she is an anthropologist and has had to deal with people of other cultures, so that it isn't something extraordinary, it just is a skill that she has.

The best thing about the relationship between the two main characters is that it is a respectful one and a protective one, but there appears to be no sexual tension. I hope it stays that way, I don't trust that it will, but for now, it works.

I don't like reality TV, oh, my nose just grew longer then because I do watch British self-improvement shows in the morning whilst doing my hexercises and household tasks and those certainly are about real people. I do watch documentaries too, at the moment I am hooked on 'The Deadliest Catch' about crab fishing in the Bering Sea and also the series about Auschwitz. But in the main I look to TV for fiction, ways of exploring possibilities, other realities, pushing the boundaries to test out what could be possible before tampering with the real world.
On that note, I really, really like 'Commander in Chief', a woman in the White House, na na na na na, I'm loving it.

Wednesday, 15 February 2006


...rant. It has come to my attention that the Olympics (the limpets) are going on - in two different places simultaneously to boot, Torino and Turin. Now I realise that people like to watch this and I respect their right to do so, just as I respect their right to smoke in their own home, worship whichever imaginary friends they like and pierce any part of their body that doesn't result in extra cost to the NHS.

In Britain we have sports channels, and this is an entirely satisfactory state of affairs. The sports channels are even called 'Sky Sport (number)' as a red flag to the wary. Not only can you always avoid turning on the sports channels, but you can even not pay for them and thus not have them. 'Perfick' as the dad used to say in 'Darling Buds of May'.

Now something big like the limpets can bleed out, but as far as I can work out, only on to BBC2, a channel reserved for such overspill. And this is my point. My sports filter is pretty damn good, it is like a force field, it protects me really rather well from most sport intrusions. What I object to most strongly is the amount of bleed going on over here.
OK, news progs, I get that, 'set filters to stun'. But there seem to be no sports channels here. The limpets are on channels that I might normally watch, do in fact. My entire viewing of the French Canadian channel has come to a grinding halt. Another channel which normally shows sensible and mainstream programmes has been infested. And the bleeding doesn't stop there. There is this terrible pattern here of stop start programming. Two weeks of 'new episodes' then either the show disappears or they show a repeat. Do they know what that does to a person's brain, to their comfort zone? Now, with the limpets, there's sweet Fanny Adams on anywhere on TV. Bloody good thing we have the trusty mythbox. Dear god, this is the kind of thing that encourages intolerance and civil unrest.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Tony's government have won the vote on the smoking ban and his anti-glorification of terrorism bill. Nothing to do with sport whatsoever, just something cheerful.
Also, Kevin and I went to see 'Underworld Revolution' last night, splendid, no storyline but lots of great effects, fantastic cast, vampires and werewolves crawling out of the woodwork.
All's right with the world after all just not on TV.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006


Succinct, Hilaire Belloc could do succinct.

'I am a sundial and I make a botch
Of what is done far better by a watch.'

And quite right too. Sometimes we fondly remember things that were just a rung on the ladder to something better. Sometimes the old ways are better.

Anyone of my generation probably remembers having to learn how to use a slide rule and log tables. I can see that we had to learn those things to give us all the same opportunities, clearly if you were going to become an engineer or any kind of sciency person you couldn't be sitting around waiting for the mass production of the pocket calculator. Looking back though, a thorough waste of my time.

At Brownies, we learned semaphore. Now this I can see could still have a use. Say you are inexplicably stranded on a mountain where your phone won't work. So long as someone in line of sight of you who also went to Brownies in the sixties is looking up at the right moment, you're saved! Well, unless you're me and can't actually remember any of the signals.

We needed to put up with televisions with rolling pictures, telephone lines that went out, using bars of soap in the shower and the intricate ritual of bed making in the days of sheets and blankets in order to arrive at our modern versions of these.
Nor do I wish to return to the days of having a separate set of cutlery for eating fish or being expected to drink white wine with fish and chicken, having to dress up to go on an aeroplane or wearing a constricting garment to hold my stomach in.

On the other hand, I'm sure the automatic transmission evolved after the ordinary gearstick and I don't want to embrace that, I don't want to lose the control the gears give me - or for that matter use the extra petrol needed for an automatic.

In the mid-section between sundial and watch, I like hearing regional accents on the BBC but I still want my news read in received pronunciation.
I'd like policemen and women to always be friendly - to me at least, but I want them to be a lot tougher on the bad guys and I'm happy for them to wear more sensible headgear and bullet proof protection over their uniforms.
I want postmen and women to always use bikes but I'm pleased I can use on-line banking, that I can contact friends and family in a second without having to go to the post office and buy stamps or an airletter form.

I no longer have a watch, haven't done for some time. I rely on my phone to tell me the time, since I have to carry it anyway. The only place this doesn't work is on a plane. Even in the cinema, if you're having to check the time, then that movie isn't doing it for you and you'd be better off walking out.

I'm not disagreeing with Belloc of course, simply musing that we, even with all the spoils of progress, are still on our way. We're nowhere near the top of the ladder, if in fact the ladder actually has a top. Planes are getting bigger and faster and yet still using less fuel. SKy plus, mythbox, teevo or whatever it is called are all changing the way we watch TV. The Euro has changed Europe and maybe we will one day have a world currency - which Britain naturally will be the last to adopt. Perhaps English, now only spoken at all by 25% of the planet will be available to all.
I hope that gender, sexual preference, colour, looks, physical and some mental disabilities and religion will become irrelevancies to achievement.

We were sundials once. People used to be shorter, less healthy, as a general population less intelligent - bear in mind that learning increases intelligence. What will we become? We're already watches. A prevalent sci-fi idea is that of treatments that keep the human body healthy whilst extending longevity. If that were to happen then our minds would have to be extended too. We would need longer memories, maybe greater processing power. As computer technology progresses, so does the potential for enhancing humans.
Would we become better people? How could our personalities be improved? If you think of your worst trait, would someone else see it that way? Would we even want to let go of our demons if we could ?

People, never content, give 'em a sundial and they'll come up with a watch, give 'em a watch and who knows where it'll lead. Lets just hope it leads to something better.

Monday, 13 February 2006

Duvet day.

While New York had snow days and Dick Cheney went hunting for seniors, Kevin and I had a duvet day. I was recently reminded of these by my friend KMR. Why would anyone who leads the life of Reilly - assuming Reilly to be a well-fed cat - need a duvet day? Of course I could make something up about it being tough recovering from workaholism, or finally seeing off the jetlag, but the truth is, we have DVD series to watch.

A British comedy series often consists of six episodes, so perfect for snuggling under your duvet and watching straight through. My opinion on this, in contrast with some others, is that this makes for tighter writing and allows more series to be showcased and seen through.

An example of this, and one where Kevin and I disagree, is 'Queer as Folk'. The American series was good, and Kevin's argument was that the length that it ran allowed them to develop the characters, do more with them, and I can see his point, Stuart in the British series was a particularly intense and self-destructive character, the only way he could have continued was to dilute him. Nonetheless, the British series was, in my opinion, vastly superior. Tight, intense, delicious, no fat on it, a real duvet day delight. Another example, although not in quite the same way, is the series 'The Office'. The British series was side-splitting, the characters completely recognisable though writ large. The American one didn't do it for me, it just missed that keen observation of the original, bizarre since Ricky Gervais did both, but I'm sure it'll run for several series.

Off on a tangent, but is the L-Word the new Buffy? No, I don't mean the lesbian theme or even the newly introduced vampire one, but rather as a platform for new musical acts. In Buffy, 'The Bronze' was the place you could see bands you might not otherwise have known about, now, 'The Planet' seems to serve the same function. Damn good function too as I see it.

Well, the wind is blowing down the chimney, glad I'm not teaching since kids' behaviour is adversely affected by the wind, on the other hand, Britain is on half term at the moment, so in my past life pattern, I'd be here anyway and not teaching anyone anything. Like any recovering workaholic, I have my to-do list to get through today. Since it's Monday, traditionally it's washing day, so the duvet cover, along with the rest of the bedclothes are going in. I think I'll forego that other traditional Monday thing of cooking bubble and squeak, although I do like it, neither Kevin nor the Haberdashers later on would thank me for eating fried cabbage and spuds.

Too much duvet time can make the brain turn to mush, just the right amount makes for a Reilly-like life.

Sunday, 12 February 2006

Unreasonable demands.

He hasn't said so, but I have made an unreasonable demand on my man. Like when my kids were small, Laurence particularly would want you to buy something that only ever existed in his imagining. Or like the 'Little Britain' sketch where the man goes in and wants something so specific it can't possibly be.

Steve had rung Kevin and asked if we wanted to go out on Saturday. I felt I should be pro-active, find somewhere I wanted to go. As I have said before, Vancouver holds a rich broth of creativity, anyone in any way involved in the performing or creative arts needs to be here at some point.
'There's a Euripides play on at the Jericho Arts centre, I love the Greeks, Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes.'
'So shall we go somewhere to eat beforehand?' ok, he may not have said beforehand, but I'm reconstructing here.
'Well, I'd prefer to go somewhere casual, relaxing, something like going to a pub in the UK.'
'Ok, we have those,'
'Like a real pub, you know, you just go in and sit down, go to the bar to get your drink, order food from the bar, no-one comes round and bothers you, no-one has to seat you, no-one makes you grin when your mouth is full of food and nod and say, 'yes, great thanks,''
'Ah.....well, I'm sure there are places like that but I don't know where... anyway, you wouldn't want it to be smoky like in Britain.'
No, too damn right I wouldn't, little aside to Tony here, Oi, Tony! rein your cabinet in, make them stop fighting with the health minister, get this fixed and pronto! Oh, btw, love what you're doing to ease Gordon Brown in, clever, very classy, keep up the good work, but get that pub smoking thing sorted.

I know, I know, hangover from last week, it'll be all gone by next week, but you know it IS nice to be able to go into a pub and not be bothered.

As luck would have it, Steve had also been thinking about Iphigeneia at Aulis, people he worked with were in the play.
What was the first clue? For Steve it was the small stage set of ruins, ready long before any harm had come to Greece. For me it was when Agammemnon strode out onto the stage in army drab, stripes carefully picked off the shirtsleeve. So passé. I remember years ago seeing 'The women of Troy' at the National, the Cottesloe I think but wouldn't swear to it. The women and their sorrows, brilliant, but the whole Apocalypse Now theme of the men, dreadful.

Agemmemnon spluttered and declaimed angrily at times when personally, I thought he should have been falling apart with grief. I felt that most of the cast didn't listen to the words they were saying, because frankly, they didn't deliver them meaningfully. Steve's first comment afterwards echoed my feelings here, 'they didn't understand the play.' Spot on. The bloke playing Achilles played it as a comedic part, whereas Clytemenstra saw hers as a melodramatic role. I asked him if the actors were professionals, it seems that some were. Now don't get me wrong, I am not against am dram. I have been entranced at some amateur productions. My friend Linda's portrayal of Alan Bennett's 'Lady of Letters' held me spellbound. The King's Players' - not really sure what the Southsea amateur group was called, but let's call them that - production of 'Into the Woods' was superb, and that's in spite of my dislike of musicals. But I do feel that amateurs should steer clear of Shakespeare and the Greeks. Let's make that law shall we?

When I got home I read the blurb on the programme and realised that fundamentally the director didn't get the play. Tom, darling, it is NOT about the futility of war. It is about the vanity, arrogance, absurdity of men. It is about the suffering of mothers because of the wrong-headedness of some of the decisions forced upon them. It is also about the suffering of men, as in the anguish faced by Abraham. It is about the dialectic itself, the psychology, the sacrifice. Not only that, he, Tom Kerr the director states baldly that he was ASKED to do it as a classical piece and he chose not to.
It was not well acted and it certainly was not well-directed - in my opinion of course. But that is not to say I enjoyed nothing about it. If you listened carefully, and avoided Agammemnon's saliva, you could still hear the words of Euripides telling the story, revealing the tensions and dilemmas.

The pub - well we had to compromise of course. We had a very nice meal in a pub which at least looked like a pub. I think this may be a low priority on things I want Harper to fix (himself being top of the list) and like I said - I'll have forgotten about it by Tuesday.

Saturday, 11 February 2006

Books and baths.

I am currently reading, because I have been lent, Haruki Murakami's 'Hard-boiled Wonderland and the end of the World'. This is an interesting book, but I read a description of the internet in it as though it was not yet fully in existence, so I looked to see when the book was written, nothing else in the story had tipped me off. It was written in 1985, translated in 1991, but not published in Great Britain until 2001.
Why was this of interest to me? Well, when I did my MA, the psychologist du jour was Lev Vygotsky, a Russian born in 1896. Now, if memory serves me correctly, and be reminded I don't have a good memory, his work was mostly done in the late twenties. It wasn't published in translation however until 1974 or thereabouts. When I read his 'Thought and Mind' though, it was like coming home, it just made so much sense and not just to me, it was as though everyone who read it was hooked in, much of the research and writing that was being done at Kings College was based on his theories. Neo-Vygotskyists to a person.

I'm not sure whether I find it more incredible that the thought, the ideas survive the time gap or that it ever sees the light of day.
Descartes in his own 'Méditations' says that reading is like having conversations with people from the past, and it is of course, it's an amazing thing to be able to read the thoughts of Cervantes or Rabelais, Plato and Hesiod.

But what of translation? It throws up two red flags for me. What is the mechanism that sparks translation? Who read Murakami's books and decided that they were worth putting into English and how many other Murakamis are there whose work is read and enjoyed by Japanese speakers, but may never be available to us ? Who finally decided that Vygotsky's theories were worth showing to the English speaking world? And then, how much is lost in translation?

I can remember my mediaeval lecturer being involved in a debate about how the book of Genesis had been translated. It seems that where the English translation had given us 'God created Adam and then took a rib from him and created Eve' the original language more accurately stated that God took a rib and created two beings from this rib. Each new 'translation' of the Bible was really just an updating of previous English texts but finally someone had gone back to the Old Hebrew.
Likewise on my Air Canada flight I was reading the in-flight magazine. The English version of some article referred to something or other 101. Now I take this to mean basic, foundation. The French version however, said something or other 'pour les nuls' which I take to mean 'for no-hopers'. If you are 'nul' at something you are rubbish at it.

How many conversations have I forgotten I wonder. Murakami's character refers at some point to the work of Somerset Maughm. I remember having a Maughm phase myself, must have read everything the man ever wrote, yet the only thing I can remember from it is a picture of rain falling constantly onto a verandah.

But I have found it a great thing that people lend me books and I have been able to have many Cartesian conversations that I would not otherwise have had. I do have to take more care of other people's books however. My own books look as though they have been read by at least 38 street people. The truth is I take them in the bath with me and I stuff them in my bag so that I am never caught out for a second without a book. This isn't so much of a problem here because the bathtubs aren't as relaxing as in Europe. In England I would take a long relaxing bath with my book every night. I think I'd worry Kevin sometimes, I'd say, 'I'm just taking Alistair Reynolds into the bath.' Here the bathtub, like the one in the previous house, seems wider and shallower than in England, the end doesn't slope, it just doesn't work so well for me, so my books don't deteriorate so quickly.

Many years ago I enjoyed being read to, not by my parents, although I'm sure I enjoyed that too, but by the BBC. I 'read' Hugo's 'Les Misérables' -albeit in English, EF Benson's 'Mapp and Lucia' books and Anthony Powell's 'Dance to the music of time' by listening to Radio 4. In my head therefore I always pictured Powell's name as 'Pole'. One of his works was called 'Books do Furnish a Room' and I guess they do, there is something lovely about a beautifully bound book, even a battered, well-read book, but I'm looking forward to those little tablets, downloadable books that fit snugly into your bag or pocket and that you never have to find space for on the shelves, conversations straight into your head through the eyes instead of the ears then deleted or stored on a hard-drive. One-way conversations? Well I guess that's what translation is about, even if it's the translation we make ourselves, the visualisations, the meanings we impose. As I said before,quoting Barthes, 'every decoding is another encoding'.

Friday, 10 February 2006

Weather or not....

One of the many things that Canadians and Brits have in common is a healthy interest in the weather. Sometimes it's an unhealthy interest depending on the time of year. Because of my pattern of not staying for more than two weeks during the winter months in the past, I had no idea that Vancouver had a monsoon season. When I left for Britain, a record number of days of rain was on the cards, but here's the thing, had it not been for the constant discussion on the telly over whether the rain would break previous records, I wouldn't even have noticed it. Rain in Britain is just a fact of life and a damn sight more interesting than the constant grey skies. Whilst I was away it seems to have rained a lot more here, deluging some places, forcing evacuations, in Portsmouth, grey skies, sometimes blue skies, you know the drill.

Since I arrived back it has seemed springlike here to me. Every morning I have looked out to clear blue, even one morning when it had rained during the night. Yesterday again, blue sky, but there had been a frost, so it looked exquisite. Across the road in the park/school playing fields this morning, seagulls are being playful, chasing each other between the goalposts, not exactly endearing I know, but, well, enthusiastic at least. Makes me wonder where the crows have gone, throughout the dripping mists of November big fat crows would place themselves in trees and on the frames of the sports fields. I swear there was one in charge who was directing them.
''Ere she comes Fred, you perch on the top branch, Terry, plonk yerself on the middle one, I'll hang around here at the bottom and follow 'er with me eyes, yeah, that's the ticket, Fred! Plump up them feathers, c'mon, look a bit more crow-like.'

What's missing ? Well, blossom and flowers. Yep, I know, it IS only early February, but we mustn't forget the universal law that daffs must be out before St. David's day, so they'd better get a move on.
We did plant some daffs in the tiny patch of earth out the back in the autumn, and they are pushing up through the soil. My hyacinth which Austen and Sue brought me back from France one year is also peeping out of its pot. But when I left England there was blossom on some of the trees.
I planted some tomato seeds yesterday, ones which I had saved from last season's toms. In Britain we have airing cupboards, wonderful warm places where you can put the clothes and bedclothes you don't want to sort, or are perhaps still a little damp, you can put bread in there to rise and you can put your tommie seeds in on the floor to germinate in the warmth and darkness. Cats are also fans of airing cupboards.

I was reminded, while thinking about the slight lag in signs of spring, about when I used to go to Bristol. Now you wouldn't think of Bristol as being a very exciting destination, being a huge and somewhat sprawling city. The University of London used to organise two weekend courses a year just outside of Bristol, one in February - Mediaeval French and one in April - Renaissance French. The University of Bristol, one of Britain's most prestigious universities, owned a property called Burwalls house which was just at the end of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The house was set in beautiful, well-tended gardens and the view out over the ravine was breathtaking.
The cycle of nature in Clifton was about two weeks ahead of where I lived, so another joy was going there and seeing the flowers which were still struggling in Surrey, in full bloom.

The bridge itself was equally inspiring. This was one of the most famous works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer who developed the suspension bridge. Another of his designs was the railway station, Bristol Temple Meads, this is a station worth visiting and one of the Portsmouth stations, Portsmouth and Southsea has a similar though scaled down facade. Brunel also built a steamship in Bristol docks, the 'Great Britain'. I would like to be able to say that it sailed to Canada, but in fact its destination was New York, still, right direction.

Like Brunel I was always very drawn to the west. I believe it would be impossible not to fall in love with Clifton and I must take Kevin there one day. I guess I have just come rather further west than Brunel the man, but his work is here. Vancouver is a city that is held together by suspension bridges, mighty feats of engineering that must have depended on the work and vision of this man who was born in Portsmouth.

Thursday, 9 February 2006

Rhubarb, rhubarb

If you have already read the Guardian online this morning, you will know that I have straightforwardly swiped one of their titles, that of their 'The Northerner' section, a round up of the northern newspapers. It does seem that the North of England has more interesting and unusual news than the south. This item refers to a celebration of yes, you've guessed it, rhubarb. I quote,

"This week, the Wakefield Express reveals, the district is hosting a seven-day long celebration of rhubarb. The festival, which features candle-lit tours of rhubarb sheds, is attracting visitors from around the world and will run until the end of the week. According to the Express, rhubarb has played a significant role in the local economy for more than 150 years, not least because Wakefield is "situated in the mysterious rhubarb triangle of West Yorkshire, which includes Leeds and Morley." Curious? So was the Northerner. Wakefield Council press officer had one answer: "It is strange, kind of mysterious, although I'm not quite sure where the mystery is in it." Mysterious."

Now rhubarb is one of my dislikes. Since being in Canada I am begining to suspect that I have rather too many dislikes, other people don't seem to, or rather they don't seem to take them so seriously. For example, Kevin doesn't like ginger, but he will eat it as a flavour in things, he would just avoid the nice big crystallised chunky bits you can get at Christmas. For me, rhubarb, and my other fruity dislike, pineapple, are things to be avoided. There would always be a rhubarb flavoured yoghurt in the selection I used to buy and when Austen would come home from university, he would have a fridge full of them to eat.

In spite of being British, I don't like tea. This is not so much of a cultural disadvantage in the soft south of England where there is a tendancy more towards coffee, but get as far as the Midlands and it can be a problem. Not a problem here in Canada at all, in fact in the summer when I was obliged to buy some tea bags for Ben, I was stumped, I had to re-learn tea-language, squirrel about and eventually find. Tea is not just tea it seems.

Marzipan, in fact almondy flavoured things make me go eeuw. Oddly, I can eat actual almonds, they don't seem to taste of almond somehow, but an almondy smell and taste puts me right off. I can at least make up an excuse for this one, granted not a very convincing excuse.
When the IRA were heavily into letter bombs in the 70s, I was working for the Department of Employment and we were told to discard any post that smelt of almonds,clearly some explosive smelt this way, also I believe cyanide is supposed to taste of almonds. Don't want to test that one out. OK, I always hated marzipan so that doesn't really work. Christmas cakes always seemed to have a thick layer of marzipan under the icing, which I would have to dissect out and give to my sister. Likewise there was always a marzipan flavoured one in a box of chocolates which was prized by others and avoided at all costs by moi. German chocs seemed to consist largely of marzipan. And yet none of these things seem to be so any more, I am no longer engaged in a continual avoidance war, perhaps the rest of the world who aren't me have eaten it all and there always was a finite supply.

Pineapple, rhubarb, marzipan, tea, the things that I dislike which define me. What a strange way of thinking. I'm quite fascinated by the idea of a mysterious rhubarb triangle though. Hmmmm..food for thought.

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Danger Will Robinson!

My friend Simmi told me about an incident yesterday where mouth had connected directly to reflex reaction, short circuiting brain and she had found herself exclaiming 'Danger Will Robinson, danger, danger!' I could visualise clearly the scenario and it tickled me, I did actually laugh out loud. I was also able to empathise with those moments where brain gets left out of the equation, often leading to fear of retribution.

I used to love the programme 'Lost in Space'. It was cleverly done. The robot didn't burst out with its warnings at panto moments, the 'look behind you!' ones, nor was it a question of 'oh pleeeease don't go down into the dark cellar where the light doesn't work,' but rather when no-one was yet aware of the danger, viewer or character, so it gave a genuinely eerie quality. The warnings were real warnings.

When I was at the airport on Monday, a woman approached me with a clipboard, wanting to ask me questions. She was a nice lady, wearing a maple leaf brooch, when I said I was travelling to Canada she expressed the envy that I remember experiencing myself. The Robinson family's robot should have been there waving its little corrugated tubing arms around, saying 'Danger! Danger!'.
'What is the occupation of the main earner in your household?'
'Electrical engineer.'
'What is the highest level of education in your household?
'So...the person who is the electrical engineer has the MA?'
'Um...no, um....'
Moment, nothing said, we both just stared at the page, things unspoken hanging in the air.
But a tiny grain of irritation can turn into a pearl given the right circumstances, and I will do my best to make that happen. I have noticed that the writers on one of my favourite shows, the L Word, do exactly that. They purposely put in a little irritating grain of sand and allow us the viewer to construct the pearl.

When I started watching the first series, the one character I didn't like was Jenny Schaechter. She seemed different, like a little girl, annoying, the storyline where she is seduced by Marina seemed unbelievable. Jenny seemed too passive and she was haunted by something not very interesting, she was an irritant.
But then in the second series, there is a change, and the change is marked by her getting a haircut. She wonders whether she has to have short hair to be a lesbian, but the truth is, the haircut is about growing up and with growing up comes the acceptance, acknowledgement, recognition of her sexuality. But in accepting her adulthood, she also has to now deal with the demons of her childhood. Again, the writers present us with an annoyance that will lead to something. As she opens up to her demons and struggles to confront them, she plunges deeper into depression and breakdown. Towards the end of the process and that series, she is in a situation of self-abasement. She is stripping in front of very low men.
The French philosopher and writer Barthes presented us with the idea that as a woman takes off her clothes in public, so she puts up a barrier. A clothed woman is aproachable, a naked one who is in control of her nudity is not. Every decoding is another encoding.
So it is with Jenny, she is not on stage as a seductress, she is declaring 'I am not available to you, I am in control of this, but look what you have become, blind slaves to your own lust and look what I have become, see how I have debased myself, laid myself bare.'

And then they do it again. At the beginning of the third series, Jenny is away from LA and she has found a new partner whom she brings back with her. The new girlfriend seems an anomaly, she doesn't fit. But then the writers use this character they have created to make us think. We can feel Moira's discomfort as she meets Jenny's friends, our friends, for the first time. Jenny is pleased to be back, in more than one sense, but she makes no effort to ease Moira's discomfort. We see Moira isolated at the end of the table, having to ask the price of the dish she wants to order and when it comes, it is not food so much as art. Someone offers her some of her lobster and she turns it down, subtly reminding them how lobsters are sometimes cooked alive, and making a low-key comment about the behaviour of the lobsters as they boil to death. The writers are reminding us that maybe we have become too complacent, too accepting of this group of well-off women. They all have loudly proclaimed left-wing views but they are affluent and have not thought about the point that Moira has made to them.
Although Moira seems to drive an unnecessarily large vehicle for someone who is keeping us grounded, she finally shows back up just as Jenny is letting the pages of her manuscript fall into a fire because she has not been contacted by her publisher.
'You don't have to be published to be a great writer,' says Moira, pulling Jenny back from that edge.
She doesn't fit, but she is an interesting character brought in to challenge us. I hope this turns into another pearl.

Somehow the Robinson famiy always survived the vicissitudes of life in outer space, possibly because they had a danger spotting robot and good writers. The rest of us have to spot our own dangers and write our own scripts, but I'm hopeful that I can turn my irritant grains of sand into pearls and that's at least a good place to start.

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Home again

My travel yesterday ran on rails. Well, that sounds rather odd since none of it was on a train, but there was hardly a hitch - in fact at times it was almost too efficient.
I was a bit surprised that the railair link bus has now changed its route. It used to go around all the terminals dropping and picking up, now it goes to terminal 4 - the British Airways terminal - then the central bus depot which serves all the others. Not a problem I suppose, but I just feel they should have checked with me first.

Check-in, clockwork, I do love the e-ticket system. I can remember the first time I didn't believe anyone would let me on a plane with just a piece of paper that I had printed off my own computer. Air Canada like to have your passport number ahead of time, so their system is slicker than oil, sometimes they don't even look at my itinerary, they just scan my passport. I'm all for this, I don't at all care if it smacks of Big Brother. The good old Protestant work ethic and I'm sure the Catholics have this too, lead you to believe that an all-seeing God is watching you at all times so that you can never slack off, or not wash your hands after the toilet or ignore your guilt.

Boarding was ahead of schedule, so much that I found myself having to run to the departure gate because ten minutes ahead of the time the check-in guy had told me boarding would start, the screen was telling me 'Last Call'.
Everytime I say how much I love Air Canada, there are always groans, clearly other people have had different experiences, but this whole flight was what I have come to expect from them. Polite, efficient, information given, water kept coming, food was good. I even had a Monday's Guardian given to me free Karen and Gail, so that will be passed on too.
There was only one moment reminiscent of the last flight, that was when we all stood up to leave, got our baggage out of the overheads, the pilot asked us to sit back down again because the RCMP were about to board. Some complete pillock had been smoking in the toilets. What a wally. The RCMP certainly looked like they meant business, they came on board with tasers and escorted the guy off.

I had a lovely trip home, saw not all, but most of the people I wanted to see and spent lots of time with my kids and grandkids.
But it was a good moment when the immigration officer stamped my passport and an even better one when I saw Kevin approaching in the car to pick me and my heavy luggage up. Couldn't help singing that Tourists number 'it's so good ooh ooh ooh ooh, it's so good, ooh ooh ooh ooh, it's so good to be back ho-o-ome again.'

Sunday, 5 February 2006

Disappearing jam

Weirdness in the blogosphere. My post, 'Apricot Jam' has just disappeared. Karen couldn't post a comment on it, Anne's comment on the previous post has somehow vanished and the whole post has just loosed its moorings and drifted off. Oh well, here's the speed dating version of it.
Parting, not sweet sorrow but utter misery as always. Shakespeare's blog must have told of this. Apricot flavour everything more common here than in Canada. Getting a Graun for Karen. The end.

I decided it would be a good idea to look at my itinerary and lo! Although I had remembered my flight as departing at 16.30, in fact it leaves at 13.30, so damn good thing I checked. I have to get a cab to the station - the railair link bus goes from the train station - because of my luggage, but I hate getting cabs. Cabs are probably my least favourite form of transport, although I've never travelled by rickshaw. I do however love the railair link bus. It goes straight to Heathrow and is allowed to go in special bus lanes that cars can't. The drivers are usually funny, I say usually because there was one on the first service out of Heathrow one time who was a complete bar-steward to a Canadian woman from Victoria. There is a loop-hole in efficiency first thing in the morning. There is no-one to sell you a ticket and no machine at terminal 3 - or wasn't then. The bus drivers can't take cards, only cash, which is pathetic poo and the woman, arriving from Canada only had a twenty pound note, again, nothing unusual about that. The driver couldn't change the note. Well the other passengers on the bus were Brits so we were soon all verbally assaulting the bus driver and then managed to find change between everyone for the twenty pound note. It was an oddity, most bus drivers I have encountered would just have said, 'my bad, you get on, we'll sort it out later.'

I've looked up the in-flight movies, nothing you would want to see anywhere but on a plane, however if they don't come with Portugese subtitles that'll be a plus.

Toodle pip to blighty, it's a wonderful place to visit, many wonderful shops, many wonderful sandwiches, lovely Indian food and fabulous baths, oh and great chocolate.

A London Thing

'She who is tired of London is tired of life', to misquote someone, Dr.Johnson maybe. I was certainly in London and tired. I realised I had made a grammatical error yesterday, you always go UP to London wherever you are in the country. Don't suppose they teach them that any more in school.
London can bring out the belligerence in me, astonishing huh? I have a mental fork, not one like Hume's, although his did concern the is/ought question and mine goes something like, 'you ought not to be doing that or I will mentally stab you with my fork.'
The district line tube was crowded to suffocation and some woman was letting her very small child occupy a seat. What happened to the age old custom of children being expected to give up their seats for anyone older?

We went all the way out to Olympia to the Camp America recruitment fair, which even Alex said she was overwhelmed by. Lots and lots and lots of would-be happy campers. We didn't stay long, but we used the toilets. If teaching has taught me just one thing, it's never pass up a toilet opportunity whether you need it or not.
We had travel cards, so we all hopped on a bus, any bus, and went around Hyde Park and around everywhere it seemed until we got to Picadilly circus where we foolishly thought it would be a good place to alight. I'm stunned at how much better Alex knows London than I do, she knew exactly where we were at all times. I tend to just take a tube and travel under the city.

Picadilly was heaving. I told some people off who were dithering on the edge of the road when others were trying to cross. That gave me a warm feeling and didn't involve my mental fork. I have to be so much politer in Canada, here among my own I can be - well, basically Hugh Laurie's character from House - and it's just a perk of getting older.
We went to Funland inside the Trocadero and it was no fun at all. Even more people here. I noticed in one particularly crowded shop where I thought I might faint, that the St John's ambulance lady, the person who deals with you when you do in fact faint, was making the situation worse. Seven security men were having some kind of conference outside the shop. There must have been a doughnut call or something because they just kept arriving and laughing. Very funny guys, now get back to work. The potential for thievery in this place was enormous.

Walking back to the tube station our attention was drawn to an actor dressed up as a cybernaught, boddy popping. Next to him stood a bagpiper who had a friend stand by him with a cigarette. Every time he got to the end of a tune, friend popped the fag in his mouth. I promise that's not rude in English.

We had to go all the way across London to New Cross to see Goldsmith's College, part of the university of London. We had to go on the Jubilee line to Canada water. Now the tunnels that lead to the platforms of the Jubilee line have interesting metal panelling, rectangles, that make it look like the inside of the Tardis. British Petroleum were advertising their new fuels, the posters done like those colour blindness tests where you have bubbles of different colours and you read the words or numbers hidden in the patterning. You can only read the ones on the opposite walls because you are too near the ones where you are walking. 'Bio-fuels' said one, 'wind', 'hydrogen'. Hydrogen ! Holy Crap, that's scary.

New Cross was nice, the University of London owns a lot of property in and around London and the buildings were a mixture of old and new. Alex was pleased enough, she is hoping to go to Goldsmith's next year. It is a college with a sparkling reputation for performing and creative arts as well as excellent departments of English and French. Alex will be continuing with Drama and English.

Again we jumped on a bus that meandered slowly through the London twilight, finally dropping us just above Waterloo. As we walked along the pavement a woman stuck her arm out to hail a bus right in front of me. I growled at her and she looked scared. Ben thought I was out of order, Alex thought Ben was out of order and so the argument batted backwards and forwards until we arrived on the station.

I think perhaps I agree with Samuel Johnson. I'm nowhere near tired of London, in fact today showed me how much more of it there was that I hadn't explored, but I'm happy with it in small doses.

Friday, 3 February 2006


Austen had rung in the day and asked me half-jokingly if I wanted to go into school and make some money. Staff were dropping like flies and the supply agency couldn't send them anyone because another school had 23 staff out sick. Cover - that's the absolute bane of any teacher's life in the UK. You can think you've planned out your day, your non-teaching time will be filled to the brim with non-teaching activities and then, bam, you lose them to cover someone else's lesson. The government has tried to ease this pressure, introduced unassailable planning and preparation time, but it hasn't really tried hard enough and the spectre remains. I didn't go in, it was halfway through the day and I know what it entails, full on conflict, blow that for a game of soldiers, also, I'm trying to get some money back from the tax office and had promised them I wouldn't be working in the UK for the rest of the tax year.

At toddler group this morning, there was a baby called Elliot. This reminded me of a child of the same name I used to teach. He always referred to me as Satan. Usually, if you ignore these things they go away, but this time it got worse. There was another group of kids who would hum the Darth Vadar theme whenever they saw me coming along the corridor. That one had to be ignored, in fact it made life easier for me because I didn't have to try so hard at being nasty. I sent a letter to Elliot's mother. She came in to see me, very apologetic, but also unable to not laugh. She promised that Elliot would stop calling me Satan. She said that I was the only person who had ever managed to teach Elliot any French at all, I told her it was one of Satan's abilities.

I have in mind a number of jobs I'd rather do than teaching. I would like to present a Canadian version of 'Most Haunted'. Not that I have any hankering whatsoever after being a TV presenter, although I would look ghastly in red leather trousers just like Yvette Fielding does, but I fancy the idea of making a living from bothering ghosts in haunted houses. I mean investigating paranormal activity.
Another thing I'd like to try my hand at would be being Governor General of Canada. I think the Queen's representative should be me rather than someone else. I could then whine more publicly about the lack of good chocolate and I'd serve a lot of Indian food at state functions, have people mutter darkly about the days of the Raj. I wouldn't like the hat wearing part of the job so much, but I'd make the sacrifice. I'd also consider it my duty to keep prodding Stephen Harper, always referring to myself as 'we' when speaking to him.

So today is my last day in Portsmouth. My journey home begins today, early evening. In spite of the fact that I will be travelling from Heathrow on Monday - the London airport that IS somewhere near London - I will be going up to town on Saturday as well. Sunday will be down time with Alex, Ben and Laurence, making sure I have everything packed.
I do hope immigration Canada haven't been reading my blog and will let me back in in spite of my megalomaniac tendencies.

Thursday, 2 February 2006


At twenty past twelve last night I left Simone and Eilish's house. Southsea was silent, like the silence before snow, but this was midweek Southsea asleep.
As I turned left onto Albert Road, I glanced right and saw a queue outside the Wedgewood Rooms. I have no idea why at that hour. Perhaps they'd just seen a band play and were still caught in the gravity well. The Wedgewood Rooms is just a mosh pit really, about the size of a very big living room, and yet a couple of years back, before the babies arrived, Austen, Sue and I saw the Pixies' Frank Black play there. The man is truly a legend and yet he was an arm's length away from us on a small stage in Southsea. That's the kind of place it is, it gives opportunities to new talent and draws in legends. If Kurt Cobain were going to reincarnate, it would be in the Wedgewood rooms.

On Albert Road the pubs had long since closed their eyes. The Bombay balti House had customers, but the Eastern Eye, the Monsoon Tandoori house and the Goa were all closing up, dark-skinned waiters were wiping down tables, locking doors. Two fire engines rushed past, lights blinking madly, but sirens silenced. Albert Road is barely wide enough to accomodate them, but their drivers are skilful. I have never felt in danger walking in Southsea at night, there are usually police cars circling, freed from the task of peace-keeping at football matches. Nonetheless I am listening for accents as a group of youths walk towards me, and am relieved to hear a northern irish voice, students then.

I had walked in the opposite direction when the town was still alive, noise and light spilling out onto the pavement from every doorway, a man sitting by the ATM rolling a joint. Another standing outside a front door drinking from a can of lager, hears the chink of bottles from my bag, asks if I'll stop and share a drink with him.

The name seems to have disappeared from the end of Simmi and Eilie's road. Their door opens and light, warmth, cooking smells, hugs, all pour out, pull me in. Simone's appearance has changed a little, she's been growing her hair as an experiment. She has been cycling to work, her bike is named in honour of me - the all-weather cyclist. Changes in the kitchen too, the wooden window frames have been replaced by double glazing, the table seems not so long, unextended. But the welcome is as ever, wine, food, warmth, love, conversation, new and old interests shared. We sit in the front room by the open fire, drinking wine, talking, looking at pictures, at books, listening to music. It is ever thus.
Last night there were just the three of us and a cat. But if only this house could write there would be such a book to be penned. It would tell tales of all the people who had shared this hearth, sat round the kitchen table, cried and laughed, listened and recounted, discovered new ideas, learned from others, been supported through crises, through summer, winter, spring and autumn.

As I close the front gate and the cold night air hits me, I remember that next time I open it, Kevin will be with me, and the trees will have blossomed filling the warmer, lighter evenings with a hint of approaching summer.