Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Wine, dentists, tower

Sounds like the 'tennis, elbow, foot' game doesn't it, where you have to ping-pong a linked word back from the previous one.

The picture of the Spinnaker tower is slightly fuzzy I know, but it was the best one we took from the Gosport ferry whose engines were just not going to allow a still night time picture. Oh well.
I've mentioned both the Spinnaker tower and the Gosport ferry before, I know, but the tower is now fully operational, well, almost fully, apparently the outside lift doesn't work. That and the fact that it costs 3 pound 50 for a Stella were bits of info we gleaned from the cabbie, some bits of info can only be got from cabbies, google doesn't know everything.
As we watched, the tower changed from blue to green to pink to orange to red. Fabulous, and when we were in our hovel room in Bayswater, oops, hotel room, we found a leaflet for it.

We were returning from a visit to our friends' Karen and Steve. We had been discussing dentists because, well, basically because we're British and it is a topic that occupies many Brits. You may remember I had to visit my own dentist, the softly spoken Gabriel in January. For the exact same reason, Karen had to visit her own this afternoon. Both of us had had a crown come adrift, although Karen's was a temporary one, mine was the permanent Monty and had come out whilst I had been eating a turtle. In Britain we are being trained, weaned maybe, away from the National Health dentistry service and towards private practice. But this is a tough weaning. How do we find a private dentist, what questions do we ask? Karen tells me that only now that there are so few NHS dentists left, is there going to be an ombudsman for private dentists. We Brits do like our Ombudsmen, we like to know there's somewhere we can complain, somewhere to stamp our feet and that if enough of us do it, something will change.

We had some very good South African wine at Karen and Steve's. For years my son Austen has laboured to get me to drink wine other than just French and his toils have been rewarded, I do indeed now drink wines from many parts of the world. We got on to discussing wine boxes and how the French have trained us to the wine box. Steve said he remembered having good wine from wine boxes in Australia in the early 80's, when the rest of the world was not quite as familiar with Aussie wine as we are now. Kevin felt that Canadians were having a hard time accepting the wine box.

Wine, dentists, the tower, how I repeat myself with all my Brit obsessions, all this and I was able to hang washing out today, bliss, ah bliss.

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Big Brother

I don't get this, I've never got this - yeah, I know that doesn't quite work in a grammar sense. Alex's boyfriend Matt's cousin Grace is in it. She's a minger. Alex tells me that she's the second prettiest one in the house, but well, she IS a minger. To me this is a completely incomprehensible phenomenon. How typical of British people to watch people in their houses via some kind of webcam(s). Alex knows the names of these people, they are real people and yet they're not. They are a parody of real people, doing things that parody what real people do. There's a Canadian who appears to be wearing a Thunderbirds outfit, Alex refers to him as the Canadian sexual terrorist. He doesn't sound Canadian though and he knows English words that Canadians have to ask the meaning of. Kevin asked me only the other day what a 'pinny' was and this guy just used the word.
There are rules to the show, strange, made up rules, I suppose that the rules of life are strange and made up. I just DON'T GET IT.

Meanwhile, in other news, Vodafone, the phone company that I myself use, have lost a record 14.9 billion pounds this year. That's American billions, know to the French and Germans as 'milliards', also in old English as the same. How the hell is that possible ? Well it seems by not pursuing their elected task of supplying mobile phones and mobile phone paraphernalia, but by less successful diversification. It's all so scary. Despite losing an unbelievable amount of money, the company have done well this year. Eventually there won't be countries, just ubercompanies, like in sci-fi. 14.9 billion pounds would be irrelevant to a country, and it doesn't seem to mean too much to Vodafone. Four hundred jobs will be lost. Probably just housekeeping.

The other big news today is of course the EU deciding that it doesn't have to comply with the US demand for information on passengers travelling to their country. An interesting one this. Frankly, it seems to be a meaningless decision and a waste of the European taxpayers' money. The bottom line as I read it is two-fold. Some new guidelines are going to have to be agreed between the EU and the US about protection of passengers' information, on the other hand, it matters not a whit, since the US simply won't allow people into their country until they have provided whatever info they require. That's basically part of having sovereignty. I can see this turning into another lumber dispute fiasco, marginally more absorbing than Big Brother, which in its turn is marginally more absorbing than watching grass grow. Actually, scratch that, watching grass grow can be quite meditative.

Monday, 29 May 2006

Bank Holiday

Ahhhh...the great British Bank Holiday when Brits all go en masse to the shopping centres and DIY stores. Well, not all, because Scotland are more in line with Canada and had a day off for Queen Victoria's birthday last week.

We didn't go to a DIY shop but .... we had a little plumbing accident this morning. The hot water pipes sprung a leak and Austen had to call in a plumber, yep, at Bank Holiday rates. In fairness, the man did ask if we could wait until tomorrow when it would be cheaper, but no, Austen was adamant that we needed to use water in the house today. It could certainly have been worse, it could have happened yesterday when we were getting ready for the Christening, or worse still, when Sue was here on her own with the kids.

By the time the plumber arrived, Kevin had at least discovered the problem, so time was saved on diagnosis.

There is a waterfront development not far from here called Gunwharf Quays and we decided to go and look around the shops there, as did everyone else in the South East of England. The place was heaving. We were welcomed by heavy, tribal drumbeat, a group of dancers were proceeding along the waterfront, sounded more interesting than it turned out to be.

Gunwharf, even more than anywhere else in the city, is a meeting of the different elements in Pompey. There are the chavs, oh my goodness yes, but there are also the hoorays, most evident in Ralph Lauren. Now, the two fragrances I use are Ralph Lauren, but their clothing does not please me. In other clothes shops, the stock seems to change frequently, in Ralph Lauren, I swear the things they sell are the same year in, year out. Bit like their clientele.

In the central square some sea cadets were performing a hornpipe, not sure why, but it seems that some yacht race was leaving Portsmouth around now.

Although I have whined about restaurant and bar service in BC being too intrusive, I generally find shop staff to be polite there. In Boots in Gunwharf, one cashier was standing at the till moaning about the shop,
'I hate it here, I've had enough of bloody Boots, I don't want to be here...' yep, got that love.

We moseyed back, and needed to buy a few items at one of the small supermarkets. Co-op didn't have any Camembert, so I volunteered to go back to Tesco. There was a long, winding queue to pay. After my self-inflicted embarrassment of the previous day, I was interested in the loud soliloquy of one young woman in the line. It went on in a continuous stream with no break for breath.
'AND, she's got this bloke and he come down wiv this car, no MOT, no licence, they goes off to Wales, never told no-one, me, I'm loik am I bovvered? But she proper stitched moi uncle up, but yeah, she wuz well aht of awduh, got one contrac phone, never paid the bills, but she loik, was livin at my uncle's 'owse so then, right, she gets anover and loik, she never paid the bill neiver and then loik, the bailiffs was rahnd and they was loik, taking the telly and chairs an stuff unless moi uncle can come up wiv seven hundrid pahnds an 'e sez, oi ain't got that kinda money, anyway, the next thing...'
Damn, seemd like the queue moved too quickly, it was like a live soap opera. You can't make that stuff up. Oh hang on, yes, they do, and they get paid big bucks for it. That woman, I guess that was her life, lived large and shouted for all the world to hear in Tesco.

Sunday, 28 May 2006


Yup, silly me. I took son number two's phone because I was getting fed up with his horrid ringtones, put it in my bag, told him it was safe in my bag and I'd give it back later.
Then I forgot and went to the Co-op and I'm looking at the tomatoes when my bag suddenly starts screaming at me in an East End accent,
'Oi! Soppy Bollocks! Answer your fucking phone! I'm in your pocket, ring, ring, ring, oi! I said I'm in your fucking pocket !'
Supermarket floor refused point blank to open up and swallow me, I tried to wrap my entire body round my bag, because of COURSE I couldn't actually find the bloody thing. It finally stopped.
Thirty seconds later, South Park's Cartman starts yelling at me. I tried to look unpeturbed, but, I was peturbed.

I have a new flight back to Canada booked, Friday the 9th of June, cost me big bucks, and is all completely dependent on getting my passport back the previous day.

Today, the weather smiled at us for Edward's Christening. The service went well, Father Lewis gives a good sermon, interspersed with witticisms, and there is much incense and bell-ringing that goes on throughout the service. Austen and Sue's church is Anglo-Catholic, so much of it is familiar to me, but not all. It's a lovely church building though, hidden from the main road, heck, hidden even from the side road.

Over the past two days, I have spent a lot of time with my sister, but I haven't had a chance to talk to her. I got a chance to have a long conversation with my friend Julian on Saturday evening, but the price of that was that he had to stand in the kitchen with me and do a ton of drying up.
I can see us only managing to do a fraction of what we had intended while over here.

Saturday, 27 May 2006

Cool stuff

A cool day in Portsmouth, cool in many senses, but not wet enough. It seems that this part of the country hasn't had enough rain, there are water restrictions in parts of Surrey and Sussex and Gatwick airport cannot be cleaned properly.

Yesterday we bought food. We bought more food. In the afternoon I went round the corner to the co-op (supermarket) to buy wine. As I stepped out of Austen and Sue's little street I ran into someone I used to work with. Hugs, kisses, swapping of news. Proceeded to the shop. A man rushed up and tried to sell me BT services.
'Ah, I live in Vancouver, Canada,' I said, and usually this is enough, but in this case not.
'Oh, I used to live in Kitsilano,' he said, 'paid $350 a month rent...' and thus it went on for a goodly twenty minutes whilst potential customers came, passed by and escaped.
When I stepped outside the shop I was immediately starstruck. To many people David Wells would fly below the radar, but to me, star that he is of one of my very favourite TV shows, 'Most Haunted', I did just gaze.

Co-incidences over, we went to Simmi and Eilie's for the evening. There were many old friends, some new ones, always the way at their house. We had the most fantastic evening. The picture above is of our friend Chris, who has been nominated for a teaching award and he deserves it too.

A bloke who Chris works with was telling us about his time in Toronto, and so the conversation, or our bit of it, wandered to North America in general, then Simmi remembered a Christmas in Portsmouth when the Canadian fleet was in port. Yes, both Kevin and I asked whether it was the whole ship. The good people of Portsmouth were asked if they would 'adopt' a Canadian sailor over the Christmas period and Simmi's family were only too pleased to do so. The able seaman, or whatever the Canadian equivalent is, brought presents for the family and he turned up every day over the season to spend time with them. To me, that was just a very Pompey thing to happen.

We left at around two, by which time Kevin was a bit the worse for wear, but like the true Canadian that he is, he was up in time to go to the butcher's with Austen and the kids this morning.

Today, Holly is wearing full West Ham football strip with her surname printed across the back. Yep, it's all about the football here right now - like it ever isn't. In Debenhams there were babygros with 'Come on England' on them, edible tanga briefs and posing pouches, oh and also bras with the English flag picked out in sweeties. Retailers are going to bloody well make their money before England is out.

Still...who knew that last year they'd win the ashes, and although the country is never prepared for the unusual weather conditions associated with autumn, winter and summer, I have absolutely no doubt that there are retail contingency plans for an English win. I hope the health service is prepared too.

Friday, 26 May 2006

Happy Birthday Alex

The next couple of days are going to be spent catering. It is my daughter Alex's birthday today, although this is a four day event. She is back with boyfriend Matt, from whom she split just before my previous visit, and they went up to London to stay last night. Today her friends go up to meet her and go to the restaurant they always go to near where Austen and Sue used to live in Stratford, East London. Tomorrow they are all coming here - Kevin is preparing food for that and Alex's godfather whom I haven't seen for several years now will be arriving, then Sunday we have a swap, friends back to Surrey, boyfriend back to Pompey, and brothers arriving at some point. This is really Edward's day, since it is his Christening, but also an extension of the In amongst all that we get some r & r since we are going to Simmi and Eilie's tonight.

So, the next few days will contain lots of friends and family that I haven't seen - at best since last visit, at worst, for some time, so I'm pretty excited about all of that and not giving a single moment's thought to the Canadian High Commission holding my passport ransom. Not one, nothing, haven't thought about it at all. Wonder how Macca's doing....must buy chick peas....wonder how the German exam

Thursday, 25 May 2006


Haven't had an opportunity to post for a couple of days. When we were at
the hotel in Edinburgh we found a free hot spot in the lobby, so if I
prepared the blog in advance, I could post it quickly. The hotel in
Bayswater was pretty downmarket in comparison to what we had in
Scotland, and cost way more and the internet access available there
seemed like a scam.

I had forgotten that when we were at the Glenkinchie distillery there was a lovely woman in the shop who was very enthusiastic about Canada and was going to be travelling there in ten days time. 'I just love Canada,' she said wistfully, 'I feel like I'm going back in time.' Erk. Well, she was going to Prince Edward Island, but worryingly she had been to Toronto last time.

The flight from Edinburgh to Heathrow was again delayed due to 'air
traffic restrictions', seemed like they didn't like the weather and
certainly take-off and landing were pretty turbulent. On the flight we
could have bought a single ticket for the 'Heathrow Express' for 14.25,
a saving of 25 pence on the regular price. I have no idea whether this
was a bus or a train, but the Picadilly line of the tube ends at
Heathrow, so we just bought a one day travel card for 6.50 each. We had
hoped to go to the London Dungeon, but they closed at 18.00, so we
scoped out the Canadian High Commission instead.

We had confused the hotel receptionist by asking if she had an A-Z. To my mind, asking this question of anyone who works anywhere in London is like asking someone
if they have a dictionary, but oh well, eventually with assistance from
the manager one appeared from underneath the desk and we worked out that the
the High Commission was in a street off New Bond street and parallel to
Oxford Street. We didn't even have to work out the street numbering, it
was just the one with the Canadian flag. A quick aside, the English flag
isn't displayed very much in England except in times of high football
activity, er, kinda like now. The Canadian flag flies everywhere in

It had started to rain hard. I am not a good companion in the rain,
because I am fairly oblivious to it, Kevin not so much, he was feeling
decidely squelchy. We had been tramping around for some time trying to
find a particular pub I took him to the first time he was over. For the
life of me I couldn't find it, so when I then said I would find an
Italian restaurant I'd been to before and where the food was good, I can
see why he might have felt a little anxious that I was never going to
agree to us getting out of the rain, but luck was on our side and there
was still, as before, some poor bloke standing on the corner of the
street where it was located, with a sign pointing the way.

Coming back on the tube there were three lads wearing T-shirts with a Circle line map printed on them, but slightly re-arranged so that it looked like a beer bottle. They were doing a circle line pub crawl, well-bevvied and amenable. There was something about students pleasantly drunk and on a tube pub crawl that felt very comforting and home-like.

This morning, I had an experience I never, ever want to repeat. There
was a tiny lift that took us up and down to and from our room. When we
went down for breakfast, two more people got in on the floor below us,
then a small fat man insisted on getting in on the second or first
floor. The lift was a two person lift. When we got to the ground floor
the doors wouldn't open. OK, so two person lift, five people in it. Not
going anywhere, doors wouldn't open. Ho-ly shit. This is what the word
clammy was invented for. I could feel myself go completely cold and I
started sweating, immediate panic. And I must have been in that position
for all of 30 seconds before one of the other women said, 'Oh, I think
it's still moving.' It was. It stopped in the basement, presumably its
default when overloaded. It took me two hours top stop shaking

The newspapers, tabloids and the Daily Mail are all obsessed with the McCartney break-up. It seems to be on the front of everything all the time at the moment, speculation about how much Heather Mills will get. There seems to have been a landmark ruling about divorce recently but I just can't be arsed to find out what it's about, although reading the headline on someone else's newspaper it seemed to have something to do with compensating women for loss in their careers when they spend time looking after children, which seems fine and dandy to me, but like I said, I should probably read something in more detail.

We spent the morning shopping in Oxford Street, poor Kevin was made to
walk around Marks and Sparks in its entirety. Then we made our way back
to the Canadian High Commission. We were the second ones in line, but
the first people were really nice and we passed the time talking to
them. I think of this as very British. Accompanying relatives weren't
allowed in, but Kevin was given permission because he is Canadian. Guess
that would have been stupid otherwise, a Canadian not allowed into the
Canadian High Commission. So now, the Canadian High Commission have my
passport and I can't go anywhere. Believe it or not, after this
morning's little escapade, I don't feel trapped. (That may change when
Kevin goes back to Canada without me).

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

More creepiness

How I envy Gail who is getting to spend her holiday in Scotland this
summer. When we went to the Glenkinchie distillery this morning, we had
to drive out of Edinburgh, and how breathtakingly beautiful the
countryside is here. The tour of the distillery was excellent. We learned even more
about the process of whisky making, building on last year's tour of the
Midleton distillery in Ireland, but it made us want to go out and travel
around Scotland.

This afternoon we went up to the castle, although we
didn't do a tour because we didn't really have enough time, but the
castle is equally breathtaking, it looks as though it is hewn into a
cliff of rock, just amazing. We went to the whisky heritage centre next
to the castle. Personally I felt that once you had made it up the steep
hill to the castle, a lone piper should have been waiting and
distributing a wee dram to every hardy tourist. God bless that piper.

Then back down into the city centre, to the Mercat cross, the 'Heart of
Edinburgh' for another tour of the vaults. This time it was just the
vaults for an hour. There are high electro-magnetic fields in the
Edinburgh Vaults under the South Bridge, and there has been a lot of
research done down there by actual scientists to show this, the big
question is, what causes it? I felt cold and as though the gravity were
heavier in there and slightly nauseous. I have felt this way in old
churches before, but then churches in Britain can very often be seen to
be built along ley lines, so again, difficult to say whether the
electro-magnetic fields are some natural phenemonon or whether they
build up as a result of human history or residual energies. It is a very
compulsive place and I would love to spend a night in there.

The small bit of Scotland that we have seen has been just so impressive.
We have been treated exceptionally well. The food has been great and
cheaper than in the south. The place feels cared for, old and looked
after. There is a real committment to green issues up here, even more I
feel than in the sunny south. There are 91 million casks of whisky
in Scotland, you can even live in one if you like. And two percent of
all whisky distilled is 'for the angels', so I'm guessing Scotland is
well watched over.

Edinburgh and bathtubs

Oh wow, where to begin. Well I suppose with Sunday night. I had slept in
too late Sunday morning and maybe drunk coffee too late in the day so
that I was wide awake, compiling a list of 127 items to worry about.

By the time we were on the railairlink bus to Heathrow on Monday
morning, three items had been crossed off the list, but then I had to
add another because I'd bought a copy of both the New Scientist and the
Economist and realised I needed to be worrying about Scotland and time

The plane was annoyingly delayed. Brits were being stiff upper lip, one
man was practising his cricket batting skills with a rolled up brolly.
Another was wearing a tam o'shanter - I felt this needed a whole new
line of stiff upper lipness all of its own.

We finally arrived. The deal we got included flights, hotel and hire
car. I had no trouble switching back to drving on the left or judging
widths of a tenth of a millimetre, but for the life of me I haven't
mastered the hypersensitive brakes properly. The hotel turned out to be
holiday flats, we could ask for nothing more, there is a
lounge/diner/kitchenette, a bedroom and a BATHROOM.

We walked back into town and found ourselves a ghost tour. Bloody
marvellous it was. The tour guide wore a long black cloak and was loud
and theatrical. Oh, and from Ulster, but he was brilliant. First we
walked to several scenes of grisly murders which he described in the
most intricate detail. Then we went down into some ancient vaults where
there have been many paranormal phenomena reported. This was seriously
spooky. It did feel oppressive and cold in parts, making the hairs on
the back of my neck prickle and I for one felt quite dizzy. Sadly
nothing occurred, but these depths were lit by candles so you had the
impression that the air was shimmering in the darkness. It was
fantastic. The tour ended in the backroom of a little tavern where we
were all given a tot of whisky by candlelight and the guide told us the
story of Burke and Hare.

At 21.00 we were looking for somewhere to eat, and did we ever strike it
lucky. We were really down to a choice of Italian restaurants. Kevin
made a good pick. We found a restaurant called 'Zizzi'. We had ravioli
stuffed with black truffle and drizzled with garlic olive oil as a
starter and the flavours were just heavenly. The whole meal was just as
perfect and the prices were very good, unusual for Britain.

By the time we were returning to the hotel, the temperature had dropped
to around 'seriously chilly' but the flat was warm, and then heaven
..... I had a long, deep, relaxing European bath. I think I'd sell my
soul in Canada to get a proper bathtub with a sloping back and narrower,
deeper sides. The things you just take for granted.

Sunday, 21 May 2006


Sunday, day of rest and recuperation. Just as well, the weather was rain, rain, rain, sunshine, hail. Still preferable to me than the 29 degrees of last Monday and Tuesday. Austen and Sue made a fantastic traditional roast Sunday lunch, with Austen achieving the near impossible of perfect pork crackling. Who says the British can't cook? Oh that's right, it's me usually.

Austen had recorded some episodes of the second series of the new Dr. Who for us, which I guess we should be getting soon in Canada. The new doctor is superb. Oddly, the whole thing about different actors playing the same part had been something that had been occupying me recently and it has certainly been an interesting journey in the whole saga of Dr. Who. The first series of the new and updated Doc starred Christopher Ecclestone, one of Britain's finest actors, and he was good, very good, but was only up for one series. The new doctor, David Tennant, plays the character quite differently, but also superbly. Definately something to look forward to.

Today we are off to Edinburgh, so back to Heathrow, terminal 1 is the least inspiring although I've never had any occasion to view terminal 2 up close and personal. The next few days will be a bit of a rollercoaster ride, back down to London on Wednesday, queueing at the Canadian High Commission on Thursday and then off to the sunny south coast that evening. I mention all this in advance because I have no idea if or when we might get any internet connectivity over the next few days.

Friday to Saturday

Friday morning : A kid from one of the school programmes answers the question about what happens to a worker honey bee when she stings by saying,
'She sacrifices herself for the hive.' He said it several times and with vehemence. I admire vehemence. That kid totally got it.

Friday afternoon : A letter arrives from the Canadian High Commission in London. Our immigration visas are ready, then one of those mathematical problems they used to pose you at school. I have to respond within 60 days otherwise the application will be cancelled. I have to send all four passports in together. If I send, then they will send all of the passports back to one address and it will take 30 days. I can take the passports in to the high Commission, but only between 14.00 and 15.00 on a Thursday. I can then collect them a fortnight later, same time, same day. To send them I have to wait until I get back to Canada, but then my daughter Alex wouldn't be able to fly out because her passport wouldn't be back in time, so the only option we can see is for me to miss my flight back to Canada and collect the passports from London.

Friday evening : Our flight leaves on time. This is vital because we need to arrive in England in time to get photographs done for Alex, Ben, Laurence and myself, to take in with the passports. This is the only opportunity for this since we are flying to Edinburgh tomorrow and won't be back until Wednesday.
On the Air Canada CBC news we see the body of Captain Nichola Goddard, killed in action fighting the Taliban, being sent back to Canada. She sacrificed herself for the human hive and its ideals. She has also made history because for the first time ever a woman soldier's bravery will be remembered with a medal which will be awarded to her widower. Her mother was also courageous and said that her daughter had known the risks of her job and wanted to go to Afghanistan. A brave woman who did not dishonour her daughter's life and work like some others in both Britain and the U.S.

Saturday morning : Slept.

Saturday early afternoon : Arrived in London to cool temperatures and rain. Oops, I wanted it cooler, and it sure is.

Saturday afternoon and evening : Spent time with Alex, Ben and Laurence in Woking, got photos done then left for Portsmouth where we had Tang's excellent Chinese food at Austen and Sue's. Edward has grown, and was very much awake, but Holly was asleep when we arrived. And then we slept too.

Friday, 19 May 2006

Internet blues

After the complete power cut of earlier in the week, you could be forgiven for thinking that we'd had our share. But yesterday, we had no internet from around midday until around 4.30 in the morning.

The weather is muggy today, actually just the kind of weather I like, the promise of thunderstorms in the air. I will of course not be so enthusiastic if the thunderstorms keep us on the tarmac. Flying out of Toronto one time, we were all sitting on the plane but grounded for three hours whilst thunderstorms moved in, rolled over and moved out. This was no fun at all and resulted in my missing the last bus back from Heathrow, also not fun.

Kevin's bags are packed, mine are not. Since we're flying the Atlantic together for the first time ever, I'm hoping not to have a repeat of January's fiasco. We have an overnight flight, which I like since I can usually sleep on the 'plane, Kevin not so much since he can't so easily.

Feels like the end of term, in a way it is as I go in to do my last school programme at the Park this afternoon.

So, trains and boats and 'planes will carry me back to Blighty, well except for the boats, but maybe we'll take our hovercraft trip this time. I'm looking forward with more eagerness than you can possibly imagine, to seeing my kids, kid-in-law and grandkids, to seeing friends, to going to Scotland, attending Edward's Christening, seeing the sea, going to Sainsburys and Marks and Sparks, to getting series three of 'Little Britain' and to a million other things, but I still don't want to leave here.

It's a funny old world, and I'm going to cross five thousand miles of it tonight.

Thursday, 18 May 2006


I have experienced traffic in many cities. At least in Vancouver there is an excuse for it - there are buses but no trains to speak of and I can't see many ways of improving the public transport system since there is so much water. Too many bridges to cross.

From the top of the Fernsehturm in Berlin, you have a 360° view of the whole city and the traffic just seems to flow. German efficiency. We were out and about in the bus at all times of day and it did seem that whilst the traffic may be slow sometimes, I never saw it stop.

No-one in their right mind would drive in London, and yet I have done it once or twice. Using the underground is an efficient way of getting around the city, but it doesn't give a real sense of where you are. It's as though the network itself were what is, but above are roads that link and take you where you don't necessarily want to go and drive you insane. But everyone needs to do it once, just for the crack.

My own personal European traffic nightmare, and one I became embroiled in twice, thus proving my learning curve is a bit wonky, was the Antwerp ringroad. There is nothing like sitting for three hours in the searing sun just outside of Antwerp. No-one should do that, not even for the crack.

Portsmouth frequently grinds to a halt. On my bike I could get to work more quickly than many of my colleagues in cars, but last year there was an accident on one of the motorway sliproads and the city became one choking mass of vehicles going absolutely nowhere, well, except for the cyclists and pedestrians, and in fairness, you can walk the city end to end in an hour. In Pompey there is no excuse.

Then there's this roundabout just outside of Cork airport. Your first experience of Irish driving when you get your hire car is an unbelievable mess of cars and road signs and nothing moving and it takes longer to untangle yourself from that knot than the whole of the rest of the journey.

And then yesterday, there I was in Vancouver traffic, trying to get back during what turns out to be rush hour, though for the life of me I can't figure out where people are rushing to at 15.00. And I knew that this wasn't the worst of it, the traffic was moving, albeit slowly. Cycling, I have looked down from the bridge and witnessed complete gridlock, almost Antwerpian. Horror stories of people taking three hours to get home. But of course I was stressed by the petrol gauge needle hovering just above empty. Kevin's voice in my head saying,
'We can get to Surrey and back when it's on empty,' but then a sign warning of how much fuel you use when the engine is idling.
On the radio, Jack FM, two people discussing the hockey. A woman's voice says how someone had declared that every Canadian should cheer for the Oilers, the only Canadian team left in the Stanley cup. A man's voice counters that he would rather suffer a painful death than cheer for the Oilers,
'It's not like every American team isn't filled with 12 guys from Dog River, Saskatchewan anyway.'
'Dog River?' I think, recognising the name in spite of my traffic and heat induced torpor, 'oh yes, Corner Gas, didn't they have difficulty putting their own team together, didn't they have to even include Lacey whom everyone hates, or was that Curling?' Mad dogs and Englishmen and women sit in metal boxes in the mid afternoon sun.
The man's voice has a bitter tone,
'At the Oilers' game, they announced, "on this day in hockey history, May the 12th 2006, Todd Bertuzzi was out fishing,",' Burned. Todd Bertuzzi is a hero of the Vancouver Canucks and the Canucks are out of the competition.

I got home, I didn't stall or run out of petrol. I saw no road rage, just one or two standard acts of abject stupidity. I wonder how the Iranian traffic-meister could sort it out for us.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Heat and the World Cup

Too darn hot. Yesterday afternoon I had to force myself to do anything in the heat. Scotland is looking ever more attractive.

It was pleasant in the evening as the temperature started to drop, which was just as well because there was a power cut. They call it an outage here, but this one was literally more of a cut, because some blokes from BC Hydro - the electricity company - came and cut off the power to this area in order to sort out a problem in another. Kevin had come home unexpectedly at around 16.45 because the power had gone at work, so that was the other area. And then we were utterly stuck, no TV, nothing being recorded for us to watch later, House for example, couldn't make decaf, couldn't shower. I did sew and read by candlelight, that made me feel very virtuous and like Emily Carr the painter in the book I am reading, although now I have finished it. I am determined now to go and see more of Emily's paintings in the Vancouver Art Gallery.

It is of course quite impossible to sleep when it is this hot. Upstairs we had the fan on and the windows open, which meant all the outside noise came in. I remember the episode of 'House' that Karen mentioned where he said that you die after 11 days without sleep. I was surprised by this because I am sure I remember a Discovery Channel documentary about a man who couldn't sleep and everything the docs did to help him. I think the guy died after six months.

Anyway, despite my lack of sleep, and it looking like we may have another sweltering day ahead, I have to go and be talked to by the British Columbia College of Teachers this afternoon. My degree certificates from the University of London are not enough for them, I have to have something called transcripts sent to them. This is kind of a summary of the marks I got in my finals I guess. You'd think a degree certificate with the class of degree on it might be enough. Honours Degrees seem to be not the norm here, but something you have to study an extra year for. We'll see. In their literature I discovered that you can be awarded credits, that means so many terms' study at University level, for our A-Levels. Crazy stuff and I'm sure it'll get crazier.

So in the mad, mad world of journalism, I noticed a newsblog yesterday attempting to draw people's attention to the plight of women in Zimbabwe who could no longer get hold of sanitary protection. They were also no longer privy to traditional methods of protection. One of the results of this was a huge increase in infections, and the result of that was increased violence against women who were being accused of getting sexually transmitted disease. Remember, in many parts of Africa only men are allowed to get STIs.
But the most amazing thing was the response this article got. Sarcasm, 'so, should we airdrop tampons then?' vitriol, 'women's problems don't get any attention huh, so how come breast cancer gets so much more attention than prostate?' 'because it kills ten of thousands more' etc. Circumcision, men claiming that male circumcision is as evil as female, and on it went.

Ok, 'Prison Break' spoiler coming up. So the lads are on their way to Mexico, they think. I wonder if the Mexican authorities get as overheated about Americans illegally entering their country as vice versa. Hmm.

And the World Cup. My friend Christine asked me on Saturday whether the World Cup was just European. I said no, because I knew there were always teams from South America and Africa and also because there is a European Cup for footie anyway. But I thought I'd better get at least a little better informed about it, and I found this excellent map showing where all the teams come from. 32 countries from 6 continents, so I think that really does qualify as a World Cup. I'm not sure if there are some kind of unpleasant consequences if Iran wins though. I hope not.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Hard hat

Yep, you need yer hard hat to visit the site right now, doin' a bit of construction. Started off by putting in the links to Karen and Trevor's sites, then you know how it goes, just try a bit of colour here...ah well, probably be like this for a few days then I'll get fed up with it and change it all back.

The United States is carrying a hefty debt at the moment, not going to be monkey-man's problem for too much longer, so we could then see the sabotaging of a democratic president who is stuck with a huge deficit and can't implement any public spending. However, with that in mind, it did surprise me somewhat to see that they were spending money on research that comes to the conclusion, 'Domestic violence damages women.' Phenomenally insightful, however that turned out to be down to poor journalism rather than uninspired science, because the article itself was more concerned with the extent of the problem given that much of the abuse goes unreported.

The temperature here today is way too hot for me, I feel like a wilting lettuce, I'm hoping to swelter less in England. At the very least in Portsmouth we get a breeze from the sea most of the time.
Canadian polar bears it seems are not suffering as much as had been thought. Although last week the news was all doom and gloom for these cuddly killers, it looks now as though news of their demise had been greatly exaggerated. Tchyeah, environmentalists huh? They'd go to any lengths to save the planet, even tell lies about polar bears, whatever next.

So it seems that someone somewhere has got the idea that sex only sells to really stupid men and that there are women and non-stupid men who have money. God/dess bless that person.
'Booth babes' are apparently no longer de riguer at an LA electronic gaming exhibition, although there are at least two of the species who don't get it. They have a banner claiming to be rated 'E for everyone'. Well guess what ladies, you're not.
I can't help thinking of that scene in Fried Green Tomatoes where Kathy Bates rams her car into that of two annoying barbie dolls. Their feeling is that they're young and beautiful and should be able to expect never to have anything bad happen. Bates's character points out that she's old enough to have really good insurance and her own money and she just doesn't give a damn.

One more reason to love both Sainsburys and Tesco, is that they are both becoming greener than ever. Did I mention that it's only four more days until Kevin and I arrive in Sainsbury-land ?

Monday, 15 May 2006


So, tantalisingly, CBC News this morning reports, quoting the Independent on Sunday, that Tony is going to resign next summer, but the Guardian is still saying 'if'. Both are respectable broadsheets - even if the format of the Guardian has now become tabloid, it isn't one - so both are worth taking seriously. I suppose that he will have to hand over soon if he is going to hand over at all.

Not however the countdown I am concerned with. Just five days now until we fly to Britain and it seems as though I have a lot to do.

There is another countdown this week though, at the Nature Park, Joanne will be leaving for the summer to go and work for Parks Canada in Tofino. It's something she has wanted to do for a long time and has been selected from quite a list of candidates. She will be excellent, but a huge loss to our Park. Lori and Jo are one of those teams that you come across every so often in your life, where the energy created as a whole is more than that of the sum of the parts.

But life is like that, you come across people, teams, moments that are golden and shine for a while and then like cloud patterns, have to change and move on.

When I taught adults, there were some classes that just gelled perfectly, others, fewer fortunately, that didn't gel so well.
When I moved into secondary school teaching, my first head of department was so professional, taught me so much that in many ways she remained with me through my own practice always and I think, I hope, that I passed those ideals on to people who worked for me and who were trained by me.

And then there is Tony Blair. I can't imagine there ever again being years as golden as his regnum, but then they said that about Churchill and Lloyd-George. I don't doubt that Gordon Brown will be a very fine helmsman, but will he be able to capture the Zeitgeist that Tony has ? And that's the point, cometh the hour, cometh the person. What Gordon Brown needs to do is use what he has learnt from working with Tony Blair, but think of his leadership as being a different era, to be aware of the needs of his own times.

Golden Years. Sometimes we see them whilst they're rolling out, and sometimes we don't see them until we are plunged into darkness and looking back.
Sometimes the patterns in the clouds or the reflections in the pond reform to make something different but just as beautiful. Sometimes there is a 'Frasier' out of a 'Cheers', but sometimes there's just a 'Chachi loves Joni' from a 'Happy Days'.

Sunday, 14 May 2006

Captain's log : Supplemental

Western Hemlock trees getting ready to march.

Au Canada

Meanwhile, back in my Canadian Province of choice, Canadian things have been pre-occupying me.

The first concerns the Western Hemlock. The picture is of that same tree, but you can't see it very well because I wanted to catch the hummingbird right at the top of the tree.

Yesterday our friends Steve and Christine came over and before dinner we went for a walk in the Nature Park. I was proudly able to show them stuff that I've learnt and it was a glorious afternoon.

The western hemlock interests me mainly for two reasons. The first is the name. We are used to thinking of hemlock as a poisonous little plant that Socrates was made to drink as a form of execution - quite a civilised one in my opinion - but this tree is no relation to that plant, and in fact the needles when crushed, smell like grapefruit and can be boiled up and drunk without death resulting.
The other reason I love this tree is that it looks as though it is a cartoon tree resting and waiting to smile at you and then walk off. It has overlapping branches shaded light and dark, and it has a drapiness to its boughs that make it look as though it has been drawn by a skilful artist. I guess I'll have to photograph one as I'm failing miserably to share what I mean. Canada's Ents :)

The second bit of Canadiana that has pleased me is an album by K.D.Laing. Last week at writers' group, Anne was talking about this album, 'Songs from the 49th Parallel' because it is covers of songs by Canadian songwriters. Everyone else present then said they already had this and it was a terrific album. Well, they probably didn't say terrific. So I bought it and we played it on a loop all yesterday evening. It is wonderful, let me put it like this. There are people who think Neil Young's voice is ok, but I'm not one of them. He has written some amazing songs though, so if you get the person with the best voice in the world to sing them, you're golden. Best voice in the world was Anne's opinion and now it's mine, that's all I'm going to say on the subject.

In the way that I am about to claim Heath Ledger as an almost British actor, Snow Patrol are a Scottish band and therefore almost Canadian. We bought their new album and I loved it even more than 'Final Straw'.

We watched 'Casanova' last night, not a Canadian film, but the only non-British actor in it is Canadian Oliver Platt (OK, yes I know that Heath Ledger isn't technically British, but I always count Aussies as such) ((Unless I don't like them)) and he was superb, as were the whole cast. We both enjoyed it tremendously, it was extraordinarily well everythinged, directed, written, played, filmed. Much of it must have been actually filmed in Venice and that in itself was wonderful. There was no dull moment in this film, don't listen to any critics, just take my word for it ;) Oh and it had the added attraction of the wonderful Tim McInnerny, Lord Percy from Black Adder. And is it my imagination or is Jeremy Irons coming back from a bad patch and getting even better ?

As we watched our perfectly legal in Canada back-up copy of the film, Kevin noticed that the punishment for illegally copying a film is five years in prison, (in the States) we couldn't help comparing that with the crime I mentioned where a young man was brutally killed by a youth stealing petrol and in a stolen vehicle, and the guilty party only got nine years. Interesting reversal of values in my opinion.

Saturday, 13 May 2006

Pompey Crime

There's crime .... and then there's Pompey crime.

The story of a man who has been cycling around the world for 44 years caught my eye. His bike already has a place in a museum, but within hours of arriving in Pompey, it was stolen. Well, no surprise there. Except, maybe there is. I cycled round Portsmouth all the time I lived there, and only had one of those cheapie bike locks. I always kept my bike in a state of dirtiness to deter any would-be thieves, that's my story and I'm sticking to it, but I figured that if a thief were faced with a choice of bikes, mine wouldn't stick out as the one to pick. Well, it never got stolen, but I always feared it would. It was probably more of a statistical thing because there were a humungous number of bikes in Pompey. I miss that.

In any case, the bike was returned to the man once the fuss started. I just feel sad because I've missed meeting this celeb. I can visualise SO clearly, the man and his bike arriving at Portsmouth Harbour station, looking out across the water, seeing HMS Warrior.

I can also picture and hear in my mind's ear, the conversation that went on between the thief and his or her little oppos. They have faces in my imagination, kids I have 'taught'.

That makes two big events I've missed in Pompey recently, 'Most Haunted Live' was filmed there a couple of weeks ago. Schade.

In other parts of the country there are some real sickos. Austen had told me about this ongoing saga some time ago. What an utter and abject nightmare for this family. And in what universe do people who claim to have the 'rights' of animals at heart, think it is consistent with that to rob graves? Unbelievable. I hope the family that were treated so badly by these 'activists' can find some peace now. And if I were a sicko just like the terrorists, I'd wish some unpleasant condition on the extremists, one that maybe could have been cured if only medical research had been allowed to progress unhindered.

Friday, 12 May 2006

Lunacy near and far.

Lordy, Lordy. Since my post about privacy,things have been going a little pear-shaped.
Yesterday, we saw the conviction of a 'disturbed youngster' who tried to leave a petrol station without paying, hit the young employee who ran out to try to stop him and dragged him some distance under the car, killing him. The perp got nine years.

It seems as though things have been getting out of control since the petrol prices here have been going up and up. Let's put this into perspective, the prices have been going up to levels that Brits can only dream about theirs going down to, nonetheless, driving off without paying has become a regular occurrence it seems.

Last night on the local news, a man was putting forward the view that we were going to have to bite the bullet and get cameras in.
Then another guy came on, can't remember his name, Dopey McMoron or something and made two counter comments.
The first thing he said, was not entirely stupid. He said that using cameras simply displaces crime. Hmmm. Well, OK, I can go along with that to a certain extent. I can accept that if you are talking about a bunch of lads out on the lam, they might avoid say, Woolies because it has a camera and go and shoplift in Boots if it didn't. Bad example because any British shop will have cams, but you get my drift. I can also see that if your criminal activity were say, selling drugs, you might avoid cameras and go round the back of the bike sheds or whatever. If, however, your crime is stealing petroleum distillate, you're not going to have to go off on a rampage because your fuel stealing is thwarted. Also, I realise that it takes some years to build up the level of coverage we have in Britain, but in the end, your displacement is going to have to take the form of stealing chickens from farms.

Just as a red herring, at the second school where I worked, a kid from my form was brought in by the police one morning because he had been caught attempting to steal chickens from a farm on his way into school. He was wearing his school uniform. I wondered what he had intended doing with the chickens all day had he been successful. Oh well.

Anyway, second point from Dopey was this insult to the entire audience.
'London has cameras everywhere and yet although the men responsible for the 7th of July bombings last year were caught because of the videotapes, it didn't stop it happening.' Ok. Now let me just think about this one. Very slowly. So, let us say we put some fairly cheap technology into petrol stations which would make the job of the overstretched police force easier and provide evidence in court, this somehow wouldn't be a good thing. Was he saying that catching the culprits wouldn't matter, only stopping them had any value ?
And more importantly still, he presumably sees no difference between an Al-Quaeda terrorist, prepared to die in the commission of his or her crime, and a bozo who steals petrol. Hmmm... let me think, I pretty much think a camera may deter one or two of the latter, whereas NOTHING ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH would stop the former.

But...lest you should think we don't have loonies in Britain... (though we can't spend them there (( for the sake of British friends a loony is a Canadian dollar, though not quite sure how it's spelt)))I'm grateful to Simmi for sending me this story.
Now, to be consistent with my own previous arguments about older parents, I should certainly not be casting any nasturtiums - what a versatile flower that is - about the age of the mum-to-be. But if anyone thought that Vicky Pollard was a fictional character, just read it and weep.
Simmi's comment to me was...'and no-one's being prosecuted?' Exactomundo. In fact I can cast my orange flowers. Because the age of consent in Britain is 16. So the young man is guilty of stat rape. It is also illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 16 and yet this pregnant pre-teen is smoking 20 a day. How fortunate, since one of the many ills that can befall a baby born to a mother who smokes during pregnancy is low birthweight. I have no idea whether a lower birthweight really reduces the pain during childbirth but - well maybe she won't tear as badly. I wonder if there will be as much public outrage at this drain on society as there was about the 63 year-old woman taking tremendous care of her health during pregnancy and being supported by both her husband and the pension she has spent years building up. I wonder.

What's that I hear? Get off that soapbox? Forget it.

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Happy Birthday Simmi

Yes, today is my friend Simmi's birthday, I'm sure that bottles are being cracked even as I type - well it is a day with a 'y' in it - but Simmi assures me that there will be more celebrating when Kevin and I get there.

This morning Simmi has sent me a link which took me back a few years. Armistead Maupin has won an award for being the best gay read, and so he bloody well should. His 'Tales of the City' series were just - well, I'll use Simmi's own word - they were yummy. I can remember devouring those books. I loved Anna Madrigal, I loved Michael Mouse Tolliver, actually I just loved everyone in them. And the TV series, which wasn't long enough, it should have gone on forever, how great was Olympia Dukakis in that? And was that the first thing we saw Paul Gross in? Simmi said she had had to buy all the books and read them virtually in one sitting, and I can remember doing the exact same thing, I had a reading spot in the garden and I couldn't keep away from it the summer I discovered Maupin. When a writer can have you enthralled like that, well he or she deserves awards.

In other Simmi related updates, there is a new 'Strange Pigeon Woman' photo which I think is brilliant and completely sums up the phenomenon. It was taken in Barcelona and couldn't be more perfect.

Another of my friends, oops, I almost typed fiends, Canadian Karen, is currently in Paris enjoying the museums. It sounds as though she has a sweet deal, the friends she is staying with have a flat not far from the Arc de Triomphe. There was a period when my sister worked in Paris, and her company had a flat just off the Champs Elysées, she also had an expense account which was very nice. It meant we could eat for free in restaurants. My sister's co-workers were a bit miffed that Amanda's expenses were lower than theirs, so she had an opportunity while I was staying with her, to up them a bit.
The flat was really a studio with a bathroom. If it had been in London it would have been a bit of tat, but in Paris, it was a magical place because you could open the windows on the balcony and breathe in the Frenchness of it all. Ok, well, that just makes it sound smelly, but there was someting stirring about the roofs and shutters. Amanda and I were stopped by the police one evening while we were just walking down the Champs Elysées, we were wearing our duffle coats and leg warmers, this was a November evening and we were admiring the illuminations. The police asked us some pertinent questions, or, more accurately some impertinent ones, clearly they suspected us of street-walking rather than just walking down the street.

I am looking forward greatly to seeing my other friend Karen and her mum, May. May is Scottish and has recently moved nearer to Karen into a just lovely flat overlooking the sea. When Karen and I were little, we used to argue (well, not much, I can't really ever remember arguing with Karen, but we did disagree on one thing) because I could hear her mum's Scots accent and she couldn't hear it as strongly because she was her mum, and she could hear Brummie in my mum's and I never could. Anyway, let's just say that a Scottish accent is a beautiful thing and a Brummie one - egh, not so much.
Kevin and I are going to be taking a short trip up to Scotland while we are over in Britain, and I am looking forward to it. It was good to have some input from Karen because she said, 'if you have the time, just drive into the countryside,' and I think that is a very good idea. We have a few things we want to do, a distillery of course and Edinburgh Castle, but rather than try to cram as many touristy things as possible into our short visit, yes, the countryside would be much more satisfying.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006


The link with the title may be a little tenuous - well as often is the case, but I'm back from the Nature Park for an hour so I don't have time for too much creativity.

I don't think this is a spoiler. I had been starting to get a little concerned about the premiss for the medical drama 'House'. How the hell can so many rare diseases fall at the feet of one doctor? Then after last night's episode - note how I carefully avoided telling you what made me think this - I thought, well, I guess what they are doing is portraying him simply as an expert diagnostician, I mean for pity's sake, how many times have any of us been to the doctor, or even hospital and been given a diagnosis that any of us could have come up with from reading a copy of Family Circle ? Or worse, invented during a pub crawl. A quick aside, pub crawls are way easier in Britain since you actually can crawl from one pub to the next. Whatever. The programme would be nothing at all without Hugh Laurie. Last night he was jonesing to get back and watch an L-Word marathon. I love it when my imaginary friends like my other imaginary friends.

Simmi sent me a wonderful joke about poor old John Prescott. I have to share. I need to point out that MFI are a company that make cheap self-assembly furniture.
"What do John Prescott and an MFI flatpack got in common?.............
A few screws in the wrong place and the whole fucking cabinet falls apart"
Nice :))

Anyway, so apart from House watching the L-Word, why the pole-dancing? Well, yesterday, as I usually do, I was watching the German news and the second item was about how Cologne's prostitutes are preparing for the World Cup. Bless them. They were brushing up their pole dancing skills. To be honest, they looked like old pros at it. (Pun intended). They're much better than the girls in Tony Soprano's bar, although the ones they showed did seem to look like horses, or men dressed as women, or in one case a spanked bum. No matter, they were all game gals. They were expecting an influx of South Americans, don't know whether that had any significance. Then the camera showed us the brothel in which these fair maidens worked. It looked like a regular hotel with a slightly eastern theme and the website address in huge letters across the front. Well, I'm sorry, but I could not stop myself from seeing what type of website a German brothel had, and it didn't fail to please. Yes, you need your sound on, because as it loads you get one of those cheesy German songs generally sung by jolly chaps in Lederhosen. My German really isn't up to some of this, but I think it is quite out there in offering you a tool to find your dream whore. Honestly, I don't know the word 'Hure' but it obviously means something along those lines since you get to choose eye-colour, hair, nationality etc. I have also never heard the word 'Laufhaus', this is Europe's biggest one apparently. In my German it means 'Runhouse.' Oh well, I think you get the gist and hopefully the jest. Those Germans, gotta love 'em. And then they'll charge you, but at least they take Amex.

To end on a more salubrious note, I was accosted by a pop-up window when looking at WebMD or some such the other day. I had to cut and paste this. Yes, I know it's self-serving, but hell, sometimes you just gotta take what you can get.

"Andy Rooney says, "As I grow in age, I value older women most of all. Here are just a few reasons why:

An older woman will never wake you in the middle of the night to ask, "What are you thinking?" She doesn't care what you think.

An older woman knows herself well enough to be assured in who she is, what she is, what she wants and from whom. Few women past the age of 50 give a damn what you might think about her.

An older, single woman usually has had her fill of "meaningful relationships" and "commitment." The last thing she needs in her life is another dopey, clingy, whiny, dependent lover!

Older women are dignified. They seldom have a screaming match with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive restaurant. Of course, if you deserve it, they won't hesitate to shoot you if they think they can get away with it.

Most older women cook well.

An older woman has the self-assurance to introduce you to her women friends. A younger woman with a man will often ignore even her best friend because she doesn't trust the guy with other women. Older women couldn't care less.

Women get psychic as they age. You never have to confess your sins to an older woman. They always know.

An older woman looks good wearing bright red lipstick. This is not true of younger women or drag queens.

Once you get past a wrinkle or two, an older woman is far sexier than her younger counterpart. Her libido's stronger, her fear of pregnancy gone. Her experience of lovemaking is honed and reciprocal and she's lived long enough to know how to please a man in ways her daughter could never dream of. (Young men, you have something to look forward to.)

Older women are forthright and honest. They'll tell you right off you are a jerk if you are acting like one.

Yes, we praise older women for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, it's not reciprocal. For every stunning, smart, well-coifed babe of 70 there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants making a fool of himself with some 22 year old waitress.

Ladies, I apologize for all of us. That men are genetically inferior is no
secret. Count your blessings that we die off at a far younger age, leaving you the best part of your lives to appreciate the exquisite woman you've
become, without the distraction of some demanding old man clinging and whining his way into your serenity."


God bless you Andy Rooney whoever the hell you are.Mwaah.

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Imaginary friends

I dreamt I was going to writers' group and it was at Bruce's house, but on the way I stopped off at Gail's - not possible in real life since Gail and Bruce live far apart - and Gail wasn't there, but I met imaginary members of her family, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews. Odd.

Monday night was writers' group night. One of the many things I love about it is that we all talk about each others' characters as though they were real people. People that we have created and are manipulating into life. We say,
'I don't know if so and so would really do that, this person wouldn't just stay quiet while that is happening, that person wouldn't ....' It makes us know our characters more,think about them and gives validity to them. I liked that aspect of critiquing fiction straight off, because in a way, the people we create are our imaginary friends.

I used to have imaginary friends as a child. Three. Two of them had the same name, and two of them were black. I suppose I had somehow brought them back from Nigeria with me. My parents didn't freak out at all, if I mentioned them they just asked about them. I don't remember when the imaginary friends left me, but they did. Probably.

Actors in TV soaps often say that people think their characters are real. They can't believe an actor is alive after the person portrayed has died. People come up to them in shops and ask about something they've said or done, remonstrating with them, telling them they should make up with their friends or family.

I know that Kevin finds it disturbing when I talk to the TV. I don't let him talk during programmes but I talk to the actual characters. When Roland finishes reading the French news in the morning and says 'au revoir et merci,' I say,'au revoir Roland.' When a character does something stupid I tell them, when the weather is not to my liking I call out,
'Come off it Tamara, we want sunshine on Sunday, that's why it's called Sunday.' Or some such.
I talk to the news readers, if Kevin isn't in the room I correct their pronunciation of far away places, more in line with the BBC, I put in the 'ands', 'thes' and 'ofs' when they say the date. I do this less now, I'm getting more used to it.
I answer them. If Alton Brown asks if we'd like to try something I say 'yes' or 'no'.
I tell them how shocking what they're wearing is, how that colour doesn't suit them or that no-one is wearing that this year.

Solecism. The notion that everyone and everything apart from ourself is imaginary. The world may not do what we think we'd want them to do, but then, nor did Gail's family in my dream, and I definitely invented them.

Far away, the people I yearn to see are now fixed in my head. I can and do ring them up and speak to them, I have pictures of them, but until I'm actually there with them, they are in my mind.

Who is real and who isn't? What does real mean ? Last night Alana told us about when she met Fidel Castro, and there she was, in a picture with him. For her, at that moment, he was real, but for me, he's just a character in a story. The things he did, the actions, just parts of the story.

How do we know that anti-matter is real? Because we see its effects. How do we know if other people are real? Because we see their effects, or we interpret it that way.

Is it God that makes the wind blow, or physics, or my mind? Father Christmas brings presents, the tooth fairy leaves money, the Loch Ness monster stirs in our dreams.

To some extent or another we all have imaginary friends, and we also have imaginary foes. And our imaginary foes can control us more surely than our friends can.

Monday, 8 May 2006

Zen and the Art

I can't say that I think about art very much. Sometimes something catches my eye and I'm quite careful about what I put up in my own home, but in general, don't give much thought to it.

Recently however, I have been reading a book about part of the life of an artist from British Columbia, Emily Carr. I was lent this book, 'The Forest Lover' and I was excited that the titles of the chapters were the names of all the plants and animals I have been learning about at the Nature Park. Emily is portrayed as a free spirit, a woman who would not be bound by social mores. Then she went to Paris and I became annoyed with her. She wanted to learn what the great French painters of the time could teach her, but she is hampered because, surprise, surprise, no-one speaks English. She went to France with the intention of spending a year there, and yet she makes absolutely no attempt whatsoever to learn any French and in fact whines and whinges at everyone and anyone that she can't understand what they are saying to her.
She really does come across in this part of the book as being very ignorant.

The book - and in fairness Emily as she is depicted by Susan Vreeland the author - has made me think quite deeply about two things. One is the relationship between the artist and their milieu and the second is how the land forms its people.

I had mentioned before that it was Berlin of all places, that opened my eyes to the meaning of art. For the first time, and this was in the Checkpoint Charlie museum, I was able to look at art and experience the emotion of the artist. Much of this work wasn't done during the war, but in the years following, when the German people were coming to terms with the horror of what had happened to them from within.

I wondered whether I was simply imbuing what I was seeing with my own feelings. I knew what the German people had suffered so therefore I saw it in the art. And yet I don't think I had any idea of the depth of suffering until I saw this work. I felt this again when we went to Sachsenhausen and saw some of the sculptures there, even more raw and terrifying. You can look at pictures of hopeless, emaciated people, but to see a scuplture created by someone who has been one of those people, to understand how they perceived their own body, was to get inside a corner of the artist's head.

Emily, the Emily in the book, has an intense connection with the BC Forest, and it is one that I can understand. My father always told me the names of plants, it was something I was brought up with, and for which I am grateful, but now I am having to expand that knowledge, because of course there are plants and animals here that simply don't exist in Europe.

In France, Emily learns new techniques, she learns painting, but she feels no bond with what she sees. When she returns to BC however, she is back with the things she understands. She is driven to paint the forest and the native art because it is already in her soul.

In Britain, we are such a mongrel nation that most of us can think of ourselves as Celts, Vikings, Romans, depending on how the mood takes us. But it is really the Celts that I think of as being part of the land. Their feasts, their culture was all about our relationship with the soil, flora and fauna that is the British Isles.

In Canada, I am aware of more of a division between the settlers and the First Nations - of course, settlement has been historically recent. Sometimes I see anger towards the native peoples, sometimes anger from them, and at other times, a romanticising.

But in this book, and when I am in the Nature Park, I am aware of something different, of that same feeling I have about the Celts in western Europe and Britain. That First Nations culture is inextricably bound up with the forest and the land. To anyone else that probably sounds trite or romantic, but to me, the personal understanding of it is neither, it is a type of Zen, an ownership of that knowledge.

I have a print of just one Emily Carr painting. It is of a cedar tree, drawn with exaggerated perpective so that you feel the amazing height of these trees. Although I don't have the British Columbian forest in my soul as Emily Carr did, or even most likely as people who have lived here for much longer than me, I am starting to get it. There is a spirit of the forest here that is quite different from the spirit of the land of the Celts. It's both disturbing and calming at the same time.

A much more modern Canadian artist, very modern in fact, since he isn't a painter but an animator, is Kevin's brother Trevor. He has a site with some of his artwork on it and if you would like to check it out, here is the link.

Sunday, 7 May 2006

Little Fish

I have long been a fan of Aussie cinema, well, Aussie TV too if I'm crashingly honest. 'Neighbours' probably saved me from post natal depression 20 years ago and more recently, 'Kath and Kim' captured my attention. I wish it would come back.

Last night we watched an Aussie film called 'Little Fish'. I had rented it simply on the cast, I'd watch anything with Cate Blanchett in it - which should keep me busy, she has four films due out in 2006 and two more already filming for 2007. But alongside fellow Aussie Hugo Weaving and part-time Brit, part-time Antipodean Sam Neill,that movie was definitely coming home with me.

As an aside, I found out something interesting about Hugo Weaving, he was born in Nigeria the year we left.

It didn't let me down either. I am awed that actors of their calibre are happy to just go home and make a movie where they all look like shit and are just...well, totally Australian. I find Australian films incredibly unpretentious and with a dry sense of humour. Real Canadian films are like this too. Hollywood - eh, not so much, depends on the director.

Yet another American film that was shot here in Canada was 'An Unfinished Life'. I have become very wary of films involving Robert Redford in case he has had too much input into the creative development of them. 'The Legend of Bagger Vance' was one such and possibly the dullest film I have ever seen, although I was on an aircraft otherwise I'd have walked out. On SNL last night someone joked with Tom Hanks that 'Terminal' was such a boring movie that people watching it on an aircraft were walking out.

But Unfinished Life was directed by Swedish great Lasse Hallström, he of 'Chocolat' and 'The Shipping News' amongst others and this film was lovely, even La Lopez was good in it. I don't find Jennifer Lopez to be an awful actor, just one who has made some horrible choices.

Getting away from the cinema, some little fish have powerful minds. I wonder if people the world over know the name of Baroness Mary Warnock. I'd be interested to find out. Mary Warnock has been a teacher, philosopher and writer for donkey's years. I would say she is one of the world's leading minds in the arena of Ethics. The Warnock committee was set up to debate the ethical problem of IVF and embryo research. How incredible, and this from a Tory government at the time, to have this issue debated not by politicians, but by people actually qualified to do so, by philosophers.

Today in the Observer, Baroness Warnock has written a superb piece about assisted suicide . She is such an objective thinker. My greatest fear is that she is now 79 and her mind will be lost to us at some point. But then, she has taught many other great minds in her time at Oxford, perhaps some student of hers will lead us even further. All teachers hope that their students will be greater than them. Yep, sweeping generalisation, but I stick by it.

Lastly, in Friday's Guardian, the story of a true old-fashioned British heroine. Karen Darke, a paraplegic since an accident in 1993, is going to be crossing Greenland's icecap. I quote,
"Though it is not Darke's first major expedition since her climbing accident - she has kayaked Alaska's inner passage, and hand-cycled both the length of Japan and across the Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan - it is set to be her toughest."
Courage and tenacity. That's what we were brought up on in Britain, tales of derring-do, fed to us to stop us whining, 'whingeing POMS' as the Aussies were wont to call us. Well Karen Darke's newest adventure, set to start tomorrow, will certainly stop me squinnying. If she can cross Greenland without the use of anything from the chest down, I can cross metaphorical wastes with everything intact.

Saturday, 6 May 2006

Dear, Dear Diary

Dear Tony,

You are a god. Things have been looking really shaky recently through no fault of yours but after a week and a half of everything going pear-shaped, you appear calm as ever, statesmanlike and you pull the biggest bunny to date out of the bag.

As you know, because you read my blog carefully every day, I don't believe that John Prescott's philanderings had anything to do with anyone outside of his household. But he took one for the team. And you showed your displeasure without judgement by not removing him from post but taking away his responsibilities.

Great re-shuffle. Charles Clarke - well, difficult to know how he could have been aware of what was going on at that level in the department, but he certainly looked like a spanked puppy as he left Downing Street. Nicely done.

Ruth Kelly - hell, we never liked her, I must say I'm a little surprised you didn't give her transport, but you know what you're doing.

And trump card. Margaret Beckett, oh Tony, we all LOVE Margaret, inspired choice. You are a god. Keep up the good work. You and Gordon, standing firm there, wonderful, it brings tears to my eyes.

Your humble servant,


Meanwhile, in other news, it has been a joy to watch one of my other political heros, Angela Merkel striding ahead of Georgie boy, speaking to the cameras in crisp, clear German whilst Dubya stumbles along in whatever that is he speaks. Amusing to watch Angela address the American Jewish association in English and then being over-dubbed in her own language. I feel like curtseying to her.

Yesterday I saw a sight in Richmond that I didn't even realise how much I had missed. I saw a Goth girl with a skateboard. The gothy kids at school were always the most interesting ones. They were the ones that you felt were in a cocoon of adolescence, wrapped in their long black coats and dyed curtains of midnight hair whilst they pupate their way into the adult world. I really don't mean to make fun of them, I truly, truly valued them, they always had a deep, dark take on the world, and they put up with the most unbelievable levels of shit from all the Jack the Lads and Chavs. And way down in the depths of their heads they were working their way through the painful transition from childhood to adulthood. I'm sure if I went to downtown Vancouver more often I would see goths, but here in Richmond, in the sunshine of a late spring day it was like spotting some rare species of animal.

And just a short media round up for the last couple of days, trying not to let any spoilers slip through. If you have been watching 'Ghost Whisperer', let's just say that halfway through the last episode in the series we were saying to each other,
'Oh no, not that old cliché,' but by the end we were both sitting with our mouths open staring at the screen. We did not expect that.
A wonderful Jack line from the last-but-two end of all things episode of Will and Grace,
'What do you think I am, some kind of futuristic robot or something that can look and listen at the same time?' Oh well, I guess you had/have to see him deliver it. The writing in that has never failed to please, it will be greatly missed, but all things must pass.

We bought three new albums this week. We were very impressed with the packaging on the Tool album. This is clever thinking, you make people WANT to buy the CD instead of whining about how much money you're losing to internet download. The album cover had artwork that you could view with the attached stereographic viewers, nice touch.
Pearl Jam will continue to be great as long as they have Eddie Vedder singing. Kevin was impressed with this back to roots album, nothing has ever bettered 'Yield' for me.
Pink's new album also has some cracking tracks, and yet still, my favourite remains 'Mizzunderstood'. But she's (mostly) still on form.

And finally finally, Canada day will be celebrated in Trafalgar square this year - albeit one day early on the 30th of June. I'm quoting from the 'Spirit of Canada' mailshot,
"Come out play on Canada Day!
Join Canadians having fun in Trafalgar Square on June 30 to celebrate Canada Day. It's the first time that Canada's national holiday will be celebrated in Trafalgar Square. The party begins at 2:00pm with everything from street hockey to Canadian food, arts and crafts, as well as talented street performers. At 5:30pm, the tempo heats up with 'Canada on Stage' with live acts from across the country until 9:00pm. And the Canada Day Trafalgar Square event is free - so bring your family and friends!

Friday, 5 May 2006


Ok, well the answer to yesterday's question was 'the noosphere'.

Human consciousness is essentially different from that of other sentients. Only humans are able to reflect on their own thought processes. The reason we know this is from the behaviour of other animals, and yes, a certain amount of anthropomorphism is necessary to reach this conclusion, but we can also look at their brain activity and their little dead brains and compare them with ours.

One of the indicators of the ability to self-reflect is language. Certain animals do have both verbal and non-verbal languages, cats, bees, dolphins, chimps, for example, but when we study these we find a lack of the kind of complexity needed to think about their own thoughts and to develop a sophisticated sense of self identity.
As yet, no chimp has mastered human language more complex than that of an 18-month old child, because there are certain developmental jumps that a human child will make that a chimp's brain cannot. Understanding deception for example.

Language defines to an extent, how we think about the world. Consider for example, that there is no word in the French language that is the exact equivalent of the English noun 'mind'. If you look it up in a dictionary, you will see a number of possible candidates, for example, 'âme, esprit, intelligence' all of which have a separate English translation which most English speakers in my experience would argue have quite different meanings. So English speakers have a concept of mind that is arguably different from that of speakers of some other languages. We think there is such a thing as the mind. Or, more basically still, we have names for the things and actions around us.

I could drone on for days just on this subject alone, but no-one would read it, if anyone still is by this point, and I wouldn't get to where I want to go.

Human minds are amazing. From our consciousness comes our creativity and our planning. We think about the future and we plan for it. Ok, so do squirrels, but we also change that future and not in a way that can be explained away by our survival instinct alone.

I believe it is generally held that where we are right now in our history, we have everything we need to terraform another planet. We know what the problems are, we have solutions and scientific minds are constantly working on better ones. At some point we will have the will, as a species, to actually go out and do it and I believe we will. When we do, we will decide how it will look, what functions we need.

Those of us who are not scientists contribute in some way to making sure our scientists can work. Even I, not yet allowed to earn and thus contribute taxes to help this process, have opportunities to form the future. By helping with the schools programmes at the Park I may be playing some small part in the education of a future scientist or taxpayer.

That is a huge and future idea, but what about our cyber-life, the one we all lead? For the past couple of days, our internet access has been dodgy. I know everyone experiences this from time to time. But my life has been plunged back to Morse code, dot, dot, dot, dash, dash, dash. I read my papers online, watch my news broadcasts, talk to people, e-mail, write this, find answers to every trivial question that wanders across my mind-screen. I consult the dictionaries online, check the weather, the TV programmes.

And yet, this has only been such a huge part of my life for less than ten years. Suddenly, friends like Dawn and Ree, with whom I had corresponded every few months, became daily and instant connections. People can move house but keep the same e-mail addresses, we can still find them, we stay connected in a way that we never could or did before.

The cybersphere has come into existence because of human thought. Of course all the elements were out there in the realm of physics, just waiting to be manipulated, but humans did it and it benefits us all.

What would be an even greater coup? In my opinion, the nightmare of science-fiction, Artificial Intelligence. Just to start thinking about this, consider how much more your current computer can do than the first one you owned.

In our house, we can play music that is stored on the main computer, anywhere in the house. We can record programmes shown on TV straight to the hard drive, in fact we can record three at a time. Even the remote control has a memory and can be programmed.
Our alarm in the morning is a random music track which plays at a set time. The other morning it seemed to me that the selection wasn't so random, the player was selecting just punk, then it moved on to grunge as though it had noticed a connection. I don't of course really believe this, coincidence no doubt, but it gave me food for thought for a while.

I don't think we can stop ourselves from creating intelligence in our own image. Whether we English speakers will ever think we have created other minds will be an interesting question, but I have answered my own one. For good or bad, the noosphere, the potential off-world future for our species and the possibility of AI, none of these would exist without us and more specifically, our minds.

Thursday, 4 May 2006


Pollination has been on my mind this week. Been learning about bees. It's not far from the news either, well, in its human form. Yesterday I mentioned an article about a French study showing that in humans, fertility isn't just about females. In the evening I noticed an article about a British woman of 63 who was expecting a baby. Here we go, I thought, stand back and count to ten and some tosser will be poking their nose in. And lo! Just a few hours later, another journo is decrying the couple. Not very joined up thinking in my book. Over the past few months, we have seen that Europe is not re-populating sufficiently to maintain its economies. We know that people live longer, healthier lives nowadays than they have for quite a long time in human history. I wonder if, when the life expectancy was around 45, couples were being criticised for having babies as long as they possibly could, I'm thinking not somehow.

Many families have always relied on the older generation to look after grandchildren, so what's the difference between that and those same people looking after their own children if it's possible for them to still reproduce? The couple in question have grown up children, so if all else fails and they both died before the coming child were old enough to look after her or himself, well, the extended family extends both ways. Certainly in my family, my son Austen is and always has been very actively involved in the bringing up of the younger children and now that they are older and he has children of his own, they do, and I hope will increasingly, help out with their niece and nephew.

Somehow, I think there isn't any real reason why people go into tailspin about pushing back the boundaries of fertility, I think it's just the 'ick' factor. They make up all sorts of reasons why gay couples of both genders can't or shouldn't adopt, have or raise kids whichever way they choose. 'They' have made the same sour face about mixed race child-rearing. It's not nice unless it's a young, straight, same race couple, preferably athletic, good-looking and bright.

In the beehive, well, things are much more straightforward. There's a queen that lays eggs, there are a few drones who go forth and fertilise other hives' queens and the rest are female workers who do...well everything, and into the bargain, if a bee emergency occurs and the queen were to perish in some freak queen bee accident, they could lay eggs and then feed them up with royal jelly to make a new queen. So the drones are either almost useless or they are amazingly important, but whatever, there's not too much that they can do.

Humans of course don't structure their society in the same way bees do, as a species we give birth to more or less the same number of females as males. So human women aren't supposed to do all the work and human males aren't supposed to exist purely for procreation. I think this point was made in the article yesterday.
There has been a tendency to think of fertility as being a 'woman's problem'. Ok, sure, there is an acknowledgement that a man may have too low a sperm count to be reproductive, a very specific problem, but I think the writer is correct to imply that as a general issue, only women are considered to have a limit on their reproductive usefulness to society.

Neither men nor women therefore are just reproductive creatures, we have other functions, skills and strengths to bring to the table. Yes, we need people to breed, but then we need all sorts of other things as well to maintain and progress our highly complex society.

In some cases, men do father children quite late in life, but, whilst these may cause an eyebrow to be raised, in general they are not the cause of rabbid frothing at the mouth of journos and others.

I know full well that I have made similar observations before, not least of all because I can remember Simmi commenting along the lines of not all people who can easily reproduce are very good at bringing children up, and I think that is the point.

Men and women have equal stakes in this to a certain exent. I am not overlooking the fact that a woman risks death every time she conceives, gives up earning power, undergoes irreparable damage to her body and any number of other factors.

In our human society, we spend an awful lot of time and effort trying to force behaviours into the boxes marked 'natural' and 'unnatural'. Both men and women reproduce, both have an optimum span of life for reproducing and both are equally capable of screwing up the outcomes.
But also, as a human society, we have found ways to push back the boundaries of fertility for the species. I bet if bees, or any other species could do that, they would.

One more interesting thing to remember about bees. Their ordinary daily activities result in pollination and the propagation of other species, of flowers and plants, so without them, we couldn't exist. Can anything, anything on this planet say the same about us?