Friday, 30 June 2006

Late night

So I'm late posting tonight, we had guests, my friends Lori and Beth from the Nature Park and their partners. Which meant we were equal parts Brit to Canadian. I think Perry's Canadian, Edmonton is still in Canada isn't it? I'm just kidding of course. And Kevin did us proud on the scram. This was a tough one to plan, it was like one of those language exercises we used to set.
'Birgit ißt kein Fleisch, aber sie findet Eis lecker. Harald mag nicht Gemüse und er kann nicht Milchprodukte essen...usw.'
Anyway, we had an evening where we just laughed non-stop, well except when eating.

Kevin cooked, I did the shopping, that worked, each of us thought we had the best deal. I did have to spend longer in yesterday's traffic jam than usual, but it was worth it. When I got to the checkout, I carefully chose the most competent looking cashier, my criteria are probably no less lame than anyone else's, I choose a middle aged woman whenever possible. Yesterday this worked well. The man behind me in the queue had only a few items and I asked her to put his stuff through first, as I'm used to in Britain. He seemed to not want to do this, but he was up against two middle aged women so tough, he was going through whether he liked it or not.

As I was paying my bill she said, all in one sentence,
'So, d'you want a free chair, say yes, you didn't hear me say that.' Ok, I got a free Canada day spectator chair with a maple leaf on the back, in a nice carrying case. Not that I wasn't entitled to it apparently, it was in the flyer, but I was supposed to see it myself and ask.
'Happy Canada Day,' she said, 'if you know what I mean.' I assured her I knew.

This morning, at the Office, the painter made a point of saying goodbye when he left, addressing me by name. Why do I even bother to mention this? Because no-one in the Office ever does. They leave, they walk past, they say nothing. Bizarre behaviour.

In the afternoon I had 'booked' a phone call from the BCCT. They were supposed to call me between 13.00 and 16.00 to discuss my dilemma. No phone call came. At 16.10 I decided to phone them, and lo, the secretary hadn't written down the phone number. The man I spoke to was more sympathetic than I had anticipated. It seems they have dealt with British universities before. I could virtually hear him shaking his head.
'Yes, with the British universities we pretty much don't know what we're going to get until it arrives,' he said.
He also listened to my tale of woe about my teacher training and had some helpful suggestions.

It's hot. Tomorrow is the salmon fest in Steveston to celebrate Canada day. Sounds yummy, but is going to be missed by our household, we are packing up Barb's house which is being sold. Sales go through very quickly here, a couple of weeks from offer to completion. And of course, tomorrow is the Big Match, followed by the other Big Match. I'm relying on everyone else to influence the outcome.

Thursday, 29 June 2006


Now, this may turn out to be a weird one, because I can already see the whole thing dipping and bobbing away like a balloon taken by the wind, its string trailing beneath it, available for anyone who can fly to catch hold of.

So, Lilith Fair was a women's music festival that started in Vancouver in 1996. Our very own Sarah McLachlan was one of the leading lights. Anyway, that's not the Lilith I was thinking of, however fascinating.

Nor was I thinking of Frasier's ex-wife Lilith, the laced-up tight enough to squeak shrink we learned to love and hate, nope, not even her.

And also not the Greek Lilith, Goddess of the dark moon, although she is pretty fascinating you have to admit, the very idea of the dark moon can make me shiver. Is she calling us like a siren from the dark side, inviting us to join her in her madness? Mmmm....I wondered what that was.

So is it the mythical first wife of Adam? Created as his equal, what happened to her that Eve should come along and steal the show? The women are so often the more interesting ones in stories, Lilith, a whisper, a shadow, did Adam ever think of her when he was sinning? I BET he did.

Or the other Lilith of legend, the Mesopotamian earth and fertility Goddess who protects crops, both those of the Earth and those of woman. Fecund mother, ripe like the full moon.

No, the Lilith I was thinking about was the one of Jewish myth, the succubus who seduces men in their sleep and drains their life away with her kiss, who steals Jewish chidren and eats them. The dark temptress that none can resist, the excuse for temptation yielded to. The one who stalks a woman's fear and a man's fantasy.

But it's not what you're thinking.

Last night, through no fault of my own, sleep evaded me and I lay awake listening to the sounds. Eventually I must have drifted and then got stuck between the two worlds. I was standing on the bank of a river and I felt overwhelmed with a sense of unknown fear. I could hear the strange sound of a child whining like a cat. I could feel, actually feel the darkness around me and yet I knew my forehead was itching. I needed to scratch it because I was neither fully awake nor fully asleep. I was in sleep paralysis. This is the time when scientists think we experience strange phenomena like alien abduction and visitations by Succubi. I remembered that. My arms wouldn't move. I knew I was in bed but I could do nothing. And then I did, I willed myself awake and my forehead really did itch, and outside there was a noise, but not the one I thought I'd heard.

Who knows what inhabits the darkness, the sliver between the worlds. I visited it last night, but it's not a place I'm anxious to fall into again.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006


Oh for some German efficiency, or some French run bureaucracy - they invented it you know. I'm in the midst of a British - Canadian Mexican standoff.

Yes, it's my Qualified Teacher Status again, but now it's getting me down. Just to recap, Surrey County Council, the Education Authority I worked for when I qualified, also provided my training. Then they allowed themselves to be annexed by private industry, or at least their education services, only I didn't know that. Two of the schools I worked in for Surrey County Council were taken over by private industry, and I DID know that. I have a feeling that it may even be the same company, but that's for me to discover.

I asked SCC to provide an outline of my training, they batted it over to the private company, who batted it back to SCC. Someone in there got back to me today and said, although not in so many words,
'You have a DfEE number, you couldn't have that unless you had completed the training, surely the Canadian Authorities must realise that.' Well, ok, maybe it wasn't too far from what they actually said. And of course they're right, but it doesn't help me. Letters will have to be written.

I watched the French News on the computer at the office while I was doing something mindless. I could find little sympathy for Dominique de Villepin wringing his hands and telling us that he certainly wasn't seeking out the mantel of presidency, but well, he was dedicated to working for the good of the French people and he would rise to whatever task they decided he should have. Yeah, me too Dominique, the first e-mail I get from the French nation asking me to pop over and run the country and I'll be there. I refuse to ruin my skin for it though.

And Tim Garton Ash in the Guardian, reckons that Canada would be an excellent candidate for joining the EU. His opening argument seems to be based on Canadian interest in the World Cup, and I must concur with him there, I have been mightily impressed with the number of Canadians who now refer to football as football.
His second argument is that they understand the age-old tension between the English and the French. For some reason he thinks the Canadians are more religious than Europeans, which I find a rather bizarre comment, but then has a whole checklist of attitudes we have in common. He tells us a little tongue-in-cheek that Europe could be sort of linked to Canada via ice-floes. And he kind of hints that if we let Turkey in, why not anyone?
The main plus and the main minus to his arguments seem to be the US. On the one hand, we could gang up and counterbalance their power, on the other hand, to join the EU you must be prepared to not allow 85% of your exports go to the US. And then he gets all concerned because in fact the 'blue' part of the US - strange colour-coding to us Brits for whom blue means conservatism, red socialism - could also be asked to join.

Ah, it's all so confusing this little planet we live on. Borders open, borders close, we share languages, we are divided by languages. And somewhere in there we all have to suffer the French....and love them at the same time. After all, where would we be without Norman Bureaucracy (no, he's not a person)? Although, the Normans were really Norsemen, and the Gauls were if the French win the World Cup again, who is really winning, and if England win because Beckers scores, is it really Real Madrid who wins?

I'm beginning to think that some of these borders and labels are rather arbitrary. Thank Heavens for honest to goodness bureaucrats.

Sour grapes anyone ?

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Men at work.

Tis a strange thing, but I have been observing men at work, or to be more accurate, the men where I work. They never talk. Now in contrast, when I worked at the Nature Park, all women, we talked a lot. We even had methods of talking to each other without speaking, for times when speaking was inappropriate. Feedback was instantaneous. Wow, sounds like I'm saying that one way of working is better than the other.

At the place, the office, there are three men and me. One man is the rainmaker and he is on the phone all the time, but I wouldn't say he talks. He doesn't even schmooze very much, but by thunder he gets the job done. There are two engineers who both work in labs, sometimes separate labs. Both really nice blokes. I know virtually nothing about them. They also get the job done, by thunder.

At the Nature Park, where we talked all the time, by thunder we got the job done there too. Sometimes we just delivered. So let's call that bottom line, bottom line was, we achieved what we set out to do. That was quite a rare occurrence.
Most of the time we did really well. We would tell each other,
'That was fantastic, this was a great way of presenting that...etc,' and we'd go back to the office and talk it through, share what went well, offer ways of improving anything that didn't. That was - well yes - most of the time.
Sometimes we stormed it, we were unstoppable as a team, we knew it was all working at celestial level. We all patted each other on the back. That was not as often as the middle one, but a great deal more often than the first one.

Now, ok, I am not really comparing like with like here. The Nature Park was basically teaching, the office is engineering, not for me of course, but that is their business, that's what they are doing. Teaching at primary school level is overwhelmingly female, engineering is overwhelmingly male. Secondary school teaching however is pretty balanced these days. I should add that my experience is of course of Britain, I'm not yet sure what the balance is in BC schools. Hopefully I'll get to find out one day.

And in the secondary schools where I worked in Britain, I would say that balance of genders gave the greatest strength to a team, leadership was vital, but that isn't what I am thinking about here. As ever, my science is flawed, based only on personal observation, but it's difficult not to look around you and notice what goes on. You could argue that it's a rather moot point, except that there are more women in the workplace than say 60 years ago, so it is not without significance.

Last night my friend was commiserating with me about the drudgery of office work. She told me that when she finally made it to 'Sales' after several years of secretarial work, she was the only woman in the department and by some strange coincidence, when she turned up for her first day's work, her desk was the only one with a typewriter on it. The typewriter took an immediate walk to the very end of the office.

On Sunday we were having a discussion about doctors. This started because I had met the doctor who delivered Kevin as a baby and I joked to him that in Britain we don't leave important things like delivering babies to doctors, we have midwives for that. This came up again later and I pointed out that one implication of having midwives deliver babies was that women in labour were being almost exclusively delivered by women. As it turned out, everyone around the table, male, female, gay and not so party-like, said that they preferred to have a woman doctor. Ok, we didn't get too messy about the question, or too specific, but it was an interesting discussion and outcome.

So where am I going with this? Nowhere particularly, just stuff going around in my head on the way home while I was stuck in another traffic jam in the suffocating heat.

Monday, 26 June 2006

Driving back

I was surprised last night to discover that England had won another match, not so much that England had won, but that Kevin had taken his England shirt with us to wear on Monday, which we had read was the day of the match. Still, good news anyway and Kevin wore the shirt today as a sort of a retrospective tribute.

Britain needs Tim Horton's. Timmie's sells unpretentious coffee at reasonable prices, doughnuts - yeah, maybe we don't need those so much - soups and sandwiches, croissants, wraps etc. All at - yes - reasonable prices.
This morning we called in at Timmie's to get wraps, filled croissants and coffee before heading off, and I spotted a slight glitch in my plan. My experience so far of Tim Horton's has been that the staff are always polite, patient and pleasant and a little older than your average Mackie D's or Dairy Queen staff. I'm sure this is a deliberate policy.
In Britain, staff in fast food places tend not to be so smiley, although I have noticed that Starbucks staff seem to make more of an effort, so it must be possible with careful selection of staff and training. Probably. But I wouldn't put money on it.

So back to sunny Richmond where the temperature is ten degrees less than the Okanagan but feels more uncomfortable and sticky already. We had a straightforward trip from Kevin's parents house in Surrey back to our home, anyone travelling in the opposite direction had a miserable one. The traffic was backed up further than we could see and did I mention the heat was stifling?
Flexible working means the rush hour starts mid afternoon these days, so goodness knows what it'd be like if everyone still left work at 17.00.

The Guardian's Canadian correspondent Anne McIlroy is drawing attention to a little pickle Canada seems to be in at the moment.
Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of choice of most Canadians apparently, has been apologising for something Canada did in 1885, and monetary apologies to boot. Now everyone wants a slice. An American journo even jibes, tongue in cheek that 'American Canadians' are the ones who have received most abuse.
Yeah, Stephen, you need to let sleeping dogs lie. Go for a little trip into BC's interior and chill out. Mind you, I have only ever met one Canadian here who voted for you, so the whole thing's a bit of a mystery. Perhaps something else that shouldn't be looked at too closely.

Sunday, 25 June 2006

Kelowna II

None of my pictures come close to doing justice to the beauty of this place. When Anne mentioned the lakes in the comments, I just had no idea how spectacular they were.

I reached the point today when I had to say 'yep, this is no longer like Germany.' I also now understand the desert thing. It is a definition based on precipitation. Although there are trees around and plenty of greenery, there is also evidence of dryness and not just in the soil, the air is dry. Kevin had told me, as had other people, that when you go to the desert, in spite of the intensity of the heat, it is not oppressive as it can be in Britain and Vancouver. The temperature today was set to reach 40 here and it certainly does hit you like a wall when you go outside, but I don't feel sweaty and sticky all the time as I am used to in the summer. Well, apart from my habit of constantly slathering myself in suncreme.

We are here to celebrate the 90th birthday of Kevin's great uncle, Des. Astonishing, and his 89 year old sister has travelled with us from Surrey. As well as awe at the landscape I am awed by meeting Des who was present at the D-Day invasion on Juneau beach.

The First Nations band local to here have apparently made a good job of managing their lands on the west bank of the Okanagan and they also preserve their traditions. It is my understanding from speaking to a variety of people, that this is not true of all bands. If we were going to be here longer, I would have liked to go and see the museum which they have set up and maintain themselves.

For my British friends, the Okanagan valley is also an important wine-growing region for BC, giving us a range of good table wines plus the famous ice-wine, which I tried ironically for the first time the last time we went back to England - although we had taken it with us.

Saturday, 24 June 2006


We left early this morning to drive up country, and my god it was a breathtaking drive in places, so guess what, I took a picture of a small town we stopped in to have food. Food in small town - weirdness. I have said before how I have been short-changed on the alcohol rations by thinking that cider here is...well, cider. WRONG! Cider here may be cider, but it may also just be apple juice. You need to know this in case you come to Canada and think you are ordering or being offered alcoholic refreshment.

So we're in this restaurant in a little one horse town called Merrit, and there is cider on the menu. So I ask, is it or isn't it? It is, the real deal. Ok, so I'll have that then please. Five minutes later the serving wench comes back and asks what type of alcohol I'd like in my cider. I beg yours? What? I'd like cider alcohol in my cider.
'No, only, I have to make the cider, so do you want vodka or tequila in it?' Holy raised eyebrows batman - I had the vin rouge instead. And even that was a mistake, but there we must end the cider saga.

Back to breathtaking. I have been frequently struck by how similar the paysage is here to that of Germany, and was again today.
'My,' I said, 'how spectacular the mountains are here,' I say,
'Hills,' I am corrected, 'we haven't gotten to the mountains yet, those are hills.' Wow. I'm stunned.

I'm not sure I quite got about the desert bit here, it is certainly very hot, very hot indeed, 35 degrees today. And many of the buildings here are mock mexican, but it is very beautiful, and to ease the heat there is good air conditioning in the motel, plus a swimming pool.

And now I must sleep. Goodnight all.

Friday, 23 June 2006

Fallen gods

There's a point in every child's development, when their sense of self is being constructed, that they discover that their significant adults aren't perfect. And I can handle that, it'll happen to me someday.

But to find out that Cadbury's have poisoned people, that's just too hard. I can't be doing with knowing such ugly facts of life. It was difficult enough for me when Kieran O'Keefe accused Derek Acorah of cheating on 'Most Haunted', of taking the bait, making things up. I wanted to scratch his eyes out. Kieran's that is, not Derek's.

Then the Guardian started criticising Tony Blair. Saints preserve us. I trusted the Guardian, just like I trust Tony to run the country in my absence, and they poked me with red hot pokers, the bar stewards.

I mean, some stabbings you expect. Like the first time I was in Phantasialand near Köln, and some kid told me that the space shuttle ride was a nice little tour round a kind of museum of spacey things. The little bollox. It was a bloody hellish nightmare of a rollercoaster ride in the pitch dark. expect that.

But not Cadbury's, no-one expects that. That's like...Johnny Depp making a bad film. Or Helen Mirren delivering a line badly. Or Ikea designing something too ornately.
Still, they thought they were doing the right thing, they thought no-one would get sick. But yeah, see that doesn't do it for me, because the very thought of bacteria-ridden dirty water being anywhere near the chocolate ...well, it just shatters my illusions. Who knew that creamy goodness could have you hospitalised? Oh hang on, yes I did know that.

I will have to draw a curtain. I have to believe that the great god Cadbury's will learn from their slopiness and move on. Eventually, and by eventually I mean the next time I step onto British soil, so long as they never transgress again, I will forgive them.

Meanwhile, we're going to Kelowna tomorrow. Yep. Off to the Okanagan, to the Canadian desert, where the polar bears have humps like camels, where the moose wander naked in the street, and even the Mounties sweat. Ok, perhaps I've had a touche too much sun already. I'm not sure yet whether I will be able to report from the outback, but if I can, then I will. How else would you get to sleep? Oh, yeah, Nytol. Well, I'd better not find out anything bad about them. Hrmmph.

Thursday, 22 June 2006


The kayaking day was divine, and it'll deffo be part of my visitor package. I will say one thing however, organising it is not always straightforward because the company that hires out the equipment is totally dependent on tides and you have to keep ringing them beforehand to check. Still, we did it and it was splendid.

Now though, you can stop being jealous, because my life is being recycled. Well, that's what it feels like.

Once upon a time, when I was ..well, not very young, but young enough to be studying and working and bringing up a child without the help of a partner. I had some dreary jobs in those days. But it didn't matter so much because we got by somehow and like I said, I was studying and so there was a light shining at the end of the tunnel.

I think the most dreary job of all was working for the Singer Co.(UK)Ltd. I had to control the inventory coming into the warehouse in Liverpool and going out to the shops. I did this in an office in Guildford. I also had to bring the freight accounts up to date, because they were not very auditor-friendly.
It was soul-destroying work, it literally sapped the very will to live from me. And it taught me an absolute rock solid respect for the people who spend their whole lives doing those kind of jobs. It was in the days when every position of responsibility was held by a man, all except Personnel, and that was always some head prefect type of woman. And even she was answerable to a 'Personnel Director' who was..yes, a man.

And there I am again, doing office work. The Brit spirit and a mighty fear of karmic retribution keep me going in, even though Kevin keeps saying,
'You don't have to you know.' And of course, when your ship is becalmed, the very air around you seems to set solid. The good ship 'get my qualifications to work in Canada' was positively zipping along despite all sorts of dangerous coral reefs, like transcripts and ..oh, well, more transcripts (I think I've already explained what those are in a previous whinge) and such like and then suddenly...oops, I can feel myself being pulled against my will into a Tennyson poem, 'the Revenge', oh my god, hang's a vortex...

'....Sir Richard spake and he laughed, and we roared a 'Hurrah!' and so...
The little Revenge ran on, sheer into the heart of the foe,
With her hundred fighters on deck, and her ninety sick below,
For half their fleet to the right, and half to the left were seen,
But the little Revenge ran on through the long sea-lane between,
Thousands of their soldiers looked down from their decks and laughed,
Thousands of their seamen made mock at the mad little craft running on and on..
'Til delayed by the mountain-like San Philippe,
That of fifteen hundred tons, o'oer shadowing high above us with her yawning tiers of guns.....
Took the breath from our sails...and we stay'd...'

Yeah, well, I feel like the mountain-like San Philippe, in the guise of Surrey County Council, who have done the most astonishingly half-arsed thing and contracted their 'education services' out to private industry, have taken the breath from my sails, and I've stay'd. And I keep bugging them, and they keep ignoring me.

I'm whining for little reason really, I have been my usual curmudgeonly self and said that I won't go in the week that Alex arrives and that I'll only go in mornings afterwards.

And for pudding? Oh yes, I remember this one too. Tonight, I pull out of the office into a solid line of traffic. An arsehole driving a juggernaut the size of a football pitch whilst talking on his cell phone, oh my dear lord yes, why, just because it's your profession, would you have any standards at all? pulls THROUGH the already grid-locked lanes of cars and makes it even worse. And to add insult to bloody injury, on the radio some person is saying,
'And traffic trying to get from Annacis island is completely at a standstill...' are you trying to wind me up? Because it is so working. Is there someone in an unmarked radio van looking into my car? And then....cyclists pass us, the final nail going in. That should be meeeeee...... That always used to be me. Holy high blood pressure batman, can the situation get any worse? Of course it can. Of course it can. I am upholding road courtesy standards, letting people trying to pull out of their offices into the line. Except the ones on phones, I block them off, make hand gestures at them. Does one single person that I let in either let anyone else in or acknowledge me?
Just one, just one, a smiling Japanese man.
And he made up for all the rest.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Karaoke Kayaking Kayaking was the most brilliant fun. And we did kind of karaoke...well, we sang.

We had the most perfect day for messing around on the river. The bit of river we went to was in a city called Ladner. Most places here are on the Fraser River Delta somehow. There were five us of and we have two double kayaks and one single. Beth and I shared a double since we were novice kayakers and the larger boat is more stable.

The evening before we went out, Roma (not evil Roma, good Roma) had told me that it takes just twelve minutes for anyone to learn how to kayak. I think she was right. I sat at the back and had peddles inside for steering, and the person at the back has to take their paddling cue from the person in front.

We took off down the river, Lori had us go down little creeks that you would think were impassable. We sang, we laughed, we talked. We got stuck in bullrushes, we got ourselves out. We got swept aside by the current, but we got ourselves back where we wanted to be.
We saw eagles, I have seen them in the sky, but never just sitting on a tree - this one looked like a vulture, I had no idea how huge they can be. We saw marsh wrens, (nothing to do with women in uniform before you ask;) swallows, kites and a heron, a huge heron that looked almost like a pterodactyl as it took off.

After a little while, because you are so close to the water and because the boat is so light and sensitive to your movements, it seemed as though the boat had become part of us. We were out for two and a half hours in the sparkling, silent water. We stopped and listened to the cottonwood trees sighing. It was just the most amazing thing to do and it felt as though we could have stayed in the water for ever, and that the afternoon would go on for ever and that it would always be summer.


Tuesday, 20 June 2006

The Funny Farm

Scrolling across the screen of the Slimp3 player this morning was the news that our venerable Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, thinks that Canada's ethnic diversity would protect her from terrorism. It doesn't even need any comment really does it? But I can't help myself. Britain is ethnically diverse Stephen and we have lived with terrorism and later the threat of it for years and years. And...where exactly is the logic in that statement anyway? When Britain was attacked last year on the 7th of July, the terrorists were our own people, ethnically diverse if you please.

Now last year, I do remember a case which was reported in the paper of a Sikh boy who was fighting for the right to wear his ceremonial dagger to school. He promised he wouldn't hurt anyone, and then some argy-bargy about whether the ceremonial dagger was really a blunt instrument or was in fact a fully functioning dagger for killing people. Anyway, what everyone was reminded of was the the Sikhs are the warrior offshoot, some say caste, of the Hindu faith. So maybe Stephen means that should terrorists strike, the Sikhs would rise up and do the right thing. Interesting idea Stephen, even if it was mine not yours.

Meanwhile, in Britain, in some kind of completely Frodo-unrelated mouth-frothing insanity, parents, granted not that many, are squinnying because their little darlings are being denied the right to wear their purity pledge rings to school. *Voice of Golum*
'Your precious won't protect your precious's precious.'
You got it, you apply to go to a particular school, you agree to the rules, including the school uniform and then you want to change them. I applaud the schools for upholding common sense against these idiots. Research in the US has already shown that the behaviour of those that take this 'pledge' is much more likely to result in unsafe sex than that of pupils who have experienced the now long-established sex education programmes in schools which attempt to teach young people that when they are legally old enough to have sex, they must feel comfortable about it and all that goes with that.

The people at the front of this discussion have an underage daughter anyway. All she needs to do is let the Marks and Sparks age label hang out of her jumper. She's not abstaining from sex because of some loony purity promise, it's because she's 15 and the law doesn't allow it. Of course I'm not suggesting that no-one under 16 has sex, just saying that there is no need to make a song and dance about it, otherwise we'd all be wearing huge great T-shirts with every law of the country we're living in printed on them to show that these are the laws we're not breaking.

On the other hand, Britain is also re-thinking its policies about IVF treatment. It has discovered that it needs new people to sustain the economy, probably from reading my blog I would think, and that maybe IVF should be offered free to everyone who wants it.

So...later today, Sven's men meet Sven's neighbours - I'm assuming Sven is Danish, if he's actually Swedish then I suppose that Sven's men meet Sven's countrymen. We live in interesting times.

Now, it was kayaking that Lori said we were doing today wasn't it? Not karaoke......

Monday, 19 June 2006

Odds and sods

People often ask me what the weather is like here in BC, and in the part of BC where I live, it's very much like the weather in the south of England. But the weather rules that I'm used to don't always apply.
In Britain, there are certain indicators where you can look at the sky and say with a fair degree of accuracy,
'Yep, it's going to be a scorcher,' or 'ah, it'll burn off later,' or 'think it's going to rain, look at those clouds,' or even,'there's a storm a-comin'.' That last one would be if you are inexplicably speaking with a Hicksville, American accent.

Here, I can look out and say to Kevin,
'It will deffo rain today,' and he'll say,
'Not necessarily,' and it won't. It's because of the mountains, they affect the weather, make it even more unpredictable than it already is, or they alter the rules or something.
Right now you'd think it was blowing up for a storm. It just has that whole 'blowing up for a storm' feel to it out there....and it won't.

Reports of the street party in Simmi's street are that it was 'awesome' and a good time was had by all. Austen told me there was another street party in the next one over too. Nowhere I have lived does celebrating quite like Pompey, sometimes you can't even work out what they're celebrating, or why there are fireworks, although if that's the case then there's a fair chance it's either football related or naval.

The World Cup is supposed to be fun - whilst of course being deadly serious. But there are a couple of things going on that are not at all in the spirit of things.
Firstly, the Dutch being made to take their clothes off all over the place. Simmi sent me this article about them having to take their Lederhosen off, no-one wants that, any nation who are brave enough to wear bloody Lederhosen should be allowed to keep 'em on and especially orange ones. Bloody corporate sponsorship. Apparently last week they were made to take off their T-shirts saying 'We want our bicycles back,' referring to the Germans having confiscated them during the war. If Brits had been involved, within two hours they'd all have been wearing counter-T-shirts saying, 'Look in your bloody canals mate.'

The other appalling World Cup story is about the trafficking of prostitutes. Now I had blogged some time ago about a brothel that was getting ready for the influx of footie fans, but it seems that it didn't stop there.
Dontcha just love the lame idea that if you educate drunken football fans, they will discriminate between women who have chosen the profession and those who have been brought in against their will?
I think this is part of a broader issue anyway about how women are still viewed and treated, but I'll save that for another day when I'm feeling particularly vituperative.

Tomorrow, since the education programmes at the Nature Park have now finished for the summer, we are going kayaking. This is an activity I'm not even sure I can spell, and I have certainly never done before, so...should be fun :) Actually, I think that may be a life rule I've discovered there - if you can't spell it you shouldn't do it/eat it/practise safe sex with it.

Sunday, 18 June 2006


The book 'The Life of Pi' won the 2002 Man Booker prize and was bought and thus presumably read by thousands of people. And still....I have yet to speak to anyone who has liked the book. Just me. And I LOVED the book. I loved Piscine Patel, the description of how he got his name, his childhood in Pondicherry, the zoo, then later his crossing of the ocean on a lifeboat with a tiger called Richard Parker. I revelled in it all. But most of all I loved that Piscine, Pi, was religiously promiscuous. He was cheating on his priest with the Imam, on the Imam with the pandit. He couldn't get enough, he found beauty in all three and couldn't settle for just one. I could empathise with Pi.

Most people I know have grown up with some kind of religion, and that is especially true in Britain as I have said several times before, where an established Church means we have RE lessons, a 'broadly Christian' assembly or daily act of communal worship, and a lot more Christianity incidental on TV.
But now that I am in Canada, I have met one or two people who have not been brought up with a faith, and that is quite, quite different from rejecting religion.

When I taught A-level Philosophy, one of the components was the Philosophy of religion. I found that to teach that I had to be non-partisan, never revealing my own views, but looking at everything objectively. It was oddly liberating. Standing outside and looking in I was able to see things I couldn't from the inside.

From the inside, the Church provides comfort food for the soul. From the outside it stood up to all but logic, and Kirkegaard gave us absolution for that. But the cold wind on the top of the Sceptic's mountain made me look around. I suppose it was like Zarathustra. A bit. Except that God wasn't dead, just expanding exponentially. Or perhaps I was on the rim of that wheel, trying all the spokes out for size, like Simmi's grandfather said.

When I looked in as an observer, I saw some things that stood up whether or not God was involved. And I was able to see I believe dispassionately, what we humans got from religion, some from any religion and some from our particular one.

Most give us a Deity or Deities. I'm covering, it may be that by definition a religious system needs at least one god I said, you could kick away that ladder, embrace a religion but not its god. And ... is Gaia a religion? It is kinda, but no god is worshipped, just that our planet is cherished and anthropomorphised.
Some form of ethical system is usually involved, nay, insisted upon, and often based on the word of the deity. Even so, a good ethical system can stand alone. Say, for the sake of argument, you were making up a new religion, well then you'd get your god to say sensible things that simply allow people to live together - because that's what an ethical system is, bottom line.

There are often religious system police, those who preach and polish the system, like guard bees in a hive, sniffing out interlopers, making sure everyone's producing the honey. I make it sound harsh and sterile when in fact most of the priests I have met are warm, interesting people.

And so soon I have moved to the personal. Because so far, substitute 'State' for 'God' and I could have been talking about a political system. What I think keeps people coming back for that cup is the depth of their personal experience.

And now I won't call it religion, I'll call it Faith. People have a personal relationship with their God. I was going to say 'and in my case gods', but the truth is I have chosen to reflect upon different aspects of mine. I often speak about the Goddess, but I think that few these days would truly claim that God is a man, because female qualities and male qualities have to both be present in perfection. I sometimes feel like tuning in to the yin side.

We have a sense of comfort, I do, I know. However old I get, and how ever many years seperate me from the time when I had a mum, there are still moments of fear, or despair when I need her. And that deep-seated sense of God is there at those times.

And there is that sense of awe, of wonderment, of simply looking around and wanting to give thanks for everything that stirs our soul. I cannot come close to the beauty of this piece of writing that expresses that deeply personal 'round of applause', so I would like to encourage you to read Heelers' post of that title.

Then communion. Not just 'The Communion' although for me that is the communion I mean, but I think that it an important part of any faith. To share that act of worship. To have a communal act with all others of your Faith.
For Christians, the sharing of the bread and wine is so focussing. It takes the symbolism so deep.
In my son and daughter-in-law's church, which is an Anglo-Catholic church, I feel that the whole service enables the deepest level of meditiation. I respect the needs of others to raise their arms and praise God loudly, that too is an act of communion. But my needs are different. I love the steps that lead me down into my own soul, the bells, the incense, the intoned prayer. I'd have it in Latin if I could. Is there a shamanism to this? Maybe, perhaps that's why I also love the Celtic beliefs. But just to be in a building, cool, stone, where generations have worshipped before, with the familiar words like a mantra. What we need so often is that still, small voice of calm. And to sink into our own soul. Perhaps the collective soul. And maybe that is God.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

Birthday part deux

No,no, not my birthday, her Majesty's. Like me she has an official birthday and a real birthday, just that mine are on the same day.

I'm sure that throughout Britain, people are celebrating by having street parties, I only know about one and that is the party in Simmi's street. I wish I were there for that. On the basis that Simmi's household know how to have a damn fine party, even to the extent that one can be rustled up on the spur of the moment using only mobile phones, I have very high expectations of the potential for festivities in the street as a whole.

There will be a bouncy castle, Eilie has even insisted on grown up time on the bouncy castle being factored in. There will be races, games, activities, music, barbecuing, drinking.
As Robert Browning might have said were he not too obsessed with wildlife and flowers,
'Oh to be in England, now that summer's (almost) there,
And whoever wakes in England, see some morning, unaware,
That the lowest branch on the trees lining Simmi's street,
Are covered in bunting and it all looks a treat,
And the PA blares from the lowest bough,
In England, now'

Oh, alright, so Robert Browning was a great poet living in Italy and I'm a blogger living in Canada. But I CAN SMELL THE SAUSAGES FROM HERE!!!

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, there is some kind of street party going on downtown, seems like Commercial Drive is allowing drinking in the street today. My friend told me about this although she wasn't sure what it was in aid of. British friends might think the phrase 'allowing drinking in the street' is odd, but here, if a pub or restaurant has chairs out the front, if drink is to be consumed, then the section must be cordoned off. The street must be protected from the drinkers.

Over the bridge in Richmond, we have a problem with bunnies. It sounds cute, but it really isn't. If you read the article, you will see that part of the problem is 'pets dumped at the Richmond Nature Park over the years.' Yes, the very Nature Park where I portrayed Darwin the Drone this week. And it is true, only this week, Chris was out with a cage trying to catch a big old bunny sitting out there bold as brass, doing bunny-like things and in all probability working his way up to doing other bunny-like things which will no doubt result in even more bunnies.

My own solution to this would be to send Daniel the groundsman out with a gun - and there is a Sasquatch costume for Daniel, so that might be a nice theatrical twist, Sasquatch with a gun popping out of the trees every so often although - Lori and I have creative differences about how much it's reasonable to scare children and she's the boss so......

The night market is on at the moment, so I envisage ready roasted organically produced rabbit hanging from the stalls, and why not? The little blighters are clearly not corn-fed like chickens, but rather berry-fed, they should be delish.

Ah well. In my mind's nose I can still smell those barbied sausages and in my mind's ear I can hear the music. Several of my proxies are there enjoying the party, I will have to bop vicariously.

Friday, 16 June 2006

No Worries

Is there such a state as 'no worries'? I mean, I know when you are happily drunk, or the other thing that I have never myself experienced, there is a point when you feel worry free, or is it that the worry monster is in there, but the drink or the herbals are just sitting on it?

Every time I am in some stressed-out period of my life, I think, 'this too will pass, then everything'll be ok'. And then some other thing comes along to worry about.

When I was away, there was a background worry about getting my passport back, then the worry about what the immigration interview would be like. Now I have the worry of everyone sending the correct bits of paper to the BC teachers' college, and the worry of the kids' interviews and exams and agh....always something.

But what I mean is, I'm pretty sure I'm far from unique. I'm sure that most of the people I know have a steady stream of things to worry about going through their heads all the time.

I'm also sure that there are heirarchies of things to worry about, certainly there have been times when the whole worry state is more intense than at others. There are also worries we manage more than others. I'm worried for example, that I can see dust from where I'm sitting, but not so worried that I've leapt up and dusted it.
Back in the days when we had paper bank statements, even though I always pretty much knew how much I had spent, I would worry about opening them, and to the extent that I often wouldn't. For some inexplicable reason, this doesn't happen now that all I have to do is look online.

Here's my thrust though, ooh, Missus. Are there people who simply have no worries? Because, I'm not convinced that worrying about stuff has an effect on the outcome of anything, in which case, what's the bloody point?
Maybe worrying is like having levels of some hormone in the blood, some people have it and some, well, just don't. One thing I know is that some people have it but hide it well.

Is worrying like a Suduko puzzle, or a crossword ? Once every clue has been answered, every line adjusted, is there a state of freedom from worry, or are we simply cursed to carry a bag of worries around with us throughout our lives ?

- Worried of Richmond, BC

Thursday, 15 June 2006


I think the reason this amused me so much is that in Britain, when you go for a teaching job in Modern Languages they have to draft someone in to conduct part of the interview in your languages or languages, because obviously you can't trust a mere university to have checked that you actually speak a language before handing you a degree in it.
We always used to bleat,
'But they don't make tech teachers put up a shelf at their interview.' And they didn't.

But that wasn't what I wanted to drone on about today.

Last week, I noticed a poster advertising this Christmas's panto at the theatre in Woking and I was rather surprised to notice that John Rhys-Davies was going to be in it, billed as 'Lord of the Rings' John Rhys-Davies' because otherwise no-one would know who this accomplished actor was, not like he has a list of credits as long as the river Nile or anything.

Anyway....sorry, just can't miss an opportunity for heavy sarcasm, and now you need to pardon the pun, but I was surprised that someone of his stature should be doing panto.

But NOW I understand, it's just damn fine fun.

In Britain, maybe the United Kingdom .... and probably the Republic of Ireland too, oh heck, most likely the whole of Europe, everyone has an early acting career thrust upon them from the age of rising five, in the form of the nativity play. If you are a blonde kid you get to wear wings a lot. The majority of British etc kids at that age are blonde, so the birth of our Lord was pretty heavily attended, I know I knew the inside of a sewn-up white sheet quite well.

That was it for me though. Oh yes, you get to do a lot of acting in teaching, the difference between survival in the classroom and attendance at Accident and Emergency can often be the ability to act anger rather than to actually experience it.

But not until yesterday have I had to appear in anything. The play we do in the school programme 'Bees in the Bog' is not unlike a panto. There are only two characters, Betty, the worker bee, and Darwin the Drone. The part of Darwin is a sweet deal. Betty has to do most of the actual work, just like her real counterpart. She feeds Darwin the lines and Darwin gets to just mess about on stage, hamming it up as much as possible. I swear if we were doing it longer than just tomorrow, Beth - Betty the Bee and another Brit - and I would have them singing out, 'Look behind you!' and 'Oh no she's not!'
I've had a lot of fun playing Darwin these past two days, so yes, I get the panto thing now, it's that audience participation, the being able to really enjoy yourself with the character AND the banter.

Beth is brilliant, absolutely brilliant and what a challenge it must have been for her to come in and take over that part. Lori and Joanne were fantastic as Betty and Darwin, so I was worried about doing it, well we're not Lori and Joanne, but like I said, we had great fun and I think the kids got that.

Ok, so what's happening with the footie? England won, yeah, like I need to tell anyone that. I hope Threshers (off-licence) in Scotland are helping to clear up the leftover drunken fans. I read that England may be having a sleepless night last night (yeah, the WHOLE country) as their fans were standing outside their hotel worshipping them very loudly. I also noticed that the Guardian's 'most read articles' yesterday were ALL about the World Cup. I thought there was one that wasn't because it seemed to be about someone called Big Ron, but no, footie still.

So, well done lads. And well done fans.

And lastly, and yes, I've had to edit this after publishing, Simmi sent me this, it is rib-achingly funny, but if you're at work, please turn your speakers down low, then load it up again later when you get home because the song is brilliant.

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Being back at the Nature Park yesterday was very enjoyable. As Beth and I practised the play a huge great monster bird with a red chest came and perched on a tree outside. Beth said it was an American Robin, a bird not related to our own robin redbreast, well, apart from the both descended from dinosaurs bit, but in fact part of the blackbird family. I had seen robins all through the spring programmes, but this one looked so big and....well, knowing.

So of course, I couldn't get the Nursery Rhyme out of my head. Most Nursery Rhymes seem to have a deep, dark meaning to do with Kings and Queens, so I tried out a few possible interpretations in my head, each one having a grizzlier twist than the last. When I looked it up though, it turned out to be fairly literal. Whilst the great British sense of humour was developing, Kings and Queens were easily amused - and possibly infected with all manner of disgusting parasites - by their cooks baking a pie crust and boshing together a pie that contained live birds. These were very often pigeons, and had someone invented photography earlier, we might have had some good additions to Simmi's 'Strange Pigeon Women' photosite.

On the subject of disgusting parasites, and no this has nothing to do with Big Brother, we learned something bizarre about last year's 'Exorcist : The Beginning'. I went to see the original film when I was 16 - it had what was then called an 'X' rating, so I wasn't really old enough. It certainly scared me and I stayed scared for some goodly while afterwards. So, mission accomplished, young people should be frightened to death.

Nonetheless, I was anxious to go and see the prequel, which was almost guaranteed to be good since it starred Stellan Skarsgård. It was moderately entertaining in the way that some cheese can be, but no more and thus rather disappointing.

But over the last couple of nights, one of the movie channels has been showing a film called 'Dominion : Prequel to the Exorcist', also starring Stellan Skarsgård. Hmmm....curiouser and curiouser. Kevin did some research and discovered that director Paul Shrader had been hired to make the latter - and his version was made first. It was rejected by, presumably the producers. So they hired another director and a new cast - apart from Stellan - to make the one we actually got to see .

We couldn't resist watching the suppressed one, which was apparently hoiked round various independent film festivals, and guess what? Oddly, it was far superior and really quite creepy.

So, shields down - well, ok, that's just me, but tomorrow, England are playing Trinidad and Tobago. Yes, yes, I know it scares you when I attempt to discuss football, but please bear with me and correct me afterwards.

Now, Simmi sent me an article about how the Scots are buying up mangoes and rum so that they can support the West Indians rather than their co-Brits. I spoke to Austen earlier on the phone and I asked him what the chances are of T&T actually winning. I was slightly confused that they even had a team. I used to live next door to a family from Trinidad, and they and the constant stream of Trinidadians who came to their house, were great fun, true to form, much rum was drunk and discussed, and the food was hot and fabulous. But in fairness, and they would be the first to tell you this, they couldn't be bothered with organising stuff. The famous piss-up in a brewery would be something they'd think about but never get round to doing because life was just too laid back or it was raining. That's the way they were and it was how they were happy to be.

So how the devil do they manage to put together and train a football team? Well it seems that many players from British clubs have some connection with the country, enough to qualify to play apparently. So there was my answer.

I asked Simmi whether she thought England would win. She quoted Lenin at me.
I think we just have to let the lads play and hope that Wayne Rooney is back up and firing on all cyclinders. Did I get that right?

Lastly, because these people are simply asking to be heard and not forgotten, if you have time, please read this.
When our own friends can and do suffer prejudice, then multiply that by goodness knows how many times for what others may be going through in repressive regimes.

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Demonic angels

One of the websites I read quite regularly is the journal of writer Neil Gaiman. The first work I read of his was 'Good Omens', co-authored with the inestimable Terry Pratchett. Loved that book. I was therefore rather amused, as Neil clearly was himself, to read on his website that a reader had written to him asking for advice on how to get his girlfriend back after she had broken up with him because he was reading 'Good Omens' in bed. Neil deals with it humorously as you would expect and much more patiently than I would. I think the answer is simply, why?
You need to go down to his entry for June the 11th, I don't know how to link directly to that post on his site.

Devout Christians can be odd people and they can be amazingly wonderful people, I think there should be sub-classes. More of that later.

Last night we watched a film that I had rented before we went to the UK, and in my case loitered there a while. The film was 'Everything is illuminated' starring Elijah Wood, and friends, this is one of those treasures you discover once in a while. I have to say I think what appealed to me about it was the 'Ukraine during the War' theme, because I had realised when reading a book by a Canadian author that Anne lent me not so long ago, that I had very little understanding of the Russian part in the war.
I can remember having a Russian reading phase many years ago, as one does I think I digested the complete works of Tolstoy, Solzhenitsin and Dostoyevsky all in one go and having the utter and absolute knowledge that Russians had more soul then any other nation that ever walked the planet.
Only later, well, say earlier on this year, did I realise how little I in fact knew about Russia. I still thought of it as the Soviet Union, which in its turn I thought of as Russia. But now that the USSR no longer exists as such, I keep getting taken by surprise. So...the Ukraine...mmm....Belarus....ah, that seems to translate as 'White Russia' from the German name... and so the process of recognition and familiarisation begins.

The main not-Elijah Wood character in 'Everything is Illuminated' speaks like Borat and substitutes appropriate but yet incorrect words in his English. His grandfather continually refers to Elijah's character as simply 'The Jew' until Elijah says,
'I'm not a moron you know, I can work out what that word means,'

It is a wonderful film on so many levels, not the least of which is that it makes us think of how much we have that we take for granted. There is the most brilliant scene in a hotel where Elijah's character tries to explain that he doesn't eat meat, a concept they simply can't grasp.
'Not even steak?'
'Not even chicken?'
'Surely sausages..?'
'What is wrong with him?' asks the grandfather,
'What is wrong with him?' asks the cook.
'Can he have just a potato?' asks his guide
'Potato only comes with the meat' says the cook.'ll have to trust me, the delivery is wonderful.

So back to those devout Christians for a moment before I return to the Nature Park to rehearse for my acting debut as Darwin the Drone - a short-lived career since the school programmes finish this week.

Yesterday Simmi and I were horrified at this article. Orthodox Christians heckled and assaulted other human beings. Talk about giving the side a bad name.
I know I do this same thing from time to time, but if Jesus had just suddenly appeared at this rally, the Jesus we know from the New Testament, would he be going,
'Come on lads, let's give this lot a good kicking,' ? See, I'm thinking not, unless I've misread the whole thing. I think he's going to say, 'Hey lads, we're all human beings, all they're wanting is to love who they want, which was kinda what I was trying to say anyway, so let's all go for a beer shall we? Oh, hang on, make that a goblet of wine, and if we've only got water, I can deal.'

Monday, 12 June 2006


There's this funny old thing in Britain called a TV licence. Now the TV licence, if memory serves me correct, and every so often it does, costs about £8 a month over ten months and it is used to fund that great British institution the BBC, affectionately known as Auntie Beeb or just Auntie.

No-one wants the BBC to have to be ruled by sponsorship money or to take in advertising like an old washerwoman taking in dirty laundry, and by no-one I do of course mean me. This would compromise the integrity of the BBC.

But the existence of a licence outside of the main taxation system means that there is a whole industry whose job is to seek out defaulters, travel the streets in little vans with high-tech detecting equipment on the top, giving out extraordinarily large fines for anyone found to be watching TV who is not on their database as having bought a licence. And there are adverts for this too, although more 'information' than advertising, showing luckless residents hiding in backstreets doing evil.

And this spin-off industry, we are told, is now in overdrive as the country grinds to a halt during World Cup matches. Companies who do not normally have television sets on the premises and who therefore have no licence, have incurred the wrath of the detector vans - like daleks or cylons these must have independent existence. They have installed TV sets so that their employes can watch the footie during working hours.

Now it seems to me that the main offence here isn't the watching of the football without a licence, but surely...isn't it....having your workforce stop work to watch? Isn't this what people are supposed to do in their own time?

We are always being told how many hours are lost to British industry due to backpain or period pain or flu or the common cold. Will we be seeing a bill for hours lost to World Cup watching? Ah probably not, I imagine it comes with a get out of gaol free card.

But still, before I pondered that I was going to suggest that maybe the whole TV licence thing had had its day. Perhaps the BBC should just be funded by general taxation, save all the money spent on chasing down little old ladies who have forgotten to renew. Auntie is a national treasure, she should be cherished, why Blue Peter alone is worth an extra penny on income tax, even if you never watch it. I'm joking, but it does seem that the TV licence is past its sell-by date. Many people nowadays pay for cable or satellite every month, and do so quite happily, I know I did, especially when the line rental for your telephone line was thrown in for free. But on top of that you still have to pay for a TV licence.

Perhaps the detector vans could be put to a new and improved use. Does anyone know if the dog licence still exists?

Sunday, 11 June 2006


"Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes that make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there." Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching.

It is an interesting thought that the space or lack of matter makes a thing useful. When I re-read Eleven from the Tao Te Ching, it put me in mind of Celtic thought. Oh what a surprise, most things that provoke thought in me lead me at some point to Celtic thinking.

Lao Tsu opens with that visual of a spoked wheel, and the Celtic notion of time is not linear but circular. The wheel is most certainly time, perhaps reality, with the spokes the framework that holds our lives together, but the space in between and the hole at the centre of the hub the unfilled moments that we get to fill up, to define our own existence. The wheel keeps turning and it seems as though as the wheel turns it empties and we get more space to fill, ever able to correct our mistakes.... or repeat them. The space between seconds, the secret, private space that we fill with our deepest thoughts; the air between the raindrops - could we experience that emptiness by stopping time with our minds? The flick, flick, flick of the movie frames slowed down to almost nothing so that we can look at each frame seperately and wonder.

The empty vessel, isn't it this that makes most sound? Maybe, if we see ourselves as the empty vessels, rather than the time that is given to us. The new page to be filled, the new day to contemplate. The stretch of shore before us. That which we can fill with wine or water or a new concoction of herbs, fruits and spices. What is our life? What shall we fill that vessel with?

The windows and doors in a house make it livable, let in light, allow us to experience the world outside from the safety of our comfort zone. We can see out and the world can come in.

The moon waxes and wanes, the earth circles, albeit somewhat eliptically, the sun. And we humans act to make sense of our world, but inside our own heads the only reality we have plays out. Inside our heads we construct notions of other people, places, truth, belief. Do people resemble our perceptions of them? Are their perceptions of self the same as ours of them?

Does the cycle stop when we do ? Is the world simply a multi-dimensional creation of our imagining ?

If you fill a vessel with stones you can then fill the gaps in the stones with sand and then the air in the sand with water. The vessel can hold so much more than we realise.
And so can our minds.

"Breathe through the heats of our desire Thy coolness and Thy balm,
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire, speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
Oh still, small voice of calm, oh still, small voice of calm." Dunno who wrote that, we used to sing it at school in assembly. It's a reminder to stop the world and just listen, to the small voice of calm, to the calm, to the space, to the emptiness.

Saturday, 10 June 2006


...and, I'm back in the room. A long but uneventful flight, Got sei Dank, although the staff at Heathrow did seem to be being unusually anal about pre-boarding security. Way more third degree about leaving the country than I had coming back in.

The in-flight films at first glance seemed rather uninspiring, 'King Kong', 'Sleepless in Seattle' and 'Rumour has it', a film with Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner, but as it turned out, I had never actually seen Sleepless and it was moderately enjoyable and the Jennifer Aniston one was a gem. I find her to be such an amazingly good actor, and this was a good vehicle for her to show her skills. Considering it was a) a romantic comedy and b) had Kevin Costner in it, honestly, it was a well made film with a lot going for it, not least of all two fabulous grandes dames Shirley MacLaine and Kathy Bates.

I was very relieved to get away from the current heatwave in Britain, arriving late afternoon in Vancouver it was pleasantly sunny without being uncomfortably hot.

Anyway, I've had a good night's sleep, thanks to the great god Nytol and I will be back in the saddle (and make of that what you will) later on today.

Thursday, 8 June 2006


9am. Me - Laurence stayed out all night
Ben- I'll call him
Me - I already did, his phone goes straight to voicemail.

9.15 Me - Do you think my hair's looking very Princess Di today?
Alex-Don't get into any cars with foreign-looking men then
Both-So, no cabs.

9.30 Ben- That was the Hemel Hempstead police. They say Laurence is in custody, he'll
be back by the end of the day. They won't say what he's done because he's an adult.

10.00 Me - One day travelcard please.
BR guy - Ten pounds please
Voice in head - Chip and Pin is so cool

10.30 Bouncy lady - Oh!
Me - ?
BL - I thought Eurostar went in the other direction
Me - We're virtually at Waterloo, there's nowhere for it to go from there
BL - Just...I thought Paris was in that direction (points towards Scotland)
Me - Hmm.. Maidstone's that way (points towards Maidstone).

10.50 Voice in head - New Primal Scream album, nice....lot of transport police around today.....wonder how Lars is doing......
Announcer - The next station is 'Cherring Cross'
ViH - Hmmmm, they used to say 'Chairing cross' ...still, even the Queen's accent has changed.....damn, didn't mean to come up on the side of the....ooh, Dorothy Perkins, oh nice...I swear they're designing just for me this season....I wonder why that woman's head doesn't get hot with that scarf wrapped all the way around like that.....

11.20 Me - Would it be ok for me to take a picture inside the store?
Assistant - Er, why?
Me - Because I'd like to show my friend that his film has an actual slot in Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street.
Assistant - Sure, go ahead, here, let me move these....

11.40 T-Shirt guy - Looking for anything in particular?
Me - Thin Lizzy.
TSG - Tin Lizzy? What kind of music d'they play?
Me - er .... rock....quite an old band
TSG - Don't think we have them...
Me - Ah! Here, Thin Lizzy
TSG - Oh yes...ok...hmmm...of course....

12.00 Guy on Street - Can I tell you about
Me - Are you trying to sell me something?
GoS - We're raising awareness
Me - OK
GoS - And money
Me - Ah, is there paperwork involved, only I'm not a UK resident.

12.15 Me - Large Cappucino please
Me - (Phone) Oh, hi, how come you're there?
X - Got the message about Laurence, came back from work
Me - So is he back yet?
X - Nope

13.18 Me - Hi, weren't you here two weeks ago?
Irene - yes, I can't believe I'm getting my immigration documents today, it's four years since I applied.
Me - wow, four years?! (wiping sweat continuously from brow beneath beating sun outside of Canadian High Commission).

14.05 Quebecois - Please take a seat and check that everything's there, then fill in the refund form and bring it back to me. And congratulations.
Me - Thank you.

14.20 ViH - Wish I'd seen that...and that...and that....jeez, could you GO any slower...ooh lovely, flower scented breeze...erk, the London Underground smells better than me.....

14.45 Me - Alex, I'm on the train, I should be back by half three. Is Lars back yet?
Alex - nope, no word.

17.00 X - (phone)So my son is still being questioned? Can I see him if I go there? Can you give me the duty solicitor's phone number? Will you be able to tell me when he is released?
X - Data Protection Act, can't get anything out of them because he's an adult, won't tell me what he's done, whether he's been charged, nothing.

17.30 X - That was the duty officer at Hemel Hempstead nick, they say we can go and get him.

19.00 Duty Officer - He was released half an hour ago. We told him you were coming to get him. I'm afraid I can't tell you whether he had anyone with him. No, our records show he had no money.

20.30 X - I don't know what else we can do, we've walked all round this town, we've been into the worst dives, no-one's seen him. He's not answering his phone. We can drive around for a bit but then we'll have to go back. At least the traffic won't be quite as horrendous now it's a bit later.

21.15 Laurence - (Phone) It's me mum, I'm home.

Laurence was in a car with another boy who had no driving licence and was too young to drive. Laurence knew this. We don't know the status of the car. The kid crashed into a traffic light and then took off. The police gave chase and the car was finally apprehended somewhere on the M25. Both were taken to Hemel Hempstead police station. Laurence had banged his head being hauled out of the car and had to be taken to the hospital but then spent the night in the cells. He was not charged. The other boy appears in court next week. The Data Protection Act effectively gagged the police on all counts and left us knowing nothing all day because our son refused to use his one phone call. He avoided us and was brought back to Woking by the parent of the underage driver.

Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Dawn til Dusk

If I manage to post today (Wednesday) it'll be a miracle. I haven't had internet access until gone 22.30 and then blogger was down.

I was up at 6.30 this morning, just like the old days, and standing outside Austen and Sue's house by 7.15. I was feeling all enthusiastic about the morning light and said to Austen that there is a special quality to the light at that time.
'Sure, if you want to put a positive spin on it,' he said. Yep, different story when you have to get up that early every day.

I had decided to go into school to see my former students in their last German lesson. Actually there was a bit of a misunderstanding because I thought it was their exam. I had loads of hugs. Very spontaneous, just wonderful to be welcomed so warmly by so many pupils and ex-colleagues. I have to admit that one of my favourites was from Josh (he of the pink bewigged Archangel Gabriel) who ran up to me and flung his arms round me,
'Have you been keeping up with Desperate Housewives?' he asked. I love that kid.

It was great to see my German girls again, and be able to wish them well in their exam tomorrow. We sprinkled imaginary pixie dust for good luck. It'll work. I saw Lorin, which made me feel guilty as all hell about being so paranoid about collecting my passport tomorrow. Lorin is still in the position of being allowed to stay in the country for two years and then not knowing whether her family will be sent back or not. She didn't have a passport when she arrived and certainly can't expect a British one anytime soon. She just kept hugging me and saying 'I've missed you so much.'

The head of ICT made me go into his room to show me proudly that he still had the Canadian flag I'd given him up in the room.

Gerry, British eccentric extraordinaire, was wearing a tie with a clock on it and living his life backwards or something. Each day until his retirement represented a year in teaching. He explained all this to me in '1973' and then I saw him later and he looked at his watch and he said it was just coming up to Christmas 1974.

I walked back to Austen and Sue's, a goodly trot of about three and a half miles. At one point I was following a young woman in a motorised wheelchair with two England flags on the back. Now THAT was cool. Nice one.

Alex and I went to get Fish and Chips for Sue, Holly and the two of us. There seemed to be some kind of freak mushy pea crisis in the chippie but eventually the lad serving got out a new catering can of...the exact same peas you buy in the supermarket. In fact, the ones that say 'chip shop mushy peas' on them.

Sue had received a card from my friend Julian. On the front was a cartoon of the scene from Dicken's 'oliver Twist' where the boy asks for more and the person giving out the food says, 'More!'. On this card though, the food server is saying, 'More coriander!' and underneath the caption reads, 'Jamie Oliver Twist'.

It was hard, very hard, saying goodbye to Austen, Sue, Holly and Eddie. Alex and I snook out while Holly was having her nap. My eyes were leaking somewhat.

Arriving in Surrey, I was a bit put out to discover there was an internet crisis which had been going on for two days without anyone phoning the isp. I phoned the isp. They claimed not to be able to fix it without sending an 'engineer' round, and that couldn't happen until Saturday morning. Strangely, everyone I spoke to had an Indian accent. Used to be they all had Welsh accents. I wandered around the house trying to find an open network, when suddenly, the one here came back on. Astonishing.

Anyway, I'm pleased to be able to get something online. It has been a long, full emotional day, as will tomorrow be.
I apologise for not answering individual e-mails and comments or phoning people or for taking your phone recharger. I'm knackered and I'll try and sort some of it tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 June 2006


Even the media have run out of news. Tony's been on holiday in Italy, but he's back holding the reins again. There was a breaking news item earlier today that a presenter on the children's programme 'Blue Peter' was leaving. Such a legend was he that I'd never heard of him.

There was of course the important news that footballer Wayne Rooney is taking part in training. Good, good, keep it up boy. And the rest seems similar, Tony backs police, yup, way to go, Iran having a happy five minutes, excellent, Iraq releasing some prisoners, but not the ones that have actually been involved in any illegal activities, good show.

I read a blog as a link from a newsblog that suggested that the 17 terrorist suspects captured in Ontario were victims of an RCMP sting - which kind of suggests they had run out of things to do, were it not an exceedingly ridiculous claim in the first place.

The only really good story of the day is that of two women who married in Canada and who are trying to gain recognition in the British family courts for that marriage. And BLOODY good for them. I agree with everything they say and it is just mind-numbingly stupid to be discriminating against people in law on the basis of sexuality. I can't even begin to get my head round it. I have so many friends who are gay and what the fuck is the difference between any of them or me? Nothing, absolutely nothing that is of any consequence. It's almost like being in the days when Emmeline Pankhurst was fighting for the simple right of half the population to vote. But at least these two women are up for the fight and good on them.

Still, ya know, what with the date and all I was kind of expecting something creepy to happen, somewhere. Something other than a re-release of the Omen.

Monday, 5 June 2006

Grey cloud

A sunny day in Pompey, but some unpleasant news from the school I used to teach at. One of the kids I used to teach and who is in Austen's form, had an accident during the half term and is now in a coma that has been induced by the hospital. The kid is a bit of a bad lad, bright but naughty. He was on the roof of a local primary school and fell through the skylight.

When these things happen at school it always appals, you'd think you'd raise your eyebrows and tut something about how they were asking for it, but the truth is, you don't want bad things to happen to them you just want them to behave properly and not ruin everyone else's education.

Last year, a lad who had been excluded from the school had a fatal accident misusing a forklift truck. He had been a nightmare at school but he had a lot of friends and the whole thing was a huge shock for everyone.

So, it seems that tomorrow is 06/06/06, or put another way, 6/6/6. This works both in American notation and the rest of the world notation, a numeric palindrome. One of Sue and Austen's friends has a strong chance of giving birth tomorrow, bets are on as to whether they will call the child Damian. I'm guessing not.

I'm surprised that the England football team didn't time their arrival in Germany to coincide with 666. Much to the irritation of some of the locals, they arrived today. If you look at the article you'll notice that they've trained David Beckham to wave. Hopefully he won't speak on TV, because then, even if England win, we will be humiliated as a nation. As though it weren't bad enough that in the world of football, 'England' and 'Germany' have become adjectives, why I even used it as such myself.

Football, the lowest common denominator. Which reminds me, early reports of today's maths paper were that it 'wasn't too bad'. Time will give the lie or truth to that.

Sunday, 4 June 2006

Swallows and Amazons

If you could go to Sainsburys online and order a perfect evening, this evening would have been it.
The day had been warm and sunny again, I sat out on the lawn with my son Laurence, watching the swallows wheeling around the sky. Well, I was watching the swallows, he was asking me awkward questions about people's sex lives in the style of Ali-G.

By evening there was just the right amount of cloud cover to make you feel as though you were snuggled in one huge duvet, warm and cosy. I cooked dinner for Laurence and Ben and we ate out on the patio. At some point there were a few sprinkles of rain but not enough to make us run inside, in fact it made it more perfect.

Laurence adjourned to the pub before pudding, so Ben and I ate that alone before he had to return to his last minute cramming, GCSEs start in earnest tomorrow morning, teenagers across the country will be grappling with mind-numbing maths.

Another warmth is surprisingly the build up to the World Cup. Wherever you look now, there are little strings of flags - across shop fronts, across the street and of course, on people's cars. Before I left Surrey I noticed a white van which had a red cross painted on its bonnet as well as little flags flying like the feathers in Asterix's helmet from the sides of it. No, not that helmet, good grief, this is a family blog. Oh, ok, well it's mine, so it's family when I feel like it, but I wouldn't be that rude, even after an afternoon with Lars.

And Amazons? Well, Simmi sent me this link a couple of days ago, and it just seemed so right to me. You can't have Batwoman having a weakness, as men can be. I see Batwoman as a more Shane from the L-Word type of lesbian, doing her own thing the way she wants, although their description seems to suggest more of a Bette from the L-Word type of character. However, it sits well. Good on ya DC Comics. I hope she bloody well flies in and kicks George W. where it hurts, although where there's no sense there's no feeling, I am just too horrified by his proposed constitutional ammendment about gay marriage to even start on that one, so I won't, I'll leave that for now.

All too much for an Amazon to swallow really. No not that kind of swallow, gaagh, I already told you, this is a ....oh well, never mind, time for bed said Zebedee.

Saturday, 3 June 2006


Weird. Kevin is crossing the Atlantic right now - without me. Nothing unusual about that, a common occurrence over the years, but now that I live there it seems strange, like I am abandoned here in this beloved land.

The skies are still blue, the day has been hot, the lobster classes have all been out there frying their delicate flesh in the radiant heat. Those who prefer their children and their own skins to last longer cover up with hats and sunscreen and layers of cotton.

England's football team have amused themselves on the pitch by beating Jamaica 6-nil in a friendly match and Ben's assorted crew have all been round watching the match, loudly.

Yesterday evening, Austen and Sue created a going away feast for us, everything wonderful that we both love to eat was on the menu in course after course accompanied by Champagne and Cava and finally the ice wine we brought with us. So strange that I'm still here after the going away feast, but I do have one or two things still to do.

An astonishing text from my sister told me that her husband is coming home, as though he'd been away at sea. She said it's what she wants, and so I'm pleased for her, but the children are not at all happy. I'm pleased for all of us really, he was part of the family and it was odd to think that we'd never see him again, but that too will be strange, for just a while. I hope my niece and nephew can find a way to take him back too.

Friday, 2 June 2006


British gardens and Canadian gardens are both beautiful, but both different. I'd hypothesise that it is because we have older houses in Britain and thus older gardens, and that is most certainly true, but even our newer gardens are different. Another obvious difference is the plants, some the same, many different.

A garden is nonetheless a thing to be desired. Old, new, perfectly laid out, overgrown, it is your private space where you can lie on your back and look up at the sky. Where your tortoise can hide whilst you set off your fireworks. Where you can read your book in the summer and go and sulk in the winter. There's nothing like looking out on your garden with a sprinkling of snow in the winter and there's nothing like being surrounded by greenery and soft scents in the summer.

Today was a garden day. The sky was an absolute azure as I lay on my back in Austen and Sue's garden. A bird in one of the trees picked through some of its old fluffy feathers, wriggled itself into a more comfortable position and ignored me.

Tomorrow Kevin goes back without me. I should have been going back, but have to stay another week, *fingers crossed*.

Short, but sweet, like Okanagan ice wine.

Thursday, 1 June 2006


You might say that we've already done the Finns. There was the whole Conan O'Brien visit as a result of his looking just like the President of Finland and his alleged winning of the election for her. Dontcha just love gerunds, I might get a subjunctive in before the end too.

Then there's Nokia. Well, I haven't actually posted anything about Nokia, but I'm pretty sure they're a Finnish success story. So, when you play that drunken game where someone asks you what the Swiss have ever given the world and you can't struggle past Carl Jung, William Tell, chocolate and cuckoo clocks only you do it for the Finns, I've got a third one for the pot.

This afternoon I was loitering with intent outside my dentist's, not really, just that the office is in the precinct, and I came across a new shop called Julian Graves. Now had you asked me I'd have said that Julian Graves was a writer, named three titles of books he'd written and the year in which he was nominated for the Booker prize. However I'd have been blagging.
In Palmerston precinct, Julian Graves is a health food shop. Something drew me in. Oh yes, I know what it was, the Chinese walnuts I had bought in Waitrose were not up to snuff, and certainly not as good as the Californian ones we get in BC. I found liquorice, very good liquorice, the BEST liquorice.

Back in the mists of time, you could get Black Jacks for a penny, or maybe it was 4 for a penny. They were sweet and gummed your jaws together and tasted of liquorish. Then there were the liquorish laces, red and black, also a penny I think. And in the sherbet fountains you got a good strong straw of liquorice that you could dip or suck the sherbet through until it became silted up.
My dad loved Pontefract cakes, little round coins of liquorice, less sweet than we kids were used to, but yummy, and the better because they were daddy's.

The Finnish liquorice I found this afternoon has no added sugar, it has a lovely flavour and texture. Panda brand, not you might think a native bear of Finland, but hey, who knows, who knew that their President would look the spit of Conan O'Brien? Thanks Finns, mighty fine confectionary.

On a completely unrelated note, and yet as rare as Pandas in Finland, Austen reported that he had found a Coldpay track that had a tune and was quite good. We listened. I think you need a lot of good will to find tune or value in it, but I admire that he keeps trying to find something, anything they have done that isn't as bland as ... well, frankly, Coldplay.

And finally, I totally agree that both modern private dentistry and veterinary surgery are licences to print money, but get this one. One of Sue's cousins makes her living practising acupuncture on animals and babies. I can't really get my head round this. I can imagine desperate parents trying any thing in a last ditch attempt to cure a sick child, but what in the name of St. Julian of Clary is the excuse for sticking needles into your pooch or hamster? I guess it's God's way of telling you you have too much money and not enough sense.

I'd never wish I were in that situation but should it happen, I'd most likely feed my ailing pet some Panda brand liquorice and avoid Coldplay, and the main reason I'd do that is.... I just HAD to get my subjunctive in - not an easy thing in the English language.