Monday, 31 July 2006

A little mirth

This is a picture of what you can see from Dyke road, so basically it either is the dyke or is from the dyke, I can't quite work out what the exact meaning of the word is in the Canadian language. There seemed to be nothing that I could see that would hold back the sea.

Ok, I'll come back to Dyke Road, quite literally in fact.

Yesterday afternoon we went to the cinema to see 'Clerks II'. My goodness it is shamefully funny. What I mean by that is if you have no shame, then it is so funny you will stop breathing. This happened to me, tears were running down my face, making my mascara form Kiss-like rivulets and my diaphragm couldn't keep up with my lungs. Don't tell me that's too much medical detail, or inaccurate, this is Kevin Smith we're talking about.

I also managed to see two more films on TV, neither of which was funny, but both of which I greatly enjoyed. 'Four Brothers', not a critically acclaimed film, but rather satisfying nonetheless and 'I'll Sleep when I'm Dead' a film with Clive Owen. Sorry, an excellent film with Clive Owen, I forgot that he'd done that rather sub-standard one with Jennifer Aniston.

At the weekend, my friend Canadian Karen, saw the actress who plays Jenny from the L-Word. I was supposed to have gone to this event, so I should have seen her too, but I'm more happy that Karen saw her. It's just... there must be some kind of celeb etiquette, and what is it? Do you run over and gush at them? Do you pretend you haven't noticed them? And then, each celeb might be different, some might crave love from their fans, some might crave privacy from their fans. Who knows? I think it should be an additional piece of information available on Mia Kirschner,** (craves attention) Kate Winslett ^^ (craves privacy). Ah well, I'm sure I pondered this same unanswerable question when I saw one of my own top celebs on Elm Grove, David Wells.

God bless the Guardian - normally - but an article today pushes a particular button for me. The article talks about whether lesbian attitudes to some gay male behaviours is changing. Ok, interesting idea and the article takes quite a raunchy look at the lesbian scene. But what makes me rather uncomfortable is the article's insistence on referring to lesbians as 'Dykes'. I think this is similar to white people calling black people 'niggers' or straight people calling gay men 'fags'. People can call themselves those names, but outsiders can't. I can giggle when my friend refers to my beloved Ikea as 'Dykea' and I can wonder how the City of Richmond can be so bold as to have a 'Dyke Road', I can also use it 'entre nous' with friends who are part of the lesbian community in private*, but there seems something profoundly disrespectful to publicly use words that have traditionally been used as terms of abuse at least until they are 'taken back'. - I learned that from the Kevin Smith film yesterday, one of his characters was 'taking back' the term 'porch monkey'- badly.

So why was I at Dyke Road? My son now has a job there, he's a meat-packer. No seriously :)

* Deliberate tautology** for Karen.
** Tautology - the science of becoming taut.

Addendum : After publishing my own blog, I then went to look at the others I read, and this has pissed me right off, taken all the mirth out of me. Lousie Livesey makes all the points I would myself, so I have nothing to add except - please read the post.

Sunday, 30 July 2006

Res Publica

Great band, sadly short-lived.

Res Publica, the affairs of the people. Back to those abstract words again. Demokratia, rule by the people. I find it quite interesting that the two main political parties in the United States have names that have become associated with right and left wing and yet neither word is too dissimilar in meaning from the other.

Plato started his work 'The Republic' by criticising four different forms of government that he was able to observe. Tyranny, rule by a tyrant, democracy, rule by the majority, timarchy, rule by a bloke called Tim, and Oligarchy, rule by a couple of gals called Olga.

But democracy in Plato's time was not democracy as we know it Jim, because the definition of who the people were does not tie up with ours and the system by which they ruled the city state was organised chaos. Everyone had the right to go to and debate everything. So imagine, instead of having our elected representatives go and discuss and vote on our behalf, we could all go along. Be a bit hectic. And then in Plato's Athens, it wouldn't in fact be anyone, slaves couldn't go, women couldn't go, they were considered property just as slaves were, foreigners living in the city - nope. Was all a bit shallow.

Plato's proposed Republic, was more like the democracy we know now. Everyone meaning everyone had full access to the resources of the State. Plato's educational theory underpins those of most modern democracies, that all should be given full education in all disciplines so that each person would find their own strengths and ultimately be able to serve the State by being the best possible person in whatever function they seemed best to fit. Fab.

While democracy was going on in Greece, well, parts of it, certainly Athens, the Romans were striving for a Republic. The reality was quite similar to Athenian democracy, no women, no slaves, yada yada, but they were an Empire and the struggle for them was to govern that Empire as prefectures rather than suffer the tyranny of an Emperor. There lay the problem, Rome was expansionist and big, Athens was small and the City States were all self-governing.

But something more came out of Athenian democracy. Hedonism. Seems like a dirty word to us, synonymous with laziness and lotus-eating. In fact it was a shift in social behaviour.

The Greek States had all warred among themselves, consider how Troy was destroyed, wiped off the map. Sparta, a timarchy which dedicated itself to raising warriors. All of this is considered agonic behaviour. With stability and economic prosperity came a shift from agonic behaviour to hedonic. The State and its people no longer prized warriors to be the most important people. Of course they still needed to maintain an army, things weren't so stable that there wasn't some bloke with a bunch of elephants just round the corner waiting to invade (ok, yes that was Rome but nonetheless...)but the army was no longer the be all and end all. Poetry, art, music, philosophy were now considered to be worthwhile pursuits, to enrich the society and the lives of the citizens.

Today, we value democracy so highly that we are willing to go to war to protect it. One reason given for the West's support of Israel in the current hostilities is that the State is the only one in the Middle East that is a true and complete democracy.

Is democracy intrinsically better than any other political paradigm and how did it become so widespread? I think these two questions are linked.

My theory involves two deaths and a religion. The first death, that of Socrates, was important because it is similar to but pre-dates that of Christ.
Socrates was found guilty of corrupting the youth of Athens, ie encouraging them to question. Isn't that an odd thing to be charged with in a democracy? Yes, no, maybe. Socrates' ideas were radical even for a State that considered itself quite liberal, if indeed it did. There is a kind of paradox. Hedonism is dependent on stability, and yet in its very nature lie the seeds of its downfall. It is a delicate balance. Philosophers challenge, all creative arts challenge, plays, art, poetry, they are all seditious by their nature.
And Socrates, given the choice by this liberal city, of leaving Athens or drinking the poisoned chalice, chose the latter. One final seditious act, one that validates his life and work, what he believed in. One that points like an arrow back towards the moment when he made that choice. His execution by the State was adminstered by his own hand.

The life of Jesus Christ was in many ways similar in nature. He too embraced poverty in order to travel freely around the ancient lands of his people, to bring a new message to them. They were a people under occupation, but it wasn't the (for the most part) benevolent government of the Romans that he was preaching against. It was, just as for Socrates, the intransigence of the thinking of the governing councils of his own people that he was challenging. He was a man of the people, a very ordinary Jew who surrounded himself with other very ordinary Jews. And who preached love. And a love that would conquer death. A simple message but one that ordinary people could relate to and one that he would also validate with his life. Another arrow pointing back towards a moment of choice.

So how did I get from democracy to Christianity ? Jesus taught us that God's love is like that of a parent and parental love is unconditional. Jesus' mother is very central to the story, she is honoured and her motherhood considered important. When we experience that kind of love, it enables us to also give it. Jesus taught people to deeply value other people, and I mean deeply, not superficially in the way that society values physical strength and fame. When we do value others we cannot but believe we all have the same rights. Christianity has by no means conquered the world without bloodshed, although I believe it could have done. It offers people hope. It offers people salvation. For many people that is what has appealed about Christianity. When you're facing the black death or starvation, to know absolutely that you will survive death and have a better life afterwards is a definite 'yep, count me in,' thumbs up.

But Jesus also preached democracy. He preached that all people are equal, and that is the basis of democracy. He showed us that people can take care of each other, and that their human needs are important. If you think of the distribution of the loaves and fishes, whether you see that as a literal miracle or a miracle because everyone shared what they have, it sent a strong - in my mind political - message. He surrounded himself with the common people and these were the people who were to bring his message to the world. And he taught that you came to salvation through your own will, a personal commitment. This too is the mainspring of true democracy, anyone can help to govern a people, not because you have fought and killed off all the opponents, but because you have the confidence of enough people who will vote for you. Yes, you may convince them through rhetoric, yes you may not fulfill your promises, but then the people have the right to not have you represent them too. It is a relationship of equality.

Democracy is an ideal. I don't think anyone quite has it right yet, but it is a good ideal, it is worth working towards because everyone in a democracy has a say and every individual's rights are valued so far as they are not contrary to the rights of society as a whole, the public good. We should value democracy, and we should strive towards it. We should also protect it, if necessary with our lives, because where there is no freedom, there is no life.

Saturday, 29 July 2006


My mind keeps wandering back to a local news story from yesterday. A First Nations elder from Vancouver Island was killed, at the age of 68, in a canoeing accident. My friend told me that the coastal First Nations bands believe that when a Chief dies, that the soul becomes part of that of an orca. Not enough detail was given in the news article to satisfy whatever is niggling away at me, it's as though there's something we don't know, the departure for a whole detective story.
Chief Jerry Jack wasn't old in modern terms, and he was taking part in an inter-band race. I'm guessing he probably learned to canoe and kayak as soon as he could walk, if not sooner. The canoe turned over. I'm sure Chief Jerry Jack knew how to do an Indian roll or he wouldn't have survived to the age of 68. Of course, I'd like to think some supernatural force was involved.

In 2001, a male orca was separated from his pod and stranded off the west coast of Vancouver Island in Nootka Sound. The locals thought this was a female whale so called it Luna, but the First Nations band named it Tsux-iit. What's in a name? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot, but it symbolised the start of a tug-of-war over one Killer Whale.

The combined forces of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided that they should attempt to lead Luna back to his pod and set about trying to do so. The First Nations Band, of which Jerry Jack was a chief, had decided that Tsux-iit was the reincarnation of another chief of their band, Ambrose Maquinna, since Tsux-iit had turned up just three days after Tyee Ha'wilth Ambrose Maquinna had died, promising that he would return as a kakawin (orca).

And so began a war between Fisheries and Oceans Canada et alia and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht band. DFO tried to lead Luna away, Mowachaht/Muchalaht nation got into their canoes and led Tsux-iit back. This went on for nine days, and then it seemed as though the superior technology of the Canadian-US 'rescuers' would prevail. The winds became so high that the First Nations canoists could not outrun the powerful motors of the ships. Luna was captured and put in a pen ready for transport.

The elders of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht told the band they must let Tsux-iit go, but to sing the paddle song of Tyee Ha'wilth Ambrose Maquinna to let the kakawin know that he was not alone. They stood and drummed and sang, proudly, tearfully, and the winds subsided and the sea grew still. The band took this as a sign and took to their canoes once more. As they did so, Tsux-iit escaped from his pen and was free again.

This was no story of two hard-headed sides trying to get their own way, here were two peoples who cared for the welfare of the animal but who had different views of what that should be. Each was willing to accept the judgement of Solomon for the good of the whale. The DFO backed off at this point and let the orca be.

Luna/Tsux-iit prospered in his new home, he ate salmon and played with boats like an juvenile male, ok, not so much the salmon-eating bit, but like any juvenile, he continued to call for his pod, so there was a sense of yearning that accompanied this physical well-being.

In March of this year, Luna/Tsux-iit was killed as he dove underneath a powerful tugboat with a six foot propeller. The crew were distraught, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht were distraught when they were given the news and they paddled out to the scene, not believing that Tsux-iit could be dead.

So, did Chief Jerry Jack go to his death to join Ambrose Maquinna? Was the death of the orca in some spiritual sense linked with the death of the Chief who had fought so hard to keep him in the bay?

I think that all one can really say is, let's hope to goodness that in the next couple of days, no more orca get separated from their pod and end up off the coast of VI.

Friday, 28 July 2006


I'm somewhat aeriated today. Yes, I know that aeriated isn't an actual word, it's a pretend word but one we actually use, and it means getting your knickers in a twist. It's one of those words like lehr that is used but never written down.
'Ooh, that's lehr that is,' is something kids would say all the time. Maybe it's spelt 'lair' or 'leer'.

Red herring.

The first thing I'm aeriated about is comparatively trivial, the TV prog 'Rockstar' is now starting to piss me off, because it's becoming clear that the band, Supernova, you remember, being sued by the already existing band Supernova, are merely puppets. Incidentally, Ben tells me that it actually does show in the UK, contrary to what I thought.

Now, we saw a show that had some of the finalists from Canada, out of whom just two were picked. There were some stonkingly good singers and performers among them. How then did the show end up with Zayra, an annoying person who can't actually sing in tune? Week in, week out, she gives us off-key renditions of all sorts of songs. Each week she is in the bottom three, each week she escapes relegation in spite of the fact that the band are now openly hostile to her. This week, when someone else was sent packing, someone who ultimately would never have fronted the band, but who was lightyears better than Zayra, the jaws of every one of the other contestants went 'clunk' to the floor. Someone is telling the lads not to fire her because she provides tension. She argues with the band. This week, after the most horribly screeched rendering of Blondie's 'Call me' wearing an electric blue shiny jumpsuit, they told her she needed to start a solo career, like, now. She turned to the audience and said,
'I think I was great, what did you think?'
Enough. She has to go.

On a far less trivial note, I utterly, utterly fail to see how any human being who calls themself a Christian and who lives freely in a democracy, can revile other human beings based on who they have sex with. It is just preposterous. Imagine Jesus Christ, the one we know through the Bible, not some other mangled by people's febrile imaginings and hatred version, being in Colorado Springs and being faced with this vicious bunch of self-righteous morons. That's what it comes down to. What seriously would Jesus, the person that this lot claim to follow the teachings of, say? If he were to say,
'Yep, we can't be having with this whole gays having the same rights as every other human being palaver,' then we'd have to say,
'Well, were you on crack when you were preaching that all people were equal in the eyes of the Lord or are you on crack now?'
Of course he wouldn't say that! (I point this out for the more literal minded of my friends) It would go against the whole message of his life. What these bozos are trying to do undermines everything he stood and died for. And that's the thing, they say they are doing it BECAUSE they are Christians. If they came out and said,
'Ok, we're Nazis, we follow the teachings of Hitler,' at least that would be honest and wouldn't dishonour the faith of real believers.

Perhaps all of this might be one reason why the United States doesn't feature in the list of top ten countries where people are happiest. Britain doesn't either incidentally, but six of the top ten are European countries. Canada is number ten. I think there is more work to be done on this study, because three, maybe four of those European countries (I'm not sure about Iceland) are those heavily socialised Scandinavian countries I'm always praising, thus, could be of global use to have this phenomenon looked at more carefully.

And yet, in spite of being the tenth happiest country, Canada doesn't feature at all in the Daily Mail's look at where 4.5 million Brits are spread around the globe. Their journalism is none too accurate, 4.5 million becomes 'nearly five million' in the opening sentence. However, what is not to forget is that this is the Daily Nazi, rabbid, mouth-frothing right wing. I'm surprised the article doesn't suggest that we ex-pats should rise up and stage a British Empire coup from wherever we are living, waving our Union Flags and chanting, 'God Bless the Daily Mail.' Oddly, NONE of the countries mentioned by the Nazi are on the list of top ten happiness places.
What I fear is that Britain is actually exporting Daily Mail readers to Colorado Springs where they can happily pursue their divine right to hate everyone apart from themselves.

Thanks Simmi for both the Daily Nazi and the Independent articles. The picture by the way is neither Norman nor Sherman but Fanny the Wonder Dog, sadly now deceased, but beloved of all Julian Clary fans, of which I am one.

Thursday, 27 July 2006


Verlaine, ah, Verlaine, je pense à toi. I don't know why. Those French poets, they just live inside my head and pop up unexpectedly sometimes.
Verlaine fell out with his lover Rimbaud, not of course to be confused with Rambo, which in its turn is not to be confused with Rumba. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Verlaine was a little too fond of the absinthe, ah maybe that's why I thought of him - I won't explain that and only one person will understand it, anyway, that same Absinthe that was so beautifully portrayed by Kylie Minogue, 'lovely little Kylie' as Dame Edna is wont to say, frankly about the only engaging thing in that whole bloody film, although I know a lot of people worship 'Moulin Rouge' and I feel like a traitor for even daring to suggest that something the demigod Ewan was in was less than celestial, incidentally I saw 'The Libertine' recently and I found that less than celestial too, in spite of having dear, dear Johnny in it, el Deppo of course, interesting historical figure he was playing but ah, you can have too much of an evil disgusting thing, anyhoo, Verlaine, in his absinthatious state, insisted on shooting poor Rimbaud in the wrist, the bugger, oh well, quite literally I suppose, and of course he got sent to prison where he wrote some of his most sublime poetry, looking out wistfully, should have been wristfully, just as I have just been, I fancied a great thunderstorm was upon us, deeply envious of the expected thunderstorms in England, but no, bang on ten, pardon the pun, fireworks out in English Bay, so looking out through the bars of his cell, him, not me, perhaps the cells of his brain contracting through lack of the green fairy, but then when he got out he must have been straight back on it, tried to strangle his mother,
'quel ciel triste, piste, où va le pâle sourire de la lune, qui me regarde écrire,' was that Verlaine? no, no, Apollinaire I think, Guillaume, ha, funny, Guillaume Apollinaire, but really he was half Polish, had quite a different name, what did his friends call him? Krosto or something, Kostro, that was it, where was that article Simmi sent me about the Polish couple who threw their St Bernard dog out of the window, that was bizarre, pregnant wife off her head with booze, and the husband, threw the dog out of the window, hit a poor bloody passer-by, that's not how I think of Poles, I can imagine someone in Pompey doing that, but Poland, that's not the stereotype of poles that I have inside my head, hard working my imaginary Poles are, yeah, that was odd this morning, seeing that drunken Chinese guy, I was thinking, 'that's not right, Chinese are all clean-living, hard working,' then I remembered the triads, guess they're not so clean living, but then maybe this guy wasn't drunk, I used to live next door to a woman who had vertigo, no, next-door-but one, anyway, real vertigo, not the psychological one, the disease, she was always getting dirty looks from people because she looked drunk all the time, no mattter, then this guy, he sees another Chinese guy, and says, 'Holà!' so maybe he wasn't even Chinese, although the Chinese kids I used to teach were always incredibly hard working, could see the benefit of learning languages, always, always, or do I just reconstruct all my stereotypes inside my head to fit in with the great protestant work ethic? Could be, could be, where did it go? How did I become such a lotus eater? 'Arbeit macht frei', too right, it sure does, who said that ? Oh yeah, Hitler, not so good, that little Austrian, Austria - beautiful, Austrians, too right-wing, except Karen says her friend's Austrian husband isn't, not at all, not at all Austrian, no, that's not right, not at all right-wing, stereotypes, jeez, must stop that, so Verlaine, symbolism, influenced by Baudelaire, Baudelaire, 'les fleurs du mal', divine, divine, flowers of evil, how great was that man's artistry, skilful handling of the French language, cut, shape, tease, twist. And Verlaine, and Apollinaire, and Rimbaud, all of them, in their drugs and drink they take it and shape it, make something beautiful from it, add to their own language, enrich it, make it greater than it was.....

Yeah so now you've seen inside my head, that's how it comes out, like a garbage chute but punctuated. James Joyce didn't use any punctuation in the last chapter of the incomprehensible yet worshipped Ulysses. What's that about?

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

One toe in

Over the past couple of days I have been making the acquaintance of Canadian Health Care.
My friend Anne is in hospital recovering from surgery and I have now visited a couple of times and my son Ben has had to see a doctor who sent him for a test.

Canada has a National Health Service but it is structured slightly differently from ours in Britain. As ever, Canadian friends feel free to correct me on details. All Canadians have free cover, but those in employment and whose employer provides a scheme, are able to use a wider range of services. If you do have such a scheme then you are registered through that. I haven't explained this very well, but if I compare this with what sometimes happens in Britain it may become clearer.
In Britain some employers have private health care schemes that they give as a perk to their employees, and I believe it is then taxed as a perk. In Britain, you have a National Health Service number as a matter of course, ie being born or becoming a resident. Your private scheme is quite separate from the NHS. Here, the two schemes seem to overlap and blend together.

In both countries, emergency treatment is through the National Health Service. In Britain there is NHS and there is private and the two don't really overlap, in Canada the private insurance seems to provide a premium service in the way that some of the charter airlines have a premium cabin on their flights and things are a little more polished and less cattle-like.

Thus, although we have had to pay for Ben's medical stuff - I can claim it off his travel insurance - we are using exactly the same facilities as anyone using the Canadian NHS.
Ben alerted us on Sunday night that he needed to see a doctor. On Monday morning we walked into a clinic, there was one other patient waiting to be seen, and he had a consultation, this morning we have been to a radiology clinic and had an ultrasound, even though this was deemed not to be an emergency by the doctor. I can only guess at what the time scale for any of this would be in Britain, but I'm certain that he wouldn't have seen a doctor yet.

The other thing that rather surprised me was the travelling. Ben's appointment was at 8.30 in Vancouver, so driving into the Province's to-all-intents-and-purposes capital city during rush hour, I decided to take a London approach to this. We left here at 7.15, thinking we would be stuck in solid traffic, moving along in first gear, then having to find the clinic, then looking for parking.

Wrong, oh so delightfully wrong. We were parked outside the place by twenty to eight, even after the additional five to ten minutes looking around for the office.
We were too early for most things to even be open, although we discovered a Macdonald's serving brekkie to the type of people who have brekkie at Macdonald's. Oddly, these didn't seem to be the kind of people who eat there on the ads. No business suits, although to be fair, several of the customers were able to walk straight.

Ben it turns out, is fine, although it was never something we could leave until his return to England.

My friend Anne is doing well, and Vancouver General Hospital seems rather fine in comparison to any British hospitals I have visited, and I have visited one or two over the years of my parents' illnesses.

I don't want to pass judgement, I have really only stuck my toe in the water, whereas I have had years of swimming in the British NHS sea and there are certainly things about it that I believe we can be very proud of. Midwifery for one and the computerised system of record-keeping another.

This evening, Kevin and Ben are going to Stanley Park to see the Raconteurs. One of the members of this band was part of the White Stripes and they are getting a lot of press. I have a feeling that Kevin and Ben's journey may not be as easy as ours this morning. Apart from anything else, it is the first night of the Festival of Light - the city's annual firework festival, which is just stunning, but ensures that hundreds of thousands of extra people are going into town.

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Through a glass darkly

Just before the sun's rays woke me this morning I dreamt that I was messing around with candles, but not very carefully so that I realised the wax had gone in my eyes. I couldn't see properly, just puddles of colour. I feared the candles may have set fire to things around them whilst I was unable to make out where one ended and the next began. On waking, my first thought was, 'That was how it must be to have cataracts.'

Our eyes let the world in and so they can also imprison us. The dream made me imagine the panic of suddenly realising that that faculty had gone. It's easy to be blasé. I'm short-sighted and for so long that I have become used to it, see the benefits in it. After all, sometimes it's useful to see the world out of focus.
I discovered even at school, that when addressing a large body of people, it was easier if you couldn't see them clearly. But if the option isn't there, that's different Ma'am, scary.

Then there is the impact of light. Without it no-one would be able to see. There is a line from the poem 'McCavity the mystery cat' that has stuck with me since school days.
'And every cat in the twilight's grey, every possible cat.' A fine line, so many things that can go wrong and suddenly trap us in our physical world instead of allowing us to freely enjoy it. Without the light, everything is blurred, shadowy, grey.

And as with the physical, so with the intellectual. Plato's people, us, sitting in our cave experiencing the world as shadows cast on the back of the cave, until one day someone breaks free of the cave and discovers the real world that is casting those shadows. The people back in the cave will not believe her when she comes back to share her new-found knowledge. Why should they? To Plato this is because the one who returns to the cave is the philosopher, bringer of knowledge and wisdom.
To me it's someone with just another veil, language and personal experience. Those trapped in the cave at least experience the shadows for themselves. The philosopher tries to explain what she or he alone has experienced and with mere words.

It always comes back to words. I always come back to words. Right now I'm hopping off this lily-pad, I'll be able to find it again, it's such a familiar one.

Today is Austen's birthday and for the first time that I can remember, I can't even ring him to wish him a happy one. Austen and his family are in Glastonbury. Although the word is synonymous with the music festival, to us Brits it is also a place of mysticism. Actually, the west in general is pretty mystical. If you think of that big bulge at the bottom of England, go east and you come to an area of the highest UFO sightings in the country, follow a ley line to the west and you come to places of the most ancient mystery.

The Tor is a place of feminine power. There are levels, a path that winds around the Tor up to the summit. Women walk those levels on days of spiritual power such as Beltain and Samhain. People in general walk them whenever they are there.

Today was also my friend's dad's birthday. I know he's still around. I'm going to wish both a Happy Birthday knowing that there are veils that hinder communication with both today, but having faith that both will just know we're thinking about them.

Monday, 24 July 2006


No, not sago, the least delicious of all the comfort puddings. Ségolène Royal, affectionately referred to by her countryfolk as 'Ségo', is one of the possible candidates to become the next President of France.

I feel that you have to be an exceptional woman to even register on the radar in politics, to even be in the Presidential race in macho France is stellar. In my opinion, French women often enable Frenchmen to continue being sexist, so I cannot but admire a woman who has caught the public's eye.

An article in this Sunday's 'Observer' however, caught my eye for another reason. It was interesting, it was informative, but as the article got going it made mention several times of how sexy Mme. Royal is. (It also irritated the hell out of me for utterly failing to put any accents on her name, but that's a whole other rant).

Why? Why is this even appropriate to mention? Does anyone comment on the sexual attractiveness of Sarkozy and de Villepin? Not when I have been reading. Does a woman have to be conventionally attractive to hold a high office in a State? Angela Merkel is surprising her critics by doing a good job in difficult circumstances. I'm not sure that Andrew Hussey would find her attractive, and in many ways she does women a great service by not toeing that particular line. Hillary Clinton has had to pretty up to be taken seriously in politics. Anaconda Rice or whatever her name is could certainly be less waxed and polished.

I find it a very insidious message to be honest. On the one hand, Hussey is praising her, on the other his praise runs like this,
"'s also easy to see how much of Royal's power is sexual. She is flirtatious, stylish and feminine in equal measure."
So how much of the praise that Hussey is heaping is real ? Is this the toadying that we expect about many pretty but sub standard women actors? Is Ségo really as good as they say or is it coloured by rose-tint? As I said, I'm more willing to believe that a woman has to be phenomenal to make it that far, but when journos open up this can of worms she will be judged later by the same.
'Oh,' they will say, 'of course she has done well, but that is because she is so lovely that everyone wishes to please her,'
'Oh, what a disaster, but what can you expect, she only came to power because of her looks.'

I tried to crane my neck and look at it from a different angle, which woman would I be happy to see in power in Britain? And of course I allow myself to appoint actors as well as politicians, although one of my picks, Glenda Jackson, is both.
Certainly Margaret Beckett would be on my list, perhaps not seen as having outstanding leadership skills, but you never know what might be brought out if she were given that responsibility and she has always been a damn fine minister.
Helen Mirren of course, even Dame Judi, though you may remember she caused me to frown with her recent 'Mrs Henderson' film. I wouldn't want Ruth Kelly, I've never quite understood why she gained portfolio in the first place.

My absolute top pick for today's Britain on the world stage would be Miriam Margolys. She looks as though she could run the planet in a wise mother sort of way. She has an infectious laugh and she is extremely intelligent. Maybe I should have put that first.

What of our beautiful young starlets? Yes, really, they would have to each have another twenty to thirty years under their belts to make it into my list, but given that, then I'd let in Kate Winslet, she is beautiful, clever and educated. I might even have Kate Beckinsale, after all, no-one can kick vampire and werewolf arse like she can, a damn vital skill for a Head of State.
But Keira Knightley ? I think not. I'm no fortune-teller, but I somehow can't imagine her ever being up to the task.

I would like to see Ségo have her opportunity to preside. I would be happy to see her meeting with Kanzlerin Merkel enhancing the female perspective in Europe. But I really don't care whether she sets a journo's boxers on fire. I'd just like to see more of a balance of power.

Sunday, 23 July 2006


There is a bit of a breeze today, what a blessed relief. The tomato forest is liking this weather though, as are the peppers and the basil.
The 'bit of a breeze' over in Illinois however seems to be arriving in the form of tornadoes, I can see that might be a touche more worrying. Much of the area where my friend lives is suffering from power outages. Widespread loss of power is more than just an inconvenience, my friend was unable to put petrol in the car on her way home from work. With the distances involved here in North America and the lack of public transport - some of which relies on electricity anyway - that can be quite scary.

In the comments to yesterday's blog, Karen confessed to multiple killings and the RCMP have been alerted of course, but she also mentioned the phenomenon of tempers fraying leading to violent crime in this kind of weather. I have read about this happening in New York and some of the larger inner cities in Britain, and yet it is surely not totally explicable by the weather.

I have mentioned before that I used to live next door to a family from Trinidad. Canadians and Brits have all seen those TV ads for Malibu where West Indians try to get more serious about selling melons or using mobile phones and so on. I have no idea whether the ads show on TV in the States, but friends down south can see them here if interested. But the stereotype of the laid-back West Indian is one that I recognise almost intact from my ex-neighbours. Firstly, as often happens with groups of ex-pats, other Trinidadians would visit very regularly, but secondly, they really were amazingly chilled - quite literally for most of the year since the weather was always way too cold for them. Warmer weather just made them more relaxed and amiable than ever. The hotter it got the more hospitable they became.

Today Alex, Lou and Hazel go back to the UK. Starbucks and Tim Horton's will experience a noticeable drop in sales. I will certainly miss my girl, but she now needs to get stuck in to working and saving some money before uni starts at the end of September.

So my life tilts. Having had three girls in the house has given it a more feminine shift, from this evening there will be more males in the house than females, well, just me in fact. Later this month when Laurence arrives, even more so. And yet, and yet...with all those tomatoes out on the deck producing fruit perhaps the balance is maintained after all.

My friend Karen told me on the phone yesterday to 'dumb down' my blog or to at least add footnotes, she was sure that construction workers read it. I'm not sure that construction workers necessarily need things to be dumbed down, but just for Karen, I've glossarised some of the more difficult words.

Tomato : a vegetable*, eaten heavily disguised in pizzas, you may even have eaten one.
Feminine : lesbian** but without the sex (necessarily)
Weather : main subject of conversation for all Brits and Canucks.
Public Transport : a mythical system of getting large numbers of people around.
Malibu : coconuty*** bliss in a bottle although drunk mainly by footballers' wives.
Starbuck : one of the lead characters in 'Battlestar Galactica', the straight woman's female crush.

*Technically a tomato is a fruit
**Not to be confused with Lebanon
***I have no real idea how to spell 'coconuty', maybe it should be 'coconutty' like 'nutty' but..that just doesn't look right. The OED online is no help, no help at all.

Saturday, 22 July 2006


Holy mackerel it's hot. Tipped to reach 36° today, UV index of 5, so minutes of grace before you burn baby burn. Despite my best efforts, my arms are starting to look like the advert for Boots (I think) skin products that shows skin damage. Or a crocodile's skin, depending on your angle.

The UK have been suffering longer, my friend Ree in Illinois has been suffering longer, but the last couple of days, we have been up in the thirties too. So, Europe, the US and Canada, I think that constitutes global warming.

Yesterday my friend Yvonne and I went to visit our other friend Anne in hospital. Yvonne has air conditioning in her car, the hospital was also cool, so when we came back here and I asked her in for coffee, it was as though we were met by a wall of heat as we stepped into the house. And that was with all the windows open and the ceiling and floor standing fans going.

When we went to the Okanagan a few weeks ago, there was air conditioning in the rooms, so it was lovely to get out of the heat, but it made the most incredible noise all night, so it seems like you either get kept awake by the heat or the noise. Ah Nytol, the lightweight's drug of choice.

David Adam, the Guardian's environment correspondent, paints a scary picture for us about the implications of global warming for Britain. Still, marginally less awful than being stuck on a weird seacraft with Kevin Costner, but what can you do ? Well, I think the answer to that for Kevin and me is for us to move to Nanavut. Looks like the climate there will soon be like it is here now, perhaps a little less tropical.

In other news, and I realise what risk I take by mentioning this, but I always feel very saddened as I did in the UK whenever a police officer is killed in the line of duty. Two RCMP officers were shot recently when they went to check out a report of domestic violence. A man was assulting his own sister during the course of a fight they were having, the RCMP officers attempted to arrest him but he took off in his truck. When they finally cornered the guy, he shot them both. The female officer, Robin Cameron, was a single parent of an 11 year-old girl, the male officer, father of a nine-month old baby who will grow up without his dad.
Oddly, my take on this is NOT that we shouldn't have police officers, far from it, and I have no answer.
I have no idea whether tougher sentences for criminals has a deterrent effect. I am certainly not in favour of having the death penalty restored, hell, I have no idea whether they ever had it in Canada in the first place. I'm fairly sure that in the American States where it remains, there is no less risk to the lives of police officers.
There are severe restrictions here on the use of weapons by police officers and this, as in the UK where the boys and girls in blue are not armed at all, may have a very significant effect on overall numbers of police killed in the line of duty.
I think it may be interesting to have a comparison with heavily socialised countries like Scandinavia where taxes are high so that everyone in the country is well looked after.

Perhaps, as with everything, the answer lies in the way we educate people, maybe more personal education is needed, and at a much younger age. We are an advanced enough society to do that. Britain in the past few years has joined many of its mainland European partners in putting Citizenship on the school curriculum.

Whatever the answer is, we need to find ways of protecting those who protect us. Hell, even a conservative could appreciate that, a Mountie more than any other police officer I've ever heard of is a valuable commodity in the monetary sense. There is a lot of training and even the selection process is long and hard. Since I've been here I've met or heard of far more good people who haven't quite made it into the RCMP than those who have.
When the report says two good people down, they ain't kidding.

Friday, 21 July 2006


The meanings of some words are quite straightforward, table for example, most English speakers, in spite of all having pictures of different tables in their heads, will understand the meaning if the word is put in context. 'I eat at the table' or 'the table will give you the results.' Different types of table, but put in context...

Some words change their meanings according to the culture as I have found since being in Canada, for example, to us English, a pillow is what we sleep on, to Canadians it is also what we would call a cushion on the sofa.

Then there are words that describe an abstract concept such as Humanity, Justice, Art. One such word that our Renaissance French lecturer spent some time trying to put over to us, was the idea of 'La Poétique'. It doesn't mean poetry itself, nor does it mean poetic, the adjective. La Poétique is the essence of poetry, that which underlies it and makes it poetry and which can be found in other things, but only if you have grasped what it is.

One small strand of Sartre's Existentialism is concerned with the way we define our world with words, and in this way we change the way we perceive the world. We use words to impose boundaries on what we see, Sartre gives us the example of looking at the root of a tree. We give it the name 'root' and thus we see it as something separate from but connected to the tree. We could have not chosen to name it and we would have then simply perceived the tree as a whole.

The naming of things cause all kinds of problems because of the way it influences perception. Do we call our god God, or Allah or Jehovah ...? Do we see what we want to see because the name itself comes with a whole definition? Perhaps.

But it's that little word poetic that I wanted to come back to. Not the French one, the English adjective. Interesting how a word can come to mean something so far removed from its original meaning. When something is poetic, it might actually be just that - poetic, or we might mean it in the sense of poetic justice. Depends on the context.

In general, I'm not feeling full-on sympathy for those bleating at their respective governments for not rescuing them quickly enough from Lebanon. The governments of Britain, Canada, the US are all there, evacuating them, just apparently not quickly enough. I felt full-on sympathy for people trapped in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, because it seemed like a perfectly good place to go on holiday. But Beirut, well, for the past thirty years, the name has been synonymous with destruction and conflict. I do of course acknowledge that some people are there working, but some - are just there.

But when you are a muslim cleric, I shall not type his name because to name him is to give him some kind of credibility, who publicly praises the atrocities of 11/09/01 and organises violence against Danish embassies because of a bit of humour, and then when you hot foot it out of Britain before you are put away and you decide to go to Lebanon, to then whinge at the British government that they won't rescue you from said new country and take you on a Naval ship back to dear old blighty, well, there isn't even a word for that amount of cheek.
But the British Navy's refusal to allow him on the evacuation ship, that, THAT is poetic.

Thursday, 20 July 2006


The Benjamin of my tribe finally walked into arrivals at YVR yesterday at something like 16.00, sans baggage. Hmmm. He had waited until his flight's carousel had been picked clean and then was told by some helpful person to find his airline's desk. This turned out to be like one of those chocolate orange TV ads. An almost impossible task since Zoom do not actually have their own desk at YVR, however we did succeed in tracking down one very nice gentleman who had the task of dealing with ten different charter companies. So he was our chocolate orange and when we had done all the Indiana Jones stuff to find him, he in his turn found Ben's luggage. Sorted.

Meanwhile, over in Britain, well, that's not entirely accurate because it doesn't include Scotland, but in general, the school year is about to grind to an unnecessarily tardy close.
Throughout the temperatures of 30 plus, teachers have been giving way, oh so way more than their pound of flesh before finally collapsing in a heap for five to six weeks. Oh yes, it's the five to six weeks 'holiday' that the general public focus on. Has seemed odd to me that teacher recruitment has been low for a number of years now, you'd think teacher training would be the number one pick for lazy graduates.

Often, at this time of year, you can hear some wheezing whinge from the right wing press and their lackeys about how it's time to reform the school year, after all, wasn't it created like this so that children were out in the fields to help bring in the harvest? Now, the argument goes, that child labour laws and mechanisation in the agricultural industry have removed that need, we should be making the school year longer, or smarter or something. The five term year is the most fashionable paradigm.

Well...teachers aren't the only stakeholders in education. As the school year stands at the moment, many parents seem incapable of taking their holidays during the six week summer period, so I cannot imagine how they would cope with little slots every ten weeks.
Education is steadily disrupted by a stream of kids being taken out of class from late September through to the end of November, and then it starts up again around Easter. And maybe a little ski-ing flurry in February.
Er... I should point out that Ben is here because he has finished school, not because I am one of those parents springing him early.

I was in the middle of slagging the right wing press as usual, when I received this link from Simmi, it's a corker:)

In my LGBT slot, Simmi had also sent me this interesting article from Planetout, comparing North American airlines for LGBT friendliness. Our own Air Canuck comes third, although as I said to Simmi, the fact that they are even included is something that gives kudos to Planetout itself. I would expect commercial airlines to be quite LGBT aware. It may seem a bit of a stereotype that all male air crew are gay, not only because of Alan Cummin's half of the comic air crew in 'The High Life', but speaking as someone who spends her fair share of time on aircraft, many of them are quite camp and again, speaking as a frequent air traveller, frankly - I like that. Simmi tells me that they're doing European carriers soon.

On the F-word blog yesterday, Jess McCabe pointed out that Manchester, yes, the city not the football teams, are charging a fee of £50 to everyone participating in this year's Pride march. It seems quite outrageous to me - no pun intended, seriously - when I think of the cost to the public of policing football matches and also of the money made by the city and its commerce and merchants because of Pride, well, apologies, but they're taking the piss.

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Waiting game

There's some variant of Sod's law that governs my son Ben and air travel. Last year his flight from Gatwick - charters generally fly from Gatwick, the London airport that is nowhere near London - was changed to Stanstead - London's joke airport. Now Gatwick is easily doable by train, Stanstead is a bugger to get to by any means although the airline were willing to meet people at Gatwick and shuttle them.
When his dad finally got him there, he was told that the passengers were all being taken up to Manchester, because that's where the plane was. When they got to Manchester they waited and waited and were then all put in an hotel for the night. Ben finally arrived after a 24 hour delay.

I was supposed to be meeting Ben at YVR this morning at 9.35. But he was delivered to Gatwick - remember London's airport that...yep, anyway, by Matt, his sister's boyfriend. The flight had been changed from it's original time of something sensible o'clock to 5 am. Very droll. Matt got him there for check-in at 3. He then had to wait until in fact 11 when the flight took off because there was an unforeseen delay. We don't yet know what caused that. He also of course has to clear immigration today, so.... watch this space.

The girls meanwhile have gone off to Vancouver island. I took them to Tsawassen this morning to catch the ferry at far-too-early o'clock, though of course in the middle of rush hour so that Simmi's tortoise could have crawled to the George Massey tunnel more quickly than we did.

Ah well. Britain is due some rain but we're due some serious hell-like temperatures at the weekend. I do like a good thunderstorm, me, but they are in short supply here sadly.

Blah! As the girls would say.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Happy Holly-day

Today is Holly's second birthday. Beautiful, clever, happy Holly. She had her little friends and cousins round to celebrate on Sunday. Sue's cake was all eaten by the end of it, which, I agree with Austen on this, has to be something for the record books, birthday cake that gets eaten. No, I'm sure it's not just me, I know that I'm not a cake fan, but birthday cake, like Christmas cake, generally remains after the party, long, long after the party.

It seems impossible that she is two already, this new person. And yet how much of a person she is already at two. She has her own way of doing things, her likes and dislikes, favourite shoes, toys, dresses, things to do. How she relates to people is already there. She loves Alex, if Alex is there everyone else but her mum and dad are eclipsed. She will grow taller and cleverer. Her future will be coloured by memories she is creating now. The trees in the garden, her times with her mum and all the things they do together during the day, and being hugged into her dad's big arms when he comes home from work in the evening.
Her experience of having a new brother and helping her mum look after him. All the uncles and aunts and her grandad. The nan that comes and goes from time to time.
Different scents and sounds that will come back to her later as half memories.

She already knows what she likes to eat and some of that will change and some will remain with her forever.
Her mum and dad take her to Church on a Sunday and those memories of incense and words and peace will remain with her whether she rejects or embraces them.

But most of all, all of Holly's life will have a blanket of the incredible love that surrounds her and that itself will enable her to love.

ADDENDUM : Congratulations to my friend Di too, who I just found out has a granddaughter born today! Congrats Adam and Cheryl :)) (And especially to Di because she had to put all the hard work in beforehand;)

Monday, 17 July 2006

Daisy chains

My sources tell me that it is currently too darn hot in the south of England. Here au Canada at least à l'ouest, it has been pleasantly warm and I for one would be a happy bunny if'n it didn't get any warmer.

Yesterday I spent a happy afternoon and evening chained to my computer, which I really rather like, finishing up a couple of tasks. Around me things continued and changed, the sun moved overhead then sank into the west, Kevin took the girls to the Mall, collected them and then barbecued for us. Later in the evening they watched 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' which is one hell of a loud film, and we watched 'The Motorcycle Diaries' which isn't particularly.

On Netdoctor this morning, I see that next to each other are the usual conflicting messages about weight. On the one hand, girls who are overweight when young may die earlier, on the other, there is a pre-emptive loss of weight in women who go on to develop dementia. Beware the Ides. It certainly isn't suggesting that you should avoid losing weight in later life, but rather that if your weight is taking an unexpected downward trend in later life, then it could be signalling trouble.
I can foresee the day when instead of leaping like a startled small furry animal everytime the words 'die younger' appear, we might look at the article with renewed interest.
'Ooh, die younger,' we might say, 'that'll save a lot of misery later.' Let's face it, if the weight loss were actually causal in dementia, who wouldn't take the weight gain in earlier life and avoid the madness? Yeah, ok, I KNOW I'm torturing this one to my will, but it's one of the ways of avoiding dementia.

In other news, now inappropriately blonde Avril Lavigne has married someone called Deryck Whibley. How wrong is that? In the first place, Derick in any of its spellings is not a name for a man under the age of 60, and in the even more first place, it's pretty obvious that Deryck Whibley is a thinly disguised form of the name Dwayne Dibley, the ultra geeky alter-ego of the Cat in Red Dwarf. Just check out the photo and you'll see that it is indeed Dwayne Dibley. Avril had better hope he turns back into the über cool Cat.

Canadians are being warned not to travel to the Lebanon under any circumstances. Phew, thank goodness someone mentioned that, because it's not something you can work out for yourself.

In Britain, the Teaching union NASUWT is calling for teachers who are members of the British National Party to be banned from teaching.
I dunno.
Simmi gave me the heads up on this one a couple of days ago, a teacher working in a pupil referral unit has been given classes that only contain white kids which has sparked a lot of controversy. Ten percent of the kids in the PRU are non-white.
It seems to me that if the British National Party with its stated racist aims is allowed to legally exist in the country, then you can't just decide to ban their members from doing any job. It's like the preposterous old argument, fortunately long since died an official death, that homosexual men shouldn't teach because every gay guy is a kiddie-fiddler. What pure garbage from people who can't deal with their own prejudices and or sexuality.
I don't like the idea of the BNP and I think that its tenets are unconstitutional, but it doesn't automatically mean that their members carry their political ideals into the classroom. I have known several teachers who were members of the communist party and they managed to teach very effectively indeed without proclaiming Marxism at every moment. Likewise people's religious persuasions.

Maybe it's just the heat talking - again.

Sunday, 16 July 2006


I'm having a bit of difficulty getting my head around this particular case. Simmi had sent me a link to a website that spoofs up real news stories. Simmi's comment to me was along the lines that my beloved Tony was suffering a bit of heat stroke (not quite what she said, but a more blog-friendly version:)

It seems that the UK has extradited three bankers to the US. They have been charged with some kind of fraud against the NatWest bank in the UK, but they have been handed over to the US under some kind of treaty which Deadbrain tell us has been ratified only by the UK and is designed to deal with terrorists.
I thought the article was amusing but didn't think too deeply about the plight of another bunch of rich blokes who have potentially defrauded another major organisation that makes money out of everyone's money. I think I suggested that it might be an interesting use of Guatanamo Bay before it gets closed forever.

But then today's Observer made me think again. In fact it sent my brain into Kafka territory. Since the whole sorry tale has not drawn me in enough to notice until now, I've had to reverse engineer using the Grauniad's archives and thus I have many questions, feel free to leap in with answers if you HAVE been paying attention.

Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' starts like this,
"One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug."

Ok, so instead of that, you have to imagine that you already are a monstrous verminous bug because you are working in the kind of industry where that is an advantage, but that you and your two co-bugs wake up one morning in 2002 and discover that your life is about to take a turn for the Kafka-esque. Something you may or may not have done in 2000 has popped up to haunt you. It is unclear to me whether advising NatWest to sell their interest in an Enron company for less than it is worth results in you getting to keep the money, I suppose it must mean you made some money otherwise you wouldn't have done it.

I wonder if they felt like K in 'The Trial'

"SOMEONE must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning. His landlady's cook, who always brought him his breakfast at eight o'clock, failed to appear on this occasion."

It seems unclear, or at least without spending more than one decaf's worth of time looking I can't find out, what happened between 2002 and 2004 when a court ruled that they could indeed be sent to the States for trial.

Maybe there was a bit more Metamorphosis,
""What's happened to me," he thought. It was no dream. His room, a proper room for a human being, only somewhat too small, lay quietly between the four well-known walls....Gregor's glance then turned to the window. The dreary weather—the rain drops were falling audibly down on the metal window ledge—made him quite melancholy. "Why don't I keep sleeping for a little while longer and forget all this foolishness," he thought."

They most certainly must have wondered how they were now in some kind of prevention of terrorism-type scenario. Back to the Trial, might this kind of thing have run through their heads....

""You can't go out, you are arrested.""So it seems," said K."But what for?" he added. "We are not authorized to tell you that. Go to your room and wait there. Proceedings have been instituted against you, and you will be informed of everything in due course. I am exceeding my instructions in speaking freely to you like this. But I hope nobody hears me except Franz, and he himself has been too free with you, against his express instructions. If you continue to have as good luck as you have had in the choice of your warders, then you can be confident of the final result." "

Then in 2006 they actually get sent to the States where now the full absurdity becomes bitter reality.

Metamorphosis again,
"But to continue was difficult, particularly because he was so unusually wide. He needed arms and hands to push himself upright. Instead of these, however, he had only many small limbs which were incessantly moving with very different motions and which, in addition, he was unable to control. If he wanted to bend one of them, then it was the first to extend itself, and if he finally succeeded doing what he wanted with this limb, in the meantime all the others, as if left free, moved around in an excessively painful agitation. "But I must not stay in bed uselessly," said Gregor to himself."

Sent to the States, having to support themselves but without being able to work, having to sleep on the floor of your attorney's appartment and unable to go back to Britain where the evidence and your means of making a living are.

The Trial,
"They both examined his nightshirt and said that he would have to wear a less fancy shirt now, but that they would take charge of this one and the rest of his underwear and, if his case turned out well, restore them to him later. "Much better give these things to us than hand them over to the depot," they said, "for in the depot there's lots of thieving, and besides they sell everything there after a certain length of time, no matter whether your case is settled or not. And you never know how long these cases will last, especially these days. Of course you would get the money out of the depot in the long run, but in the first place the prices they pay you are always wretched, for they sell your things to the best briber, not the best bidder, and anyhow it's well known that money dwindles a lot if it passes from hand to hand from one year to another."

I wonder how it will end and how long it will carry on. If it takes another two years to prepare for trial it could end like Kafka's beetle.

"Early in the morning the cleaning woman came. In her sheer energy and haste she banged all the doors—in precisely the way people had already asked her to avoid—so much so that once she arrived a quiet sleep was no longer possible anywhere in the entire apartment.........She pulled open the door of the bedroom and yelled in a loud voice into the darkness, "Come and look. It's kicked the bucket. It's lying there, totally snuffed!"

Saturday, 15 July 2006

The Bard

Yes, I know, it's not a very good photo but it was high up and I had to bend back and annoy a whole bunch of people to take it, it's just that Alex and I both thought it looked like someone we know and love. Who happens to teach English. And actually it looks even more like his dad.

Enough! We went to the Bard on the Beach presentation of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. At first I thought it was a bit of a curate's egg, some bits utterly superb, other bits so. But it improved. I have to say that Puck was the MOST Puckish Puck I have ever seen. I'm sure if Will really does keep an eye on all productions of his works from on high - which is what I'd do if I were he - he'd be thinking,
'Yes!!! Yes, see,' (pointing) 'THAT'S what I meant with Puck, that's it!' only of course with a load of 'marries' and 'softs' in there.

Bottom was also excellent, the actor who played this part did it straightforwardly with an RP English accent, and perfectly well he did it too, but the comedy was non-stop, in fact all of the 'rude mechanicals' were well done. The fairies - mmm not sure, they were not very faery-like, more like clowns than fairies. They did play it comically too and I was half thinking, 'yeah, this is funny,' and half thinking, 'yeah, see proper faeries are more creepy, and I like that.'
Titania and Oberon were also good. Oberon had the most killer long coat I have ever seen. It was just beautiful. I want it.
Helena and Hermia were lame, which is a shame, and I was thinking to myself, so is this because the characters are lame or is it the actors? But then their opposite male numbers, Lysander and Demetrius are just as lame as characters but were well done in the play. It just needed to be taken outside the box a bit more.

The thing about the play itself though, is the worrying little tug-of-war between the faerie king and queen over the changeling child. I mean honestly - that's just bad-way creepy. That's so ... Michael Jackson. And then Oberon isn't punished for his mis-treatment of Titania. Why is that?

In contrast, if I haven't already sent you this link in an e-mail, please, please go and listen to Joss Wheedon's speech at this link. He keeps repeating the one question that journos always ask him,
'Why do you write such strong women characters?' and he keeps answering over and over giving ever more compelling reasons. He just tells it like it is and he just rocks.

On one of my other favourite blogs, 'Go fug yourself', sadly the ladies are not in agreement with me over the brilliance of 'Rockstar'. I on the other hand, am totally in agreement with them about Brooke Burke's stupid dress sense. Go figure. How can you be that beautiful and yet dress so fugly? Defies just about everything.

Friday, 14 July 2006

Le quatorze juillet

Something rare in France, a day off that has no connection to Saints. It seems to me that throughout my life, everytime I set foot on French soil without checking first, it's always a Saint's Day and thus France has closed up shop, like the famous quote from WC Fields,
'I went to Philadelphia once, but it was closed.' Just...substitute France obviously.

When I turned on TV5 this morning for the news, there was President Chirac talking with his hands to two journalists. One of the journos seemed more uncomfortable than the other. Both were men, just saying like.
Eventually the delayed news came on and we were able to see the Bastille Day celebrations on the Champs Elysées.

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. The underpinnings of the first republic, bought with the blood of their elite. Female military personnel sang,
'Allons enfants de la Patrié, le jour de Gloire est arrivé,
Contre nous de la Tyrannie, l'étandard sanglant est levé...' stirring stuff and accompanied by marching service men and women, tanks all rolling in synch and helicopters flying over.
And the Légion Etrangère. Yes, they still exist. And they looked étrange indeed. The French word for strange also means foreign, stranger - foreigner. Many of them wore long, full beards, Castro beards, ZZ Top beards. And their ceremonial dress is bizarre, it has a hint of the masonic, long leather apron, axe carried in one hand.

Being sent to join the foreign legion was always synonymous with being made to disappear and of a hard, disciplined life.
Arabian-looking gentlemen would pop-up in films and cartoon, even Belgian Hergé's Tintin would meet mysterious foreign legionnaires at moments of tension in the stories.

Joining the foreign legion in real life however, was a way of buying French nationality by spilling the blood of France's enemies, and of reprieving yourself if you were a petty criminal or a down and out. Human recycling.

The legionnaire's code of honour is arguably what sets them apart as such an exemplary fighting force and in the beginning bound together a bunch of such disparate people. It is based on honour, discipline, comradeship, courage and loyalty. A legionnaire must keep their body and weaponry in peak condition. Each mission is sacred and must be accomplished at all costs and you abandon neither wounded nor dead. The ultimate soldiers.

The French are a complex people. I feel that when you read a nation's literature you understand them better. You look inside their heads like looking at the workings inside a clock. But then is that an adequate way of knowing a people? Can we British be judged on Shakespeare and Chaucer, on Mallory, Gaskell, Austen, Bram Stoker, Kazuo Ishiguro? Pretty much, yes, I think so. I think maybe there is an extent to which we allow our literature to define us too.

On the other hand, I've read more French literature than most of the French people I know, but that doesn't make me more French than them.

One of my favourite French authors of all time was the Irish writer Samuel Beckett. He lived in France for a goodly part of his life and he wrote both in English and French, so I studied him as a French author but only ever saw performances of his work in English.

I could just ramble on forever, there is simply no end to my thoughts about things French, because so much of my knowledge about all kinds of stuff came to me through my study of French. I'll stop. It'll keep anyway.

Vive la France ! (And long may her hypermarkets provide us with wine,cheese and croissants)

Thursday, 13 July 2006


My least favourite category of TV programmes is Reality TV. I think if we got to the point where all TV was 'reality' I wouldn't bother with it at all.

But I would be lying. Last summer, Kevin and I watched what I guess would be a reality show, 'Rockstar'. I don't think that it is shown in Britain for some reason, which is bizarre, since I think of Britain as the home of rock.
Last year's premiss was that the Aussie group INXS was finally ready to replace Michael Hutchence and get back on the road. The good thing about this programme is that it attracts singers - or 'rockers' as the show calls them - who are already established, so the standard is very high. The down side of the programme is the annoying host who talks. I can't stand this time wasting. Does she talk about anything of any interest to anyone? Nope, not for one second, she simply repeats several times over what is about to happen. We the viewers are Kindergarten children, no, goldfish, unable to retain information for longer than six seconds.

I used to get annoyed at meetings because of the time-wasting aspect. The only place that grown-ups need to follow on a piece of paper what another grown-up is reading out loud is Church.
Likewise I understand that people only take in a quarter of the information they are given, thus a good teacher will repeat the same information in a different form four times during the course of a lecture. I don't think this applies to short statements such as 'one of our rockers will leave this evening' repeated in EXACTLY the same words.

This year, Rockstar is being reprised. The difference now is that the 'supergroup' who are selecting a front person didn't exist before. 'Supernova' is composed of three members of other bands, bass player from Metallica plus Tommy Lee and some other bloke.
INXS spoke with one voice, they knew who they were, what they needed. They ended up with JD Fortune, a Canadian. A bloke.

Supernova have no idea who they are. They are already being sued by another group called Supernova. They have to cope with Tommy Lee's ego.
I find that we have some artistic differences, 'we' meaning they and myself.

Last week, they sent someone packing because he chose to sing Duran Duran's 'This is Planet Earth'. Now, I know it's pretty much acceptable these days to think Duran Duran are naff, but I personally think this song is way better than some of the old dross they get given to sing. And this guy made it into a rock song. He did a fantastic job, brilliant rendition and voice but no, the curse of Simon le Bon meant he had to go. Well, ok lads, but you overlooked some far worse crimes.

On Tuesday they had a right old strop at one of the women, Jill, who has an amazing voice but is simply trying too hard and dressed up like Courtenay Love on one of her album covers to do a song from the same album. Well, she deserved that.
The guy they sent home last night was not bad at all, whilst overlooking a complete lame-arse girl from Puerta Rica who murdered a Kinks number - twice!

And this week saw two more deadly sins. One performer made a complete pig's ear of Creed's 'With Arms Wide Open'. The lead singer in Creed has the most incredible, deep, rich voice, but then so do some of the 'rockers' - there was just no need for this, it was gratuitous.

But the worst, the very worst, the crime that should have seen Vancouver's own Jenny something shipped over to England and sent to the Tower was her horrible, awful, pathetically incompetent treatment of Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love'. This is not a song that can be tampered with. There is only one Marc Almond. People need to fully comprehend that and not mess with his work.

And of course, as with every viewer of every reality show, I have picked my favourite. Dilana. She has unbelievable and yet unpretentious stage presence. She is theatrical without being self-conscious and her voice is simply incomparable, it's like purple smoke with silver edges.
Not only that, but she is able to arrange songs in a unique way. Her song for this week was 'Ring of Fire'. Think you shouldn't mess with that? Oh yes you should if you are as good as Dilana. Dilana made it more interesting than ever before. She is a binder of spells. You know what, this is how much faith I have in her, I would allow her to sing 'Tainted Love' and trust her to do it in a way that would honour the great Marc.

Of course she won't win. She's a she.

Last year it was blindingly obvious that every woman was on a hiding to nothing. Oh they paid lip service, but right from the get go we said, 'they'll never front their band with a woman.'
This time, the potential is there for 'Supernova' because they have no concept of who they are, to front their band with Dilana, and I'll take my non-existant hat off to them if they do, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

From Stanley Road to Stanley Park

Alex, Lou and Hazel all go to college in Woking, home of the famous Paul Weller of the Jam, hence the reference to Stanley Road. The sign that says Stanley Road still stands, a bit lonely, I think it has been kept because of the album, since it doesn't seem to denote an actual road anymore.

Yesterday the girls went to one of the beaches on the edge of Stanley Park, all of the beaches around Vancouver are breathtaking and that one was certainly no exception. Sadly, they got lost coming home due to a freak bus route change accident. The 410 bus no longer shuttles from New Westminster and back to Richmond Centre, it goes shooting off to Steveston and this is where they ended up. The bus driver got to the end of the route and turned the engine off. Then he turned to the girls, still sitting on the bus wondering what was going to happen now and said,
'So, got on the wrong bus then?' Hmmm...

I was a little bit ho-hum yesterday about a story on the CBC website about a man in Victoria on Vancouver Island who bit a police dog. See I'm not convinced that the sentiments in this story are necessarily that tongue-in-cheek. Now I would consider myself to be fairly canine-friendly, I couldn't eat more than one at a time but I like the critters. However the idea that there could be any circumstances where a person, being restrained or attacked by a police dog should be expected to treat that dog as though it were an officer of the law seems ludicrous. Of course I don't believe in cruelty to animals, it worries me a lot, but the bottom line is, if a carnivorous animal, highly trained or otherwise is trying to savage you, any other animal is going to fight back with whatever means they have, it's just instinct.

I don't want to get too het up over this, as it is the man was charged with all of the criminal actions he did do and the law doesn't allow at present for any charges with regard to the dog or the biting of it. I can think of more important things that need to be dealt with in law.

Still on the subject of 'nos amis les bêtes', the girls had asked me whether they would see a bear when they were over here. I told them they needed to hope not, but clearly they found one.
This isn't supposed to be a polar bear, but one of the 'Spirit Bears' that are around Vancouver at the moment. Spirit bears are real but rare white bears that can be glimpsed occasionally on some of the gulf islands. I think I'm right about that, but open to correction.
Why Alex is looking so glum in this picture remains a mystery, although a rather cheeky seagull did come down and steal the ziplock bag containing Hazel's dal.
The whole vegan thing has been a bit of an eye-opener for me. For example, yesterday I put out some Naan to go with their curry, thinking it must be vegan, but it turns out it is made with yoghurt. Now that is fair enough, that's what naan is, bread made with yoghurt. More annoying are the little things that seem to be more thoughtless than anything else.
I was using a Sharwood's sauce and the only thing on the bottle that stopped it being vegan was lactic acid. It seems as though that could have been easily replaced by something else meaning that vegans could eat it as well, thus just lazy thinking on their part.

Ah well, animals, you gotta love 'em, you don't HAVE to eat 'em but you can if you want. Could murder some bacon and eggs myself.

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Local Day

What Tony Blair fails to realise ('comments', 'Full House')is that as soon as I open my mouth people speak to ME about footie. Only yesterday, during our 'local day for local people' - for those not of the avid or even rabid Brit-comedy watching persuasion, a misquote from 'League of Gentlemen', - at our first port of call, the recycling depot, a young man gabbled something at me. It was a bit like trying to make any sense out of what Boomhauer from 'King of the Hill' says. All I could make out was 'the game,', 'the dive,', 'the cheating,' 'Wade Rodney,' and '?'
Alex claimed that she could understand it all, however being a game sort myself I simply constructed a conversation out of what I had caught and my answer seemed to satisfy. Or maybe he couldn't understand what I said either. I got ten bucks for my bottles anyway.

After a whirlwind tour of some interesting local premises, I'm saving the interesting local premisses for when we have a philosophical day for philosophical people, I gave the girls a guided tour of the Nature Park.Although Alex considers my Nature Park fixation to be a lame and pathetic slide into senility, they all marvelled at my tales of leaf miners, the boss moss and hummingbird tongue fungus, they were awed by the tree that smells like grapefruit and the leaves that smell like peanut butter. They did a bog jump and made the trees shake. And as I had hoped, the turtles were sunbathing in the pond and a red squirrel with devil eyes - see the first photo - came and entertained us.
In the evening Kevin was called upon to drop them at the Silver City cinema to see 'Pirates of the Caribbean II'. Johnny Depp never fails to please. Sadly they had been a little tardy in their preps and missed the 20.30 showing and ended up having to play air hockey until the 22.00 programme. I had to collect them at getting on for one o'clock.

I myself had been on a scenic mystery tour earlier in the evening. Oh alright, Yvonne and I had managed to get ourselves a little bit lost both going to and coming back from Writers' Group, but I took this picture as the sun was setting over ..... somewhere.

Monday, 10 July 2006

Visitors from another world

Here are my weird girls, by popular request (theirs) bless 'em. This first photo, of Hazel, we threatened to have blown up at Kevin's work so that Hazel could post it on her car when she gets back. However, Hazel is going to Oxford in the autumn and intends to keep the environment happy by biking. Although it looks as though she catches small animals and eats them, it's Hazel who's a vegan.

I'm not sure what has caused the bad smell faces, maybe a bad smell....

Then we have the sixties London model girl look.....

I think in the next one, Hazel and Lou are trying to catch a mountie, they heard that mounties roam freely in British Columbia. Well, at least Lou did until one of the others explained what a mountie was.

Finally Alex and Lou scoffing Kevin's very fine brownies - sorry, not the herbal sort girls.

I think today is going to be a local day for local people, we haven't ventured across the bridges into Vancouver yet, but we have a number of things to visit in Richmond and the weather is a little cooler and overcast today.

I'm lucky to be able to do stuff at all today. I was supposed to go back to 'the Office' mornings only this week, and I had moments of dread last week just thinking about it. I have realised that I'm not really communicating very well why this job filled me with so much horror, it certainly wasn't that I felt the work was beneath me, I know I'd have been much happier cleaning than doing the filing and general office work. (And I couldn't help noticing that the cleaner was being paid twice as much per hour as I was, but that wasn't it either.) I don't deal with boredom very well so I have a range of strategies for overcoming it. But when you are at work you can't use those strategies. I did try watching my news programmes from time to time, but I felt it was too obvious because the office was too quiet. So you end up trying to make up jobs and I felt that I'd simply run out of those too.
But on Friday, I was reprieved. I was standing in for someone who had been sorting their office out in a couple of months' 'downtime' from managing her own company, but she was having to return to that. The person in charge of the firm I was working for has now decided to buy out her company and have her run that, plus his office from the premises where they are.

Now of course, I feel guilty at feeling relieved. I'm sure the whole thing is caused by the Protestant Work Ethic, inappropriately named since it's not peculiar to any particular persuasion but does underly our upbringing. I feel as though I will offend karma if I don't feel bad (no doubt too much watching 'My Name is Earl') but what I need to do is convince myself that I did my bit and I have been released to do finer things.

Sunday, 9 July 2006

Full House

A nice stem of Rosebay Willow Herb poking out of the beautifully kept communal grounds around the strata. I think it is generally known as Fireweed here, but it is a plant that I have associated with summer for a long time.

Lou and Hazel arrived yesterday, their flight was being reported as due half an hour early. As Alex and I left the house, their plane flew over us, there's no mistaking the Zoom aircraft with their mid blue bodies and the word 'Zoom' across them. In spite of actually landing half an hour early, we had to wait 45 minutes for them to clear customs.

On Friday, Alex and I had gone to IHOP (International House of Pancakes) for lunch. I can't say I was terribly impressed with the food there, it wasn't awful, it just was a bit....flavourfree and stodgy really.
What DID impress us though was firstly the toilet, yes, we're British, naturally we find toilets fascinating. The seat was covered in a kind of plastic sleeve, and when you pushed a lever, the sleeve moved along so that your bottom never had to touch where anyone else's had.
Secondly, there was a white Canadian speaking Chinese, I shall assume Cantonese, to the staff. It was quite strange. You hear various Chinese dialects being spoken all the time here and yet when this man spoke it sounded like the scene from Star Wars where Luke Skywalker or Han Solo is in a bar filled with aliens and one starts to talk to them. However, the guy clearly made himself understood, the staff were responding and laughing in a seemingly appropriate way. I was impressed I must admit, and I also understood how he must have felt, wanting to use the skill he has.
I had a two minute opportunity to speak French at Vancouver airport while waiting for Hazel and Lou, a French lady asked me about flights and then seemed quite effusively grateful when I answered her in French. If I hang around at the airport for the next eight years, maybe I will get another opportunity, although by then no doubt I will have forgotten every word I ever knew.

Hazel and Lou's plane was flown by a woman pilot, something that in all my to-ings and fro-ings across the Pond, has never happened to me. When she made a perfect landing she couldn't help announcing to the passengers that it was 'not a bad landing for a woman,' at which they all cheered.

So here they all are. They have two rooms between three friends and I've left them to decide how they organise themselves. I think that poor Hazel is going to get stuck with a lot of cooking, she is a vegan, but she assures me she loves cooking. She's already booked for girls' night on Thursday - Kevin has a frat meeting so he can escape.

They all went to the Mall earlier, Alex HAD to show them the 'Big Beaver Sale' and they went in and asked if the shop had any spares of the smaller posters. 'Spare, spare?' the girl kept repeating. A young man came out and told them in a tired voice that they didn't have any to give away and that yes, they understood the humour.

And Italy have won the World Cup. I didn't really much care, but out of the two I'd have liked to see France win. I'm not sure which team contains more players from British clubs, but see, France are momentarily popular with us Brits for having seen off Portugal.

It won't last.