Tuesday, 31 October 2006

All Hallows

Yesterday, the writers' group that I am part of, had a Halloween night. From time to time we have a special evening where we all write something on a theme and we all bring a food item. The pieces of writing go into to basket and everyone takes one and reads it to the group and we try to guess who has written what. I enjoy the exercise of being given a topic or theme to write on, sometimes even a line to begin and or end with, this is good. What I hate about the exercise is having to read other people's writing out loud without reading through it first. People can make what you have written utterly meaningless and you can do the same to them.
For the first time last night, I felt happy with the way my own piece was read and with the piece I had to read. I am a little lazy on these occasions and didn't in fact write my own story, I adapted someone else's, however should you feel the need to read it, you can by clicking on the title, which is Hansel and Gretel.

I am no great cook, passable on certain things but pretty good at two things, one is chilli and the other is soup. Sometimes people even ask me for the recipe for my soups and then I get like the centipede who was asked which leg she put forward first. However, since it is Halloween, here is my soup recipe.

Some stock.
Some veggies.
Anything else you have that's edible and want to use up.
Three of Crisp-e's chillies.

Ah....Bisto....er I mean, the magic ingredient. Yep, that is why my soup is good, I do believe a good soup should be hot in at least two senses of the word. It should be hot as in not cold and it should be hot as in bites the back of your throat. It doesn't need to be hot as in sexy, but I guess it could be and it doesn't have to be hot as in stolen. And now you know it, the other ingredients are just for show, for example last night I made a red soup. Toms, a few carrots, sweet peppers, garlic and general onionyness and Crisp-e's chillies. Magic.

Happy Halloween, may you be spared the hyperactive ankle-biters, but may you have the spiritual experience that you wish for.

Monday, 30 October 2006

Chequing in

This morning we had frost. Parts of BC have had heavy snowfalls, and whilst I was bitter about this and felt they should share, Kevin pointed out that power cuts had accompanied their snow.

One of the things which Brits have to get their heads round when coming to live in Canada is the differences in banking practices and this is a lesson that my son Laurence is having to learn just as I did - although I think it is more difficult for him because he would not even know of a time of cheques and bank charges.

It's not like we don't ever use cheques in Britain, I do own a chequebook, although Laurence never has. Dutch colleagues that Kevin works with don't deal with cheques either. If someone here wanted for some reason to give me money, they couldn't just transfer it into my account as I can do from my British account into another British account. They would have to give me a cheque or e-mail me the money for which there would be a charge.

And charges are a whole mindset thing. Most current accounts here - which are referred to as chequing accounts, have a monthly fee and then you have a set number of transactions you can use during that month. So for example, you may have to pay four dollars a month and then have fifteen transactions. So instead of using your debit card all the time, you have to make sure they are worthwhile transactions. In Britain you could go to Boots, Sainsbury's, Marks and Sparks, back to Boots, Otakar's then the Post Office in one afternoon, use your debit card in each and not think about it. If you did that here, apart from the obvious that none of those shops exist here, you would have used up over a third of your month's allowance of transactions. Ooops. So you see what I mean about thinking differently.

Likewise getting cash. In Britain, walk down Commercial Road in Pompey, and even in my own mind's eye I can count ten different ATM points, at different banks and building societies but any of which you could withdraw money from without any charge. Here, ATMs are fewer and further between and if you withdraw cash from any bank other than your own, you can end up paying $3 per go. All of this adds up quickly, so we do have to learn over here to think ahead. One way around this is by using your credit card for everything, which is why, I believe, credit card use is so much more common here. You will find the odd quite bizarre place where you can't use it, but that's rare. Then people pay off their credit card bill using a single transaction.

I know, I know, terribly tedious stuff, but trying to change a mindset is a difficult thing. You do what you are used to doing, and changing can be an expensive lesson to learn.

Sunday, 29 October 2006


'In winter time we cry, 'Alack!'
And put the clocks an hour back,
In summer time we cry,'Très bon!'
And put the clocks an hour on.'

Yeah well, not sure why we cry alack in winter, we get an extra hour of sleep, it's the losing the hour that bites me. Still, in Britain it's the end of British Summer Time, over here the end of Daylight Saving. Remember the years when we didn't do it? I was at grammar school then and it was very odd indeed. Creepy and darker than ever in the mornings. Actually, when I put it like that it sounds kinda cool.

BBC Canada for some reason best known only to themselves, decided not to honour the two o'clock changeover time and seemed to do it around midnight. Which was convenient because I was able to watch Hotel Babylon and pretend it was not insanely late.
Joan Collins was in last night's episode and for pity's sake, does that woman have some kind of pact with the Devil? Seriously, she simply isn't ageing, and she doesn't even have that over-stretched look of the older moneyed actress whose skin has been constantly hoiked back behind her ears. Her carriage is still that of a middle-aged woman, her neck has only a few wrinkles. I mean Hell's teeth, the woman was born in 1933. It's like Dorian Grey.

Yesterday we saw the film 'Just Friends' with Ryan Reynolds and a handful of other people I've seen in a bunch of other things but wouldn't be able to name. I do like Ryan Reynolds, but I wouldn't willingly watch one of his comedies unless I was on a plane, however this film was on the movie channel at some point so we'd recorded it to the TV's HD and there it was, waiting for that moment when we'd watched everything else.
And you know what? Fairly predictable storyline, but so well-scripted it was a very funny film. And Reynolds is just so good at physical comedy. Well worth a watch.

How many programmes do Colin and Justin actually have? They even have enough kudos to be mentioned by Daffydd Thomas in the last episode of Little Britain.
Yesterday on 'How not to Decorate' they were almost hoist by their own petard. The offending house looked suspiciously like the working men's club where the offending homeowner and person responsible was hiding. His wife, who could no longer stand living in what Justin politely described as,
'Everything's so brown, it's like living in one big jobbie,' had the imploring look of an Old English Sheepdog, the grey hair almost covering her puppy-dog eyes.
As the lads were taking her around the house and decrying some of her own design faux-pas, she would look at them, wounded, and say,
'But Colin/Justin, I saw you do this once.' You had to love her and her dogged loyalty to them.

If you ever forget what time it is, you can look it up on the Greenwich Mean Time website. How spiffy is that?

Saturday, 28 October 2006


I have been reading a book this week at the Nature House, about poisonous plants. The ones we all know about are in there, Deadly Nightshade, the green bits of potatoes, tomato and rhubarb leaves, hemlock, although that was interesting because I now know how to identify it.
Being a technical kind of book it also had opium, marijuana and peyote as poisons, I hadn't really thought about them as such, but I suppose it depends how you define poison. I was surprised not to find Foxglove, I'm damn sure I've seen some around here somewhere.

I was surprised however, to discover that even without being drenched in e-coli infested slurry, spinach, the whole plant, counts as poisonous. It seems it contains a similar chemical to that in rhubarb leaves. In the normal course of things, I eat pounds of spinach, especially in salads and I haven't ever noticed any ill effects, however perhaps the evil compounds have been cultivated out as they tell us is the case with aubergines. I still have never been bold enough to cook aubergine without first salting it to draw out the bitter juices.

Then the section on mushrooms. I am always fascinated when the Fly Agaric - amonita muscaria - makes its appearance, partly because it is so striking, its appearance screams,
'Wanna take me on?' but a different Amonita, amonita virosa, caught my eye. Destroying Angel and deadly. It seems there is no recovery from this one, just as you think you have overcome it, your liver and kidneys shut up shop and a few hours later - so do you. And yet look at it, it looks so much like the kind of mushroom you'd eat. So innocuous.
It kind of astonishes me that vegetation can be as deadly as an animal. I'm sure you'd be more scared to be bitten by a venomous snake, and the end may come more quickly, but on t'other hand, with the mushroom you'd be just as dead, especially as I've watched 'Venom ER' and antivenins have been developed to most snake poisons, whereas according to Chris Thomas, no antidote is available to counteract the effects of the mushrooms' amatoxins.
The snake however would be coming at ya - assuming you had in some way annoyed it, whereas the lovely mushroom has to seduce you into eating it. I can understand that the snake is poisonous to protect itself, but why would a mushroom want to stop itself from being eaten? And how did it develop these deadly poisons?

Yesterday, I was at one and the same time horrified yet fascinated by this story in the Guardian about a couple and the man's children who were holidaying in Corfu and who have suffered poisoning of some as yet unknown origin. The two children have both died, both adults were found unconscious and the woman was in a coma. The causes being investigated are as wide apart as carbon monoxide and mushroom poisoning. But the reporting in this article is also odd. Why does it refer to 'the tourist' and this opening statement almost ignores the existence of her partner,
"A British tourist today came out of a coma apparently caused by poisoning that killed two children who were on holiday with her."
Bizarre and a horrible tragedy.

There are lots of things out there that are out to get us, although not generally unless we have rattled them first.
But that deadly pure white mushroom, haunting.

Friday, 27 October 2006

No Curse

Fear not, I'm not telling you things you don't want to know about my lady's cycles - and by that I do not mean bikes. No, the curse of which I speak is that old Chinese one,
'May you live in interesting times' - today wasn't so I'm thinking that just for today, I'm not.

Even the usual things I moan about didn't happen. A motorist in front of me who was ignoring the green filter light in our lane because he was on his phone and then as soon as the filter light went off, sped up like a rhino charging blindly at the oncoming traffic...... got away with it because a more competent driver coming the other way managed to swerve in the nick of time. Ah well, didn't really want some innocent person to get killed just for material for me.

I went to the interview with the Recruitment Consultant. Hopeful I was about this. My hope was kicked up a notch when she immediately asked me for my CV.
'I gave it to you on Tuesday, and I e-mailed it to you the same day,' I said, but my hopes were dashed, she reached into a file and pulled it out.
But then my hopes were undashed,
'Do you know how to find my e-mail?' she said, showing me her Outlook Inbox. She'd managed to lose a stupid button they have on there. No, not THE stupid button. I found it for her and for the rest of the time she asked appropriate and un-stoopid questions. Dammit!

Went to Superstore, nothing untoward happened. Random strangers asked my advice on purchases/stacking their shopping/told me about their dogs, but this normally happens to me, nothing unusual in that.

I pondered a while about how the French labelling on things is often more accurate than the English, Superstore were offering a 'Virtual Flat screen TV' and I thought that sounded a bit useless, who wants a virtual screen? But then I looked at the French and it said 'Ecran presque plat' so almost flat then, much better. Unfortunately the next thing I looked at let me down, it was something to do with Sponge Bob Square Pants, but he's just 'Bob the Sponge' in French. Disappointing.

See, it's not that I want something bad to happen, far from it, but I have come to expect a certain level of comic incompetence and I realise I've become slightly dependent on it. Ah well, I'll just have to raise my game I suppose.
And I certainly mustn't grumble.

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Shopping for God

Muahahahaha...after the school programmes this morning, Lori insisted we go to lunch still in our witch costumes. We went to the Cactus Cub Lounge, not a particularly up market place, but we drew quite a range of reactions from being blanked to having a guy come over and insist on showing us a magic trick. It was fun, but itchy.

When the guy had shown us his magic trick, I said to Lori,
'You've pulled.' And yet again, I failed horribly to explain this most British of expressions, so anyone who would like to try, be my guest.

Especially for Canadian Karen, the little girl from Saturday night who was afraid of her father, was in the front row this morning. She clearly survived the weekend.
'You have a British accent,' she said,
'English,' I corrected her because she had threatened to kill me Saturday, also because there is an RP English accent which I in fact have, but until they come up with one that is RP and encompasses Scottish, Northern and Southern Irish and Welsh too, I shall continue to correct.

When the play was over, she was first in line to go into the Haunted House, but she wouldn't move. After a couple of minutes all the rest of the kids were shouting at her to go in. I was prepared to just push her in but felt it might get Lori into hot water so didn't.

So, in other news, interestingly, it turns out that black women are responsible for the high numbers of young black men in gaol. How fascinating. Yes, they are far too independent which apparently and without any logical link, forces black men to commit crimes. Ah, hang on, could it be that black men who commit crimes end up in gaol? Could THAT be the link? I think I've discovered something.
Sleepy and I used to continually have to deal with a black kid at Mayhem whose behaviour was appalling. Without fail he would claim that he was disciplined because he was black. Without fail we retorted that he was disciplined because his behaviour was dreadful. He even tried this line on a member of my department who was from Senegal. She looked him up and down and said,
'Boy, I am WAY blacker than you.' And she was.

And of course if black women are responsible for crimes by black men, it turns out, yet again, that women are responsible for being raped. Jess McCabe of the F-Word deals with this tired and poisonous old chestnut. It's this simple. Whatever the circumstances, just don't rape.
I do love that the Muslim cleric is called the mufti though. Gives new meaning to mufti day.

After the miracle of the safe driver yesterday, for some reason my attention was drawn back to the Richmond Christian school this morning. It is on a stretch of road which is like a strip mall for places of worship.
In most places, if you set up as a Church, however spurious, you can avoid taxes. In Richmond, if you set up on designated farmland and promise to farm a proportion of it you can avoid taxes.
On a short section of Five Road are the following places of worship that have done just that, only they have forgotten they need to do the farming bit. In a row is, the Bethel church, The India Cultural centre (looks like a really big Mosque), the Islamic Cultural Centre (looks like a really big Mosque), a Buddhist Temple, the Vedic Cultural Centre, the Peace Evangelical Free Church, the Chinese Evangelical Church and the Baptist Evangelical Church. These are not small buildings, the Buddhist Temple is the size of a small asteroid.

No Synagogue though. Perhaps there aren't so many Chinese Jews, who knows.
Me, I'm off to my place of worship - well one of them at any rate - Ikea, I hear you calling.

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

The Queen and Alex

I have been at the Nature Park for enough programmes now that I am starting to recognise the same parents coming back. This morning we had the man who said before and said again to me,
'You sound like the Queen,' to which I replied once again,
'The Queen sounds posher than me.' Then I gave him a short burst of queenly tones to demonstrate.

I spoke to my daughter Alex yesterday. It must have been about two am for her. I remember the days when two o'clock was a time I could stay up for, now it's just a time I wake at unexpectedly sometimes. And very unwelcome it is too when that happens.
My friend Dawn had asked me whether students in the UK often change their subjects and I blithely assured her that no, this was quite rare because it's so complicated to do. Wrong again! Oh yes, Alex has swapped, admittedly her second subject, from drama to American studies. She has to learn some historical cultural context for the literature, so I told her to watch Deadwood. Alex seems to be really enjoying having no money but living in London. Well who wouldn't, apart from the no money bit. But my kitten is the most beautiful young woman on the entire planet, so I'm sure that helps a lot.

I realised - for some reason while doing the washing up yesterday - that I was turning into Ken Adams. You would have to very religiously read my friend Sleepy's blog to have heard of him, and more specifically still, the comments. Mine in fact.
I will explain.
Ken was Head of Science at the first school I worked at. He was what you might call a petite man, although not if you spoke French, you'd have to call him a petit man. And this I feel was his downfall. He was somewhat elfin like, but not in an eldritch way. He was however, abso-blooming-lutely first class at his job. Then the time came when he needed to look for a promotion. He would apply for suitable senior teacher jobs, always get called for interview and never be offered the job. After a while, clearly aware that he was being passed over because of his lack of height, and I'm sure that was what it was, I cannot believe he didn't interview well, eventually he got into the whole interview circus in a different way. He would go to the school, be shown around and when they interviewed him, he would tell them everything that was wrong with their school. He would then come back and entertain us with his tales.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to an 'Employment Fair' which promised resources, employers, yada yada, and all there actually was were wall-to-wall Chinese people and Toys R Us, Old Navy, the Casino, and employers of that ilk.
There was however one professional recruiter so I gave her my CV and made an appointment for Friday.
While I was washing up, I realised that I was looking forward to the interview, that deep down I was hoping that it would provide me with material for stories. I had become Ken.

Ken eventually got a job, I can still remember the name of the school because part of it was 'Haberdashers'. The school that got Ken would have been patting themselves on the back for a long time, but I think there was just a slight tinge of disappointment on his part that his dining out tales were coming to an end.

This morning on the way to taking Laurence to work, a small miracle. Behind me at the correct stopping distance and driving exactly at the speed limit was a red minivan. I was so stunned by encountering such a phenomenon as someone else driving at the correct speed that I kept glancing at it in my mirror. Eventually, the car pulled alongside me and I sighed, realising it was too good to last. But wait, no, it was in fact turning left into the Richmond Christian School.

Lord T'underin' God works in mysterious ways.

Tuesday, 24 October 2006


If for some reason you feel it necessary to have a sign up in the back of your unstable, environmentally unsound SUV that says 'Baby on Board', you'd better not drive like one. I'm assuming here that a baby would drive as though she or he couldn't see over the steering wheel or read road signs or realise that there were other people on the planet.

If you work in a bank, you need to make connections. A paycheque is something that is issued by the place you work at, so please don't ask me stupid questions like,
'Is your son's paycheque from his work?' because that arouses in me an uncontrollable urge to patronise you.

If you are travelling to a different city in the rush hour for a school programme, and you happen to know that all of your class are hyperactive in the extreme, if you only allow the amount of time it would take to get there at say three o'clock in the morning, then you will arrive at least 25 minutes late and if you furthermore decide to make a detour to a pumpkin patch, don't tell anyone because they will be even more pissed off at you.

If you are going to ask a favour of someone, don't piss them off bigtime first.

If you are gay and live in the Republic of Ireland, the good news is that if you want to get married and your partner is a British citizen, then you can go and tie the civil knot at the British Embassy. Though personally, I still find it rather odd to think that there are British Embassies in Ireland. I suppose I have difficulty differentiating between Great Britain and the British Isles.

If you are anyone on the planet whatsoever, best to avoid Heather Mills McCartney. I should probably have taken my own advice and not mentioned her.

Monday, 23 October 2006


No, I seriously thought it was on October the 23rd, turns out I am two days adrift. D'oh! Oh well, Saturday in that case, was the 201st anniversary of Nelson's legendary battle. Top hole. Sea battles are of the utmost importance to Britain, just ask Helen Mirren, she'll tell you. Helen Mirren has been both Queen Elizabeths now so I think she should just be slotted in as the real thing should the current Queen not make it to 150 as expected.

On the radio this morning I heard that Kazbekistan, home of Borat and who have been generally crying 'foul' over the way they are portrayed as a country of women hating incompetents by Sasha Baron Cohen, are just about to release a banknote on which the word for 'bank' is incorrectly spelt. Woe, woe and thrice woe.

I was quite disturbed to see that Condominium Rice took time out from her busy schedule last week to bizarrely announce that Kim Jong-Il of North Korea was lying when he said there would be no more nuclear tests. Well he might well be, but way to wind up an insane despot Condi, couldn't you just have kept it shut? What earthly good can it do to call him out on this. Sheesh.

And speaking of insane despots, Iran's very own Ah'm-mad-in-a-bad-jihad is trying to get women to have more babies in order to take over the west. Yeah, nice try idiot, not only do your own clerics advise against it, all you will do is water down the population so that they will be even more male and even more poor.
Firstly, I'd be surprised if Mad-bad-jihad didn't own a flat screen TV and a whole bunch of other western trash, secondly, I'm pretty sure that any nation that UPPED the percentage of women in the workforce rather than cut it, would increase productivity, general work-rate and all kinds of benefits.

Especially if Hewlett-Packard are anything to go by, their predominantly male top-dogs conduct business in strip clubs. So basically, they are all horribly worried that the other male top-dogs won't think them testosteroney enough, not enough to swing their dicks at each other, they need to be surrounded by women who let them think they are in control.
Imagine what could be achieved if women and gay men were in charge. For a kick-off, women wouldn't have to work in sleazy strip-clubs. And they wouldn't have to conduct business there either. Their minds would be on whatever the problem in hand was and not how insecure they feel about the size of their equipment.
Ah, such efficiency. The world would be our lobster.

And you know what I'm thinking? David Walliams could have played the Queen in the film of the same name. I mean, look at the pic at the top, can you even tell whether it's him or Helen Mirren?

Sunday, 22 October 2006

Eye of Newt

Wild Things was a great success last night. And someone very powerful must read my blog because no sooner than I had complained about the lack of weather in these parts, than wonderful deep fog was supplied to make our fright night even more creepy.

Joanne was a fly and I was a spider and we were stationed on the pond platform that you can see in the picture. Over the course of the evening we developed a little routine, I had a web, I tried to trick her into my web and during the ensuing mayhem we discussed our respective eating habits, numbers of legs, eyes and other interesting details.

As it grew darker, we became more scary - we knew this because small children started to jump and squeal when they saw a huge spider emerge from the pumpkin lit corner. In spite of this, they started to ask for hugs. I had somehow developed a Transylvannian accent - possibly thanks to Igor earlier on in the week. The children couldn't see our faces, hands, feet, every part of us that wasn't costume was covered in black cloth or mesh. Yet still, one kid came straight up to Jo's fly and said,
'You're Griselda,' - Jo's witch in the Halloween Howl.

One little girl was scarier than us. She arrived with a bat drawn on her face and she told Jo that she liked flies but didn't like spiders.
'Are you scared of spiders?' asked Jo,
'I'm afraid of my dad,' she said,
'Oh,' said Jo, taken aback,
'I'm afraid of him all the time,' said the little girl with mum standing by watching placidly. Bat-face girl turned into a stalker, she kept coming back and threatening to kill me if I ate Jo. She became a bloody nuisance.

At one point while we were performing our little ad lib, it seemed as though someone had grabbed a floodlight and was pointing it straight at us. We could see less than when it was total darkness, but there seemed to be an unusually large crowd at this point so we kept on and on and on.
Later we were told that this had been the local news station. Gulp. Hope our ad lib hadn't gotten too bawdy but hey, there were kids present so most likely not.

A man shoved a little boy towards me.
'Go and make friends with the spider,' he told the boy, 'you need to be aware of your Scottish roots.' Well good thing that no-one had brought the brandy I'd been whining for all evening, because I was able to still access my memory banks and trawl up what he was talking about. My Transylvannian had to become Scots as I reminded the boy about Robert the Bruce, inspired by a wee spider. Dad seemed impressed,
'Not many people know about that,' he said, yeah they do, I thought, if they're English they certainly do. No matter, I don't think it was a five foot six tarantula that helped Robert the Bruce defeat the English though it could probably have been fairly useful.

Finally all the children had been scared, hugged and educated and we were able to get out of our costumes and head for a local hostelry.
Halloween is coming, Halloween is coming.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

Lord T'underin'

One of the best adverts that has been on TV in recent times - and I have a feeling I've mentioned it before - is one where a salesman is showing a car to a potential customer and the dialogue is all in a Newfoundland patois. The 'English' subtitles appear at the bottom. All that is except the last line when the customer says,
'I'll take it,' and the Newfoundland line comes up in the subtitles. I hope they make more of these it's such a wonderful ad. The exclamation that the actors use is 'Lord T'underin'.'

Now it seems that in Newfoundland, whether or not the Lord thunders, the sky does. Not so much here on the west coast.
I miss that. In fact we don't really have much in the way of weather and I do like a bit of weather, me.

Before I came to live here, people used to ask me what the weather was like in Vancouver and I would reply that it was much the same as in the south of England. But I was wrong. The climate is much the same, but the weather is a different bowl of porridge.
Over the past year we have had sunny and we have had rainy, and a couple of times we had a sprinkling of snow. But I miss the great rolling thunderstorms, the gales, the hail and the deep fog. I miss being able to look at the sky in the morning and knowing pretty much what the weather is going to do, or notice a certain quality of sheen on the road and know that snow is coming.
Then there are the messages in the British Isles that nature gives you. A good crop of berries on the holly in the autumn signalling a harsh winter, the cows kneeling down, the gulls coming inland.

And yet I'm sure those same signs are here, or rather different ones, but I have missed out on a childhood's worth of learning the code. The magnificence of nature here cannot possibly hold no clues. I just need to listen and be taught by it.
And I'm oh so willing to learn.

Friday, 20 October 2006

Wild Things

I have been at the Nature Park all day where we have been getting ready for our Halloween event - which is tomorrow night rather than at Halloween - and is called Wild Things. A small army of Chinese students have carved pumpkins, literally hundreds of them to be put around the trails. Lori, Jo and I have erected a tent with lights in it, put up spiders webs and built and lit a witches' cavern.
We also went to Tim Hortons' for coffee to avoid the army of pumpkin carvers.

The most beautiful of the autumn colours are yet to come, the Maple leaves are beyond description and I do mean that in the literal sense, because last year I tried. But right now, the blueberry bushes are red and they look spectacular. Other trees are a golden yellow, so vivid, as though they are at the turning moment of their final exhalation, you can almost feel them holding their breath, which when released will let fall their rich October colours in favour of the stark blacks and greys of November.

The squirrels were rushing about hiding anything they can find anywhere they can. They can never remember where they've put them though, so we have oak saplings growing in unlikely places.
We saw a couple of hardy ladybirds today and a garter snake was spotted, but most of the creatures are making their preparations for winter.

Yesterday, someone made the observation to me that now they no longer used salt in cooking or added it at the table, they tended to have a craving for salty food every so often. I agreed. We don't even own a cruet set. Kevin will sparingly salt food during cooking, but from time to time, I too crave salty food.
The opposite however seems to be true for sugary food. The more you eat, the more you crave, the less you eat, the less you crave it. I wondered about this, after all, if we went back to basics and only ate what nature intended, we would get sweetness but I couldn't see how we would get saltiness. From blood maybe? From not cleaning all the soil from our vegetables ? Haven't worked that one out yet.

Right now, Kevin is roasting pumpkin seeds, the part of all those pumpkins that would otherwise have been thrown away, to satisfy my need for salt, and damn fine they will be too.

Thursday, 19 October 2006


Today is my sister, Amanda's birthday and so I have been thinking about sisters. I also know that my friend Canadian Karen's sister is quite ill, so she too has been thinking her own sister.

Our lives, mine and my sister's, were very female centred. Our dad was away at sea a lot when we were young, and my mum was one of four sisters, one of whom lived near us, so the two of them more or less looked after us. Then there were our two nans. No grandads, just two nans, the severe but very matriarchal Welsh one, and the Brummie one. My childhood friend, Karen also had a twin sister and the four of us girls used to play together all the time. There were a lot of women in our lives. I don't know if that was good or bad, it just was.

My mother wrote an airletter every week to her sister in Canada. Her other sister would come and stay with us every weekend and over holidays, Christmas, Easter, Bank Holidays. Her oldest sister had died early, in her forties, but my mother and her sisters would talk about her sometimes, tearfully.

It is an odd thing, but despite all of this, we don't have the close relationship that my mother and her sisters had or that my friend Lori has with hers. I keep in touch with Amanda, I care about her and what is happening in her life, and I visit when I am in Britain, and enjoy her company, but we don't have to phone each other constantly, nor consult each other on small details of our lives. I think this is a lack, but it also means that we can happily live on opposite sides of the Atlantic without too much grief.

I often wonder whether it is this very fundamental relationship with my sister, the one person I had to share my parents with, that colours all other relationships. I am the older sister and I am aware very often, of behaving as such in friendships. And I have formed my most enduring friendships with women who have been brought up with a sister. I know that's a bit of a stretch, since a large number of people have sisters and I do have friends who have brothers too. But somehow, I think it is significant.

So, today, I toast my sister, I send positive thoughts to my friend Karen, anxious about her own sister, and I am happy for another close friend, building a realtionship with a newly re-found sister.

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

New West

The rush hour here starts at 14.00, so both Kevin and Lori were concerned when I said I was going to be driving to Coquitlam at that time.

Five hours earlier I was given a witch's costume. In the Halloween Howl programme, my job is to meet, greet and seat, introduce the play, fetch the snake from its tank and put it back, clear away the other props as they are used and then wind up the show and let the children into the Haunted House. Doing this dressed as a witch was a good start because as I stepped out of the nature house, the children all squealed.
'Do witches wear Nike?' asked one little boy. I guess they do.

Lori gave me directions that were clearer and as it turned out, simpler and I arrived in Coquitlam in good time. Then I spent about an hour just circling the place, narrowly missing two of the turnings.
Finally I was inside the Driver Services Centre. Only me in line.

'Can I help you?' asked the man behind the counter in a thick, and I mean thick, Russian accent.
'I failed a Road test here and my UK Driving Licence was retained,' said I,
'You failed?' queried Igor,
'Yes, but now I've passed and I'd like to collect my UK licence,'
'You passed?'
'Yes, in Point Grey, they said to come here for my UK licence.'
'UK licence,' he repeated as though tasting the words, 'where is it from?'
'The UK,'
'Ah........Britain,' he said eventually. He went off and I could see him at the back of the office with a cabinet drawer on a counter. He kept looking up at me. The line was now building up behind me. At the next counter, another receptionist was ignoring the queue in favour of phoning a friend.
Igor called a woman over. They both looked at the drawer and looked up at me. Finally he came back.
'Would you like an Italian one?' he joked,
'Does it have my name and picture on?' I lamely joked back. He made a gurgling sound.
The licence was sellotaped inside a yellow envelope, but Igor seemed not to have encountered sticky tape before. He half retrieved it and seemed confused by it. He held up the photocard part and asked if the picture of me were me.
'Yes,' I answered, not wanting to antagonise him with sarcasm while he still held my UK licence in his fat little hand.
He handed it to me,
'You don't drive with this one now,' he said, then he gave me back my BC interim one,
'You drive with this one.' Phew, thank goodness he cleared that one up for me, but did I care, I had my precious back.
'My precious,' I said, but only inside my head.

New West? New Westminster is the city I had to drive through to get to Coquitlam. I get the impression it is thought of as pretty downmarket here, but it didn't seem so bad to me, and there was a development not far from the waterfront that truly reminded me of a European shopping centre.
Provocatively for a people who find 50 kph an impossible speed limit to get down to, that entire part of town had a limit of 30kph and frequent signs to remind you.

And when I got back here and checked the post - there was my brand spanking new permanent BC licence.

You know what I'm going to do now, just for mischief? I'm going to carry both in my bag, and sometimes I'm going to drive on my UK one and not my BC one. I might even change mid journey, who knows, the possibilities are, well maybe not endless, but at least twofold.

Ah, my precious. Any witch would do the same.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006


Vancouver is a very beautiful city, but like any other, it has its grey areas and I have driven around many of them today.

Both Richmond and Vancouver currently have areas of road construction because of the 2010 Olympics. The main cause of this is the building of the new Canada line to complement the existing skytrain lines. I'm getting the hang of Vancouver - well, to a certain extent, so that I can now drive somewhere and feel that the chances are even if I get lost, I will be able to find my way out again, and I proved this twice today.

One of my errands was to drive almost into the downtown core to pick up hockey tickets from GM place. This was a task that I would have happily dumped onto Kevin, but alas, they had to be picked up during the day before 17.00 so it fell to me. Yes of course I got hopelessly lost, I didn't follow my google map religiously, one false move and I was into a hideous and completely unknown one-way system. But GM place is huge, by keeping it in my radar I finally found it and a nice Indian man let me park in the not-really-open-to-the-public underground car park.

Now I was a bit full of myself. Kevin had told me I could easily get out of the East of the City to Coquitlam where I have to collect my UK Driving Licence. How foolish, not only did I find myself heading further into Vancouver for a short while, but when I did sort myself out I just never quite found the other City.

Surely the car could find its own way to Superstore though? Sure enough, no problem at all, but then getting out, suddenly the road I normally turn down is blocked. Roadworks, construction, confused drivers, but hey, I'm one of them now, I have the ability to leap tall buildings in my little red car, ok, not quite, but yeah, the finding my way out thing - it worked.

On the final stretch, no longer lost nor delayed by anything other than traffic lights I looked up and three passenger planes, low in the sky, were approaching the airport. The lights were all I could see against the backdrop of the twilight, one behind the other, the first slightly lower in the sky than the second and that slightly lower than the third. Each one no doubt carrying people from afar who are loved by other people who are near, or bringing people back to this wonderful city.

Monday, 16 October 2006


Is that Tim Burton-ish or what? We've been setting up for our Halloween programme today, Halloween Howl. We have the haunted house all ready and the creatures and props all lined up and Lori and Jo have rehearsed with me as prompt. Really I love all the programmes we've done so far, but this one is going to be great - and very intense from now until the 31st of October. The other volunteer comes in tomorrow afternoon though so I'll get an afternoon off.

It is odd to be able to drive the car on my own again, what has changed? Absolutely nothing about my driving, the being blocked from it for a month and a half is just bizarre when you think about it from that point of view. I was allowed to drive, then I wasn't, now I am. I have a few errands to catch up with, and it makes it easier with getting Laurence to work in the morning. I'm hoping I'm not going to get lazy again and stop walking as much as before.

An annoyance that I'm sure other people must be experiencing at the moment is a new type of spam. I had trained the Thunderbird junkmailer to my satisfaction, to the extent that mostly the junk wasn't getting through, but the other stuff was. Now this new multi-coloured garbage is showing up and I am having to sort through it all again.

Since mushrooms have been occupying my thoughts recently, due to their abundance around the park, I was interested to see that a mushroom expert from the Royal Edinburgh Botanic Gardens has issued a warning to those going out foraging. It seems there have been some rather unusual ones popping up and he wants to remind us that we could end up dead if not careful. But the article ends on a positive note, because mushrooms can also apparently save us from deadly diseases. So where edible fungus is concerned, we walk the line.

Sunday, 15 October 2006

Rant on the Mount

I never thought this day would come, but Tony, you have seriously pissed me off. And Hell hath no Fury like the Party faithful who has been poked in the eye with a sharp and pointy stick.

Whilst all the other fairweather followers have pissed and moaned and fallen by the wayside, you and I have never fallen out, well, ok, I had a couple of concerns over educational policies, and let's face it, about the modern languages thing - you should have listened to me, it's biting you full on in the face now.

But this time Tony, this time you have transgressed the unwritten law, broken the social contract, how dare you bring the country to the brink of true equality and then back off? Socialism doesn't allow for one group of law abiding citizens having fewer rights than another, merely on the grounds of some arbitrary definition.
I feel offended, not for my many gay friends, not on their behalf but I personally feel deeply, gutturally, viscerally offended because this is SO arbitrary. Thank God that people can no longer legally be treated as lesser beings because of their skin colour, gender, religion, so why is it still ok to deny a part of the population rights on grounds of who they sleep with, yes, I know I've said it before and I will continue to say it. It is as arbitrary as if the government suddenly decided that people born in September were to be demonised. No, let's say people born in the autumn, a quarter of the population, because honestly, who knows what percentage the so called one in ten really is.

And even more than that, how dare you let Ruth Kelly, arguably the worst Minister for Education the country has had to endure, prevail and put forward the excuse that the churches don't like it. Because how dare the life and teachings of Christ be so misrepresented by those who are supposed to uphold them.
Jesus whose life was about socialism, who overturned the money-changers' tables in the Temple, sending out a new message, that making money from money, usury, making profit from people's need was not to be tolerated in a spiritual place. Who taught the people who received little education because his message was for all, who collected food from those who had and distributed it to those who had none, who quite literally FED the people and who cared for all equally.

When you are a socialist leader Tony, you CANNOT back off, you must lead, you must strive for equality as you always have before, despite pathetically wishy-washy public opinion you have not wavered, so why now? You have nothing to lose, you have long since announced that you are bowing out, do it gloriously instead of weakly.

I'm not kidding here Tone, get your act together, fix it

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Friday the Thirteenth

Not sure how clearly this will come out, but these are coyote tracks. Random, I know.

So Friday the thirteenth was an unusually stressful day for me, but ultimately successful. I had booked another road test, and as soon as I had done so I went into a complete funk, I think that's the correct and technical medical term. Whatever the books tell you about high blood pressure being a silent killer and having no symptoms, I can tell you that if you do have a tendency towards it as I do, you may be able to feel when it goes up and remains high. I also had a continuous headache.

When you tell people that after thirty years driving you are in the position of having to take a driving test again, they all, and I mean all without exception, say that they wouldn't like to be in that position. Most people will then make some comment about how it must be because we drive on the left in Britain. Well, for that point, I think, not so much. Most Brits have some experience of driving on the right because it is so easy for us to drive in mainland Europe, but in any case, that is something you get used to quickly. It was easier for me to get used to driving on the right, than to having the gearstick to my right.

Many years ago I worked with a woman called Wynn. I can remember her very clearly, and this was when I was in my early twenties. She was tall and graceful with iron grey hair. And she was a very wise and intelligent woman, we would go to her for advice and she was able to find solutions more intuitively than us young 'uns. But for all that, she could not pass a driving test. She finally did on the 13th attempt and we all celebrated.

I have been thinking about Wynn since being put in this awful position. I'm sure it is quite simply more difficult to pass exams and tests when you are older because you get way more nervous than when you are younger. I don't think I ever appreciated that until this experience. I would say that my driving yesterday, when I passed, was possibly the worst I have driven since I came here because my legs were like jelly and there is an insistence here on keeping the car in first gear instead of neutral when stopped for example, so I was worried I was actually going to be unable to do that. I was in the most appalling mental state, I had to think what my name was the first time I was asked to sign something, and the next time I was shaking so much I was barely able to.
In part of course this was due to my previous unpleasant test.
But I also think that more is expected of you when you are older. For a younger person, they will let a lot go, for an older one, every gear change is analysed. This was most definitely a message I got from that first examiner.

Yesterday, in stark contrast, the examiner, a softly spoken Irishman, instead of creating a bag of nerves, took a great deal of time to calm me and let me do things in my own time. The kindly citizens of Vancouver were also out in force to help. Every time someone else does something bizarre on the road in your road test, it is an opportunity to slow down, even sometimes stop the car depending on the extremity of lemming-like behaviour, and comment on it.

Although most people can empathise with the position of having to take a driving test after so many years of driving, what is more difficult to get is the feeling of having a right removed. It was Lori really who picked up on that because she had lived for a year in Hong Kong. It made me feel more of an outsider to have to have someone else with a licence in the car with me when I drove. It removed a freedom from me that I wouldn't even have thought about had it not been removed. I am a walker, cyclist, taker of buses, but when suddenly, you don't have the option to drive it is a gaping hole.
And then there is the rubbing of the salt into the wound. You are driving at the speed limit with everyone passing you, you are keeping the car positioned perfectly on the road with others wandering over the central line, weaving backwards and forwards, undertaking, overtaking, unable to steer the car.
I took some lessons after the first test, partly because I didn't think I could ever get back into the driving seat and partly to 'learn the code' as my friend Simmi said. I found a female instructor, that was the first hurdle jumped and yes, I understand the different mindset. And my instructor said to me that out of all her students, I was the one who could actually drive, but I was the only one who didn't go out on the road alone. She pointed to the car in front.
'You have no idea whether that person has a licence,' she said.

So I have one more degree of acceptance here. An irony - had I gone to live in Ontario or many other of the Provinces I would have been able to just swap my UK licence for a Canadian one. Had I gone to a rural area of BC for my test, it seems I would have had a 15 minute test to check that I could 'control the car', been asked how long I'd been driving and been given a licence.

And the positive? Well I've lost a couple of pounds and learned more techniques to bring down my blood pressure. I have taken this opportunity to look long and hard inside my own head. Kevin has reassessed his own driving during the whole process, a process which has been an incredible strain for both of us but which we have survived and grown through.
Oh, and I have discovered that however much I worship the coffee chain of Tim Hortons, their hot chocolate is too sweet for human consumption.

Friday, 13 October 2006


Whilst watching 'Ugly Betty' last night I was struck by how familiar one of the actors was, and yet I couldn't put a name to the face. In fact, so strong was the feeling of familiarity that I was sure he must be British. I looked up the character on imdb.com and indeed, he had a long, long list of credits and yet I knew I didn't recognise him from 'ER' or the 'X-Files', or even 'Space Above and Beyond', one of my all-time favourite sci-fis.
I scrolled further and further down until finally, there it was. As I live and breath, Jim Robinson from the Aussie soap, 'Neighbours'.

Holy smoke, what a fan of that I used to be, never missed an episode. I don't know whether Aussie soaps have ever caught on on this side of the Atlantic, but they were smoking hot in Britain, may still be on for all I know.

I think the reason Aussie soaps appeal to the British is that they are very much like our own ones, in that they are realistic and well-acted. My perception of American ones is that they are or were, either one or the other.

I'm not sure whether Dynasty and Dallas really counted as Soaps, but in a way they were, and yet the settings were huge and unrealistic, these were not ordinary families, these were ridiculously wealthy people doing ridiculously stupid things, but they had big name actors, stars already.
By contrast, the ones you can catch during the daytime seem to be played by people who didn't get in to acting school.

Neighbours and Home and Away, the two main Aussie Soaps we used to have, may have been famous for the shifting scenery, but the acting was good, the people were ordinary people, albeit who lived in rather larger houses than most British people, and who did perfectly ordinary things, although maybe they did rather more ordinary things than the average Jill.

Our beloved British Soaps are much the same. In Coronation Street and Eastenders, the people live in the types of houses and flats that British people actually live in, they speak with the accents of the area. The action in both often centres around a pub, as life often does in Britain, perhaps not to the same extent, we don't actually spend every evening in pubs as a general rule. One I used to enjoy was the Liverpool-set Brookside. Brookie, sadly is no longer running, but the actors who made a start there still appear regularly on TV and in films. Appearing in a Soap isn't the career death knell it used to be.

I watched both Eastenders and Corrers (more often referred to as 'Corrie') for many years, and then I just stopped. I don't know why. I still like that they are there, that I could just turn on and watch if I wanted to, yes even here in Canada, I know my cousin watches Corrers and last night I noticed that Eastenders was on BBC Canada.

It's something about the safety net of the universe, to know that whatever happens during the day, whatever crap is going on in your life, you can turn it off for half an hour in the evening and get involved in the lives of other people, old friends, Neighbours even.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Preacher, Doctor

We're still catching up with old episodes of Deadwood on the History Channel, and I have yet again been struck by the power of some of the issues.

In this first series, the preacher has been getting progressively more ill. I diagnosed a brain tumour, shortly afterwards, the doctor made the same diagnosis. I would like to think that this is because I have a secret calling as a Physician, however it seems more likely that the series simply has good writers.

In my last but one school, I had a colleague who was diagnosed with a brain tumour - not by me I should add, but by a proper, qualified doctor. She left the staff room one Friday evening to consult her doctor about the headaches she had been having, she had not normally been a sufferer of headaches, and she never returned.

The colleague was an absolutely incredible woman, a real Christian in the most genuine definition of the word, and a member of the communist party. Another colleague, a close friend of hers visited her in hospital to the end of her life, and although for most of the illness, in spite of the shock, and the pain, she had maintained a genuine interest in the progress of the illness and her own response to it, towards the end, even with every painkilling drug that modern pharmacology has to offer, she wanted it to end.

So I have watched the preacher in Deadwood deteriorate and suffer without most of those drugs. Oh yes, I know that Laudanum and other opiates were available, (and yes I do get that this was an actor playing a part so I shouldn't be too alarmed) but the depth of suffering for someone in that situation in those days must have been horrific.

These two characters, the doctor and the preacher were locked into this endgame together, the ever more bizarre religious fervour of the preacher and the mounting anger and frustration of the doctor. In this lawless town, where a community survives and struggles on rough justice and the law of the jungle, these two people kept ties with civilisation, the preacher was needed to give comfort to those dying of smallpox and to bury them and others killed by the hand of the villainous elements of the town, for decency. The doctor was the only hope for most of the townsfolk.

And finally, the doctor can do no more, he deposits his patient with the town's brothel-keeper and de facto leader who turns out one of his whores to give the preacher a room. While the doctor, on his knees and entreating God to end this poor man's suffering, railing at God for allowing the preacher to continue in his intense pain, the evil scum of Deadwood, pimp, murderer, abuser, fornicator, liar, cheat, swindler, blasphemer, takes the damp cloth with which he has been tending to the preacher's fever, holds it over the preacher's mouth and does what the God-fearing may not do, he suffocates him, ends his misery, with respect.

Powerful, powerful stuff. Who could be the judge of that?

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

View from the Gator

The Gator is a vehicle like a small jeep that is used for getting around the park when you need to do bigger jobs like chop down trees. We needed to chop down a tree, so we used the Gator. It was smelly, but fun, and we saw this amazing Barn Owl while we were driving so we stopped to photograph it.

Earlier in the day, I was the guide/instructor for two sessions of the 'All Creatures Great but Small' programme today, ie bugs and insects, or what I think the British primary science curriculum refers to as 'mini-beasts' and I had two very enjoyable groups. This afternoon, the weather had warmed up enough for a last dragonfly to entertain us and there was a huge bullfrog was poking its head out of the pond.

A friend had recommended a new TV series to us, 'Dexter' and damn it's good. The main character is the gay brother from 'Six Feet Under' and you would think that he flies so far within the gaydar's range that he must set 'em all off. Well Holy Smoke, all that was needed was to brush his hair differently and voilà! Like Grecian 2000. Oh wait, that dealt with the grey, not the gay, but you get my point.
The idea of the programme is that Dexter is a police forensics expert who specialises in blood spatter, but he is also a serial killer, a serial killer who targets just....serial killers. And I'm loving the style of it, because you can hear what goes on in his cold, dark mind. Creepy and fabulous.

It must have been very scary for people in Manhattan today when a small aircraft crashed into a block of flats. I can't get my head round how it comes to be that people can be just flying aircraft around above a city. I always think when I fly that the pilot and co-pilot are some kind of gods, so it's scary that a sportsperson, or person of restricted intelligence as we often call them, can have a pilot's licence and be out there doing what? The only way to get across the Atlantic if you can't give up a few weeks and several thousand pounds, it to fly. There are many ways to get around and across New York. Flying, in my not so humble opinion, should be a much more restricted activity.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006


I gave my funnybone such a clonk on the towel rail yesterday I was hopping around wincing for what seemed like hours, but was probably a couple of minutes. Whoever named the funnybone was cruising for a bruising in my opinion.

Sleepy has been keeping me amused with little snippets from the internet. Yesterday she had discovered a little YouTube clip of my very own eldest son actually rapping in the middle of a lesson.

And then today, she sent this very funny parody from the DeadBrain website. I'm loving that.

We saw 'The Family Stone' yesterday. I had mentally earmarked it as a 'fit for in-flight only' movie, but we ended up watching it. I was quite struck by how good Sarah Jessica Parker was in it. Of course I loved Sex and the City, but I never really thought of her as particularly good. I had underestimated both SJP and the movie, both were quite subtly played, not the usual shouting stereotypes, an interesting look at behaviour.

Another film to recommend is 'Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang'. Quirky, complex, engaging. And now that Val Kilmer's older and fatter - doesn't seem to take himself so seriously and I enjoyed his performance in this.

On TV and on the subject of humour, [Studio 60 Spoiler coming up] the Studio 60, Sunset Strip team did some material on their version of the weekend news, which was already on the internet. It all worked out OK in the end, although it was interesting to see the machinations that went on trying to sort the mess out, but the guy who was responsible wasn't sacked. We thought he should have been sacked, people in other jobs are sacked for far less.
I decided to look up 77 Sunset Strip, which I remember from childhood, but when I did I wondered how the hell I could have remembered it from then since the show ran from 1958 until 1964. So I was only seven when it ended. On the other hand, I can actually remember where I was, EXACTLY where I was when JFK died, or rather the reporting thereof. Obviously I was watching TV, but I can remember watching it.

We went to see the Trailer Park Boys movie on Saturday. The turnout was pretty disappointing considering what a phenomenon TPB has become, the film however, was funny.

Monday, 9 October 2006

A Spot of Bovva

So it turns out that Brad and Guy were having a tense convo the other day.

Guy - No mate, seriously it ain't happ'ning. The new film is going to be an East End Blockbuster, Dot Cotton v Doug and Dinsdale Piranha. Yep, yep, I know you done that Irish Pikey good, but we got an unwritten rule in the Cockney Film Industry, we don't use Yanks, not since Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
I knoooow Brit actors are doing American films now Brad mate, but I am not a Yankee director and you ain't no roastbeef. Yeah, no, roastbeef, it's what the Froggies call us, well, awright, they made up a word, 'Rostbif' but tha's what they call us. No, dunno why I said that, playing for time I guess. But they always do the 'State-us, Projject, Pay-tent' thing. Yeah, see, you say 'Stattus, Proe-ject, Pattent', that's the prob, like that Canadian actor, whatissname, Oliver Platt in Casanova, fantastic English accent but then made one of those 'State-us, Projject' bloomers, no, don't remember what exact word it was, but it gives the game away. Nah, if you weren't born wivvin the sound of the Bow Bells, you're not in. Behave, I know I wasn't, but I ain't actin in it am I?
Mate, leave it, like I said, not happ'nin, bad enough that the Missus wants in, yeah, I know, but what can you do, I mean she's got me by the short and curlies. And Brad, mate you are not one for leaving the leading lady alone are ya? I mean Angie........ Whatdya mean? What's wrong with Madge? Behave, she's top totty Madge is, you should see the thigh muscles on 'er.....
What ? Come again Squire? Do wha' ??
MADGE, MADGE !!!!!! Tell me you didunt just buy an African baby. Oh my life.....

Sunday, 8 October 2006


So, today is Thanksgiving in Canada and we all have a day off tomorrow. I can't entirely get a consensus on what Thanksgiving is for, but several people have told me it's good old Harvest Thanksgiving.

Now I can see the Ancient Celts giving thanks to their supernatural beings for the success of the Harvest, since their continued existence was pretty much dependent on it, and I think it is right to give thanks to our own Gods and Goddesses, especially the latter who are generally in charge of fertility and whatnot, but I feel that there is an edge of smugness these days.

The ancient peoples of any land were not so aware of everyone else on the planet, and their own actions were pretty much not affecting anyone else on the planet. Unless you subscribe to the old butterfly flapping its wing theory, which I'm not dissing, no, no, it has a place.

But we live at the expense of others, no doubt about it. We buy in all kinds of produce that we don't grow ourselves. Of course we pay for it, and others benefit from our money, kind of, but we also have surplus while others starve. And our general use of fossil fuels to move the things we want about the planet is profligate. It is changing the environment so that ploughing and scattering becomes ever harsher for others.

'We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand...'

Stirring stuff and bellowed out in gratitude across the white Christian world. So is our God really so partisan and why? Why isn't his/her almighty hand feeding and watering the good seed in other lands?

Like Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, we are not worthy. We think we are, but what makes us better? Sheer darn luck. We give thanks for having food because we feel guilty, it's an accident of birth that gives us food on our tables, not some work ethic. Our farmers work bloody hard to keep us fed, but so do people in other lands with less success.

We are lucky, and it is meet and right to give thanks for what we have, but not ever to be smug about it.
For the ancients it was an easier equation. A good harvest meant that God was on your side, and this was important. If God wasn't, then we had done something to offend, and a simple human sacrifice, or some other atrocity that no god would ever call for, would set things right.

Us, we hope that God is turning a blind eye while we screw up creation.

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Lazy eye

Jack Straw, former Foreign Secretary, has caused a bit of a kerfuffle back in Blighty by mentioning the veil that some extreme Muslim women wear. I have put it like that because I think this is what happens. I think there are people who read odd words in something and construct whatever fits in with their current world view.
Martin Kettle, a Guardian journo, has written an incredibly insightful piece on this, in an attempt to direct people back to what Jack Straw actually and very carefully said.

And of course this echoes for me the recent furore over the Pope's perfectly well thought-out and expressed comments, many didn't bother to read what he said, just jumped.

There's a reason why I am dredging up old news. It's because I want to make this statement.
I think the Amish are weird. I seriously do. I also think Mennonites are weird and Jehovah's Witnesses. But then I met and worked with and became friends with a Witness and I realised that he wasn't weird, his family weren't either, they were all just perfectly normal people. Yes, I'm aware that I'm using contentious words like 'weird' and 'normal'.
I also know and am good friends with someone who was brought up as a Mennonite and she is an amazing person. Weird, sure, but then in the good weird way that I cherish.

Ok, but obviously you're not allowed to say anything negative whatsoever about the Amish right now because of the great tragedy that has befallen one of their communities.

In Britain, when I lived in Woking, near London, we had a community of Plymouth Brethren. The girls - and note only the girls - had to wear headscarves. The women wore old-fashioned clothes and the Brethren weren't allowed to watch TV, so if a lesson was going to include any TV viewing, out went the kids. But even so, they weren't as separatist as the Amish.

In general, communities like the Amish can live their lives in the US. I don't know whether they get heckled when they go into town or what happens, but I imagine that they are fair game, and that seems par for the course when you have made a decision to live apart from the rest of society.
In a way, they are able to live the way they wish because the rest of us don't. We couldn't all live this way because there is something in the human spirit which drives us to create, to seek, to develop, to research and we will risk even our lives to do so. That's why we are where we are today, for good or bad.

But out of this horrible mess come stories that reach in and touch the most sensitive part of our soul.

It still seems unclear why Charles Roberts killed these particular girls. All that surrounds him sounds like one single moment of screaming for help. He lived and loved and never said boo to a goose. There weren't the usual keynote mysterious squirrel killings to foreshadow his act. There is the possibility that he had abused two members of his family when he was twelve, but at time of writing this has not been confirmed.
But he did plan his final, defining actions. He loathed himself so he had to go out making sure the world too hated him.

The Amish community, we are told, does not subscribe to commercial Health Insurance schemes, so help is being given by others. How many questions does that raise? But whilst others are giving to pay for the care of the Amish injured, their elders are asking that the wife and family of the killer should not be forgotten. They too are now without a husband and father.

And the story that emerges from the schoolroom where the little girls were shot is that the older girls begged that they should be shot first so that the younger ones might not have to die. Could that ever happen in an ordinary classroom in Britain, America, Canada?

There are a million reasons why the Amish couldn't continue to exist if the rest of us weren't prepared to carry on as usual, there are many other places where their existence simply wouldn't be tolerated full stop. But they do exist and they do exist because the West prizes above all else the freedom to choose our own lifestyle so long as it doesn't harm others.
But from this strange little tableau, this opposite of nativity, if we look carefully, if we read our text between the lines instead of in terms of only the words which hit us in the eye, there are shining truths to behold.

Friday, 6 October 2006


As soon as I'd typed the title, my head was filled with this summer's Rockstar : Supernova performance by Dilana, who turned the Cranberries 'Zombie' into something beyond magic.

I've spent the morning with my hands deep in cranberries, and it was just the best fun. Of course, I realise that if that were my job, day in, day out, I'd be less enthusiastic about it.

We went to the Ocean Spray factory, yes the actual one that supplies Ocean Spray cranberry juice to a supermarket near you, and I could have walked to it from my house. I know I make it sound like I live in the middle of an industrial estate, I can walk to Ikea in one direction, Ocean Spray in another, but the truth is, you'd never know they were there.

Walking along the main road back from the Park this afternoon - you remember, no footpath, imminent death by cell phone user - I noticed more of the 'shrooms I photographed the other day. They are literally all along the side of the road, and apart from the nibbles from animals, no-one seems to be interested in them. Well, you might say, are they not Amanita Muscaria, and rather toxic?
Ah yes, but they are also the well-known Fly Agaric, the strong hallucinogen that we believe gave rise to the Saint Nicholas and the flying reindeer myth.
I read somewhere that some people smoke pot while ingesting Fly Agaric, to counteract the nausea, and we are told that BC leaf is the best in the world, though mostly we are told this by the BC Marijuana Marketing Council, or BCMMCJKLXYZzzzzzzzz hey man for short.
So, not that it bothers me, because I'm sure that in Richmond people would probably take it whilst simultaneously doing their version of driving and talking on a mobile phone god bless 'em, it's just......odd.

We have been watching the new 'produced by Salma Hayek' series, 'Ugly Betty' and I have found it a lot of fun. It has Tim (Eric Mabius) from the L-Word actually doing rather well in his part as penis-driven Editor-in-Chief Daniel. I loathed him on the L-Word and frequently wanted to stick a fork in his eye, but I love him in this.

But what is the Ricky Gervais connection, hmmmm? The wonderful Dawn from 'the Office', is on it as the presenter of a fashion show called 'Fashion' and from his other series, 'Extras', we have the superb Ashley Jensen. She has her own name, whereas Dawn from the office is always going to be saddled with being Dawn from the Office.
Why do I find it weird that actors who appear in something also appear in something else? Good question, I suppose it's that these are two British actors in an American TV series.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Civic Duty

Cycled down to the bank this morning - maybe half a mile and then couldn't find anywhere to lock the bike up. Well, not a proper place anyway, so I chained it to a drainpipe.
I feel it is my duty as a citizen to ask questions even when I already know the answer, this is to make a point of course. Ok, I may not be a citizen of Canada, but I am a citizen of somewhere, ergo - I have a civic duty.

I asked the cashier where the bike racks were. This threw her. She had to summon someone to ask. The cashier then remembered there were some bike racks at Shoppers Drug Mart, which is like leaving my bike at home and walking to the bank, not impossible, but a pointless thing for her to suggest really.
The supervisor acted like this was the first time anyone had brought the subject up, but supposed that the lack of bike racks must be why people bring their bikes into the bank. Duh.

Here in Canada, we are preparing for Harvest Thanksgiving. We actually get a day off for this on Monday, so a long weekend. We seem to have more bank holidays here than in Britain, and I think they're quite well spaced, in Britain you go from August Bank Holiday to Christmas with nothing.
At the Nature Park the cranberries are ripe, they look like rubies nestling in their green foliage.
Tomorrow, Lori, Joanne and I go to pack cranberries for our cranberry sale, we can't use our own ones from the Park, there aren't enough, but the Ocean Spray factory is nearby and they donate them.

Tonight is a very special night in the Schneewittchen household. Series three of Little Britain starts on BBC Canada. How long we have waited. Ah Daffyd, how I have missed you.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006


My friend Dawn sent me this picture of mushrooms that were growing by her house, and kindly said I could use the pic. I think they're amazing. I really don't know this species, but something about them says 'edible' to me, although maybe my instinct is being influenced by the fact that Dawn told me they had 'cracked' even more since she took this photo and they reminded her of chocolate cookies baking.

On Monday, as part of our witch training, I held a snake for the first time ever. Now I have told a few people about this and a couple have said something along the lines of, yeah, that was never on my list of things to do. Nor was it on mine. But I did feel good about it.

When I did my first training for the Nature Park, I remember feeling quite an unexpected and primordial fear when Kris got one of the snakes out and held it. There was something about the movement of its head.
And Monday, when Joanne held the snake to hand over to me, there was still something there, as the snake flicked the air with its tongue, looking at me, until I actually took it and became the person responsible for its safety, and then the fear was gone.

That was my third encounter with a snake in the last couple of weeks. One of the trails we have we call the 'Sneaky Snake Trail', and yet throughout the spring and summer I have never seen a snake there. Then last week, when Lori, Jo and I were walking it, a snake just very languidly slithered over one of the wooden path sides and we all stood and watched.
Last week also I had the encounter where the snake crossed right in front of me and silently off into the trees, I mentioned that in a blog and said that I felt it had some deeper meaning. So I looked up the deeper meaning of snakes and this one caught my attention.

" [He] taught us about Snake medicine people who know that we are all Universal beings. When Snake energy reaches the spiritual plane it becomes wisdom, understanding, wholeness and connection to the Great Spirit. [He] says that this is heavy magic but wants you to remember that it is no more than a change in consciousness. Do you find yourself in a rut; clinging to old ways and old thoughts because you are comfortable with them? [He] urges you to glide beyond that place which is safe but nonproductive by becoming Snake. Release the outer skin of your old identity and move through the dreamlike illusion of static continuity across the sands of consciousness. Feel Snake's rhythm as part of the Universe and you will experience the sensual dance of freedom."

I liked that, it resonated with the Psychic who told me that I had come from the Jungle to the Desert.

This morning at the Nature Park we had a Jewish school come in for a programme. The boys wore beautifully embroidered skull caps. The teacher, instead of having one of those nasty little jingles that make me want to vomit to grab the children's attention, spoke to them in Hebrew, which I thought was just beautiful, and taught them reverence for the language and when they had a snack, they said a Hebrew prayer. They were lovely kids, but then so were the group we had this afternoon. But what a different task for that teacher. In the class she had to deal with a child with Down's Syndrome and one with autism. I feel quite strongly about this policy of complete inclusion. It is nonsense. It is more isolationist for the children with disabilities than if they are taught separately and by specialists and it impoverishes the learning experience of the rest of the class. It does this both by forcing more teacher attention to be spent on the children with difficulties and by stressing the teacher unnecessarily.

But this morning's children were keen to see the snake and to touch her, so I took one out of the tank and they seemed delighted to be able to see a snake up close.

Pre-hibernating snakes and showy mushrooms. Autumn delights.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006


I got a bit arsey this morning.

Sometimes, I feel like I'm living between the dimensions, slightly out of phase, there are aliens who have this problem in some episodes of Star Trek Next Generation. I doubt that Jean-Luc will come and rescue me though.

I realised that it was about time I became a bit proactive and started putting my CV about a bit. My CV looks a bit heavy on the education though, so I had carefully added what I thought my transferable skills were.

Last Friday I took my CV into Manpower, since I am familiar with the Manpower Services Commission from Britain. In reality, I should be having no truck with an organisation that calls itself Man anything, but I did.
'Oh,' they said, seemingly delighted, 'can you come in for a three hour intensive interview next week, and could you leave your Resume with us?'

This morning I went in. They had already lost my CV and insisted on calling me Christine.
'What's your last name Christine?' said a second woman, who may it seems have had and misplaced my CV. I corrected her.
'I'll just have one more look,' said the first woman, looking in the file under 'C'.
'Maybe if you looked under 'J' for Janis?' I suggested. Not there either.

They put me in a room with a video. First of all I had to fill in a form, some of which made sense, some of which didn't, and which duplicated the information on my CV which they had lost.
I wondered why they hadn't offered me anything, water, coffee, toilet, air in the room. Woman one put the video on and closed the door. It was hot in the room, and stuffy. The video was about customer services as performed by people wearing 70's clothes and hairstyles.
'Ho hum,' thought I.
Then there was a second video on hazardous chemicals. I watched it for a while, mostly zoned out, thinking, any moment now, this will become relevant. I went out into the main office to tell the women I thought they had given me the wrong video.
'No, no,' they assured me, 'that's the right one.' I wondered about the protocol of getting my library book out but decided against it mainly because by now I had a headache.
There was a worksheet about the video.

I was taken into another room with computers. By now, woman number two had memorised my name.
I was tested on copying, using spreadsheets and using Word. Oh and colouring in. No, sadly not the colouring in. The Excel test was partly beyond my Excel-using skills, even though I have used it a lot, but the Word one was ok. I had to stop halfway and ask to use the toilet. Guess what ? You had to be given a key, one on a pink holder for the women's loo, I assumed the one with the blue holder was for the men's.

Then I went out into the main office for a 'structured interview'. The woman asked me whether the details I had written on the form were correct. I managed to stop myself from retorting that no, all my details had changed since two hours ago.
She asked me whether I liked working in a small, medium or large office. I didn't care.
She asked me whether I prefered a casual, professional or business work environment. I asked her what that meant. She said it was about codes of dress. I asked her what the difference was between professional and business dress. She couldn't answer.

What did I feel were my most useful skills.
'Dealing with the public and speaking French.'
She asked me what type of job, ideally, I liked to do.
'One where I boss people around,' I said. She didn't smile, she didn't ask me what I meant by that, or whether I was feeling ok, she simply carried on typing.
'Is there any type of work environment you like to avoid?' she said,
'A male dominated one,' I replied, 'I suppose that's a bit of a handicap,' I joked. She just carried on typing.
Maybe I shouldn't have been arsey. Maybe I should have played the game right to the end. But I wasn't feeling like it anymore. There was never any point where anyone was interested in finding out what I had to offer. Not really. I gave a lot of pointers that had I been on the other side of the desk, I would have explored.

Creative differences I guess.

Monday, 2 October 2006

Stopping Distance

I am looking forward to my witch training at the Nature Park today. We are preparing early for Halloween. Out in the fields, the pumpkins are being harvested. Last week when I was leaving the park a snake slithered across by path, I'm sure this has some deeper significance, just that I don't know what. I wonder if I'll be able to ride a broomstick by the end of the autumn, after all, we do have those red and white mushrooms in the Park.

You know when you unlock something and all the tumblers fall into place? And then sometimes you have a moment when you can almost hear them going click, click, click in your head? Well I had one of those moments this morning. I have to get my head around things and really understand them, and then eventually it becomes intuitive, whatever 'it' is.
I have really been having difficulty 'getting' the difference between the underlying driving philosophies between Britain and BC and this morning, something fell into place with a click, click, click.
Kevin said something about someone crashing into the back of you, and it was a comment he must have made many times before, but this time, the penny dropped, and it explained so much to me.
In Britain, we have the concept of 'stopping distance'. You have to leave enough room between you and the car in front to allow you to stop in an emergency. Because of this, driver training and testing includes an emergency stop and we are taught to calculate stopping distances in different weather conditions. But here, although you have to leave a gap between you and the car in front, in normal driving conditions on normal roads this is a two second gap.
It is the stopping distance, that explains, suddenly, several differences in philosophy.
The idea here, that drives me insane, that you always have to worry that the person behind you might be confused by what you are doing even though you are clearly signalling etc., the idea that a person can just slot in front of you, the notion that you have to go full charge at a traffic light - again in case the person behind you doesn't slow. All of this I now see is because we don't here have the notion of stopping distance.

Now in general, I have no problem here with my own distance, because as I have said so many times before, all I have to do is keep to the speed limit and no-one else is anywhere near me - in front - but behind me, this doesn't apply.

The stopping distance shifts the responsibility. If someone is signalling that they are turning and for some reason you are not sure they are going to do that, (the main bugbear here seems to be what they term 'over-caution') then it doesn't matter, because you have sufficient stopping distance. At lights, in Britain, there is an obligation to not allow yourself to be in the position where you can't stop anyway, 'don't be an amber gambler' but again, if someone did stop unexpectedly, so could you.
And of course, click, click, click, the reason we Brits go mad when someone cuts in front of us, whereas here it is totally accepted as being ok, is that the person who cuts in is cutting our stopping distance. I really don't know why this has taken me so long to get, but now I can understand the underlying idea, I can see how it all works.

Last night, watching 'Life on Mars' again, more memorabilia of the 70's. The Watney's party seven, the huge ten pound notes. The sexism - pin-ups of half clothed women - in the workplace. Everyone smoking in the workplace. Free's 'Wishing Well' playing in the background. At one point, Inspector Tyler, who is again near the surface of the stretched skin of the coma reality his mind has created, is sleeping next to an old TV set with the Test Card and the white noise. The girl from the Test Card comes out of the box and talks to him. And that's without the awful clothes we used to wear.

But there was one piece of 70's memoribilia that I read this morning that didn't come from 'Life on Mars', was an article about the Goodies' Bill Oddie. Who doesn't remember them on their three-person bike ? I loved them.
It's sad that Bill Oddie had a breakdown, but he seems to have remained in the public eye one way or another. I wonder what happened to Tim Brooke-Taylor.

Ok, broomstick class, I wonder if witches have stopping distance, they probably just have to cackle loudly and all will be well.