Thursday, 30 November 2006

Peckham and Pompey

I had an enjoyable day yesterday in one of the dodgier parts of London, let's say not so far from Peckham and leave it at that shall we.
Alex and I did food shopping, food eating and post food relaxing. Perfick. I have a picture from Alex's room, but now that I am back to not being able to connect with my laptop, I can't load it.

I needed to get back so that I could look after Holly and Teddy this morning while Sue went out. I was greatly looking forward to this and equally greatly enjoyed it. They were both well-behaved and delightful but oh Lordy had I forgotten how utterly physically exhausting it is looking after a toddler and a baby.

You have to keep your eyes on both of them all the time. If one wants to go to the toilet you have to take them both, which will by necessity involve carrying one, but may involve carrying both. While you wipe one bottom, someone else's foot goes in the cats water bowl.

You cannot get out of your seat in a leisurely fashion, you have to leap like a panther everytime, as there is inevitably something about to occur that involves imminent death or disfigurement.

Don't be led astray by one of them claiming to know where something is, it may be an excuse to go into their parents' bedroom and apply Bonjela (mouth gel) to their eye.

No book can be read out loud just once, but rather three or four times, often with appropriate voices for the characters. Avoid Thomas the Tank Engine, because you have to do Ringo Star's voice doing someone else's, you're never drunk enough for that while kids are awake.

When I'm in Canada I feel free to whinge and moan about things that annoy me, but when I'm here, I feel obliged to talk it up. This was mostly fine at my sister's, since my nephew is determined to spend some, oh alright, quite a lot, of his mother's money doing a ski-instructor course at Whistler. But I came unstuck once.

When we were having lunch with my sister's friend, the one whose own sister had just returned from Vancouver, I made the mistake of asking how the children were settling into school here.
'Well, U. was surprised at the number of special needs pupils in M's class,' she said.
'Oh, that surprises me too, mostly over here we have actual school and separate classes for those kids, whereas in BC they're all in together, although I know that U's kids were in a private school, so maybe it just seems a lot because she wouldn't be used to having any in the class,'
'That's what U thought. Then she discovered that the reason there were so many special needs pupils in M's class was that M was actually in the special needs class here.'


Tuesday, 28 November 2006

London bound

This will be quick, it's almost six thirty and Amanda and I are leaving at seven thirty to go up to town.
Yesterday we met up with my sister's best friend from school, whose own sister was living in Vancouver until this summer, but it was nice to see Thea again and we had lunch in a little pub.
My sister took me to see the village where our friends Beth and Dave used to live, who now live in Vancouver. That is worth a second look sometime, very quaint and English villagey indeed.

Today I'll meet up with Alex and we'll do some Londony stuff, although since she has some actual uni work to do, not too much, then back to Pompey. I'm posting while I still have the wonderful wireless connection here.

The weather still causes havoc in the Lower Mainland BC, not to mention Seattle I understand, but here, where I was promised biting wind from Siberia, can't even wear a jacket still.

Toodle pip. Must get my stuff together.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Beds and Nosh

I guarantee you that Liz Hurley is trying to buy Battersea Power Station. How do I know this?
My sister told me about a recent article in their local rag that started with a full page picture of Liz Hurley wearing red leather, progressed to a detailed description of a local almost million pound house that was for sale, and ended with the presumption that Liz had almost bought said house, based on the sighting of a helicopter hovering over it.
Well just before my train reached Waterloo, I saw a helicopter hovering over Battersea Power Station, so....

Beds. When I moved over to Canada, or in fact sometime before that, we needed to buy a bed, we'd had a futon, a good one, but it was getting a bit past its sell-by date.
We started out by looking in some well-known bed shops, this was before I had surrendered to the inevitable and seductive truth that Ikea is all anyone needs in the way of home furnishings.
Now the divan set seemed to be the way to go in many of these shops, but I prefer a slatted base. I asked. They showed me several in fact - all of which then had a complete divan set perched on top of them. I'm serious. Slats, then divan base, then mattress. Bizarre beyond compare. Before I went into sarcasm overdrive, Kevin ushered me out of the store and round the corner to a Danish furniture store where we found our ideal bedframe. Sorted.

When travelling of course, you get to sleep in many bed situations. I am very fond of the low-down to the floor kind of bed, and I seriously dislike the higher style of bed. One bed I look forward to is at Austen and Sue's, they have a more traditional style of futon for guests, very plain, basic, wooden slats and not too thick a futon. And I love it.

Nosh. Before I left, someone said to me,
'Oh, I think the food's better over there.' I was quite taken aback. I've thought for a long time that Canadian food is good, both home-cooked and restaurant, well apart from the Chinese and Indian which are miles better over here. And the idea that British food is good...that's a new one.
Except that I had to readily admit that we can get bloody good ready meals from Sainsburys, Waitrose and M&S, often as good as restaurant food. And Austen and my sister are both really good cooks.
So I guess it's just me then, the last remaining Brit flying the flag of inept cuisine.

Naughty Lambs.

The weather in Pompey continues to be balmy, the snow keeps falling in Richmond, darn it. I say that, but I know there'll be deaths because in spite of the fact it has actually snowed before, no-one ever modifies their behaviour.

Outside of Austen and Sue's living room is a short flight of stairs to the bedrooms. The bottom step is the 'naughty step' where Holly is sent to sit for a couple of minutes time-out if she is naughty, which isn't that often. She does however like to practise dealing with naughty children, and she has two cuddly lambs that frequently get sent to sit on the naughty step. No other animals get sent there, just the lambs. I CANNOT help wondering if this is something she gets from church, where every Sunday she must hear,
'Oh lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world....'maybe she send them there in case she is naughty herself.

This morning we took Teddy to the Health Centre to get him weighed, checked, normalised. Seems he is fairly normal. Apparently boys' laziness extends even to their eating habits, and Teddy is to be given food that he has to chew more from now on.
The Health Centre was of course in general full of the unhealthy, honestly, and uncharitably, some of those people looked as though they'd been unhealthy since birth.
It has made me wonder how the system works in Britain. In Canada we have a swipe card called a Care Card, and wherever you go, they just...swipe it and they have your details on the system. In Britain you just walk in.
On Saturday I had to take Ben to get new specs. Because he's under 18 a large percentage of the cost is paid for by the National Health, but there was no check whatsoever that he was entitled to NHS treatment. I suppose there would be no reason to question someone with a bog standard English accent, but surely that can't be it, the staff listening to your accent. I've never questioned this before.

It has taken me a couple of days not just to get over the jetlag, but also to get back into things. For example, when I left Britain I had to change my phone from a contract phone to pay-as-you go. Unlike most young people in the UK, I'd never dealt with pay-as-you-go before.
I had to remember to charge the phone up before I left Canada. I then had to work out how to top it up with credit. I was happier giving Ben my credit card and phone and asking him to do it for me, but realised that was too wussy for words, so made myself find out what to do.

So now I'm off to Siberia. I phoned my sister last night to tell her what time I'd be there. If you look at a map of England it looks like it should take about an hour and a half to get to Norwich, but I have to get four different trains and it'll take me four and a half hours, though I do love the trains. As you get further from the soft south the trains in general get more cruddy. My sister assures me it's cold in Norfolk, they literally do get winds from the Urals. I wonder if she can draw down some snow for me.

Sunday, 26 November 2006


I'm lagging, I'm flagging, never had jetlag this bad before. I'm also missing snow back in Richmond BC, my most favourite weather condition of all.

However, in ample and over-compensation I had the most rip-roaring time at Sleepy's last night. The troops were summoned, drink was flowing, as ever chez Sleepy, very freely. It was the best of times with the best of people, warm, funny, welcoming, and had Tom Cruise's lawyers had any way of listening in, we'd be in a lot of trouble now. But they don't, so we're not.

Crisp-e and 'Chelle dropped me at the end of Albert Road so I was able to wander down the road that never sleeps, enjoying the noise and busy-ness.

In contrast to the snow that I begrudge them back in Richmond, it's too bloody warm for me here at the moment, I have had to go out without my jacket in order to tolerate the temperature. Ah the sunny south, well, apart from the sunny bit, although she did put her hat on and come out at some point today.

Alex and Ben have been here for the weekend, but they have now gone back to their various colleges/unis. I will miss them but I'm off to Norwich to see my sister tomorrow anyway.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Ghosts outside the machine

Three hours on the tarmac at Vancouver Airport while they fixed the toilets. Methinks they should have discovered this before they boarded all the passengers, but hey, what do I know.

The three hours was made slightly less tedious by virtue of being sat next to an editor of the driving section of the Province newspaper. He was an ex-pat and before he left Britain in the 70s he toured in some capacity with Pink Floyd and Judas Priest.
Naturally I asked him the burning question,
'How, when and why did it happen that David Bowie (as in bow-wow) is sometimes called Bowie (as in bow-tie)?
Well, it seems that when he made it big in the States people there started pronouncing his name like American hero Jim Bowie, designer of the knife, so David had to turn a deaf ear.

I was beginning to think we might not get off the tarmac, but we did, and I slept for most of the way.

London was sweaty, just sweaty, but I love the ease of getting around by tube, by train, by bus, so I had to put up with it. And in retrospect, since I was so late, I didn't even need to go into London.

Austen and Sue no longer have wireless, but I opened the notebook hopefully anyway. It's so weird, you can see all the networks that overlap your space. As you move around the house the networks change.
All of these unseen presences that are in our lives just waiting for us to tap into them. They move around too, like ghosts. Just sitting here different ones keep coming in and dropping out.

And like ghosts, you get to know your own, back home I know the names of the networks that creep into our house and here the same thing is true. Bob came and went.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Giving Thanks

Happy Turkey day to my American friends.

Today's Guardian reminds us that 43 years ago today, not just the USA but the world was mourning the untimely death of President Kennedy. What really surprised me was how good the writing about it in the Guardian was, succinct, informative, objective. When I followed the link to the archived article, I was expecting a more flowery style of writing so I was very pleasantly surprised.

"The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans," said Kennedy. Hmmm. Well, I was a big fan of Bill Clinton and I certainly think of him as one of the new generation of Americans.
Since Kennedy's death we have seen big steps forward, although almost entirely to do with pressure from the groups themselves, for the Gay Community, for the non-white communities and to some extent for women. I know that's a big statement and maybe you could argue that the rights of all of those groups have slipped back as much as they have advanced, but I believe we have more than we did in 1963.

More but not enough. The World Economic Forum's 'Gender Gap Report' does not make pretty reading in 2006.
Taking four quite substantial criteria for assessing ranking, Britain comes ninth, Canada is 14th and the USA is number 22 after Moldavia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania and Columbia.

So that leads us to a little bit of politics does it not? Clearly the majority of people in the US are better off than the majority in say, Croatia. What the report is saying is that the wealth and power are spread more equally in Croatia than in the States.

I remember peddling my socialism to a friend who had slightly right-wing tendencies. His argument was that it was better to have some people having two things and some having one, than having everyone have one thing. This didn't make any sense to me since I felt that however you divvied up the wealth, it was the same to begin with, so giving some people more than others didn't work if you started from a position of having enough for one each. It must inevitably mean that the price of giving some two was that some had none. Simple.

The conservative argument of course is not that simple, because they feel that by encouraging everyone to want more, they will create more, which I still don't get because money stands for something real, something that occupies space and thus it cannot be created, simply redistributed.

So in this case, the case of gender inequality, which is better, for a nation to have more but to distribute it so that the majority is in the hands of one gender? Or to have less but to have it owned equally.

Well, here's the thing. Above the UK in the Gender Gap table, which you can load up if you go to the link, are all the Scandinavian countries, none of which are poor. And standing at number two is Norway. Norway is a country that aggravates the hell out of the EU because it has lots and lots of money since it is oil rich, and yet it will not join the EU. But within the country itself, it has gobsmackingly progressive social policies.
At number five is Germany, a country whose population is not hugely bigger than that of Britain and yet whose industrial output is second only to the United States.

At the bottom of the table are the oil rich Arab countries. That's all I'm going to say.

We have a lot to give thanks for in the West. But we still have one hell of a long way to go.

Like me in fact, I have 8,000 kilometres to travel today. And believe you me, if I could walk them instead of fly them, I would.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Guns, Roses and Buddha's Belly

Where do we get the expression 'Buddha Belly' from? I ask because I have been thinking about Buddha, though not in a spiritual or any way a religious sense, I have been thinking about his fat belly.

So I googled, or u-google-ised (I dunno, Zoolander just wandered into my head at that point)Buddha and Wikipedia reminded me of something, there's not just one Buddha. But it also gave me a picture of the sort of statue you see in Temples here and lo - no Buddha Belly. Hmmm.

Ok, this is why I am obsessing today about some guy's belly fat. On the radio I heard two interesting snippets. One was that the new Guns'n'Roses album is ready to be released and cost $13 million to produce. That seems a lot. Radio guy, DJ, said he had 'heard it was a wall of guitars, gone are the synths.' can buy a lot of Gibsons for 13 mill. And the album is called 'Chinese Democracy'.

The second thing was that some Canadian Health study had shown that people in South Richmond were among the fattest in the Lower Mainland, and yet people in North Richmond were the slimmest. Well, Kev and I live in North Richmond and whilst we're not Dan and Roseanne, we're not underweight either. Aside from that however, it didn't exactly defy comprehension. The south of the city is where a lot of Europeans live, and the North is where a lot of Chinese people live.
We are told that members of the Chinese community are now experiencing obesity, by their own standards of physiology, it's just that you wouldn't be able to tell by looking.

SO back to my question, where oh where did we get this idea of the little fat guy with a huge round tum? Probably some kind of status thing.

It seems that South Africa has now legalised same-sex marriage. That makes it sound like something exciting and secretive that people have been doing down back alleys for years. Yeah, well, good for them.
It is not without problems though. Firstly, being gay is considered a 'white disease' although clearly one that can leap happily across racial boundaries. I don't believe 'being on the down-low' originated in the white community.
But it could just end up bringing the end to some repressive, degrading and outmoded institutions, the offering of a dowry for example. This is referred to as 'destabilising tradition' but the words themselves are emotive. I don't remember anyone referring to Apartheid as 'tradition' because if they had, then destabilising it would have been a damn good thing to do with it.

In Save-On today, the Christmas chocs display is up and in there are.....Terry's chocolate snowballs, mintballs (chuffed to them) and Terry's orange slices. Pukka.

In 24 hours I'll be on my way to the airport.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006


...but not through the snow. Plenty of rain still though. Today I'm not being a Grinch about Christmas, oh no, the Nature Park, playing its part in the Greater Vancouver 'Festival of Light', is being transformed. Of course to a certain extent it gets in the way. At the pond platform today I had to stop talking about frogs and bugs so that parents could take pictures of all the kids poking their faces through a Christmas cut-out, something Santaracious.

Sometimes I wonder what I sound like when I'm not sounding like the Queen.
'What's the name of the bug that gives off a strange smell when it senses danger?' I asked,
'A police car,' answered a little boy. Ah well.

On a Monday night I go to Writers' group. We meet at different houses every week. When I first started going this forced me to drive across the bridges into Vancouver and that's how I started to get to know it in my head.
Recently, my friend Yvonne has been doing the driving, that was particularly useful when I was unable to drive for a while there. Yvonne knows Vancouver way better than I do, so being her passenger I learned more about it, then the driving lessons.

Last night, with Yvonne away, I had to find my way on my own again, and I realised that I do feel I now know the area. I didn't have to have my google map, ok, I had been to this friend's house before, but I was able to think about which way I would go, try out some new roads. Vancouver and me, we know each other better now.

We refer to our group as 'dashers'. Some of the members write short stories, some have ongoing stories. I love these, look forward to them, all different kinds of story and damn there's some good writing.
Sometimes people try out something else instead of just continuing with their story, then we get annoyed with them, well, ok, I do.
One of the writers, from time to time, writes stories for very small children. Those stories are luminous, they are imaginative, full of colour and beautiful images and skillful use of words.
I see a lot of children's books and stories, and even the best of them are banal in comparison and yet this friend's stories have not yet been published, come close, but not in the end taken up. Yet. It quite literally angers me that I cannot go out and buy these books and read them to my granddaughter. From the stories alone I can imagine the illustrations.

My lists my endless lists are ruling me at the moment. I will be dashing around until I am finally becalmed like a battered little ship, in the departures lounge at Vancouver airport on Thursday.

So I've just dashed this off.

Monday, 20 November 2006

Sweet and Sour

It's the 20th of November today, ten days until Saint Andrew's day, which in itself is 25 days before Christmas.
Well after going into town this morning to do some shopping, I am fed up with Christmas. Every single shop has sickly sweet Christmas music already. Outside of Shoppers' Drug Mart a jaded Santa wearing sunglasses is standing ringing a bell and collecting money for the Sally Army. How annoying, you can't go in or out without passing him, and that'll go on throughout December. Ho, Ho, ARGH.

Yesterday we went for an Indian meal with some friends, we are trying to find somewhere up to the standards of the Goa in Southsea. Fat chance, but this was cheap and cheerful. They also had sweets. I have noticed that a lot of Indian Restaurants here claim to be something plus sweets, whereas I've never seen much more than odd flavoured ice-cream as pudding in Britain.
Well, the sweets seemed to be made out of playdough and so brightly coloured you can become hyperactive just from looking at them.

As we stepped outside, a police car was chasing another car down a side street. Then another police car, then another, eventually we counted ten police vehicles all involved. It seemed exciting until someone pointed out that if the police were investing ten cars in this chase you can bet there were going to be guns involved at some point. We scuttled off in the opposite direction.

I had an appointment this morning with a lady at the Employment Centre. She wanted to look at my CV. It was all wrong. She didn't like that I had my name at the top of it. ?? Under 'Qualifications' I had in fact qualifications. Wrong! I should have put what my skills were. She crossed bits out and scribbled things in. She didn't like the font I used, it was too clear. Hmmmm. I'm not sure that she got irony, but she seemed like a nice lady. She told me, I thought quite rudely, that I could do this because I was a teacher. Of course, I thought, being a teacher I can split atoms and perform brain surgery, and if I have to walk on water to get there, so be it. I told my inner sarco to shut up, I really don't think it was her intention to be rude. Then she chatted to me in a sociable way. It was odd, like finding bacon in the middle of a chocolate bar.

I leave for England on Thursday. Already and for a couple of days now, I have had this Donnie Darko thing going on. Like that watery tube that Donnie could see coming out of people ahead of them, connecting them to their futures. It's like I'm here, but I'm already connected to the future.
Partly that's because I've placed an order with Sainsburys online that will be delivered to Austen and Sue's ahead of my arrival and another one with Amazon. This is going to be a whirlwind tour, I have at least the first week planned out.
I'm greatly looking forward to seeing everyone, I'm just not looking forward to the travelling.

Sunday, 19 November 2006


The recent heavy rain has fallen as snow on the mountains and suddenly I am aware of them again. They look so beautiful with their snowy frosting. Or at least they did yesterday, today they are hidden behind thick raincloud.

We were surprised to find out through national news reports, how bad things are in British Columbia. Easy for me to say, living in sunny Richmond, we get 30% less rain even than Vancouver, just across the bridge. Parts of BC have suffered loss of power and contamination of water supplies since the heavy rains of last Wednesday and more expected today.

Meanwhile, the show must go on and today is Grey Cup day. This is the final of the Canadian Football season. I'm not quite sure how many teams are involved in the CFL, there certainly seem to be a limited number of Canadian hockey teams in the NHL so I would expect even fewer Canadian Football teams. Yeah well, I won't persist, having been told off about writing about football, I get Canadian Football even less.
I will just mention however that Canada played Wales at rugby the other day, Austen told me this. I feel this shows true grit on the part of the Canadians, like David and Goliath. Unlike D&G though, no, not Dolce and Gabbana, in this case the giant won. Wales would probably have had to go into mourning otherwise.

I'm pretty pissed off with the British Press in general right now for misreporting the interview between Tony and old hack David Frost. Gordon Bennett, Frost must be about 110 by now, why does he refuse to die?
However, the BBC reportage starts as badly as any but at least then goes on to correct itself, which I'm pleased about since they are in my good books for providing so many good proggies for me to watch on BBC Canada.

One Frosting nobody needs.

Saturday, 18 November 2006


At some point in the past, someone, somewhere said to me on the subject of volunteering, that it was good to give something back to the community. I went mental. Well, in a British sort of way which mainly consists of kicking the sarcasm up a notch and wondered what the hell the community had ever given to me. Sweet Fanny Adams is the answer. I'm still giving and the community is still withholding. Kinda lacks balance somehow.

Imagine then, the lack of balance for the poor bloke who has just been released from gaol in Pakistan where he has been incarcerated for 18 years for a crime he didn't commit. British citizen.
In the article it says,
'He paid a terrible price for something he didn't do.' Well that doesn't really work, he didn't pay a price, he was robbed.
Eighteen years. The entire length of my daughter's life. How do you ever square away the injustice of that? If the crime he didn't commit had not been committed in Britain, he'd have been out three years earlier too.

And then, how do the logistics work? I mean, you're chucked out of prison, there you are, no money, a British passport only lasts ten years, well except mine which is for eleven but nevermind.
In Trailer Park Boys, every time Ricky and Julian get released from prison, Bubbles illegally drives down to collect them in an old wreck of a car and that's that. So how does someone get from standing outside a prison in Pakistan to stepping off the 'plane at Heathrow, how does that work?

A Finnish study has given us some more insights into Balance. Apparently within a relationship it is better for your own health to give than to receive, especially if you are a woman, although the researchers point out that men still gain from being supportive in a relationship.
The interesting thing about the study I felt, was that it was based on people's perceptions about how supportive they were.

I think perception is part of the answer. I am very happy giving my time at the Nature Park until some jackass tries to make it into something it isn't. I get a great deal from the place itself and from the people I work with, but I don't think of them as the community.
The man who has been robbed of 18 years of his own life is probably better off than someone who has actually killed an innocent person for no reason and he is certainly glad to be back with his family and friends in Britain.

Maybe the balance we seek is about our life as a whole rather than as part of a community.
I know, that sounds a bit Aristotelian, the Golden Mean, but then why not? The only difference that I would contend is one of judgement. Aristotle would have us judged by others, but for most of us - well we are our own sternest critics.

Friday, 17 November 2006

Chocolate, Orange

Mandarins are the small orange of choice here, I guess that makes sense, mandarins would seem to come from China and we are much closer to China than we are to Spain.
In the period that leads up to Christmas in the UK though, we are seduced by the Satsuma and the Clementine.
Of course I have been trying to work out whether there is in fact any difference between the Mandarin and the Satsuma and maybe the Sat has that slightly thicker skin that almost peels itself, but I can't be sure. Superstore have kindly given me a free box of Mandarins though, so I have plenty of purely scientific consumer research ahead of me.

Chocolate on t'other hand, I have been researching assiduously since I got here. And I am not so unhappy with the provision anymore. We can buy plenty of Côte d'Or and Lindt choccie at reasonable prices, and Superstore, whose task it is to please moi, have recently been trying their hand at their own 'President's Choice' brand. And I must say they are doing quite well. The pretend Ferrero Rocher got a thumbs down, but the ersatz Toblerone is not bad at all, likewise their fruit and nut. All good. Yesterday, just for my delectation (why else?) they had 1 Kilo bars of Cadbury's Dairy Milk IMPORTED. Yes, there is a difference, quite seriously there is a difference in taste between the Cadbury's they make in Toronto and the Cadbury's they make at...well.... Cadbury's.

Put the two together and of course you get a Terry's Chocolate Orange. Now I feel that the TCO follows the same rule as Sleepy's thoughts on brollies. Somehow you never actually buy them, but at times of celebration there are always plenty around, and in the lead up to Christmas you are almost swimming in them. And Terry's of York do make exceedingly good chocolate. Rather like Mr. Kipling and his cakes.
We do have TCO's here, though I haven't yet done the necessary research on them, but in the interests of science, I will.
I haven't yet seen any but the milk chocolate ones, nor have I seen the bars, but I'm sure they must be around somewhere ...... just a question of finding where Kevin has hidden them...
Just kidding,
'They're not Terry's, they're mine.' Ah yes, I think Dawn French already said that.

Thursday, 16 November 2006


I am an inveterate weeder, everyone knows this about me. It helped enormously when it came to moving across the Atlantic because I had to weed everything I own down to just a few boxes of books and a suitcase full of clothes. Whenever I have perpetrated a crime against clutter my friend Ree will say to me,
'Oh I wish you'd come and sort out my stuff,' but she wouldn't really, because I would do it, I'd go and sort anyone's clutter, but no-one really wants that to happen. It makes Kevin nervous and I can understand that even though I've never thrown out or recycled anything without showing it to him first.

Now this character flaw of mine should be compatible with the music system we have in this house. All of our music is on a central server and there is a kind of terminal in each room that we play it from. All I have to do is browse the database and find the artist or album or track that I want to hear. Very slick. The system is called Slim Server and the terminal is called Squeezebox and Kevin writes some of the code for it.

In the morning, we are awoken by Squeezebox which selects random tracks and turns on at the time set. I think I'm correct in saying that Kevin wrote the alarm function. I am always already awake when the alarm goes off, I preempt it, if the alarm goes off at 7.30 I will be awake by 7.28, I don't know how that works, but it works.

So what's the problem? Well, Kevin and I have creative differences, different approaches to the music system database. I don't know if I mentioned this, but I like to weed. I would just have music on there that we like, and by we I mean me really.
Now in the first place, Kevin has far wider tastes in music than I and I mean far wider. But as well as that, he has a sort of music library thing going on. He likes, within reason, the idea of anyone being able to browse our music collection and I can certainly respect that ideal. Obviously there are limits to his tolerance. No-one wants BS on their music database.

Somehow, Stiltskin has escaped our system. Yes, Stiltskin. And so I know for sure that I wasn't woken by them this morning and yet inexplicably, as I lay in bed, one of the tracks from their album 'Inside' was running through my head. It has haunted me all morning, it won't bloody well go away.

Stiltskin were an Edinburgh band who had a number one single at some point in the 90's with a track that was the background to a Levis (I think, memory faltering, so please correct me) ad. It was an amazing track and an amazing album. And that was that - until now. They are either about to release or have just released a new single. But I had to Google them to find that out, so that doesn't explain why 'Illusion' is in my head suddenly. And where is my Stiltskin album? What happened to it, it would have escaped even my weeding, although maybe not the outside weeding, where one of my kids comes along and says,
'Oh, can I borrow this?' where 'borrow' = half inch.

Oh well. The answer will come to me no doubt, unlike the album.
And the pic, well I just 'borrowed' it from some bloke's Flickr site.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006


Brollies are wonderful symbolic and poetic images of rain, but what the hell are they for in reality?

We were awoken early by rain being blown hard against the window panes, so I was raring to get out there for my walk to the Nature Park. But then the brollies, people wearing hoods, using their brollies to ...what? Protect their raincoats? People doing battle with the wind, fighting to keep their brollies from blowing inside out. Small people now transformed into wide vehicles, taking up the whole pavement, unable to see. They'd poke your eye out as soon as look at you.
Bloody things.

At the Nature Park, uncertainty over whether we would be able to take children out on the trails for fear of falling branches. But we did. The wind had been blowing all night, most of the leaves had now fallen from the trees and anything that was coming down had long since done so. But the frogs didn't pop their heads out to see us, we found spiders but no webs. I found one, single, tiny, forgotten millipede, deep down below a log, buried beneath the decomposing leaves.

At the end of the programme we lost power. On the main roads, the traffic lights were out, so endless beeping of car horns as drivers disagreed with other drivers' decisions about whose turn it was to move forward. We cancelled the afternoon session, but the teacher was about to cancel anyway, one mum with an SUV, presumably the real point of which is to be able to drive in these conditions, was refusing to drive. Schade.

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

The Queen and I

Yesterday the Province of BC had a Bank Holiday for Remembrance Day and so all of the elderly ladies in our area, plus Kevin and myself, went to Silver City mid-afternoon to see the film 'The Queen'. Wow. What an amazing film. Not only did it achieve what Hollywood rarely does, in that both the Queen and Tony Blair were presented in a sympathetic light in spite of it being about a tension between them, but it captured so much of the Zeitgeist of that time that it had me crying for most of the way through. I could happily sit through it all over again and I'm heartily glad that we went to see it on the big screen.

So today, Kevin has the day off and I am not going into the Nature Park. One year ago today, friends and family around the world, well, OK, UK and the States, watched us being married by a lovely Jewish lady in our dining room. How's that for Zeitgeist?
By the end of that day, Sleepy had sent me pictures of her, Crisp-e, Eilie and Barbara all sitting on the sofa watching us on their TV. Brilliant. Barbara had brought flowers for the occasion. I think they had all been toasting us long before we were actually married.
We included those pictures in our immigration application.

My son Austen had written a speech which was to be read out in an English accent and no, he didn't expect me to read it out myself, he knew our friend Steve, who is an actor, would be there. It was also wonderful that he was able to read out e-mails from my friends Dawn and Ree in the States. It's amazing what you can put together in a few days.

Our friend Shaniah, the very same Shaniah from whom Ms. Twain stole her name - a fact acknowledged on her biopic - scheduled her meetings so that she was able to stop in Vancouver long enough to be with us for the afternoon and evening.

I like the system here of having a marriage commissioner whom you can select and get in touch with and will come to your house. She was brilliant, held our hands so to speak, made suggestions and was positive about everything.
We were able to choose the timing so that family and friends in the UK would still be awake, but in the States they'd be home from work, also to tie in with Steve's committments and Shaniah's.

So, here we are, a year on and going strong.
More glasses to raise, bottoms up.

Monday, 13 November 2006


Like my friend Sleepy, we have been out twitching. In fact, at the bird sanctuary we went to with friends from the Nature Park, they even had blinds that you could go into and peer out at the birdies. The place itself was amazing enough, you could hike round trails for hours if you wanted, and it is always brilliant to go on any kind of nature walk with Lori and Jo because they simply know so much. But my friends Beth and Dave, who were also with us, are real value added because they know about both British and North American natural history, so they can not only tell you what the things we're seeing are, but they can also say,
'...and we call it a ... in Europe,' or, '....and that's related to a ....'Dave also reputedly looks like Harry Potter only without the specs, so to counteract that, he's had all his hair shaved ...well, nearly off.

In a tree in the lane leading down to the sanctuary, called ironically, Reifel, we saw a horned owl. I do have a picture of it, but the foliage of the tree is so close and dark that you can hardly see the owl. These are amazing creatures, they just sit up there, so still and look at you.

The most spectacular birds at the moment, because you can see them flying in the south of Richmond, are the snow geese, sadly the biggest flocks of them were seen from the car, so I only have quite a lame picture of a small number.

Excuses, excuses.

The birds who were most up for being photographed were the wide variety of ducks. There were signs up telling you not to chase them, but the truth was, they chased us. Mostly in a friendly way, except when they tried to take out Harry, er I mean Dave.

Enough! In the evening, Kevin and I watched one of last Monday's film picks, Juon 2. The video rental place were heavily pushing this, presumably since the Grudge 2 is due out soon. We enjoyed it. We always find it interesting to watch the foreign language films because it shows you some of the culture of the place in an incidental way.
I think from reputation I was expecting the film to be creepier, but it was good, I liked the method of overlapping the stories of some of the characters. I found the acting style at times of great tension to be somewhat melodramatic, but not to the extent that it interfered with belief.

Lying in bed at night, we had one of those surreal conversations about whether Colin and Justin would ever tackle Japan and whether it would have any impact on haunted houses. I tended to think it might, Kevin felt that maybe the houses might tackle Colin and Justin.

Sunday, 12 November 2006


Ah....our old friend, Rita Verdonk, she of the deliciously cheeky Dutch name, is up to her old tricks, God bless you Ms. Verdonk. For the sake of controlling an estimated 50 people out of the one million Muslims in Holland, Ms. Verdonk risks pissing off the international community.
Now on the one hand, I can totally see the whole disguise aspect. It seems way too easy to put on this full body armour that is the burka and hide a multitude of sins. Hell, even Muslim Pakistan has now banned women lawyers from wearing them and the veil within the courthouse since they had been playing fast and loose and swapping about at their whim while representing clients.
So what am I suggesting? I dunno, I have no answers, just that Rita seems about as subtle as her name. Slam Verdonk.

Still in the Netherlands, surely only Mike Meyers could make this up,

"Religious tensions have been heightened by the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-Moroccan militant in 2004, and by the dramatic rise of Pim Fortuyn, an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim gay politician who was assassinated by an animal rights activist days before national elections in 2002."

Or couldn't make this stuff up.

Nor this. The F-Word reports on a new phenomenon that you might think only happens in Iran, well in Iran as we have seen before you can be hanged for reporting rape, but in Britain you can still end up with a criminal record.
In the case that Jess McCabe refers to here, a woman who had never had sex with a man, was raped by one who told her she was gagging for it, the police determined that she had had intercourse and that there was bruising on her breasts and neck. The rapist walked free and she has been charged with perverting the course of justice, ie lying. Bear in mind that they had proved she had been entered but until that point, in spite of having a full sex life with her partner, she had NEVER had sexual intercourse with a man. I was beyond outraged by this story. It is already difficult enough to get women to report rape, even more difficult to secure a conviction. Women who have gone through the courts have reported the process of taking a man to court as being like going through the rape all over again and then the state rapes them a third time.

I can make no comment on this but one big WHY???

Saturday, 11 November 2006


When the rain comes here, the sky turns so grey it feels like continual twilight. In Britain it seems more as though someone adjusts the colour settings on the TV and the blue fades to grey. Here the cloud cover is like a stack of thick duvets, all of them Tog 15. It's pretty funky actually.

On TV there is currently an ad for an X-Box game with the background music of Gary Jules' version of Tears for Fears' 'Mad World', the version he did for Donnie Darko. It seems an odd and yet strangely appropriate choice. And it sends me back to my last winter at Mayhem. By summer things were beginning to get sorted out and I knew I was coming here, we'd made the decision.
My journeys to and from school were accompanied by Greenday, Snow Patrol (Final Straw) and Queens of the Stone Age, but in the winter, when things were far from clear, I cycled down dark streets, past houses lit-up for the evening, past chimneys that breathed smoke when they shouldn't, past the cemetery that called to me, past chippies and pubs and churches and big little Tesco, across the park and past the Students' Union and Gary Jules sang to me. On my mp3 player I had Linkin Park, Evanescence, Nickelback, Staind, a single Beth Orton track - Central Reservation.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik.

When I think about this, now, I can hear someone else's voice in my head. Hearing voices? Maybe, but I am hooked on 'Dexter'. I've mentioned this show before, but now when I am aware of my own voice, sometimes I hear his, the soft, low voicing of thoughts which separates him from what he thinks of as 'normal' people. Dexter is a police forensics expert who kills other killers and who is locked into a psychological game of chess with one of them.

Not that I'm turning into a serial killer or anything, but I am eating too many chillies. I've realised that some days, the only meal I eat with no chillies is breakfast, I don't yet crave them with my porridge. This has no consequence until I do something stupid, ignore the rules of sensible cuisine. I made a wonderful stir fry flavoured with coriander, - I love the smell of that so much I could roll in it - ginger and fresh chillies. I put in tofu, too much tofu. Kevin has explained to me before about avoiding the stomach problems normally associated with beans by combining them with rice for example, something to complete the amino acid chain. Did I do as he had warned ? No. Did I suffer ? Oh dear, dear Lord yes. I will draw a line under that episode. Too much detail can be bad.

But I will say one more thing. My interest has been piqued this week by reports of a huge storm on the planet Saturn. I love weather, I love planets, what better combination? But most of all I loved the final observation,

"Dr Baines said that storms could help scientists understand what goes on deeper in planets. "When you have storms they tend to dredge up materials from deep down below, and so if you want to see what's in the deep part of a planet then you can look in a storm system and see tracers of the material deep down." "

How interesting, and how very Saturnine.

Friday, 10 November 2006

Il pleut

If I had to take a cold shower, or even get myself ready to go swimming - even though I love swimming and used to swim in the sea all the time in Pompey, sewage and all - I prevaricate, have to psych myself up. Why is it then that as soon as it starts raining hard I want to rush outside like a large welly-clad duck? Tis a mystery, but it's raining out there and has been all night and inside I'm all smiley and can feel a Gene Kelly coming on.

Dear Lord, how courageous do you have to be to take part in Gay Pride in Jerusalem? There are the men dressed flamboyantly as women that we have come to love and expect from Pride, but in general on the newscast I'm watching, it is less colourful than in Britain or Canada. On t'other hand, the men with beards are out in full force trying to keep Jerusalem holy for the whole world, by this I imagine he means 'find some way to stop Pride' and three thousand bullet-proofed police/troops have been drafted in to deal with trouble. Fortunately they currently look bored, most likely quite a lazy day for Jerusalem.

Clichés are generally clichés because they have either once been true or still are, but Newscaster Roland was not presenting this morning, instead his colleague, whose name I forget was sitting behind the newsdesk.
Like many Frenchwomen, she knows how to present herself. In spite of an overlarge mouth and nose, she has close-cropped hair and perfect choice of dark coloured shirt so that she looks attractive and yet for the life of me I can't see how. I guess it's just a French thing.
And yes, I know that Catherine Deneuve deserves an honourable mention for being both beautiful and French at the same time.

Last night I watched Jay Leno, who I really don't like, I find him lame-arsed and often toe-curlingly gauche. But Sasha Baron-Cohen was on and I was really excited to see him being interviewed as himself. Sadly it was not so. He came on and was interviewed as Borat - very funny of course, but I was mildly disappointed to have sat through a quarter of an hour of Leno being a tosser. He had some 'ordinary Americans' and humiliated them by asking them general knowledge questions. They put up a picture of the Twat of Iran and the people couldn't identify him. One said he was the Prime Minister of Britain. Another said Israel.

I went to Ikea late yesterday afternoon, partly because I hadn't been out all day and partly to get an antidote to the awfulness of adverts for Christmas frippery. Ikea is full of light and good design and I feel lifted just by getting myself into the zone and drifting round it. No horrid little porcelain scenes, no over-decorative tat, no clutter, just clean strong lines and fabulousness.

Sorry, did that sound like an ad? Good-oh.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

Sin and Science

Such weirdness going on.

Sleepy sent me an article from the Times online which shows that help is at hand for the NHS. A doctor at a Family Planning clinic is fully embracing alternative methods and suggested to a patient that she needed to consult a Catholic priest due to the fact that she was clearly possessed. Sadly for the doc, the patient wasn't as open minded and now the whole sorry shenanigans is in court. Amusingly, the doctor's name is Pratt.

I'm almost sorry that my upcoming trip to Blighty will be just too damned short to hop over to Düsseldorf and experience Marx's 'Das Kapital' the stage version. We are assured that not only is the production based on different people's takes on Marx's economic theories but that every performance will be subtly different. My mouth is positively watering. Seems as though audiences are less enthusiastic than I however and it isn't a sellout. Yet. Good news for me though.

Since I missed Bonfire Night, Sleepy also sent me an amusing account of one squaddie's prank which backfired. Mind you, how the hell it could ever not have backfired was more the question. He stuck a rocket in his bum and lit the blue touchpaper. Oddly, he was subsequently hospitalised.
I loved that 'safety experts' said this,
" experts said yesterday that launching a rocket from the backside was a practice that contravened the firework code." So dry. Nicely done.

In more local news, a Synagogue in Vancouver objected to a women's gym opposite not having frosted glass, so that the worthies with the hats and the long curly hair going on were able to see women in sportswear provocatively exercising. For some reason, the lady's gym actually complied and frosted their glass, but then realised that they had insufficient light. You might have thought that the Hasidics who were already in need of enlightenment may have considered frosting their own glass.

The Japanese are scary people - sorry Raymond - but last night on the 'Daily Planet' we saw two robots being built in Japan. One was an actual android, although perhaps Fembot was the right word. The robot, whose skin was made of silicon to give it a more lifelike appearance really did have a lifelike appearance. That is if you know a young Japanese woman with large hands. An ongoing process was programming it with ever more human movements. Researchers reported that they had to treat it like a human too, if they did anything disrespectful to it, other workers got upset. The only drawback was that all these realistic movements were mediated by hydraulics, and the hydraulic power system was too large to be inside the body.

Meanwhile another robot which looked more like a pile of children's bricks that could be clicked together, were able to organise themselves both as individual units and within the whole, to overcome obstacles. At present, the researcher has to tell them the nature of the obstacle coming up and then it works out how to cope, but future bots will have sensors.

Between the two of them, we don't yet have Seven of Nine, but I'm sure somewhere, someone's working on it.

Wednesday, 8 November 2006


Not that is any of my business, but I find it hard not to comment on the US mid term elections. When Dubya was re-elected, I don't think anyone could really believe it, there had been an attitude of 'Anybody but Bush,' in some parts of the States, and yet as it happened, the anybody that stood against him wasn't good enough. I certainly have enough friends in the States to know that many of them have not flourished under an ultra conservative regime. I can see that a clear message has gone out to President Bush that the time is right for Democratic leadership, so from that point of view I understand the mid-terms, but from another, I don't, I can't see that there is anything to be gained from destabilising the government.

Well now, this news story about creating human-cow embryos for use in stem cell research is a can of worms is it not? The first visual that came to me when I read the article was from that Lindsay Anderson film 'Britannia Hospital' - there was a ward with people who had been given sheep's bodies, the stuff of nightmares.

I think the BBC article is correct, there is an instant yuck factor. But the genetic material in the cow cell will have been removed. I'm not sure why it specifically has to be bovine cells and would the yuck factor be worse or better if cells from an animal more genetically similar to ourselves were used ?

Religious objections I can see as another potential problem and like it or not, because our legal system is based originally on the ethics of the Christian faith, so are many people's personal ethics. Do human cells have some sanctity? We often talk about all life being sacred. What does that mean? It would be an odd position to take to claim that all life had the same sense of sanctity to us as human life. We take life to eat. We take life to protect our own in other ways. We incarcerate animals for entertainment/education. Given a choice between saving a human life and saving an animal's life, the majority of us would save the human.

Is there a difference between eating cow cells and using them for research? We give cow's milk to babies even. There are human with valves from pigs' hearts in them. Vaccines are made and injected into us using animal cells. Women take Hormone Therapy made from horse urine. Where are those boundaries?

Does sacred mean the same as never taking? Personally I would argue that is not the case. I believe it is a deep and abiding respect. But I would not deny women the right to abortion on demand, I would allow euthanasia, I am opposed to capital punishment, but I believe in the right to defend freedom.

This research could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of some of the worst of human diseases. Alzheimer's for example. My friend Sleepy debates the horror of that one on her blog today. I have yet to meet anyone who has encountered Alzheimer's who has not expressed the point of view, 'put me down if I get it,' quite possibly because the 'me' bit of each of us slides away with that disease. Now balance one against the other. If someone you love, really, really love, could be saved from that horror by stem cell research using bovine cells injected with human DNA, doesn't the yuck factor and most other objections fall away like so much Scotch mist?

The final argument reported in the BBC article is that humans and animals have always been separated. Oh well. And yet we have fought for and continue to fight for more respect for and decent treatment of all animals. White people and black people used to be separated and now they're not (so much) and that is a way better state of affairs. It seems to me that to maintain our difference from the animal kingdom on this is meaningless, we can die in an undignified fashion of our human diseases or we can get over it.

And God? Well I thought God fashioned the whole of creation, giving us what we need. Sure, she told us not to eat from the tree of knowledge, but we did, so hey, what difference does it make? Do we see our fellow people condemning the use of electricity? Well, not so much. And yet that came from the tree of knowledge, and I don't mean the build-it week-by-week encyclopaedia.

I think it is right that something as progressive as this is thoroughly discussed, preferably by ethical philosophers rather than the daily mail. And I hope that in the end they will decide there is no true ethical dilemma with this. Because it offers hope and because in any case, once someone's had the idea, either some Doctor Mengele will do it somewhere in a Boris Karloff laboratory or western scientists will do it in transparent conditions. And I for one prefer the idea of the latter.

Tuesday, 7 November 2006


I seriously thought I was having an all day hot flush yesterday, but it turned out just to be my paranoia. In spite of Kevin saying to me this morning that it couldn't possibly be a flush if it lasted all day, I don't think it sunk in until I spoke to a couple of other people who had had the same thing. Certainly the weather was slightly warmer with all the rain we were having, but I think in reality I was fighting off some bug. I did and do also feel fairly crappy, but the sure sign for me was wanting to sleep during the day.

That being said, I must confess to being one of those aggravating people who refuses to take time off, not that I have anything to take time off from, but when I did, I wouldn't. Kevin's company actively try to discourage this attitude by not giving a set amount of sick time, thus people don't feel they are entitled to the sick days as extra holiday and when they are sick, they take the time off they need rather than coming in and passing it on to everyone else.

I am very used to fevers, I used to have them throughout my childhood, whenever I had any sort of illness whatsoever I would get a fever with it and this was dismissed as being a result of my having contracted malaria as a small child in Nigeria. Possibly as a result of that, the fever has become my own measure of when to give in, so what happened yesterday? I guess the answer probably is that my temperature wasn't high enough to give me that tell-tale sensitivity, but high enough to affect the workings of my brain.

So, on my return from the Nature Park, I have been for a walk and taken photos of the beautiful place where I live.

And I'll bid goodnight.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Backs and Books

Backs are funny things, just not in the comedic sense. I have been fortunate enough so far to have only suffered real pain in my back twice, but it was sufficient to allow me to empathise somewhat.

When my back went out one Christmas Eve it taught me a couple of things. One was that since there had been no warning, you really don't know what's around the corner. I bent down and couldn't get up, that was it. It was frustrating because I had to lie in bed or on the sofa but I wasn't really ill, and whilst that wouldn't be a problem for say, Homer Simpson, to me it was one big old annoyance.
Another thing that struck me was how theatrical it all looked. If you told an actor to play at having backache, they would have the exact same way of walking and facial expressions as someone who really is suffering. You wince involuntarily. You hold your back because it feels like it might come apart. You walk as though....well as though you can't walk. And there is sweet Fanny Adams that anyone can do for you, you just have to - well, not exactly ride it out, more shuffle it out.

We are told that backache is the price we pay for walking upright and maybe that's so, but if you're one of those who does suffer, cold comfort. I have a number of friends and family members who suffer with their backs, from the chronic to the about to go into surgery, the pain ranges from debilitating to completely unbearable. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Books are a different matter, although just as serious. I was watching the news this morning, appalled at a bunch of Iraqi Sunnis riding around in an open-topped car, anger in their faces and holding aloft pictures of Saddam Hussein. It contrasted starkly with the scenes of joy from other Iraqis, and throughout all of these news scenes, I did not see one woman.
I was pondering on the nature of the beast when a new item came up, an American author, Jonathan Littel, has been awarded the Grand Prix du Roman by the Académie Française. It reminded me that sometimes it is easier to experience the soul of a nation through its literature. However much the French irritate the hell out of me from time to time, I have witnessed their soul because I have read so many of their great works of literature. Somehow their authors mitigate their awfulness and it isn't the political commentators who do that, we don't find out about the soul of the French by reading what several of them think of the global stage, it's through their works of fiction.
The people who write and share their opinions about politics and economics are simply people who think they know something, rough cobblers together of wooden frameworks. But the true writers, the storytellers and creators of fiction, are Master craftspeople, literary cabinet makers. By their works shall we know them.

As soon as I saw the headline in the Guardian, 'Philosopher puts religion on the stage', I knew exactly which philosopher it would be.
Yes, it could easily have been Baroness Warnock, but I was sure it would turn out to be Anthony Grayling and lo, it was he.
At some point whilst I was teaching A-Level philosophy, I went on two courses taught by him. In his turn, Anthony Grayling had been taught by Freddie Ayer, so the line continues, well, unless this means that I have to publish something meaningful, which would be a bit of a pain and more or less ruin my day.
Grayling has published, but then most people you are taught by at university level have published something in their own field. But his name keeps cropping up, in the newspapers, on TV and now the stage. What impresses me most however, is his continued commitment to simply teaching philosophy, he still lectures at Birkbeck college, one of the colleges of the University of London.

I kept a slip from a fortune cookie.
'In vain have you acquired knowledge if you have not imparted it to others.'
It doesn't really matter how we do it, by passing it on to our children, by writing, or by teaching, or even through something practical which we make and add to the product of our country. But if I had anything to add to the fortune cookie message, it would be something I learnt from Anthony Grayling, whatever you do, whatever you teach, it must be ethical, passed on in good faith.

Sunday, 5 November 2006

Bonfire Night

I'm missing out on Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night, Guy Fawkes Night, remember, remember the fifth of November. In truth I imagine that most people had their fireworks last night.
Pompey is particularly fond of its fireworks, they'll celebrate absolutely anything by sending explosives into the sky, sometimes you have no idea what the reason for them is.
Poor old Guido. Horrible, horrible death, and amazing that whatever awful ways people were put to death over the course of British history, it never stopped 'em expressing their religious or political beliefs. Maybe I should expand that, European history.

Perhaps it's because of this long and gruesome history that the European Union are requesting that Saddam Hussein's death sentence should not be carried out. There is no capital punishment within the EU and hasn't been for some considerable time.
It's a tough one. The verdict is from just one of the charges, the killing of 148 Shia, he can't be put even more to death for the Kurds and all the thousands of others. In spite of his outburst at the designated method of his death, it couldn't be made to match the nature of the deaths he imposed upon others, and nor should it, if we haven't moved on from hanging, drawing and quartering, then we're not better than him and we are, by thunder we are.

Moving on. Movie night at Château Schnee. Geoff the Rental clearly didn't entirely approve of my two picks this week.
'Our friend's in 'Slither',' I said apologetically.
But in fact neither Slither nor Nacho Libre actually sucked.

Nacho Libre - Jack Black, a Swede (Peter Stormare) and a bunch of Mexican actors was quietly enjoyable. Jack mesmerised with his ability to pose, posture and generally throw his five foot five 208 pound frame around like you wouldn't believe. Some of it may have been a stunt double, some of it certainly wasn't. His partner in la lucha libre, Héctor Jiménez as Esqueleto was like a cross between Napoleon Dynamite's Pedro and the Jungle Book's Mowgli. Little Darius Rose as orphan Chancho was wonderful, oh and not so little either. Jack Black's awful attempt at a Mexican accent that kept slipping into New York Italian just served the overall humour. We liked.

Slither, supposed to be set in South Carolina but actually filmed like everything else in BC, also managed to avoid some of the worst excesses of horror sci-fi. I only identified two 'oh for pity's sake, look behind you you total moron,' moments. We didn't manage to see Steve very clearly, but we identified his screaming.

The film I am looking forward to seeing at the cinema is 'Borat'. I didn't like Borat as a character when Sasha Baron Cohen first introduced him, but I feel he has developed him. My son Ben has seen the film and assured me that he laughed all the way through, those weren't quite his words but let's leave it at that.

My daughter Alex has been experiencing one of the by-product educational aspects of going to uni, a multi-culturalism that is different from school where she felt that the Pakistani kids for example would often all hang out together in a huge group. At uni, she has friends from India, the Middle East, the States, and all over the UK. She told me about political discussions with her Kurdistani friend, about budgeting, about the depth of her studies, then she bugged me about how I still needed to make her a Christmas Stocking.
Hmmm...Bah, humbug.

Saturday, 4 November 2006


I have a new person in my life, Paulette. I met Paulette in New Westminster yesterday. Firstly, this meant encountering another part of New West, which unlike flat Richmond, has hills, oh my dear Lord does it have hills. At one point, although this was on leaving, I felt I was plunging over a near vertical drop, I feared for the car's ability to stay on the road, and in fact since yesterday had been particularly windy and the car had been buffeted by heavy cross winds on the freeway going over there, I was doubly concerned.

There is a logic to the road system here, although one which has taken me a while to get my head round. The main roads literally run from one end of Vancouver and the surrounding areas, to the end of everything. The numbering seems fried at first, because everything is numbered in blocks rather than individually, but I can see there is a logic to it.

New West however, has logic and confusion intermingled. Many of the roads there are simply numbered, so third, sixth, eighth etc. The confusion, which I discovered yesterday when I was actually IN it, is that there is for example a Sixth Street and a Sixth Avenue. When I did my usual search which I do before venturing anywhere, I had simply jotted down the numbers. No matter, I still managed to find Paulette.

The Canadian government have an employment resources department. But in New Westminster they have a special one for over 45's. On the steps of their offices it reminded you that you could only use this service if you were '45 or better'. Nice, and very Canadian. We don't refer to older people as 'OAP's' here, they are seniors.

I was a little put off at first because as usual I was asked to fill in a three page form, but wait, it wasn't anything like the crappy forms I have had to fill out before, this was clear and gave them information. To be fair, Canadian government forms are for the most part well thought-out.
Yes, you do come across some glaring incompetencies, such as the part on the immigration form where there was nowhere for Kevin to indicate he was Canadian from birth, but generally, their documentation is constantly being streamlined. The form you fill in whenever you enter Canada for example has become ever simpler and clearer.

Paulette took me into her office. It was spacious but cosy, there were pictures of her children, she had the most distracting screensaver I had ever seen, it kept renewing with new and breathtaking pictures of animals and landscapes. Paulette talked to me and listened to me. She didn't make me feel that I was completely useless for having an MA and not being able to type a million words per minute, in fact quite the contrary. She suggested some ways back into my own profession without the help of the BC College of Teachers. She showed me the room where, if I did want to improve my computer skills, I could come for a free course. She showed me the blue room and the yellow room, the resource library and room. She didn't have a George Hamilton tan nor a designer suit. I really liked Paulette and felt like coming back to the place rather than running away never to return.
The annoying thing about it all was really, that although this was a government initiative, genuinely there to help people, it had been difficult to find out about. But I did and more than anything else, Paulette made me feel that at 45 plus, I wasn't over the hill, although like I said, on the way out of New West I was grateful to be exactly that.

Back at the Nature Park, Lori had received feedback from one of the classes from last week. We had had a number of French immersion classes during the run-up to Halloween, and I had taken my cue from the teachers, if they spoke French to the children, then so did I.
'I'm not feeling the love,' said Lori, referring to the comments from one such teacher.
'I feel that we've done them the courtesy of speaking to them in French, which they had no reason to expect when they came, and what's their response to that? Why can't the whole programme be in French?' Except that Lori's Canadian so she said 'program'.
Quite so. Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile. Although to some extent, now that I've gotten over the initial irritation of it, I can understand. You have to always make your case even if you have no hope of change. Just that, maybe,
'We really appreciated being spoken to in French, would it be a possibility for the future to....' would have been a politer way of putting it.

We have rain, really big rain and so for once the RCMP are evident on the roads, attending the scenes of continual prangs. I wonder where they go when it's not raining. I've never seen them in Tim Horton's.

Friday, 3 November 2006

Burner, Biscuits, Blogs.

That is an entirely inappropriate picture today, it is raining fit to float an ark, but I liked this one and we did see not only chickadees but also a Bard Owl this morning. It shook itself like a dog does to get rid of the water.

So, don't vote for Darcy Burner, she's an evil witch, I certainly won't be. Not that I can, I can't even vote here in Canada let alone down in the States.
Our friends to the South have elections coming up, and since some of our TV channels are US ones, we are overwhelmed with adverts taken out by the candidates themselves or their opponents, all trying to influence the voting.
Darcy Burner, a person I wouldn't vote for simply on account of her name, has clearly angered the Republican party for her sins. Their anti-Darcy ad claims that she will increase taxes for families, she will increase taxes for seniors and she will (specifically ) increase taxes for single mothers. A second thinking about this leads me to the conclusion that Darcy must therefore be a democrat, who will probably want to do some spending on public programmes and yes, may have to raise taxes all round. Her own ad claims that she comes from a military background and wouldn't touch veteran's benefits. It's all quite bizarre. The ones from the candidates themselves all have to end with,
'I'm (Darcy Burner) and I endorse this message.' Well duh. I'm sure there must be a history there somewhere.

At least Darcy is acting like a democrat - or at least my imagined Darcy. Our very own Tory government on the other hand don't understand what being a Tory means. Stephen and his merry crew have just made their very heartland, their own dyed in the wool supporters and those whom they might have been able to draw in all howl with pain by imposing a tax on Income Trusts, the very and exact thing they promised never to tax. See Stephen, extra taxes - that's what the other team do. Double Duh!

So. Now. Get a bunch of Brits sitting around a table on which you place a big tray of scones and very soon you'll have an argument about whether 'scones' is pronounced 'scohnes' or 'sconnes'. Almost guaranteed. And this difference in pronunciation isn't based on accent or area, it is just a quirk. But the other day, I found out that Canadians get round this.
There are various older ladies who come into the Nature House and bring baked goods. The other day, a very nice lady came in and brought a big batch of lovely looking scones and some home made jam.
'Oh, those look nice scones,' quoth I,
'Biscuits,' she said. Bizarre thought I, but I wasn't prepared to taste them to find out whether they had any of the essential qualities of biscuityness. It's particularly odd because in the supermarkets, what we would refer to as biscuits, ie biscuits are in fact labelled biscuits. Still, no-one argues about how to say 'scones'.

Blogs, I read in the Guardian yesterday, are going to be the downfall of the internet. Jolly good then. This is apparently because we spread untruths and people read them and believe them. Not only that but we link to each others' blogs and this reinforces the lies we tell. Hmm...interesting.
I have certainly noticed that there are types of blogs that are almost like small communities. So you have little clusters of left-wing or right-wing or sex or friendship blogs and they do indeed all support each other in one way or another. A bit like people do in real life, or like newspapers do. I'm sure the rise of news sheets from the coffee houses was considered subversive when they started.
But it's ok because the universities of Massachusetts (holy crap that's a difficult word to spell and in fact it's not a uni, just an Institute of Technology) and Scunner hampton, oops, sorry, Southampton, are introducing degree courses in web science. So that's alright then, I can carry on linking and blogging and disseminating my own personal opinion and all will be well.

But don't vote for Darcy Burner, she's an evil witch....or is she?

Thursday, 2 November 2006

All Souls

Yes, I know All Souls was yesterday, but I have a reason for remembering it today.

Hats off to the US for both prosecuting and jailing a man for the mutilation of his daughter. This is a disgusting and spiteful hate crime against women made worse by its perpetration in the name of religion. How can you possibly think your God has fouled up in the actual design of his/her creation and that you can better it?
Personally I think that if he is only being incarcerated for this crime, he has gotten off lightly. Ooh, unless it's true what they say about the treatment meted out to child molesters in prison in which case he could be on the receiving end of some genital mutilation. Booyah.

The reason I am remembering All Souls today is that it is the anniversary of my own father's death five years ago. It's difficult to forget my parents and it's difficult to even want to. My dad was a good father and proud of having two daughters, which makes it all the more difficult to comprehend a father like the one I just talked about. I think my dad has stayed around longer than my mum too. I'm not sure exactly what keeps them here, or makes them visit, but I suspect that the need of those of us who still inhabit this plane is part of it. For the majority of the time now I can go along not giving it much thought and then all of a sudden, though far less frequently than before, as though a trap were sprung I can fall into a claustrophobic hole of despair at the thought that I can't reach them.

I'll have a wee dram with him tonight.

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

Compu'er says no

On the radio this morning, Beck singing 'Where it's at' reminded me of a time when I used to listen to Beck all the time, odd, because I saw him last Saturday on SNL, still being quirky, he played guitar while the rest of the band or his back-up band, whatever they are, sat around a fully laid table and tapped cutlery. And it was good.

And there's nothing unusual about a track or a scent that can take you WHAM back to a different place, a different time, but this morning it was a single word.
As we pulled out of the close, taking Laurence to work, people were scraping thick frost off their cars. Laurence mentioned this.
'Yes,' I said, 'if they have to park on the street then they are always caught like that,'
'Innit,' he said. Bam, South of England, kids I've taught, friends I've worked with. A boy in my class, second school I worked at, quite near to Heathrow. Imran. Every morning,
'Want to buy a mobile phone Miss innit?' Imran said 'innit' after everything. The phones were knock off from the airport innit.

Yesterday, during the last performance of the Halloween Howl, I leaned down to show a kid a snake skeleton.
'Are you Jewish?' she asked. I was totally taken aback. I was dressed as a witch. Later, that moment came back to me. From her angle she would have just seen the wide black rim of my hat, my hair scraped back underneath, making my forehead seem longer and long black hair hanging down from the hat. She must have seen an Hasidic Jew, but I have no beard, maybe she thought this must be what female ones look like.

We had no trick or treaters last night, I wasn't even aware of any in our road at all. But there was a point when a short, sharp but spectacular firework display went off across the road, behind the portacabins of the school, right, in fact, next to their propane tank. I can see it now from my window, it looks like a bomb. Now that would have been some display.

So the poisoning of those children and parents in Corfu has now been pinpointed to carbon monoxide. The Greek authorities have acted swiftly and suspended the hotel's licence. I'm impressed. Their action has been swift, decisive and appropriate,

""We will not put up with incidents that blacken the image of Greece's tourism industry and bring our country into disrepute," Palli-Petralia said." Innit.

Dealing with two different countries' institutions I am having to be bilingual in a whole new way. In Britain, you don't hassle to much because you will annoy them and they will simply 'lose' your stuff. But Kevin has been trying to coach me into a different way of approaching Canadian ones, you must bug them, bug, bug, bug, bug, bug. The last thing I heard on the subject of getting my qualifications recognised, Kings' College had simply sent a letter saying that I did indeed have an MA, but there was no transcript, even though their website said they offered this service and I had paid for one. Just to remind British friends what a transcript is, it's not the transcript of something spoken, but some kind of summary of the marks you had when doing your degree.

I had rung the people here on Monday, and they were due to call back yesterday afternoon between 13.00 and 16.00. Around 14.00 the phone rang.
'All we need now is x, y and z,'
'You have x and y,'
'It isn't checked off,'
'But I know you have it, could you look in the file?'
'Oh yes, it's here, but it hasn't been checked off,'
'Could you check it off?'
'I'll have to ask,'
'And y is part of x,'
'I'll have to ask,'
'Couldn't you just look at x?'
'Oh yes, you're right, but it hasn't been checked off,'
'Could you do that?'
'I'll have to ask,'
'Now that you have everything except z and z (my MA) isn't vital to my application, could you consider it without z?'
'I'll have to ask, someone will ring you back,'
'Possibly, or could be tomorrow.'

You can just picture David Walliams from Little Britain dressed as the middle-aged spinster, just sitting there and saying,
'Compu'er says no.'

It would be funny, just that, it's stopping me from even applying for anything meaningful.