Sunday, 30 December 2007

Driving

The drive back from Norwich seemed interminable. In a way it was. We left at 11.30 and arrived in Pompey at almost 20.00.

We did make a side trip however. We were meeting some friends of Kevin's for lunch. We were first to arrive at the pub.
'I just need to warn you,' said a well-upholstered woman with a Norfolk accent - or Suffolk, who knows, I think we were in Suffolk by then, 'we've only been here for two weeks, we haven't got our card system set up, you can only pay by cash or cheque,'
'But.....nowhere else takes cheques,' said Kevin, 'we've been seeing signs all over the place saying they no longer take cheques...'
'I know,' she said, 'but we've only been here two weeks.'

At the other end of the meal, the person who had invited us wanted to pay and claim it on expenses. When the bill/receipt came, it was handwritten on a piece of torn out filing paper.
'Er...do you have any headed notepaper?' asked our friend,
'We've only been here two weeks,'
'Huh....a stamp with the business address and VAT no.?'
'We haven't got our VAT number set up yet, we've only been here two weeks...'
'Huh...'
Eventually, the fortnight-old landlord was prevailed upon to come over and sign the piece of paper and write the address of the inn on it.

Today we went round to see Simmi et alia to say goodbye. Fun but sad.
Saying goodnight to the children when they went up to their baths and thence to bed, was sad.
We need to be up at 5 ish to make sure we're on the road by 6. That'll be a damn long day too.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Park and Ride

Norwich. We thought we'd go into Norwich to look around the shops. There is an amazing mix of shops in the city centre, little streets of individual quaintness, reminiscent of the Lanes in Brighton, then the high street favourites, WHSmith, Boots, M&S and then the biggger department stores and malls.

Everyone else in the county of Norfolk also decided to do this today. We drove around, every car park had a queue, there were queues for queues. There were slow processions of cars leading to the queues. We drove out to the park and rides. We drove up and down the rows of cars looking for a space and finally found one. Then we looked and saw the line for the bus back into town. At this point we came to our senses and visualised exactly what it was going to be like in town. We drove out to a pub by the river and gave up the idea of town.

Tomorrow, we have the long, slow drive down. We will have a pair of skis and a small dog, and before we reach Pompey, a large young man.
Wish us well.
Please.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Beyond Boxing Day

Boxing Day is a day for turkey curry. And thus it was. Sue's sisters, spouses and sprogs came round and curry was eaten, games were played and a general all round merry time was had.

But today is beyond Boxing Day and we are beyond London. We have had a typically English trip from Portsmouth to Norfolk. Traffic was at a standstill from south of Liphook to Hindhead. (I know that won't surprise Nigel.) Traffic was kept flowing on the M25 by the variable speed limit system - tophole, sadly, sometimes the flow was rather slow and anything higher than second gear was rarely engaged.
From London to the east is similarly long, tedious and prone to holdups. But finally, after what seemed like a whole day's travel, we made it.
My nephew - it is my sister and family that we are visiting - will be flying out to Vancouver the day after we fly back, I'm looking forward to him being with us for a few days before taking him up to Whistler where he will be doing a skiing course.

I was mortified to hear the dreadful news about Benazir Bhutto. It is an outrage, a horror. She was a hope for democracy and stability in Pakistan, she was a strong and courageous woman and we certainly need more of those.
I almost can't believe it.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Christmas Day

Midnight Mass, greeting Christmas.
Strange this part of the Anglican church which places such emphasis on the Virgin Mary and yet has only male priests. I like the high church, the incense that makes me cough, the bells, the formal mass, but I don't like the male dominated ministry, even though I like the priests themselves, and especially since experiencing St. Alban's feminine style.
Then out into the mild night air.

Christmas morning, the rain came. Kevin making eggs Benny for breakfast. And off up the A3, like so many normal families, shuffling kids between mum and dad.

We forgot to toast the Queen. But we had a wonderful Christmas Day.

The biggest present hit was Holly's Mary outfit. She wore it all day. It was a bizarre outfit, even Alex who gave it to her said as much. If Mary had been born in Tudor times in England and was appearing in the Disney version of her own story, this is the outfit she might have worn.
The outfit came complete with a white, light-brown haired baby Jesus the shape of a flat rugby ball, and yea it came to pass that he was used as such at certain moments, at others he was treasured and cosseted and was found lying in a child's plastic supermarket basket.
Probably more hygienic than a manger.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Eve

A cameo of typical Pompey life. The church was packed for the children's crib service at 18.00. As we spilled out afterwards, so customers of the Fawcett Inn spilt onto the pavement at the end of the road.
Seeing the snake of people coming down the road, one bloke stepped out and spoke to someone he knew.
'What's going on?' he asked,
'Church innit, 's where I always go on Christmas Eve,'
'Oh, you're doing a spot of God bovverin',' he said, returning to his pint.

It was ever thus.
Midnight Mass was less crowded, but by then the pubs were shut.

Happy Christmas from me to you.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Tonsils

Woke up with full-on infected tonsils. Not nice, not nice at all, and I apologise to my friend Karen, I hope I haven't passed bugs and germs on to you.

The macbook continues to be temperamental. Kevin thought it had died again earlier, but he resuscitated it somehow.

Teddy and Holly were cute in the Nativity play, exceedingly cute. Then Kevin and I braved Sainsbury's. Coming out to put the groceries away, we felt like eco-terrorists. Our rented 'compact' car looked like a beast standing amongst all the environmentally friendly smaller cars.

While Sleepy complains about the odd TV ad from time to time, I am enjoying one or two of them. There's a funny one for Irn bru and one for Macdonald's believe it or not.

Number three son has arrived. Laurence arrives tomorrow and then the full set will be here. Glorious.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Mac and Me

The macbook killed its second HD this morning, so I've felt cut off, couldn't access the internet first thing.
Now Kevin has dealt with that problem and we hope it will go away at least until we get back and he can storm into the mac service centre and demand a new one.

My friend Di and I have been trying to speak to each other for a couple of days now - and haven't succeeded.
I saw my friend Karen at lunchtime, but had to bail early because I got very ill. I woke up with a sore throat, but suddenly, drinking hot chocolate in the Ha Ha bar, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of...illness. I would have liked to have lain down, but we walked outside, then I had a severe stomach reaction. Let's just say I have become very familiar with the hot pink, beautifully kept toilets by the side of Boots at Gunwharf Quays, bonbons next to the handwash and moisturiser and all.
I just about managed to get home and then lay on the sofa. As ever when I have a tummy bug, the only thing I could take apart from water, was Marmite as a drink.
I don't know how other nations manage without quite honestly.

I had a wonderful day in London yesterday with Alex, and I'll write about that when I'm feeling better.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

About

We were supposed to go up to London today - in English lessons in primary school you learn that wherever you are in the country you always go 'up' to London - anyway, we were bumped and are now going tomorrow. We will be seeing Alex's flat and generally doing Londony things, which in reality means spending too much money.

Today we went to Gunwharf Quays. This is a mall of outlet stores on the waterfront and thus is rather up-market for such a thing. I did however manage to find the bag(s) I have been looking for. I'll be going there again on Saturday with the express purpose of drinking hot chocolate with my friend Karen.

Today was also about eating bacon and egg, Kevin joked that he has to come to Britain to eat real Canadian bacon, back bacon, beautiful.
It was about buying my long calendar, ideally I like Arctic animals every year, but WHSmith have so far let me down and I have a scenic one.
It was about marvelling at the lines of small cars parked nose to nose along the streets. Kevin can't cope with the fact that cars can be parked in either direction here. It worries him.
It was about listening to Christmas Carols and later on we'll go to church to sing them.
It was about realising that my haircut actually works when washed in hard water so that it fluffs up.
It was about feeling guilty because I haven't done cards this year, but here, they flood in. Every post brings more. And there are more posts.
It was about enjoying the British politenesses that you take for granted when you live here.

And at three something this morning, when I was wide awake again, about loving the series 'Gavin and Stacey'. So incredibly British, so well-observed, so tightly written.
And then later suddenly laughing at remembered scenes, conversations, looks even, from giants Alison Steadman and an amazing cast.
Brilliant, British comedy at its absolute best.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Day After the Night Before

Yesterday evening was reunion at Sleepy Mansions. Crisp-e and Sassy were there although not for the duration, Crisp-e's missus was not at all well, and neither was Chateau Sassy. Kevin has been paying the price of a really good night at Sleepy Mansions all day.
I had to get up to take Holly to nursery school and decided to use the alarm on the Canadian cell phone to wake me up, thus I fired it up and worked out what time to set it for. For some reason, at almost 2 this morning, that seemed an easier option then re-setting the time. Completely wrong, but by some stroke of good fortune, my mysterious inner clock that wakes me up at whatever time I need, seemed to work in spite of the rest of my body still not having clicked with the time zone.

The streets around here are noticeably pooed up, I assumed by dogs whose evil owners are failing to clean up after them. Not since the last time I went to Boulogne-sur-mer have I seen such befouled pavements.
Holly and I were discussing this loudly on the way home from nursery yesterday and a gentleman came out of his front garden to inform us that it was actually fox scat. In many ways, a preferable thought to the evil dog-owners theory.

Austen's and Holly's schools have now broken up for the Christmas holidays.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Blissed out

Braved the town centre, wished we hadn't. Oh, except that I got the best underwear in the universe from Marks and Sparks oh, and their luxury mince-pies.

The Pompey branch of Familie Schneewittchen has two Columbian cleaners, and finer cleaners you could not find. I've never had a cleaner since, well I don't know why really, but if I ever feel the need, I'll be on the lookout for hard-working Columbians.

Kevin and I took Holly to school this morning. Austen came with to introduce us to the teachers so that they'd give Holly back to us later.

We have to remember that here, pedestrians are not gods, in fact they are annoyances that bog up the day for drivers, ergo, don't expect them to make any attempt whatsoever not to run you over when crossing the street unless it's on an actual pedestrian crossing.

I must also attempt to be less approachable. Like Sleepy, I seem to attract some of the odder types, mine tend to be the mild to mid range however, whereas Sleepy's seem in general to be the raving nutters.
I must admit to a slight sense of irony at having a woman in the street tell me how amazing my grandchildren are and then what a complete psycho her own eighteen month-old is. See, I spent my professional life here trying to get this precise point over to countless Pompey parents.
I don't mind old ladies in shops so much though. I will give them absolution for buying one individual Christmas pudding a year when they are diabetic.

We had real, proper, British fish and chips with mushy peas.
Blissed out.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Pompey

Pompey doesn't change much. The football obsession, the smells, the chavs, the others, the streets jam-packed with colour and character.
Once we were within spitting distance of Portsea island, the radio was all about the football game. Pompey had lost to Sleepy's team.
On Albert road, taking the children for a walk at dusk, a Father Christmas in every doorway, the last one a skinny Thai woman dressed in short, red plastic trimmed with fun fur. Or maybe it wasn't a woman at all. I couldn't be sure what she was trying to advertise and perhaps I didn't want to know.

Today the jet-lag kicked in. Wide awake at 4.30, then dead to the world from eight or nine until eleven thirty.
My mobile phone doesn't work. The network no longer recognises the SIM card, I can't work out whether the phone is so old and knackered that it has just given up the ghost, or whether SIM cards have some kind of sell-by date. Ultimately, the answer is to get a new Canadian one that can be used here too.

In Waitrose I see the folly of my old ways. The alluring up-market ready meals. No need to go out to eat when you can shop at Waitrose. But for all that, I select something that Kevin, his eyes hollow from lack of sleep, has to cook. It's either that or I can torture it myself until no-one wants to eat it.

Yesterday I was awed by my daughter on the phone haranguing her mobile phone company. She wouldn't let up and she didn't ever shout at them or allow them to derail her. And yet still they continue to be incompetent, lazy buffoons. But the important thing is to exercise the right to complain otherwise how do they know?
I admire her for that.
I admire the British for that.

If Crisp-e's reading, cover your eyes. Kevin has a new i-book and it is still what we have to use when travelling. And I still have an uneasy relationship with it. But I can put up with it for two weeks.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Swimming through Jelly

Everyone has days like yesterday. You have a whole list, you have organised it so that everything dovetails. As long as it runs on rails, all will be well. But sometimes, there's a cow on the track or some such. And there was a whole herd for me, yesterday.
I think it's Richmond. They seem to do everything slowly, and don't tell me it's the Chinese, they seem to be faster, not slower.
Plod, plod, plod.
But we finally got to the bridge that leads to the airport and lo! It was blocked by a police car. Yes, a Cathay Pacific flight was circling YVR expecting to have to make an emergency landing so the police had blocked entrances to the bridges. It took the taxi driver about two minutes to work out a plan of action and then zipped down some backroads and behind the police car.
But, we have arrived, we are here.
And we have met Eleanor, beautiful new granddaughter and of course.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Joy to the World!

On this 14th day of December, in the year of our Lord 2007, my second granddaughter, and third grandchild, Eleanor Rose Hindman was born, weighing in at 7lbs, 14 ozs.
Thanks be to God for her safe delivery.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Golden Spiders

The Nature House is decorated and we have a small Christmas tree on the front desk with Christmas spiders. What? You've never heard of Christmas spiders! Forsooth! Well, it seems that there is a German legend involving a bunch of spiders working overtime, yada yada, Christ child comes down and turns them all gold and sparkly.
Hmmm....
This seems to put Christ on the same level as Father Christmas, or maybe the tooth fairy, or just a regular one. Not only that, but how does the Christ Child have some separate existence from the grown-up one? Although, thinking about it, if that were possible, then I guess that grown-up horribly tortured Jesus would do the serious miracles and the baby one would probably specialise in glittery miracles.

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go.....well, ok, they're not yet packed, but I have high hopes for midday onwards tomorrow.
They are at least assembled in my bedroom, and the contents are also assembled there. Introducing the one to t'other will be the next step.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Venom

Tonight's 'Little Mosque on the Prairie' managed to be completely itself and yet to be a Christmas edition. And it was brilliant. Proper reminded me of Eid/Christmas at Mayhem it did.
The writing on that show just gets better and better.

So, how bizarre is this? The blood service isn't accepting blood donations from anyone who doesn't speak one of the two official languages. But in spite of my speaking both of them, which I can see affects the quality of my blood, they still wouldn't be having mine, because they won't accept donations from anyone who has had malaria.

More bizarreness. A man in the nearby city of Surrey, may lose a finger because he was bitten by his pet cobra. This has prompted him to 'call for a change in medical policy so antivenin is readily available'. I'm sorry, what?
Sure in the BC interior, where there are indigenous rattlesnakes, although not as dangerous as some of the US rattlers. But in this part of the province, there are no native poisonous snakes. So this plonker wants the health service to keep expensive and short shelf-life antivenin so that morons like him can keep dangerous pets. And not only that, but there was no venom released in the bite that has caused his arm to swell up and his fingers to go black. If he lived in Vancouver, he wouldn't be allowed to keep that snake.

Meanwhile, down the road, a woman was found dead in an alley. The article has to slip in somewhere that the woman was white. But this is not meaningless. Since I have been here there has been a series of killings of Indian women by their own menfolk. In one internationally famous case, a young woman was killed by contract from her own mother, when she was in India and in love with someone the family didn't pick.

I was desperately sad to hear that one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. At some point, this will be a terrible loss to the literary world as was Iris Murdoch, although in her case, it was a loss to the academic world as well.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Loathing and Fear

There's a case currently running in Australia that beggars belief. You need to read the story and watch the video on the BBC website in order to get the real horror of it.
You have to actually see the judge in the case who said to the nine defendants who had confessed, about the seven year-old aboriginal girl who was raped by them that she 'probably agreed to have sex with all of you' and then let them go free.
Words (almost) fail me, but then the case speaks for itself.

Christmas is creeping up on me, I have done no cards and we leave for the UK on Friday. Oh well. It is better to receive than to give. Or something.

Yesterday, my friend Steve, who was hosting writers' group, rang to say that there was a police incident causing traffic to back up on the main road to his place. When I came past, the petrol station where a shooting had occurred was still bristling with police and media, and in fact likewise when I went home. Steve's wife had been stopped at the intersection with both of their children in the car when she heard shots. She was understandably upset that her sons had been that close to a shooting and the eldest had heard it.
Pretty shocking.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Second Sunday

Woke up this morning to snow. Not much, but enough. Enough to make the magic.
As I drove to church, a sifting fluttered from the sky.

Yesterday evening, with some trepidation, we went to Laurence's karate club Christmas party. It was a potluck and Kevin, assisted by Laurence, had made chicken wings.
Laurence's Sensei had been very insistent that we should come, and this had made me a tad fearful.
What actually happened, was that we met the very warm family of people that make up Sensei William and Sensei Alice's karate classes, had an amazing meal of food from many lands, and Laurence won an award. Tears were shed.

Alex also made me very proud, she has kicked a habit, conquered another one and is making a commitment that I value. A bit terse I know, but well, she knows and I know and I want her to know that I'm proud of her.

I was reading the article in the Guardian, well, since it's Sunday I suppose it's actually in the Observer, where Gillian Gibbons talks about her ordeal in a prison in Sudan. The farcical nature of the whole thing is in stark contrast to her horrifying experience.

The farce :-
" 'This clerk of the court got this carrier bag and produced this bear with a flourish, like a rabbit out of the hat,' Gibbons recalls. 'He put it down on the table in front of us and it flopped over, and the prosecution [lawyer] sat him up. And then he pointed at this bear in a dead aggressive manner and he said "Is this the bear?" "

The horror :-
"The open-air cell had three grey-tiled walls, a basic squat toilet in a corner and steel bars running across the facade and ceiling. 'I just stood there for three hours, thinking I was going home. It was filthy, there were ants all over the floor and in the corner there were rat droppings. There was a light shining into my yard that attracted all the mosquitoes, so I stood there and got bitten to death."

Evil stalks our planet.
But it is Advent.

Friday, 7 December 2007

The Bill

I had the opportunity to ride in the back of a police car today - there and back and thus twice. And it was freaking well not nice.

This afternoon, Alex, Rob and I went for an explore and this time we found a filing cabinet with documents from the Corrections Department.
So we were told to call the police.
The police came.
I suggested we should walk there,
'Do you have any boots?' I asked him, 'Welling ton boots,' I added showing him mine.
He didn't.
So we decided we'd go by car - his car.
The front passenger seat was taken up by his piles of stuff and what looked like an onboard computer. So Rob, Alex and I all got in the back - the perp seats. Locked in with a screen between us and the front seat. A screen that was virtually pressed up against our knees.

It only took about two minutes to get to the place, and in the dark, we crunched through the frosty grass, shone our torches under cedar trees and showed the officer what we had found.

But getting back into that car was far worse. I could feel the panic descend as I had to close the door, knowing that I couldn't get out.
And then the officer put the lights on and slammed the car into reverse and we moved rapidly backwards on the hardshoulder of the freeway.
Suddenly the panic lifted and I was left with just sweating palms and tense muscles. We were back in just minutes.

When I got home I had damn fine Indian.
It helped.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

21 Today!

Not me, obviously, but my number two son, Laurence. We're going out to eat later, and I have been at Stanley Park all day. I have many wonderful pictures, but for now I'm just going to post these two.

This second one caught someone's attention in today's group. And of course, I was asked if I knew what the letters meant, and despite my intense sports filter, I knew that it meant 'Aston Villa Football Club'. Seemed like the tide hadn't been in to wash it away from yesterday.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Criminal Minds

If'n Chrimbo doesn't arrive soon, I am not going to be able to fit down anyone's chimney. Of course, since I'm not Father Christmas, that doesn't matter too much, or in fact at all.

My dance card is pretty full and getting fuller by the moment. This morning, my dance card was supposed to include accompanying RCMP officers to the little house in the woods. Apparently the occupant habitually breaks the law by killing and eating small woodland animals. You have to head for the hills or at least outside of Richmond to indulge in that kind of debauchery.
It was, rightly, pointed out to me that perhaps this man who lives in the woods and traps wildlife might also be involved in petty crime and the way to find this out could be to have the police check out his shack.

Another 'criminal' that I have a great deal of sympathy with is the 77 year old Italian gentleman who sacrificed his own life by killing his 82-year-old wife who had Alzheimers. That takes a huge, huge amount of courage. It's wrong that there was no option to have her life terminated legally to save her the suffering.
That man is a hero, but he'll be in prison now until he dies.

On the other hand, sometimes criminals go unpunished. The Canadian ambassador to Iran has been expelled. No reason is given, but coincidentally, Canada has turned down two potential Iranian ambassadors because they were involved in the US embassy hostage taking in 1980. See, this to me seems rather reasonable, but then I happen to think terrorism is....well, terrorism.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah to Sleepy and to anyone who has a little Jew in them.

Bloomingdale's near Union Square, San Francisco, had a whole section of Hanukkah toys, assorted spelling.

I may have understated how green I found SF, green aware may be more accurate. There are recycling facilities everywhere, and signs reminding you of the importance of being green, how to be green, how to be greener. Also that you should wash your hands to avoid spreading infections. This aspect I loved.

Trying to get out of SFO on Sunday evening was less than fun. It was sweaty and tempers were frayed. All flights were delayed and some earlier in the day had been cancelled. People were on short fuses.

Finally back at YVR, there was an exceedingly long queue for Customs and Immigration. Behind the C&I desks we could see a new row of translation service desks. No staff, just the desks. This is to ensure that fewer new immigrants get tasered to death. I presume they see the desks and feel calmer.

We arrived back at the ranch tired, hungry and sweaty. Vancouver, and by Vancouver I mean Richmond, was still covered in snow from the falls at the weekend. We had managed to have two cars parked all weekend, one in a car park in San Fran, the company who had paid for us to go down there had provided a car which we didn't need except to get to and from the airport.
Our own car I had parked on Friday evening in the economy lot at YVR - cheaper than a taxi and a lot less stress when coming in at almost midnight.

Today, Alex and I had some time this afternoon, and we walked in the pouring rain along the ditch, now wider than most rivers, although not flowing, until its end. We forded a run off that was too deep to wade through by dragging some planks over to make a bridge. We then continued to follow the water until we could see it no more. We then made our way through a copse of young cedar trees until we found the edge and there, sheltered under some trees, was a little house made of black plastic and milk crates. It was well hidden. Alex and I felt spooked, we weren't going to poke around, but we also felt pleased with ourselves.
When we got back, this rainbow was arching across the sky behind the Nature House.

I'm tempted to believe that the rainbow, the first and final work of the sun for today, was ushering in Hanukkah. Well to be fair, that Menorah, almost as tall as Macy's, took some beating.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Dinner Theatre

When we turned in last night, and I turned off the ac, it became clear that the lurid decor in the room was the very least of our problems. The a/cs in other rooms were creating a noise that reminded me of sailing to Denmark in 1971 and being near to the ship's engines. The thrumming, reverberating noise made sleep a total impossibility and thus at 2.30, Kevin went down to reception and we changed rooms.

Today we did touristy things, walked to Fisherman's Wharf and looked across at Alcatraz, saw the sealions and walked some very steep hills indeed. I thought I was at least moderately fit from walking to work and walking around AT work, but I am certainly not San Francisco fit.

This city is tending towards green though, there are small electric vehicles and pushbikes that can be rented to tour the city. We have seen many hybrid cars and even some Honda Fits.
It's an interesting city, I'm glad to have visited, but I don't think I'll have a yearning to come back.

The evening however, tested all my skills and strategies for displacing tedium.
Two words, dinner theatre.
You get dinner, but a band of lame performers do unfunny comedy, annoying musical numbers, uninteresting acrobatics and slapstick and the idea seems to be to stop you getting your food. I think this has to be one of the most relentlessly tedious evenings of my life. It irritates the hell out of me to have conversation with interesting people interrupted, and these interruptions were fairly terminal. And in case I may have inadvertently understated this, the entertainment was dull to the point of inducing a comatose state. Catatonia perhaps. But what can you do? Stiff upper lip was called for and I was able to maintain one so well that the server ignored me several times until I pointed this out to her and after that she only ignored me once more.

Friday, 30 November 2007

YVR to SFO

At Vancouver airport, which we all affectionately know as YVR, there is a section where the American flag flies and signs welcome you to the USA. When you leave YVR for the States, you are spared customs and immigration in your city of destination, you clear it before you ever leave the ground.

The plane was a little late leaving, why the frell can't they cut down some of the sheer waiting around at airports? Then it taxied for so long that I thought the pilot must have given up and decided to drive there.

On the plane, as captive audience, I was able to discharge an obligation I have felt as such for some time now. Having dismissed the American version of The Office as complete crap, a couple of people who usually like the same things as I had said I should have stuck with it, that it got better.
So I watched the episode that was shown on the plane. It was about the people in the office going to the beach. It failed to engage, in fact I would say that there was not a single moment of humour in it.

The booby prize snack was given out, pretzels. And then a 'something about curry' moment occurred. The man sitting next to me was a Sikh. He asked for vodka, he asked several times but the attendant seemed not to understand him.
'Vodka,' I said, 'the gentleman would like vodka,' and frankly, I felt my accent was the same as his, just that this time he got his voddie.
I must admit though, I was wondering how he was going to put his headphones on, where would they go, over his turban? He never put them on.

AT SFO, there seemed to be no way out, no exit to simply leave the airport. I stood and watched and eventually I realised that those in the know were going towards a man who was removing a red cord barrier over and over again.

The hotel seems to be in the city itself. It must quite seriously have been decorated by someone on an acid trip. The decor of our room gives new and challenging meaning to the term 'tart's boudoir'.
We wandered around looking for food and shower gel. Kevin had been fed earlier, I hadn't and since I travelled with just hand luggage, no gel. Everywhere we went was closed, but eventually and by accident, we found a back street that was just a row of restaurants. And at a corner shop, I found some dead sea mud that I could use in the shower.

Civilisation for the desperate.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

A Day in the Life of....

Due to the persistence of some anonymous commentator, and in the style of a column from the Guardian, today I give you 'A Day in the Life of an Unknown English Student at one of the World's Top Universities'.

*****************************************

Woke up at 10 and realised my lecture started half an hour ago. It was going to take me at least an hour to take a quick shower, so I went back to bed to think up a plan of action. Woke up again at midday and realised that my second lecture was just finishing, so I took a very quick shower and left the house just two hours later.

Got to the tube station and suddenly remembered that it was Thursday not Wednesday and I don't in fact have any lectures, also, the pubs were already open. Got to the pub, but remembered that I was off drinking as I'm down to my last gazillion brain cells but I hung around in case any Aussies showed up.

Went back to the flat and knocked out a six thousand word essay entitled 'Angst and Ennui in the works of Edgar Allan Poe'. Oh man does that bloke have issues.
Went into uni to hand it in, but outside the tube station some old tosser asked me if I was Polish. I said what? What the freak does that mean? He said, yeah, well you look Polish and I was like, you what? How can someone look Polish? He didn't even look like he came from planet Earth. I gave him a look, it said,
'Consider yourself kneed in the bollocks mate,' I think he understood.

Realised I hadn't eaten all day, so I went to Sains and bought some healthy food, Green and Black's, way healthier option than Nestlés, I'm still boycotting them in any case over the whole baby food thing in 1923. Remembered to buy more toilet rolls, I must be the only one in the house that uses loo paper because sure as hell no-one else buys it. Strangely, I must be the only one who uses quite a lot of things, other stuff, like biscuits, I must eat in my sleep, because they disappear without me remembering having eaten them.
Oh well, must be the stress of uni I s'pose.

My mum, she whom I love best in the whole world, most saintly person ever to have walked the Earth, phoned me about midnight. She had to phone three times before I could hear her. O2 is really pissing me off, although, it turns out they're pissing a lot of people off.

Went to bed early around 3, have to get up and go to Pompey first thing. Hopefully, I'll be able to read three or four novels on the train.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Legendary Cities

If cities were allowed to vote for their own patron saint, there is no doubt in my mind that Portsmouth would canonise Harry Redknapp, manager of Pompey football team.
But twice has that saint fallen from grace - and bear in mind how strong this has to be to get through my sports filter.
The first time, he was recruited by arch-rival Southampton.
And now - he has been arrested in a fraud investigation. Lordy, Lordy.
Harry thinks that the police had to arrest him so they could question him.
Well here's the thing, the police could have invited you to come in and talk to them H.

London and Vancouver have in common upcoming Olympics. And London's logo has received almost universal condemnation. Vancouver's was moderately cool.
Now we have mascots. Everyone I have spoken to today who has seen them has been annoyed by them. There have been a number of comments about how Canada is more than just the First Nations and a similar number about how Pokemon-y the mascots are. Whatever the papers say, the grassroots Canadians don't seem so happy with them.

We are going to San Francisco for the weekend, Kevin leaves tomorrow evening, and I will join him after work on Friday.
I'm interested to see this city, and have been given a lot of suggestions about what to see, but a shame that the temperatures seem somewhat higher there, just as we are getting some good, decent cold weather here.

No matter, a legendary city is just that.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Sleet

Late yesterday afternoon, the sleet came. By early evening it was almost all snow. Walking home it stung my face, my eyelids, made my legs raw through my trousers. But it was beautiful, while I was walking it was beautiful. Later, driving, I could have done without it, but across the bridge into Vancouver, the sleet had changed to mostly rain.

Ads are on TV for 'Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street'. If it were tastefully done, I wonder if anyone might offer Helena Bonham-Carter a part not based solely on her mad hair.

A British teacher, presumably thinking she's doing some kind of missionary work, has been thrown into gaol in Sudan for naming the class teddy bear 'Mohammed'.
What, I ask myself, can you possibly say about a bunch of people who cannot see what complete and utter plonkers they look for doing this ridiculous thing? Everyone is shuffling and looking embarrassed, but the poor woman is still in gaol instead of teaching her class. People get less than this for kiddie fiddling.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Haiku

Today, the vicar spoke of 'Haiku moments'. She defined these as small moments that speak to the soul.
I didn't realise that a Haiku had the meaning of speaking to the soul attached, and on looking it up in Oxford Online, nor did they, however, what she said spoke to me.

Haiku moments would thus be those moments in the day which sometimes seem normal but which lift us, like waking up and seeing my partner in the first light; the first sight of the mountains as I cross the field; an old lady smiling back at me as I walk to work; a beautifully turned phrase; the smell of coffee; frost on blades of grass; the moment when someone you are teaching grasps the idea.
Everyone, every day has their own list.

She told us of a such a moment described to her by a friend. Looking up as the sun rose in Yellowstone Park, as the geyser 'Old Faithful' shot steam into the air just as high above, a flock of birds flew over.
She asked the question about whether that beauty would be there if the person had not been present to experience it. 'If a tree falls and there is no-one there...etc.'
The vicar said yes, I say no.

Our Haiku scenes would still happen whether or not we were there, but the beauty, the drawing in of breath, the perception of that moment that touches our soul is because of our presence. God's work would carry on in a mechanical fashion without us, but we give it meaning.
Even in trying to re-create that work, or represent it in some way, we can make those moments for ourselves or others.
The sentences that others write, the beauty of human voices raised in song, the arch of a body in dance or drama, all these are moments of intense beauty that are caused by human action and human perception.

On the other hand....one of the hymns today, one I'd never heard before, claimed that 'God's people are salt to the Earth.'
No bloody kidding, we don't just destroy it, we make it uninhabitable.
The hymn went on to explain how we give the earth flavour, but my head was stuck at the first line.

Last night, on TV, we watched the 2006 film, 'The Nativity Story'. We watched it because of Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) as Mary, but in fact we both found it just captivating. It stuck closely to (mostly) St. Luke's Gospel, a little help from Matthew, and wasn't afraid to show divine intervention. We were both mildly amused to see Alexander Siddig, whom I assume, but perhaps wrongly, there are many Arabic Christians, to be Muslim, playing Gabriel. No-one looked as though they worked in Hollywood normally. They in fact looked as though they lived in the Holy Lands.
I don't know if Herod Agrippa is a promotion or demotion for Ciaran Hinds, who played Julius Caesar in 'Rome'.
Just looking at the story once again made me wonder whether there is any mention of the Holy Ghost (not the lego one Karen) in the Jewish faith.
It was a beautiful portrayal and however early, a fine start to Advent.

The bird in the picture isn't a partridge or even a robin, it's a hawk, a Cooper's hawk.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Immortality

Nice to know that the brand spanking new Premier of Australia is going to immediately although belatedly, sign the Kyoto agreement, it's just that....well, he looks kinda creepy. Sort of like a cross between the late John Denver and some kind of happy clappy, which I fear he might be.

***

Strange how immortality has unexpected consequences.
In Kim Stanley-Robinson's sci-fi world where gerontology treatments keep people alive for centuries, they lack the hard drive to remember everything over their extended lifetimes, thus they forget some of what made them.

In vampire fiction, immortality comes with a heavy price tag. The joy of eating or sunlight is denied you and if you prefer to be a vamp treading the path of righteousness, you have no limiting factors to stop you doing evil, you are outside of the law and you cannot be killed by normal means. The church doesn't want you. Be good, but do it on your own, never waver.
The ultimate Nietzschean.

In cyber fiction, if you can simply be given a new body, you can be tortured over and over again. Your self can be put into an animal, or booted up in virtual, there is no release, no hope of death.

In mediaeval Christian fiction, you can similarly be tortured for all eternity with no hope of reprieve.

But to do so to another being, relentlessly, remorselessly, is to be evil in an absolute sense.

What would our sins be? To seek immortality? If we could prolong our lives in good health of body and mind, physically youthful and able to continue our work to support ourselves, who would turn down the chance to see their grandchildren's grandchildren grow and thrive?

Does the vampire sin? Vampires are made without volition and in the making lies the inherent sin, to pass on the virus because of the necessity to feed.

And would our God allow anything eternally bad to happen to us? We can't even condemn ourselves to that, miserable wretches that we can be.

'....we do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to offer up the deeds of mercy.'

Sometimes we seem all too mortal, but just maybe immortality in this life would be worse.

Friday, 23 November 2007

One Hour Wait

Couldn't resist, just couldn't resist.

This afternoon, we had occasion to go to the Aberdeen Mall. On hearing this, our admin person asked us to get some of the famous 'Papa's Beard' cream puffs, if the line wasn't too long.
I hadn't heard of these things. But when we got there, there was indeed a huge, long line and a chair with a notice limiting how many each customer could buy and saying that the wait was currently an hour. I was reminded of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.
We didn't wait, natch.
But now, some small part of me desires to try the cream puffs from Japan that everyone craves, to find out what all the fuss could possibly be about, and another part of me thinks it's all because everyone thinks like that.

Last night, as I was crashing, there was an ad on TV for a Black Friday six hour sale at Fred Meyer. Kevin joked that we should go down to the States for it.
Today we discovered that quite a lot of Canadians didn't stop at joking about it. The line for the border was an hour long at 4am.
Are we insane?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Breakthrough

Or maybe breakthrough isn't quite the right word. It's more, that moment when something falls into place. A puzzle is solved.

Yesterday, this happened for me. We have a programme at work that...well doesn't work. Lori and I discussed it last year, but then it wasn't my job to worry about it. So I didn't.
Now here we are again and the programme is about to run..or more, limp. No inspiration, no answer to the problem of why it doesn't fly.
No retreat baby, no surrender.

Alex and I had talked about it. He went and watched a video of it. He agreed with me.
I mulled.
I cogitated.
We sat in different places in the Nature House and batted ideas back and forth. Then finally, yesterday afternoon at around 16.00, rinsai! It fell into place and now we are cooking with gas.

This morning was even frostier than yesterday. As I walked, I avoided certain death as far as possible and thought about telegrams.
Telegram Sam.
Do you still get a telegram from the Queen when you reach 100? Probably an e-mail I'd think.
I looked up 'telegrams'.
Ask Oxford says that they have been used for international messages only since 1981. So maybe Canadians and Australians still get them.
Pakistanis, not so much I'm guessing, since they have been suspended from the Commonwealth for not toeing the line. Brownie Guides will no longer be able to wear the colours of Pakistan on Thinking Day. I'm not sure if there are any more ramifications, although if it affects the cricket there could be questions raised in the House.

That's all.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Frost

Heavy frost, frost like snow, and across the road, the early morning location manager shivering in the school car park. Later we find out that the School District had said yes to the filming against the wishes of the Headteacher. What does that tell me, that maybe the school itself doesn't even get the money?
And the episode being filmed is the last one, the writers' strike has stopped all that.

Yesterday I got one of those e-mails and one that I have had before, that you are supposed to send on to let the world know.......something that isn't true. Last time I did nothing, and to do nothing is to acquiesce and to acquiesce is to perpetuate the lie.
The e-mail in question states that teaching about the Holocaust has been dropped from the British National Curriculum so as not to offend Muslims who deny that the Holocaust happened.
And THAT is not true. From the BBC website, which felt it necessary to respond to the circulating e-mail,

"But he added: "Teaching of the Holocaust is already compulsory in schools at Key Stage 3 [age 11-14].

"It will remain so in the new Key Stage 3 curriculum from September 2008.

"As Alan Johnson made clear in January there are certain subjects which will be protected in the new curriculum and that includes the Holocaust." "

And from the Holocaust Educational Trust website,

"We want to make it clear that our understanding is the Holocaust is and will continue to be on the National Curriculum and therefore continue to be taught in all UK schools."

Furthermore, it is not true that British Muslims pretend it never occurred. There may be some individuals who do so, but this claim is frankly insulting to the vast majority of British Muslims who are just normal Brits, because that claim is straightforward nuttiness.

And so this time I replied to the sender with all those links and all that information.

But there is something else about the e-mail that bugged me, it seemed to me that this crap had arisen because someone didn't listen properly, and the whole people not listening properly thing has been bugging me a lot lately. Like when someone will listen for one sentence and then either get stuck on that like an old record player needle, or construct the rest in their own head.

Those kind of people are fools, but they are annoying, dangerous fools.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

A Day at the Museum

Or, to be more accurate, a day and a half at the Cultural Centre.

We had a course organised for us, and I thought, 'ho-hum, better go and support the colleague who is organising it,' so I did.
It was very enjoyable in the sense that I liked all the people there and we were given plenty of opportunity to discuss things, also it was in town and so I was able to get lunch from Timmie's.

I did, however, have to go into work this morning.
'What might there have been in Richmond 250 years ago, that First Nations people from South Vancouver came over to find?' I asked,
'More Jewish people,' said one boy. Hmm...I think I could see his angle and I wondered if he'd heard about Sleepy's feral Jews.

Yesterday, and mostly unexpectedly, a cheque arrived from the insurance company for the excess (deductible) on our claim. It seems that the man who ran into me still hadn't reported the accident to the company, so he was found to be at fault be default - also of course from the Police and the adjuster's report.

My friend British Karen had driven through snow in Surrey and Kent at the weekend, and last night was the first really big snowfall here on the mountains.
Clever Canadians who live at higher elevations have put their snow tyres on.

The session at the museum yesterday, left me with a serious headache. The room we were in had been too hot for comfort, not inferno level, just uncomfortable. In one corner were a little gaggle of shiverers, although I have a feeling that might be a religious group somewhere.
They shivered, I and several others baked, and ne'er the twain should meet.
Of course, the shiverers who could simply have put more clothing on, had another heater brought in.

With the headache and after a day of uncomfortable heat, I had to drive downtown, not something I look forward to, but even less than the driving downtown do I like the trying to find parking.
I found where I was supposed to be easily enough, but then I drove round and round the one-way system looking for non-existent parking. This of course eased my headache considerably. Oh, no wait, it didn't at all, in fact it became somewhat worse.
But eventually I was shown the secret, hidden entrance to an underground car park and I was able to pay and leave my car somewhere that felt relatively safe.

I have been enjoying reading the diary of British journalist David Smith in the Guardian, he is shadowing the US military in Baghdad.

And.....'Aliens in America' is back filming in the school opposite us. I noticed late last night when I got back home, that they were set-up, this morning the stream of parents in over-sized cars dropping off children too lazy to walk a few hundred yards, had nowhere to go since the film crew had taken over the car park. Good thing the show is watchable.

In a gaffe that could really only be a sketch in 'Little Britain', Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in Washington (the original, but less famous one in Tyne and Wear) has lost just under half the country's personal data.
Not lost in the sense that now no-one in Britain knows what their name is or where they bank, just lost in the sense that now someone else out there does.
My suggestion for this is to have half the country change their names, and I would most certainly start with the Chancellor, Alistair Darling. I'm not sure whether he has any responsibility for this whatsoever, but even so, he was the messenger to the Commons, and let's face it, the messenger always gets shot.
Unless of course he changes his name first and can run really fast, but whether he can or not, he is probably no-one's darling right now.

And bye the bye, and speaking of names, it seems that the seat of our cultural centre et alia in Richmond is named 'Minoru' after King George the fourth's horse.
George IV was the son of the mad one, and if it is true about his horse, then said horse needed to be a damn strapping filly, since this George had reached 17½ stone (245lbs) by the age of 35.
A fine figure of a man, but I doubt he could run to save his life.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Pillows

Why do we look forward to sleep? Why is it so devastating when it eludes us? It isn't just a physical need, it's a mental one too.

Dreaming, exploring other worlds locked inside our own heads.
And our heads lie on pillows. Soft, hard, medium, feather, down, hollow-fibre, foam.

Do the pillows absorb the dreams?
Do the pillows affect the quality of sleep, the quality of dreams, like the mattress does?
They are personal, pillows, like our dreams. I have a harder one underneath and lie on the softer, turning it over and twisting it until it is just right.

But I knew it was time to buy new ones.
And I knew I couldn't buy the perfect ones at Ikea, not this time.
So we went to Linens'n'Things, old-fashioned store for most things, curtains, bed linen, smelly candles, but a huge range of pillows.

Afterwards, I could have done with a trip to Ikea, a cleansing trip, rid my head of the cloying. But I do now have the perfect pillows on which to sleep and read and think and write and watch TV.

And dream.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Bah Humbug

I went shopping with my boy.
I have to get my Christmas shopping organised early on account of going to the UK halfway through December, and going to San Fransisco at the beginning of it. So it is a little unreasonable of me to be quite so pissed off with all the premature ho-ho-ho.
But I am.

Who, outside of the back streets of Pompey, needs a blow up Father Christmas with fake snow blowing around inside some see-through bits?
Why do they have to pump napalm-strength synthetic cinnamon-smell around stores?
Who needs Christmas songs in November?
Frankly, the familiar and welcoming smells, sounds and tinsel of Christmas seem false and just plain tired in the November rain.

In town, the place was hopping.
A Clinique cosmetics representative popped up and accosted people in the department store, but she seemed more like a Tupperware lady, a Tupperware lady with a lab-coat style dress on, to make us associate the product with scientists. We did that thing that rugby players do to avoid someone getting the ball from them, we swerved round her.

Outside in the mall, horrified faces prefaced more swerving; as I was about to put my foot down, a woman screwed her face up and pointed, blood on the floor. A boy of about twelve was being shuffled to one side, blood streaming from....somewhere around his head, who could see, maybe a nosebleed, maybe he fell. There was a lot of blood. As we walked, blue uniforms with medical cases ran towards us, around us, doing the rugby thing.

My trusty standby stores let me down. No inspiration but at least Old Navy has a toilet.

Later, outside Shoppers Drug Mart, an Indian guy, partly dressed as Santa Claus, huddled into the doorway, collecting money for the Sally Ann. He was skinny. This REALLY gets tedious. Between now and Christmas, you have to ignore this guy or some other, wearing the red and fur and ringing a bell every time you go to the shop, and it's one of those local stores I go to several times a week.
I don't mind Santa being Asian, not at all, but skinny, nope, that's not working for me. And the Sally Ann Santas get so un-festive by the end. And this guy was huddling already.

Call me Ebeneezer, but I can almost hear those ghostly chains a-clanking.

Friday, 16 November 2007

No Sense, No Feeling

Good bloody grief, I cannot believe this. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was gang raped by seven men a total of 14 times, has been sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison. When the crime originally came to trial, the men were convicted and sentenced to between 10 months and 5 years and she was sentenced to 90 lashes for being in a car with a man who wasn't a family member.
The young woman - 19 at the time - protested at the leniency of the sentencing of these men and what happens? She gets punished even more and her lawyer is suspended from practising and is charged with 'criticising the judiciary'.

Meanwhile the Saudi ambassador to London refuses to pay his £3 million debts and generally behaves like a complete arsehole.

I can't believe we even share planet space with these monsters.

On the subject of bear poo, Kris told me that in the spring, when the new growth is on the trees, the bears eat a whole mess of new green shoots, especially very purgative plants and...well basically get purged.
More rhubarb anyone?

Kris also told me that when she was in Australia last month, they saw a lot of windfarms, which is encouraging, clearly the Aussies are addressing their power problem.

Vancouver airport is actually in Richmond, thus it is really Richmond in the news for the incident involving the RCMP tasering a Polish man to death. Caught on video and released on U-Tube, although the police's first act was to confiscate the video and say they couldn't give it back while the matter was sub judicae. But in the end they did.

We don't yet know why he went berserk at the airport. He was arriving to live with his mother in Kamloops and spoke neither of Canada's two official languages. An interpreter had been called, but who knows whether it was an appropriate one, since he was Polish and everyone around him said he spoke only Russian.

What a sorry tale all round.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Estivation

Not that we watch very many ads on TV these days, but they're back - the recycled Christmas ones.

Unlike some of the animal kingdom, those ads go into estivation. In Britain, it was perfume ads, liqueurs, up-market chocolates, here, the last couple of years we have seen the resurrection of a whole slew of ads whose tune has been,
'Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow....'
The one I have just seen however was one for supplier of electrical and electronic goods, 'Best Buy'. It's good....but tired already.

I'm interested to see the movie of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book, 'Love in the Time of Cholera', who hasn't had a Garcia Marquez period of total insanity, devouring every word the man has written? No, really?
Well anyway, what I can't see that the film can possibly capture is his utterly unique writing style.
The same goes for Graham Greene, the writer of course, not the Canadian actor. I could see that his writing cried out to be filmed, and yet his writing style was so singular, it could have been done - it could have been translated to film, it just never was.
I suppose the thing to do is to watch with a different expectation, allow the director to overlay her or his own style.

Record numbers of Brits are going to live abroad, but they're not coming to Canada. In fact, one of the main destinations is Australia, which has just been outed as the world's number one polluter in terms of emissions from power stations.
This is positively bizarre! Surely they have enough sunshine to be able to run entirely on solar power.

Fix it Aus, don't make me come over there.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Bear Poo

God, according to Denny Crane, is in British Columbia.
I rest my case.

I now know that the answer to the seasoned 'does a bear shit in the woods?' is 'well not in the winter apparently'.

The bears that we saw yesterday were preparing for winter, not full hibernation, but 'denning'. They wake up and come out of their dens about twice a day and then go back in and resume their sleep.
The Wildlife Team on Grouse Mountain have cameras in the bears' den to check that all is well. But they don't poo. Oh well, I've no doubt that the Wildlife Team poo when necessary, but the bears - not so much. In fact right now they are munching on large quantities of evergreen wood to block themselves up. Alex and I wondered what happens in the spring, how do they get that wooden bung out? Perhaps Denny Crane will be standing outside the bears' den with a humongous bowl of All-Bran.
I'm sure they have it covered somehow.

I'm watching the French. This whole business with Sarkozy and the French is interesting, so very interesting. It's as though the whole nation WANT Sarco to be firm with them. 84% of the French people plus myself, think that Sarko will stand firm over the pension reforms, and to recap on those,

"The open-ended strike is a show of strength over the president's plans to axe special pensions privileges enjoyed by around 500,000, including railway and energy workers and backstage staff at Paris Opera and the Comédie Française. Some of the special deals date back to the second world war or centuries earlier and allow certain workers to retire as young as 50 on favourable terms."

Even the socialists seem to be saying that the reforms are long overdue, but they pretty much have to strike, because not to do so wouldn't be cricket - French cricket I guess. And in the meantime, the whole thing has given a massive boost to the new bike-hire scheme in Paris.
What can you do? If the public believes that Sarco will stand firm, and they certainly seem to, then they will back down before he does. If they see weakness, they'll exploit it.
I can think of a few jobs Sarco could take on.

Kevin and I celebrated our second anniversary today. We went out for dinner. People here eat much earlier than in Europe in general, so at the time we were arriving, everyone else was just about to leave. It's a system that works for us and.....it worked for us.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

First Snow

Not down here in the lowlands, but for me up in the mountains.

Everyone hates meetings right? I mean that's just a given. A meeting is a slow and often tedious way of conveying information that could be done by e-mail.

Often, yes.

But not when your half-termly professional meeting is hosted by your colleagues that run the bear habitat on a local mountain.
And they get you issued with free parking and ski-lift passes.

And on the way up the mountain you are able to look down and see wolves in one direction, and in the other, the whole of the lower mainland glittering beneath your gaze.
Then halfway up you pass the snow-line and outcrops are frosted with snow. And then the snow itself starts falling.

You are taken across beautiful, glistening snowfall to a chalet where you get to sit in a cosy room around a wood-burning fire, eating fruit and cookies and Nanaimo bars while snow swirls outside the windows.

When darkness falls, you crunch outside over the mountain to the bear habitat where the zoologist talks to you about the impending quasi-hibernation of the two grislies that you are watching.

On the way down again, the beautiful city stretches out before you, sparkling and twinkling, like an illuminated model city surrounded by descending cloud and dark, shimmering water.
In the night sky ahead of you, a golden sliver of moon, which you can see reflected in the river below.

Wouldn't you go willingly, excitedly to that meeting, wouldn't you drive across the entire city just to spend an hour discussing and receiving information that could have been sent out by e-mail?

Yeah, me too.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Furies

All night long, the wind howled and rattled and shook the house.
It tore things outside and the rain beat down.

In the morning, many people were without power, traffic lights were out, a whole shopping mall not far from us was closed down for lack of power.

We drove to the other end of town and there, a fire engine blocked the road, an accident, two cars, one mangled, being hauled up onto a tow truck.
An ambulance came down the road behind us, sirens and lights going. Only Kevin moved over and stopped. Behind us, another driver hesitated, on her cell phone, but finally wobbled to the side. A third car pulled over but then sped up and went straight through. The ambulance had to cross the central divider and drive against the traffic to get to the scene.

In 'Woken Furies', Takeshi meets the wife of a priest. She is wearing clothes that cover her completely, all her hair is covered too.
She remarks to Takeshi that it is warm, but he replies by telling her that she is inappropriately dressed for the weather. She asks him if he disapproves and he says that yes, he does. She criticises a politician and a trampy celeb, but he says that the politician at least wouldn't beat his own daughter to death for bringing dishonour to the family by being raped and that the celeb was a cheap trollop, but at least she was living her life as if it belonged to her.
He tells her that her religion is gynocidal.
The priest's wife counters that she herself has chosen this and Takeshi responds that that makes it worse.
"You've thrown away centuries of political struggle and scientific advance so you can sit in the dark and mutter your superstitions of unworth to yourself. You'll let your life, the most precious thing you have, be stolen from you hour by hour and day by day as long as you can eke out the existence your males will let you have..."

Sheer brilliance.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Poppy Day

Remembrance Day.
In Britain it is difficult to avoid poppy sellers, here, I hadn't come across one at all. And yet people seemed to be wearing them.

At church we were bagpiped in.

The bagpiper always looks more impressive than the bagpipe sounds, but it did give the appropriate gravitas to the proceedings.
It was a very emotional service, never more so than when the Canadian National Anthem was sung. The hymn book had both the French and English words and I must say, the French managed to avoid the sexist '...in all thy sons command,' although on Remembrance Day, difficult to forget that the Québecois, unlike other Canadians, didn't step up to the plate in any significant numbers.

But Canadians can sing, and they filled the church with rich harmony. It was beautiful.

Afterwards, I had a luncheon appointment with Canadian Karen. I went to see her flat in one of the most breathtaking areas of Kitsilano. The building itself reminded me of a traditional theatre in Britain, the stairs that lead up to the separate flats like the stairs that lead to the seating areas. A building with character, but one that is also clearly well looked-after.

We drove downtown and went for brunch. Karen navigated us there very competently and I don't mean that to sound patronising, but I had, not so long ago, had a far less smooth, calm driving experience with someone else navigating. And I know Karen will be laughing reading this, since she doesn't think of herself as calm.

The main purpose of our afternoon was to visit the Circle Craft Christmas Fair. This was located as far downtown as you can go. You'd be in the sea if you went any further. We had complimentary tickets, which we were quite pleased about.
Parking wasn't easy - and that in spite of deciding to opt for the expensive underground car park.

When we reached the Fair, we walked around, looked at things, but not too closely, turned over a couple of price tags, $200 for a bag, $300 for a jacket, $80 for a rather flimsy top, and then left. It was all interesting to see, but neither of us felt we needed to spend more time there and we certainly didn't feel compelled to buy anything.
Some things are good to look at but you wouldn't want them in your home.
I think Karen thought I said that too loudly at one point.

Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday for Remembrance Day. Gordon needs to get onto that one. Britain should have a similar day off and definitely needs one at this time of year. I'm looking forward to an extra lie-in.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Spirits

There is something so comforting about a glass of your favourite spirit. I don't like to drink more than a glass these days, but I can really savour a good brandy or whisky.
And I do mean savour, in that almost existential way that Hugo from 'Les Mains Sales' watches Hoederer drinking coffee and thinks about the coffee having flavour because it is in his mouth.

Spiritual.
Spirits.

My son Ben went for an audition at a Music College in Brighton and against the odds, has been offered a place. We're all dead chuffed. Ben doesn't have the problems that Laurence has had, but he has been becalmed for the last little while, unable to motivate himself, unsure what he wanted to do. So I'm mightily pleased about this.

And Alex, my Alex, the unsung heroine, has been down staying with her brother in Portsmouth, helping to look after her niece and nephew during Reading Week, while Sue has been experiencing some difficulties late in her pregnancy. Now Alex, my Alex, has to go back to London because lectures start again.
It's hard to be here and not able to help out when Sue and Austen could use the help.

'The Blair Witch Project' was creepy, not as scary as its hype, but creepy nonetheless.
And sometimes, when we are out in the woods, we see some twigs stacked together for no apparent reason and we say, 'Blair Witch Project'. It happens more often than you'd think.
Perhaps people passing are driven to put sticks together, who knows.

But why is the idea of a crone in the woods so creepy? Was it because you never saw anything, just heard sounds and this witchy ikebana kept appearing?

And then, is it less creepy if the unknown is an alien? Or a half-human, half-beast? Or just spirits?

When a friend of mine went on a vision quest with a First Nations guide, she had to spend a night alone in the forest.
She heard voices, sounds she couldn't identify. She would have been comforted by coyotes, being a naturalist, she wasn't afraid of them, but human voices, quarrelling, out in the forest where she knew there were no human settlements for miles and miles, when she had been brought up river by canoe and dropped there - that kept her awake and petrified all night.

There is nothing to fear but fear itself.
And really bad spirits.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Mysterious Ways

Three people I know are going to the States for shopping tomorrow. Now this could go one of two ways.
It's sheer co-incidence and they are the only three people crossing the border, or everyone and her dog are planning a shopping trip mañana. Let's hope it's the former.

Britain is planning to pay Afghan farmers to grow something other than opium. I'm pretty sure someone's tried doing that before. ".....subsidised purchase of legal crops to make returns more like those from poppy." Well, so far I'm following. And I'm sure they'll do their very best to keep the Telly-tubbies from destroying the farmers' crops. All good stuff.
But here's my plan.
Send the market price of opium down and then buy it all legally, through government channels and use it for research and medical pharmaceuticals and....bio-fuel or something we haven't yet discovered.
But..of course the flaw in my plan is that the only way to send the market price down is to flood the market with it, so essentially that plan doesn't work. Except I'm quite convinced that I'm onto something, I'm just missing some input from a non-evil genius.

Global warming has caused the $US to weaken and the TV writers to go on strike. Seriously, I can prove it scientifically.
Global warming has upset the planet, or Mother Earth is having her menopause if you will, and when Mother Earth gets upset, then God is annoyed. BUT...God is forgiving.
Now what does any parent do when their child misbehaves and wrecks the homeworld? Why takes their pocket money away and stops them watching TV of course.

Mysterious ways.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Lines and Squares

By virtue of some newly-revealed Canadian catachresis, I have been giving some thought to pavements.
That isn't entirely true, I think about pavements every day when I walk to work and it runs out, resulting in my walking for part of the way in the cycle lane, or hard shoulder of the road.

The paving slabs that form the pavement through the residential part of my journey, are big, maybe two foot by two foot or thereabouts.
And yet...and yet... I cannot break the childhood habit of trying to avoid the cracks. Pavement used to be - and still is in some places - formed of slabs just big enough to plant your foot in, with perhaps as much room again on either side, and laid in a hopscotch pattern.

I'm not sure what a child thinks will happen if they step on the cracks between the squares, I don't know what I think will happen. Sometimes I deliberately step on the cracks to break the spell.
But on the old-fashioned paving slabs, you could avoid the cracks without alerting anyone to your obsessive behaviour. With the big jobbies around here, no chance. You either bounce along like Zebedee, or take one normal step, one ballet-dancer step and then a hop.

And I bow to the Master, who better than A.A. Milne to capture the child-mind ?

LINES AND SQUARES by A.A. Milne

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I'm ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, "Bears,
Just look how I'm walking in all the squares!"

And the little bears growl to each other, "He's mine,
As soon as he's silly and steps on a line."
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe their talk;
It's ever so portant how you walk.
And it's ever so jolly to call out, "Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares!"

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Pudding and Pie

I'm very proud of my son Laurence today. Last night he came home from Karate with his certificate for passing his test and moving to the next belt. He had done the test 2½ weeks ago, amid great stress. Laurence doesn't have much self-confidence and particularly when it comes to tests and exams. He was also convinced that he couldn't have passed. I don't think he believes it even now.
But Laurence's Sensei, William, has been a very patient man and has brought out the best in this him. And of course, Laurence has worked very hard and faced down a few demons.

In the book I'm reading, 'Woken Furies' by Richard Morgan, Takeshi has acquired a new sleeve. However he still feels afraid of heights. You might think that was a physical problem, and one that could be solved by getting a new body. But maybe Morgan is right, perhaps if you had it in your first body, the one you grew up in, it would become more of a psychological response.

If yesterday's food article dissed British food, today, an article in the Guardian reminds us of something that no-one does better than the Brits, the pudding. Since I've ruthlessly half-inched the picture from the article, I happen to know that it's a picture of sticky toffee pudding, not delicious chocolate pud as I had thought.
But it seems that Brits are no longer eating as much pud as before. I don't believe it personally, it seems to me that all the good supermarkets have some very up-market versions of the great British puddings, Spotted Dick, Roly-poly, as well as the ones I've already mentioned.
And for pity's sake, if I were there now, Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose and M&S would have whole rows dedicated to the great Christmas pudding in all its varieties.

I've talked about custard before, but on Sunday, two friends of ours who are Brits came over for Sunday lunch. We had blueberry pie for pudding, not British at all, but the four of us got through two cans of custard, now that is British. The best bit about the pudding is the custard.

We had a late-night meeting tonight at work. We dissected how Halloween had gone and started to look forward to Christmas. Apparently, we can dress the Nature House up for Christmas, we can have all the bits of Christmas that have nothing to do with it, but I can't run a Christmas school programme. I could talk about reindeer, or can I? Well maybe I can use the North American name, caribou. I can't talk about Saint Nicholas, but if I were to say Santa Claus...No, probably not. We can't say God, but we can talk about Mother Earth.

Oh well. This part of the year, the part I want to savour most, gallops by.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Coals to Newcastle

This is Mount Saint Helens, taken from the 'plane when Kevin went to Oregon last week.

There must be some kind of jetlag associated with the clocks going forward or back. It certainly feels like it. And strange to be walking home in the dark this evening.

A new study shows that breastfeeding can increase IQ by up to 7 points. That, my friend, is seriously significant. Also annoying, because I now realise that I could be missing out on seven whole points of intelligence quotient. Maybe maths wouldn't have been such a nuisance for me. Darn it.

I know I bang on about how much of the US as portrayed on film and TV is actually the greater Vancouver area, but today I discovered something quite bizarre.
There is a Canadian series that I have mentioned before, 'Blood Ties', that is supposedly set in Toronto, to prove this we keep seeing the CN tower, but is shot in Vancouver. There is apparently a set in Maple Ridge where much of it is filmed.

Seeing Kris, recently bereaved of her father, now coming to grips with all the bureaucracy and paperwork surrounding death, reiterates to me how lucky my sister and I were that Austen took on so much of that. It is an absolute nightmare, well it can be, and in our case, there was no squabbling over who should have what at all. Throw that in and the recipe is too potent to handle.

I was astonished to learn from today's Guardian, that Britain, the culinary laughing stock of everywhere except Eastern Europe, is actually doing big business exporting food and drink.
No surprise that Britain is exporting curry to India, nor that she is selling ale to Ireland, but I had to do a double-take over the significant rise in chocolate being sold to Belgium.
I wonder if the Swedes are buying British swedes.

I still, however, think that Canada is the real unsung heroine of world cuisine.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Blood and Magic

Ah, such bliss, getting an extra hour in bed. And we awoke to a clear sky and a crisp earth.

The Divali celebration last night was most enjoyable. The food keeps coming at you at that do and of course, the food is Indian.
But it did remind us that this time last year, I was in Britain and Kevin chose not to go to the Divali party because there had been a huge snowfall.

Tomorrow night is Bonfire Night and I am hosting the writers' group. I wanted to do Fifth of November food, so I have chestnuts and the compulsory orange coloured tomato soup but I can't do the sausage in a bread roll because I have yet to find any ordinary frying sausages like Walls'.
Superstore had something they call English breakfast sausages, but British bangers they ain't. My life remains banger free.
On the other hand, I was also too lazy to make toffee apples so I have toffee and I have apples.

And on the subject of bangers, on the cover of our local free-sheet was the shock headline, 'Dead Rabbit horrifies Mom'.
So you think, good bloody grief.
Then reading it, it transpires that the aforementioned mum came upon a group of teenagers who had put a live rabbit into a bag and set off some firecrackers inside it. There will be no punishment for these animals because they ran off, but I hope that at some point in their rotten lives they will be tortured by what they have done.

In traditional European literature, one of the recurring themes is that of the magic philtre. The philtre or potion, when taken, exculpates the imbiber of whatever they do during the period of enchantment.
'It wasn't me officer, I had taken a magic potion.' It allows us to be free of our own freedom, to act immorally without blame since we had no free will.
And in modern literature this theme endures. I include film and television in modern literature just as we include the oral tales of the jongleurs in the traditional form.
As it turns out, if we could partake of a vampire's blood, then our human judgement could be suspended and we would be like them for a while, except that while they crave our blood, we would crave theirs.
Are we not vampires in any case? Those of us who share the blood of a human who was put to death two thousand years ago?

I often wonder.