Wednesday, 31 January 2007


There's no scat in this picture, just a sheet web.

Since dogs aren't allowed in the Nature Park, if you narrowly miss stepping in something unmentionable, it is probably scat.
Dog-poo is icky and nasty and full of worms that'll make your child go blind, scat - scientific, information imparting, interesting.

Well, actually it is because all animals have different scat, you can tell what has wandered through. Mostly what we find because it is the most obvious is coyote scat. Today though, since the first programme that is coming up is about animals, I came into the kitchen at work to find poo on the table. Rubber poo, biologically correct, yes in short I discovered that there are people out there who make a living by making and selling pretend poo.

Sadly, we have no raccoon poo. However this did lead us into a discussion about a recipe that Lori used to have for making edible scat. So you mix up all sorts of ingredients, mints for the white bits, Shreddies for the...sticky out bits that look like Shreddies, and then you have poo that children can eat.
Then of course we wondered who in the hell must have come to the conclusion that THAT was a good idea.
It reminded us of when we were little and you could buy packs of sugar fondant cigarettes, or there were chocolate ones covered in rice paper, and bloody horrible chocolate it was too. These were the sweets you didn't want to get, the booby prize, like getting Spangles. They were cheap and they were not very good.

Still, aside from the joys of animal poo, I have written a story today and practised the puppet show. I had done the workshop on puppeteering, so I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but now that I'm actually doing parts in performance, I am getting exactly how hard it is, and I am finding it way more difficult than the acting. Who knew?

Then there's the story. It's something and nothing. Something we will use as part of a programme, and yet nothing worth mentioning. And yet, when I think of all of the things I have written over my years at Mayhem and before, reports, reports to governors, letters, snippets for local papers, flyers, handbooks, short sketches in French and German, I've never wondered before because it was never worth wondering, does it belong to me?

Completely unconnected with work, I see that The Police are rehearsing in secret in North Van as they are going to make some kind of appearance as 'The Police' again. Not much of a secret then.

And on the theme of police, we watched the recent film of Miami Vice. I used to love that programme, the music, the fashion, the casual chic of the whole thing. Yeah well, the film didn't do it for me. I immediately got it into my head that Jamie Foxx shouldn't be Tubbs, instead Isaach de Bankolé, who had a smaller part in this film, but whom I loved from Ghost Dog, should play the role. The part of Castillo - well, no-one but Edward James Olmos can do that.

The music was good, but it didn't have the compulsion of the music on the TV show, I liked most of it, but it made me more nostalgic than energised. And the plot was, well, more like smog than anything else.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Trivial pursuits

Started work yesterday, today I have a day off, that's the life. Well, Ok, not quite as utopian as it sounds. My normal working week will be Tuesday to Friday, but I had to swap days this week because of the training schedule.

So I'm catching up on some household tasks, which sounds boring, but there is interest in everything.
One of the ads on TV that has quite a yuck factor for me is one where a woman cleans her work surfaces and fridge using a chicken quarter. This is to illustrate that when people use ordinary household sponges and not special wipes impregnated with disinfectant, they might as well be using salmonella ridden meat.

Suddenly however, the ad is not only yucky, but also out-of-date. Kevin sent me this article last week in which scientists in Florida have determined that if you place your sponge in the microwave for two minutes you kill most of the microbes and general germs. They have also determined that if, when trying to broadcast the good news to householders everywhere, you forget to tell them to wet the sponge first, what you get is a home filled with the smell of burning tyre and a ruined sponge. Oops.

For some reason, I have not bought a washing-up bowl since I arrived. This was annoying me, so I decided to seek one out.
The first thing I discovered is that every shop here isn't bursting with said item of drudgery in every colour, shape and size. Au contraire. All we could find was one bowl in one colour and one shape and one size. And it wasn't even clear it was a washing-up bowl. Not that is until I used the failsafe I have developed. Look at the French. Yep, French said quite clearly, 'Cuvée à vaisselle'. English mentioned nothing to do with bowls or washing up.
Ok, so wasn't that the most boring story ever? Maybe. Until I noticed that when it had a small amount of water in the bottom and I turned the garburator on, the water formed regular criss-cross patterns in the bowl. I think I'm on the verge of a scientific breakthrough, one that I bet it turns out, someone else discovered three hundred odd years ago. Oh I love year one science.

Back to the advertising industry. The word 'healthy' is an adjective. I can eat healthy food, but I can't eat healthy. That would be healthily. Why do that advertisers think it is their job to lower standards? Damn them, damn them all to hell, they should be informing us, not making us dumber.

Meanwhile, more daft things in Florida, must be to do with the weather or David Carruso's bad line delivery or something. A woman who went to report that she had been raped, was jailed. It seems there had been some outstanding fine she was supposed to pay, so instead of dealing with all the after effects of the trauma she had suffered, yep, she was sent to prison.
Not funny at all, but it did remind me of an anecdote I recounted to Kevin and Laurence the other day.

A parent had come into the school where I was working and was generally being abusive and shouting the odds at the Headteacher because the school was doing something unreasonable like excluding her child for bullying another pupil.
The Head, never one for suffering abuse for longer than it took him to phone the local Constabulary, or get his PA to do so, summoned the local Plod who responded very enthusiastically to his request.
'Aha,' they said, 'we have an outstanding warrant for that lady's arrest, we'll be there toot sweet to take her off your hands and into our cells.'
And they were, and they did.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Fog on the Fraser

Back to the howling old owl in the woods, back to the horny backed toad, I've finally decided my future lies, beyond number five road.

Pretty unoriginal I know. And stick garter snakes and bats in there somewhere and Bob's your auntie's toy boy, I'm back at the Nature Park, just that I'm currently gainfully employed rather than volunteering, I have a short term contract that runs until mid-June.

So today we got out the props and rehearsed for the two new winter programmes, one about mammals, one about reptiles and amphibians, so I got to play with snakes and skulls and I got to play two bats at the same time. I am going to have to become way more ambidextrous. Or even some.

The last couple of days have been foggy and this morning was no exception. Things suddenly loom at you, which is quite good fun unless they are things that are about to run you over or trip you up. Sadly, since I was trying to get to work on time, which I succeeded in doing, I wasn't able to spare the time to get the camera out until it had cleared.

I'm glad to be back pretending to be a raccoon, an animal I've never in fact seen face to face, glad to be back walking the trails with Lori and Jo. And since I am only working a four day week, I'll be glad to have a three-day weekend.

Sunday, 28 January 2007


I have some irritating cinema habits, I know I do. I try to stop myself because it annoys Kevin and because he's right, it is ungracious of me. But why, WHY the world over (and of course by that I mean in Canada and Britain) do I need someone to read the big numbers on my ticket to me? Yesterday I couldn't help myself. I only have a very narrow range of smart things to say,
'Is it screen 12 by any chance?' it's not fair I know, they're only kids.

After the film I have to stay until the end of the credits. It balances my rudeness going in. It seems like very bad manners to leave before you have seen the names of everyone who helped in the making of the film. And I like looking at names, jobs, places they filmed, music they used.

Feminism - and this isn't so much of an aside - doesn't oblige me to do blokey things and it doesn't turn me into a bloke. It gives me the right to do them if I wish and it allows my equivalent girlie things to be equally valued. So when I go into a bar, I'm not obliged to drink beer and beer shouldn't be seen as the same as lemonade. Beer isn't a universal drink, it's a bloke's drink that women have started to imbibe because - well who knows why, but let them drink it if they wish and not if they don't.
But a society that values the drinking of beer is, well, essentially a society based on what men value.
I went into the diner we were going to eat in before the movie and since there was a queue, beer was being given out. Thank you for that, how useful.

And another thing. I'm still a woman and as such have been brought up to expect not to have a man walk through a door before me. Having a man let me through the door first doesn't mean I have fewer rights than him, I can't even see the logic in that, it means that society as a whole honours the gender who can if they wish, produce the next generation.
The opposite of this isn't all barging at the door at the same time, it's not being allowed onto the street without the 'permission' of a male member of the family and such like.
Just to sort out a couple of little confusions there.

We're nearly at the film. I like a film that makes me think, that sends me back to look up some history.

We saw a film by director and writer Guillermo del Torro, 'Pan's Labyrinth'. It intertwined fantasy and the grim reality of life in Spain under the fascists after the Spanish Civil War and during the time frame of the Second World War. This was probably covered in history lessons at school by a paragraph in a text book.
It involved Britain in that some British people were so horrified by the spread of fascism in Europe that they went to fight it, joining volunteers from other countries in the 'International Brigade'.
The Spanish Civil war ended in 1939, the same year that war was declared in the rest of Europe, so the 21 people still alive who fought in that war are now in their nineties.
I found two quotes from veterans of this war. Trade unionist Jack Jones said,

"You have got to have conviction in life, to do what is the right thing to do. Many men I know did that and died. I could have been in their place, but I was glad to fight with them."

Another, Sam Russell, said,

"I went to fight Fascism. We may have lost on the field of battle but we never lost the fight, the struggle against Fascism."

I also know that Sleepy's grandad fought in this 'forgotten war'.

I found it interesting that the fantasy part of the film was centred on the realm of the Faunus, or Pan. Pan was a god of the pastoral, of nature, but also of human nature.
He was also the only god in Greek mythology to die. But we shouldn't panic about that, nature can't die can it?
And why is it that the representation of the god of the natural world was demonised into the often use picture of Satan?

I wonder.

Saturday, 27 January 2007


Strange the relationship between the physical, the mental and com- munication; blood, thought, electricity.

Our bonds with the Earth are phasic, every heartbeat contains both life and death, every breath, in, bringing air into our bodies, life; out, pushing life out, allowing in death.
Our bodies, adrift in spacetime, only anchored on the upswing of the pendulum.

'Intolerably sad, profound,
St. Giles's bells are ringing round,
Swing up and bring me hope of life,
Swing down and plunge the surgeon's knife....' John Betjeman

In, out, pulse, rest, life, death.

And then our electronic life. Human communication, we need it, it makes us feel part of the hive, but we also need solitude to renew our Self.

I have many theories. Some that are sheer whimsy, created for my own speculation : that the weather and the economy are connected.
Some are absolute beliefs, intuitively held, when we were being told to beware the high fat content of certain fruits, I knew absolutely that these fats would turn out to be good. Avocado. It was so.

Some begin in whimsy and emerge. The plane of communication links us more physically than we realise. Blood and electricity.
Yesterday my electronics were playing with me. They weren't just misbehaving, they were being puckish. Let me in here, block me there, let me see a glimpse of this before refusing me authorisation.
Blogger has developed Artificial Intelligence, it is linked to my menstrual cycle.

When I was first here, living here, I was always being told how much we Brits like to talk about our bodily functions. I guess we do, but I don't think it's Brits, I think it's Europeans, I've never noticed the French or German or Spaniards having any problem discussing body fluids .... well or not-so-fluids.
It's in our humour, it's in our natural conversation. And frankly, I don't care. We're just...earthy.

Menstruation and intelligence are linked, I'm convinced of it, it is at puberty that girls develop superpowers. Thought is based on language, language on thought, women talk, we share ideas, we pass information along, and our web of communication is the high tensile steel net which holds society together.

Blood, physical being. Here's another theory. The observation by women and then scientists, that women who live or work together become synchronised is generally held to be because of pheromones, or hormones, or just moans. Whatever.
But I have long since noticed that some of the women that I am in the closest contact with electronically, also synch. And we know because we talk about it. So how does that work? It could just be coincidence, but then maybe not.

The spider's web of communication. The harmony of blood. The tentative push of the psyche.
Click, double click, pulse.

Friday, 26 January 2007


On the night in question, last night, Canadian Karen and I went to the Vancouver Public Library to see a short documentary film called 'Wal-Town'.

A group of university students and a journo, travelled across Canada trying to inform people about the impact that Walmart can have on communities and they also talked to employees of the store, particularly ones in Jonquière, the city in Québec which was the only one in Canada to be unionised, something Walmart couldn't cope with and so closed it down.

It was certainly interesting, especially to me, essentially an outsider and unfamiliar with the Walmart experience. Canadian Karen tried to wind me up by suggesting that Walmart was much like Ikea, she narrowly avoided being brained.

The concept of 'doughnuting' interested me. Walmart sets up outside a city, usually with a huge amount of government subsidy money to build. The city then dies from the core.
'You just tell me of one Canadian city where that has happened,' said the manager of one store - loyalty we are told, which is bought at a salary of over $180,000 while the work is done by serfs on minimum wage and who are only guaranteed 12 hours a week.
Cut to Sault Ste Marie where the downtown core has largely closed down since Walmart arrived.

The French were the most articulate speakers against the giant, whose annual turnover makes them as a corporation, the 22nd largest economy on the planet. Somehow Norway seemed to be below them.

'Walmart takes money out of the system,' said one man, 'by closing down small enterprises it stops the money that people spend being recycled back in, they will spend it at one shop then better paid employees spend their wages at another and the money circulates and keeps the economy of the area healthy, with Walmart it all goes into this one giant and into the pockets of the shareholders. If an individual Walmart makes 8 million dollars a year, why can't only 7 million go to the already wealthy shareholders and one million towards better pay and conditions for the workers?'
Indeed we were told that the family which owns Walmart were the wealthiest family on the planet, worth 95 billion dollars.

In the main I thought that sadly, the film was preaching to the converted. I doubt whether anyone in the lecture hall with us were wondering whether they should shop at Walmart, they were, like us, already ethical shoppers.
The people interviewed on the film were, for the most part, not interested, how dare anyone try to suggest that they shouldn't be able to buy anything they liked at the lowest price possible, whatever the cost in human or environmental terms.

The workers who had lost their pittance jobs at Jonquière were already trampled.
'The best thing that came out of working there was that we met each other and became best friends,' said one woman of another,
'That's where we had the Walmart Christmas party the last two years,' said one pointing at a building, 'we paid for our own drinks, we paid for our own food and the manager of the store won the raffle.'

Scrooge right up to the end.

It is a strange effect of a system entirely dedicated to competition that such giants can arise and almost monopolise.
Walmart, we were told, holds 'only' 10% of the Canadian market, but when challenged on which single company holds the greatest slice of the market, the answer was the same, Walmart.
This film dealt almost exclusively with the employees of the stores and the impact on cities. But we also know that suppliers are destroyed too. If you cannot undercut everyone else and Walmart is the main seller, then whatever it is you are selling will be brought in from outside, possibly abroad. Then where is your market? This has already happened to small suppliers in the States, it could well have happened here too.

Of course there are benefits all round from small businesses becoming bigger, but when competition ceases to flourish, so do communities.
Here is an example from our own area. The supermarkets which compete for market share offer good wages and benefits packages. They are large enough to be constantly improving the quality and range of their products and pricing is much as it is in the British supermarkets, there are low cost versions of most products and higher quality, higher priced ones.
But the spectre of Walmart is always there. We don't have one either in Richmond, nor in Vancouver at present, but they keep trying. In Richmond, for once we have our rather curmudgeonly First Nations band to thank, since it was on a parcel of land owned by them that Walmart wanted to build.
Walmart are selling more and more food products and so the healthy competition and the good job packages of the supermarkets could be threatened.

But hey, at the end of the day, we do it to ourselves don't we? I may be sticking my neck out here, but I think that this is one battle that Canadians, being the people they are, could just win.

Thursday, 25 January 2007


Why how very Laura Ashley of me, how old-fashioned and middle-aged.

Last year, when my grandson Teddy was born, I sent Sue some flowers. I wanted blue of course and the ones I liked best were an entire bunch of blue hyacinths in a vase. These were duly delivered ahead of my own arrival but were still going strong when I got there. And my goodness they filled the house with scent. They had to be kept in the hallway so that when sitting in the front room you weren't overwhelmed by them.
A hyacinth bouquet rather than Hyacinth Bucket.

Yesterday I went to Home Depot to get some potting compost. I'm ahead of them, they really haven't got their plants section up and running after the autumn planting. But what they did have were some rather unhappy looking hyacinths, so I bought some. Whenever I go past the dining area, what the Germans would call an 'Essecke', I catch the scent and it brightens my mood.

The past few days have been the most difficult to be so far away. Alex's operation has tugged me very hard. Even in my thirties, when I was in hospital in pain, I wanted my mum. Not that she'd have been the slightest help, I just wanted her there. Now, thinking of my own grown-up baby girl so far away and in pain tears me up.
Where was King Solomon to recognise my sacrifice?

Hmm...let's have some hyacinth perfume.

I find very few TV children tolerable, but the one I really like is the middle girl in 'Medium', Bridget. I love that she has such a different take on things, that she stomps and frowns rather than pouts. She isn't cutesy, just cute.

On 'Studio 60' this week, Jordan McDeere has been stuck with a new and annoying person to deal with, Head of 'Alternative Programming' or reality TV as we know it. 'So you're the new Head of Illiterate Programming,' said Jordan, and then realises that she had said that out loud.

Kiran Matharu is apparently Britain's first female Asian sports champion, that is if you assume that 'Bend it Like Beckham' was just fiction. But the amusing thing about the interview with her was when she gives us an insight into 'dressing like a woman'.

"There's a lot of lesbians [in golf] - 70% or something silly. I'm not sure if it's 70% but I've heard - check it, cos its true."

Would it worry her to be mistaken for a lesbian?

"I won't be, though, will I? Cos I've got, like, Pumas - that's the most trendiest stuff you can wear in golf now. I'll be wearing that."

So, look in your wardrobes, or wherever you keep your shoes, if you have Pumas in there and you want to be a lesbian or thought you were one, unlucky mate.

You remember at school learning how Henry the second inadvertently caused the death of Thomas à Becket by stamping his foot and crying,
'Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?' yeah, well, this has nothing whatsoever to do with that, but for pity's sake, David Caruso, who's writing his lines in CSI Miami? Will no-one rid him of these pathetic lines? Are the writers having a good old laugh behind his back? It's like the great McGonagall, the poet whose lines caused such amusement he became a cult favourite.

So who should turn up in 'Heroes' this week, but Christopher Eccleston, he who played Doctor Who for the first one of the new series, nice jump Chris. Let's hope that Heroes, which is admittedly a fascinating series, lasts longer than Doctor Who. Oh, hang on, that's right, Doctor Who has been regenerating for like....forEVER. Oh well.

Meanwhile, back au Canada and in our very own city of Richmond, sleight of hand is...well not very caché to be honest. The city allowed, a few years back, a huge great honking casino to be built. The city pacified its citizens by pointing out that they were getting ten million a year in taxes from the casino. But, now this is strange, there is a HUGE amount of crime centred around the casino. Yes but we get ten mill in taxes from them. So how many extra police officers has this ten million bought for the city to deal with the extra crime? None. Not one? Nada? Nul point? So how much is the extra crime costing the city in terms of police time that can't be spent helping the community? Papers shuffled, beards are muttered into. And heads will roll? Probably not.

It'll take one hell of a lot of hyacinths to make them rotten eggs go away.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Elephant Mind

Words, strings of words, baroque lace made of words, sink down so deeply in our consciousness they become embedded there and thus part of us, part of our mind.

There is no French word that is the exact equivalent of the English word 'mind'. If you look it up you will find 'esprit', 'intelligence','âme','pensée','idée','avis', - spirit, intellect, soul, thought, idea, opinion. I would argue most strongly that none of these has exactly the same meaning of our notion as English speakers, of 'mind'.

Does language sculpt thought or does thought sculpt language?

In the book 'Swann', the publisher Cruzzi, thinks back to conversations he had with his own father who maintained that if we had no word for love, then we would have no concept of it. I have been thinking about this. Of course, different cultures have different words for love, separating erotic love from romantic and from familial or spiritual.
But I think we would still need a word, something with which to share our experience with others of the deep bonds or the soaring ecstasy, or the comfort or need.
The filaments which we spin on Earth, like a spider's silk, fragile yet strong as steel and which link us to Heaven.

Poetry or the rhythmic language of childhood stories that comes to us unbidden.
Recently I was visited by Kipling's 'The Elephant's Child' with his mere smear nose, and his satiable curtiosity, and the great, grey, green, greasy Limpopo river, all set about with Fever trees and the bi-coloured python rock-snake.

Descriptions that gave comfort to our childhood whilst we lay in bed and pondered the imponderable, what was it like to be dead on a sunny day and lie in our graves looking up at the sky but unable to go out and play?

And there on 'Planet Earth' are the elephants in the Serengeti, marching to find water, the herd acting as one, bound together as one mind by their need, their thirst, but reliant on the memories of individuals as they follow the Matriarchs.

When we kill them all, will anything remain? If we visit the plains or the jungles where they have lived will there be a memory of them, at the watering holes, under the trees?
Will some part of their existence have been absorbed by the land?
Without words.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Sellers and Buyers

Well shiver me timbers if I didn't turn on the telly this morning and there was Peter Sellers in his role as Inspector Clouseau talking about the situation in Lebanon. Which was odd, what with him having died in 1980. However, Sellers was a Pompey boy, born in Southsea, so who knows?

But....yes of course, 'twas not he, but the Lebanese minister for sport and youth, Ahmed Fatfat. I have to say, I'm not convinced he's doing his job properly, setting fire to tyres in the street is not a healthy occupation for young people.

We had however, caught the Steve Martin film 'The Pink Panther' quite recently, something we had been meaning to do because our friend Steve had had a small part in it and had really enjoyed working with Steve Martin. Sadly, however great Martin is, Peter Sellers he most certainly ain't, and we quickly abandoned the movie.

Yesterday, all my little ducks were ill. Laurence, for the first time, had to have a day off sick, he awoke with a headache and bad tummy. Back in the UK, Ben has a heavy cold and has fought off a bout of tonsillitis. Sue is under the weather and Alex is in hospital. She has an infection caused by a problem in her back and had to have a small operation. I am waiting to hear from her.

Living in Canada has afforded me not only the opportunity to make comparisons between the two health systems, but also to have a tiny peek at how things work in the States.
We are very close to the border with Washington State here and so we do have some Americans who come over every day to work. One such colleague of Kevin's had an accident recently and then you find out the limitations of a system run on the vagaries of the insurance industry. In this particular instance, the insurance company would pay for a surgical consult and the resultant surgery so long as both weren't on the same day.

I have had to watch another friend cope with the results of surgery while having to also deal with the medical insurance company, they will pay for this but not that, they'll pay for this percentage of this but only that percentage of that. And she quite possibly might have to be in a position of having to sue the hospital where she contracted MRSA should they choose to try to bill her for it.

But I can also see a positive side to this system. As you know, somehow and inexplicably I find myself watching the US Court shows. A lot of court time it seems to me, is spent trying to recoup medical costs when someone else has caused the injury.
Some of these cases involve minors injuring other minors, and this is where I can see the point. If some vile little brat has bullied and wounded some other kid, actually having them stood before a judge in a court of Law and being ordered to pay the medical costs has an impact that the parents, the Police, the Teachers simply can't deliver. I will just add that although I said the parents, just as was my experience at Mayhem and other schools I worked in, the parents of the bullied rarely acknowledge that their kid is in the wrong.

Being hit in the wallet kinda makes the point, but you can't buy integrity.

Blue Monday

Yes, as opposed to Blue Peter.

So, Blue Monday is the mathematically calculated most depressing day of the year, being the Monday of the final week of January. It certainly is raining, although I don't personally find that depressing. I didn't make any New Year's resolutions, so I don't feel gloomy about not keeping them, and yet I do admit to a certain downwards creeping mood.
Unfortunately, I'm nowhere near Victoria Station, otherwise I'd be able to be issued with that great British cure-all, a nice cup of tea, but then I don't drink tea anyway.

On a more physical medical note however, after watching almost two series of the BBC drama 'Bodies' which has VERY explicit surgical procedures, I feel competent to perform Caesarean sections, deliver babies vaginally, even breech births and administer chemical terminations.

Keith Allen plays the competent but outrageously rude consultant Tony Whitman, also in an ironic twist surely not lost on the viewer, an inveterate womaniser. On last night's episode he muttered the immortal line,
'Ah, student nurses, good for when you're feeling too lazy to wank.'

These, however were far from his finest words of wisdom. Tim, aka 'Knobhead' was spending too much time running not to the toilet, but the Chapel.
He tells Mr. Whitman that he can no longer assist with social terminations. He will be there when there is a serious medical reason for the abortion, but otherwise, he can't be doing it.
Keith Allen slowly blinks his reptilian eyes and says in a totally matter-of-fact voice,
'Why Tim, with pikeys, (list of different words for the lower end of the social scale)there's just nothing society can do about them, except when it comes to abortion, with abortion, we CAN make a difference.'

In British Columbia, we have temperate rainforest and our very own prime minister Stephen Harper has pledged to protect it. Well, some of it.
People have noticed that Harper has a very poor record on the environment. No kidding Stevie baby, in fact not that I am in any way implying that the good people of Alberta, your own home Province, don't have the best interests of the planet at heart just that well, oil seems to have a bad effect on the soul and they don't quite realise they're not actually in Texas. You can't be blamed for how you were brought up.
But hey, better just in the nick of time when people are rumbling on about another election than not at all.

At least Tony Whitman is honest about who he shafts, but maybe that's just Blue Monday talking.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

The ups and downs

First down is that the rain has washed away all the snow. At least we had it. Did I ever mention that I love snow?

As a result of last summer's flight irritations, my son Ben was given a voucher for £75 or $150 to be used against another flight. It had to be used before the 31st of January this year, and I had to phone reservations when I booked in order to be able to use it. The voucher was sent to me by e-mail.

I attempted to use it against my own flight, but no, they weren't having any of that malarkey.
I complained in a non-whining way, that 31/01/07 was a ridiculous deadline, especially since the bloke I had spoken to at reservations had indicated that they usually gave at least a year.

So, Ben had decided he would like to come out at Easter, so maybe I would be able to use the voucher after all.
I looked up the flights online, but yes, I had to phone to use it. The voucher, like I said, sent to me by e-mail, had a specific code on it.
'You'll have to fax us the voucher,' said the woman.
'It has a code, isn't it in your system?'
'You need to fax it.'
'You e-mailed it to me, can't I e-mail it back to you?'
'But I'll have to wait until him indoors goes to work on Monday, the flights might have sold out by then.'

We ended up going in to Kev's work on a Saturday, then rushing back to book the flights. A five minute task thus took a morning.

So that was a down ending in an up.
A real down was reading in the Observer that a 'conservative report' put together by several thousand climate experts, who argued over every little detail and only published what they absolutely could all agree on, says that the effects of global warming will be swifter and more devastating than had been thought before. Bloody hell.

An up, an impossibly gleeful up was that Hillary has declared her candidacy for the US electoral race. I'm not sure exactly what I'm expecting from this, nor whether it's truly any of my business, but I had hoped that she would run, and I am pleased that she has thrown down the gauntlet.

I spoke to Austen on the phone this morning. Or this afternoon. It's Sunday, all time is one, although there was an annoying person honking his car horn in the middle of the street at 7 something this morning. That didn't go down a treat.
'Brilliant article in this morning's Observer,' said I, 'by a writer called Nick Cohen,'
'Yeah, you used to read him a lot?'
'I did?'
'Yes, he's one of your leftie writers,'
'He is? Oh yes, I mean he is, I just don't remember reading him before,'
'You used to read him all the time, X had some of his books,'
'X did, are you sure? Are you sure you're not talking about Nick Hornby?'
'What? Of course I'm not mixing up Nick Hornby and Nick Cohen,'
'Oh, ok, just wondering,'
'So anyway, what was the thrust of the article? I've pretty much given up on the Observer these days,'
'You have? Oh, well, ok, well, he was brought up in a politically active family, so I was able to empathise, 'cept, well, his was WAY more active, and my parents were liberals whereas his were socialist, but even so.....'
'Politics, yes, and Cohen was more of a traditional leftwinger,'
'Yes, yes, he did make a very strong distinction between left-wing liberals and traditional left-wing values,'
'It's a very long article, and it challenged some of my thinking, but it really went very deeply into the actions of the peace Nazis, he asks the question how the left-wing liberals can hold left-wing views and yet protest against the overthrow of a fascist regime,'
'Oh ok, maybe I'll read it,'
'It's a good article.'

So mostly of course that was to point out the article, but partly to worry about my failing memory. Hmmm....

Saturday, 20 January 2007


I have quite forgotten what I was going to blog about. Sleepy sent me an absolutely brilliant David and Goliath-type news story.

The hero of the story, Declan Purcell, felt he had been unfairly charged £3,400 on his business account and approached the bank to rethink. They refused, so he took them to court and won. But they still didn't pay up, so the court issued a warrant granting permission for the Bailiffs to go in and seize goods to the value of the moneys owed. This they did. Oddly, when the Bailiffs were standing there with four computers, two fax machines and a till full of cash, the Bank's manager suddenly realised the error of his or her ways.

Now Mr. Purcell is most certainly a modern-day hero. What a bloke. This is the kind of thing the British absolutely love, I fear no come-back from that sweeping generalisation, it appeals to us very deeply.

What an example. Now again, Sleepy and I have discussed this, and we both think this is a great idea.

Remember how when gold was found in them there hills of BC and US prospectors decided that, well, let's just own BC then?
Remember how the US was judged to have unfairly taxed Canadian softwood lumber and was told to pay Canada $4 billion and they just keep on arguing about it?

So this is what we've decided. Following Mr. Purcell's fine example, we are going to send not the troops, but the Bailiffs in. And what we fancy is Seattle. So we'll take Seattle, fly the Maple Leaf above the entire city and just...well, own it.

So that's sorted then. Fortunately none of my friends in the US live in Seattle, although, actually it might make it easier if they did. The US is insisting that all its citizens now have passports in order to get back into the States. It turns out that only about a quarter of US Americans have passports. If you listen to the rumble , there is a lot of confusion about this, it comes across as though it's Canada that is insisting that US Americans have passports to cross the border, but not so.

SO, listen up Seattle, get your city sorted, and by that I mean kick Isaiah Washington into touch, we don't want homophobes in Canada, I'm sure we probably have some of our own, but he's out.

Prepare to be boarded muahahahahahaha!

Friday, 19 January 2007

The Fort

Sounds like something Kafka might have written doesn't it? But I'm writing it instead.

Yesterday, Lori, Beth and I went to Fort Langley for a meeting. This is both an actual fort, and thus a heritage site, and a small town, although I believe it calls itself a city. The fort itself claims to be 'the birthplace of British Columbia'. This is where, in 1858, a treaty was signed, declaring BC to be a colony of the crown of Britain.
The fort itself was established by the Hudson's Bay trading company and so the community was built up by fur traders and wished to be protected by the British crown in much the same way as the East India company became the conduit by which the British Crown was asked to protect and rule India.

Who were these new Canadians anxious to protect themselves from? American gold prospectors, oh and for good measure, the US government who had declared they intended to push their borders up as far as Latitude 40'.

The fort itself was fascinating, there is an original building inside it and others have been rebuilt and the interpreters wear period costume to take the tours around.
It was also a beautiful day for being there, not in the traditional sense of the word, but to me it was.
It had been sleeting all day. Fort Langley was blanketed in snow and there was a slight fog coming up the Fraser river. The stark trees against the snow and the greyness of sleet and fog created an amazing backdrop.

The meeting was for museum educators, but natural and regular history are so intrinsically connected here that there were environmental interpreters there too. The site itself is run by Parks Canada.
We listened to one of the stars of the interpretation community talking about the obstacles and problems associated with interpreting someone else's culture. He talked about the difference between culture and heritage. The way we ourselves live is our culture, the way our grandparents lived is our heritage.

So often here, whether presenting history or natural history, the traditions are bound up with those of the First Nations.

Cal talked to us about Petroforms, these are made from stones being placed in certain shapes and are used for teaching about the world and our relationship to it, but imagine the difficulty in trying to work out exactly what each set of stones mean. We have enough controversy over the meaning of the Stonehenge standing stones in Britain.

For me, it was another incredibly interesting day spent with knowledgeable and fascinating people, but there, at the fort, I was able to see the overlap with my own heritage. The people who came here and signed that treaty were British naval officers and Royal Engineers. When I looked at the furniture, I was able to see the same pieces that I had seen on HMS Warrior in Portsmouth docks.
It's bizarre. Had I different beliefs, I might now be wondering, have I been here before?

Thursday, 18 January 2007


Sleepy sent me this photo as a result of yesterday's post. I find it interesting for a couple of reasons, three in fact.

Firstly, I think a gravestone is a kind of touchstone. The mortal remains of two groundbreaking writers lie beneath it, in a literal sense, now that they are dead, they are more accessible to everyone. You or I can stand not six feet from their bones. Not working for you? No, just that I'm not explaining it well. If they were both still alive, they would be living legends, but no more physically real than say Father Christmas. Sure, we have their books and we could see them on TV, but then I've seen the result of Father Christmas's work, felt the sack of presents at the bottom of my bed on Christmas morning. And I've certainly seen him on TV. But I can never stand six feet away from him physically.
With de Beauvoir and Sartre, it would be possible, but highly unlikely. Now however, I know where they live.

Secondly, there's cultural significance to it. I have only seen one cemetery since I have been here, I know they exist, but in Europe they are far more visible. Most churches have a graveyard and then there are the public ones where you can wander and pick out families, sometimes stories and look at names and dates.

Thirdly, they are in the same grave. This is only possible if the two people die some time apart. I guess it might be possible if they died actually on the same day because you could then dig a deeper hole. But in order to bury someone in a grave that has already been dug, the coffin needs to sink down into the soil quite significantly. My parents had to be buried side by side because they died so close together in time.

Yes, I appreciate that I should have gotten over my Gothic phase by now but, well, there it is.

And moving on..this struck me as a sort of 'witch on a ducking stool' kinda story, a woman has been found criminally insane for throwing her three children off a cliff to their death. But it seems to me that if you are really insane, then you throw yourself off too. Throwing your kids off and continuing to live sounds like the work of someone who is just criminal. But then, like I said, in my justice, witch, ducking stool, if you drown you weren't a witch, if you float, you are and we burn you. Better to drown really.

The number one hobby in North America, so someone said on the TV yesterday, is scrapbooking. Give me a break, it's watching TV, I know it is. Anyway, scrapbooking. I thought this must mean something other than what it sounds like, making a scrapbook. It's the kind of thing you might do, but not want anyone else to know about, sort of like having thoughts about gravestones really.
But you'd be wrong. Nope, there are actual shops here called 'scrapbooking shops'. I've never been in one in case they cast a spell on me and I turn into a Martha Stewart - a-like. I have parked behind a car that had advertising all over it for some scrapbooking service or another. What can I tell you.

This morning we have a fresh sprinkling of snow. This I love so long as it doesn't in any way affect my plans for the day. And I have plans for the day. Ho hum.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007


Jean-Paul Sartre wasn't just an offstage character in Monty Python sketches, he lived and wrote. He wrote about words and how they define the world. There are two words in French for 'words', 'les mots',written words, words as a concept, and 'les paroles', spoken words. The one of Sartre's works which was about his life was 'les Mots'. The book which shows us clearly what he means by words defining our world, is 'La Nausée', 'nausea'.

If anyone is still reading by this point, skip this paragraph, it's for one specific person, you know, like the Specific Ocean. Nausea is a first declension noun. Ad is a preposition that takes the accusative case, ergo, declining nausea to agree with ad, we get ad nauseam.

And one, two, three, we're back in the room.
Many serious academics won't have any truck with Sartre because he made a theory that was incomprehensible to most, accessible to all. Heidegger et alia didn't get where they were then by writing anything that anyone lower than God could understand. Sartre did though, in fact he went further, he wrote plays and novels that explored the notion of Existentialism. And it was big, because it answered questions about how people really felt now that human history had reached a point where we could be free of God if we wanted, and about how the war and the lead up to the war had affected them. And there was an irony in that because parts of the Nazi party had adopted the ideas of Heidegger and of Nietzsche to support their master plan.

Sartre was French of course, but he was brought up in Alsace, an area which transitions France and Germany, which has been pulled backwards and forwards between the two countries like a beloved pet in a divorce. So he knew, he understood, and he didn't care about his critics.

Like many people in my age group, I first came across Sartre's writings and ideas in the sixth form at school. Later, I was able to teach several of his texts. Now that I am reading a book about a fictional poet, Mary Swann, I can see the way people can become deeply involved with writers that they have never met, through their works.

What brought this on? A number of threads. A post on a blog that I was reading yesterday about someone's personal atheism, a random comment I made on Sleepy's blog, but mostly, mostly it stuck in my head because we watched the film 'Little Miss Sunshine' last night and Steve Carell, whom I loved in '40 year-old Virgin' but whom I then despised for allowing a pig's ear to be made of Ricky Gervais's classic comedy 'The Office', played a storming role as Uncle Frank and who pronounced Nietzsche's name correctly.

Jean-Paul, je pense à toi.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Actors and Prostitutes

When I eat my lunch I often turn on the TV and sit down. As it happens, the programmes that are on around that time are the US court shows. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Yesterday there was a case with a couple who wanted to be compensated for vets' bills. The dog, about the size of a large rat, had been off its lead at nighttime and had been hit by a car trying to park in.....a parking spot.
But what had me transfixed about this case was the doggy pushchair. This was no jerry-rigged contraption, this was manufactured in hot pink. So the little mutt goes into the cage and gets pushed around by its 'mom and dad'. Some people have no shame.
And they lost their case.

I was excited to receive a copy of 'The Week' in the post yesterday. This is a magazine that prints 'the best of British and Foreign media'. Austen and Sue have been reading it for some time, and so does anyone else who goes to the loo in their house, so they have bought me a subscription for Christmas. Top pressie.

We watched the first episode in the second series of Rome last night. Caesar was killed at the end of the last series, you know, the whole 'beware the Ides of March' and 'et tu Brute' thing. There was to be a funeral and some public announcements, the young Octavius, who seems to have made a brilliant recovery after having his arm amputated in 'Master and Commander' has a mind like a steel trap and is 'managing' everything and everyone. He's the good guy who later becomes Caesar Augustus. Anyway, red herring. All were welcome to the proceedings except prostitutes and actors. I can't imagine why the prostitutes guild allowed them to get away with that.

Fortunately for us, since we missed it the first time, episode one of 'Little Mosque on the Prairie' was repeated. Canadian comedy can be very subtle, rather akin to British comedy.
A Muslim community living in a small prairie town are renting a church hall to hold services. The vicar at first doesn't know that this is going on, he thinks he has rented the hall to a business man as offices for his building firm.
A new Imam is on his way from Toronto, but is taken away by airport security for mentioning Allah in a cell phone conversation.
We laughed like drains from start to finish. It seems to be made by CBC so there is some hope we'll get to see the whole series.

A fortnight is half a lunar cycle, for some reason that struck me as being significant but I don't know why.
Here in Canada (I kind of assume) many people get paid fortnightly. And it seems to be irrespective of the type of job you do, so Kevin is a professional, in Britain he would be monthly paid, Laurence does manual labour, in Britain he would possibly be weekly paid, but both are paid fortnightly. This strikes me as far more sensible than the monthly system.

A marketing survey reveals that 59% of Québecois admit to being racist. Fancy that.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Oh Là-là !

The highest grossing Canadian film in the history of its cinema, was 'Bon Cop, Bad Cop'. I have no idea how far this has made it outside of Canada, so I'll explain a few things about it.
The premise was that the body of a murder victim is discovered half in Québec, half in Ontario, and since there is no consensus about which jurisdiction should handle the case, they both do.
Yes, imagine the dramatic tension, a French-Canadian and an Anglo-Canadian working together. And the dialogue shifts constantly and easily back and forth between the two languages. You can have either language set as subtitles and they are needed, Québecois French can at times be 'not French as we know it Jim.'
Both Kevin and I enjoyed the film immensely, a right good watch.

Snow and ice and general cold weather has finally arrived in Southern Ontario, weather to which they are entitled by law. So you'd think that they might be ready for it even if us softies out west treat it like some anomaly never before experienced.
Still, I say that like butter wouldn't melt in my mouth, but if'n I were trying to travel via Toronto and my flight were suddenly cancelled, I'd be a less than happy bunny. I've certainly sat on the runway there whilst they de-iced and de-iced the plane so that it could take off.

Speaking personally, I thought it was a well-known fact that if you drank an enormous quantity of water, all the electrolytes get washed out of your heart. Normally in this type of case, like the person who didn't realise that if you hold a cup of coffee between your legs while driving you may get scalded, I think that the person is at least guilty of profound stupidity. In this case though, I'm up for blaming the radio station. They encouraged people to do something dumb for a prize and their defence is that they told the contestants,
"....if you don't feel like you can do this, don't put your health at risk".
Good grief. What if some of the contestants had been teenagers, they wouldn't necessarily have known what the risk was, although I'm pretty sure they do now.

I'm sure my fellow Brits are not amused by the revelation that Britain contemplated a 'merger' with France in the 1950's. I myself am stunned. The second World War had only been over for five years and well, let's just say that whilst there were some very brave French women and men who risked all for the war effort, in general it does seem as though France was a bit of a damsel in distress who needed to be rescued on the way to fighting the dragon.
Still, at the end of the day, it didn't happen. I suppose I should be unhappy, surely it would have made my job as a teacher of French easier? Yeah, I doubt it somehow.

Honestly, it must be said, some friendships are just too high maintenance.

Sunday, 14 January 2007


As a result of a sequence of partly fortunate, partly unfortunate events, we ended up having brunch on Commercial Drive with friends, followed by silliness actually on Commercial Drive and then a trip out to Iona Beach.

Now oddly, I had no idea about the existence of Iona Beach, which is in the City of Richmond until Sleepy, some time ago now, sent me a picture of the most extraordinarily beautiful sunset on ..... Iona Beach.

I asked my colleagues at the Nature Park about it.
'Oh yes,' they said, 'Iona Beach, beautiful sunsets, amazing array of bird life, both of which are a result of the sewage pipe and general pollution.'

Today we walked along the 4km sewage pipe. There was no smell, there was amazing birdlife and views to the North Shore and south to the ferries at Tsawassen.

The first picture is of the sea, and the change in colour is the line where it ceases to be frozen.

The second is of a Snow Goose and the last is of a Bald Eagle sitting atop an old log frame. I'm glad we went, we weren't there long enough to see a deep red sunset, but the fog shrouded mountains, now they were worth it alone.

We didn't exactly play poohsticks, but well ..... you know.

Saturday, 13 January 2007


Winter. And ghosts. I suppose there is some logic to it, the nights are longer, we are lower and therefore more sensitive.

On Ellen Degeneres' show yesterday, her guest was Jennifer Love Hewitt, she of Ghost Whisperer and the horrendous couture. She seemed to be wearing a dress that was a cross between what used to be called a baby doll nightie and a wedding dress. But she showed us frames from the show's dailies that it was hard to argue didn't show ghosts, the real McCoy. Not just stills either, in one clip there was movement. Apparently the show attracts viewers from beyond. But the clips were impressive, very impressive indeed.

My friend Ree pointed me towards a story that was breaking not far from her yesterday, that of two missing boys who had been found alive in St. Louis. I can imagine a lot, but I can't imagine, and hope I never will, the sheer torment that the parents of Shawn Hornbeck must have been through for the past four years, nor the joy and elation that they must feel now. I am sure that more is to come from this story as we find out what his life was like during the four years that he was held in captivity. I phrase it like that deliberately, to take away an innocent person's freedom is to treat them like an animal.
When he was first missing, the parents consulted psychics, so I am wondering why he was not found before, or perhaps they were close, circling his location, never quite able to zoom in. And then, what information were they given? Was their hope of finding him kept alive?

We watched a documentary about the power used by the city of Las Vegas. They drain everything they are able to generate themselves and from the surrounding area. There is a completely pointless squintillion Watt light on the top of one of the buildings that can be seen from space. They are damned lucky that they haven't been the object of terrorism, representing as they do, excess and greed. Nineveh. And then they send up a beacon to guide the visitors in, welcome or unwelcome.

Has David Beckham sold his soul to the devil? Everyone knows someone whose level of incompetence is rewarded with being paid more. Real Madrid, we are told, had finished with him, his contract was not to be renewed. So his salary was doubled as he was snapped up by some LA company. Beckham is to proselytise the United States, convert them to true football. He may think that, but the opposite is true. LA has already taken the football out of Beckham. In a statement that is better read than listened to in his reedy little voice, he refers to football, 'the beautiful game' as 'soccer'.

The devil damn thee black thou cream-faced loon.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Deep and Crisp and Even

I walked to the Nature House yesterday. Outside it was deep, it was crisp, it was even. Ok, not so terribly deep, but where it was deepish I was better off. The law here for some outlandish reason obliges householders to try to ensure that other residents break their necks. Thus, where people, bizarrely for once observing the law, had gone out and cleared the snow from their paths or the pavement in front of their house, as the temperature had frozen everything overnight, so these clear patches had turned into neck-breakers.

I slowly made my way down Five Road, a main road. Things were better here, constant traffic had turned the snow to slush and the verges hadn't been touched.
Looking down from the bridge that crossed the highway, I could see a man with a professional camera setup filming. Further along was a bus, simply abandoned on the central reservation and further still, an articulated lorry overturned. Three police cars with their lights going were attending.

I reached the corner where Westminster Highway intersects with Five Road - a short walk from the Nature Park, and the road was blocked by a barrier and another police car. I ignored it and carried on towards the park, only to have an RCMP officer shout at me and run across the road to stop me. She asked me where I was going, I told her, I told her I worked there. She told me there had been an 'incident' at Shell road and I was not to walk down that far. I pointed to the Nature House, virtually behind me. She smiled and touched my arm and apologised.

When I arrived, Lori and Kris told me that a car with bullet holes had been found abandoned and later in the day, we found out that a man's body had been discovered. Weird, so near to home.

In the Nature House we took down the Christmas trees and other decs. Sometime towards the end of the month the Fire Brigade will come and take down the lights and cutout gingerbread people and such like on the boardwalk.

In the morning, my cousin had phoned me from Ontario.
'We have no snow here,' she said, 'it's scary.'

The sky looks heavy again, it'll either rain and wash away the snow or it'll deposit more snow.
I think I'll go for a walk.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Big Snow

More snow came later in the day, big snow, blinding snow that quickly covered the roads and their markings. It slowed everyone down to second gear and caused the roads and bridges to stand still.
Snow makes still.

In Pompey, at the first hint that the temperature might drop, the gritters would be out making the roads safe. You didn't want to be following one if you were a cyclist. But the real thing rarely arrived. Oh there were pictures of Southsea blanketed in snow and sometimes the seagulls would screech and wheel even more than usual and we'd have a flurry, but I never had the experience of waking up to a white world, not when I lived by the sea, too near the sea for snow.

Once, coming back from my friend's house, I cycled to the end of the road, could smell the fish and chips, see the liquid light of the chippie, when suddenly, without warning, I was bombarded with hail. Thunder rolled, hail pelted down. Then just as suddenly, the hail was replaced by snow, a blizzard. I had to get off my bike and within minutes the world disappeared and was replaced by a porcelain icing coated village. Doors opened and people spilled out to gaze at the miraculous snow. I lost my bearings, no signs, no landmarks, I wandered around looking for anything I could recognise, a pub, a Chinese takeaway.
As I got nearer to the sea, to my flat, there was less snow, nothing lay on the ground in my road and by the next morning when I cycled back to work, little remained anywhere.

I love the snow, I adore the snow, but I know how deadly its beauty is.
Overnight the temperature has dropped to well below freezing, the snow has frozen and the sky is cloudless. Dangerous snow and ice, treacherous even. But I feel blessed that we have snow, that someone important and spiritual that we wait for, sometimes all winter, has paid a visit.

When it goes, we will feel cleansed, physically, mentally.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Teddy, Snow

Today is my grandson Teddy's first birthday, Happy Birthday Teddy! Last year I was supposed to be back in England in time for Teddy's birth so that I could look after Holly, but it didn't work out because Teddy arrived three weeks early, still, at least this makes him a Capricorn, one of the best signs of the Zodiac.

We have big snow. Last night I went downtown and I could feel that bite in the air that tells you it's coming. By the time I drove back out of Vancouver, there had been a sprinkling of snow, but when we woke up this morning, there it was, magical, covering everything and still falling.

The reason I was downtown in the first place was that a lecturer from the University of Victoria was talking about First Nations plant management at Vancouver Public Library, which in itself is more like a walled city than a library.

When Europeans first came to BC, they judged that the indigenous people did not farm the land, they were classified as Hunter-Gatherers. This was quite convenient, because they could simply annexe the land, whereas it was clear that the people fished, so they were accorded the continuation of fishing rights.

The reasons why this happened were twofold. Firstly, because the First Nations methods of plant management were not what the Europeans were used to, and secondly because the women dealt with the land whilst the men fished, only the men's activity was noticed.

At that time, and for many years, European farming was broadly similar to today's, just without the technology, so fields marked off and sown.

First Nations managed the plants where they grew. So for example, a run of salal or blueberry bushes would be pruned, and after cropping, deadwood removed and even burned off, they had a method of swift, shallow burning.

A field full of camas bulbs, or clover root, both of which they used as a root vegetable, would be tended. They had a tool that they used to dig around a square of earth, then they would lift the square and turn it over, exposing the bulbs. They would harvest a certain number of bulbs of the right size. Whilst they were doing this, seeds from the flowers would fall back into the soil as well. Then they would return the section of earth to its place.

Another method they used was to build up the soil over certain roots, like composting, so that the roots would grow bigger.

When we went to the Victoria Museum on Friday, we saw a longhouse, a real one just outside the museum building, but inside there were some models of settlements. There were apparently some quite large villages, around 20 or so longhouses, with maybe 50 people living in each longhouse. When the Spanish came and brought horses, some of the bands became more mobile and with a need to find grazing for the horses and that is when tipis were used.
With the large villages however, it was important to have some way of managing the food supply and the methods we learned about last night rendered sustainable what was available.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

See-saw, Marjorie Daw

Public opinion, for what it's worth, can seem like a see-saw, up and down, up and down, but in a larger sense it's more like the scenario most of us can remember from actually being on a see-saw as children. Once the bigger kid gets on the end, that see-saw stays put, the tiny one stuck in the air, the bigger one with bum firmly on the ground.

Take racism for example.
I am not arguing that racism doesn't exist, far from it, I have seen it in action and it is a very ugly beast. But there was a time when it was more embedded in our culture, that it was perceived to be the norm and that only a minority of trouble makers would challenge it.

Now, it may well be that black people are under-represented in boardrooms and parliament just as women are, but you cannot be openly racist, if people are still telling jokes about blacks and nursing hatred in their souls, they must do it in the privacy of their own toilets. It can be and is challenged. This scenario could not happen today...

A group of so-called religious leaders protest outside Parliament, that the government must not pass a bill sanctioning the equal treatment of blacks and whites. They distribute leaflets describing improbable situations where ordinary white citizens are not allowed to deny black people entry to their own homes or that hospitals and clinics must put them first for healthcare ahead of white folks, in short, a whole mess of made up stuff which the law that the government has carefully crafted does not in any case allow.

Of course that would be entirely unacceptable. Who among us could go to Synagogue or Mosque and pray with, or to Church on Sunday and take communion with a bunch of people who had done such a thing?

Well why the hell is it different because instead of black people we are talking about gay people? Why is homophobia any more acceptable than racism? How and why, instead of those people who claim to have faith wrestling with their own prejudices and begging their God to remove this stain from their soul, do they bare their evil for all the world to see? And why do the rest of us have to be tarred with their filth?
Polly Toynbee in the Guardian makes the case so much better than me. I'd love to just copy and paste her entire article, but that would be insulting all round. I'm not Polly Toynbee, I didn't write it and if you want to read her you can go to the Guardian website.

In a similar vein, Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams has written an extremely well-argued and readable article on the F-Word site about misogynistic linguistics. She urges us to bring the whole subject of the way we use language back onto the stage. We are always dismissed whenever we talk about the effects of anti-woman language, she is so right.
She uses the same argument as I have just done to make one of her points. She reminds us of the Yorkie ad which used the catchphrase 'not for girls'. Quite rightly she points out that they could not have said 'not for Jews' or 'not for black people'.
Be warned, I have a whole post on language bubbling under, not necessarily from this same angle, but I was pleased to see such a comprehensive discussion of the topic, especially as I had e-mailed the site a few months ago and commented about the problem. I received a reply agreeing wholeheartedly with the points I had made and telling me that a post was to be forthcoming. This was well worth the wait.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Kid B

They were the best of kids, they were the worst of kids.
I said that I wanted to write more about Austen's Battlefields trip but in order to try to convey the impact, I want to try and get across what Mayhem kids can be like.

I had left the TV on, a new show on BBC Canada was playing. The premise seemed to be that two families who didn't know each other would go on holiday together, each would organise a week according to their own taste.
Both families seemed to have a working class background, but the dad in family A seemed to be or had been a police officer and the family had an interest in military history and re-enactments. Since I wasn't really watching at first, I didn't get what either of the parents in family B did.

Family B took them to the Algarve. They bagged the best accommodation in the self-catering apartment. Family B organised things to do in the day and would tell Family A when to get up and then wouldn't get up at all. The kids in family B seemed to be something like 12 and 8. Their parents exercised no parental control over them, the whole family spent an entire shopping expedition seeking out alcohol, which the two boys then fought over, trips to the beach always resulted in horrible anti-social behaviour and they only ate junk food.
Throughout this, Family A suffered stoically, being oh so very British about it, but they whispered their frustrations to the camera.

Then both families went on family A's choice. This was admittedly boring for family B, since it was a carefully planned tour of the Battlefields of some long forgotten war. Dad A tried patiently to include boys B in his explanations, but whenever they weren't directly being addressed they messed about, threw and destroyed things and complained that family A thought they were too thick to understand any of it. Mum B behaved like a bored schoolchild, and very theatrically too, the whole time. The only time they were engaged was when they were allowed to dress up in the clothes of the historic period.

At the end, mum B told the camera she thought that children A were scared of their dad, even though there had been no indication whatsoever of this in the show. The children of both families seemed in fact to espouse the values of their parents, it was just that parents A had better ones - in my value judgement you understand.

At Mayhem, I taught some of the best kids I had ever taught, these were like the kids in family A, but the majority of kids and their parents, were just like the ones in family B, so consider now, taking them to Belgium to see the Battlefields of WW1.

Austen's schoolgroup, you may remember, had suffered the full attention of customs, every child had been scanned, the coach closely inspected and only a Pompey football shirt had saved them.

When they finally arrived in Calais and driven across the top of France to Belgium, the two drivers were still muttering gloom and doom, but the courier was now on centre stage and was much more positive.

The first thing that shocked Austen when they got to the area, was the frequency of cemeteries, with their neat little rows of white military crosses. They were taken into one. The first time the kids were shocked into thinking was when they stopped at the grave of a fifteen year-old boy. The courier pointed out that at fifteen, he was no conscript, he had deliberately deceived the authorities and signed up because he wanted to give his life for his country and its ideals. The children were stunned into silence.

When they arrived at what had been the front line, the kids were allowed to stand in a trench so that they could experience the claustrophobia of it. They were shown the fields of operation behind the front line, the place where the wounded would have been taken for first aid, then the more seriously wounded, further back, and eventually the small room where the doctor treated the dying. Behind it, the mortuary. Every soldier who was treated in that room entered the mortuary and every soldier who ended up in the mortuary, entered through that room. Even without the mud and business of war, the kids were again, silenced.

The coach took off again and eight miles before another front line, the courier told them that this was where the allied army had had to retreat to, on foot when the German army tested out mustard bombs. As the coach covered the miles, so the kids were ever more disbelieving at the realisation of how far the army had to march in retreat for their lives.
A Canadian officer had worked out that if you peed into your hankie and then covered your face with it, you could save yourself from the effects of the gas.
The Germans apparently had no idea of the impact of what they had done, if they had, they could have won a pivotal victory.

At twilight, and in persistent drizzle, the tour arrived at a German wargrave cemetery.
Even now, the German cemeteries have to be protected with high fencing for fear of desecration. The kids had to literally climb into the place.
The final silence was when they surveyed the crosses. All of the German crosses were black. Even in death they were demonised by their victors. At the bottom of the graveyard, and facing in as though forever protecting their fallen, were these four lifesize statues of German officers. Austen said the whole atmosphere of the place made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Weird Sex and Snowshoes

I could just write the whole post about 'Talladega Nights : The Ballad of Ricky Bobby'. I could go on and on about how funny it was from the first frame to the last.
I could say how brilliant Jane Lynch and Sasha Baron Cohen were in it.
I could make a glib comment about how comfortable Baron Cohen clearly is with his own sexuality.
I could marvel at how the humour extended even to the continual product placement.
I could snigger at the bitingly funny parody of pseudo-Christianity and of white trash southern States values.
I could mention how much I enjoyed the cameo by Elvis Costello.
I could say how much I've always loved Gary Cole as an actor.
I could point out Amy Adams from Junebug.
And I could end with some snarky comment about why it's always comedic seeing Will Ferrell in his white underpants.
But that would just be obsessive and you could go and read an extensive write up about the movie by some actual film critic.
So all I'll say is, I put off renting this because it appeared to be about car racing. How stoopid of me. It was an absolute GEM.

Last week, Kevin and I watched a documentary about the history of Canadian cinema. I'm actually quite genuinely interested in this because I find Canadian films to be in general very thoughtful, often quirky and well crafted. They also, like many country's own film industries, give a perceptive insight into the Canadian psyche. The documentary was based on a book about the subject, called 'Weird Sex and Snowshoes', so I guess that may give an indication of what she thought Canadian preoccupations might be. I can't personally attest to that, we don't get much snow.

What she really did feel however, was the Canadian sense of outsiderness. I found this very thought-provoking. I like the idea of cinema as a readable genre and I have studied French texts that deal with the feeling of otherness.

In a scene from the Atom Egoyan film 'Ararat', one of the characters says, 'Who remembers the Armenians?' Who indeed, I know I don't, which may not be too astonishing, since the attempted genocide happened between 1915 and 1918, but then it's not often that I can't recall learning anything about a particular moment in history.
But then that's cinema for you, sometimes it fills in the gaps.

Saturday, 6 January 2007


Victoria, not Vancouver, is the capital city of the Province of BC and the provincial parliament is there. It is a beautiful city but arguably less spectacular than Vancouver itself.

After posting my few lines yesterday I went out of the bedroom and as I paused at the top of the stairs and looked through the window of the other bedroom I realised that it was snowing hard. Suddenly, getting up at 5 was no hardship. Outside the world was transformed, so was I. Kevin had to remind me that everyone else in the neighbourhood was still asleep.

The snow, still falling hard, did not make an easy drive over to Lori's and we did fear that the ferries might not be running.
As we neared Tsawassen however, the snow had lessened. The sea crossing to Vancouver Island's Swartz Bay takes an hour and a half, so very close to the same as the crossing from Dover to Calais. But the journey itself is very different. There is so much to see, islands with houses and beautiful coastline. It certainly doesn't need to be lost time.

When we arrived on VI, it was raining heavily. We drove out to the Goldstream Provincial Park where we were meeting with the coordinator to discuss programming strategies. We turned off the highway at the sign pointing towards the Nature House. How foolish. We were on a truly scary one-car road winding upwards. Jo and I, in the back of the car, tried to keep our gasps of horror between ourselves so as not to distract Lori as we looked down over plunging and unprotected drops. And yet there were evenly spaced houses going up, houses whose numbering was in no way matching the one we were looking for.

If we thought our mystery tour upwards was frightening, coming down was white knuckle stuff.
The correct way to the Nature House turned out to be down the road that said 'No Public Access'.

I feel that I am using superlative adjectives like 'breathtaking', 'spectacular' and 'awe-inspiring' too often when I describe the scenery around here, but the truth is not that I am exaggerating, just that I have insufficient adjectives to adequately describe the beauty of where I have come to live.

Goldstream Park was no exception. We sat in armchairs around a log fire as we shared ideas. Outside, in spite of the teeming rain, the landscape just made me stop and stare, mouth open. Here, the salmon run is the focus of an important part of the educational programmes and the previous year's run had been upset by a late start. But whilst a late start may affect fishing, to the educators here it meant increased media coverage.

Presenting information about both history and natural history is called interpretation in Canada, and the family of interpreters is extended, but most members know one another. There is even an overlap between Canada and the US in this field.

We went into Victoria for lunch and met another member of the family. Then on to Victoria Museum for the final day of an exhibition that overlaps one of our own programmes. It was interesting, but lacked the wow factor we were hoping for. The museum itself overlooks the parliamentary buildings that I see so often on the local TV News.

The weather - I presume - caused a power cut and we were all turned out a little early and so the knock-on effect was that we arrived a little early at the restaurant we we were meeting more members of the Interpretation family for dinner. This too had been closed, we again assumed by something weather related, so we had to wait for the others to arrive before finding somewhere else to eat.

Finally on the last ferry of the day we were all fairly exhausted, but it sailed on time. Not far from the destination however, the wind suddenly whipped up with the effect that at the time we were supposed to land, we were all on the car deck but the ship was unable to dock. Relief when the cars started to move.

I was disappointed to find that the morning's snow had disappeared, but relieved that our power had been restored after a cut earlier in the evening.

It was a good day but egads was I tired.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Well what else would they do? And they signal the final day of the Christmas season. I have had to take my decorations down already as I won't be here for most of today. All done and dusted. But I didn't want the day to go unmarked so I'm posting just for that. Bye Christmas, see you at the end of the year again.