Wednesday, 28 February 2007


We had a sprinkling of snow this morning. So sprinkled was it that I didn't even notice at first. Then small snowballs or soft hailstones or some such started falling from the sky onto me as I walked to work.

Last night we watched an episode of 'How I Met your Mother', in case it hasn't yet reached the UK, this is the comedy I have mentioned before with Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris, and most excellent it is. The joke running through the episode was that a tape was stuck in the player in Marshall's car and only one song could be played, the Proclaimer's 'Five Hundred Miles'. And it was well done, I love that track, and it was an inspired choice because it was a strong enough song to stand the joke and still survive.

I'm pretty sure that every road tape I ever made must have had a Proclaimers track on it, their songs are such good road music, very urgent, thumping, and who can resist belting out lyrics in a Glaswegian accent while driving? The Proclaimers are also good as background music if you have people round, what I wouldn't do is sit and just listen to them in the way I'd listen to that other Scots band I've virtually never mentioned, Snow Patrol.

And then back before time began, oh, alright, a wee, wee* while ago, there was Wet, Wet, Wet. Yes, they made more than just 'Love is all Around' and of course the band did consist of more than just Marty Pellow, well, it is rumoured that that was the case. Anyway, my connection here is that they were a Scots band, in fact, like the Proclaimers, they were from Glasgow.

Where am I going with this? Absolutely nowhere. The Scots make stonkingly good music, I think the last band I gave any room too was Stiltskin, so there you go.

Today is an odd day for me work wise, I have done a morning programme and have come home, done a few tasks, spoken to my daughter on the phone, only to go back in an hour's time because we have a late afternoon, early evening 'Science Jam' in the town centre. I hope I don't have to play any scientific music because that's what it sounds like. In case I do, I'll loudly sing 'Five Hundred Miles' in the car on the way there.

* I mean 'wee' in the sense that it is a Scottish word, not the rather horrid Pompey 'weeeeee' which just makes you want to stick your fingers in your ears and go 'lalalalalala'. Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned it at all.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007


Brevity's the mystery cat, he's called 'The Hidden Paw', oh no, wait, that's McCavity. Brevity is the word we decided on at work today, after only the briefest of discussions, that must be the opposite of longevity.

Then we went on to discuss the strange things that happen at the equator, not only does water drain straight downwards, but an egg can be stood on its end without falling over and a person can be more easily pushed over or have their fingers pulled apart if they clasp them.

18.00 hours and still light. How does this happen so suddenly? And how does it happen so suddenly every year and still surprise me?
Here au Canada, we are getting the Canadian version of British Summer time three weeks earlier than usual, instead of the clocks going forward the first week in April, a week after Britain, we are going to be saying très bon and putting the clocks an hour on, the second Sunday in March. Ah, sweet mystery of life.

Brilliant line from last week's 'Little Mosque on the Prairie', the village Bigot says to the cafe owner,
'I don't do drugs,' to which she replies,
'Really, then where do you get your opinions?'

How can Al Gore not be aware of his own $30,000 energy bills for his own household? It was a bit annoying last week when I read that some British conservation society couldn't afford his £85,000 fee to have him speak. I agree that it doesn't negate the message he is giving but he needs to do better than this.

Monday, 26 February 2007


Beautiful Kitsilano in the rain. Once an affordable Bohemian part of town, according to one friend who lives there, it is now expensive and oh so very trendy. We went to Kits for lunch yesterday and then walked down to the bottom of Arbutus to the beach, where we paddled in the rain. British paddling that is, which involves taking your shoes and socks off, rolling up your trouser legs and standing just in the water holding your coat up. Canadian paddling involves a canoe or kayak.

Kevin and I watched the film 'Running with Scissors', titled I imagine, because you are always told not to do that. It was a beautiful, quirky film, and since it was based on the memoirs of the main character, thought-provokingly heartrending.

For some reason, the memory popped into the luggage carousel of my head the other day, of when I used to work at the running shoe shop.
My daughter Alex was about five months old and her dad used to bring her and Laurence to see me during my Saturday shift there sometimes.
It was an odd place for me to work really, given my complete lack of interest in sport, but somehow I was offered a Saturday job there, I'm sure through my then husband and I enjoyed it. You had to be trained to work out how people ran, whether they were given to pronate or supinate, roll their foot in or out as they ran. The shoe had to give enough room for the big toe but not too much room. Some runners had their favourite brands, others were open to recommendations.

Because of the specialisation of the shop, the customers were rarely if ever arsey, they were all runners, we sold little else but running shoes and gear. The shop manager, Jill, taught me a lot about professionalism that I carried with me when I went into teaching and subsequently management.

The shop was owned by the son of a famous four minute miler of the past and possibly because of the connection somehow, the shop's staff went up to the London Marathon. We had to identify the shoes that were worn as the runners crossed the finishing line. This was an easy task at first because the runners were coming in slowly, the winner, then the almost winners, but then they were coming in pretty thick and fast and it was difficult to record. I guess that's why we all went, so that our tallies could be compared.

But I was never able to run myself. I'm not lazy, ok, I was never sporty at school, but I cycle, swim and walk. I always wanted to be able to run because it was such a part of our lives at that time. Alex and Laurence's dad was a runner, (I hadn't yet had Ben at that time) we spent a good deal of time taking them to athletics meetings. And I did try, but I just couldn't. I would run a short way and just stop.
And there was an inherent boredom for me in running, and yet a boredom that I didn't ever find in walking.

I was reading my friend Raymond's blog the other day, where he talks about using the treadmill. I used to use the treadmill, but I found it dull. I could do it and watch the TV at the same time, but even then, I would have to alternate running with walking; scouts' pace.

In the end it doesn't matter. I admire those who can run, but I never yearned to be able to do it, simply felt I should or that it would be useful. In general though I'm an ambler. I have no competition in my soul just a needling interest in many things.

Sunday, 25 February 2007


It is always distressing when some factory or works closes and people's jobs are lost, but I can't help feeling that when that workplace is a Hershey's factory, some good will come of it. I apologise to my American friends, some of whom love their Hershey's, but come on Canada, we can do better than this, we have Purdey's, we have our own Cadbury's plants. Buy more Canadian and European chocolate and let's hope that the good people of Smith's Falls find new meaningful jobs.

I do believe I have discovered the very worst film on general release last year, 'The Colour of the Cross'.

I will be more specific, in fact I will be supremely specific because I could very easily be misread.
To begin, I wasn't offended by the film even though I found various aspects of it insulting.
I have no quarrel with Jesus Christ being played by a black actor, people frequently complain about Jesus being misrepresented when he is played by a tall, good-looking white actor. I feel it is inaccurate, but ok, go ahead.

What I find insulting is the notion being explored here that Christ was persecuted and executed because of his race. Contrived? I think so. Insulting because the Christian Faith is founded on the subversiveness of its message, that God is love, that Christ brought a message of redemption and hope, of personal salvation, with himself as mediator. Jesus was stirring up the people by giving them this message, interfering with the status quo, the authorities of the Sanhedrin and the Roman occupiers. God was available to all of them and would forgive them their sins, that there was something marvellous to look forward to. It really undermines all of his teachings to suggest that no, it was because he was black. It also makes a mockery of the racism that many black people actually do suffer today.

Jean-Claude La Marre was the director and writer and he played the part of Christ. Yep, I know, difficult to keep the 'Little Britain' portrayal of Dennis Waterman out of your head. And in fact La Marre does it just as badly.
The screenplay is terrible. It lurches between almost quotes from the Bible and toe-curlingly inappropriate colloquialisms. It is about as real as Stephen Harper's integrity.
The Sanhedrin have some great costumes going on there and they really work them, you know, in the way that small children in a school nativity work their shepherd's tea-towel headgear, constantly fiddling with them. And for some reason, the Sanhedrin all speak with the most bizarre accents. Or, no, more like speech impediments than accents.
The acting is of the type that is normally accompanied by wobbling scenery, in fact it reminded me very much of really, really bad am dram. Let's take this bunch of disciples and have them all wander across the stage then back again.
Even the music was bad, it was intrusive and just verging on melodramatic.
The characterisation was poor. It made the disciples look like a bunch of cowering simple-minded weasels to Jesus's manipulative, pretentious man with a Messiah complex rather than a complex Messiah.

Still, having said all that, I'm glad that someone is able to make a film like this and no-one's embassies or families are threatened, that we can watch the film and just think it's rubbish without having to go out and kill people over it.

On the subject of people coming back from the dead, I found this week's ep of Ghost Whisperer rather puzzling. Most of the storylines work if you either believe in ghosts or can suspend belief. But the idea that a different ghost can leap into someone else's body and work it while the original owner of that body hangs around looking pissed off is a bit much. If one ghost can do it, why can't the other? Nope, sorry, I can really get into the imaginary, but it has to be consistent for me otherwise it doesn't work. I'm not sure about the 'Giles' character either. I like that there's an expert to go and talk to, just, it seems a bit too derivative of Buffy.
But then the other side of that is....could anything ever be too derivative of Buffy?

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Vancouver Writes

That was the week that was.

I was darned glad to be rid of the bug that had laid me low the week before, and just as well or I don't think I'd have made it through this week.
Laurence has started a new job and is doing earlier shifts than before, so my own sleep has been disrupted, worrying that he will get up in time, anxiously getting up well before the crack of dawn myself to check and a couple of times having to take him in because his start time was before the start time of the buses. So, sure you know the drill, wake up every hour throughout the night wondering if it's time to get up.

By Friday I was already knackered and again, up at six to take Laurence to work. From there on out I was only back in the house for less than an hour until almost midnight.

Canadian Karen, Yvonne and I went to Granville Island for an evening event called 'Vancouver Writes'. I mention Granville Island because no-one should come to Vancouver without going there and if you are in any way creative it is sufficient reason to visit Vancouver anyway. It is an island in the way that Portsmouth is an island, you can drive there.
There are small shops and workshops, artists studios, supplies, performance places, markets, street performers, bars, restaurants, it's just an amazing soup of art and creativity. And of course it's on the water. From here you can take a small water shuttle to the North Shore, or you can sit and drink coffee and watch other people doing so.

I had never been there at night before, and the soup was still bubbling, possibly even more so. There are a number of events in a series called 'Winterruption' going on.
At Vancouver Writes, we had fun. I was glad that the three of us went together and there were irritations, but overall, we laughed and drank and enjoyed ourselves.

We sat at tables of nine people, although by no means all were full. We were given writing tasks to do as a team and each table was 'coached' by an author. I had never heard of any of them, but Karen told me that one of them was Carol Shields' daughter. Sadly we didn't get her.

When I read the original blurb, I thought we'd learn something from it, but in fact it was a mock competition, which was fine, because it allowed us to be silly and play around with language. Other people didn't seem so playful though and while our table's efforts were really funny, the ones that were read out at the end as the winners were quite subdued and lacking sparkle. Possibly more cohesive than ours though.

We were able to buy wine and cheese and there was a live band. The band were good and I really enjoyed them, but it did mean that we couldn't talk when they were playing and there was too much 'in between' time. Time when we were supposed to be talking among ourselves but couldn't. All three of us were flagging by the end.

I was happy to sit back in the car and let Karen and Yvonne navigate back across Vancouver, we were in bits that I would most certainly have got lost in. We saw places of interest in the East end of Vancouver, places Karen knows and has written about.

And then I slept for ten hours. Fabulous.

Thursday, 22 February 2007


I can honestly say that I had no idea what a wolverine was until working in environmental interpretation in Canada. Nor, to be honest, had I wondered about it. Fancy name alright. But the truth is that a wolverine looks nothing like a wolf. Nor does it look like Hugh Jackman. Although come to thing of it, even Hugh Jackman's character doesn't look like Hugh Jackman.
A wolverine is a member of the same family as a weasel. It must be one of the few animals that has a name that is far more impressive than the animal itself. Oh I'm sure it has its fans, but wolf-like it ain't.

Wolves, on the other hand, are apparently being introduced back into Scotland, or at least that's the plan. Britain's last wild wolf was killed in 1743, so there is an inherent irony in this plan. However it's being considered in order to control the red deer population which would mean an increase in re-forestation and plant and bird diversity. So, of course, would allowing people to hunt, kill and eat them, whatever. The problem is that this same plan was put into action in Yellowstone. That's like Jellystone only without the talking bears, your picker-nick basket is no safer though.
What happened was that the wolves started venturing onto smallholdings and ranches and very soon, cattle were going missing. Hmm...possibly the very same reason they were all killed in the first place. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Speaking of deer, a caribou is the North American name for the reindeer. We discovered this today. Somehow though, I can't imagine Frank Black of the Pixies having quite the same impact singing, 'reindeeeeeeeeer, reindeeeeeeer!' On t'other hand, would we be so trusting of Father Christmas if he travelled with flying caribou? Maybe not.

So, I'm wondering if, by eating healthily, I'm making my system more intolerant. It seems to protest now whenever it gets anything out of the ordinary. Yesterday, Lori and I went and got a Chinese food combo from Save-On Foods. Yummy, but my tummy protested all afternoon. And when I was in Pompey, I could live all week on a meal for four from Tang's with no ill effects whatsoever.

Now I love 'Heroes', and I love Christopher Ecclestone. I'm just not sure the two go together. Chris has a somewhat different acting style. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but it does seem to not quite mesh. I realise I may have to wait six weeks or so for other opinions on this.

I really don't know why I continue to watch CSI Miami. It is just so formulaic. Yesterday, Horatio was interrogating a witness. The investigating detective calls him over because he's found a trail of blood.
'Look, a trail of blood,' he says, 'it appears to go around the back of the house.'
David Caruso does his head down but eyes up trademark look and says,
'Follow it Frank.'
I mean seriously?! Would a detective call over someone else to tell him to follow a trail of blood. And it's all like that. they must be getting a computer to write their screenplay.

What's that you say? Could I do any better? Damn straight I could, and so could you.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007


According to the Health and Science section in 'The Week', seahorses are gayer than people. Well, ok, that isn't what it actually says. But it does seem that in a study of three separate species of seahorse, the little beastie was almost indiscriminately promiscuous and 37% of its sexual encounters were with the same sex. Humans I believe are still working on the basis of one in ten. Unless you live in LA (that's LA, Vancouver) where you'd be hard pressed to find anyone straight, or certainly anyone who'll stay straight once they meet Alice or Shane.

Yes, shamelessly I've segued to the L-Word. And why? Because the bloody TV company have stitched us up.
For two weeks there has been no L-Word, so we've fallen behind whilst friends and viewers elsewhere were able to watch it on YouTube, because it has aired on time in the States.
Finally, it was back on Sunday, and the episode advertised was the one we should have seen two weeks ago. But lo! What misfortune befalls us? The ep may have had the right title, but it was in fact the wrong one. Bugger.

Germaine, Germaine, Germaine. Why do you have such a silly name? Where has all your sparkle gone?
I was a bit nonplussed by Germaine's semi-whine earlier this week about how much flack she is still getting over the comments she made about Steve Irwin shortly after his death. Timing is everything lassie, and that, in effect, is why you're famous anyway. You were the voice of your time, and you were that voice for a long time, but you need to get a purple hat or something, or re-invent yourself. Make us love you again Germaine.
Make it so.

We are all sea-dwellers, but the sea that we inhabit is one of words. Words are a dimension, a necessary medium for our existence, we can drown in them, we can float in them or we can swim, let them flow over us and around us, breathe oxygen into our minds with them, drink them, ride them, and just be, in the sea of words.

I'm mightily pleased to see that a British school has had its ban on full face veils upheld. It's not about choice, it's not about religion, it's about the same as it ever was, subjugating women and controlling fertility.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007


A local news story has provided me with some merriment. Shouldn't have, but has. The main character in this story is called Pinky. Zhe Nai Pinky Xu to be precise. Now Pinky is rumoured to be pulling down $1.3million per annum, she's a bit of a madam, no more than that, she is apparently the number one chart topping madam in the Lower Mainland.

Last week she was busted several times over for running 'bawdy houses'. Yep, gotta love the legalese, always there to give you a chuckle. Two of her bawdy houses were right here in Richmond, one of them on a nice, ordinary residential street. My friend Yvonne pointed it out to me yesterday as we drove past it. A boarded-up bawdy house.

Pinky has been a very naughty girl. She has been trafficking in women from East Asia, bringing them over to do domestic work, then channelling them straight into her establishments of ill repute. The ones the police have in custody will be sent home and not allowed to return to Canada for one year. Enough already with the soft cushions.

Madam Pinky Xu however, could be facing ten years for 'living on the avails of prostitution'. She'll be out in three and probably have her own TV show in four.
There's never a dull moment here in sunny Richmond.

For reasons that I am completely unable to fathom, some people are still having difficulty posting comments. I'm unhappy about this, people should be able to comment if they wish, I don't have comment moderation enabled and I can't see any reason why it's being arsey, but I apologise anyway.

When I was still hopping backwards and forwards across the Atlantic, I used to look forward to the smell of the hazelnut flavoured coffee we have here. Now I take it for granted, in fact maybe I don't even notice it anymore, but every so often I'll be taken by surprise by it and have a little moment. Pathetic.

I was reading not so long ago, but for the life of me I can't remember where, that reading Shakespeare makes kids smarter. The reason for this is the complicated language and patterns, and I can understand that. It's also another reason to keep Shakespeare in the curriculum, let them do it every day in fact. And Shakespeare can be quite bawdy at times.

At the Nature Park today, the morning's group were such a right royal pain in the arse that by contrast, this afternoon's state school from a dodgy part of Delta were a breath of fresh air.
When the children, with only minimum prompting all said thank-you when I gave something out and all stood as I told them to, hands by their sides while I demoed for them I told their teacher how polite and good at following instructions they were. I swear her jaw actually dropped open as she stared at me in disbelief.

Yesterday on 'Little Mosque on the Prairie', I loved this line,
'Sarah, be a man, give up.'

Monday, 19 February 2007


Snow Patrol are so great. I had their album, Final Straw on my mp3 player when I used to cycle to school in Pompey. Now we have their albums on our slim server and whenever we were at home yesterday we just listened to them. I hope they can feel the love.

Canadian Karen and I had brunch yesterday. We ate at a place that is popular for such things on Commercial Drive. It was very crowded and we even had to queue for a table, just not for very long, but we ended up outside being grilled from above by enormous outdoor heaters. I'm sure this must be exciting when it's very chilly, just that it wasn't.
Nonetheless, we enjoyed our brunch, talked, then wandered down Commercial Drive for a while. Here is life, here is Vancouver.
My brunch exited in one swift movement several hours later.

One of the many things I like about the BBC series 'Rome' is that it brings to life things I learned about in school.
Last night's episode saw the battle of Philippi. We witnessed the closely trained legions that we learned about in Latin and in History, spread out ready for battle. It was interesting to remember how much of this was borrowed by Nazi Germany, the salute, the impeccable troop rallies, the standards.
Each legion stood in a perfect rectangle, every man spaced equidistantly from the others.
When battle was to commence, they marched, stamping each small step in unison so that the ground trembled and the opposing side felt fear. Except that at Philippi, the opposing side were more Roman legions so they probably didn't feel any fear. Battle was considered a glorious and noble way to die.
The leaders made sure their men were paid and fed and had salt.
We saw the famous formation where every man in a unit raised his shield over his head or in front of him, depending on where he was in the hedgehog creature, his spear sticking through between the scales like spikes. Every individual's action contributed to the safety of the whole. Brilliant.

At our friends' house on Saturday, we watched TV via a projector again, as we had done before Christmas.
We had projectors like these at Mayhem, they were attached to the ceiling and projected onto a whiteboard or screen and displayed what you had prepared on your laptop.
The energy saving from using these instead of an ordinary TV is enormous, the impact of the picture is too. The main drawback is that you have to have an entire white wall kept just for the projection, although I'm sure that can be designed differently in some way, building storage into the wall.
But my imagination sees the real draw of these devices is going to be when more channels are offered in 3D. How spectacular will that be when we can have Discovery channel 3D swimming in our living rooms, and at an energy saving of two thirds.
Also brilliant.

I see that something is stinky in Brussels. The top EU environment official wants to get rid of the old gas guzzling Mercedes and get a more environmentally friendly car. Now they're all arguing amongst themselves bless 'em. Yes, we want to be green, we want to send out the right messages, but if we give up our environment killers, the European car manufacturers will suffer.
Well, here's a thought ladies and gentlemen. Tell the European car manufacturers to get their act together and put out some more efficient models. Oh! They already do, so now change the way you think and more to the point, act.
Bunch of pansies.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Year of the Pig

Why is it so good to have your back scratched? You get an itch, you try to perform amazing feats of physical what-not to scratch it and then you get someone else to do it. Then your whole back starts itching, but what bliss to have it scratched. Like a pig in clover.

Anyway, Happy Chinese New Year. We celebrated Chinese New Year last night with colleagues of Kevin's and I was given some strange insights.

During the afternoon I had covered lunch in Richmond town centre, the Nature Park had a stand with other heritage sites from the city. We had a beaver pelt and a muskrat skin out and we answered questions, smiled, engaged people in conversation. All kinds of people. I feel that Canadians are much more interested in Natural History than I'm used to back home, they seem to engage with it more easily, but then maybe we just are surrounded by more of it here. And maybe I'm just in a situation now where that is my milieu.

The party started early, around 17.30. Kevin gets frustrated by my lack of progress in my own cultural integration. I find it hard. To me, 17.30 is early. Dinner at 18.00 is early. Whatever.

A Chinese colleague got a lift with us. She asked me whether I liked Vancouver and I said yes, I loved both Vancouver and Richmond. She seemed very surprised.
'But there are so many Chinese people in Richmond,' she said. I said that this didn't really worry me. She said that people didn't like to live near Chinese people and would sell their houses. I suppose that's not an unknown phenomenon for anyone who has lived through the 70s in Britain, except for Chinese insert black people and Asians.
Later she told us that even many Chinese people avoided our city because there were so many other Chinese.

When we were at the party, one white Canadian had lived in Japan. He said that they were very open about their racism and that he had been told many times that he couldn't be employed because he was white. I didn't think to pursue whether he was actually entitled to work there, but it seemed to me that it was an outrageous thing. The West heavily sanctioned South Africa over Apartheid.
'I didn't mind,' he said, he loved Japan, 'it allowed Japan to stay Japanese.'

The friends we were visiting are a couple with a young baby. The husband is Indian, the wife Chinese.
'X-H's mother is coming over in the summer to look after the baby when X-H goes back to work,' said our other friend on the way home, 'but she isn't very happy about X-H marrying an Indian.'
Again, stunned. So much multi-culturalism causing so much trouble. But it'll all quieten down eventually. The Indian husband's family are wonderful people, who could not come to love them?

Racism's a pig.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Clear Days

Hot wasabi flavoured rice crackers are lush. You know what I mean by rice crackers, like heavy-duty communion wafers. Good munchies.

Watched a brilliant film last night with Brenda Blethyn, Auntie Brenda, not my auntie, but you know the story, Austen's friend's auntie.
So, the film was called 'On a Clear Day'. It was everything I love about British cinema, real, fresh, no glamour, just proper people and genuine situations.

The story was about a Glaswegian shipbuilder who was made redundant after 30 something years in the industry. You saw a ship being launched. For all my concern about the environment, there was something stirring about seeing this magnificent ship sliding into the water.

And I love Auntie Brenda. She will be 61 in a couple of days' time and she is so pretty and so unlike some of those Hollywood actresses who have constant work done on themselves to transform them into grim parodies of women.

There was a point in the film where Brenda's husband, dealing with the psychological nightmare of redundancy towards the end of his working life, is training to swim the English Channel. Billy Boyd, the cheeky little hobbit, is one of his 'gang', his supporters, a group who look up to the character, Frank. Billy accompanies Frank out to sea during the training and nearly drowns, Frank rescues him and I had one of those moments that strike me so often these days. Watching Frank do the classic lifesaving techniques that we were taught at school made me think yet again how unbelievable it is that we learned so much.
I was certainly not one for ever being engaged in the learning process, and yet time and time again I find myself realising, 'wow, I remember that from school.'

And as though echoing a point I noted yesterday, there is a Chinese man, Chan, who is terrorised in his chippie.
He becomes one of Frank's little band of supporters, because both are avid readers, and when he meets with the other, all jaws drop. They look at him and say, 'I had no idea you could speak English.' He has the same Scottish accent and perfect English as the rest of them. When he starts to actually talk to his customers and suppliers in the chippie, things improve greatly.

Last night's 'Most Haunted' was from the Spitbank Fort that you can see from Southsea. It is a mile out to sea in the Solent. So for me, even more fascinating than usual. Not many ghosts to be had, only one person had ever died in this place, constructed in 1867 to protect Portsmouth and yet never needed in time of war.
Ironically, the young man who did die, was blown up in 1909 by explosives that were there to protect.
Since we are so behind with Most Haunteds too, I couldn't help wondering whether the team were filming this when I saw David Wells on Elm Grove last June, and yet the crew seemed to be wrapped up as though for a blizzard. On t'other hand, it was mighty cold in June when I was over, and way too warm in November.

One of our Canadian comedians, thinking back to my post on humour, Rick Mercer, recently caned a rather stupid journo. He did it brilliantly, and should you wish to read it, here is the link. Just so that you realise I don't spend my time wistfully watching old BBC comedies and British films and wishing I were back in Blighty.

And at some point, my own dear kitten will pick up my use of the word 'our' and cane ME for it.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Tax Code

Income tax. It's a bloody headache, and that's with Kevin doing everyone's tax. Now Brit friends and rellies probably think I just mean paying it, but no, here it's a whole production.

As in Britain, when you get paid, income tax gets deducted. Unlike in Britain, at the end of every tax year, which seems to be the same as the year year, you have to file a tax return. Many people buy an expensive software package to help them do this, and the software has to be bought new each year. All this makes me wonder what the bloody hell the good folks at the Inland Revenue do, because I would have thought it was their job to make sure you have the correct tax code and your pay office's job, in conjunction with them, to make sure you pay the correct amount of tax every month.

We will get some money back, so that seems hoopy, but the fact is that had we not been overpaying throughout the year, that money could have been earning interest. When I filled in my details to get paid at work, there was actually a question on the form to ask whether I wanted my employer to take more tax. The best explanation I have had for this is that some people like to pay more tax so that they can get more of a return at the end of the year.

And that of course is without the continual annoyance of having the price of goods and services always displayed without tax. You do get used to it, but only in the way that people get used to having arthritis.

So.....another bit of code to learn.

On Ugly Betty last night, no, I will give no spoilers, just to say that Justin was an absolute star, he should have his own show, and Wilhelmina's assistant put out not an APB but a GayPB for fabric for a new design. He's wonderful too, as is Amanda. Oh god it was such a good episode, it's difficult not to just tell the whole thing. But I won't.

Earlier on this week I noticed and was somewhat floored by, an article in The Guardian, about benefit cuts for the unemployed if they fail to make an effort to learn English.
Part of me thought, well, that's reasonable, part of me thought, that's utterly unreasonable. But my quandary was slightly mitigated by another article I read in 'The Week'.
The story was about the 'whitest city in Britain', a town in the north called Easington. The headline was 'the only Asian in the village' for Canadian friends, in Britain we tend to refer to Indian and Pakistani people as Asians, whereas here it is more usual to use the term for Chinese, Korean and Japanese people.
The main Pakistani British man in the article said that although he rarely saw another non-white, he had also not suffered any racism, whereas the Pakistani man he had taken a newsagency over from had. He felt that the cause of the racism had been not the colour of his skin, but rather that whilst he himself was second generation British and thus English was his native language, the previous owner had very poor English.
I had never thought about this angle, which is odd, because I certainly learned about the currency of language for immigrants into European countries when I was studying.

It's nice to have a Friday. Yeah, I know, it's not like I didn't have Fridays before I started work, it's just that they weren't that different. Now I have 'that Friday feeling' again. Hmmm....strange how advertising works, now I've typed that I want a Crunchie. Fat chance of that. However Green Wing's just starting, and not only is it insanely funny, but it has Susan from 'Coupling' in it and she is one of my favourite and in my opinion most underrated actors.
Yeah, I know, y'all watched it three years ago in Britain :)

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Learning the Code

This is the wording on an actual notice at work, it has been issued by the Richmond RCMP.
'If you suspect someone is acting suspicious....' I rest my case m'lud. Just write it like you say it lads.

Back in the black hole period when I was trying to pass my driving test here, my friend Sleepy said,
'It's not about the driving mate, it's about learning the code,' and she was right. But there are many more codes to learn.

Today, Lori and I were putting together a bid for a grant. I'm pretty good at the education buzzwords from the UK, and some of them were useful here too.
When we got to the actual number crunching, there was an entire section for putting a dollar value on 'payment in kind'. Yep, I know, my eyebrows shot up too. But it's not being used to mean 'payment in goods or services as opposed to money' it is being used to mean...well, cost of things like .... office space, supervision. Odd, but, no, but nothing, just odd.

When I meet people and find out what they do for a living, sometimes I don't understand what they do, sometimes I wonder how that can be an actual job.
Say I met someone who said their job was to research bee diseases, well I might think hmm...that's rather specific.
Well, it seems that we need to get researchers onto that right away, there is a mystery disease that is wiping out hives, and fewer hives means a shortage of bees to pollinate much of what we eat. Kinda scary really.

I am currently reading Alistair Reynold's latest book, 'Century Rain'. Alistair Reynolds, I think I mentioned some time ago, is the cousin of someone Sleepy and I used to work with and I didn't find this out until the colleague saw me reading one of his cousin's books.
I love trying to get my head round the ideas in sci-fi, being in a completely imaginary world.
In 'Century Rain', Reynolds talks about 'Shannon Entropy' which can tell you how complex languages are. So, many human languages - Reynolds gives the example of English or Russian - have a Shannon Entropy in the order of eight or nine, Dolphin communication, three or four.
I searched to see if this was a real statistical theory, and it does seem to be, although far more complex than that. Reynolds has introduced a very difficult theory and made it accessible, I for one found the idea fascinating.

One thing that frequently bugs me in my TV watching is how the programme starts. Possibly the most irritating beginning is for 'Ghost Whisperer', we don't need an entire synopsis of the back story to be able to watch an episode.
One of my favourite openers is for 'How I met your mother', because it is quick and to the point. Very nice.

Code. Everything we do or say is encoded. I know what you're thinking, am I going to go off on one about Roland Barthes. Nope. Not today, maybe some other time.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007


Kris at work is kind of my sideways boss. She doesn't manage the education programmes but she does manage the Nature House and Park. Today she had been to a City workshop on using humour as a management strategy. A small detail that she said had stuck in her head on the way out had been that laughter had been shown to improve sleep patterns.

But it also reminded me of one of those irritating pieces of advice that some person who had never had to manage a classroom passed on to us, 'defuse the situation with humour'.
Clearly there are situations where this is an option, and any experienced teacher already does this, but there are situations where injecting a bit of humour would be like trying to put out a chip-pan fire with water, rather incendiary.

I like Canadian humour in general. There are some terrific home grown series that I don't think make it out of Canada.
Brits can already watch 'Trailer Park Boys' but 'Corner Gas', in my opinion one of the finest things on TV, as far as I can tell, hasn't yet made it across either the border into the States or the Atlantic. I send episodes to Austen and Sue and they wait eagerly for more. The first time I saw 'Corner Gas' was on a British Rail train on the way to Portsmouth. I had just been to collect Kevin from Heathrow and he had the laptop with him. He played an episode and I soon had the entire carriage staring at me as I was doubled up with laughter.

I have written before about 'Little Mosque on the Prairie'. I love it and Austen pointed out to me that it was mentioned in the British Press last week, since a write -up appeared in 'The Week'.
On last week's episode, Baber goes into the mosque and finds kids carving Halloween pumpkins. He goes rushing off to complain to the Imam, Amaar.
'Halloween is NOT a Muslim festival,' he said,
'You're right,' said Amaar, 'so let's make it one. Let's have 'Halaloween'.'
So in spite of sputtering from Baber, the kids carve their pumpkins and go off trick or treating.
One lady opens the front door and ignores the children who are rather boringly dressed by Baber as olives. She spies Baber in his normal clothes and exclaims,
'Oh, what a brilliant costume! You have come as the evil Taliban!' and she gives him an armful of chocolate.
Baber is made-up with this and now goes prancing about in his new role of the evil terrorist and getting plenty of sweets and candy.
It's a great show, I hope it gets exported.
And there are more.

I want to thank two of my friends, Di and Dawn.
Di responded to my post bleating about bags and how I needed a bag to fit in my bag by sending me one. Thank-you Di.
And Dawn has answered my question about whether there is caffeine in Kahlua by actually writing to the firm. This is the info she received.

Kahlua actually has very low levels of caffeine, (approximately 4.85mg in each 1.5 oz drink.)

One cup of coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine, so if we’re looking at 100ml of Kahlua there should be about 10 mg of caffeine, (1/10/ of a cup of coffee.)

Thank-you Dawn!

And let's not forget that old,old joke, 'Laughter is the best medicine except for Diabetes and then it's insulin.' Arf arf as Basil Brush used to say.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Eve of Something

I must confess to being a little creeped out by Valentine's day here. In the UK, you might swap cards with a lover or even two. Possibly perpetrate some kind of wind-up on a friend by sending them an anonymous card, maybe posted in another town where someone you know happens to be travelling to.
There could be flowers, chocolates, even a meal. Perhaps sex. It's about the couple or would-be couple, or the object of lust or love.

This evening I was standing in line at the supermarket checkout. Behind me was a rather skinny, frizzy-haired woman bearing a large, decorated, rectangular cake.
'Isn't it beautiful?' she said to me. I looked at it. It had swirly cream icing and peach coloured sugar flowers. There was matching writing in the centre of it. Hmmm...I thought to myself, you say beautiful, I say monstrosity, but I kept my own counsel.
I made a strangled sort of noise that could have meant virtually anything in any language.
'I didn't realise it would be this beautiful,' she said, obviously wanting more from me than just a strange noise. I showed willing and peered at the upside down - to me - writing.
'What does 'Division 10' mean?' I asked.
'Oh they're my class,'
'Ok, but what does 'Division' mean, why are they called a division?'
'Well, because it's a division,' she said. I decided not to pursue this.
'I've bought them this cake and some pop,' she said.
'Does the school allow that?' asked the checkout assistant.
'Oh, oh yes, we're a very healthy school, just well you know,'
'Bet their parents will have something to say,' said the assistant,
'Well one of the bottles of pop is sugar free and the other is caffeine free,' she said, 'I mean, well, I thought, why not? Valentine's day only comes once a year.'
I looked again at the writing, yep, 'Happy Valentine's Day'.

Believe it or not, I don't always speak freely, because in my imagined scenario I say something like this,

'You freak! You have a Valentine's cake for a class of little children, what's that about? And why the frack are you giving kids cake and fizzy drinks? Have you been in another solar system for the past several years? Do you actually have to teach this class all sugar hyped, not to mention contributing to their health problems?' Then I'd have poked her in the eye with a fork.

Valentine's day comes once a year. Yes. So does every single day of the year. I was totally creeped out and I was also flabbergasted. Bizarre, creepy woman in charge of a grade 3 class. She clearly loves them. Yeeees.

Anyway. Lori and I croaked our way through 'Frogs and Snakes' today. My station is the snake station and all the kids want to see the snake. They want me to hold it so that they feel thrilled that they are near it but safe. Some of them want to touch it. None of them want to believe that snakes will eat other smaller snakes. But when I open the vivarium to get the snake out, they all go,
'Uh oh,' as though maybe when they asked whether we have anacondas or cobras and I shook my head, I had just been joking.

They think I'm Australian anyway because my puppet character, Ned the Nature Nut has been written as an Aussie snake wrangler. So, being fictitiously Australian, why wouldn't I have a bag of dangerous snakes stashed somewhere?

Why not indeed.

Monday, 12 February 2007

A Propos

I must say I'm mightily relieved that I haven't lost my voice. Lori and I are in that rather difficult situation where if either of us gets so ill we can't come into work, the show simply can't go on, there are no understudies, no supply teachers, it's just us.

A propos of nothing in particular, I have often wondered whether coffee based liqueur drinks such as Tia Maria and Kahlua contain caffeine. I'm mightily affected by caffeine and so it's important to me. Regular filter coffee can contain anywhere between 60 and 120 milligrams of the stuff for an 8 ounce cup, decaf between 1 and 5.
Now if it does turn out that Kahlua contains caffeine, then someone such as myself can only drink it in the morning, which is bizarre, the sun's not over the yardarm then.

Googlising the question has brought me no answers, just a bunch of recipes and a particularly uninformative product homepage. Ah well.

Apparently drinking pig's milk can make you less ferocious. In a zoo in Thailand, a tiger who was brought up on said pig's milk is so relaxed that she has been given a batch of piglets wrapped in stripey tigerish fun fur coats to look after. It seems to have worked.
I can think of all kinds of applications for such knowledge.

One such application might be to treat rabbid criminals who might otherwise end up in overcrowded gaols.
However, another way to keep people out of gaol is to not attach a six month prison term for poor recycling habits.
Angry of Tunbridge Wells, or Anna as her real name is, took her cardboard to Tunbridge Wells recycling centre. Unfortunately, one box fell to the floor and as sod's law would have it, it was the box which had her name and address on it. She was sent a £50 fine for doing her civic duty and informed that she was lucky to have been let off a six month sentence.

I have received an e-mail from British Gas informing me that their prices are going down. This is a real bummer for me since they don't deliver gas to British Columbia, you'd think they would given the name.
And I don't see why they can't either. I never really understood the whole competition thing as it pertained to gas and electricity supply. You were always being bombarded with various suppliers who wanted to supply it more cheaply. And yet it seems the fuel supply itself didn't change, just the recipient of your money. I found it mind-boggling. There, just then, my mind boggled at the very thought of it again.

Interestingly, and this news item goes back a few weeks now, the State of California is trying to sue US and Japanese car manufacturers for polluting and causing global warming (over California presumably). Well tickety-boo. I know what you're thinking, that obviously this goes hand-in-hand with a demand for smaller cars only to be sold in that State, or only zero emission cars, or maybe that they are cutting their own fleet of 37,000 State cars. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.

Equally lazy thinking on the news last night is a drastic measure to cut AIDS in Africa. Too much effort to put money into educating people to change their sexual habits, or even persuade certain governments that there actually is a problem. Nope. The answer is to mutilate small children. Go forth and cut their foreskins off, not for any religious reasons, just for fun really. A wave of mutilation. And apparently it's ok because
'People in North America have been doing it for a long time,' so let me run that past you again, we mutilate our children, so why shouldn't you?
Hmmmm.......It does seem astonishing that we even have AIDS in North America at all. Perhaps it's God punishing us for thinking we can improve on the design.
All I can say is, Africans, beware of North Americans bearing rusty scalpels, no good will come of it.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Small Rodents

I've been right proper poorly, and I'm so not a good patient.
Yesterday I had the throat that makes you think small rodents have died while burrowing into your tonsils. I was cranky. Kev wanted to go to the Daiso store at some sensible hour in the morning.
'But I ache all over and I feel hot and cold at the same time,' I wailed, only to decide at 15.00 that now was the time to go. Wrong! The Daiso store is an Aladdin's Cave of a shop that sells every bit of tin, plastic, paper, that you could ever need. If you thought to yourself for example, 'ooh, wish I had a tin just about this size and shape,' you will find it there.

So, at 15.00 hours on the Saturday before Chinese New Year, and feeling like death warmed up, we went to the Chinese Mall, rather inappropriately named 'Aberdeen Mall'. If you could actually design the worst possible car park with the worst possible access, you would design the entry and parking in the Aberdeen Mall. We ended up stuck in an intersection while the lights changed back and forth and the traffic going in didn't move. And then suddenly it did and there we were, parked and in the main shopping area, surrounded by red Chinese lanterns and the smell of Chinese food and what the Chinese clearly think of as pop music. Well, not quite fair, English language Muzac is pretty bad too.

When we got back, I felt even worse, my temperature went up, the sinuses in my face were on fire, and the aches had become agues. Well, not quite. Still, it allowed me to do some reading.

So, a couple of questions.
1. Why wouldn't you vote for a man who had this headline written about him,
'I used dope at Eaton!' I know, I know, bit of a no-brainer, do you want to be governed by someone who went to Eaton?

2. What is wrong with this statement?
'Daphne du Maurier's lesbian loves on film,' no wait, I haven't got there yet, "It stars Geraldine Somerville in the role of Du Maurier, and Elizabeth McGovern and Janet McTeer as her two great romantic loves," Yes! How can you make a film in Britain without Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Immelda Staunton or Miriam Margolyes?

Finally, in Hérouxville, Québec, the council published on its website, rules that needed to be followed when you come to live there.
You may not, 'stone women in public, burn them alive, burn them with acid, or circumcise them.'
Well, I feel it had to be said, and maybe the holiday resort of Cape Verde could take a leaf out of their book, where two Italian women tourists were stoned to death and a third barely survived the stoning.

I hope that Italy have something strong up their sleeve to respond with, although since the former premier, Berlusconi refuses to concede that he lost the election ten months ago, not to mention having to publicly apologise to his wife for his propositioning of other women, I think it could take a while.

Saturday, 10 February 2007


I had been expecting to feel pretty physically exhausted at the end of my first full week back at work after 18 months of leisure. But I don't.
I was going to allow myself that indulgence, in spite of secretly feeling that it would be a little pathetic. After all, when I last worked, not counting the couple of weeks' hell at The Office in the summer, I was putting in sixty hour weeks plus weekends when there were reports or a myriad of other extra paper-pushing jobs to be done. I didn't have lunchtimes and twice a week I didn't have a break. So, a four-day week, with nothing to be done outside of work hours and a full hour for lunch and coffee breaks twice a day sounds like Nirvana. Hmmm...sounds like Teen Spirit.

But in fact, the week raced by, I felt less tired as it progressed. Sadly now I have succumbed to some bug or other. Not surprising really. The one volunteer we have came in a sniffled and croaked, Lori's been under the weather all week, and one particular class we had in was just wall-to-wall snot. I disinfected everything they had touched after the programme.
And it's the start of the 'flu season. On the TV last night, some kiddie in Vancouver has already died of it.

Kevin is a bloke and he is an electrical engineer. In his spare time he contributes software to an American company that produces digital music servers. So it won't surprise anyone to learn that he is the remote control king. I know that most houses these days have an assortment of the devices, Kevin's aim is to have one, programmable remote that does everything and without my having to memorise complicated button combos.
Well, finally we have a remote from Logitech that looks like a mobile phone. It has an actual screen. The screen lights up on activation and you can choose from a series of options like 'watch TV', 'watch DVD' etc, complete with pictures.
It's hi-tech for idiots, so long as you have someone in the house with an engineering degree who can programme it in the first place. I keep wanting to place it back in the phone holder.

But will it be the last word in remotes? Yeah, I'm thinking maybe not. The next one will be voice activated and will say in a chocolaty, silky voice,

'Good evening Schneewittchen, let me entertain you, what is your pleasure? I do have an episode of 'Entourage' for your delectation, but 'Thirty Rock' is one you've already seen. However, may I recommend 'Most Haunted'? Although Yvette's hair has been dyed an unfortunate shade of red that sucks all the colour from her face, there is a particularly interesting scene with David Wells that I think you'll want to watch more than once. If you do choose this option, then may I also recommend you partake of a small glass of the Cockburn's port?'

What-ho Jeeves. The one after that will be back to square one. It'll involve me walking over to the TV set and pushing something with my finger.

Friday, 9 February 2007


Citizen Smith, Wolfie, as we all remember was a member of the Tooting Popular Front. Who could forget his long-suffering girlfriend Shirley or his loyal friend Ken?

Problem for Wolfie Smith was that it was all too much of a mountain to climb. His enthusiasm and political commitment were lost on the denizens of Tooting. He wanted to liberate, they didn't know they needed liberating. You could feel his frustration.

Maybe Jack Straw (leader of the House of Commons) feels a little of that frustration. He was even in one of the Vancouver rags this week. Or last week. Apparently, Britain, home of Shakespeare, the Monarchy and a whole list of other things, just in case Canadian readers might think it were some other Britain, according to Jack Straw could take some tips in citizenship from Canada.

I have no idea where or when Mr. Straw expressed this, perhaps standing in the checkout queue at Sainsburys, as his Rowse's Maple Syrup trundled across the scanner, he suddenly exclaimed,
'If only the British had as much sense of Britishness as the Canadians have about being Canadian.

I would agree with him that there is a strong sense of being Canadian here. The Maple Leaf is everywhere, the expression, 'proudly Canadian,' is used often. And yet, and yet.....

It's not the same. The British government is trying to encourage a sense of Britishness over a sense of simply being English, Scottish or Welsh. And as a Brit living abroad, in some circumstances I am British, whilst in others, I am English. The problem I find here is that many Canadians will use the term British when they mean specifically English.

And then, honestly, I don't think that feeling Canadian or British is necessarily an indicator of citizenship.
I, for example, am a British Citizen and damned proud of it. But I live in Canada and the importance to me of being a good citizen isn't about the nationality of my citizenship, it's about where I live, wanting to be a positive member of the community I live in.

It's more like what we were all teaching kids in the fairly new - for Britain - school subject of Citizenship.
It's about respecting where you live and the people who live there. It's about taking responsibility for your own actions within that community, and it's about knowing and pro-actively engaging in that.

I don't think Canadians are any better at being citizens than Brits, I think that even though they know they are Canadian, they don't all embrace the whole country. There is HUGE antagonism towards the Québecois, not from all by any means, but from many.
There isn't even that much that is truly national as there is in Britain. Oh yes, I can go from coast to coast and use the loony, in Britain from top to bottom and use the pound coin, but here, driver licensing, school curricula, qualification recognition, newspapers, health care and even part of the taxation among other things, are Provincial. This certainly isn't so throughout Britain.

I think that Jack Straw, a politician I've always admired, might be a bit of a Wolfie Smith, trying to raise the awareness of an apathetic population.
Power to the People Jack - or maybe not, maybe that's too much to handle.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Down South

Lucky buggers, they have BIG snow back in Blighty. Well, seemingly except for the bit of Blighty I actually used to live in. To the south of us in the Seattle area the forecast is for snow tonight. Envy.

Yesterday I saw two school buses from Blaine, Washington State going towards Vancouver. There is a sign on Highway 99 just a few hundred yards from Westminster Highway that tells you it is 215 km to Seattle it must be nearer from the border, to come into Vancouver to take field trips than to drive down to Seattle.

On the News a couple of nights ago, we were told that the government was deciding whether to advise Canadians not to travel to Mexico as a result of a number of recent murders of Canadian citizens there. Last night, our local freesheet had a competition, the prize for which was a trip to, yup, Mexico. Oops.

You know those things where you wonder how they discovered it? Well it seems that the only thing that can get rid of the smell of skunk spray is tomato juice and lots of it.
Apparently we are eagerly awaiting delivery of a stuffed skunk at the Nature House, and more bizarrely still, a rattus norvegicus, we're not exactly short of them around the Park.
Anyway, as it happens, our taxidermist did many of the animals in the film 'A Night at the Museum', our interest was piqued at how you get hold of a lion to stuff, but it turns out that in Texas, they breed them for Texans to hunt. Hmmm.

Yesterday I forgot to wish Adam a Happy Birthday, I'd say, 'hope it was a good one,' but for the fact that I happen to know he spent it in the labour ward. Adam's wife Lisa is in hospital and their baby is being induced, slowly it seems. So they have another birthday to look forward to, one that I hope comes soon.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Rock and Roll, Drugs, Sex

I walk past this sign every morning on the way to work and the lack of punctuation coupled with my being a damned foreigner renders it meaningless to me.

Are they offering to book your teams, wind up your parties and something called soccer hockey? OR are they saying that you can 'book your team's wind-up parties'? I know one or two people who could seriously get into the idea of a wind-up party, but then is it a party that you tell people about, but it was all just a wind-up and isn't going to happen, or is it a party where you just set out to wind people up?
It captures the imagination anyroad.

So, parties being what they are, there's bound to be rock and roll involved, no seriously, there HAS to be proper music at a party. I have been to ones where there was none, but then was it really a party? A conundrum.

So onto the drugs. I'm sure that everyone has read the news articles about the cheap drug DCA which has been used for a long time to treat metabolic disorders and thus is well tested, and which scientists have now realised may be used to kill almost any type of cancer cell without causing any damage to the healthy ones. No? Well I guess you have now.
BUT, it is in danger of not being developed or further researched because since it is an 'old' drug, there is no money to be made by drug companies, so they won't front the spondula for the R&D. Odd, I was under the impression that governments funded a certain amount of research.

And finally the sex.
Ok, well, yet again it seems as though someone's money is being spent to test, prove and confirm the crashingly obvious.
A team, no less, of US scientists, have discovered this amazing, mind-blowing, totally new and never-before-known to man fact that they could have discovered more easily and cheaply by asking the first 100 adult women they came across on the street and thus releasing money to be spent on testing the effects of DCA on cancer cells.
Around ovulation time, it seems, our hormones are higher, affecting the 'reward system' in our brains and so..... we have more intense orgasms. Wow, that's amazing. Thank goodness they have discovered this, now we can all go off and enjoy them more.

" "Increased activity of the brain's reward system at this time could boost anticipation and enjoyment of sexual activity," said Dr Karen Berman of the US National Institute of Mental Health......This demonstrates for the first time that female hormones affect the reward system in very specific ways during particular parts of the cycle," added Dr Berman. "
God bless you Dr. Berman. Yeah, cos we women never realised it had anything to do with our hormones or our inner reward system.

Give me a break. Every woman who has ever been sexually active knows this, maybe we didn't know the exact mechanism, but hey, who cares?

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Getting with the Programmes

The school programmes at the Nature Park started today, and both Lori and I felt they went well. This in spite of the afternoon's Kindergarten class whose answer to the question,
'What mammal might behind the curtain?' was,
Getting them to concentrate was like trying to get tadpoles to all swim in the same direction. They had a substitute teacher, often a problem for any class, except this one was particularly good.
My station is near the snake tank and so I am competing with them. Lori's is by the beehive, so she of course, competes with them.
The upside was that they greatly enjoyed being ninja raccoons. Oh dear lord, what they didn't know about ninjas wouldn't be worth knowing. And when they were having to creep around wearing raccoon masks, they were able to be quiet, not listen, but be quiet.
We play Chinese Whispers, only I'm not allowed to call it that because someone will invariably complain if you mention a nationality. Presumably this is because they just don't get the whole concept of what racism is, ergo of course, the previous discussion about whether my raccoons could be ninjas.
Chinese Whispers is now Ninja Whispers.

This morning's class were a different animal altogether, quiet, interested, listened well, followed instructions.
It's interesting teaching the programmes to children from so many different schools in the area, from Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Delta and Surrey, you do get an idea about which schools you'd send a kid to.

One question which seems problematic for all of them is whether the stuffed animals are real. I tell them yes, but they are not alive. They can't differentiate between alive and real.

I just had to mention that I received an e from my friend Di, who said that she had just finished reading my post about scat when on TV came Bill Oddie, filmed on Vancouver Island and talking about, yes, scat. I wonder if he was at Goldstream Park.

One thing that I haven't yet encountered but which Lori has warned me about is that there is one school in the area that doesn't like us talking about evolution. I'm not sure how I would be able to handle this because I simply don't feel very open-minded towards such people.

By coincidence, Sleepy sent me an article about a Kenyan cleric who is not happy about the whole topic, he wants a prehistoric human skeleton held in the national museum to be locked away in a backroom and labelled with the statement that Evolution is not a fact. Apparently it's killing the faith. He clearly doesn't understand what the word 'Faith' means.

Oh well, it seems some mammals are dinosaurs after all.

Monday, 5 February 2007


Yes, I know you don't get nutmeg from hazel catkins, I was just amazed to see them on the bare twigs already.

Since my supply of Horlicks Light ran out, I have been preparing myself a bedtime drink made with skimmed milk, vanilla, Splenda® and fresh nutmeg grated on the top. I always feel as though I'm shaving wood onto the drink when I grate the nutmeg, and then the fragrance hits me.
For me, nutmeg is a spice that I associate with rice pudding, for Kevin, it's eggnog at Christmas.

But from somewhere, Nigella or just the way one does pick up these things, I had it in my head that nutmeg helps you sleep, and so I did a search to check. Well who knew? Who knew that nutmeg was a 'psychoactive food'? Certainly not I that's for sure.

On another site, someone had scientifically fed himself three tablespoonfuls of the stuff, adding more and more as he experienced no effects, only to realise that nutmeg is no instant high. Even when he did feel anything, it sounded more like menopause than any experience I assume people take psychoactives to promote.

Oh well, I don't think my bedtime drink will endanger me and I can't see me taking any larger quantities.

Not a very prolonged turn around tonight between coming back from work and going out again, so a sprinkling of nutmeg and a shake of a lamb's tail is all I have to offer.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Other Minds

I think often about other minds, about other people's experience of life. I find something comforting about other people having both similar and different responses to the journey through life as me.
I find it terrifying that we can get so screwed up in that response that we can do awful things to other people.

Pain. Even now there is some pain that people suffer that can't be dealt with by drugs. Physical pain that causes the mind to scream.
We have watched two series of 'Deadwood'. EB Farnham has been suffering toothache throughout much of the second series. Imagine suffering chronic toothache, dentistry today is expensive, but available, then, how the hell did people cope? It must have driven them nuts. Toothache seems like a design flaw.

Comfort. Everyone has things that cheer them up. Food, TV, reading, exercise, alcohol, baths, whatever. If you could look inside someone's head, how do people experience that? If you think of something that comforts you, you get a warm little glow.
At work, thinking of going home, having your tea, watching telly, going to bed. When you get up in the morning, thinking of getting back into bed in the evening.
Homer Simpson thinking of Duff beer, zoning out and dribbling.

Despair. Complete end of hope. Like a rat in a trap, no way out, claustrophobia.
When we're younger there's always some hope, maybe the next one will be the right one, the next partner, the next job, next diet, next year, next time.
Now in middle age it needs fighting sometimes, the 'nexts' are getting fewer. At least the seasons continue to change, the Earth turns and tonight turns into tomorrow morning. There's still hope.

But what happens when old age creeps up? Is the only thing we can hope for life after death? That's quite a big hope mind. Fun at first - maybe - but after a while, don't you get bored?
I wondered whether you might get to wander the stars when you're dead, look at all the planets in the solar system and then beyond, know things, have questions answered that can't be answered in our lifetimes, but you could end up lost and alone, wandering the universe forever, unable to get back, seduced by that initial fascination but then utterly hopeless because not even death can save you.
'Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?' or eloi, depending on which version you have.

Are our minds made whole after death? Is there a difference in the richness of what different people experience in life? The comfort we can expect, what we need, what we hope for, what we understand? Is that balance, especially in understanding, redressed when we die?
Now we see through a glass darkly, will we see clearly then?

I think this. Conversation gives us a very blurry look at other minds, like bumping into strange objects in the dark, but writing gives us a few extra lumens. What we write gives more of us away. Formal, creative, but especially this type of writing, because there are only self-imposed boundaries. We give away little clues, Freudian slips, obsessions that keep haunting our writing. Our styles, our choices. The people and events we write about, the current affairs that we comment on, the conclusions, if any, that we reach.
Likewise the attitudes we have, what we withhold, what we reveal. It's all there to be interpreted or ignored.

As with Descartes' original Meditations.
'Books,' he said, though not in that particular work, 'are conversations with people from the past.'
But reading blogs is something deeper than a conversation and with people of the present.
And mine is not about him, it's about me.

Saturday, 3 February 2007


I am perplexed. I read in 'The Week' that the city of Patna in India has a very successful scheme to embarrass tax defaulters into paying up. They send 'gangs of eunuchs' dressed in saris and with heavy make-up to stand on the perp's doorstep and chant
'Pay the tax! Pay the tax! Your reputation will be tarnished!' and it works like a charm.
But here's the thing. I can see that Rodgers Video could use a spiffy scheme like this. They have difficulty getting video games back. Hell, they tell me they even have difficulty getting DVDs back since they decided to abolish late fees. But where the hell do you find a gang of eunuchs? Where would you find one even? Lord T'underin' it doesn't even bear thinking about.

It seems that Canada Post draws the line at actually ringing doorbells. I had ordered some books from and had received an e-mail telling me that they had dispatched it and it would be delivered by the 30th of April, thus reminding us why the term 'snail mail' became popular.
However, a small searchette revealed that yesterday it had arrived in Richmond and was 'out for delivery'.
My experience with the Royal Mail parcel services in Britain is that they only deliver at times when the entire nation is at work, thus you get to queue for an hour in a small office in the bum hole of Commercial Road in order to retrieve your package.
So I waited, wanting to avoid replicating this experience here. I didn't have the TV or the music on, not wanting to miss hearing the doorbell.
Well, I know my criticisms of Canada Post have been manifold, but stealth they apparently do brilliantly. Maybe they should be, maybe they already are, an arm of the SS, because one moment I was sweeping my doorstep and there was no parcel there, the next, there it was. Magic. Hmmmmm.

Peter O'Toole is 74 and according to Gaby Wood in the Observer, he looks it. It must be true that alcohol pickles you, he survives despite himself, or maybe the Irish really do have hardier livers than the rest of us.

"He claims he really did once go for a drink in Paris and wake up in Corsica ........ Michael Caine was O'Toole's understudy in The Long and the Short and the Tall; considering he never went on stage, Caine later said, it was incredible he was so exhausted at the end of the run, but waiting anxiously in the wings every night as O'Toole swung in at the very last minute was enough to give any man a coronary. Once, the pair went out drinking and woke up in a strange flat. 'What time is it?' Caine asked. 'Never mind what time it is,' said O'Toole, 'What fucking day is it?' And sure enough, it was two days later, three hours before curtain up."

You have to either admire or abhor such behaviour, but for my part, I just deeply respect him as an actor.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Bags and Bloggerology

'Basically inane,' is what went through my mind when I thought about any of the so-called ICT courses that were offered to us as Inservice Training at Mayhem.
The big thing for years had been to 'get teachers up to the highest level of ICT skills'. Ok, but that had the same ring to it as our City Council trying to encourage more people to walk. No pavements. No appropriate ICT courses. Unless you had arrived fully formed on the planet from another star system where computers worked totally differently - perfectly possible, quite likely in fact - there was never any way you could not already know how to use Word or the Internet.

What I discovered yesterday though, was that somewhere we miss out on some relatively basic skills because we don't need them very often.

My friend Ree e-mailed me to say that she had been trying to post a comment but always got an error message, had I inadvertently changed some of my settings? I went off to investigate, I could well imagine something mysterious happening last week when my Blogger was being insanely flakey.
But not so. In fact, when I finally found my way to Blogger's Help Centre, it turned out that many people were experiencing the same thing. We were told to do this, to do that, rub it with half a potato and bury it in the garden at full moon, stand on one foot and whistle the Internationale and finally, clear our cache.
'How do I clear my cache?' hollered people who, when I looked at their sites had all kinds of fancy bits and pieces going on that I wouldn't have the first clue how to do. And yet it's so simple.

It's so arbitrary and yet so huge, learning this new skill. And I do still think of it as new. There were no ICT lessons when I was at school, no personal computers or laptops. We've had to learn it all on the fly.
Even kids who nowadays do have lessons at school don't get taught all the things that would be useful to them.
Partly that's because often on a network like a school system, you can't do many of the things you can do at home, you can't do simple things like change the clock or clear the cache.

Partly it's because it's just another drug. Whatever you had planned to teach them on the computer, half of them would spend most of the lesson finding Simpsons' porn or anything that could fly below the net nanny radar. Then your time would be spent policing those ones and not helping the ones who were actually doing the work.

Ah well, so far as Blogger is concerned, maybe it's fixed, maybe it's not, maybe I have to wait for the full moon.

Bags, likewise, are ridiculously important, I have no idea how men manage without them. I can't understand it, it's not like I carry make-up around with me, which is the explanation usually given, and given that I'm a constant weeder, it's not like I have stuff in my bag that has been missing since last April.

I have it in my head that somewhere there exists the perfect bag for me. It will be able to hold my (paper) notepad, pen, cards, purse, phone, hankies and wet-wipes, sunglasses, (small)camera, gum oh and water-bottle and a paperback. You see what I mean? What out of that lot do men not need to carry around and yet somehow they fit everything into a wallet.

And it's not like I see a bag as a fashion statement. Oh well, I do like it to look nice, nice to me that is.
I guffawed when my friend Canadian Karen wrote about a friend a work who was most put out by being given a fake designer bag. Well, maybe not guffawed, but I did say, 'Canadian Karen, that's ridiculous! The woman is lame! Don't hang out with her any more!' which was admittedly a stupid thing to advise with regard to a work colleague.

By coincidence, a couple of days later, there was a show on TV where a bossy Englishwoman (bossy is a term of endearment from my lips or keyboard) was sorting out the finances of a well-paid Essex couple. She had brought a selection of bags, designer and fake and asked the Essex woman to say which was which. She did not get a single one correct, nul points.

And then there was the storyline in Ugly Betty, but in case Brit friends and rellies haven't got there yet, I will say no more.

At the moment I have my bag and my overflow bags. The one in the picture was sent to me some years ago by my friend Dawn, so it has crossed the Atlantic and then come back again. I also have my shopping bags that Di sent me and really, my ideal bag should be able to fit one of these folded up inside as well. Just in case.

Not quite the Holy Grail, but I know that the ideal bag is out there, not in a Socratic sense, the bag which is but dimly represented by all bags in the sensory world, no, merely, the bag which will hold just the things I want and no more. And will I ever want to change it then?
Sometimes it's the search that matters, not the find.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Dawn til Dusk

This morning, thick fog and icy pavements. I captured the fog and managed to avoid the ice.

Well here's a story you wouldn't have been able to prophecy. Oil companies offering scientists large sums of money to dispute that climate change is causing global warming. I really don't know why they bothered. Bush's recent conversion to environmentalist supremo didn't get much past the lip service stage, add ethanol to petrol and send giant mirrors into space to protect us from the sun's rays. Clearly the star wars option seems a more doable solution than persuading his fellow Texans to cut down on the fuel usage.

Meanwhile, back at the endangered environment...I have been learning more about the critters that we don't have back in Blighty.
'When you talk about raccoons,' Lori told me, 'everyone will have an attack story.' Yeah but, no but, well they'll all be interesting stories of course, but they will want to tell them during my story, my story of Ruby the Ninja Raccoon. We had to have a high-level discussion about whether there will be complaints about Ruby being a ninja raccoon. I thought it was spurious since there have been ninja turtles for years now and it helps me to talk about the raccoon's ninjaracious ways, stealth and such like. Oh and the black mask. My story's soppy, it needs to have a short film clip and a voiceover rather than a storyteller.

People, it turns out, will feed raccoons. You only need to do it once and you have a friend for life. Until you forget to put the food out or the beastie wants more, then you have a vile harpy who will shred any bit of you that comes into its grasp with its sharp claws. Oh you don't want to go messing with raccoons.

But I foresee a problem for even the most wary Brit. It is not uncommon here to hear people refer to these varmints as 'coons'. And...well it's just I don't think I can let that go. You simply cannot go around using words that Alf Garnett used to use to talk about black people, and in a very derogatory way.

A while ago now, my friend Dawn wrote to me as a result of a question from one of her students, to ask whether there was a British equivalent of the term 'African American'. I told her that we used the term 'black'.
We used to tell the kids at school that calling someone who is black, black isn't racist, being racist is racist. But then I also tried telling them that acknowledging that someone who is fat is fat isn't insulting, and I don't believe it is, but they never really got that one either.

I've brought my bat home with me. I have to practise making him speak. I need a new voice for him, RP English just isn't right, in fact it makes some of the things he says sound just silly.

He's learning to fly. Me too.