Monday, 30 April 2007

Mayflies

A balmy day, yesterday a host of Mayflies danced on the pond. Today they were gone. Here today, gone tomorrow, so really, it was a privilege to see them.

Next weekend I will be going to the Interpretation Canada annual conference at Manning Park. There will be workshops, there will be campfires, there will be walks and if I'm really lucky there will be snow.
Manning Park, I am told, is extraordinarily beautiful. Since we live in extraordinary beauty here, standards are high, thus so are my expectations. I must make sure the camera is fully charged.
It's like, in Europe, when we say something is old, we don't mean it was built in 18-something. In Europe we do History, we have history, in Canada we do breathtaking landscapes.

Today was rehearsal day. I am still fascinated by the process. We start the day with a script. We walk it through, reading from the script and with the faith that by the end of the day we will be so familiar with it that we'll be playing with the physical humour. It's great not to have a director, we just find what is in the characters and their actions.
Tomorrow will be our first performance.

Here, television is winding up, grinding to a halt. All of the series we watch have been advertising just four more episodes until the season finale. In the summer we get to amuse ourselves or watch repeats. TV summer starts early too. We may not cast our clouts before May is out, but we can do without the telly. We watch too much anyway.

I can't help wondering if the children we are educating have much of a future. George Monbiot in the Guardian once again lays out the figures for us. But he claims that...

"The governments making genuine efforts to tackle global warming are using figures they know to be false."

It is horrifying stuff.
At the moment we worry about people in other countries, do they have enough food? How will we help them to cope with AIDS?
In the future we may be hoping that it is they who die and not us. In the future we may not look to Africa and mourn a dying continent, we may, in the only slightly altered words of St. Bob's Band Aid song,
'Thank God it's them instead of us.'

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Quake

The house shook at 7.24 this morning. I worried. Surely it must be Laurence coming home from work, what could have happened that he arrived back at half past seven when he was due in at four? Naturally I also have the belief in there somewhere that had I been lying awake worrying about my fully grown son instead of sleeping, I could have in some way influenced the outcome.
Then I heard the neighbours, maybe it had been their door.
Kevin read my thoughts.
'Probably a 'quake,' he muttered, 'I'll look it up later.'

A 'quake. We do get minor tremors from time to time. There are a couple of places in town, a branch of Future Shop, some government offices, both on the first floor rather than the ground, where you can feel the floor tremble sometimes.

The buildings, bridges and structures here are all built to withstand earthquakes. Not the tiny tremors we get used to, the ones that rattle the cups or make the ground tremble sightly, almost imperceptibly, but just in case we get something bigger. Most houses are timber framed, they probably would be anyway because we have so much wood here and not so much of the wherewithal to make bricks, but timber-framed houses are safer in case of 'quake. There are 300 tremors a year in the area, so a little under one a day.

I think I found this scarier from afar, when Kevin would talk about them. Now, I take it as a matter of course, and feel reassured by the awareness and planning of Civil Engineers and Architects. Householders know what to do in case of a large enough quake to actually have an impact on built structures.

Since we were awake early and the sun was shining through the blinds and keeping us awake, I went down and made the coffee. Kevin was surfing the net. He had discovered that the Millennium Falcon is still the number one favourite space ship in a survey conducted by some sci-fi website. The Tardis was in there somewhere as was the more recent Enterprise. But the number two ship was Serenity. I think this may say more about the people who voted than anything else.

Who didn't love the Millennium Falcon? Austen had one. Perhaps it was partly because of the swashbuckling style of Han Solo and Chewbacca, perhaps it was the importance of the ship to Han Solo, or the fact that he had won it from Lando Calrissian. The ship had a history, it was a spaceship in the true ship sense of the word. A pirate ship, like The Black Pearl. And of course, in the end, helped to save the day when Luke Skywalker and R2D2 came aboard.

By strange coincidence, just skimming the headlines in the Guardian, I see that people in Kent in the UK experienced a 4.3 quake yesterday. We on the other hand, can find no evidence of one strong enough to shake the house. Must have been the neighbours then.

But how connected we all are.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Hidden World

Thinking back to the conversation about Carlos Castaneda, I realise that, although it would have been more meaningful if the experiences Castaneda wrote about were true, or at least really perceived, nonetheless, the hidden world he hypothesises is worthwhile as a hypothesis.

The second reality. A network that underpins our reality, but which we can glimpse given the right circumstances. Many shamanistic accounts are like that. Read texts about pre-Christian Celtic beliefs and there it is, a hidden world, out of phase with ours. The spiritual world may be like this too.

I was talking to Alex about the notion that we construct a narrative of our lives. We have to of course, to be able to make sense of what goes on around us, and of our own actions.
Narrative of course isn't always fiction, but then it may not be reality either and that is, as mentioned before, if we even buy into the idea of reality being outside of our own construction.

The book 'The Time Traveller's Wife' was an exquisite way of re-working that narrative, or how we experience it. The time traveller seemingly had no control over the narrative of his life, nor did he live it in a linear fashion. And we, like his wife, were only able to piece his story together in shards.
The fascination as it unfolds, as in the film '21 Grams'.

The narrative of a single human existence. The poetry of it, the myth that surrounds it. The phases of development. The different perceptions of that life or of an event, as in 'Crash', not the David Cronenberg one, the more recent Paul Haggis one.

We look and we interpret. Let me construct.

An imaginary celebrity called Dusty Book gets up one day and realises s/he has no milk in the fridge. S/he throws on a pair of dark glasses and a long coat and goes down to the store. The store doesn't have any 1% that morning, so Dusty asks if they have any out the back. They don't, so s/he takes a carton of 2%, pays and goes home, but stops in the middle of the road and sits there for five minutes.

Because Dusty is a celeb, by midday the local rag has a story involving the shabby appearance, an altercation with the shop assistant over not having the correct milk and a theory of why s/he stopped in the road. The following day a national tabloid has a different interpretation of the same observed behaviour. Only Dusty knows the real story and even s/he isn't sure.
Three days later, Dusty disappears and there the narrative becomes even more confused. Myths and legends abound, all of Dusty's work to date is dissected and analysed. Sightings begin, but somewhere, someone knows the real story. Or do they? Society has taken over the narrative.

What is our narrative? Is it what we do or how we perceive our life? And is there just one story?

How does memory play a part? Because memory itself alters. If we lost our memory right now, the future narrative might be different from that based on previous experience.
And what if we could go back and edit our life?

Friday, 27 April 2007

Elephant and Castle

Happy Birthday to Kevin. However hard he tries, he never manages to narrow the gap in our ages. We are going to the Elephant and Castle for dinner. This isn't a pub as you might expect, nor is it an underground stop on the Bakerloo Line, but a diner, and our local one is on the water, so we can watch the sea-planes while we eat.

In London, the Elephant and Castle isn't just an underground station either, it's a bloody great rabbit warren of underpass tunnels below a roundabout and where you need to have a great sense of direction. If, like me, you don't, woe betide you, you have to keep popping your head up, trekking back up to the surface to see where you are and where you need to be going.

Just a few days before Princess Diana died, I was negotiating this very place, trying to find the bookbinder specified by London University or King's College, I don't remember which, to have my MA Dissertation bound. Here they'd call it a thesis, but in Britain we reserve that for PhD's.

A couple of days before she died, I had to go back to collect it. I can remember what I was wearing, because one second it was appropriate, the next not. I was wearing shorts and a T-Shirt. It was warm and muggy when I went in to the bookbinder's, when I came out, the Heavens opened and crashed. For the life of me I can't remember how I kept the precious document, all bound in navy blue and gold, from being wrecked, but I did, and delivered it safely to the University.

Two days later, the world itself crashed.

Meanwhile, back in the present, and tonight in fact, Laurence has gone to work. His shift is from 19.00 to 3. He is being shown the full range of tasks to be done at Wendy's, and the drive through is open until 2.

On an entirely unrelated note, I have noticed that Bjork has released a new album called 'Volta'. According to the review, she has 'mined volcanic beats' for it. Jolly good. Here's the thing though. I've never got Bjork. Why is her music enjoyable? How is it enjoyable? Why is it called music? WHY the fascination with her? I JUST don't get it. And yet quite sensible people think she is amazing. A phenomenon in some way I suppose.

A colleague sent me the URL of a website owned by Yann Martel, he of 'Life of Pi' a book which I adored and others loathed.
The website is called 'What Stephen Harper is reading', Stephen Harper you may remember is our Prime Minister. It's rather a hopeful title, because Yann is personally sending Stevie a book a fortnight to try to enrich the Premier's moments of stillness.

Good luck Yann. You'd probably be more successful negotiating the Elephant and Castle blindfolded, but I admire your pluck.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Squishing

Last night we watched 'For your Consideration' a film directed and co-written by Christopher Guest, who also co-wrote and directed 'A Mighty Wind'. The co-writer on both was Eugene Levy. Guest also co-wrote 'This is Spinal Tap'.
To my mind, Guest is the King of the mockumentary and this was well up to snuff, subtle, and carefully observed. And joining the usual suspects, his regular cast, was the Heir Apparent, Ricky Gervais.

Dear God it rained today. The poor kids who came to the Nature Park today were drowned by the time we had walked the trail.
The Signs of Spring Programme is nearly over, tomorrow we do our last performances, so today we were rehearsing for Bees in the Bog. Sadly, we don't actually get any bees in our hive until the end of next week, and with the shortage of them, we'll be lucky to get any then.
What a lot of people don't realise is our debt to the humble bumble bee. The bumble bee can operate at lower temperatures, so they are the first pollinators out there in the spring visiting plants that flower way too early for honey bees. Those we can see. And sometimes they live alone, sometimes in a small hive. But it's the industry of the hive that fascinates us, the division of labour, the specialisation, the sacrifice of the individual for the greater good of the whole.

People though. How flawed we all are. How strange and diverse. How the hell do we ever achieve anything? We have the capability to all work together on something, but do we? Sporadically. What motivates us and stops us from acting? We are the most complex creatures on the planet. And look at the range of us. Humans are amazing and they are despicable. Humans can cause the souls of others to soar and they can destroy them. Humans can change the world, for better or for worse. We are Heaven and we are Hell.

I for one am glad to see that the Churches are taking responsibility for the environment, for once not pushing some bizarre and twisted interpretation of a minor point of Pauline doctrine, instead the actual message behind the Faith. And I see it as more than just an admonishment to Christians to take stewardship of the planet seriously, but also as an example to other religious leaders to stand up and be counted.

My daughter. I miss her. I wish she were here now, but I also want her to have the freedom to follow her dream. It's tough not to squish people sometimes. Flowers in the rain.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Wacky ?

So are we all agreed then? Wednesday is no longer Hump Day, since everyone stopped having mid-week sex it's now called Wacky Wednesday. Seems to be popping up all over the place as the nom du jour so let's just all agree on that.

E-mails you don't want to receive from your offspring : your daughter snogged some bloke out of Eastenders. E-mails you're very happy to receive : your son has been given a much deserved senior management position at work. Nice one son.

Thank you for all the comments and e-mails about my rather sudden illness yesterday. I woke up feeling well this morning and went into work and lasted the whole day fortunately. One school had booked two programmes today, and had also booked a school bus to bring them, so I'm rather glad we didn't have to cancel, but I do get that health is the most important concern.

I actually started to feel that my illness was a little underwhelming when I read in The Week about the two French trekkers who had finally found their way out of the Amazon jungle after seven weeks. All they had eaten were bird-eating spiders and frogs.
Now, I understand that being French, they are noted for eating animals that the rest of us would puke at the thought of, but even they only just survived. One of them lost four stone and was infested with parasites. Finally he could walk no further because he had been poisoned by an undercooked spider.
Makes my three and a half hour fest look rather lame. There's a moral to their story, but for god's sake, let's not revisit that.

My friend Karen told me this morning about the sad news of the death of footballer Alan Ball. It's kind of scary when people you imagine are fit and healthy, yet who are only 12 years older than you die so young. I expect there will be some kind of mourning going on in Pompey since he was their manager a couple of times. Yes, I know that sounds as though he was the manager of a City, but trust me, the City and the football team - no real difference.

I feel a little put out that when John Reid, Home Secretary mentions Hegel in the House of Commons, he impresses everyone, when I mention Hegel I get accused of being too friendly with the dead philosopher. Now of course it'll just seem like copying. I think I may have to stamp my foot.

I knew I was truly better last night when I was able to watch Gordon Ramsey on 'Kitchen Nightmares' liquidise prawns and chocolate together, and then chicken and banana and make the poor chef and restaurant manager drink the horrible concoctions blindfolded, to prove that their menu was shite. They begged him not to make them drink more. Gordon's not really a people person I feel, but then people who go on his show know exactly what he's like, then get upset by it.

We were finally able to find my colleague some coyote scat today. He needs it - or urine - to scent mark his garden and keep unwanted bunnies at bay. Hope it works.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Rabelais

There he is, looks a bit pissed off I'd say.
Rabelais was the mainstay of Renaissance French Literature as taught by the University of London. Montaigne was there to hold him up a bit and a bunch of quite interesting poets, Joachim du Bellay, Aggripa D'Aubigné, yep, enough, either writers you already love, or just a meaningless list.
Rabelais, however, taught me a wealth of interesting scatological expressions, entirely useless of course, there's not much call for bantering in Renaissance French. This afternoon however, I was reminded of the English equivalent of one such.

Yesterday I crowed - please pardon the pun - about my energy and general recovery. No change to that state of affairs this morning, nor during the puppet show this afternoon, nor until about halfway round the trail.
And then.... And then.... and I'm sure everyone will recognise and dread this. Suddenly I felt a wave of faintness, I thought I was going to black out. I sat down on the bench. I told the kids that this was the bench they shouldn't sit on because there were ants on it, the big ones, the biters. Then I felt a tidal wave of nausea.

I had to sit on the forest floor, I needed to be as low to the ground as possible. The same kids who see anacondas and crocodiles in the park just thought I was investigating some interesting bug as I barfed into the Salal bushes.
I called the teacher over and asked her to catch up with Rob's group, which she did, calmly, Rob continued the walk with both groups and the teacher took me back to the Nature House, where, in true Rabelaisian form, my fundament fell out, and out and out and out and out. I could now no longer get off the floor.

Kevin had to be summoned from work to take me home, the alternative that I was being threatened with was an ambulance, Kris was so worried. So Kevin collected my things from various corners of the Nature House, supported me while I walked barefoot to the car, I had to lie in the back clutching a bucket, got me up the stairs then made me comfortable on the bathroom floor. I will leave the details out, but believe you me, he deserves a medal.

Then at around 17.30, suddenly, I could raise my head again. Now I am bathed and sitting in bed. I can't say I'm full of beans again, hell, I'm not full of anything at the moment, not even, for those of you who think I'm always full of shit, that.

I wonder if I can blame Canadian Karen? Hmmm.. she did have that awful bug she brought back from the Dominican Republic and I did sit next to her at Dashers' last night.
I'm just kidding Karen. It's just....since my other illness, I haven't eaten very much, so it's hard to put it down to something I ate. And I ALWAYS wash my hands after handling the snakes.

Beats me. Glad I'm not lying on the bathroom floor anymore though.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Crowe

I have arrived at the point in my recovery where I have loads of energy but little appetite and my voice is at the Mariella Frostrup stage. Which is a bit of a plus to be honest.

I have spent the day getting my office sorted out to the point where I can actually work in it. There are still things that need to move, costumes, one coyote and a raccoon, but the first sift of stuff is almost done. The next layer will be a deeper sort.

The temperature has been higher today, if the thermometer in my office is to be believed, it is over 20º. Feels a tad muggy too.

I hear that the Queen - the real one - has admitted to being a Helen Mirren fan, although she will not watch the film. I wonder if Prince Philip has. I wonder if Tony and Cherie have. I wonder, I wonder.

Last night, on Discovery Health or some other such channel, Kevin and I got hooked into one of those programmes you see from time to time about the morbidly obese. These people were so huge that they couldn't walk, well, one could, but she was headed in the same direction as all the others. But those programmes never answer the questions you really want the answer to, for example, considering they can't leave the house and thus can't work, how do they manage to spend three hundred dollars a day on food?
This kept coming up. You saw a pile of chocolate bars that one of them would eat in a day, and we were told the person spent £14 a day just on chocolate (there was a mixture of British and American people on the show). Then another god knows how much just on crisps. It was adding up to thousands, where does this money come from?

Now it seems that too many sharks are being killed and one result of this is an increase in the next level of fish down, the ones the sharks prey on, so they are eating more of the next layer, oysters and scallops. Now I love my shellfish, but I also like skate and such like, which is that intermediate fish. So why don't we just eat more of them? Sounds like a plan to me. And the price should go down too.

Russell Crowe - who'd have thought? What a dude. He has apparently bought a rugby team. And it turns out the rugby team had cheerleaders, which seems bizarre in itself. But Russell has got rid of them, because they make women feel uncomfortable. AND, says Russ,
'..it makes men who want to take their sons to the game uncomfortable.'
Ladies and Gentlemen, Russell Crowe - a god.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

The Papers

Reading the Sunday Papers in bed used to be one of the great pleasures of Sunday mornings. Still is really, it's just that now I read them online. I honestly don't even know if we have such a thing as Sunday Papers here, nor whether there is any kind of delivery service. I also haven't yet discovered National Dailies, but I'm sure they must exist. No matter, we haven't got a letter box in any case.

But this morning's read just struck me as particularly whingey-whiny. This week we have been appalled at the story of the mother who forced her toddlers to fight and then filmed it. Somehow this is mitigated by the background histories of all the women involved. What bollocks that is. They took pleasure in this horror. None of them are fit to breed.

Then today, we have a load of rubbish about ASBOs. And haven't we heard it all before? No responsibility taken for the most unbelievable anti-social behaviour, instead, the oft-heard whine of
'They're picking on us!' Well imagine how the neighbours of these yobs must feel.
The writer, Louise France says,

'All too often we hear about these people without hearing from them.'

Wrong! By the time they have an ASBO, everyone in an entire city has heard far too much from these louts, not to mention the fact that we are sick to death of the mendaciousness that spews from them every time they open their stupid mouths.

The kids I knew from Mayhem that went on to get ASBOs were kids who had already tainted the air and space around them for far too long.

Then there's all the bizarre whining about Prince Harry going to Iraq.

'.....senior military officers could never have predicted the sheer scale of and nature of the threats lying in wait...'

Of course they bloody could have, of course they bloody did. Senior military officers in the British Army unable to predict the scale of the risk, are you kidding me? Who writes this stuff? They know exactly what the risk is. This is journalism at its most feeble and in the OBSERVER for pity's sake !

Oh well. At least last night we saw the most stonkingly good film I've seen for a while.
'The Illusionist' was a most excellent story well-told. Ed Norton in the lead role had a Gary Oldman-esque quality to his portrayal of the ultimate illusionist. Rufus Sewell was every bit the mad prince Leopold. Jessica Biel was superb as was Paul Giamatti. The film had us unsure, wondering, thinking maybe, but not quite, a treat from first frame to last. It even had me yet again kicking myself for not listening intently enough in class when we studied the Austro-Hungarian empire in history.
Of course there's the internet, but nothing has the same stamp of absolute authority as every word that drops from your history teacher's lips.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

After the Storm

Quiet moment. There's no silence in the house because it's daytime and there are noises from the street and from next door, but I have some time to reflect.

My body is winning the battle against the invading virus, but nice to have some time without having to over-strain my croaking voice. And always nice when the fever breaks and the aches and pains recede.

Laurence was calm enough this morning to be able to talk through his experience of last night. He was silly to have been playing with a toy gun at all, but somehow, that wasn't something he connected with subsequently being surrounded by ten armed police officers. I guess when you don't know why something is happening, you don't give the correct responses. But from the police point of view, there was the man fitting the exact description they had been given, with his hand in his pocket. Gun or wallet? Who is going to take the chance?


How the Absurd blends with the banal sometimes. Lenten's comment from yesterday's post made me think along those lines.
We had stopped the TV when I answered the door last night. We were watching Green Wing. When we finally felt up to watching again, armed with a taxidermy heron, Dr. Statham beat to death a green-faced dwarf who had hidden in his office to scare him. He then dressed as a Mountie, jodhpurs and all, to take the body to the incinerator. I don't know why, somehow that scene spoke to me.

A couple of days ago, a man stopped me in the street on my way home from work. He told me that his son was looking to buy a place in the area and what I thought of the neighbourhood. I said I liked living there. And then I waited to see how many questions it would take to get to what he really wanted to ask me.
Three.
Ethnicity. Were there many Caucasians? I guess he already knew the answer. I wondered how many people had passed him before he found a Caucasian to ask. But I answered him honestly anyway. Mostly Chinese, not so many Indians and Pakistanis. He told me that his son was ok with Chinese people. Why did he tell me that? I wondered if he wanted Absolution from me.

Normality. There is one little area of quasi-normality that has entered my life. My new assistant at work. He is an education student, but he also teaches catechism for his church. So I can talk to him about religion just as part of normal conversation. That may seem an odd thing to say, but in teaching in Britain, because there is an obligation to deliver a 'broadly Christian' content to the curriculum, because we were allowed to celebrate and talk about Christian festivals, you never had to worry about mentioning God, anyone's God. But here, it's a taboo.
The Jewish schools can come for a programme and wear their prayer caps and have things they say in Hebrew, but I may not mention anything at all to do with religion. So it's something I have to actually THINK about in order to not do it.

And there is another 'normality' about my new assistant. He is well-mannered. He stands aside for me or any other woman to walk through the door, just as my own sons would. Just as I am used to.
It made me realise how I was starting to expect less. In the next programme after this occurred to me, I made a point of asking the boys to take their hats off inside and it turned out the class teacher was pleased. They try to enforce good manners in their own classroom, but it must seem as though they are fighting a lone battle.

The Absurd and the normal. We watched an episode of Peep Show series three. Everyone stood in the doorway to the bathroom berating Mark who was sitting on the toilet pooing. His boss Alan exclaimed how that was not normal pooing he was hearing. 'Illness is weakness Mark!' he said.
The absurdity of it. The normality of it. I love it.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Chinese Whispers

Yes, Chinese Whispers. I'm not going to apologise for that, that's what the game is called, that's what it has always been called. Get over it.

At around 20.15, the doorbell rang, followed immediately by a pounding on the door. I thought it must be Laurence unable to find his key.
It was the RCMP.

Laurence had been taken down by ten RCMP officers at Silver City, the multiplex cinema. Here is what we pieced together from what they pieced together.

A few days after the shootings at Virginia Tech, he stupidly bought a cap gun. He was going to see 'Shooter'. He got off the bus outside Silver City went past 'Watermania' where some kiddie saw him pretending to shoot the cap gun. Kiddie tells another kiddie who tells an adult and on and on until, by the time Laurence has bought his movie ticket and is about to pay for his popcorn, the police have been told a gunman is on a rampage at the movie theatre.
Chinese Whispers.

Five squad cars, all available cars, converge on Silver City, and on Laurence. Police Officers here are armed.
The first thing the officer told me, when he had ascertained that I was Laurence's mother, was that Laurence hadn't been shot.

The police were polite and concerned, but the whole of the city's police department had been alerted to a possible deadly situation because of my son's foolish actions.

Kevin bawled him out. Then he calmly talked the whole thing through with him. Then he gave him a shot of whisky. I just blubbed.
This time, THIS TIME, he is aware that he has done something extremely stupid. He doesn't blame the police or anyone else. That's a huge step forward.
But this whole thing is also a step back.
I hope we can get him through this.

He wasn't charged with anything. Well, of course he didn't commit a crime to be charged with. He has some nasty cuff burns.
That's all.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Tie

I narrowly avoided a hoppa bus this morning. Its number changed from 'C96' to 'Go, Canucks, Go!' It seems that the Canucks are still in the playoffs. I'm really surprised that the buses in footie obsessed Pompey don't do the same thing.

So, I'm reading that the cardigan is the last word in men's fashion. Of course, but why is the Guardian banging on about rock stars and various ne'er do wells ? Johnny Depp resurrected the cardigan in Secret Window. Honestly? The cardi beats the three piece suit anyday. I wish men's fashion would move away from the suit.
Last night on TV, when I was lying in bed aching and shivering, I started to watch a programme about Ronald Reagan and the Cold War. I didn't get very far. Sometimes when a programme commentator or presenter points something out, I see something I didn't before.

But when they showed Reagan and Gorbachev meeting and said how Reagan stunned the world by looking so stylish against Gorby in a long overcoat I just looked and thought,
No, no, no. Reagan looks like a old-fashioned twat in his suit and oiled back hair. There's nothing stylish about ignoring the Russian weather. Gorby in fact was the stylish one.
So for a trivial reason, a man in a suit, that and rapidly approaching sleep, I passed on the opportunity to gain some insight into the Cold War.

I think it's the tie I object to most. I quite like the Nehru jacket. But the tie, it goes through few fashion changes, thin, wide, big patterns, subdued colours. Ties are the most stupid garment ever. It defines the old boys club, old school tie, and it keeps designers of men's clothing from being inventive.

Oh hang on, I've thought of an even more stupid item of men's clothing, but for some reason still worn around the neck. Those bootlace things that Texans wear.

Cardis are unisex. A woman can look great in an oversized men's cardi, although admittedly, a man would look naff wearing a woman's one.
Still, tis that cardi time of year. And it's that medicating time of night. Things improved a little today, fever and aches gave way to sniffles. The voice was in and out, but made it through the day.
A little something less for the weekend ?

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Props

Yep, that's him. I know what you're thinking, I was that close to him but chose to take a photo. Yep. AND I had a net in my hand. The second I'd taken the picture, off he went, under the stoop. Little bugger.

This morning the temperature on the prop thermometer read 9°, by this afternoon it was almost up to 16°. By prop, I mean we have some plastic things spaced behind the fence towards the end or beginning of the trail, depending which way you go. The large thermometer is the only one that really works. And by afternoon, all our non-prop critters were out. Six turtles, huge bullfrog, snake, hummingbird, rat, squirrel, every bird we have and of course, Peter Rabbit.
Yep, they all come out in the sun. But I was fed up of having to explain that the floating piece of polystyrene in the pond wasn't in fact a ball of frogspawn, and the Christmas lights were not frogs, so after this afternoon's programmes, when I had all but lost my voice, I went back down with a fishing net and scooped them all out.

I felt rubbish when I got up, not so bad by the time I left for work, but now I feel pretty crook again. Still, that seems like a workable pattern.

Yesterday evening, tucked up in bed and dosed up, drifting into sleep, I found myself watching an episode of Absolutely Fabulous and how brilliant that series was. You don't even need to be drifting off in a medicated haze to be able to find it wonderful, it just was. Wheels on Fire and all that.
And I love that Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French turned down an OBE in 2001. No, I REALLY love that. That's class.

Tomorrow, at the Nature Park, the firemen and or kinsmen are finally going to take the last of the Christmas props away. How nice. Being positive, at least you have to admit they did it before Easter. Oh, no, that's not right, well, before Whitsun.
As Kris said to me when I gave her this info,
'We'll see.'

Just to round up on a different tack, there is a brilliantly written article in today's Guardian by Jessica Valenti from feministing.com, she makes the point about how much better her life is now that she is out, out as a feminist that is, and I can totally hear what she's saying.

And thanks to Sleepy for sending me an article showing how women's rights are being eroded in the States, while countries such as Poland and Portugal are inching forward to meet him coming back. Interesting stuff, and Sleepy also made the point to me that just as it had been pointed out that 11/09/01 was a way of hiding unpalatable news items, so this comes out in the shadow of yesterday's outrage.
Nasty, very nasty.

Time for Zebedee to come out. And in case you don't remember Zebedee, he used to appear at the end of the Magic Roundabout - you MUST remember the kiddies' show with the doped up bunny called Dylan surely - and said,
'Time for bed.'

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Playing McGregor

Well, I just don't know what happened yesterday, there seemed to be no option to comment and yet no settings had changed. And I can't tell whether it was a one off until I post this.

So today I have been like Mr. McGregor. I have chased Peter Rabbit around the area outside the front of the Nature House, and I swear, he was actually laughing at me. He hopped into a hollowed out log and just as I was about to grab him, he hopped out the other end. He scratched himself a place to lie in some sand and then waited until I had crept up on him again, then hopped away. And he was setting the pace. All the time he was only just out of reach, I was convinced I could get him and so wasted precious time trying. Sadly it's a game that he can only lose. I didn't get him, but then I'd just have put him in the hutches until he could be adopted. The coyote will rip him apart and eat him.

I croaked my way through the puppet show, I found that if I lowered my voice I could actually be heard, but it was painful and now I feel crook again, which my friend Yvonne warned me would happen if I went in.

I am pleased to see that someone somewhere is showing some common sense, just odd that it's the French.
It seems that the family of a man who was deported to an internment camp during the war, were trying to sue the French Railway, SNCF. This seems outrageously stupid to me and makes a mockery of what these people went through. He didn't in fact die in any case because the Allies liberated France.
Fortunately, the French courts feel the same way. The SNCF quite rightly argued that since they had been annexed for the entire occupation by the Nazi party, it couldn't actually do anything to stop the deportation.
What next? Will the Allied countries be sending bills to occupied countries for having liberated them? How preposterous that would be.

I was amused to read in 'The Week' that the British supermarket Sommerfield was feeling the egg sliding down its corporate face.
In a press release that perhaps they should have had someone other than their work experience student check before issuing, they announced that the average Brit would be eating 3.5 Easter Eggs over the holiday weekend. Many would not even realise that the Easter Egg symbolised the birth of Christ.
Just as Christ rose on the third day, Sommerfield finally got 'Resurrection' on the third go.
Eesh, and that's WITH an established Church.

It's interesting to see the ads for PC and Mac in my copy of The Week that arrives from the UK every week. We have these same ads only without anyone interesting or well known. But the UK ads can be viewed by some on the Apple website, just not by me who in some way offended Firefox by trying to do this and it closed down in a huff. Luckily for me, Firefox managed to retain everything I had typed.

In feedback from yesterday's blog, Gail told me that when the vet needed a sample from her cat, she managed to 'extract the urine' with a syringe, so I imagine that is what would also happen with a dog.
And yes, that information is actually not only interesting but useful to me because you would be astonished what questions I get asked during the programmes, sometimes in spite of my protestations.

Today. Little girl.
'Are we going to the dark bit of the forest?'
'No, not really,'
'Will there be bears there?'
'No, no bears, we don't have bears here, none in Richmond at all, no bears.' (I always like to over-emphasise this to avoid later squealing when boys tell them they have seen one.)
'How big are the bears?'
'We don't have any bears.'
'Do they come out in the day?'
'No bears.'
'Fisherman's Friend?' asked a mum. My inner voice was begging for a hip flask, but a Fisherman's Friend was very welcome.

Mr. McGregor where art thou? Only just, please leave the gun behind.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Coyote

When I got home this evening, there was an e-mail from my friend Ree. This was the first I had heard about the massacre at a university in Virginia. What an atrocity.

The lack of information served to reinforce the feeling that I have had all day that I have been part of a stage play. Maybe a Somerset Maugham.

I got up feeling unwell, that thing again, cold feeling right at the top of my chest, slight feverishness. Cough. And then the rain, just a drizzle at first. But once inside the Nature House, the rain increased on the cedar shingle roof, and rattled the skylights. Two people were not in work, another doesn't work Mondays, leaving just two of us to perform our dialogues. And that's how the day progressed.

Had anyone been watching our play they would have seen us go to the kitchen every so often, sit and drink a cuppa, discuss politics, different countries, children, history, customs and mores, back and forth, work, look out of the window, listen to the rain, discuss.

I am moving offices, I'm surrounded by crap and taxidermy. I was reminded of a Jeff Goldbloom quote from his new TV series.
'Taxidermy is the highest form of flattery.'
Yes, I can see that, except that the coyote who is staring at me has a sign round his neck saying,
'Do not touch, may contain arsenic.' I don't think my illness is arsenic related however.
My colleague came in and said he needed to get hold of some coyote urine. I looked at him.
'You may need a live one.'
'Yes.'
'How can you possibly get coyote urine?'
'I think they might sell it somewhere.'
'Seriously, even if you were in the business of supplying it, how the hell would you collect it? How could you even collect your own dog's urine?' I resisted the urge to ask if he were taking the piss.
'I think you could,' he said, 'if you found out where they did it you could hide a bucket there,'
'I know where there's some coyote scat,' I offered,
'That would do.' I didn't take the opportunity to get out onto the trails, I just told him where it was.

This afternoon I started to feel worse. The cough deepened, the voice started to go, aches arrived. I came home, cancelled my evening arrangements and came up to bed.

As I left work, the sky brightened behind me. By the time I was home, the sun was out.

On TV, the Virginia Police are investigating the crime scene with snow swirling around them.

In another segment, a woman tells us how to get our own weather pixie. Who wouldn't want one? She tells us that when the weather gets warmer, our own pixie wears less clothes.
This is the BBC, I expect perfection. After this blunder she goes on to tell us how to get our writing checked so that we don't make any mistakes.
Ho hum. Fewer is more.

In Canada, or this part of Canada, or this part of this part of Canada, we don't pronounce 'coyote' as 'kai-o-tee' but rather 'kai-ote'. Trivia, but you never know when it might come in handy.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Wordsleet

Words sleet down like numbers in 'The Matrix'. Words define our world.

I started reading a new book and the opening line was,
'Et ma mère tomba à genoux.' Instant hook, simple, yet resonating with powerful imagery, and in the same moment I was reminded how French formal writing can be delineated by the use of the past historic.

On the back of Bill Bryson's 'Troublesome Words' is this quote,
'Barbecue is the only acceptable spelling in serious writing. Any journalist or other formal user of English who believes that the word is spelled barbeque or, worse still, bar-b-q is not ready for unsupervised employment.' Last year, I remember such a controversy raging on a post entitled 'Barbecue', well, ok, maybe 'raging' is too strong a word.
More than that however, it made me question whether, when writing my blog, I am a formal user of English. To some extent I think not, since I tend to write in an informal manner, the way I speak I suppose. And yet I have been accused, since arriving here, of speaking in a formal manner. I don't feel that's true, but I am certainly quite careful about my use of language.

Our friend Steve, a jobbing actor who also teaches his craft at the Vancouver Film School, was telling me how he was trying to get students to stop using distancing strategies in speech. He went on to say how difficult they found it to make statements when they weren't allowed to use these fillers.

'I, like you know, basically think that, well, um, I kinda feel that, mostly, say, Tim Horton's coffee is sort of, you know, better than um, Starbucks,' requires a lot less ownership than,

'Tim Horton's coffee is better than Starbuck's.'

Steve made me think. We all do that, and as a general rule I can't see much wrong with it because it basically allows us to converse. (Basically is a distancing word and one that Bill Bryson says we don't need.)
When I was teaching language, we would actively encourage students to use distancing language, quantifiers like 'quite' and 'very'. It enriched their use of the target language. But I did find it a very interesting exercise that Steve was doing with his students and agreed with him wholeheartedly, that leaving out the hedges gave the speaker much stronger ownership of the opinion. And I think it is important to be aware of the linguistic games we play.

Bill Bryson, born and raised in Iowa, but having lived most of his adult life in Britain, is at times a man after my own heart and at others, a step too far. I did like this one though,
'Bouy. Though this book does not normally address matters of pronunciation ... I cannot help pointing out to my fellow Americans, and any who may be influenced by them, that the increasing tendency to pronounce this word boo-ee is mistaken and misguided. Unless you would say boo-ee-ant for buoyant, please return to pronouncing it boy.'
I particularly liked the 'and any who may be influenced by them'.

A word which came to my attention yesterday is 'Bardolatry'. Austen pointed me to an article in Saturday's Guardian which gave an underpinning, an introduction to some of the social and political history surrounding the Bard's life and work. I found the article quite fascinating, if a little slow to start. I was also interested to find out about David Garrick, after whom, presumably, the Garrick theatre is named.

Very timely too. I am trying to work out the best dates for booking our tickets to Bard on the Beach. This summer we will have two English teachers and an undergraduate student of English with us.

We saw two films yesterday, 'Children of Men' and 'Man of the Year'. The first relied rather heavily, in my opinion, on Clive Owen being the main character. It had a couple of other greats in it, Pam Ferris and Michael Caine. But despite its intention, I didn't find it particularly thought-provoking, rather old hat really and I found myself mulling over the inconsistencies in the plot, screenplay and props.

Man of the Year was slow to start, but then did hold my attention. I loved that Robin Williams' character's integrity was held intact throughout, it always annoys me, when, quite out of character, someone's integrity wavers.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Death and Laughter

During the time of uncertainty, when we didn't know how things were going to turn out, and even in the time of transition, when the decision had been made and we were waiting, I didn't watch much British TV and as a result of that, I missed some amazing series, series that we now have to buy every time we go back to the UK, or get sent to Austen's so that whoever is next coming over can bring.

'Shameless' is one such gem. I have seen the odd episode on one of our channels, but there didn't seem too much continuity to it. Last time I brought back DVD's of series 1 and 2. Beyond brilliant, and the closing sequence of series 2 reminded me of a question Sleepy posed on her blog a few days ago. The hymn 'And did those feet in ancient times, walk upon England's mountains green?...' THAT'S what always makes me cry. I can't get through verse 2 without losing it, I think it's more to do with the swelling of the music than anything else. But there's another hymn that we used to sing at school that gets me even more.
'I vow to thee my country, all earthly things above, entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love....'

Another series, 'Green Wing', I have often mentioned or quoted and this is currently being shown on BBC Canada. I swear it is the funniest, most layered comedy ever. It makes me really watch, not watch while doing my crossword, which is how I normally absorb TV. Every scene, every frame contains the funniest visual humour sometimes just a still, something someone is wearing or doing casually and sometimes very dynamic, a surreal activity that everyone is joining in. The dialogues are hysterical, the characterisations superb. The convoluted plots which interweave and build are excellent. It truly is a work of art.
It is also played by actors of fine comedic pedigree, Sarah Alexander from Coupling, Peep Show's Olivia Coleman, The Book Group's Michelle Gomez, Pippa Heywood from The Brittas Empire, and the former Adrian Mole, Stephen Mangan.

Usually, when the TV company changes its channels, much distress ensues and no good comes of it. Ours did this recently. Bogged up our recording schedules like a charm. But this time, we actually gained. We gained BBC World. This is the BBC news channel which we had previously tried to add to our package without luck, now we have it for free, or at least as part of what we have anyway.

Austen sent me an interesting internet page. Austen is the keeper and researcher of the family tree. The snippet he sent me was the record of the death of one of our relatives who died at the age of 31 during the First World War. It gives his wife's name and his parents - who lived in Portsmouth - and lists him as 'Commonwealth War Dead'. He was a sub-mariner and artificer. He is buried in Chanak Consular Cemetery in Turkey which lists just 38 Commonwealth burials of which three were naval from the First World War. It is also the only reason I can possibly think of for visiting Turkey.
I wonder if anyone from that line of the family goes to visit his grave, just as I always wondered about all those lines of white crosses of Canadian servicemen and women buried in Brookwood in Surrey near where I once used to live.

Makes me proud.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Etiquette

I feel there is a universal and yet unspoken etiquette about what time you can phone people. A sort of tele - comm - unications watershed.
There are of course exceptions, you may have pre-arranged a call, or there may be an emergency. And of course there are people who are close enough to be not bound by rules of etiquette.
So my watershed times would be before 8 and after 22.00.
When I worked at Mayhem, I was happy to take calls before 8 o'clock because when you are a teacher you're almost impossible to get hold of during the day. So between 7.30 and 8 and then again from 15 - 18.00 except on meetings nights, fair enough.

I don't, however feel it's ok for people I don't even know to phone up before 8.
This morning the phone rang while I was still in bed.
'Hi, it's Heather, do you know the landlord's e-mail?' A voice brimming with unnecessary energy.
'Hi Heather, I think you have the wrong number, I have no landlord.'

Outside, the rain poured. I only had one school booked in and they were arriving at 12.30. Thus I had organised some help to arrive at 12.15. The school arrived at midday. A man came into the Nature House.
'Ah! You're not Maria,' I joked.
'I'm not Maria,' he confirmed.
'No, you don't look like a Maria,' I kept flogging that dead horse.
Perplexed look.
'I was expecting Maria,' I explained, 'I was making a joke.'
'Oh! Oh! Hahahahaha, no, I am not Maria.'

Ah well, Maria was on mat leave, fortunately the cover teacher had a teaching assistant to actually organise everything. She seemed quite cross, but then who wouldn't? she had 30 children and a teacher to run.
I have seen this teacher-type so often, his attempts at getting children to do anything were like watching someone trying to keep sand in a sieve.

Incompetence, jeez, I can excuse mistakes, we all make them, but not the type of incompetence that results in embarrassment to me.
I get paid by cheque and today was payday. I zapped down to the bank to pay the cheque into my account.
'Savings or chequing?' asked the teller.
'Chequing.'
'Is it this one?' she asked, showing me both accounts on the screen.
'No, that one,' I said pointing ON THE SCREEN to the actual account.
'It's the one with $2.92 in it,' I said, just to cover all possible bases.
She told me that I could only use $500 straight away because that was just the account I have, the rest would be held until the cheque cleared.
'No problem.' Then she went off and came back again. Everything takes longer than it should in the bank. Meanwhile a woman at the next station talked non-stop into a cell phone earpiece, organising the evening. I was given my receipt and went on my way.
Until I tried to pay using my debit card at the supermarket.
'Bing!' went the machine, 'insufficient funds!' came up on the little screen. I made a sort of strangled noise and whipped out the credit card.
At home, I checked what by then had become my theory, and yes, in spite of everything, it had been paid into the other account, but I felt such a twat at the checkout. Doesn't everyone who gets declined make some sort of 'must be a banking mistake,' comment?
Or maybe there actually are a great many more banking mistakes than we realise.

But of course, it could all just have been Friday the 13th. Who knows ?

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Tadpoles

The Maple trees are just about to come into flower, they look like catkins, but they're flowers between bud and full bloom. The cottonwood trees are golden and fragrant. We saw three Steller's Jays this afternoon, but the one photo I managed to get of them was distant and did not do justice to BC's provincial bird. When they flew, they were even more beautiful, the weak sun catching their blue plumage.

There was no programme this afternoon - thank goodness, I had no help for this afternoon, so Kris and I took a field trip to look for salamander spawn or tadpoles.
This morning I received some letters from a school that had been in for one of the programmes. One boy wrote,

'The field trip was awesome, and when I say field trip I really mean 'field' trip.' I have no idea what he meant by that.

However. Kris and I went to one of the Regional Parks for the afternoon. I am so lucky to be able to go to these places with experienced environmental interpreters, it brings the already spectacular places we go to even more alive.
We stopped in White Rock to eat fish and chips. These were by far the best fish and chips I've had in Canada. I took the card from the place. My friend Yvonne told me last week that she keeps a list of really good places she finds so that when she has visitors she knows where to take them, copy that.

We went to a different part of Campbell Valley regional park to look for the salamanders. We fished through many huge balls of frogspawn, but that was all it turned out to be. I wouldn't in any case know the difference and until we find some salamander spawn for me to compare, I never will. We did however see the biggest frog I have personally ever seen. Kris poked at it with a stick, gingerly at first, then harder, then a good old prod, but it just couldn't be bothered. I think I stood on another one, but it must have survived, it jumped into the pond with a huge plop.

Earlier, back home on the range, much earlier in fact, Ben rang me at about 3 am to say he had arrived safely, which was good, but it was upsetting later to get up and see his bedroom all empty.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Shortness of breath

Canucks. Playoffs. Nuff said.
But that wasn't the whole of my Wednesday, that was just the punctuation. Every time I forgot that this evening was all about the Canucks, I was reminded. My assistant Rob came in with his mac jacket buttoned all the way up to his chin.
'I've never seen a young man with his jacket buttoned up so far,' said Kris,
'Yeah, he doesn't want anyone to see he has his hockey jersey on underneath,'
'Oh.'

'Are you coming to the AGM Peter?'
'Canucks,'
'Oh.'

Und so weiter.

Ben is flying back. That was a tough trip to the airport. It was a tougher one back. Again, 'nuff said.

On Life on Mars, we're a week behind the UK. Gene Hunt is dressed as Tufty, the road safety squirrel. He looks well in it. Next week the series wraps for us, but I'm pleased that Gene has a spin-off series from the show. Nice one BBC.

It seems that the village of Bournville near Birmingham, after which the dark chocolate bar is named, is teetotal and has been since 1895. Each to her own I suppose, but that just seems un-British. I suppose it keeps the riff-raff out. And the normal people, and the interesting people.

Outside of my office window yesterday afternoon, three red-tailed hawks wheeled and soared. Hands up if anyone else can say that. I was in mid-phone conversation with Dr. A from UBC and like a Kindergarten child I just stopped in mid-sentence and gawped.

Field trip tomorrow. We're hunting for salamander spawn, just because we can. I love this job.

Shortness of breath? The schoolkids this morning were so insistent on going through the 'Coyote Tunnel' that I took them. It means leading them through a tunnel of blueberry bushes bent double. I have to go first 'just in case we meet a coyote', I promise that I'll wrestle it and throw it over my shoulder. In reality I go first so that they don't get poked in the eye with low-level bushes. But it fair winds me it does.
At the pond, I told them to look for bullfrogs, but all they spotted were evil buggy blue-eyed creatures.
'What are those called?' they asked me,
'Christmas light bulbs.'
'Oh.'

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Dress Code

A propos of nothing in particular, in Sleepytown, just round the corner from where Austen and Sue live, and frequented I believe by one of the Housemates, is an interesting little clothing shop called Dress Code. There are many such singular shops in Sleepytown, you can imagine going into any of them and Matt Lucas and David Walliams serving you.

In Dress Code you can buy rubber garments, or pre-New Romantic Spandau Balletesque outfits. If you can imagine it you can probably buy it there. If you can't imagine it you can probably buy it there. For the longest time I did no more than peer in the window, merely imagining the interior, then one of my kids wanted to peruse the stock one day, so with a cool young person as my cloak of invisibility I ventured in and was not disappointed.

Dress Code features as part of the volunteer training for the Nature Park and yet the code itself is encoded.
We are supposed to talk to them about not wearing jeans and ripped stuff for presenting programmes to the public. That's all.
But the truth is that we do have an unspoken dress code. We all dress as though we are trying to emulate Steve Irwin. As soon as the sun shows its face we are into long shorts, almost always some version of khaki or olive, we wear the sturdy crocodile hunter shoes and the thick rambler's socks. In the office we have a whole stand full of green outdoors jackets and some cheaper version of a Tilley hat, the round brimmed hat (green of course) that you might expect to have corks hanging from it.

I don't feel the need to rebel against this dress code because I think it is what the school groups that come to the Nature Park expect. They want two things, a puppet show or sketch and someone to guide them round the trails who looks as though they know something about nature. I can live with that.

Ben came in to do the puppet show with me today. At the weekend he has had to practise puppeteering skills, and I must say he did a spectacular job.

So, in the big bad world outside, RasPutin is threatening us with a new cold war is he? Hmmm.... When I was at school, history went as far as the Cold War and to be honest, apart from keeping us on our toes in the Arms Race, I'm not sure we suffered too much from it, although as ever I will defer to my historian friends on this one. It seemed to be a bit like being sent to Coventry by a big country with a closed economy. Now it maybe that since that economy opened up, we are making a fortune from selling them willy warmers or something, who knows? And you could even argue that a Cold War actually provides stability in the world as no-one wants to unleash their big weapons. (Yes, yes, of course I meant it like that.) I think he should dress like that monk who wouldn't die, add a splash of colour.

On the subject of insane world leaders and suits at the same time, I highly recommend my friend Heelers' little sketch starring the mad, bad Ahmadinejad. I still can't spell his bloody name (traffic guy, not Heelers) so I just copied and pasted.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Grey Area

Back in Blighty, Easter Monday is unequivocally a Bank Holiday, here it's not. Or maybe it is. Officially it's definitely, positively not a Stat Holiday, Kevin has had to take it as a day's leave. On the other hand, some companies offer a choice between Good Friday and Easter Monday. Yet others just have it as a holiday, not taken from your leave entitlement, thus most but not all shops are open, government, city offices and schools are closed and I'm off too. I haven't yet checked to see whether Canada Post are delivering today, but I'd be surprised.

We have been to another Grey area, Ben and I went to Point Grey in Vancouver. We were still looking for a graphic novel for him to take on the plane with him. We ended up with a Neil Gaiman, which, I'm guessing, would have cost less in the UK, though I can't be sure. Neil, I believe, lives most of the time in the States, but from reading his blog, travels back to the UK frequently. In fact, looks like he's there at the moment.

But driving around the area gave me some very grey feelings indeed, because this is where I had to do my driving lessons and test - the one I passed. But it is a difficult area. You just get used to the four-way stop and then suddenly you're at a two-way stop, then there's a mini-roundabout. It's a kind of equal-opportunities traffic area, newcomers or even, going on feedback from other Vancouver residents, ones who don't actually live there, find the constant change off-putting. According to my former driving instructor, only Europeans are comfortable with the mini-roundabouts, something which is born out by the way people hesitantly approach them. Point Grey, in my opinion, is the worst area of Vancouver for this palaver, when I have driven to Karen's or Gail's, the intersection controls seem far more consistent.

First thing, the sky was also grey, but now it has perked up. I, who will whinge and whine about the heat all through the summer, am now wanting some sun and raised temperatures for my little plants. The tomatoes have hardly grown at all since germination, it's as though they have been in suspension for about two months.

Not grey, but on Green Wing this week there were some lines to savour, I particularly liked, 'fake as a tranny's fanny' - I'm not sure that technically a tranny has a fanny, but then maybe that's the point, oh and of course, I am using the English meaning of fanny. Another one was 'nervous as a very small nun on a penguin shoot'. Tortured but oh, so funny.

Stephen Harper, headmaster of Canada, is currently over annoying the French. Good, good. One thing I will say about Stephen, he can actually speak both of our official languages, so I'm sure he had a few bons mots with Dominique de Villepin who apparently thanked him for saving France back in 1917. Oh alright, I know, I've taken liberties there, but I am getting a little bit p.o.-ed with all the 'I'm sorry,'s and the 'thanks for,' when the things they're apologising or being grateful for happened not even in the person's lifetime and was out of their purlieu anyway.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Easter

Happy Easter friends, rellies, casual passers-by, Happy Easter to all.

I was up at first light this Easter morning, taking Laurence to work, the roads were quiet and glistening from overnight rain. The sky was lightening, the birds were singing, the blossom on the trees dusky lilac from the half light. Inside their houses I imagine the neighbours were swearing at me for opening the garage doors and starting up the car engine at 6.30 on a Sunday morning, but what can you do ? The buses don't run until 8 and a chap has to make a living.

I like Easter because everything is starting to grow, blossom, bud, nest and what have you, a time of renewal. It was always especially poignant for me during the many years that I used to observe Lent very closely, no meat, no sugar, no alcohol. The Lent term at school was always a difficult one, it was often a short term, but the pupils' behaviour was at its worst.
But I also continue to wonder, year after year about the meaning of Christ's sacrifice. There must have been so many people horribly put to death by the Romans and yet this one death inspired a turning point in thinking. Everything about the story of Jesus's life and death can be seen elsewhere in earlier literature, but this one - yes, inspired a turning point in thinking. Perhaps it was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man. Humanity was ready for a change of direction. Roman society, for example, was really quite advanced in its ways, but it lacked a sophisticated belief system. And in a way it was ripe for the ethics that Christianity would offer.

The reign of Augustus was characterised by a long period of stability in the republic he created had from the chaos of the collapsing triumvirate. And yet we are told that he reinforced the old highly structured social system, at the same time reinforcing what modern politicians refer to as 'family values'. But he held out against being hailed as divine while he was alive, more difficult to hold out post mortem of course. People really don't listen to the dead, in fact death seems to be an excuse for those left behind to reinterpret who you are. Digression, sorry.
So it's easy to see why Rome at that time would resist the followers of the carpenter from Galilee who preached equality.
But the sheer ferocity of the faith of those early Christians must have kept the fire burning within. There is nothing so enduring in keeping the embers bright and ready to spark new fires than the death of a charismatic leader at the hands of authority, let alone that leader's subsequent resurrection.

So the fires burned among the surrounding communities, and maybe touched the Plebeian class within Rome itself so that later, as Rome devoured itself, the Christian message was there, waiting, biding its time.

People have done some dreadful things in Christ's name. People continue to do dreadful things, but that does not negate what Christianity has given us and all the good Christians who practise in good faith.
In the New Testament, the clear message is one of love. It is far from a simple message, in fact I think it's one of the most complex messages ever given, but it is clear and out there.
And when I do set to thinking about the death of that one man, what I need to remind myself is, that if Christ hadn't accepted his fate, if he had run away and hidden, as he could have done, if he had called Judas Iscariot out or bowed to the Sanhedrin, where would we be now?

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Inhale

Inhaling, the drawing in and holding for a moment. The time between death and resurrection. Everything held in abeyance. And how do we use this special time, this time of uncertainty? We go shopping.

I have planned today carefully, taking in the numerous small shops we needed to visit because Ben has left everything until the last moment, but then I replanned it, putting everyone out, because Lori rang and asked if we wanted to go for Dim Sum. Oh yes I did. First we had to take Laurence to the RCMP station to report that his PR card was missing. Every time I have had to go to the Police Station, it has been a nasty hectic mess of people, so I anticipated even worse on a Saturday, but no, we were seen right away and the process took five minutes. This of course made me look bad since I'd assured the boys we'd be there for hours and it was a dreadful inconvenience.

Dropped them off at the mall and went to meet Lori and Perry in the Chinese shopping centre, Aberdeen Mall. They have a dancing fountain in there, which spurts and shimmers in time to eighties dance music. This is where we were to meet them, but as ever, the parking was disturbing and they were late. By the time we got to the Dim Sum place, it was heaving and there was a half hour wait. I had arranged to meet the boys afterwards so we didn't have time. And then we're circling all the Chinese, Japanese, Korean fast-food places, ending up with something vaguely noodley and ricey.

Then I had to get out of the car park on my own. It's Kafkaesque, it truly is. You go round and round, the exit sign points in every direction, you know you started on floor two but you have now driven around about five floors. It all looks the same. You think a panic attack may be coming on and then suddenly there's a man directing and a sign that says -> Cambie.
It felt like an hour, but in reality it only took me ten minutes.

And there's a bloody fair in town. It has set up in one of the other overcrowded car parks. It caused chaos, darkness and microcosmic global warming. I remembered why I hate driving. Driving stinks, it sucks, it's hot and sweaty and wherever you're going is always in the opposite direction.
Until I found myself in one of those nerdy, geeky shops. Ernest blokes who know everything about all superheroes and every move in Dungeons and Dragons. Shelves stacked with graphic novels and models of Succubi, so high to the ceiling that they have to supply a step stool to reach everything. The geeks hung around in groups, spying on you, wondering what your credentials for being in their shop were. My credentials are two large sons, one who looks like part of the Staines Massive, the other, half-mast trousered rocker.

We didn't buy anything, but then I got the impression that people went to that shop to inhale. To take in the ambiance. To share communion with others of similar tastes.

I've lost track of time on this four-day weekend. It's 18.30, it feels like midday. I eat and sleep as and when.

But right now, after all that sitting in the car, I have hot cross buns.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Flocks of Seagulls

....although, that's an Angler Fish, we spotted this in the window of one of the little galleries on Granville Island as we were coming home last night. I had recently seen Angler Fish in the Vancouver Aquarium, so my eye was caught. Ouch.

Ben for some reason, envies my bed-head hair, apparently it's just the thing an emerging rock star needs. Since I'm not one, its splendour is somewhat lost on me, to me it resembles Eraserhead's hair, a reference which is lost on Ben who for some reason has never watched the cult classic.
Ben's own bed-head hair, on the other hand, is too 'Flock of Seagulls' to boast about. Clearly we get the bed-head hair we deserve.

But there is another flock of seagulls that haunt me, and they ARE quite haunting. When I take Laurence to work very early in the morning, just past where I drop him there are always seagulls wheeling very low in the sky. So in the pre-dawn gloom, these large white birds suddenly appear and flap around like ghosts in front of the car. I have no idea why they always appear at this particular place, there are several fast-food restaurants along that stretch that would seem more appropriate places for scavenger birds to hang out, but no, they fly between a Chinese store or office block called 'Hon's' and Pet City. A mystery for the inventive.

When we were watching Bones last night, I noted, as I have done before that there is a warning that comes on first,
'This episode may contain graphic forensic content,' which I would think is pretty much one of the reasons people watch a show about forensics. A more reasonable warning might be,
'Sorry, but tonight's episode may be light on the graphic forensic content because we are concentrating on the latent relationship between Bones and Booth,' or some such.

I was very pleased to see that Little Mosque on the Prairie has been screened in Hollywood with a view to being picked up by US networks. There seems to be some discussion about whether they will make their own version of it - no good usually comes of this, e.g. the Fake Office - or whether they will buy as is. This would be the better option, I know my own Americans would love it.

In spite of his teenagerish habit of wearing his trousers hanging round his bum somewhere - which in itself calls for a very careful underwear selection, if you're going to show it to the world, it must be cool, and let's be realistic about this, that's where Marky-Mark started - Ben at sixteen still clearly comes across as being over 25. Last night in the Keg, when the guy took our drinks order, he asked for a beer and yet again, no mention was made of his age.

I'm still excited about my family coming over in the summer, Austen will be spending his birthday here, and we figure it might well be the third birthday he will have spent in Canada. I feel that Canada, or maybe our bit of Canada is very much more child-friendly than Britain. This week at work, one of the people who has been in assisting me has two children the same ages as Holly and Teddy. Instead of everyone complaining about them being there as would happen in the UK, no-one batted an eyelid, they just became part of what was going on.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Excitement

I am as excited as an eight year-old who has been told that she is getting an extra birthday and Christmas all rolled into one and that it'll snow to boot.

We have a four-day weekend, that's exciting.

We've been to the opening of an art exhibition by our friend Christine, that was exciting.

We went to Granville Island for the opening and had dinner at the Keg. Exciting also.

On Sleepy's suggestion, Kevin is going to have one of my pictures blown up at work so that we can hang it. That's pretty cool. But that's not it.

No, what I am excited about is that at the end of July, Austen, Sue, Alex, Holly and Teddy will be coming over to stay. I will be able to show them our wonderful, beautiful city, I'll be able to show them mountains and rivers. I will be able to introduce them to my friends and relatives, they'll meet Kevin's parents for the first time. I'll be able to show them around the Nature Park. I'm so excited I could burst. I have other things, I always have other things to say, but for today, that's me. Made up.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Gestures

This gave me some pause for thought today. I was telling two people at work about the Alzheimer's drugs that were prematurely ending lives. Both said they'd take the drugs if it were them. One colleague had watched her mum deteriorate with this dreadful condition, but it was the other colleague that really made me sit up and think.
'I have registered with an organisation that monitors people's progress into dementia,' she said.
'Oh!'
'I have noticed I am becoming very forgetful and I have been tested for Alzheimer's but I have no signs of it yet,' she said.
'Oh!'
'I will be monitored and if I do show signs, then I will be given what drugs they have.'
'Oh! I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought this up,' I said,
'No,' she said, 'don't ever feel you shouldn't talk about this, I want to talk about it.'

If I think about having Alzheimer's, then I think about how I might feel if I actually had the condition full on. But how scary must it be to be there, possibly on the brink, not knowing, fearful of how it could go, knowing how we think about people who have it. That's a tough place to be.

In other news, but still on the subject of bizarre behaviour. I see that Iran has finished playing silly buggers and has handed our sailors back. The whole situation has been a complete Alice in Wonderland episode, and I'm sure it will run on. Nice of Iran to give them all new suits, hope they're not out of Traffic-man's wardrobe, because he always looks such a shambles, worse than Michael Foot.

The company Kevin works for is a Dutch company and as such, has one or two Dutchies working over here in Canada. Now, like a bolt from the blue, one of them is being sent back to Holland. This is another case where I am left thinking, 'how would I feel?' Obviously I'd feel pretty scared if I were being sent back to Holland because all I've managed to master of the language is 'there's a lion in my garden', a phrase with limited application.
However, were I being sent back to the UK. I do of course frequently moan about the lack ofs here, properly shaped baths, service industries not run to my standards, insufficient socialists, Marmite not in big enough jars, BC College of Teachers failing to acknowledge my greatness, tax not included in the price of things, not being close to mainland Europe so you can just pop over. And of course most of my family is still back in the UK.
But if I had to leave here because I were simply being sent back, I'd miss the friends I have here, miss the mountains and the land, the flora and fauna. I would miss Canada, no doubt about it. So I'm wondering how that colleague of Kevin's is feeling, because it's odd from our end too. We are used to him coming out for a drink, to hearing about his family.
But to be recalled. Hmm...if Tony just sent a ship for me, with flags saying 'England expects', how would I feel then?
But of course, it isn't Holland who is demanding Maarten's return, just the company, and if Mayhem ever called me back. Well, there are hand gestures for that sort of thing.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Fatigue

The United States through Laurence's eyes; the doughnuts are bigger, the tax on goods is less. Canada through Laurence's eyes, everyone smokes dope all the time.
'Well we don't Laurence.'
'No, but across the road in the park, people do all the time.' Ok.

Laurence had difficulties at school. Now difficulties are just that, they make things more difficult, not impossible. When he was at school, a modern foreign language was compulsory for all unless there were special reasons for disapplication. Laurence was disapplied. Any language teacher will tell you that people who aren't language teachers are always squinnying on endlessly that lower ability children who have difficulty with reading and writing shouldn't be learning another language.
Well, the thing is, that unless the child can't actually speak, learning another language can reinforce first language because when we teach it, we teach more of the same. So numbers, nouns, present tense verbs. We probably don't get as far as the pluperfect and subordinate clauses, but that doesn't negate what they can learn. The problem is that everyone undermines that and the children assume they can't do it. That coupled with the fact that language learning is the most difficult subject they have to do makes for poor motivation.

At the moment, I feel that idea is made more certain. Laurence goes to Karate every Tuesday and he has been learning his numbers in Japanese. It's tough for him, not easy at all, but he is so highly motivated.

America for me means apple-pie beds. Well, ok, not really. At the RV the bed there just had sheets and a thin blanket. I had remembered the discomfort of simply not having a duvet, but I hadn't remembered this point. When you have a top sheet and a blanket, it gets tucked in all the way round so that you get in and feel completely restricted and uncomfortable, then have to spend five minutes kicking it all out. The apple-pie bed is one prank you really can't play with a duvet.

Today I had three helpers at work and the school that was due in at 9.30 rang up and cancelled at nine. Not for any good and unforeseeable reason, because they hadn't organised drivers and booster seats. The four of us ran through the programme anyway. The Catholic school with two disabled children who came in the afternoon were much better fun anyway.

Someone told me today that a new scientific report had shown that caffeine can in some way lower the amount of calcium in the bones, but only in women. I know there's someone I can take this inequity up with, but it seems impolite challenging God on her/his design.

Obituaries. Now last week I was reading the obituary for Avenger Gareth Hunt, who died at only 65. It was an interesting read, but the delicate subject of what he died of was avoided. And when I thought about it - that was what I was reading to find out, but I guess that's private. Well, if I can read about your life in a public forum, I want to be able to read about your death too, because, like many, I'm nosy.

Stephen Fry has had a part in the last few episodes of Bones and I'm thinking maybe I can't be arsed with his character. He is of course entitled to a part in a big old American series just like former comedy partner Hugh Laurie, but, I'm a bit sick of him just playing the part of every English person that everyone hates.

I'm tired. Can you tell?

Monday, 2 April 2007

Breathless

This might sound harsh, well, I'm sure it does, but there was an article in the Graun the other day about how Alzheimer's patients who were being given particular drugs were dying compared with others who weren't taking the drug. This was presented as being an outrage. My take on it is, let sleeping dogs lie, don't rattle their cage. We've all blogged back and forth about Alzheimer's before and really, if there's something that is dispatching them early, why the hell would you stop giving it? Just shut the hell up and hope no-on finds out. Yeah, I know they have already, but you know what I'm saying.

Colin and Justin, do I love them enough? They have a new show called 'Wedding Belles' or something like and whilst I adore them to pieces, watching a programme where they get to organise weddings, I'm sorry lads, it's just too bloody much.

The Canucks are in the playoffs and thus the painful bloody spectacle of cars going around with those little flags on either side of the car has to be endured. I dunno why it bothers me really, just you have the feeling that everything's about to get hectic. And it probably is.

The Prestige was a damn, damn fine film. We took it with us and watched it at the RV. Christian Bale was superb, Hugh Jackman was superb. Michael Caine was superb, oh goddamn it, everyone was.

I have to rush, today was my first day of full-time work. I came home at lunchtime and rang England. Then I had to take Ben to the bank to sign a form, now that I am back from work, I have to go straight out again.
Life is busy.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

'I hope....

...you get your guys back,' said the border guard. It was a good sentiment. He had asked me where I had lived in the UK and I'd told him Portsmouth.
'Ah, isn't that where the British Navy are?' he asked and I had said that yes, it was the home of the British Navy.

Friday morning it started to look as though we weren't going to the States. Laurence couldn't find his Permanent Resident card - needed to get back into Canada. But we're in a grey area at the moment. Just as Canadians now need to have passports to go to the States by 'plane, so our British passports have to be accompanied by our PR cards. But it is not yet the case if we simply drive across the border.

'Have you brought any goods with you?' asked another official.
'Just a box of cereal,' said Kevin.
'Shreddies?'she asked.
'Yes!' said I, astounded.
'It's always Shreddies,' she said, 'Americans cross the border to buy Shreddies. Everyone brings Shreddies back.' How bizarre.

It's still six dollars to buy a three month visa waiver. I handed the officer twenty and he gave me two dollar bills back. It took me by surprise, I'd forgotten there are one dollar bills in the States, up here we have coins. The smallest bill for us is a fiver.

It's easy to forget that Nature itself doesn't know international boundaries, the trees, the shrubs, the wildlife just over the border in Washington State are the same as in our part of BC.
It's the human activities that change. The US still uses miles as we do in Britain, so suddenly we are driving not at a sedate 50 Kph (in fact in Canada we say Kmh) but at a much faster 45 mph and then a MUCH faster 70.
It's beautiful along that coastline that we share. The mountains, the sea, the trees, the eagles and hawks that sail the air just for the sheer joy of flying. But that's romantic, of course they're always looking for prey, but when you see them ride the air currents it's easy to think they are flying for pleasure.

There is something very appealing to me about RV living. It's compact, but it's not basic like camping. You have a shower and TV, a cooker, microwave, heating, everything really, just smaller and right in there among the trees.

For me, we were on the border of a State Park, so although we didn't have much time to spend, it's a great location.
And I too hope we get our lads and lasses back soon. Very soon. And yet again I'm reminded that it's a good thing that I'm not in charge, because I'd have sent in the gunships by now.