Sunday, 30 December 2007


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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 December 2007

Park and Ride

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

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

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

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Beyond Boxing Day

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Christmas Day

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

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

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

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

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Eve

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

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

Happy Christmas from me to you.

Sunday, 23 December 2007


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Mac and Me

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 December 2007


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Day After the Night Before

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

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

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

Monday, 17 December 2007

Blissed out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 December 2007


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Swimming through Jelly

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

Friday, 14 December 2007

Joy to the World!

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

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Golden Spiders

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

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

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Loathing and Fear

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Second Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evil stalks our planet.
But it is Advent.

Friday, 7 December 2007

The Bill

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 December 2007

21 Today!

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

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

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Criminal Minds

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Dinner Theatre

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

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

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

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