Thursday, 29 July 2010

Sac Magique!

Denali National Park.

When I got back from Alaska, the foliage had disappeared from the spud bags, yep, not just died back, entirely vanished. I didn't have time to sulk straight away, so I put it off until today. Now, Sleepy's instructions were very thorough and included the dying back of foliage, but not the total disappearance thereof.

The spuds I had in the cupboard were starting to sprout, so, nil desperandum, I decided I'd start again and hopefully the second lot would be more successful.

But I hadn't realised that the spud bags really are magic. There, hiding in the soil were a whole set of brand new little potatoes. I think I like this spud game more than any other garden magic.
I've planted some more anyway, and so far, I've only looked in one bag.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Cultural vagaries

Cultural vagaries.

This evening, Whisky was having a canine Mexican stand-off with another small dog.
'How big this dog?' asked its owner. I looked at him. My immediate thought was to point at Whisky and say,
'This big,' but on second thoughts, I told him Whisky's weight. The other dog, a Dachshund, appeared to be wearing a pair of pants around its front legs and breast, to protect it from chaffing from the harness I imagine.
Nonetheless, odd.

A little further on I saw a woman wearing the most hideous hijab I'd ever seen. Usually, they look quite elegant, but this one looked like an oversized yellow duster. Then I realised it was an oversized duster, held on by a baseball cap, and the woman was most likely not of the hijab wearing persuasion.
The Chinese people here, especially the women, often go to great lengths to avoid exposure to the sun. Some wear full-face visors that look comical, others walk beneath brollies held up as parasols, they look serene.

It is blueberry season. However, the local blueberry growers by and large are not native speakers of English, so everywhere there are signs that say,
'Fresh picked blueberries.'
No, this really won't do, because it is quite simply meaningless. Two adjectives in apposition must be able to both qualify the noun, thus, 'fresh, British Columbian blueberries' makes sense because the blueberries are fresh and from BC. So, I'm willing to accept that the blueberries are both fresh and have been picked, but then, you don't need to say that. If they were fresh and un-picked, then the fresh would be superfluous because whilst they're on the bush, they are of course fresh.
Probably they mean 'freshly picked'. People, you need an adverb to qualify an adjective, everyone knows that.
Perhaps it's a characteristic of some other language.

This happens.
For example, some eastern European languages like Russian, which I personally have no knowledge of, clearly has a problem with articles. This leads to such gems as the one that appeared in our daily on-board bulletin, 'Say it with the Flowers'.

Along similar lines, I imagine that the Chinese languages have a different take on tenses from English.
'Whisky make poo?' doesn't in fact mean 'has Whisky been to the toilet?' but rather a question about his viability as a living thing. First biology lesson at secondary school, characteristics of living things, 'excretion'.

When Dawn and I arrived at Fairbanks, (where this dead polar bear picture was taken), we were given a diary to write in. On the inside cover, (journalling for dummies or some such) were some apparently common mistakes. Most of them were of the 'duh' variety. But one was crashingly, glaringly, incorrect.
'Always 'toward' it said, never 'towards'.' Wrong! However, in spite of a lifetime of reading some of the world's greatest literature, I checked with the OED before commenting on the error.

" Towards : preposition
1 in the direction of:they drove towards the German frontier
getting closer to achieving (a goal):moves towards EU political and monetary union
close or closer to (a particular time):towards the end of April
2 expressing the relation between behaviour or an attitude and the person or thing at which it is directed or with which it is concerned:he was warm and tender towards her our attitude towards death
3 contributing to the cost of:the council provided a grant towards the cost of new buses


Old English tōweardes (see to, -ward)"

Obsessive? Ya think? Sure, but it's my obsession and I'm comforted by it :))

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Sushi Day

I'm avoiding my stairs, which have become a dirt magnet during my absence. Or...they're always a dirt magnet, but right now, they're fully attracting.

Yesterday had a kind of a sushi theme. Kevin has had a heavy cold for a few days and I collected him from work early afternoon. He did what anyone does when they're ill, he watched mindless TV from the comfort of the bed. At one point, I came upstairs, and there was a programme on about cakes. There was a sushi boat made out of cake. I really couldn't get the point of this, I mean, I can understand why you would make a boat out of cake, even I would find cake preferable to wood as a means of sustenance, but sushi? I don't see sushi as a meal, but it's certainly a tasty snack, and I'd take it over cake any day.

In the evening, M had bought a big tray of sushi for writers' group, and R read a story that was sushi themed. And I won the 'who wants to take the rest of the sushi home?' competition and thus, have been stuffing myself with sushi.
I do love me some wasabi, it clears the sinuses out better than a spoonful of Coleman's.

It's very hot here, and I'm missing the cooler temperatures of Alaska.

When we were in Denali, travelling through the National Park in a coach - although more of a bus really, the driver told us that a passenger had once asked him what they do with the animals at night.
We didn't ever let that one lie, we applied it to everything - what do they do with the orcas at night? But I guess it was a trick question. There is no night. Perhaps the person meant what did they do with the animals in the winter. Jeez, don't people watch cartoons?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Inside Passage

Ah the luxury of all-you-can-use Broadband.

On Wednesday evening, round about 21.00, we sailed into Canadian waters. This didn't stop anyone from talking about us still being in Alaska, but my Canadian phone immediately changed back to Pacific Standard Time and intermittently, it was showing the name of my Canadian service provider. I managed to ring Kevin.

All day Thursday, we cruised through the most beautiful part of the whole trip, the northern parts of BC and down through the Queen Charlotte strait to the Johnstone strait - known as the 'Inside Passage'. Yes, I know. But then that's not the worst thing. I come home to find out that Kev now has a 'frequent beaver' card. Should I be worried? We'll get you one Sleepy, never fear, all we have to do is eat at the Flying Beaver.

Friday morning, we were home, well, I was. We docked in Vancouver at roughly 7am, but my slot for getting off the ship was 9.45, since I didn't have a plane to catch.

Overall, a lot of food for thought. The most important part for me was being able to spend time with my friend of 42 years, Dawn, but seeing Alaska was a privilege too.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Icy Point and Ketchikan

Yesterday's port of call was Icy Point Strait. This is a good stop, a tiny, but well-managed waterfront concourse of shops and restaurants and a beach and forest trail, all owned and operated by the local First Nations band, part of the Tlingit nation.
It is so pristine that this is where orca and humpback whales come a-calling. The first people out on a whale-watching boat saw pods of both, which is amazing and wondrous, however, at $144, this costed out at roughly $2 an animal, which you may or may not think is good value.
Dawn and I relied on the water beasties coming to find us, and lo, one or two did. We saw orcas and an eagle sitting in a tree.
The ship was anchored out in the bay and we had to be ferried to and from the shore, and we weighed anchor early afternoon.

Today we stopped at Ketchikan, a small tourist port which makes us realise that we are Alaska'd out. We schlepped out on a local bus to see a clan house surrounded by totem poles. Although everything we could see was outside, it cost us $3, but then the bus trip was only a dollar each way, so for $5 we were able to do most of what those who went on an organised tour paid $50 for.
Somewhere, there was a lumberjack show just waiting to be missed, as was the young man dressed as a lumberjack outside the breakfast room this morning. Every morning there is someone in costume with whom you can be photographed, but you have to be proactive about refusing. I asked where the LumberJill was, which gave them pause for thought, but I made my point.

At 21.00 we cross into Canadian water. I am strangely excited about this.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Juneau and Skagway

Yesterday we docked at Juneau, Alaska's capital city, although city may be rather an exaggeration. It is a pretty little town with a whole line of tourist shops, places where you can buy the same T-shirt, but also some very nice shops displaying and selling the work of local artists. The most surprising thing however, is the incredible number of jewellers. They offer free trinkets to the cruise ship passengers. Bait and switch, they get you in there with the promise of a pendant, actually give you a lump of amethyst because they're 'run out' and then try to sell you stuff. Dawn is my secret weapon, she's a canny shopper, well that and the fact that jewellery doesn't interest me.
We saw around the government building. Tours were on offer, but in fact they just gave you a leaflet and pointed you at the lift. If you like dark, carved wood, this is the place for you, to me it was interesting, yet dismal, in need of an Ikea makeover. It seems that Alaska has been more represented by women than most other places, and as is usually the case, the women were also the activists for social justice.

Today we docked in Skagway, another small town, reliant on the tourist industry. As with Juneau, it sells history, diamonds and T-shirts with plasticised jokes on the word 'bear' or 'moose'. Really, there is no end to them.
The history is based on the railway and the gold rush. Alaska seems to be largely kept alive by tourism and toruism is also killing it.
Dawn and I ignored the shops, didn't pay another $100 to sit on a train, or another 100 again to spend ten minutes on a zipline, and we hiked instead up a mountain, which we enjoyed. There's plenty to do on the cruise ship, but none of it is very physical, so we were more than happy to get the cardio-vascular system going again.

Saturday, 17 July 2010


The first morning in ages that Dawn and I have been able to sleep in. Today has been just cruising. The atmosphere around the ship is fairly formal and respectful, and I must say it has a good effect on the language and manners of everyone.

Today we nosed up to the Hubbard Glacier. The sun was shining and it was just an incredible sight. We saw and heard the glacier calving, which was equally spectacular, but also sad that eventually there will be nothing left. We spent several hours watching, the ship was stopped and, like Leslie Phillips character in 'The Navy Lark', the captain did a bit of 'left hand down a bit', and turned the ship so that we could get the best view. There were seals lying around on blocks of ice. Enjoy it whilst you can my lovelies.

Now we're heading towards Alaska's capital, Juneau, where we will dock tomorrow. There is some dissent within the state about Juneau being the capital, since it is inaccessible except by air or sea, and the majority of people live between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Friday, 16 July 2010


Now we're in business.
By the time we had found somewhere to eat last night, done so, and then walked back to the hotel, it was almost midnight and by the time we had packed and gone to bed, it was 1, and at 1, it seems, the sky is almost, but not quite, dark. We'd had to set our alarms for 4am, and so effectively got three hours' sleep, yeah, yeah, I know, believe you me, you have my sympathy those for whom three hours would be a good night.

But the Alaskan Railroad trip from Anchorage to Seward was a different kettle of glaciers. Finally, Dawn and I had found our wow factor, just jaw-dropping, extreme beauty. The journey was also not as long. We had checked our bags in at Anchorage and they were taken straight to the ship, so when we got off the train at Seward, we were able to walk to the liner and check ourselves in.

I kept offering my NEXUS card instead of my passport, but they'd never seen one, and didn't even seem impressed when I told them that Homeland Security themselves had scanned my retinae and fingerprinted me thoroughly. They told me the problem was the Canadians who insisted on a passport. At this point, I let it drop.

Our cabin is nowhere near as titchy as we'd both imagined, and it's very nicely laid out. Internet access however, is not cheap, so I will only be reading and replying to Kevin's e-mails, so for anything important, please get in touch with him and I won't be checking Facebook.

Tomorrow we will be cruising. You could eat yourself stupid on one of these things, should the inclination take you, but my personal goal is to not have to get up at 5 tomorrow.
Rock and roll.

Et Alia

Finally I have a connection. We've stopped in Anchorage for the night, before taking the train to Seward in the morning, and then on to the ship. I'm looking forward to not having to get up at 5 o'clock at some point, but tomorrow morning won't be that morning. I have, however. written something each evening, so I'll paste.

Today, we went whitewater rafting - the 'raft' was a dinghy, and we didn't get to do anything apart from sit in it and get cold and wet in spite of our dry suits. I had a panic attack when I was zipped into mine.
In retrospect, I prefer kayaking, but it was interesting to go down a long stretch of slightly turbulent water.
Afterwards we got the train, the Alaskan Railroad, to where we are now. It's still not properly dark and we have to be out of here by 5.30.

Of course now that we're at the cabin where we're staying on the edge of Denali National Park, there is no wi-fi. There is supposed to be, but there isn't and it's too freaking late to go and bug someone about it.
Here, late is meaningless, it's a pragmatic lateness, it's 22.30 as I write and no darker than late afternoon. In the winter, the opposite, the lack of sunshine, messes with the beavers, they go into a 26-29 hour diurnal cycle.
The road here from Fairbanks was bouncy. Apparently the permafrost messes with the road surface. The landscape was like BC-lite, and with shorter trees, black spruce and Aspen. There are also areas of forest fires, caused by lightning.
Then there is the coal mining. Although the mining companies are making good the blasted land from open cast mining, coal is still used to generate electricity here. Recycling is a theoretical. The Northern Wilderness is far from pristine.

Safari – well, a day on a bus at any rate. We drove 92 miles in 6 hours into the mountains and back country that is Denali National Park. It's bigger than Yellowstone, or was it Jellystone? Either way, we went around the kind of mountain roads you only see in films. We saw Moose, a Lynx, several grizzly bears with cubs, a grey wolf, snowshoe hares. We saw glaciers and braided glacier meltwater.
The light thing is still worrying me. I woke up during the night and it was almost dark.
We had to make our own arrangements for dinner after we got back, so, having been assured that the restaurants – a bunch of log cabins – run shuttles to take punters home, we stopped at the Salmon Bake. This little place reminded me of Squamish, very much so, it was difficult to remember I wasn't in Canada, apart, of course, from the different money and the annoying tendency of everyone to expect to be tipped. I'm sorry, if you do a job, you get paid for it, if you do it well, your employer deals with that, if you do it badly, your employer deals with that. The end.
Having said all of that, the cost of living is high in Alaska, compared with other States. Unless you want to eat Moose and other roadkill, all the food has to be expensively flown in and distributed. Dawn told me that Alaskan residents get an oil cheque once a year, but all that does is allow them to buy a few things they haven't been able to afford throughout the year.
And, Alaska has a short growing season. The plants flower and possibly fruit and the permafrost melts slightly, for 100 days in a year. By mid-August, the snows start and then everything starts to close down. By the 1st of October, the little town we went to today is completely closed, as is the road through the National Park.
To make up for that, there are no reptiles in Alaska, well, except Sarah of course.
Oh, and Dawn has come over from the dark side, she boldly informed the woman in the restaurant that we were not guys. And we're not.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


We have landed and are awaiting our bus to the Grizzly Bear resort. We are contemplating a photo opp with a stuffed Grizzly, or maybe a stuffed Polar Bear, or perhaps both.....


I'm so sure that I won't be able to get any internet access when we get to where I'm going, that I'm taking advantage of every free wi-fi opp. Right now we're in Starbuck's at Anchorage airport, waiting for our flight to Fairbanks. Can't see any Moose - but all that means is that there aren't any on the runway - phew.
I'm wondering if the next plane will be smaller still, the landing of the last one was...interesting.

Today's Whisky's birthday, but so far, attempts to teach him to read have failed, so I know he won't be watching the blog.

We are.....

.....on the plane to Anchorage. Seattle is wired in more than one way.

Monday, 12 July 2010

And so.....

...we have arrived in Seattle. Hohum. We had booked a hotel room through hotwire, since our flight leaves so early tomorrow, and we had booked a room with twin beds. Ahhhh...but in Seattle, same-sex is standard, so we told our room had a king-sized bed. We changed that. We went up to our room. We put the credit card thingy in the door, we threw the bedroom door open....and clearly it was occupied. We went 'huh!' Then we went 'huh' again. We shut the door. We re-grouped. We prepared to go downstairs and remonstrate, but then the receptionist who had given us the keys caught up with us. I felt that, given the situation, her embarrassment was far too mild. But whatevs. It's Seattle.

The Excellent Adventure...

....will continue as and when I get internet connection.
Tomorrow we fly to Alaska.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


Apparently no undue after effects from the Grouse Grind, damned hot during the night though, the a/c seemed to have developed AI and turned up its own override temp.

This morning church, this avo, kayaking and a heron led us to this eagle's nest. This evening, Dr. Who and True Blood. A splendid day all told.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Grind

Yesterday, Dawn and I did the Drive - we sweltered - and then downtown Vancouver - slightly occluded sky. In the evening we saw Anthony and Cleopatra at Bard on the Beach - perfect temp.

Today we did The Grind. No, not that kind of grind, the Grouse Grind.
Holy Mary Mother of God.
I'm not sure how we got up that mountain but we did. At the top, there was a lovely mist tent, divine. Every few yards I thought I was going to expire.

As you start up the mountain, people can still talk, their voices clanged, broke into my zone, stressed me, it reminded me of the RS Thomas poem that thinks of God listening to our incessant voices for eternity.
As we got further into the torture, there was less noise, just the wheezing and heavy breathing of people who couldn't remember how or why they had started this.

God's stairmaster got steeper and steeper and more difficult to climb. I looked down and wondered why a religion would develop that required people to never cut their hair and to wear fabric around it, in a country as hot as India.

Dawn and I knew we'd get there eventually, it just seemed that night may fall before we did. Kevin had done it last year, he had more faith.

We reached the top after two and a half hours. On the electronic reader board at the top, the current best time for a female under the age of 13, was 54 minutes. I'd have wept, but I didn't care. I had my poutine and a pass to get down.
I mustn't grumble, we'd chosen to do it and I hear you have to do more strenuous things in the Israeli army.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Am I hot and bovvered? Hell yeah!

Dawn and I have been doing local stuff for local people. Visiting my wimminz. Oh, and the picturesque city of Richmond. And we have been sweltering. The poor puppy was walked off his little legs and his tongue was panting overtime. At this point I realised that in quaint little Steveston, what was missing was somewhere to just buy a bottle of water. Then I double realised that in quaint little Steveston, nice ladies invite you into their shops WITH your poor, panting puppy and put out a bowl of water for him. He was so tired this evening, another dog walker in the park remarked on what a calm dog he was.
'Not usually,' sez I.

Thank god for A/C. It has been on for 24 hours now and the temperature inside the house has been rendered tolerable.

Tomorrow we do Vancouver. Van-cougar. We're going to go to all the gayest places.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


The Static comes with its own flagpole, presumably so that one can show allegiance to one's own flag.
Personally, I favour the Jolly Roger, sadly however, this has been well and truly spoilt for me by a neighbour of Kev's parents, who flies the Jolly Roger plus a truckload of other jolly stuff everytime he is at his Static. He also has a cutlass and a parrot, ooh ar Jim-lad. I think we get yer drift my hearty.

My second choice is the flag of the European Union, although you have to keep updating that according to how many member states there are at any given time.
I'm waiting for Greece to be chucked out.

The Fleur-de-Lys of Québec also appeals, just to be contrary really.

Apparently the Queen has her own Canadian standard which she used to fly when in Canada even before the Maple Leaf was thought of, but flying that might be one of those things you can still technically be executed for, like making knickers from the Union Flag; High Treason is still punishable by death.

The other thing is, I think Brownies and Guides has over-complicated flag flying for me. I'm sure it was really important to know how to properly fold a flag and even which knots were appropriate in its furling and unfurling, and there was certainly a lot of hoisting and slowly un-hoisting whilst singing Taps, but I don't ever remember any attaching. Still, how difficult can it be? I can probably google it.

At present, our flagpole needs painting and the only thing being run up it are a whole slew of bird feeders, baths and general feathered friend paraphernalia.
Maybe a pair of stout grandma drawers might be just the thing to show my pride, or maybe there's a Pride flag to show solidarity.

So long as there are no red flags.

Monday, 5 July 2010


Cripes, a whole week without blogging. Well I've been five days without internet access and that was rather annoying.

Mercury must be retrograde because we've been five days without post too. Our bloody postboxes have been vandalised.
Canada Post, in its infinite wisdom, feels it unnecessary to deliver post to our doors, so it makes us have a bunch of pigeon holes with lockable covers. Sadly, they seem to be made from aluminium and thus easy to jimmy open. The Friday before last, mercifully after I'd collected our post, this is exactly what happened. In spite of the Post Office having a legal obligation to deliver your post to you, they don't. In fact, the boxes belong to us, and we have to replace them, at a cost of $4,000 the set. AND....we have to schlepp down to the sorting office between the hours of 10.00 and 14.00 or some equally ridiculous time frame, and collect our own mail.
I did this today.

The lady who helped me kept shaking her head and saying how terrible it is that it's going to take so long to replace the boxes. She said it was down to the property manager. I told her that in fact, the people who make these mail box systems have a backlog - it turns out they are easily vandalised, who knew!? - and we won't be getting a new one until September or October.

She handed me one piece of post. She said that couldn't be right and went off to search in the bowels of the sorting office for more. She came back and shook her head once more. She wondered whether 'he' (presumably the postie) had decided to take the mail out anyway to see whether the boxes had been repaired.
Oh well.

Meanwhile, at the weekend retreat, the trailer which shall henceforth be known as 'The Static', the U.S. Americans seemed to be celebrating the fourth of July on the third of July. Fireworks were going off all day, intermittently, there was a pool party in and around the family pool and somehow, a siren seemed to also be going all day. By the time we woke up on the fourth itself, everything seemed to be still and silent. Well, except for the siren which we could hear feebly going in the distance.

In the woodland area of the park, life carried on much as usual, children played, dogs went for walks along the trails and people sat out in their little gardens, and in the evenings had fires in their firepits.
One of them, having been reminded by friends about a week-and-a-half ago of the existence of Pimms, had been longing for same since then, and had been unable to get any, but she suffered (mostly) silently.

The other side of the swimming pools and tennis courts, there is a covered wagon, such as would have carried families across the wild west. The other side of the covered wagon are the real RVs, the ones that actually go somewhere, and they are all parked on a gravelled area around the garbage bins.

In the 'adult pool', the one in which I swim lengths and then leave, there were some lads and their ladies, probably, I decided, from the gravelly area, messing about. One of the girls told the lads not to splash the lady (me). 'Can't you read?' she asked the lad, pointing at the list of rules, printed at the insistence of Whatcom County.
'No horseplay' it says.
'I definitely think that's Horseplay,' I said.
I love the word Horseplay, it covers a multitude of tentative sins.

The sign also says you have to be 21.

The lads and lasses looked sheepish and then the girls made the boys get out. I think it's because they heard my English accent.
Tim Roth has done wonders for us Brits on this side of the Pond.