Just Deserts (Part 1 of n)

29 03 2014

I spent my formative years in a small town in Yorkshire. In the North of England. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable childhood. No lurid skeletons in my family closet or anything of that nature.

One of the things that typified an upbringing in these relatively quiet backwaters in the 70′s was an expectation that this was pretty much “it”. It’s not that my school friends were in-bred or anything, but 40 odd years later, let’s just say many of them still have the same post-code! My grand-parents lived a whole 45 miles away in a coal mining town called South Elmsall, where both my parents were raised and met. My father became a policeman and was posted a galaxy away to Silsden… 45 miles West.

As a growing child I remember that a visit to my grandparents was a weekend affair. It took an hour and 20 minutes to drive the 45 miles, and there was no way one could contemplate the return trip on the same day! As I’ve grown older I’ve never really understood that barrier. Plainly roads and cars were a lot less capable than today, but I think it was more a mental obstacle.

So, there I was growing up no more malcontent than any other male youth in human history, and fully expecting to die within spitting distance of where I grew up, when two separate things happened. Firstly, an elderly lady (she must have been at least my age now!) that my mother used to keep an eye on went to visit her daughter in “Beautiful British Columbia”. I vaguely recall the daughter lived in Victoria on the Island, but I might be wrong. Anyway, this dear old lady (Mrs Berry was her name) knew I was a bit of a nerd, and on her return presented me with a huge armful of travel brochures and mementos of her trip. There were train brochures from the coast-to-coast trip she’d taken, photos of Niagara, and endless photos of the greenest trees I had ever seen. I was sold. Before I died I was DEFINITELY going to visit Canada.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that I have been an avid book reader since I figured out how to stop my lips moving. Another aspect of my willingness to consider broader horizons was that I earnt a scholarship to the “local” grammar school. It was a whole 15 miles away in Bradford, and my erstwhile schoolmates couldn’t believe I was going to catch 4 buses a day and spend 3 hours getting to and from school when the local comprehensive was just down the road. But that was 3 very useful hours. Many a French (or Latin) vocab. test was passed because it had been studied in the last 30 minutes of a bus ride and was still fresh as I wrote the test. And many a book was consumed on the back seat of a West Yorkshire Traction double-decker.

One such book was “Running Blind” by Desmond Bagley. This was the usual action book in the Hammond Innes, Jack Higgins, Alastair McLean mould. But it had a profound effect on me. It was set in Iceland, and the descriptions blew me away. I decided there and then that Iceland too would need to feel the tread of my step before I finally popped my clogs.

So there you have it. Two different but influential experiences on a growing lad that made me think that perhaps there was something more life could offer than even the grandest county in the land. Fast forward a year or two. Or 40. And I have visited every continent except Antarctica. I now live in BC, and have met some amazing people and shared some amazing experiences. Some uncomfortable, wet and very cold, though no less wonderful for all that. And this year I will turn 50. What more perfect an occasion to finally visit Iceland?

OK – so things don’t always work out the way we hope, and we actually spent a week of Spring Break visiting the States. I had a list of deserts I’d like to photograph, and we set off to bag as many as we could.

Desert Trip Route

Desert Trip Route

Meh – Iceland, Arizona… we were all equal in the end (Pink Floyd – Two Suns in the Sunset, Final Cut… don’t listen to it if you’re a manic depressive, despite its awesomeness).

Saturday

We had decided to fly out of Bellingham on Allegiant. Cheap and not very cheerful. Mr & Mrs Elephant were accompanied by our youngest since we figured it was safer than leaving a 15 year old lad alone in the house for a week! The obliging parents of his girlfriend even offered to look after our devil-dog, so it all looked set for a relaxing week. Allegiant nickel and dime you for everything, so we opted to travel light and the three of us shared a single suitcase (they charge for carry-on too: $50!), and we pre-paid online to get a cheaper deal on the one case. Parking was easy, check-in smooth, and though we had had to allow plenty of time in case of issues driving across the border, we boarded the plane with no incident (except for an elderly gentleman’s cap being blown off as he climbed the exposed ramp to the plane).

The flight was short, uneventful (always a good thing where flying is concerned) and the air reasonably clear. I’m often fascinated by the sights I see from an aeroplane and struggle afterwards to identify where they were. The artificially irrigated farms with their circular fields are always amusing, and I’m not sure if the snow-covered mountain was Mt. Rainier in Washington.

As soon as we arrived in Las Vegas I felt like I needed a shower. I don’t know what it is about that place, but it instantly makes me feel grubby. We had the usual interminable wait for our hire car, and despite having pre-booked, they were completely out of compacts. We actually ended up with a Ford Focus, and though it had leather trim and lots of electronic goodies… it definitely lacked something in the “oomph” department. The afternoon was already well advanced and we’d booked a hotel just a little out of town in Henderson to ease us in to the whole road-trip phenomena. Once we’d booked in and sorted ourselves out, we toodled off for some tea at “The Cheesecake Factory”. This was on the recommendation of 2nd born who had visited their Palm Springs emporium. It was not an unpleasant experience, but a little over-sold I think. I don’t feel the need to revisit before I shuffle off this mortal coil. It was the first time I’d ever ordered a salad and not been able to finish it though. Because it was huge, not because it was bad. Au contraire… I was eager to have it boxed up for a second round the following day. A relatively early night and we were all set for the first full day “on the road”.

Sunday

The forecast had been for cold, showery weather the entire week, and we were delighted that we had a sunny day instead. I hit the gym (it won) and Mrs E actually ran all the way to the Cheesecake Factory and back, just to make sure it was still there. We are a leisurely breakfast and headed off to Hoover Dam. No particular reason – when you’ve seen one hydro dam, you’ve seen them all – but it was along the way. The weather steadily improved and temperatures rose to almost 30°C. I know this because I’d fiddled with the car’s display and managed to get it to show the external temperature in Celsius since Fahrenheit meant nothing to me. (I did accidentally on purpose forget to set it back though, just to annoy the next renter who will almost certainly NOT be from Canada.) The waters behind the dam looked quite low and there was a telling white mark high up no the rocks showing where a more healthy level might be. The spillways were interesting and showed a mechanical barrier that could be lifted almost light an aeroplane’s wing flaps, to control flow over the spillway. I hadn’t really thought about it, but the dam crossed the state line and there were two clocks showing Nevada and Arizona time. Usually they’re an hour apart, one being Pacific, and the other Mountain time zones. But… Arizona has decided not to use Daylight Saving, so it didn’t advance its clocks for Summer, and they’re actually both at the same time for now. Except Navajo lands… they opted to use DST anyway, just for kicks. It was all too much for MrsE’s iPhone, but my BlackBerry seemed to figure it out just fine. My salad from the previous evening was a little tepid when we ate lunch, but still crisp and tasty. We were discussing Area 51 when we saw a custom painted van with an alien painted on the side. This van was nothing but a curiosity… until we noticed it in every town we stopped in all the way up to Moab!

After an amble around the gift shop and some photos of the Art Deco designs of the dam, we were off to Williams, South of the Grand Canyon. We chose to take the scenic route – literally – and took the old Route 66, for no other reason than it felt like a touristy thing to do!

There was a railway running parallel to the road for much of the way to Williams, and I was amused to see the same engines (BNSF) as sometimes run through White Rock, BC.

Williams is a sleepy little town, and after a nice barbecue dinner, we turned in for our first REALLY big desert day. Tomorrow we were off to see the Grand Canyon… on a train!

To be continued…





Marvel-ous!

6 02 2014

This little four year old didn’t want to wear his hearing aid because “super-heroes don’t wear hearing aids”. His mum told Marvel… and now they do! Kudos.

Marvel Comics creates superhero in honor of NH boy – Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston.





Food, glorious food…

26 01 2014

1 2, 1 2…

Testing…

Testing, 1 2…

Mary had a little lamb, the vet he was confused, ’cause Mary is a Jersey cow…

Wow – the editor seems to still work! I thought perhaps my connection to Quieter Elephant might have ceased. The conduit through which thoughts and opinions once flowed so readily might perhaps have healed over from disuse.

It’s been weeks if indeed not months since I sat here at my trusty PC and began to type more than a brief quip on some friend’s Facebook page, or merely share someone else’s original thought. I fool myself it’s because I’ve been short of ideas, or perhaps too busy. The truth I know is really that, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. But I missed it. I missed the mechanics of sitting and expressing myself through the written word.

And the reason for my change of heart? Convoluted, I know… but it’s Netflix. They give you a free month’s trial when you sign up, and just before Christmas we did just that to see what we thought. Along with pretty much everyone else who’s tried it, we each “binge-watched” some series or other. I caught up on a couple of seasons of Dexter, checked out 4 seasons of Weeds and moved on to Californication. The latter, it seems, put me back in touch with my inner sex addict writer.

Hank, the lead character, is a novelist who (in between having sex with anything female that’s still breathing) is trying to regain his writing mojo. He loves the power of the written word, and somehow it spoke to my own sleeping wordsmith and prompted me to put forth some froth.

So then – about what? It’s not like I’m short of opinions, or stuff that I’m sure the world at large would be glad to learn. As is often my wont though, an idea sprung unbidden. A theme that binds together several threads that have brushed my life recently. In this case… food.

Food is a pretty basic need. Good ol’ Maslow put it right at the foundation of his triangle. Alongside the more mundane “breathing” and the much less mundane “sex” (unless you’re doing it wrong). Because it’s so necessary, we (at least those of us with enough access to wealth and spare time to have the ability to be reading drivel like this on the internet) often take it for granted. It takes something pretty major for us to take more notice of what we eat. Perhaps we find ourselves shipwrecked and starving… suddenly finding enormous pleasure in simple foods like coconut and fish. And rediscovering the hitherto underestimated benefits of toilet roll and domestic plumbing. Or perhaps, as in my own case, we recklessly agree when our wives suggest we have a new kitchen fitted.

Now, our house is about 30 years old – nothing in the brick-built suburbs of England. The house we left there was built as World War II broke out, and was more than 60 years old when we passed it on to its next occupants. It had witnessed bombing raids on Bletchley railhead, and potentially known the mathematical geniuses that worked round the corned at Bletchley Park breaking Germany’s Enigma codes. Our home in Canada though was built in 1982 – the year I entered university. It’s an all-wood construction. 60 years is nothing for a well-built brick house, but somehow 30 seems very old indeed for what is basically a glorified shed!

It’s done us well though, and had a few upgrades along the way – including a general energy efficiency update, double glazing, new roof and the like. The kitchen though… well, it was undeniably a bit “meh”.

When all’s said and done it has to be admitted… I am a male of the species (we can debate later which species). It had cupboards, flat surfaces to attract the usual flying motes such as car keys, paper clips, empty yoghurt pots and the like, a fridge, running water, electricity. What more could you wish for?! Well… quite a lot, it transpires. Several tens of thousands of dollars worth of “more” in fact.

I did my level best to appear engaged when asked if I preferred one cupboard door to another. One fridge to another. (You’ll recall we had a perfectly functional fridge already.) I was inevitably caught out every time though. When asked if I preferred A to B, I was reminded that not 2 minutes previously I’d given the opposite answer. I hadn’t realised these were scientifically designed double-blind questions! It was not one of my finest moments.

Men simply don’t care about such things! I suspect we’d not even notice if the doors didn’t match, let alone prefer one style to another. I know I shouldn’t generalise so much (or so often). I’m sure there are men out there whose sensibilities are easily offended by mismatched appliances. Likely they even select their daily clothes based on some sense of style. In my experience however, men often dress based on what’s clean (if they’re fussy) and closest to hand. It was only when my daughter reached her teens and felt bold enough to voice her opinions of me that I discovered that one can apparently wear too many stripes (shirt and tie) and that certain colours simply shouldn’t be seen together on the same body. This was a great revelation to me, and shattered much of my world view along the way.

I do admit the sink tap dripped, and it annoyed me immensely. I had changed the washer once, but it had not solved the problem fully, and the dripping to waste of possibly an entire glassful of water a year was simply too much to bear for a Yorkshireman! I agreed to the “reno”, and my life was changed forever.

The first issue was that the new flooring required the lifting of the old vinyl flooring. It transpired that under the easily removed vinyl there was another layer. This however was stuck like the proverbial excreta to the equally proverbial blanket. Worse… as was often the case in the 70′s and very early 80′s… the backing material of this earlier vinyl contained asbestos. Not the deadly blue stuff, but still not to be taken lightly or sniffed at (as it were!) For the removal of the stubborn layer by paid professionals, it would require the full HazMat gear, polythene isolation of the kitchen area for the duration… and the addition of several thousand dollars more to our line of credit. To do it ourselves was just time and effort… and the double bagging of the removed material for proper disposal at the city dump. Not really much of a tough choice after all.

It began with a borrowed hot air gun. It escalated after a day to a Dremel orbital scraper, but concluded, almost inevitably one might say, with the purchase of two crowbars and a new 2lb hammer. Yup – it was easier to remove the entire layer of chipboard than to unstick the vinyl from said wooden subfloor. Along the way I learnt how therapeutic a certain amount of destruction can be. That and how prone to heartburn I am when exerting myself in a bent position for prolonged periods after eating.


Even this subfloor had been glued as well as nailed to the plywood underneath, and so despite all the hammering and crowbarring, there were still small islands of chipboard that refused to surrender to brute force. Enter the next phase… the blade scrapers! These are basically devious inventions to hold an entire length of X-acto snap-off blades in a handy gripper, so you can use them to slice off layers of flooring. Basically like a viciously sharp paint scraper. Even this didn’t complete the job, and once the proper contractors showed up to begin things, they took pity and brought in a power sander to finish off our efforts.

And then it began…

We were already a week into “the upset” as I shall euphemistically call it, simply from the steady removal of the floor. The day before the contractors arrived however, I learnt a new secret about our old kitchen. It’s actually a TARDIS! (“Bigger on the inside”). The contents of that one room needed to be removed to allow the replacement of the kitchen. Not unreasonable. How then, I ask you dear reader, can the contents of that single room subsequently fill up every flat surface in the rest of the entire house? I mean EVERY flat surface! If I didn’t know better, I would swear that the neighbours had ganged up and disposed of all their unwanted kitchen accessories through our back door as we were unloading the cupboards through into the dining room.

All that stuff needs to go SOMEWHERE!

All that stuff needs to go SOMEWHERE!

But the guys that are doing the kitchen were professionals. Within a single day they had totally removed the entire cabinetry. Sink and all. And removed our much-loathed “sunshine ceiling” – a lowered area that housed 6 part-time functioning strip lights. Over the intervening couple of weeks they have steadily refitted new lights, rewired and re-plumbed the kitchen and replaced drywall over much of the kitchen. The new super-smooth sub-floor went in on Friday and I repainted the walls and ceiling over this weekend. As of Monday, the new cabinets start to arrive.


But… for two weeks now, we have had no kitchen. It’s a little like camping… but less organised. We still have the fridge/freezer in the “play room”. Rooms of a house gain labels very quickly and they outlive their original use. Our children were very young when we moved in. One room was assigned as their messy toy-strewn haven. It’s now largely a library/TV room, but still carries the name “play room”. Now it is dominated by a largely empty fridge. There’s a microwave and toaster in the dining room… but no free flat surface to actually prepare anything more complex than a tin of soup or the occasional bagel. Tea is readily on hand and everything else is a distant second. My son still lives with us and has suddenly found an ability to cadge various meals from the families of his close friends… on a pretty ingenious rotation I’ll add.

Suddenly then, simple foods have taken on a new pleasure. I really enjoyed a bunch of grapes the other day. The way Walker’s shortbread crumbles in one’s mouth was rediscovered. Of course we have occasionally eaten out, but that is an expensive strategy which is best avoided.

Contrast then my recent experiences in Salt Lake City. A week or so ago I attended a supplier’s sales kick-off meeting there. I arrived mid evening and was impressed at the suite of rooms assigned me. Even more impressive was the huge bowl of fruit. I really enjoyed the grapes, blueberries, oddly large blackberries and banana. As I devoured each layer of fruit, other delights were revealed beneath. I stopped though when I discovered several large strawberries. They were almost as large as the pear! Worse… the pear was the colour and texture of an apple. I have never seen a rosy red pear before. I’m sure they were totally fine, but the word “Mon-san-to” kept wafting eerily before my eyes, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being outlived by the contents of my lower intestine.

Strawberries just shouldn't be that large...

Strawberries just shouldn’t be that large…

After an internal struggle that included the discovery that my Netflix account gave me access to different options in the US than it did in BC, I eventually relented and went to the restaurant for dinner. I ordered the pork shank and was left with a plate of bread to while away the time. It was beautifully presented and the thin crackers were described as Lavash bread. They were interesting, though I’m not sure they were entirely authentic, since my understanding is that Armenian lavash bread is more like pita bread. I concluded with a lovely glass of 20 year old port (though struggled to make my desires known until the waiter scuttled off to find an English waitress to help translate).

A lavish Lavash spread

A lavish Lavash spread

The next evening, the company held a team building event at the Salt Lake City Culinary Center, and a great time was had by all. The staff guided us through the creation of what was essentially chicken strips and pasta, but somehow looked and tasted so much more intricate. Pumpkin seeds were involved. Handmade ravioli. There was wine too. Hence the sketchy details. No idea what the cost was, but if you live in Utah and are looking for a team event – do it!

At the other end of the culinary extreme was my experience of last Wednesday. I went to LA for the day. Less really – about 7 hours “on the job”. I was up at 4am for a 7am flight, and breakfast was a cup of tea at Starbucks in YVR. Lunch (and I use the term in the loosest of terms possible) was some burger thing from Jack in the Box. It hit all the expected pleasure sensors and was therefore almost certainly extremely bad for me. Afternoon tea was a pint of beer in some bar, and the several hours I had to wait in LAX for my flight home (delayed) were broken only by two more cups of Starbucks’ astronomically priced tea and some wood-carving that was masquerading as a sandwich. Still – I was tucked up in bed by 2am on Thursday, so it wasn’t all bad. Just mostly!

There was one small highlight to the day in LA though. Whilst we were sat waiting for some lights to change in Inglewood, I happened to look sideways and saw a doughnut stand. It was the very same one used in the opening credits of Californication. On Netflix.

And so the world turns…

Californication at Randy's

Californication at Randy’s

 





The times have changed…

2 12 2013

But not as much as we might think!

Check out Bored Panda for some dated adverts that would surely be banned these days.

Bored Panda: Vintage Ads No. 12

I’m not a climber myself, but I know a couple, and they’d have an issue with the line “On a mountain they’re something of a drag”.

I posit that things aren’t so different these days though – we’re just a lot more subtle… except where car/motorbike sales are concerned of course.

 





On the nature of humans…

30 11 2013

Are you quick to judge?

Prone to speak before you’ve checked the facts?

No? Must be just me then…

Of course, it’s not something I’m proud of, or that I choose to do – I do tend to look before I leap… but there are times, I confess.

We all seem to have assumptions and pre-conceptions. They range from “flames tend to be hot – best not to test this specific one with my finger” through to “it’s best not to trust politicians  - at least while they’re alive”.

Yesterday my colleague told me that he’d heard something on the illustrious CBC Radio 1. There’d been a piece about how the Canadian government had engaged a consultant to teach Canadian businessmen how to speak with “British accents” to help their negotiations run more smoothly. Naturally this spun off into a self-fuelled rant as we fed off each other, and we agreed that it was ridiculous (first clue), and that any North American trying to “put a cockney at ease” by speaking in their own accent would likely turn out at least as bad as Dick van Dyke‘s “Bert” in Mary Poppins. Worse – they’d likely be knifed or otherwise assaulted at some point in the proceedings.

I of course, being all superior and pious, had additional issues with the mere phrase “British accent”. I kept bleating on about there being four countries in Great Britain – not including the various islands (Yes – the UK is the “mainland”… ;) ) – and that each of them had more accents per square mile than Canada had voters. Or possibly even trees for that matter. This was all easy self-reinforcing bias, and supported the pre-existing assumptions that (i) governments in general were keen to spend our tax money on silly things, (ii) teaching anyone an accent was inherently going to fail – Meryl Streep‘s excellent rendition of Maggie notwithstanding – and most importantly (iii) Dick van Dyke may not be able to act, but he makes a great penguin.

Not a proud moment in QE’s life. Nor, I’m further ashamed to say, an uncommon one.

Fast forward to today when a friend posted on Facebook the following story:

Town in Montana changes its name to Banff Alberta Canada

CBC: According to Mr. Landers, Banff Alberta Canada, Montana is not near the mountains but it does have a great local theatre company for tourists to enjoy. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ridiculous, right? (Déjà vu!)

But wait –  let’s not forget about Leavenworth, WA

Wikipedia: Leavenworth’s main street reflects its modelling on a Bavarian village

Reinventing the entire town as a Bavarian village just to increase tourism is completely batty, right?! Insisting that industry giants like Subway, Starbucks, etc. use signage “in keeping” with the theme (carved wooden hanging signs as in the above photo) is ludicrous, yes? Can’t be true… but it is.

So renaming a ghost-town in Montana to “Banff Alberta Canada” to lure unwary tourists isn’t really any less believable is it? And there of course enters “the bias”. The assumption that well, without putting too fine a point on it, it’s just the sort of thing “the Americans” would do, isn’t it? :)

It took all of a few minutes for someone to point out “You do know it’s a satirical program, right?” (I’ll forgive them the omission of the “me” at the end of programme, under the circumstances).

Ah! Burn…

I felt ashamed more than embarrassed. I was so totally ready to believe that this little town would rename itself. And based on what? Prejudice. Assumption that we wouldn’t do that, but they would. Us and them – the core of prejudice. I hadn’t even bothered to listen to the whole piece, and though the photos of the presenters looked a bit glib, I didn’t check further into their programme.

Then a thought…

Yup – sure enough, the CBC 1 programme to which my earnest colleague had referred earlier was the same one responsible for Banff Alberta Canada!

Canadian industry delegates learn to speak with British accent to improve trade relations

CBC: According to Mr. Theodore, the Canadian accent is perceived as unintellegent in the United Kingdom. (iStockPhoto)

Well – don’t I feel silly?!

Of course – the spirit of a good laugh is for it to be believable enough that the punchline is unexpected and funny. Because my colleague had himself believed it to be “straight”, and it played to all the accepted stereotypes, I too fell hook, line and sinker to his retelling. But now I know this programme is actually a satirical one… I’m actually pretty underwhelmed. If you were listening to it, knowing it was a satirical show, it’s a pretty blunt instrument! Or is that my prejudice speaking again?

But these deeply flawed aspects of human nature (at least as far as they are represented in my own case) are only part of the picture. Thankfully!

This morning I took the devil dog for a walk around the local duck ponds. Winter is well on its way, and the deciduous trees are all but bare now. But not quite…

Bigger berry Bauble Christmas cheer

Some local wit had placed about a dozen Christmas-tree baubles on various otherwise sparse trees around the ponds. Nothing too outlandish. No tinsel, for example. No garish lights as the municipality chooses to use elsewhere. Just one bauble per chosen tree, evenly spaced around the park. Yet somehow, these cheap dollar-store ornaments were uplifting as I trudged around in the rain. Someone had thought to do it. Do something unexpected. Worthy of note (at least by me). A bit like when soon-to-be-obsolete pennies appeared on the park benches.

What're you looking' at?

What’re you lookin’ at?

I met a couple of other locals on their morning constitution. One (who I have a sneaky suspicion may have had some involvement) agreed with me that they were a jolly addition to the park, and added a festive air. Another – a middle-aged lady with incongruous headphones disappearing into her pocketed iPod, and a keen and adept hand with mobile phone photography – asked me if I’d noticed the curious additions to the treescape. She too had been photographing them. Perhaps she has her own blog… We chatted briefly and went on our separate ways, smiling and happy at this brief most human of connections.

And as I walked home still grinning, I realised that perhaps this Christmas, if I really tried, I could perhaps be less cynical. These cheap plastic baubles had already caused me to have two friendly conversations with strangers. Even better – somewhere near me lived a kindred spirit. Someone who did weird stuff just for the hell of it. I wondered if it was the same person who had put the pennies out last year. I was in a good mood… and there hadn’t even been chocolate involved!

It would seem that despite my previous assumptions and prejudice, there really can be such a thing as Christmas cheer. A non-commercial, non-marketed, simple, pure, goodwill to others.

Humans can after all still do little things that bring pleasure and happiness to others. It could be an unexpected bauble in a tree (I’m willing to overlook the fact that it’s technically littering), or it could be a few dollars in a Sally Army fund-raising kettle.

But it’s not even December yet. Bah – humbug… :D





Death and all his friends

18 11 2013

So we live in a pretty nice crescent – totally residential, and with parks both inside and outside the crescent. There is a crossing to allow easy pedestrian access from the inner park to the outer one, crossing what should be a sedate residential street. The crossing is well marked with good visibility and signing, leaving nobody in any doubt to its presence… especially if you are local, as indeed 99% of car drivers taking the route would be. Unfortunately though, it is used as a bit of a “cut-through” as I have come to learn “short cuts” are known in these parts. This means that a large percentage of even local drivers speed around the crescent safe in the knowledge that the road network exists for their usage alone. I have observed that this is especially true as the driver matures and gains those oaky undertones. You know – the ones that help mask the incontinence and heavy smoking.

So today I took the dog for a walk and made use of said crossing. A man in his late 60′s screeched to a halt (at least that part of my story is positive) mere inches away from me as I made the crossing.

“What the hell are you doing crossing right now?” he yelled through his open window – apparently in all seriousness. Plainly my appearance on this crossing – clearly marked and signed, you’ll recall – was not anticipated.

I made the universally understood, puzzled “WTF?” expression, outstretched my arms to illustrate the clearly marked crossing I was on, and said “It’s a pedestrian crossing!” Suddenly unsure whether this possibly English term would be fully understood, I added “, you dork!” to illustrate I was not totally culturally insensitive.

“Well get a move on and get out of the way!” he yelled.

Suddenly struck with indecision as to whether to continue or turn back, I turned to face his people-carrier, stroked my chin, looked to the sky and said “I’m not so sure any more…”

At this point he made a wide turn to pass me on the other side of the road, at which point “Wanker!” seemed the only appropriate adieu on my part…

I was hit by a car on a light-controlled crossing (PELICAN they were called in those days) when I was about 15. Taken for an unplanned ride on a car bonnet for about 50m. Luckily I suffered no physical injuries. It has however made me particularly gnarly to deal with if you don’t respect the pedestrian crossings that I use in later life. I have yet to go as far as an old work colleague who actually stoved in a car bonnet when someone barely missed them at a crossing.

But it’s always an option…





Lest we forget… what it is we’re trying to remember.

11 11 2013

Listening to CBC’s coverage of Remembrance Day (it’s a public holiday here in BC – not just the nearest Sunday as in the UK).
Interesting how WW I was seen as “a grand adventure” at the time. Boys as young as 9 years old trying to sign up, pretending to be 18. Boys as young as 10 actually succeeding! Wearing an older brother’s clothes. The lack of TV or the internet hid the true horrors to most, unless they were directly involved. The idea was alluring – the reality brutal. A cruel way to grow up.

Just started reading John Buchan’s “The Thirty-nine Steps”. Didn’t realise he was the Governor General of Canada for a while. A very British book, yet page 1 mentions Vancouver. Kizmet! It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for years. My copy is an ex-school reader. Printed in 1951. Issued three times to schoolgirls in Pontefract, W. Workshire. Fell into someone’s “missing” list in 1954. It was originally written in 1915, and there’s definitely that air of high adventure, going off and fighting wars as almost “cool” – an urge thankfully more often filled by extreme sports today.

But that still raises the question why we seem so genetically pre-disposed (even under more sedate circumstances) to risk the lives that are so briefly given to our custodianship. Perhaps it’s as simple as a quote I recently read, attributed to feminist writer Rita Mae Brown: “If you’re afraid to die, you’re afraid to live. You can’t have one without the other.” We love to play games. We like to win. But you cannot win without incurring the risk to lose. To risk ones life – the ultimate wager – is to perhaps truly win one’s life. Perhaps we no longer need to fight to the death, thanks to ever more inventive “extreme activities”, but we do perhaps need the risk – or at least the perception of it – to truly feel alive.

Whatever their reasons for choosing (or being forced) to go to war – many did not return. I am saddened this year to read more nationalism than ever being expressed both here and in the UK around remembrance day. It has steadily become more about “supporting today’s veterans” than remembering the futility of war. There are huge centennial events being planned for 2014. Ieper/Ypres is expecting a bumper tourist trade for the whole 4 year period. The UK is planting millions of poppies across the whole country. I flew through Dusseldorf airport this last week, proudly wearing my poppy. I wore it to commemorate all those who lost their lives in war – particularly WW I – not as some nationalistic jingoism. It was not intended as a snub to the German people, though one older security checker gave me a gruff snort when he saw it. They felt no less horror and loss than did the allies. I object to history programmes referring indiscriminately to “Nazi troops” in reference to WW II, when in fact the bulk of German combatants were decent, honourable men fighting for their country just as their opponents were. The Nazis were in political power, but many of those dying in German uniforms were no more politically in favour than their enemies.

Let us remember.

Remember the fallen. All the fallen.

Remember that it was politicians who sent them to die and continue to do so.

Remember that it is power, greed and money that drives the decisions to conquer and invade, and for others to fight back in defence.

But remember also that many are oppressed by their own politicians and struggle to find tools other than weapons to resist.

Remember the solitary figure that stood in front of a tank in Tienanmen Square, and caused it to stop. A tank!

Remember how Gandhi sat and spun cotton… and evicted the British from India.

Remember that a gun is just an elaborate machine… that requires a human hand to turn it into a weapon. The same hand that can turn a cricket bat – designed for fun – into a weapon.

Remember we are the problem. Only we can be the solution.

Remember to choose.





daily odd compliment

14 10 2013

Spotted this over on Redamancy Lit. It spoke to the old softy in me.

daily odd compliment.





Speechless in Seattle

12 10 2013

OK – maybe not entirely speechless. It would take a most serious dose of laryngitis to render the Quieter Elephant completely silent. And let’s face it – the written word is more my medium than the spoken word at any time. My alter ego in real life… less so.

And maybe it was really more Bellingham than Seattle.

But that’s not the point! The point is, I couldn’t believe my ears, and was momentarily stunned.

This is the 21st Century!

In a supposedly well-educated, open-minded location too. (Washington State has to be up there in the “most liberal” listings. It’s just made marijuana legal after all. Even BC hasn’t managed to go there yet!)

From a student no less! Generally the most open-minded and progressive of thinkers.

A very obviously gay one to-boot!

So what’s riled me up so much? Well since you ask…

We went to REI near Bellingham today. We get a 20% discount this week, and we are in need of some new hiking boots and snow-shoes. The prices at REI are dollar for dollar the same as MEC, but they carry some different brands, the WA taxes are a little lower which offsets the no longer quite at parity Canadian dollar, and the 20% discount more than makes up for the fuel. So we enjoyed a little ferkle around the store and spent far too much despite the discount.

As a reward for this exertion, we piled en masse into Starbucks, across the car-park. Now this shopping area also hosts an outpost of the University of Western Washington, so the layout in Starbucks is a little more austere than usual and provides bench tables and wooden chairs in the assumption that most people will be there to use the free WiFi and there’s slightly less chance of them staying all day on the price of a single drip coffee if the chairs give you a numb bum. There were a couple of more Starbucks-esque comfy chairs, but these too seemed to have been re-purposed as temporary housing for student bodies.

No problem – we were only there for the duration of a London Fog and in the case of last-born, a sticky item of baked goods. We found three adjacent chairs at the refectory table and broke out the mobile phones to update the interwebs on our latest movements. [How lame...]

So I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed last night at the VIFF festival and seen That Burning Feeling – do go and watch it when it comes out on general release next year. Excellent stuff. A rom-com about gonorrhoea. Or Vancouver. Or unscrupulous property developers. Or what’s really important in relationships. Or something…

Always being one to make sure people are aware when I appreciate something, I’d posted my enjoyment of the film on the FB page of one of the actresses who had also taken part in a Q&A in the cinema after the screening. I mentioned to my son that she’d been gracious enough to acknowledge my remark and I was surprised. He asked where she was from, and I’d said that I believed she was from Vancouver. “Oo – those Canadians” he remarked in an ironic tone that I freely admit could be taken a million other ways by those not deeply steeped in British humour, irony, sarcasm and other subtleties.

If you need more convincing, check out the example translation matrix here:

 

But then, this pimply youth sitting next to us chirped in “Yeah – we hate them too!”

Mrs E, last-born and myself looked aghast at each other in turn. Had he just (i) been ear-wigging at our private conversation and worse… (ii) interjected a comment?!

We were horrified. On a number of levels. Firstly, there is the obvious misinterpretation of my son’s ironic remark as being negative. I could actually forgive that as I know very well that English humour can flummox even the most sophisticated follower. My son was actually implying – for humorous effect – that said actress had somehow flirted with me. (Itself highly amusing, given its improbability).  But that some random stranger should cross that invisible social barrier necessary in public spaces that allows us to pretend that our conversations are simply between ourselves! To a Brit, that is unforgivable.

Hell – we barely communicate with each other except through minuscule signals and complex innuendos. I’m sure that the total horror of Halloween is not realised for the non-English immigrant to North America. Imagine a continuous stream of random strangers knocking on your door – invading your privacy no less – and then actually expecting you to give them something before they leave! Incredible!! That, my dear reader, is called extortion! ;)

Worst for me though… this student had demonstrated his narrow-mindedness in assuming that just because we sounded English we could not be Canadian or take offence at his remark.

I was really pleased with myself for not pointing out that we at least had an operating government, but decided he likely wouldn’t get the sarcasm since linguistic subtlety seemed beyond his ken. Nor would he realise that the open-mindedness that allowed him, as a very obvious gay, to sit unmolested in complete safety and acceptance was the very same tolerance that should not permit such blatant racism.

And then I took a deep breath.

All those times I’ve poked fun at Americans… they just came home to bite, didn’t they?

In a small way it was like 9/11. You don’t really understand racism, terrorism, sexism or indeed any other attack, until it’s aimed at you. I had never, in my nearly 50 years felt anything like a racist attack. I’m white, male, middle class. Yet this careless remark from a kid who probably thought nothing of it had really struck home.

I suddenly understood why with the best intentions, my support of feminist ideals was hollow. I could never truly understand what it felt like to be passed over simply for my gender. Or my colour, race, (lack of) religion, and a thousand other traits that I was currently classed as “normal” or “dominant” in.

Yet here, in a very small way, I had felt the sting of racism. And I realised something very important in that brief moment…

I was very proud to call myself Canadian.





The beginning of love …

22 08 2013

Quieter Elephant:

How easy it is to forget what originally attracts us to someone, and to respect them enough to let them grow and change as we ourselves surely do.

Originally posted on Redamancy Lit:

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.

- Thomas Merton

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