Open your eyes

19 10 2013

It’s been foggy in the Lower Mainland for a few days. Quite mild, but pretty murky. It adds a dampness, without actually raining.

It was as if it highlighted every spider’s web in every bush and shrub. It added sheen to all the autumn leaves just waiting for their command to let go of their particular branch. But there were still some flowers in full colour.

I had just a few minutes playing with my camera, but I felt so calm and relaxed afterwards. Looking at nature slowly and deliberately as one does through a lens.

How much there is to see, if only we’d take the time to look.

Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.





Depends how you look at it…

20 06 2013

It’s Thursday today.

I’ve tried to do the Grouse Grind regularly on Thursdays, after work. Today was my fifth time this season. Tenth since I paid for the timer chip and started officially recording my ascents last August. The first time I ever got officially timed (last year) I did it in an hour and 20 minutes. Not especially quick but I was quite pleased with it. You may recall that last April I did the Sun Run for the first time, and so by August I was arguably reasonably limber. Well – compared to my former self. The other timings of the year didn’t bear that out though, and on average I was a round 1:30.

If you have the timer chip, your time is displayed on a wide screen monitor at the top of Grouse in the chalet. It’s quite scary to see. There are plenty of people with times in the 30-40 minute range. There are also plenty of names that appear multiple times – meaning the person has ascended the Grouse multiple times that day alone. Last week a name was there TEN times. The slowest time was still less than an hour! It’s only about 3km, but it’s 1,231m high… and there’s a lot of steps. Some natural, some man-made to minimise the erosion.

I began this season reasonably well with an hour and 26. The next couple of times I was within a few seconds at around 1:24. Things were looking up. I might even be getting fitter, and might get back to last year’s all-time best! (I’m also trying to lose some weight and generally try and not die any time soon).

Then came last week. I was 30 minutes slower at 1:56. Weird! A whole half hour slower?! It was really humid though, and the top of the mountain was actually shrouded in cloud. I’m not making excuses you understand… I just couldn’t figure out how I could suddenly be so much slower. I was actually overtaken by the “sweepers” – a couple of super-fit Search and Rescue lads whose role is to amble up the Grind after the gate is locked and nominally nobody else is ascending that day. (In practice people circumvent the fencing, so plenty of people popped out at the top even after I made it up there). I did question the benefit of having sweepers at all if they actually left stragglers (me) behind, but I guess that given the fact that there was no practical way (due to fence hoppers) of telling who the last person actually was, it made no difference.

Anyway tonight it rained. A lot. I ummed and ahhed about whether to go at all. Nominally my son was going to take the SkyRide and wait at the top taking photos until I burst magnificently into the late sunshine out of the woods at the top of the Grind. He bottled out due to the bad weather. Or maybe because his girlfriend made him a better offer. Not sure. It may be a pertinent fact that as I write this at 11:45pm he has yet to come home.

Anyway – I got decidedly wet on the Grind. It’s a tough call for appropriate clothing. You want to travel light, typically in running gear with rugged trainers, contrary to the usual scout “be prepared” preference I’d have – carrying a 75l rucksack with stuff that would allow me to live comfortably on the mountain for a week no matter what happened. I tend to actually carry a small day sack – primarily to hold a 1l water bottle and leave my hands free. I also carry a lightweight fleece jumper in case I meet a nasty accident and have to wait for an extended period waiting for the embarrassing rescue that hopefully would arrive eventually.

(When hiking or going into the back-country ALWAYS tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back in contact. Nobody plans to have an accident…).

Today though – I half expected it’d still be raining, so I also took my super lightweight running shell. It’s not really that waterproof, but it cuts the wind and helps keep you warm if you need it.

And a cap. I’m not big on caps, but I wear glasses. Glasses are really good at correcting faulty vision… unless they steam up or get rained on (I wore contacts for many years purely to avoid steamed up glasses when I transitioned from wet dales hikes in Yorkshire to the “prize” of a pub at the end). A cheap peaked cap does wonders to keep the bulk of the “liquid sunshine” – as we call it Vancouver – off your glasses. I set off in reasonable time (i.e. I wasn’t caught up by the sweepers this week), but by the half-way mark, I was already at an hour, and it was obvious that I’d be logging another poor time. And this started me thinking of an earlier conversation I’d had about the psychology of challenges.

Many years ago, I was a Venture Scout Leader in the UK. I took a group of teenagers on a challenge hike – 40 miles overnight around the moors around Sheffield. The route passed various TV aerial masts, and was called The Masters Hike. It snowed. A couple of the teens wanted to drop out and despite my cajoling them through one more checkpoint, they finally quit. I exited the event at the same checkpoint. As we waited the 10 minutes or so for the “body wagon” – a long wheelbase Landy – to pick us up with the other folk exiting at that checkpoint, I got my second breath. Too late – I was already marked as “out”.

It was a huge lesson to me. I was about 25 at the time, and I vowed I would never quit such an event again purely on “mental grounds”. After that I went on to do many other challenge hikes including “Endurance 80” – an 80km (50mi), 24hr hike through the night. Glad to see that one’s still going strong.

So every time I start up the Grind, I have these little arguments in my head.

“Are you mad?

Eh?

Are you mad? You’re nearly 50!

So?

You’re pre-diabetic and have a heart problem.

Again – so?

Well this is just asking for trouble. You’ve barely started and you’re panting.

It’s good for you. It’s called “cardio”. The doctor said I should do more of it…”

And so it goes on – often all the way up to the halfway mark, at which juncture I point out to myself that even if I were to give in, it’s as far to the start as it is to the end, so I might as well continue. But behind it all is the memory of that terrible feeling I had as a young pup when I gave in for no other reason than a weak mental moment.

And so I keep going.

One. More. Step.

That’s one closer to the end. Well – do it again then!

And so on. Despite often sounding like Thomas the Tank Engine when I finally emerge at the top, I am rarely achy or physically exhausted. It’s way more a mental challenge than a physical one.

And the point of all this diatribe, you might ask?  Having taken 1:50 tonight, I initially thought “You’re getting old. Slowing down. Everyone passed you. You’re last”.

But then I thought:

“Yes. But I finished. That’s 10 Grouse Grinds since I started logging them. Probably about 15 altogether. All these people were faster than me today. But what about all those who are at home watching TV? Or who caught the SkyRide up to the top? How many of them have even done it once?”

And I smiled. And I ordered my usual cup of tea and fruit scone in the café. And I felt smug as I rode the SkyRide back down… 20 years the senior of everyone else who was muddy and in shorts.

I hope to keep winning the arguments with myself.





Early morning rush

2 06 2013

So I’m not great in the morning. I look forward to the weekend when there’s no early morning con-calls with Europe or any need to try and beat the Massey Tunnel rat race before it clogs up worse than a student toilet.

No – weekends, and in particular Sundays are for lie-ins. Sometimes I’m as decadent as to lie there until 8 o’clock. Not today though. No, today I was on the road by 7:15 and heading for Vancouver. In a moment of weakness I’d signed up for the company team entry to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation ChildRun 2013.

FDN BANNER LONG–ChildRun 2013

I figured after the 10km Vancouver SunRun in April that this would be a doddle. Even better, the company was paying for my entrance fee. All I had to do was turn up and run. It’s definitely a smaller affair than the premier SunRun… but it’s got a very different rationale. It’s actually a Fun Run. There were lots of kids of all ages taking part – and I was soundly over-taken by many who were only a third of my height. It was quite heartening really. We hear so much about how unfit our kids are – sat in front of TV screens, listening to their iPods and playing video games. But here was a group of kids of all ages and ethnicities out in the early (-ish) morning sunshine and being active. Of course – I also passed quite a few of them walking, but at least they were there. (I really must get a T-shirt with “50th year, Overweight, Pre-diabetic, Heart arrhythmia… and in front of you!”)

A few were there only because their super-fit Lululemon-clad parents had bullied them into it, but by and large, most seemed to be there of their own volition. There was no super-accurate start; no timer chip; no first prize for the “winner”. This was an event. A happening. The only race was against yourself. I overheard one little chap complaining to his mother than other kids were cutting the corners as the race wound through Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. She laughed and said “they are only cheating themselves – we’ll follow the proper route”. A small lesson, but a powerful one. I was once impressed during a Scout Leader training course when moral fibre was defined to trainees as “what you do in the woods when nobody’s watching”. If you cheat when there’s only yourself measuring, what does that say about your standards?

On paper, the route looked plain enough. I wasn’t familiar with the area, so got quite a shock when a few metres past the half way mark, the route took a 90 degree turn to the right… and almost the same vertically! I’m sure in practice it wasn’t that steep at all, but it felt bad. The Sun Run has a similar “are you sure you want to do this?” moment, just as you turn to climb up to the Burrard Bridge. I decided I’d just dig in and reduce my stride, but keep “running”. At this point a few lithe souls cruised past me without breaking into a sweat, and my breath was definitely a bit ragged. I recalled an English lesson when I was about 11 or 12, when we were learning about puns, similes, metaphors and the like. The example was “His breath came in short pants”. I chuckled then. I chuckled now. But I was definitely on the edge of “let’s just walk for a bit”.

Then I saw a sign at the side of the road. It said “Pain is only temporary. Have courage and keep going“. Something along those lines anyway. And I got to thinking. Why was I even doing this run? It was a fund-raiser for the Children’s Hospital. Specifically for the cancer care and research part. And I thought about it. I had chosen to enter this event. I had therefore inherently chosen to undergo this temporary inconvenience and discomfort. But the kids in the hospital had had no choice. They were there through some cruel twist of fate. Some as yet poorly understood mechanism of nature that bestowed cancer upon them. A genetic propensity perhaps. Some food sensitivity. Walking past some chemical emission at the wrong time. Any or all of the above. But not a choice they had any part in.

And I remembered the video clips and pictures so carefully selected by the marketing geniuses for this and similar charities. Of kids with bald heads from the side-effects of chemo treatment. Crippled or bed-ridden from their internal fight against the disease. But with a smile. A laugh. A joy in life. They had no choice but to accept their pain, yet still found that joy that every child deserves. And I realised that though we may call it “courage”, they call it “life”. And suddenly I was at the top of the hill, snagging a cup of water, and depositing the empty vessel into a bin bag helpfully held out by a fireman volunteering on his day off. Another little kid (who let’s be clear – had been ahead of me until this point!) was enquiring of his mother why other folk were discarding their paper cups on the roadside. “Because they’re litter bugs” she said. Kudos. Even in a “race”, there’s no reason to make more work than necessary for all the volunteers who are giving of their own time to make the event run smoothly. This kid was getting a great grounding in acceptable behaviour for a Canadian – social awareness, looking out for your fellow citizens, respect for others, and a healthy outlook. My faith in humanity was ever so slightly restored.

From there it was downhill and flat, and our merry throng soon got to the 4km mark and passed the tail end of the 1km walkers as they embarked on their own little demonstration of solidarity and support in the opposite direction. But then…

… I turned the corner and someone had transplanted Everest to Vancouver. Where had that last hill come from? That can’t be right! Why would a race organiser put a bloody great hill up to the finish line?! Nothing for it now. Dig in, keep the momentum, and keep right on truckin’…

We’re funny animals us humans. Sat in the calm of your living room with a cup of tea and a digestive you really would not credit the effect that a friendly voice of support can have on your physical being. But a few young ladies waving pom-poms and yelling “you’re nearly there – keep going”, or random strangers clapping and cheering really can do that. That tone of support from the crowds lining the finish stretch really do have a positive effect. Your legs suddenly find energy you were convinced you didn’t have, and you somehow keep going. And then you’re over the line and it’s all over. A smiley-faced volunteer presses a  participation medal into your hand, and it’s off to find a banana and a drink of juice.

It wasn’t really a race. But I beat Mrs E for the first time ever. Just sayin’… ;)

So, feeling quite pleased with myself, we wandered back to the car – parked in the Children’s Hospital. And as we did so, we passed a young mother with a pushchair carrying a young child. On the canopy was a hand-written sign. I forget the name, but it had a photo and said “This is my brother…” I didn’t have time to read the rest as we passed, but it had a poppy – the emblem of remembrance. She was leaving the hospital. I suspect it was a regular trip she made. Suddenly I didn’t feel so pleased with myself. I’d done nothing really. Just ran 5km. Something anyone could do.

Why not take the $5 you’d spend on that next pint of beer and give it to a great cause instead? Here’s where.





Of Death Star and Doncaster

31 03 2013

So we all trekked off to the Auto Show on Friday. Quite a pleasant day out. We then went to the Bellaggio Café for lunch, opposite Canada Place in Vancouver. Near the Giant Blue Sperm. (It’s Art. It’s also German. Just sayin’…)

I have to say that the food was pretty good. The spelling though?! Interesting at the very least. It’s no connection at all with Bellagio (one g) in Las Vegas. There were no fountains or Dale Chihuly glass art.

Now I’m a big fan of Eddie Izzard‘s work. Mainly his stand-up, but also his straight acting. Up there with the best bits though is “Darth Vader in the Death Star canteen”. So famous in fact that it has been done in Lego and re-enacted word perfect by pre-pubescent boys a thousand times on YouTube. If by some fate of nature you’ve made it through life thus far without having seen it, try this video. If you’re well aware of Jeff, Sir Lord Vader of Cheam, then read on. Or eat cake. Your choice.

Now, I’d never actually heard of Penne Arrabbiata prior to Eddie Izzard, and I’ve never seen it on a menu. I thought it was one of those made up names. I once tried ordering the popular-in-Canada Alfredo sauce with my pasta on a trip to Northern Italy to howls of laughter and questions as to who in the name of all that is edible was this Alfredo chap?! Same with Latte – unknown in small town Italy.

Imagine my surprise then to see Penne Arrabbiata on the menu in Bellaggio’s. I opted in the end to share a proper Italian-style pizza (less crust than topping, unlike typical North American 2″ deep doughy monstrosities) with Mrs E., so can’t attest to the quality of the Arrabbiata sauce. Nor, I’m afraid can I attest to what a chocolate mouse tastes like. Even if serverd with ice-cream. Look carefully at Royal Chocolate in the photo…

Chocolate rodents on the menu at Bellaggio Café

Chocolate rodents on the menu at Bellaggio Café

Our waitress was very attentive but unfortunately it was other staff who delivered the actual orders. These others seemed to think it odd that we might want side plates in order to share our chicken wings, or regular plates off which to eat our pizzas. On the first attempt we were given teacup saucers!
The actual waitress, as I mentioned, was very attentive though. She was also English. Better – she was from Yorkshire. I know this because she told me so. Years ago, a French Canadian once told me that one need never ask if someone was from Yorkshire, as they’ll have already told you. C’est vrai! She’d married a bloke from Leeds it seems.

Over the space of our lunch we both politely circled around and determined our origins. I’d been in Canada 12 years, she 4. I was from “near Bradford” (in galactic terms at least – actually Silsden), she “from Doncaster”. My sister was born in Doncaster. Later, I said I’d spent my first 4 years in a village called Skellow, but couldn’t recall how close to Donny it actually was. It’s a suburb, she said. It’s where she’s really from! We agreed it was indeed a small world, and went our separate ways.

I just checked on Google Maps at what the old street looks like now. The one I spent my first four years on. Learning not to eat Play-Doh, alongside other life lessons. Watching the Vietnam war on black and white TV.  The old house is still there – and yes: that’s the A1 in spitting distance over the road. The Great North Road built by the Romans, and used ever since for moving untold volumes of goods North/South in England. “Go play in the fast lane of the A1″ was a common repost when I was at school in later years. It really was incredibly possible…

Where QE spent his early years

Source: Google Maps – Where QE spent his very early years





And so the wheel turns

30 03 2013

What a lovely weekend so far! Highs of 17, despite a cool start.

It was Good Friday. (It’s good any day, in my book…) Mrs E and I took our two remaining offspring and their friends to the Vancouver International Auto Show. Don’t worry – First Born is away at University, she’s not met a gruesome end or anything.

The last time I went to a motor show, it was at the massive National Exhibition Centre in the UK’s Birmingham. Maybe it’s because I was only about 13, but I remember it as being humongous! A whole day to even begin to scratch the surface. There were lorries and fire engines and all manner of things. Not just cars.

Vancouver Auto Show was a much more leisurely affair despite claiming to be Canada’s third largest. (Perhaps the fourth largest is some pub car-park). We got there good and early, safe in the knowledge that Vancouver doesn’t really rise until early afternoon. We spent about 2½ hours there in all… and saw everything. It was just the one large room. The crowds were only just arriving as we left. It didn’t close until 10pm, so I felt a little sorry for the floor staff. A very long day… especially on a Bank Holiday!

Mrs E had gone to scout out a replacement for our aging Honda Pilot. Now the kidlings are moving on to their own things we don’t need such a bus any more, and she delighted in sitting in the driver’s seat of various more sensibly sized offerings from Subaru, VW, Honda and Mazda. Oh – and Mercedes, Audi and BMW… just because she could. It really was a very pleasant couple of hours. No sales pressure at all. Most weird! It was slightly bizarre that all the gear knobs were missing from the manual cars. I couldn’t decide if they had been stolen, or removed to prevent them being stolen. I suppose I could have asked. The staff might have enjoyed the distraction.

I entered every competition I could, and managed to get a sly chuckle from the young lady at the ICBC stand. She was a bit of a hipster with large framed glasses with no lenses. Along with a couple of other folk I’d encountered at other stands, she was bemoaning the temperamental behaviour of the tethered iPads being used for data entry. “Be patient – it’s an iPad” seemed to be all that was needed to explain things. I has pressing, she was pressing, she was holding my finger to press. All to no avail. In the end, I tried my bestest “finger-tip caress”. The word “caress” seemed to cause her fits of giggles. But it didn’t work either. In the end, we found that if you sneaked up on the iPad and pressed the on-screen button when it wasn’t looking, it seemed to work OK. And no – I didn’t get her phone number. Number 3 offspring was there watching.

Chevrolet had a couple of concept cars on show, and were asking people to vote on them. I asked the young lady what it was all about and she explained that they were testing market reception to the Code 130R and Tru140S in Toronto. My face caused her to think, and then she blurted “I mean Vancouver”. Chevrolet claim Vancouver was their Canadian debut for the concept cars so I can only think she herself was the Torontonian. The show runs 10am to 10pm and was already a few days old. I’ve staffed trade shows. I know the evenings can be, er, fluid. I suspect she was just tired. Very tired.

One of the first booths we went to was Fiat. The cinquecento (500 to you) looks very familiar to my European eye, though I wait to see how resilient the famously rustable Italian bodywork proves on the Wet (sic) Coast. I did happen to notice that the booth manager had done their job well, and the “500” logo was parallel with the floor on all four wheel hubs. A little detail to be sure, but just helped to show that care had been taken.

The highlight for me of course were the “super cars”, or “exotics” as they were being billed.  (Believe it or not – I know next to nothing about cars. Or sport. Or the finer points of beer. My manhood has been called into question on more than one occasion due to these facts). There was the Jaguar F-type; the Aston Martin Vanquish; Lotus Evora; Lamborghini Gallardo; some Maserati or other (not that big on them); ditto some Ferrari (red of course)… but then, oh – delight! The McLarens. A brace of MP4-12Cs. One in red, one in a lovely shade of grey.

The Aston Martin was modelled in “Silver – Skyfall Silver”. With obsidian black and spicy red interior.

But the wheels! The wheels were all over the place on the “exotic” cars!

It was as if to say “Look, if you’re paying $15k for a Fiat, we’ll put some effort in and make the car look the best it can. If you’re willing to pay $300k for the McLaren though… Come on… who care’s if it even has wheels?!”

They have a point, perhaps.





Love Locks Vancouver to be taken down | Vancity Buzz | Vancouver Blog

22 02 2013

The urban version of carving initials in a tree?

Love Locks Vancouver to be taken down | Vancity Buzz | Vancouver Blog.

Love Locks Vancouver to be taken down | Vancity Buzz | Vancouver Blog





No Pants Subway Ride 2013

14 01 2013

Regular visitors will recall me mentioning 2012’s “No pants” Flash Mob event. If not, it’s here.

The general premise is that at a pre-determined time, a group of people descend on a city’s transit (SkyTrain in Vancouver, but other cities had their own events) sans trousers. The time of year requires the wearing of winter coats, scarves, gloves etc, making the lack of pants unusual to the casual observer. The mob joins the train at a specified point and makes no sign that they in any way know each other.  It’s a bit of fun. It’s free. It does no harm.

All good, in my books…

(Though some did complain about hygiene… plainly not used to the unsavoury characters who used to share my daily commute when I used Transit regularly. It’s amazing how long you can hold your breath when assaulted by B.O.)

Here’s the National Post‘s coverage: No Pants Subway Ride hits Vancouver, Toronto.

I’d forgotten it was about due again until I saw it on the TV news this morning (first time I’d watched it in weeks). It was Global TV BC, and the most remarkable thing about the video coverage was that out of the many people boarding the SkyTrain, the cameraman focused almost entirely on the young lady with lovely black lacy knickers. Pure coincidence, I’m sure… :)

This was Vancouver’s 4th year and Translink are apparently OK with it happening.

Here’s Global’s coverage. Global BC | 4th annual ‘No Pants Day’ on the SkyTrain.

Global: 4th annual 'No Pants Day' on the SkyTrain  Read it on Global News: Global BC | 4th annual 'No Pants Day' on the SkyTrain








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