Receiving an Education

5 03 2016

I don’t consider myself an activist. Not in the way we normally pigeon-hole people at least. I’ve never felt the need to chain myself to railings (though they’re rare in the Lower Mainland) or throw myself under a racehorse for example. I’ve never even attended a rally or listened to a soap-box speaker. There are some things I feel very strongly about though. Education; women’s rights; recycling; human dignity. To name a few. A few things strike me as fundamental to who we are as a species if we claim to be superior to fungus in any way at all.

I do act on my convictions though. I donate money and time to causes I support. Scouts; young entrepreneurs; amputees; it’s an eclectic mix of course, as am I. Most recently I volunteered to the Immigrant Services Society of BC. They came into being to help BC support the large influx of refugees from Idi Amin’s, er, aberration back in 1968. Since then they have developed processes and services to help newcomers integrate and assimilate into Canadian life. All immigrants, not just refugees. However the recent Syrian situation has caused a spike in calls for their services and they put out a call for extra volunteers. I am humbled to say that BC responded well and now there’s a “better” problem in processing so many volunteers.

I’ve already had my orientation session and fulfilled the Police Criminal Record Check to make sure I’m not a danger to these vulnerable families. The government sponsored refugees are the main target for the help and they were selected as the most needy from the refugee camps around Syria’s borders. That was an important factor for me. I am open to helping anyone that needs it, but a refugee is very distinct from a migrant in my view. ISSofBC agrees and even had a slide on the differences between the two, in terms of attitudes, needs and expectations.

The next phase of training was this last week and involved a 2.5 hour session on cultural sensitivity. I always maintain that no matter how bad a training session is there’s always something to be learnt. It may not be what was intended, and indeed it may actually be about oneself, but I always try to be open to learning opportunities. Last Thursday turned out to be quite educational. Firstly there were the “expected” learnings. We were taught some generalities of Arab culture so we could avoid unnecessary irritation due to differences with “normal” Canadian expectation. One in particular was regarding time. In the west, if we arrange to meet someone at say 9am, we tend to expect them to turn up around then – unavoidable accidents aside. It seems that with our new mentees we should be prepared for some, er, fluidity in the concept of time. The phrase “God willing” should be interpreted as “maybe, possibly, if the wind is in the right direction and nothing more interesting turns up”, it seems. OK – that’s me expanding what was actually said, but “Tomorrow, if God wills it” should not be interpreted as “Yup, tomorrow for sure”. They say forewarned is forearmed, and now I know not to think I’m being snubbed or ignored. I’ll be particularly alert around things like doctor or school appointments. The flip side of this is that if you are in conversation, you are the most important thing. They miss those meetings because of the respect they have for the person they’re already with.

Some of the biggest adjustments for the newcomers are in the smallest things. We were told 95% of Syrians smoke. Now I’m quite sure that the percentage is not scientifically arrived at, but it’s indicative of the issue. When trying to find new homes for the refugees after their 2 week stay in the welcoming apartments, there’s a form (inevitably) to be filled in. One question is “Do you smoke?” They are told “If we tick YES you may be waiting 6-9 months for an apartment. If we tick NO you will have a new home within 2-3 weeks. Now… which one shall we tick?” Adjustments are needed on all sides, it seems.

The part I’m dreading though is where my personal views clash with the cultural expectations of the newcomers. I’m not religious, and have no stronger negative views around Islam than I do around Christianity. The west is far too arrogant in that regard. Check out the Dutch social experiment by “Dit Is Normaal” for an illustration of that.

However, it is true that we have SOCIAL and CULTURAL expectations that may be very different to a newcomer’s and it’s always better to avoid unnecessary conflict and distrust. We don’t all need to agree about everything even within our own society, but offence is best performed deliberately rather than accidentally!:) The learnings here ranged from confirmation of assumption (“under no circumstance should a male mentor touch a female in the family – even to shake hands”) to the less expected (“do not offer ANY advice about females in the family. ESPECIALLY with regards to education or employment”.) It seems that the father is not just head of the family, as might already be anticipated, but is the sole arbiter of the lives of the female members. Even offering advice about higher education opportunities of any male children can be seen as unwelcome interference. This area is going to be the most challenging for myself personally. I have strong views about women’s rights and education more generally. Cultural sensitivity is one thing. Oppression is another. It will be a real test of my mentoring and inter-personal skills. A learning opportunity yet to come.

One of the other volunteers was himself a middle eastern immigrant – there are many Persians in Vancouver – and made the point that all immigrants must follow the law of the land, no matter what their “old country” expected. This was a complete non-issue when I myself immigrated. Canada’s laws and social norms are almost entirely the same as in the UK. But as indicated at the start… I learnt a few unexpected things at the end of the session. About myself and my own sensitivities as an “outsider” – despite my blue passport.

After 90 minutes of lecture about various aspects of integration and sensitivity we were split into groups of 4 and given some case studies to talk about and present. My group was given an example of a Cambodian lady with a long name that was hard for westerners to pronounce. We were asked to consider how we might discuss any concerns with this hypothetical lady.  I mentioned my experience in Taiwan where it was common for Chinese people to adopt English Christian names to help smooth business dealings with westerners. I’d found it notable because many of the names were “old” such as Ernest or Arthur, or just very unusual such as Forest, Ferry or Tiger. One lady in my group gave an example of a Chinese friend who had chosen an Anglicised name to help herself integrate. (The common thread being they’d all chosen these names themselves – the group agreed it should not be an expectation.) She’d then married a Canadian and now was known as Agnes McDougal or something.

This was all just unremarkable chit chat until the lady in the group concluded with “she ended up with such an English name!” From nowhere, my “lizard brain” felt the need to gently jibe “Actually – that’s Scottish”. I was surprised – even shocked – at myself. I consider myself pretty well integrated… and might even have said assimilated up until then, yet here I was still sensitive to subtleties of UK geography that few outside the islands know or care about. I resisted continuing with the lecture on the differences between Britain and England, but it was a not entirely pleasant reminder of the prejudices and assumptions I myself would be bringing to any interaction with Syrian refugees.

Muttering internally to myself about being more observant of my internal compass and not to get unnecessarily bent out of shape, I got the double whammy when a member of the group then suggested that our spokesperson should be “the guy with the accent”. Plainly I was – after 15 years – still not quite acceptable as a Canadian. The irony being that the suggestion came from a young Chinese-heritage lad.

Still smarting from this uncomfortable self learning I had one final jolt as I left the room. Because of the case studies, we were all largely sat in different chairs to the ones we’d sat in through the earlier sessions. We were now at the end of 2.5 hours “learning” about cultural sensitivity. I wandered back to my original chair to collect my belongings and quietly asked the lady sat there if she’d mind me disturbing her to collect my coat and jumper. “Jumper?!” she exclaimed a little too loudly, as she moved. I felt quite small for a moment. After sitting through the same sensitivity training as I had, this lady – quite accidentally and without malice I’m sure – mocked my use of a common English word not typically used in North America. I had just received a timely reminder that feeling “other” is a way more subtle and nuanced situation that how you look, or even the language you speak. Offence and sensitivities can be caused in such casual accidental ways… even after being trained on how not to do it!

I left feeling more educated than I expected, and slightly more self-aware of my own limitations.

Game on!





Exception, Deviation and Delta

18 07 2015

My posts of late have been somewhat lightweight I fear. The longer, convoluted – and hopefully at least a little entertaining – essays/rants seem to have been absent. To feel really “in the mood“, my life needs to have brought three different thoughts or events into some kind of union in my mind. A bit like “crossing the streams” in Ghostbusters. OK – so that risked ending the universe, and I don’t think my writing style has quite hit that much of a low yet, but you get the idea – three concepts that are better when combined than in separate doses.

Of course, that’s only my own thought and you might disagree entirely, which is cool by me too.

My first thought was about language. English specifically. Regulars might recall my story of being told in grammar school that English was my second language (I’m from Yorkshire) and that I’d be lucky to pass my English ‘O’ Level. I count this as the point at which I began my current love affair with English (and why I actually achieved a B grade). Particularly its subtleties, vagaries and history. Double entendres, puns and the like are “cheap jokes” to be sure, but their very existence is only possible because of the inherent complexity and ever-changing content of the language. The ability to use a word in multiple senses; that multiple words can look or sound the same; the absorption of foreign words – either with their original meaning or occasionally a slightly different one – these bypasses and detours are all rich fodder for the quick witted and agile of tongue.

The gamut runs from the likes of Shakespeare – not averse to making up his own words where the current lexicon didn’t suffice – through to Les Dawson, who channelled Sheridan’s Mrs Malaprop (1775) for cheap humour in the 1970s. A case in point, “malapropism” itself is now firmly ensconced in the OED to mean the act so vividly portrayed by the eponymous character. It means – if you didn’t already know; in fact it still means, even if you did already know – the act of incorrectly using a word that sounds similar to the correct word, usually to humorous, if accidental effect. Examples here, but a taster: “A rolling stone gathers no moths.”

OK, so I’m already a little off course. The specific foible of English I wanted to discuss was its irregularity; its embracing of exceptions. I had the undoubted advantage of being born in an English-speaking country and never therefore having to learn it formally. The advantage being I have a lifetime of experience speaking/hearing/reading it “authentically”; the disadvantage being that I am completely oblivious to its massive number of irregularities until someone points them out.

The result of the irregularities and exceptions is that a person who learns English as a second language tends to make subtle errors because they’ve made the entirely reasonable assumption that some grammatical rule or other would be followed when in fact this turns out to be one of the large number of exceptions. Even the “rule” taught at school that “i comes before e except after c” is actually statistically incorrect. The rule actually holds only for the more frequently used ie/ei words. If you were to take the whole dictionary, i tends to come after e even in the absence of c. Weird and caffeine being my favourite examples.

Though far from unique in this matter (think French), English even makes the basic “to be” a challenge to the new-comer. Given “I am” how could a novice ever predict “you are”; “he is”? Despite the continued variety of French’s plural conjugations of “nous sommes; vous êtes; ils sont”, it’s as if the originator of English got bored with the variety of the singular and went for a wholesale “are” for the plurals “we”, “you”, “they”. This efficiency does tend to hold in a lot of cases – especially in the past tense. For example, given “I ran”, its convenient to know that you, he, we, you (plural) and they all also ran. But here we’ve already illustrated another anomaly to “the rules”.

It’s common, though by no means certain that you can change a present verb, say “to hike” from present to past by adding “-ed” (or just “-d” if there’s already an e at the end). So I hike today and by tomorrow I can say I hiked. Though you hike and will have also hiked, unfortunately he hikes though by tomorrow will also join us by having hiked. It’s a minefield. Add the thought now that though I presently run I would be roundly (another ambiguous word) corrected if I claimed tomorrow that I had runned, and you will see the vast hill faced by late-comers to the Queen’s tongue (yet another phrase that defies trivial explanation).

The source of these many-fold exceptions interests me, and I suspect it is tied to the very real fluidity of English as compared to some other languages (French, yes I’m looking at you chérie). Similar exceptions occur with plurals. By and large, it’s safe to assume that adding an -s will move the discussion from the singular to the plural. Occasionally there’s an additional e to worry about like with churches (always bothersome even in the singular) but by and large you’re safe. Dogs, cats, sheep, all would… oh, wait! Yup, there are definitely exceptions. Fish, deer, sheep all exist Schrödinger-like in one of two potential states. They might be alone, or they might be with company… we have to see the rest of the context to deduce which. Open the box (like church, in need of an e), as it were.

F’s are awkward too. Any leaf, thief, hoof, dwarf needs to group themselves into leaves, thieves, hooves and dwarves, though here too there are exceptions to this exception. Though a roof used to multiply into rooves it is now very rare, and roofs has become the norm (thanks America!). And in Toronto, there is a team of Leafs. Allegedly. (Like England’s World Cup win in 1966, their 1967 Stanley Cup win seems like yesterday to some).

So – if you were born into an English-speaking home, have a tad more respect for those you come across that have learnt (not learned) it in later life. They may make a few errors along the way, but it’s quite an undertaking to have gotten so far. A mouse becomes mice, but a house is content with the predictable houses. A goose becomes geese but a moose is proud and stays as moose even in company. It must raise the question whether in fact there really are any rules in English. Perhaps the entire language is a set of exceptions to its mother – German!

Exceptions and deviations in language can lead to frustrations or amusement for sure. Even if you’re speaking it entirely correctly. A kids’ scooter is being advertised at the moment. It goes by the name of Y-Fliker. Aw, come on… think about it…:)

Similar rule exceptions on the road though can lead to death or injury. Especially in countries with a high percentage of immigrants. Places like Canada where a relatively high percentage of drivers originally learnt in another country, and managed to gain a license because they drove no worse than the competing local 16 year olds. By and large, the rules of the road are relatively consistent internationally. Darwin tends to quickly weed out those who struggle to fit the accepted norms. Personally I learnt in the UK and drove extensively in Europe without incident – despite several countries seeming to prefer to drive on the wrong side of the road:). Driving in BC is largely familiar and I now attempt to enter my car through the passenger door no more than once or twice a year. But there are frustrations. Occasions where the local rules of the road are different to UK and Europe. Occasions too where those rules are downright dangerous. Other occasions where the disregard of those rules can easily lead to death of the innocent as well as the dip-stick breaking them.

I have two pet hates really. The BC version of the roundabout and the HOV/bus lane.

In North America there is a tendency to take a vast area of undeveloped land, draw out some neat plans on graph paper, then build an entire town/city. This leads to a largely neat and orderly grid system, as copied by Milton Keynes. These intersections (for that is how they are called) are typically controlled by traffic lights. Since green for go, red for stop would be far too conventional, here we have an exception that if you are at a red light and wanting to turn right, and there is no traffic coming from the left, you may do so. You don’t have to – you can wait for the green light. Just don’t try waiting if there’s a car behind you… you’ll be audibly abused, despite being well within your rights. There’s another proviso – that of waiting for any pedestrians to cross before you turn right on red – but my experience tells me that this part of the rule is deemed optional, especially in certain districts of Richmond, where I work and travel on foot. You see – this is where the exception starts to break down. North America, based on these intersections, has made every one of them a pedestrian “cross-walk”, meaning cars are supposed to give way to pedestrians as well as looking out for on-coming cars when turning left, and all the usual car-related dangers.

At light-controlled intersections it’s managed quite well, as the lights also include pedestrian go/don’t go signals. Like drivers though, there are pedestrians that ignore these and think they know best. By and large if the cars have a green light, then parallel travelling pedestrians also have “a white man”. Trouble is, there can be left-turn filter lights which allow the cars to go… but not the pedestrians. More exceptions. If you are driving and turning left, and get a green light, you have to give way to any pedestrians crossing on your left. If however you got a green filter arrow… the pedestrians are not supposed to be there. Darwin may well intervene if they choose to cross anyway.

So, by and large this all works reasonably well. Smaller intersections though don’t warrant the expense of traffic lights. These employ something known as a 4-way stop. In principle, this is a great idea. On approaching the intersection, you are obliged to stop. Even if you’re the only car on the road. You may then proceed, in the order that you and other cars arrived at the stop. Again, this works well most of the time. There is even a rule for the rare occasion that 2 cars arrive at exactly the same time – the one on the right gets priority. So far so good.

But then we get the case where the two cars arrive opposite each other. And the case when all 4 cars arrive together. And the case where the first car to arrive has to give way to a pedestrian who is crossing. All these (and other) cases lead to frustrations, missed turns and the potential for mayhem. In an attempt to keep things moving more smoothly, BC has started to introduce roundabouts. The trouble is… there is little information on how to use them properly. My son – just learning to drive – was taught that it was not necessary in any circumstance to signal on entry or exit from the “turning circle”. I was gob-smacked! Almost as much as when I see people stopping on entry and treating it like a 4-way stop with an inconvenient mound in the middle. But (inevitably) it gets better… because this doesn’t yet make life interesting enough, BC has deemed it sensible to add cross-walks to the roundabouts. Yup, so imagine…

You approach the roundabout, intending to take the second exit – straight on.

You don’t signal because you’re going straight on.

You look to your left (we’re in Canada – people drive the other way) as you approach.

There’s nothing coming, so you enter the roundabout at cruising speed.

As you pass the first exit, you begin to signal right to leave the roundabout at the second, completely confusing the guy behind who never signals anyway.

But look… there’s a pedestrian crossing the road on a cross-walk  right at the exit of the roundabout, and you are obliged to stop (still on the roundabout) whilst they dawdle over the road texting their friends.

In doing so, you’ve possibly been rear-ended by the guy behind, and at the very least caused the roundabout to come to a grinding halt with one or more shunts as cars neglected to continue on their anticipated trajectories into, on, or off the roundabout. A delta not anticipated by the car behind them, not able to see the pedestrian you’ve reacted to.

Anyone wanting a more objective view of how to use roundabouts (and able to mentally swap left/right) could do worse than check out the UK government’s “The Highway Code” rules 184-190. Specifically regarding signalling.

gov.uk: The Highway Code rule 185

You’ll notice I hope the complete lack of pedestrian crossings anywhere near the roundabout!

OK so my spleen, you’ll be glad to hear, is almost vented now. The last rule of traffic exceptions I want to cover is the High Occupancy Vehicle and/or Bus Lane. Due to the laughingly small population densities in BC compared to say… well, anywhere really… the highway congestion here is negligible and even then, very short-lived. To minimise it though, we have HOV lanes on the highways. These are for the sole use of motorcycles and vehicles with more than just the driver. They’re usually for 2+, but occasionally can be 3+. Buses and taxis and people car-pooling can therefore get a bit of a head start should the highway be busy at rush-hour. The idea is to encourage ride-sharing and to minimise pollution when possible. This is North America though… land of the SUV-that-never-leaves-tarmac. The Lower Mainland more so. That SUV is likely to be white and have a BMW, Lexus or Infiniti logo. So in principle at least, I’m fine with the HOV concept – it makes sense for those willing to share the vehicle to get a bit of a bye, should there be a traffic jam. The issue is in the implementation…

Let’s go back to the basics of entering the motorway.

In the UK/Europe when entering a highway via the slip-road, the order of events is thus (rule 259 if you’re that interested):

You should:

  • give priority to traffic already on the motorway
  • check the traffic on the motorway and match your speed to fit safely into the traffic flow in the left-hand lane
  • not cross solid white lines that separate lanes or use the hard shoulder
  • stay on the slip road if it continues as an extra lane on the motorway
  • remain in the left-hand lane long enough to adjust to the speed of traffic before considering overtaking.

Here in BC though, the emphasis is a little different:

The entrance consists of an entrance ramp, an acceleration lane and a merging area. Some freeway entrances have ramp meters — a traffic light that controls traffic entering the freeway by
restricting the number of vehicles that may proceed along the entrance ramp

  • While you’re on the entrance ramp, scan the freeway traffic for a safe gap.
  • The acceleration lane is divided from the rest of the roadway by a solid white line. Use this lane to match your speed to the speed of traffic on the freeway.
  • The merging area is divided from the freeway by a broken white line. Use this area to find a safe gap to merge with freeway traffic. Be aware that cycling is permitted on some freeways, so be careful not to cut in front of a cyclist.

It’s the same general scheme… but lacks the first vital point: the cars hurtling down the motorway already have right of way! Here we try and be polite and so add a section for those already on the highway:

Strategies: freeway courtesy
When you are driving in the right lane of a freeway, other drivers may try to merge from an entrance lane. It’s not always easy for them to find a safe gap. Use these pointers to help them merge safely:

  • pull over into the left lane (if it’s safe) to give them room to merge onto the freeway
  • adjust your speed to allow a large enough gap for them to move safely into.

And therein lies the dilemma…

Things have evolved to the stage where those entering the motorway/highway/freeway assume that the main body of traffic will just magically part to their Moses-like appearance and a gap will make itself known at the requisite time. It is inherently assumed that the newcomer has right of way. People accelerate down the slip-road and simply expect the current traffic to make way. Occasionally it does not, given the number of foreign-trained drivers. Police and ambulance subsequently attend.

OK, so we have the general picture now. Now, lets add in those HOV lanes. These are a “special” lane, often on the far right of the highway between the “slow lane” and the hard shoulder. For many kilometres of the highway, this is an uneventful place for it to be. But when one of these slip-roads is entering the picture, it gets quite interesting. You see, the new visitor to the motorway has to cross over the HOV lane in order to get to the slow lane of the motorway. At rush-hour, people in the HOV lane don’t like to give up their advantage. Police and ambulance again.

Then there’s the exception to the exception… some HOV lanes are actually bus lanes. They use the same diamond symbol on the road, but are clearly marked with overhead signs as Bus Lane. Otherwise they act basically the same. They have one safety advantage though, when crossing a slip-road. Because they only have large lumbering buses in them, they can be fitted with sensors to alert cars on the slip-road that a bus is approaching the end of the slip-road and perhaps the driver might like to take that into account in his accelerating/praying strategy for entering the flow of traffic. By and large this is very successful… except when those rush-hour (usually SUV) drivers want to sneak past all the traffic and pretend to be a bus. Perhaps their reading skills don’t stretch to “Bus Lane” and the familiar diamond logo is indeed the same as the normal HOV symbol, so perhaps there’s a flicker of an excuse…. but not really. Despite their self-delusion, they are not large enough to trigger the sensor and so arrive unannounced to the confluence of vehicles who are themselves happy in the non-blinking warning assurance that no bus is fast approaching. Police and ambulances attend.

And so, exhausted and empty spleened, I come to the final thread of today’s rant. When BC built a wider highway to Deltaport to cater for more trucks and higher volume goods to and from the port, it opted instead of a “simple” roundabout to join the tangential routes, for a spaghetti system of long additional lanes and parallel roads. This confuses most people – locals and visitors alike. The HOV lane leaves the highway, crosses a junction and rejoins. It is crossed by trucks and cars trying to gain access to off-ramps. It is, in short, a nightmare. Again though, if one cares to look, it is in fact clearly marked as an HOV lane. There is a large sign near its beginning that warns travellers of the up-coming junction 26. The road markings do look similar to the exit road markings at the junction… but the junction is not yet here. Inevitably then trucks and single occupancy vehicles often blithely sit in the HOV lane (despite the other HOV lane signage) assuming they’re just in a  v-e-r-y  long approach lane for junction 26. No doubt they have an “oops” moment when the sign for the junction actually arrives and the usual exit lane appears. Some though I suspect have a “I got away with it again” moment instead. You see, to travel in the HOV lane sans passenger is an offence – fine-worthy and points-deductible.

Imagine then my annoyance to sit for many kilometres the other day (with a passenger) in the HOV lane behind a car with no passenger. At the appropriate junction, the driver left the HOV to turn south towards Ladner. As we drew alongside for the lights to change I was appalled to note it was a City of Delta corporation car. Not only was this a local with no excuse for not knowing it was an HOV lane… they worked for the city! Spitting feathers by the time I got to work, I wrote a terse email to the City of Delta suggesting that perhaps they remind their employees of the rules of the road and that when driving a corporation vehicle they should be setting a good example.

And here, the wind was completely removed from my sails.

The city replied within the hour with assurances that the perpetrator had been identified and was most sincerely apologetic for her “lapse of attention”. (It is entirely coincidental the driver was female. And blonde.) Furthermore she would endeavour to be more courteous to other road users and more careful to follow the rules of the road in future. I was gob-smacked (again). I didn’t expect any response at all, but the City of Delta seemed to take very seriously the case when their employees (in their liveried vehicles) break the law. At least when they got found out! Kudos for that at least…

And so, dear reader, I am at an end. I congratulate you for reaching the end with me. It was little more than a lengthy rant, and I am humble enough to know and accept that I have at least as many faults and weaknesses as those I’ve documented above. But I feel a lot lighter now. Bile is such a dense humour, don’t you think?

Until next time…





Culture Shock on The Minnow

9 05 2015

This last week, we had a visit from a new member of our team. Due to an organisational reshuffle he was now reporting in to our Vancouver based marketing team, despite being physically based in Venlo, The Netherlands. The main result of our company being split over these two sites is that the Vancouver members are expected to attend regular con-calls and video conferences at obscene times in the morning. The Dutch, being very “socialised” largely refuse to take calls past their 5pm nominal finish time. Being 9 hours ahead, it leaves a vanishingly small window of overlap. Taking a call in your pyjamas, eating breakfast, slurping tea – and hoping “mute” is engaged – is one thing; being physically in the office and attending a video conference at 7am is quite another. I really should start questioning this whole “Canadians are so nice” thing. It was in the small print of my citizenship test though.:)

Since all but one of the newly configured team is living in Pacific Daylight Saving at the moment, our newest crew member came to stay for a week and get to know the oddballs he was now working with. I had a business trip to Chicago in the middle of the visit, so didn’t personally get to see much of him, but quickly decided I liked his enthusiasm and lack of world-weariness. (He’ll learn soon enough! It was good to form the “before” impression though.)

Anyway, our boss graciously offered to take the entire team for a couple of hours sailing around English Bay on his 37′ C&C yacht.

C&C 37 yacht - under way

C&C 37 yacht – under way

The wind was up, and we had a few high-speed, 45 degree tilted runs across the bay, weaving in and out of the various empty freighters anchored there.

Freighter and North Shore Mountains

Freighters and North Shore Mountains

At one point, I glanced back over the city and saw a huge pall of black smoke. It looked so dark I thought it might be oil and feared the worst – there’s recently been a lot of highly emotional talk about Vancouver’s oil terminal, pipelines feeding it and the potential development of the LNG industry in BC. Technology (Twitter in this case) answered the question and told us there was in fact a fire at a Vancouver church.

We were a mixed bunch, in possibly every dimension you could imagine. Six in total, we had 4 blokes and 2 women, one of whom didn’t behave that way (this is the West Coast in the 21st century, after all. We have both expressed an appreciation for the on-coming summer and the attendant rise of skirt hems – it’s always nice to share one’s interests!) Five had current certification to manage a boat on the water, though three readily admitted that their memory of the details were sketchy. Personally, I now only claim confidence as far as which way up the boat should be. Three were born Canadian, four had a Canadian passport, one was waiting for a Canadian passport and one was visiting Canada for the first time. Three also possessed European passports – well, 2 plus a UK one, grudgingly European. Of the three Canadian born members, one was of Scottish descent, one of Welsh and one of German. The remainder were born in the UK, France and The Netherlands, Ties to the old world, it seems, run deep.

We had a fine afternoon under clear, breezy skies and greatly enjoyed each other’s company. Eventually we slackened the sails, pointed almost parallel to the wind to regain a level keel, set the auto-pilot and broke out the picnic.

Terribly civilised!

One of the natural-born Canadians then tried to explain to “Dutchie” that “all North American men”, and indeed “a growing proportion of North American women” who were “of a certain age” had a ready answer to a specific question, namely “Ginger or Mary Ann?”

To prove his point, all three “proper” Canadians (apart from our new Dutch colleague, we were all of “a certain age”) readily replied, with Mary Ann winning 2:1 – Ginger getting her vote from our lady crew member “mainly for being blonde – I have a thing about blondes”. One of the blokes modified his reply with “it depends if it’s long term or over-night” and around this point I became aware of a huge gulf in North American vs. European popular culture.

The three of us born outside Canada had no idea who Ginger or Mary Ann were. None of us had heard of The Minnow; Gilligan; The Professor or any of the other various names thrown around. We stared politely while each of the six of us were assigned a character from “Gilligan’s Island”, though we had no point of reference at all. The low point was when half the crew began singing the theme song with much gusto.

Gilligan’s Island

Comments were subsequently made about the altitude of my eyebrows at the culmination of the singing. I think it was George Bernard Shaw (of Pygmalion and other plays) who said that the US and England were two nations separated by a common language. (He was Irish, by the way…. just sayin’.) It seems equally true that US-TV and Euro-TV can be similarly divisive. Despite having different home languages (one each in fact), we three non-locals culturally had a lot of similarities and shared our own common TV. We chose not to sing anything!

As a child I remember lots of childrens TV in the UK that I subsequently learnt was from The Continent. Animated programmes such The Magic Roundabout or puppets like Hector’s House (both French, I believe) were easy to internationalise. But it didn’t stop there. I remember watching a programme that introduced me to dubbing, as I gradually became aware that the lips and sounds weren’t matching. I recently discovered that The White Horses was in fact German/Yogoslavian! Wikipedia also tells me that the UK audio dubbing has been lost except for a single episode. Ah, the vagaries of pop culture….

MagicRoundabout.com: Les Amis

 

Carter Collectables: Hector’s House

 

http://www.fernsehserien.de: The White Horses





Bill’s Sonnet CXVI

14 01 2015

I’ve been watching an old TV series called “Dead Like Me” in which a recently dead girl “finds herself” while performing her new job as a reaper of souls. It’s vaguely entertaining, not least because it was filmed in and around Vancouver, so it’s always fun trying to figure out where the locations are. She supposedly met her demise when hit by falling space debris… outside the Mink chocolate cafe at Hornby and Hastings. Anyway, the episode I watched last night included quite a bit of Shakespeare, so I thought I’d share one of his sonnets. For no other reason than he was the world’s greatest writer, and you really should read some of his stuff!

When he couldn’t find a word to subtly describe a human emotion, deed or thought… he’d make up a new one. And I mean words that are now thoroughly mainstream like “green-eyed” and “mountaineer”. Now that, dear reader, is owning your language!

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.





Jokes You Have To Be A Little Nerdy To Find Funny

11 01 2015

Sad to say… but I chuckled heartily!

Distractify | 26 Clever Jokes You Have To Be A Little Nerdy To Find Funny.

EDIT: Seems the original page has gone stale. Try this instead.

An example:





Write on, dude…

13 11 2014

So I’m feeling just a tad guilty about not posting very much these days. But I have been writing. Honest, guv!

I think I may have mentioned that I was bought a Creative Writing course at UBC, which is a weekly night class workshop affair. As part of that we are encouraged to write every day, as well as undertaking several set piece exercises. More recently the course lead – the talented Paul Belserene – has offered us access to a forum where members of the course can post their “dailies” online. It’s a kind of half-way between writing in a notebook and never letting anyone see your efforts and on the other extreme reading it in class, which volunteers do in order to have their work critiqued in a non-judgemental, objective way. (Remarks are made from the perspective of the reader – what they heard, what it made them imagine, and how that made them feel. No actual remark about the piece, just its effects. It’s left to the writer to use that feedback as they will.)

Anyway, I’ve yet to see anyone post anything (except my shy retiring self, of course), and only one other from the course of 17 has even signed up! So I figured if my classmates are not going to bother reading my stuff, why not let my other audience have a look?

Early days yet – I make no suggestion that this is high art of any kind – but as ever, I welcome comments.


This was a desolate place. The wind was howling about his ears and trying hard to dislodge his coat hood. He hunkered down, turning his back to the worst of it and thrusting his hands into his pockets.

From this high rock he could see for miles out to sea. The waves seemed gentle at this distance, but experience left him in no doubt that it was mere illusion. Nearer the shore there were sudden explosions of white as hidden rocks punished the reckless surge of the tide. He could see brave birds patrolling just above the undulating waves. Amazing how they could identify a meal amongst all that chaos.

Despite the frigid wind, the sun shone and attempted to warm the land. It was a lost cause here. The rock was smooth hard basalt, stripped clean of any living thing twice a day – the moon’s spiteful reply to the sun’s offer of life. Nothing grew here. The tides left no moss or weed, nor deposited any seaweed. Utterly barren.
Another illusion.
He was here.
The birds were here.
Presumably things they wanted to eat were here.

A sudden gust buffeted him so that he had to take a half-step to remain upright. He smiled. He felt alive.


Though it is a piece of pure imagination, I drew my inspiration from my summer trip to Tow Hill on Haida Gwaii. As a complete aside, you might enjoy photos of the place posted a while ago by burnt embers.





Creative Writing

5 10 2014

As part of my birthday present this year, I was bought a creative writing course at Vancouver’s UBC. It’s a 10 week evening course aimed at teaching the participants how to objectively assess their output and hopefully therefore write more better ;o). Though we get set weekly assignments, most of the focus is on providing solid objective feedback to the work of others. Our own assignment is there primarily to offer material for others to practice their feedback on. Hopefully towards the end of the course we reach a Zen state where we can disassociate from our own words and assess them as an impartial reader might – removing the element of “well, I REALLY meant…” and reacting only to what is actually on the page.

The course instructor is Paul Belserene, a “professional story-teller”. Being the detail-oriented anal-retentive I am, I checked him out via the well of occasionally accurate information available on the internet. Turns out he is an American by birth. Originally educated there, he saw the light and now lives in BC. He even occasionally puts ‘u’ into his words just to show he’s open in principle to assimilating into his adopted country. Though gently spoken and dry of wit, his knowledge and experience on the subject make his 2 hour sessions seem far too short. He also has the patience of a saint which, not myself being of a religious bent, I would equate to other mere mortals, so I suppose that’s just a truism.

As I mentioned, we’re provided a handful of assignments each week to provide some fodder for the main task of learning how to objectively evaluate the written word. Since this course has reinvigorated my writing juices, I thought I’d share one here on my much neglected – though steadfastly quite irrelevant – blog.


 

Write an email that is a follow-up from one person after their first face-to-face meeting in an internet dating situation.

Hey Greg,

I wanted to write to let you know how much I enjoyed last night. I’m sure you’ve texted me like you said you would, but my stupid kid brother dropped my phone in the bath and it’s stopped working, so I can’t get my texts until I get a new one.

Going to the cinema was such a treat. I had no idea that “Death in a Storm Drain” was still showing. Thanks for letting me buy your ticket – so many men these days insist on paying, which hurts my feminist ideals and would have ruined the romance of the movie. I still can’t believe you had your wallet stolen while we were out. Don’t worry, you can pay me back for your train ticket later.

How is your flat mate? It was sad to hear of his Haemorrhagic Fever, but maybe we can go back to your place next time instead. I think I wrote your number down wrong because when I called today there was a Chinese restaurant that answered. Please email me back soon – I bought us tickets for that batik design seminar I told you about.

Hoping to be yours – Elsie


Now, if you want to play the game, you assess the piece in three phases:

1) What do you read? Assess it AS WRITTEN. Infer what YOU will, as the reader.

2) What do you imagine? Use your own experience and knowledge to paint the mind pictures around the specific words you read. What do the words lead you to imagine?

3) How does it make you feel? What emotional response results from that?

As the reader, these are your assessment of the impact of the piece. Only the writer knows if those responses are even close to the intent – but they’re valid nonetheless. Notice that there’s no judgemental element? There’s no concept of good/bad, only a report of how one reader was “moved” or had reactions to the piece. The writer can then use that feedback to tune the piece if those responses are not aligned with the intent.

Eventually I hope the course will allow me to perform that feedback loop myself, and get at least one step closer to my intended reaction before letting my writing loose on an unsuspecting reader. I’ll let you know how things progress…








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