30 06 2015

I witnessed integrity today – and it was both humbling and grand to behold.

Someone was being poorly treated by their co-worker in a café. Not physically, but verbally and no doubt, as a result, psychologically. This was witnessed by myself and another. I internally tutted in disapproval, as only UK-born people can. Loud enough to rattle your own bones, but totally unseen by others. My companion though – they acted.

With integrity.

They marched right up to the abuser and simply stated (politely but firmly) that their behaviour was not acceptable. Excuses and weak arguments gushed forth, but the point was made. I felt diminished by my own inaction, but inspired by what I now witnessed.

Standing up for our fellow citizens, with no expectation of acknowledgement or thanks (the abused co-worker was now out of earshot/view). For no other reason than it was the right thing to do.

We all have our own measures. Our own trigger points. Would you hand in a $5 note if you found it in the street? Probably not. A suitcase with $10,000? Well – that’s a different story. Most probably would, some might first debate the likelihood of being seen, if they didn’t. How about if Loblaws gave you several thousand dollars more than they said they would?

Integrity is not so easy to define… but easy to see when it manifests itself. It glows brightly. As indeed shining examples should.

On Love

30 06 2015

Quieter Elephant:

Nice snippet on Redamancy Lit…

Originally posted on Redamancy Lit:

Do you love me enough that I may be weak with you? Everyone loves strength, but do you love me for my weakness? That is the real test. Do you love me stripped of everything that might be lost, for only the things I will have forever?

– Alain de Botton

View original

Loblaws and dodgy paperwork

27 06 2015

A week or so ago, a Canadian supermarket chain – Loblaws – was in the news and being demonised by the media machine.

The gist of the story was that one of their Surrey supermarkets was being re-branded to one of their other lower-end shops. As a result the existing staff were offered a one-time deal to compensate them for the on-going lower package the cheaper brand would pay. The news story was around the fact that Loblaws had over-paid ~20 workers and was now asking them to repay the additional money.

Many of the affected people had already spent/invested the additional money… several thousand dollars on average.

Now, I regularly get my news from the CBC because, like their UK model the BBC, they tend to be more objective and use less hyperbole. That said, and despite the story running for a few days, it was never actually made plain whether the original offer was more than it should have been (in which case those affected would obviously make their decision as to whether to accept or not based on an inflated number) or whether the offer was correct but Loblaws had actually overpaid the stated amount (in which case one has to ask whether the recipients were actually immoral in spending/investing it without checking whether it was an error). Now the dust has settled, it seems the latter is the case, and these people, having agreed to some payment actually received more, spent it, and are now complaining that the company is asking for it back.

Am I missing something? Sure the company might have been a tad heavy-handed in asking for immediate repayment. But, I’m sorry, these employees knowingly cashed cheques for more money than they were expecting… and neglected to question whether, perhaps, possibly, some mistake had been made, and potentially this additional dosh wasn’t actually theirs to have. We’re not talking a rounding error here. I too might not blink if I received a dollar or two more than I’d been led to expect, but we’re talking THOUSANDS of dollars here! This feels more like wilful neglect bordering on knowing theft. Loblaws took the higher ground and backed right off. Hurray for media-led justice. Not.

OK, so enough in defence of Loblaws. One of their local brands is Canadian Superstore. We recently bought a packet of bread-buns. They are magical. They have an infinite best-before date! Miracle food indeed. It could solve world hunger.

Best before... WTF?!

Best before… WTF?!

If – as is more than likely – you’re not as anal and detail-oriented as QE, you may need a hint. Go look at the June page of your calendar. See any date missing? Aha, there you go.

Of course, it might be good until 15th June 2031 which, though not infinitely far away is still pretty good! (Canadian date formats are inconsistent at best due to British DDMMYY history, but US MMDDYY proximity. Japanese YYMMDD is not uncommon, as here, to try and avoid the issue altogether).

So – what have we learnt?

I reckon we’ve learnt that Loblaws are paying rock-bottom wages and as such employ people with only a tenuous grasp on the way time works and what morals are.



Do we learn how to be mean?

27 06 2015

This is a neat little experiment from the Japanese Red Cross.

Adults drop their wallets next to kids to see what they will do. It’s a beautiful experiment.

Adults drop their wallets next to kids to see what they will do. It's a beautiful experiment.

It seems that perhaps we really do start out as little angels (one experiment showed a preference for “nice” behaviour as young as 3 months) and learn to be blue meanies later. At least it shows as a species we can learn. Some of us are really good at learning…

Father’s Day 2015

21 06 2015

Father’s Day is one of those pseudo “holidays” created by card manufacturers (and more recently – as in the case of Pi Day – internet foibles) rather than being steeped in tradition and history. You know – like my birthday.

I have the honour of listing myself amongst those males of the species who can call themselves “father”. As well as the biological act of becoming a father there’s also the on-going relationship with one’s offspring – or even a child who is not biologically yours. This is by no means a pre-defined relationship and can be healthy and strong with step-father, foster parents etc., and conversely toxic and destructive with biological parents. Fathers don’t have the market cornered for either extreme of experience, by any means – though they do tend to have the ability to make bad parenting experiences very bad.

As my own children have matured into young adults I have observed with not a little trepidation as they transfer their decision making from the childhood surety of “mum/dad said…” to the less definite, but ultimately more useful “my own accumulated experience would indicate…”. Of course they unnecessarily re-discover some of the same mistakes we did at that age, as well as dealing with whole new decisions that simply didn’t exist a generation ago (like “Should I sell my soul to iOS or Android?”). Hard though it is to see a loved one make a mistake you could have helped them avoid, it’s definitely a lesson more fully absorbed when the cause and effect are directly experienced rather than simply discussed.

Being a bit of a stick in the mud myself, I’m not big on cards and presents for birthdays and the like. I didn’t really mind at all then that offspring No. 1 simply sent a one-liner via SMS to at least acknowledge I had a small contribution to her DNA. No. 3 offspring, my son, has asked if he can take me for dinner tonight – just him and I. Though I’m slightly nervous that he might be wanting to inform me of some unplanned life event or personal discovery, the calmer part of me is trying to accept it as simply his way of sharing the day. No. 2 offspring – the artistic one – created a small card for me, and presented it as I descended for breakfast, along with a yummy-looking Okanagan “port-style” bottle of wine from Black Sage vineyard.

Black Sage 2008 “Pipe” port-style wine

The image she chose to use for the card was from a back-issue of my BBC History magazine. It shows a medieval soldier doing battle with some sea-going monster. Odd choice, I thought, until I read the back of the card:

The great battle of 2015 when father slayed none other than the toilet clogging sea-ogress.

Demise of the toilet clogging sea-ogress

Demise of the toilet clogging sea-ogress

Leaving aside for a moment the slew/slayed debate, I feel I should explain the reference…

Several weeks ago the toilet in the “children’s bathroom” had begun to misbehave. It would flush – in the sense that the water (and some proportion of other items therein) would leave the premises via the usual method of the sewage pipe. However, it did not flush with the same amount of gusto we had become accustomed to, and would often leave unsavoury reminders of recent interactions with said toilet. Being a family born in the UK, this was embarrassing to the point of pain.

My own stance was along the lines of “one of you lot blocked it – you sort it out” for several weeks. This is an easy stance to adopt when you have access to an unaffected en suite and there’s an additional 3rd. toilet in the house as well.

No. 2 offspring though is a delicate soul and of the opinion that men should offer women 100% equivalence… except where unblocking toilets is concerned, where she’s quite happy for sexism to endure. No. 3 offspring is of a practical nature and simply moved his business elsewhere. As it were.

Eventually though, the persistent calls to address the issue got to a stage where I took it upon myself to handle things once and for all. I began by canvassing family members for suggestions, but not being in possession of the requisite paperwork to obtain dynamite, I looked to my fellow citizens at Home Depot for potentially more practical advice.

Now, it must be said that these types of toilet blockage are a by-product (sorry!) of North American design, that require the “soil pipe” to exit the toilet downwards, instead of sideways as is common in the UK. This means that the water – plus anything it may be transporting – must negotiate a full tight curve both laterally and vertically. Since this obviously increases the chance of blockages, there is an associated line of products designed to assist with that very situation… and help with the economy.

So, $40 later, I was in possession of an instrument of torture which could double for the task of freeing up the blockage. After weeks of grief, one might say that restrictions were lifted, and free passage was once more possible. This seemed to be a disproportionately big deal to No. 2 offspring – as commemorated in my Father’s Day card.

Over the years I have accumulated many tools “just in case” or because a given problem is generally just so much less trouble if you’ve got the right tool for the job. I can honestly say that I really really hope I never have to use this particular tool again, but if I do… I will still be glad I have it. The alternatives are just too gnarly for a Brit to consider.

Home Depot: RIGID K3 3′ Toilet Auger

Over the last week, CBC has been running a competition for the best example of “what my dad taught me” during my morning commute. Whilst No. 2 offspring is on break from McGill, she’s got a summer job with the local museum and I’ve been giving her a lift to work. I jokingly asked what she’d learnt from me. With an inscrutable face, she looked at me and said “how to swear eloquently at other drivers”. Though admittedly not an entirely worthless skill, I admit to feeling I’d perhaps fallen somewhat short of the mark in the parenting stakes.

Imagine then my pleasure at reading the last clause of the note she had put inside her card to me today:

Happy father’s day to the best daddy ever!

Thank you for driving me to work, fixing the toilet, being my garden partner and for encouraging me to be the best I can.

It was, I think you’ll understand, a near tear-jerking moment for me. I’ve always considered my success – and indeed, failure – as a parent as being measured solely by how effectively I have helped prepare the children for their own lives. I am but one influence amongst many and as they grow, that influence inevitably recedes into the background.

To be the best you can be is all anyone could ever ask of anybody. It’s not a religious stance. It’s possibly not even a moral one. Only you know what your best is. To perceive that that is something to aim for is a keen weapon to have along  for life’s journey – helping to assess each of the decisions that life will place in front of you.

I feel honoured that my beautiful daughter feels that this insight was some form of gift, and that it has benefited her in some small way.

Don’t get me wrong – I am immensely proud of all three of my children. This little essay was simply inspired by the small actions of one of them on one day. As “the middle one”, I felt it was about time she got her own little acknowledgement and tonight I will toast all three of them with a small extravagant glass of almost-port from the Okanagan and thank Darwin’s memory for allowing me to take some small satisfaction in all their future successes.

What’s in a name?

8 06 2015

I was invited out for drinks and a bite to eat on Friday with some old work friends. “Old” as in long-standing, as opposed to elderly. That said, we’re none of us getting any younger. Anyway, we ended up at The Main on Main, in Vancouver’s trendy Main Street. Parking was a pain. Though plentiful, the meter-controlled parking on Main was unavailable due to me habitually travelling like royalty… and therefore without cash. Eventually I parked in a twee residential area around the back and only a few minutes walk away.

I’d arranged to arrive early for pre-drinks and my friend and I took a table in the open (as in not present) window to soak up a few rads before the others arrived, and to more readily watch the world pass by. I noticed a large old pub sign on the wall, being used as “art”. It was a Tetley’s sign for “The Oak Tree Root”, and obviously a few thousand miles adrift from its origins in the north of the UK somewhere.

Tetley's Sign - The Main on Main

Tetley’s Sign – The Main on Main

I innocently asked if they served Tetley’s and the waitress asked if I’d like tea. Taken aback, I had to explain at length that Tetley’s tea had nothing to do with Tetley’s brewery. Despite being far from a common surname, they were in fact two completely different things. The Oak Tree Root is a bit of an unusual name for a pub, and it turns out it’s in Howe Bridge, near Manchester. No idea if they realise their pub sign has been stolen though…

A photo of the pub (complete with assurances that they did indeed sell Tetley’s) can be found here on Flickr. Unfortunately it seems they went bust and the building is now a cheap Costcutter shop.

The sun was warm and still high, and we enjoyed a pint of  Driftwood’s White Bark wheat beer. Thankfully it didn’t arrive with the usual fruit salad. What is it about putting orange slices into wheat beer?!

Driftwood - White Bark

Driftwood – White Bark

Our other friends arrived, and as predicted, we had to move away from the window due to their vampire-like dislike of the sun. Oddly, I’m not a big fan of hot weather, but I don’t mind sunshine per se. The Main on Main is OK, foodwise. Slight air of pretension with the way it serves its pretty basic food, but clean and friendly. There were a few too many Greek items on the menu for a traditional pub, but all-in not too bad.


26 05 2015

Well that was a busy few days. A few more to come too.

As I mentioned a while back, I flew to the UK to visit some customers.

Raven and Fog Woman - YVR departure lounge

Raven and Fog Woman – YVR departure lounge

LHR T2 art

LHR T2 art – Zivko Edge 540 stunt plane

Hotel view - gasometers

Hotel view – gasometers

I headed North to help my mum celebrate her birthday (“The North remembers”) with a trip to the Lake District.

Theakston's Bitter

Theakston’s Bitter – The Ship Inn

It's all backwards

It’s all backwards

Boat rentals: Bowness on Windermere

Boat rentals: Bowness on Windermere

Sir Ranulph Fiennes' sledge. Antarctic expedition 1996

Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ sledge. Antarctic expedition 1996

Vintage MG detail

Vintage MG detail

Ruined boathouse - Fell Foot, Windermere

Ruined boathouse – Fell Foot, Windermere

Limestone lintel - Fell Foot

Limestone lintel – Fell Foot

Ruined boathouse - Fell Foot

Ruined boathouse – Fell Foot

Speeding past Ingleborough on the way to Ingleton

Speeding past Ingleborough on the way to Ingleton

Then I spent a few happy hours walking the haunts of my childhood.

This is not a play area. Allegedly.

This is not a play area. Allegedly.

Skipton Road. Victorian houses... with satellite dishes

Skipton Road. Victorian houses… with satellite dishes

No longer an off-license but someone's home

No longer an off-license but someone’s home

Jeff - still cutting hair 40 years on

Jeff – still cutting hair 40 years on and proud to be a Yorkshireman. Doubly.

This used to be a butcher's; now a baker's; perhaps next a candlestick maker?

This used to be a butcher’s; now a baker’s; perhaps next a candlestick maker?

L'Arche. Meeting the need wherever it's found

L’Arche. Meeting the need wherever it’s found

Tag 'em and bag 'em - death co-op style

Tag ’em and bag ’em – death co-op style

Haute cuisine - Yorkshire style

Haute cuisine – Yorkshire style

Silsden bridge

Silsden bridge

Leeds-Liverpool canal with Ilkley Moor in the background

Leeds-Liverpool canal with Ilkley Moor in the background

Next I flew to Cologne/Köln for a trade show.

The back of the bar in the Gaffel brewery

The back of the bar in the Gaffel brewery

Kolsch from the Gaffel brewery

Kölsch from the Gaffel brewery

Hotel Dorint - literally over the road from the Messe

Hotel Dorint – literally over the road from the Messe

Art. Or poor taste?

Art. Or poor taste?

German graffiti

German graffiti

Police vans at the Dom. There was a nearby protest about refugee immigration

Police vans at the Dom. There was a nearby protest about refugee immigration

Beautiful reflected sunset on the Köln Dom

Beautiful reflected sunset on the Köln Dom

Sunset over the opera house

Sunset over the opera house

Then back to the UK for a quick curry then back home to Vancouver.

Ashari curry house - Sipson.

Ashari curry house – Sipson.

Bugger the jet lag – Saturday was my birthday and we took a trip to a local formal gardens at Darts Hill. It’s rarely open to the public, and I took my 100mm macro for a jaunt in the spring showers.

Flag iris - furled

Flag iris – furled

Raindrops on peony petal

Raindrops on peony petal

Edelweiss (no singing, thank-you...)

Edelweiss (no singing, thank-you…)

Delicate painted petals

Delicate painted petals

Sunday saw a bit of gardening and a visit to the cinema with my son to watch the Mad Max relaunch (basically a 2hr car chase through the desert. Think “Dakar rally meets Wacky Races”).

Because the trade show spanned a statutory holiday in BC to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday I took Monday as a holiday in lieu. A day trip to Victoria on the Island seemed appropriate and my two youngest and I spent an interesting day in the provincial capital.

Today saw me back at work just to do a bit of paperwork, and tomorrow I’m off again. This time to Connecticut. A US state I’ve never before seen. I gather it’s quite a sight in autumn. As for spring, I’ll let you know…


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