Another Day Being Grateful I Live in BC

6 08 2016

The weather was fine but not overly sunny today. Perfect hiking weather!

It’s the weekend, so I can’t pretend we got up especially early. We’ve got a visitor at the moment, so that’s always a good excuse for lying in too.

Anyway, comfortably before noon we were on the West Canyon Trail in Golden Ears Provincial Park. It was surprisingly busy and there were signs up telling folks that the camp sites were totally full. There’s plenty of other entertainment for the masses though. Several large motorboats were being towed up and there were even a few motor-homes and caravans descending the hill. Either they ignored the sign and tried their luck anyway, or – perhaps more likely – they were simply leaving after spending the night and were leaving a few spaces for those who were in fact trying their luck and ignoring the signs.

Around April-time Mrs E had seen a posting on the BC Provincial Park FaceBook page letting folks know that they had recently opened a bridge in Golden Ears linking the West Canyon and East Canyon trails. We’ve hiked the Gold Creek trail many times over our 15 years living in BC, but we’d never tried either of these trails and it seemed like it was about time to put that right.

The round trip is about 12km and basically goes up either side of Gold Creek towards the North. We had a great day out, got some exercise and the weather was perfect. I have to say though… not in the top 10 hikes. It’s two very different experiences. We went clockwise and the West Canyon trail starts off very gently as a very wide track easily suitable for bikes. After a while though it changes from “easy dog walk path” to “proper hike” with some trivial scrambles and a few steep bits. Nothing major but more enjoyable than trudging up what was effectively a logging road. We actually saw some remnants of the past logging history, and I suspect much of the trail had originally been built to support the logging activities.

After about 4km there is a lookout over the creek and the new bridge could clearly be seen in the distance. We stopped a little further on, just before the trail splits and offers an alternative route for those wishing to ascend Golden Ears itself or perhaps camp on Alder Flats. Here the path disappointingly becomes VERY “improved” – hard wearing crushed rock laid very neatly and evenly through the forest. This led inexorably towards the new bridge, which is actually bent. There’s a central pier in the river which implies some earlier bridge once performed its duty here. The new bridge is actually two bridges from each bank meeting at the pier at a jaunty angle. Standing mid span gave some lovely views, and the rock was noticeably orangy here. Perhaps mineral-bearing. On the Eastern side of the bridge was a sign forbidding horses to cross (apparently BC horses can read), and it was soon apparent that the Eastern trail was indeed suitable for horses… and good for rose growers with the foresight to bring a bucket and shovel. There were a few slight rises in the trail, but essentially it was a wide smooth path all the way back South to the car-park. Uninspiring, but fast to hike. Definitely do it clockwise – the near-boring Eastern trail is OK if you’re just making a dash back to the car, but it might turn you off if it was the start of your hike, before you got to the more interesting Western Trail.

Mustn’t complain though – it’s another 12km on the odometer, and I’m happy I can do it in such lovely surroundings.

West Canyon and East Canyon Trails

West Canyon and East Canyon Trails

Elevation

Elevation Profile of the hike





Post-Brexit

9 07 2016

So it’s suddenly become very cheap to go to Britain (which as mentioned previously elsewhere is NOT the same as England).

If you’d like to take advantage and visit England, you might find the following video useful to make sure you don’t make any faux pas’… or perhaps not.





The DNA Journey

3 07 2016

Would you dare to question who you really are? #LetsOpenOurWorld

Source: The DNA Journey

 

 

Who are you? No really – deep inside, who are you really?

I came across some random bit of flotsam (or is it jetsam? I always get the two confused) beached on the edges of the Internet. It was a video of a group of folks in the UK adamantly stating what they believed their heritage to be. After a simple spit sample to test their DNA they were shocked and surprised by the results. The “100%” English, anti-German guy discovered he was 5% German himself, and only 30% “British” (whatever that means these days!). Two people discovered they were actually cousins!

So much of who we think we are is learnt, and not actually real. That’s a good thing, because we can always learn new things, and even occasionally from our past mistakes. We can become something better than what we think we already are.

A guy I once worked with used to rub me up the wrong way almost daily. At a management retreat he mentioned a book he had enjoyed – The Seven Daughters of Eve. It covers much of this ground of common heritage, and I learnt to be more tolerant of him after accepting that we were likely even distantly related. As ultimately, we all are.

Sure this was all a clever marketing stunt for a travel site, but hey – accepting that we are ALL connected can only be a good thing in this age of fracturing states.

Now go and smile at a stranger – the more superficially different from you the better.





World’s longest held erection

5 06 2016

Every day, I’m supposed to take a little blue pill. It’s actually for my heart and is a low dose Aspirin. I hear however that other gentlemen sometimes make use of another little blue pill by Pfizer. This pill is intended to help them become more upstanding citizens than they might otherwise be able to be. One potential side-effect that is reported is that the upstandingness can last rather longer than required. Or is comfortable. Imagine then holding this stance for a full fifteen years!

As the city of Chicago recovered from its great fire and grew from strength to strength, the river traffic up the north arm of the Chicago river was finding it harder and harder to negotiate the swing bridges then in use. The following potted history of the Kinzie St railway bridge can be read in more detail at Wikipedia.

By 1907 construction started on a new bascule bridge that would allow more space for larger boats to pass on the river. Designed to carry two rail tracks, the foundations of the pivot were required to sit on the bedrock, a full 29m below the river bed.  By the time the bridge opened on September 19, 1908 an alternative scheme was already under way that led to the closure of Wells Street Station and its replacement with a new terminal on the west bank of the river. When the Ogilvie Transportation Center opened in 1911, Kinzie Street railroad bridge was left to handle only freight traffic.

During the second half of the 20th century the number of companies using the railroad for shipping on Chicago’s near north side declined severely. The construction of the Columbus Drive Bridge in 1982 wiped out part of the right of way and the spur to Navy Pier was abandoned. Service to the Tribune Tower also ended in the 1980s, and by the 1990s traffic along the remaining section of the spur served only one customer, the Chicago Sun-Times, with only one train per day. The newspaper moved their printing plant out of downtown Chicago in early 2001 and now shares the Herald Tribune printing plant, leaving no traffic across the bridge and it has since been permanently raised in the open position.

Kinzie St. Bridge

Kinzie St. Bridge, Chicago

Kinzie St. Railroad Bridge

Kinzie St. Railroad Bridge

Printing Plant

Printing Plant





Who was Peggy Helms?

18 04 2016

Yesterday was hot and sunny in the Lower Mainland. Like mid-summer hot and sunny. I gather there was a sprinkling of snow up in Whistler, but that was not where I was!

After a shaky start to the day which involved doing a bit more of the family tax returns, we were finally ready for offsky just after lunchtime. Master E. wanted to borrow my car for some odd reason (perhaps coupled to the fact that his own seemed to be totally bereft of petrol…), so Mrs E. and I headed off up the valley in his charabanc… on an adventure. We realised as we headed over the Golden Ears bridge that we hadn’t actually eaten (such is the danger of lying in at the weekend and having late breakfast), and so a brief stop at Timmy’s was felt to be prudent. I treated myself to an Ice Capp made with chocolate milk, and all was good with the world. Well – once the brain freeze had subsided a little.

Around 3pm, we arrived at the Malcolm Knapp UBC Research Forest in Maple Ridge. The weather was gorgeous and there were only a few cars in the car-park. It’s been a few years since we were last here and so we headed off to the information panels to pick up a map and see what’s what. Needless to say all the maps had gone and apart from a sign telling us not to pick mushrooms, there wasn’t a lot to be learnt from the notice boards. Noting from a sign on the office that the park closed at 8pm, we ambled off in the general direction our memories told us the trails began.

The trailhead was obvious enough and followed the usual convention of coloured blocks to mark out several trails. Unfortunately though, there was no map, so though the intent was clear enough, there was nothing to illustrate what the various trails might entail. No matter – there were apparently 3 (it later turned out there was a fourth, but that’s another story), and since the tree had all three colours, we couldn’t really go wrong.

Ted Lowe woz 'ere

Ted Lowe woz ‘ere

So, off we pootled on the very clear and well-used trail. This was a stroll rather than a hike, so neither of us were wearing boots, carrying water, waterproofs or any of the usual things I’d normally have in a small rucksack. After a few minutes we came to a decision point where one way had a blue square and the other had red and yellow. Personally, I’d have gone for the twofer (to double the chances), but Mrs E. thought the blue looked pretty and off we went into the unknown. The going remained excellent and we came to a little bridge over a bubbling beck.

The sound of fairies laughing

The sound of fairies laughing

Eventually we popped out on a logging road and as we entered the other side there was a map showing how the area was split into various test zones. To the casual eye the whole place was one large forest, but in fact each sector was testing one or other forestry technique. One area was testing for quality on a 50 year cycle, others for cost effectiveness.

You are here! But why are you here?

You are here! But why are you here?

Though the signs had a rough map, the worrying thing was that the blue route was basically shown running south to north over the mapped area… no hint of a loop. I joked that knowing our luck we’d end up popping out in Haney with a sign hoping we’d had a nice hike. Yes – this was now officially a hike. It was still only about 3:30pm and we had good daylight until around 7:30pm or even later. No hint of rain in the sky and still warm. No need to panic yet. We decided on a “turn around” time and decided to press on. The trail was very well marked and well travelled, though weirdly we’d not met a single person (or bear).

Spring was definitely here in the valley and we saw lots of fiddle-heads as the ferns were unravelling. I thought they looked like seahorses suspended in the foliage, but maybe I’d inhaled some botanicals along the way.

Sea-horses grow on bushes

Sea-horses grow on bushes

Eventually we found a “proper” map. Now this was both good and bad news. Good in that it confirmed what had hitherto only been a hope – that it was a loop trail! Bad in that we weren’t even half way around and the last 40%+ was deemed a “rough” trail.

Having the trail map as a photo in my iPhone was a boon. Right up until the battery faded...

Having the trail map as a photo in my iPhone was a boon. Right up until the battery faded…

Still – we had plenty of time, and there was no need to turn back. You may just be able to see a purple triangle at the very top of the map which is the viewpoint on a spur of the blue trail. We were already on the supposedly “rough trail”, and frankly I’ve seen worse A roads in the UK. This was still very good walking. Without really meaning to, we headed off on the spur and after a short climb we came to a little shelter tucked away in the brush. A plaque near the entrance declared that it was in memory of a Peggy Helms who had died in 1987.

In loving memory Peggy Helms who died accidentally June 2, 1987 Delta BC.

In loving memory
Peggy Helms
who died accidentally
June 2, 1987
Delta BC.

We had a quick look at the picnic bench overlooking the valley (lovely spot to have your sandwiches… if you have them!) and headed back on the trail. One patch was a little confusing as it was actually on the forest road for a couple of hundred metres but the markers implied you were to go into the wood. Eventually we figured it out and had a spot of excitement balancing on a log to cross the stream. The rest of the trail was pretty much downhill and after 2 hours 20 minutes we arrived back at the office and the old steam mule – a remnant of the area’s old logging history.

Steam mule

Steam mule

Arriving home, I did a quick search for Ms Helms but having passed away pre-Internet, she left very little in the way of clues. Her widower though – Robert – didn’t die until 2014, and so we find from the digital archives of Vancouver’s The Province:

Robert Helms
Obituary

Robert Helms July 16, 1922 – August 26, 2014

Bob passed away peacefully at the age of 92. He was predeceased by his wife Peggy in 1987 and is survived by his children Juliette ( Rick), Paul (Pat), Anita (Steve), 5 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren and 1 great great grandchild. Born in Gludsted, Denmark, he immigrated with Peggy to Canada in 1953, settling first in Vancouver and moving to North Delta in 1957. Bob loved living in North Delta and throughout his 57 years there remained involved in community projects and politics. A celebration of Bob’s life will be held at Juliette and Rick’s home on October 5 at 2:00.

So that’s all the Internet will divulge for now – that she was Danish, had 3 kids and was outlived by her husband by nearly 30 years. How she died accidentally, why there’s a shelter in her memory, these are questions that remain opaque.





Betty’s home from home

26 03 2016

Some considerable time ago, Mrs E read in a magazine – unfortunately which specific one is lost to the mists of time – about a place called Clayburn Tea Shop. Not too surprisingly this tea shop is in Clayburn, not much more than a small collection of homes just outside Abbotsford in BC’s Fraser Valley. The long weekend (and the absence of son and heir at a week-long training camp) gave us an excuse for a small road trip, and off we went in search of said “cup of tea shop”, nominally to check out their tea and sticky buns. We knew nothing about it except a vague memory from Mrs E that it was worth a visit (allegedly) and it was in Clayburn. As I mentioned, Clayburn is little more than a hamlet, and my Garmin denied such a place even existed. It did however admit to Clayburn Road’s existence, so off we went, adventure in the air and the prospect of a new tea shop in the offing.

Needless to say, Clayburn Road turned out to be one of those annoying roads that stops and starts as it makes its way across the map. Cartographers in BC were so unimaginative and would keep re-using the same road name if it was roughly in line with some other stretch of road, even if there was no way to get from hither to thither.

Having successfully navigated to Garmin’s admitted location of Clayburn Road, we discovered that this particular part of it was only a few hundred metres long. Thankfully I am Old School enough to also travel with paper maps and a quick shufti gave us a much more likely length of Clayburn Road to target, and we were off again. Ten minutes later, we were parking opposite the tea shop. It was also once the general store, and its unassuming frontage hides a deep building going back from the main (I use the word loosely) road.

Clayburn Tea Shop

Clayburn Tea Shop

Take a Google street view look yourself here.

As we crossed the road and got closer, I was surprised – in a good way – to read on the window that they sold tea from Taylors of Harrogate. Now if you’re not from God’s Own County, the magnitude of this discovery would mean nothing. Taylors you see is the brand of tea from Betty’s of Harrogate.

If you still need convincing about Brewtopia or the Hanging Gardens of Put’kettleon, check out the TV ad…

And sure enough, like walking into Mr Benn’s changing room, Alice’s rabbit hole or some other magical portal… we found ourselves transported to Harrogate. Here was a pioneer version of Betty’s Tea Shop.

Betty's of Harrogate

Betty’s of Harrogate

The young ladies serving weren’t wearing the Victorian black and white of Betty’s, but apart from that and a few “New World substitutions” in the furniture and decor, we could definitely have been in a transported version of Betty’s!

There were shelves of Farrah’s toffees (also hailing from Harrogate), Black Jacks and other tooth-rotting glories in a sweet shop section next to the café/restaurant and a proper “general store” with yummy comestibles to peruse later, towards the back of the shop. Suddenly weak at the knees, we found a table and were brought a menu of unbelievable goodies…

Le Menu

Le Menu

Having hunted high and low on a recent trip to the UK to get Ploughman’s Lunch, here it was on the outskirts of Abbotsford! They even had Cornish Pasties and Melton Mowbray pork pies! The puddings were like blasts of memory with things like Sticky Toffee Pudding and scones with Devonshire cream.

Naturally I had a pot of Yorkshire tea – they wouldn’t serve a gallon bucket as was my preference. I did manage to squeeze 4 cups out of it nevertheless. I did indeed opt for the Ploughman’s Lunch and was a little disappointed that it contained neither an apple nor any pork pie. It did have three different slabs of cheese and I have to say the inclusion of genuine Branston Pickle and the Hayward’s pickled onion made up for it. The scone and cream – with local raspberry jam – was warm and a nice closure to the experience.

Bill paid, we perused the rest of the store and ended up buying a packet of Frazzles, a packet of Twiglets, some Elkes Malted Milk biscuits, a Curly Wurly and a Milkybar. Maybe I grew up, or perhaps they all shrank in translation… but I’m sure they were a lot bigger when I was a kid.

Grins a-plenty we left the little café and 10 minutes later had also seen what the rest of the hamlet had to offer. It’s a bit of a trek out there from White Rock, but we’ll definitely be back to sample some more of their Yorkshire treats.

And yes – it’s definitely bigger on the inside.

 





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!