Of Omens, the Interior and Defeat

21 11 2016

It was Mrs E’s birthday this last week and as a little treat I took her for a wine tour in BC’s interior. Summerland, on the west bank of Okanagan Lake to be specific.

We set off good and early. The tour was scheduled to start at 2:45pm, and if we missed the bus, we were in trouble. It’s about a 4 hour drive, depending whether you go North then East or East then North. I took the precaution of checking the BC highway webcams and was shocked to see “The Connector” (the northern East/West option) was not only snowy… but it hadn’t been ploughed yet! Now in fairness, it was still a bit early and being the most busy route I’m sure it would have been totally fine by the time we got there. However, not wishing to risk anything, we opted to head East first and took the lower route on Highway 3 – the Crow’s Nest. This was such a quiet drive, it was a real pleasure. There were no big trucks trying to push us to go faster, and there was lots of time to enjoy this great province. We paused briefly in Hedley – little more than a kink in the road and a heavily tattooed pop band. We hastily moved past Princeton which gives me the willies. It always feels like one of those places that have been taken over by aliens. Everyone looks at you a bit weird.

At one point we slowed briefly to let an injured coyote cross the four lanes without further harm and later saw quite a large stag looking at us from the side of the highway like we were the first car he’d ever seen.

As we drove through Penticton, we could see the Skaha bluffs on the opposite shore of the Skaha Lake, and shortly after that we were driving close to the Okanagan lake and into Summerland. The hotel (Summerland Waterfront Resort) was easy to find (as most things are with a GPS), and we were comfortably early for checking in. The jolly receptionist was happy to let us check in early and we had a little while to familiarise ourselves with the locale.

Summerland Waterfront Resort

Summerland Waterfront Resort

We’d paid a little extra and got a top floor suite with a balcony and almost a view of the lake. The low building in the picture is a bar/restaurant, and if it hadn’t been so windy it would have been nice to walk out on the floating dock.

The room was very light and airy and there was a reception gift of a bottle of wine and cheese plates.

Wine and cheese awaits us.

Wine and cheese awaits us.

We’d just nicely explored the suite and it was time for offsky!

We joined the group of ne’er do wells by the front door and before long a shuttle bus arrived. This one however was “Merlot”, and we were waiting for “Kerner”. Kerner is a grape variety I’d never heard of, so I was already feeling like this would be an educational afternoon. Soon after, our driver arrived and 21 of us piled on to the adventure. One bloke loudly declared that “I’ll be asked to sit at the front soon. I always am…” Oh great – we’d got the piss-head!

A quick ride down the highway and we were at “8th Generation“. I’d seen the winery’s sign on the way into town earlier. The winery was run by a German family who had been making the grape juice sing for… surprise!… 8 generations. In 1757 Christian Schales started it all with 3 acres and in 2003 Berndt Heinrich Schales emigrated to BC as the 8th generation and started his own winery in 2007.

Vines of the 8th Generation

Vines of the 8th Generation

It was our first stop of the tour, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We were apologetically told that several wines were sold out, and given three wines I honestly can’t remember much about. One of the ladies seemed to be part of the family and was very passionate about the wines. This was a theme throughout the tour – if you could engage with “the principal” you learnt a lot about their wines and their winery. Here though I just felt like we were being thrown from pillar to post and was almost glad to be back on the bus. Mr SitAtThe Front and his wife had bought a bottle of ice wine and it was almost gone by the time we arrived at the second winery – Lunessence. Lunessence (NOT Luminescence as several people insisted on calling it) is a new winery, only 18 months or so in the making. They were quirky to say the least, but their Reserve Chardonnay was lovely! They use the phases and essence of the moon (hence Lunessence) to guide their routine and – I shit you not – they play opera to their vines. Raucous tragedies to the reds and gentle romance to the whites. The guide was Slovakian and once more exuded passion for her wines and the process of making them.

Back on the bus, and next stop was Sumac Ridge. Now this is a well known winery and I was expecting a brusque, dismissive experience. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I applaud the company for the care they took in offering an excellent experience. We sampled no less than 5 wines including both the Sumac Ridge and Black Sage brands. The Shiraz was great, and I was told that the Black Sage vineyard was actually further south and gave bolder reds than those here in Summerland – hence they branded them differently. They also had a port-style wine called Pipe… and we made our first purchase of the evening.

Sumac Ridge

Sumac Ridge

Each of the five tasters was paired with a little food to really set it off, and again – I applaud Sumac Ridge for the attention to detail. By now, I was feeling decidedly mellow, but we weren’t done yet!

Although it was included in our tour fee, the last stop at Crush Pad usually charges a $5 fee for their tasting. This is more than offset by the experience they offer and the excellent food. Everything from whiskey chocolate truffles to a hearty stew or bread and cheese dip. All of it gorgeous and all of it paired well with the wines on offer. Our favourite here was the “Narrative Fortified Small Batch”. According to their web site, this wine is a combination of Merlot and Syrah, fermented in concrete, fortified with their own grape spirits distilled on site, and aged for two years in neutral oak. Like port… but not quite.

 

Narrative Fortified

Narrative Fortified

The venue was itself interesting and I took a couple of photos of the wine currently in process of being made.

Yup - 2.1 degrees Celsius!

Yup – 2.1 degrees Celsius!

Magic happens here

Magic happens here

By now, “Front Seat Guy” and his wife were very well oiled (and loud). This led to her losing grip on an expensive bottle they’d purchased and its demise was mourned by all. the winery wouldn’t hear of her buying a new one and insisted on replacing it at their own cost. Amazing service.

Back on the bus for the trip back to the hotel and we were very happy with the evening indeed! After a spot to eat in the nearby restaurant we had to sit through the Canucks snatching a 4-3 defeat from the jaws of a 3-0 victory as only they can.

Sunday we had to head home, but not before we fit in one last visit. First though… breakfast! We asked Uncle Google for suggestions of local cafés and we selected “Good Omens” for no particular reason at all. The GPS took us straight to the location… where we found anything but good omens!

Not so Good Omens

Not so Good Omens

We chose Saxon for our last visit as it had been recommended by the shuttle driver. The GPS took us straight to it, and we were relieved to see a sign by the entrance saying “Open for Tasting”. It wasn’t a given on a Sunday morning. As we approached, the owner bid us a welcome, but told us they weren’t actually open. They’d just forgotten to bring the sign in. We were already there though… we could certainly still have a look. The owner – Jayne Graydon – was a lovely person and spent a good half hour telling us all about the winery and their products. Since they weren’t open for tasting, she went as far as letting us sample the in-progress wines being made at the moment, as well as a sample of their port style. We were enamoured by the taste of half-made Gewürztraminer and though I would not have naturally been a fan of German grapes, we were moved to purchase a bottle for the fridge.

Saxon Winery: 2015 Organic Gewürztraminer VQA

So – if you find yourself with the opportunity to go to the Okanagan, I thoroughly recommend taking a wine tour along the Bottleneck Drive.

Bottleneck Drive

Bottleneck Drive





The North is dripping with history

13 11 2016

I subscribe to the print version of the BBC’s most excellent History Magazine. As is often the case with magazines, the letters page is usually quite entertaining and informative – if only for the occasional ill-informed vitriol from a reader. Being in one of the distant reaches of empire commonwealth, I receive the magazine a little later than most, but it’s a history magazine anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

As I mentioned, the letters page was interesting, and one contributor was making the point that “collective memory” can be extremely localised. He recounted the history of the Leeds Dripping Riot of 1865 – an event I was totally unaware of, despite growing up less than 20 miles away (to be fair – significantly later than 1865, despite what my kids may think).

For those not educated in the culinary arts, “dripping” is the collected fat drippings from roast meat – particularly beef or pork. Though much less common now because it’s allegedly “not good for you”, the best tasting fish and chips of my youth were from shops who deep fried their offerings in beef dripping. As a youth, a quick snack at home would be a knife-full of dripping (collected over several sunday roasts) on a slice of white bread. A pinch of salt would just top off the snack and make sure you were hitting all the right food groups. :S

Dripping (Source: Wikipedia)

Dripping (Image source: Wikipedia)

It’s actually sold in Germany, if you go to places selling “authentic rustic food” and ask for Schweinshaxe, it’ll often come with a starter of crusty bread and a little pot of dripping.

The Yorkshire stuff – as illustrated in the Wikipedia image above – would be left to separate, and you’d get this meaty jelly at the bottom, under the thick crust of solid (at room temperature) fat. Anyway, there’s no argument that it is pretty hard (pun intended) on the arteries, but a wonderful taste sensation. It is also laden with class implications. Having read out the magazine letter to my dear wife, she commented about her family “not sinking to eating bread and dripping”. Being of English origin, and therefore not communicating often anyway, she’s still not realised I’m not talking to her. (I expect this to become more apparent as the month wears on.)

I jest of course, but the comment about sinking to eating bread and dripping was true enough. It remains one of the pointed North/South divide issues, though is making a slow comeback as we learn more about nutrition and the importance of fat in our diet. The Daily Mail valiantly tried to rehabilitate it a couple of years ago too.

Bread and dripping (Image source: Daily Mail)

Bread and dripping (Image source: Daily Mail)

So anyway – getting back to the point: I paraphrase the Wikipedia entry of the events…

In January 1865, Eliza Stafford was a cook employed by Henry Chorley, a well to do surgeon and local magistrate in Leeds, Yorkshire. He apparently discovered that Stafford had disposed of about 1kg of dripping to a local dressmaker and took umbrage and had her arrested. Being well connected, he pressed for her to be prosecuted for theft.

Stafford’s defence was that although she admitted disposing of the dripping, it was a perk of the job. (We’re not talking about stealing the meat remember… just the fatty waste that comes off it during cooking and which might simply be disposed of immediately today, without comment.) Chorley claimed that this was one of several similar incidents but that this was the only one he had any direct evidence of. The magistrates convicted Stafford of the theft and sentenced her to one month’s imprisonment in Armley Jail.

Armley Jail (Image source: Wikipedia)

Armley Jail, Leeds (Image source: Wikipedia)

The local populace were upset and many people considered the prosecution petty and the punishment harsh. Attention was also drawn to the circumstances of the trial which for reasons unexplained had been heard in private rather than in public as normal, and before magistrates known personally to Chorley. The protests culminated in a demonstration, estimated at being between 12,000 and 15,000 people, outside the prison on the Saturday before Stafford was due to be released. A smaller number of people, about 700, went on to protest outside Chorley’s house. Apart from some snowballs being thrown (how very English), these protests all passed off peacefully.

The riot itself occurred on the day of her release. She’d been let out earlier than scheduled and missed all the fun. The crowd, disappointed they’d missed her, largely dispersed but about a thousand people marched from the prison to Chorley’s house and threw stones that broke several windows in the house. The Chief Constable of Leeds, William Bell, and some police officers managed to form a cordon round the house and withstood several attempts by the protesters to break through to the house.

During lunch the numbers of people in the square increased as workers came to view the affair. (There was no telly in those days). The Mayor of Leeds, John Darnton Luccock, called for assistance from Bradford police and from the army at York. At 1 pm, lunch break over, many people left, and the police decided to try and clear the square. After issuing a notice ordering the crowd to disperse, the police charged and drove everyone out of Park Square. During the charge one man, George Hudson, was trampled and severely injured – injuries so severe that he subsequently died – and a number of men were arrested for “riotous conduct”. This effectively ended the riot and reinforced by the Bradford Police with two troops of the 8th Hussars from York on standby, the Leeds police prevented any further attempts at disturbance despite a sizable number of people assembling nearby in the evening and attempting to march upon Leeds Town Hall.

The men arrested were tried for riotous conduct but the magistrates took a lenient view and only one was imprisoned and then only for a week. The sentencing magistrate described the incident as “very silly excitement” and the other four defendants were bound over in the sum of £10. Henry Chorley died in 1878, of Eliza Stafford there is no subsequent history.





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.