X marks the spot

14 05 2013

Today is election day in BC.

Number 2 child got to vote for the first time, so I took her along this morning to the “Voting Place” – really?! What ever happened to “Polling Station“? Another case of the English language being simplified and dumbed down for the hard of thinking? Winston Smith would find things easy here…

Anyway, she was fêted as if she were royalty (being a first timer), which helped make a positive impression I’m sure. I guess she looked like a noob. She commented on how laid back things seemed to be, but I pointed out how very meticulous the process actually was (they wouldn’t even begin to look for me in the register until her vote was in the box). I’m glad she actively wanted to take part in the election. It’s an important part of who we are as Canadians (when we’re not being British, or English or Yorkshiremen – well the last one is only me).

We even got stickers as we left announcing “I voted”. No lollipop though. I feel cheated…

This year, there’s no “good” candidates I felt – only an attempt to pick the least bad. The CBC had a natty online questionnaire which asked a few key questions and helped you see which party’s views were most aligned with your own. I gave it a go. Bad idea.

I was 56% aligned with both the Liberals and the NDP (the two leading parties in BC). 54% aligned with the Greens. So – not really a lot of help at all!

I was reminded of a Churchillism:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (from a House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947).

Despite that, yes – I did vote. Fingers crossed now. My part in the game is done.

At 8pm, we see who is steering the grand vessel that is BC.

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Pancake Day!

12 02 2013

Busy, busy weekend.

Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run on Saturday; Callaghan Valley “Grand Day Out” snowshoeing on Sunday; Snowshoe Grind up Grouse Mountain again yesterday (in the low cloud – very slow going) because Number Two Child wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It was Family Day in BC, and Grouse Mountain had made most things half price. Despite initial appearances, I was assured the offer was available to non-Asian families. It was a pleasure to see so many recent immigrants like myself enjoying what Greater Vancouver has to offer.

Callaghan Valley: Olympic ski jumps.

Callaghan Valley: Olympic ski jumps.

Callaghan Valley: Now that's a mushroom!

Callaghan Valley: Now that’s a mushroom!

Callaghan Valley shelter: View of Black Tusk

Callaghan Valley shelter: View of Black Tusk

After all that (no blisters though – that’s good!) I lost the princely total of 2lb. That’s nigh on a kilogram, so I’ll take it thank-you very much.

All that just to say that today is Shrove Tuesday. Pancake Day! We like them thin and large – crepe style. Not thick and spongy, North American style. Either way… they’re not exactly conducive to weight loss, so I think I’ll treat this year’s Pancake Day as a spectator sport.

Enjoy yours!





2 for 2 – a weekend outside

9 12 2012

Well, I had a mighty fine weekend thank-you. Oh – you weren’t asking? Well I did anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Just go with it, OK?

Still here? Good! Where was I? Oh yes…

I became aware of an opportunity to go snow-shoeing on Saturday, so I added my name to what I felt would be a long list of hyper-fit 20-something year olds and awaited developments. In the end it was just myself and one Rover Scout. We opted for “Dog Mountain“, just off of Seymour Mountain, one of Vancouver’s “North Shore” ski resorts. In the end it was a great day, with around 3 hours on the hill. We were in low cloud, so the usual spectacular views of Vancouver and Stanley Park eluded us. However, we were treated to the cheeky Whiskey-jacks (see their January escapades on the same mountains here) once we reached the peak.

Today I had to go into town to pick up a Craigslist purchase – some Ilford Multigrade filters for my recently acquired B&W enlarger, and took the opportunity to check out the recent snow fall on Grouse Mountain – the middle of the three North Shore Mountains – with another snow shoe trip. During summer, the Grouse has “The Grouse Grind“, and they’ve tried to keep people coming by introducing a winter snow shoeing trail – “The Snow Show Grind”. I didn’t get to the top as I had to get back home for a promised trip to the REI outfitters in Bellingham. Coming down was – how shall I say? – interesting! It was fast and undignified. Let’s leave it at that.

So – I might not have been running of late, but I did get out and about and hiked around 2 of the 3 local peaks. I feel glad for that – we have such lovely scenery here in BC, and it really is a joy to be out there sharing it. You really do feel you’re in excellent company – there are like minded folks around, you’re breathing fresh air, and sharing very special moments in space and time.

There may well be no “meaning to life” beyond propagating our Selfish Genes, but hey – if I get to share those moments on the hills: “Frankly my dear… I don’t give a damn!”





Lest we forget

11 11 2012

As a long time scout, I remember dutifully attending Remembrance Sunday services in the UK as a kid, and being told off for sniggering as The Last Post was rendered almost unrecognisable by some poor kid with lips frozen to his bugle.

When we moved to Canada, I was slightly taken aback with how much more respect is paid here in BC. It was almost as if the UK was apologetic for having to remember. The only attendees at the cenotaph in the UK would be the scouts and guides and maybe the local city Councillors. Maybe a couple of parents, but certainly not a big thing.

Here in White Rock, the entire town turns out to watch. The ceremony is on the 11th – no matter what day of the week it falls. Not on the nearest Sunday as in the UK. The parade includes the local air and sea cadets, the RCMP, the fire service and representatives from all the various scout and guide groups in the town. There’s even a fly-past from the local flying club, and it’s definitely “a big thing”. It never fails to leave me feeling humbled.

WWII started as a European thing. Britain couldn’t NOT get involved. But Canada? Canada could very definitely have kept itself to itself and let things on the other side of the world play out. The US in fact did just that for about three years. I read a review of a Canadian TV series called “Bomb Girls” about munitions workers in WWII. Apparently US viewers were confused because Pearl Harbor was the big story item in the last episode of the first series. It would seem that some US viewers had no idea the war had been raging for years before then.

Thankfully they did enter though – Britain (even with the amazing support of its dwindling empire) was on its last legs. They were showing “The Battle of Britain” film on TV this afternoon. There’s a classic line from Sir Lawrence Olivier as Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, when he’s being pressed to verify the astonishing figures of the number of bombers being downed by the struggling RAF in October 1940:

“I’m not very interested in propaganda. If we’re right, they’ll give up. If we are wrong, they’ll be in London in a week!.” Incidentally there were 112 Canadian pilots helping in the Battle of Britain… as well at 7 Americans. Despite the US still being neutral at that point. They were all part of “the few” referred to in Churchill’s famous speech.

It’s usually a cool day. Rainy often. Occasionally windy – I remember one year the wreaths were continually blowing over. But today it snowed. Only a little, but enough to remind people of the discomforts weather can bring.

I have been to Flanders. To Ieper/Ypres (depending on whether you’re a Flemish or French speaking Belgian). I’ve seen the Menin Gate and been astonished at the thousands of carved names. Then astonished afresh to learn that this seemingly endless register of lives lost records only the brave souls whose final resting place is not known. I have seen the traffic stopped at 8pm – every day since 1918 except briefly during WWII – and heard the Last Post played by the local Fire Service and the second stanza of Ode of Remembrance read.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them





Mycology is better than urology

6 10 2012

I just had an abso-bloody-lutely awesome day. I thought you might like to share, in case your own was only “meh”. It’s free – just give me a few minutes of your life and I’ll try and give you some vicarious entertainment.

As the more well-endowed in the memory department will recall, I recently joined the Vancouver Mycological Society. Their website makes the reasonably clever word play joke of this posting’s title, and that was enough to encourage me to part with my money. Being able to spout the Latin names for fungus is one thing… a sly and/or quick sense of humour is quite another!

As a fully paid up member (no jokes thank-you MM) of VMS, I get occasional emails of interesting mushroomy things happening around Vancouver. One such thing was information about a “hands on” mushroom cultivation seminar at the Homesteader’s Emporium on East Hastings, Vancouver. Sounded like a bit of a laugh, despite the $75 price tag. And there was the promise of taking home some interesting mushroom cultures. So anyway, I signed up and this morning found me up bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and on the road to Vancouver. Well, on the road to Vancouver anyway.

And so my adventures began…

This was waaaaaaay too early for the weekend, and I drove right past the motorway exit I needed, instead heading on auto-pilot for Richmond, where I work. Now the Lower Mainland is bifurcated (I’ve wanted to use that word ever since I read it in James Gleick‘s Chaos book when I was in my 20s!) by the Fraser River – and recursively so throughout Delta and Richmond in a way I’m sure Gleick would approve of. Basically this means that if you miss an exit… you’re screwed. There’s only a handful of bridges and one token tunnel. So my lack of attention while cruising along listening to “+” by Ed Sheeren (he may be a ginge, but he’s from Halifax, so I’ll let him off.) meant I had to carry on to the Oak Street bridge and approach the Emporium from the West instead of the East as I’d planned. This was a tad awkward for two reasons.

Firstly, East Hastings is Vancouver’s “dodgy bit”.  Now all things are relative, as Burt One-stone would have us all know, and so Vancouver’s definition of “dodgy” is still way safer than some small villages in the UK after dark (I was beaten nearly senseless in 1988 in the twee-by-daylight Stony Stratford. In true Jekyll/Hyde manner areas of it became no-go zones for “decent folk” after dark. I was nïave and was made to learn the lesson the hard way.)

Nevertheless, driving West to East along Hastings would take me right through Vancouver’s seedier underbelly. (It has other underbellies in full bloom, but this one is seedy.) It always makes me uncomfortable. Since the Riverview Hospital was basically closed down, many of Vancouver’s mentally ill have joined the already swollen ranks of its drug-haunted residents in congregating outside East Hastings’ many hostels and refuges. The discomfort comes from odd places. I guess I feel some sense of shared shame that our relatively affluent society can’t do better for these folk; that some I’m sure would reject it if we could; and lastly the very real possibility that any one of them could quite randomly launch themselves under the wheels of my car as it passed by.

Last night Mrs Elephant and I went to watch a French film as part of the VIFF festival (more later on that, I’m sure). As we walked back to the SkyTrain station, she was barrelled into by a tall and totally spaced out guy in his early 30s. He then barged into a similarly aged guy and started to aggressively accuse him of “looking at him a bit funny”. I forget the exact phrase, but meth heads the world over utter similar things randomly to slightly confused passers-by.

Where was I?

Ah yes – the second reason I didn’t want to travel West to East along Hastings… I’d only remembered the street names coming from the East! I hardly ever drive in Vancouver, preferring to use transit if at all possible The Homesteader’s Emporium was a little out of the city centre though, and I didn’t really want to have to negotiate the buses and potentially be late.

So anyway, having crossed the river via the Oak Street Bridge, I turned right along Marine and headed for Cambie Street, safe in the knowledge that it intersected with Hastings somewhere-or-other. Probably. All was well as I headed north on Cambie. I always find Vancouver a bit disorientating as you go downhill into Vancouver, and that just feels like it should be South somehow. So as I headed North over the Cambie Bridge (across False Creek), I was warmly reminded of my time working downtown, when I got to know this area quite well. Then I was suddenly shocked from my reverie to see Cambie Street as a cross-road, and thankfully was awake enough to take it.

Only Vancouver could have Cambie Street crossing Cambie Bridge and then turning into Smithe Street for no obvious reason, so it could cut across… Cambie Street!

Anyway, to cut an already lengthening story slightly shorter, I found myself on Hastings, and heading through scary-ville towards my destination. Thankfully traffic was pretty slow, and I spotted the turning I needed, and found a free parking spot on a road parallel to Hastings. 30 minutes early – bonus! Time for a tea. I walked past the shop which appeared closed and shuttered behind grills, just to make sure I’d got the right place. Safe in that knowledge I set off in search of caffeine (e before i). 10 minutes later I gave up, but had discovered that EVERY shop in the area was covered in steel grills. Every other building was a refuge or thrift store. There were little knots of weather-beaten men hacking up bits of lung through toothless mouths, or just sat on the pavement with their heads between their knees. One old lady was studiously counting out her morning’s crop of alcohol bottles at the Astoria pub to get enough refunded deposits for her breakfast, no doubt.

I didn’t feel unsafe particularly, just out of place. I headed back to the shop to wait, confident that there would be no cafés or bakeries in this area. The shop turned out to be open after all – just heavily grilled. It also turned out to be one of those annoying establishments with a door handle begging to be pulled, but which requires you to push to have any reward for your effort. The young lady in attendance seemed glad to have a customer, and I apologised for being a little early, but could I register for “the mushroom thing”? Apologising profusely for the absence of “Rick”, she declined, which wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. Trying a different tack and gauging from her late 20’s demeanor that I’d have more success in this direction, I asked if there was a local caffeine station she might direct me to. Plainly on firmer ground she said there were in fact two – The Wilder Snail (I shit you not – that’s its name) and The Union Food Market, which she recommended particularly. So, armed with instructions culled from Google, I set out bravely into the vast unknown (to me) which is Vancouver’s Eastside. And here my eyes were opened.

I admit freely that I was hugely biased. I have not previously walked these streets, and I wrongly assumed that the clean but somehow grubby at the same time feeling I got from East Hastings would continue for a few blocks North and South of it. How wrong could I be? As I walked up (down) Hawks Avenue, I was instantly in a downright twee environment. Parks; bike lanes; painted clapperboard houses; the aforementioned more party-prone mollusc; more parks; hipsters; cute young ladies with dogs; all manner of pleasant things!

True – to be fair – there was one young bloke trying to liberate himself of a truly epic loogie, being egged on by a Latino gentleman espousing the use of Tequila to lubricate its passage, but apart from that, it felt like a lovely area to live. Now, I’m not one to tell half a story (not when I can tell the same one three different ways!) There was one door with “We’re fucking watching you asshole” daubed on it. I was shocked! Surely it’s “arsehole” they meant! What is happening to the Queen’s English these days? And there were a few lengths of razor-wire here and there – presumably to limit the ingress opportunities of loogie-hurlers. But there were vegetable gardens, beautiful flowers, and fancy cars parked with gay abandon. Or potentially abandoned by gays – this after all being Vancouver.

So anyway, I marched past The Wilder Snail on my way to the “preferred” café, but realised I was running out of time to get back to the Homesteader’s Emporium for the start of the seminar. I hate being late, so I turned back. I must have been within yards of the Union Food Market when I did this, but such is life.

The Wilder Snail was OK. It had a clutch of “look at me” types poring over laptops or reading thick paperbacks. I ordered a regular drip coffee, which was served from a pump flask and cost more than it should. I took revenge by taking as much milk as I could fit into the cup without making a mess, and headed back in search of mushroom lore, via the opportunity to observe the habitat of dog-owning hipster chicks. The server wore a French T-shirt, and the radio was playing French music. Très escargot! (That’s French for “pretentious”).

I took a slightly different route along East Pender, and saw two very desirable homes for sale. Also a beautifully maintained pale green vintage roadster. I felt lighter as I crossed back over Hastings and into my mushroom adventure.

I thought I was the first to arrive, but the host Scott Henderson assured me that this was not the case, and I wouldn’t be alone. The 4 chairs laid out in the car park didn’t bode well for a large audience though, despite dire warnings that booking late might mean the cap of 15 people causing you to miss out. The first to (re)arrive was a delightful young lady who introduced herself as Sam, and things were already looking up. Within moments a couple of older ladies arrived, and the chairs were all full. Then came a more elderly lady from Bowen Island, who I immediately offered my chair to, to much gratitude and an offer of biscuits (where do old women secret such things? They seem to produce sweets and biscuits from the most unlikely folds of their clothing).

Eventually we ended up at 8. Myself and 7 representatives of the fairer sex – though some represented it better than others. Beginning to feel ever so slightly out of place, I was hugely relieved when another bloke turned up a few minutes late. He only lived 4 blocks away – I’d driven 50km, and the lady from Bowen had probably set off at the crack of sparrows to get there on time!

We started off stuffing pillowcases with straw and boiling it for an hour to pasteurise it, while Scott began teaching us all manner of interesting fungus facts. Rick Havlak, the Emporium’s owner had conjoured up a selection of additional seats and pens/binders, so at this point I could actually start recording the wisdom being shared. (Yes – all the women had brought their own pens. What are you trying to get at?!)

Having been suitably “educated”, we got to do stuff, and we were drilling holes in logs quicker than you could say “Bob’s your Aunty’s transgender live-in lover”. These were then filled in again… with dowlings inoculated with mycelium (see – I told you I was educated now!) of shiitake. Then we got to set fire to stuff (nearly anyway) by melting beeswax to seal in the mushroomy goodness. The smell was amazing as it heated up.

There were only 4 drills, so we paired up and within an hour or so, each of us was the proud owner of a bloody great big log teaming with shiitake spawn. (Somehow that just sounds so wrong…) Then the other shoe landed… these logs would take 12-18 months to “fruit”, and only if you cared for them just right! Oh well… at least I had fun with the power tools! 🙂

OK – lunch break. The remaining pillowcases of straw were swapped into the drum of water for their hour of sterilisation, and we were sent off to forrage for food. I’d brought an apple, which was as much forward planning as I could manage on a Saturday morning. But I knew where to find caffeine!

I wandered back to the car, and was mildly shocked to pass by a rather scantily clad woman who seemed in no particular hurry to cross the intersection in either potential direction. I collected my book (a learned tome on the various aspects of swearing – suggested to me by our man at Misfits’ Miscellany, and being greatly, if somewhat slowlyly (?!) enjoyed), and passed her on the way back too. Thankfully she didn’t regard me as one needing to be shown a good time just then, and I made my way physically if not mentally unscathed to the Wilder Snail. Here I ordered a London Fog. This, if you’re unaware, is a way of making many times more than the ethical amount of profit from a cup of tea and a bit of frothy milk. I sat outside so I could get a better look at the book being read by the young lady on the inside – In The Skin of the Lion, as it turned out. A few passers-by commented on my T-shirt (to each other, not to me). It yelled “I survived the Grind” in big letters. I figured since I’d walked it a few times in the last couple of months, I might as well let people know.

As I sat sipping my tea (if it’s expensive I’ve noticed that you drink it more slowly…) I happened to notice some urban art in the tree next to my table. It reminded me of the urban art I blogged about a few months ago. Or perhaps a Dream-catcher.

Anyway, tea drunk, book enjoyed, I headed back to fungus central. The afternoon flew past. We used hardwood chips to inoculate our own starter spawn for Winecap mushrooms (king stropharia). Because of the season, this won’t go outside until Spring, but is capable of giving many years of shrooms. The straw had all cooled down now, and we each made a bag of Oyster mushrooms with layers of straw and mycelium. These should totally colonise the straw in about 4 weeks and be shoving out mushrooms for the plate in around 6.

Finally we got to experiment with coffee grinds and more Oyster mushrooms.

Basically mushrooms digest organic material – anything from corn cores, through straw, wood chips  to coffee grinds. We learnt that it is important to limit the possibility of other fungi or bacteria out-competing the preferred fungus, and nitrile gloves and denatured alcohol were de rigeur for the day.

Our little group attracted occasional interest from the locals strolling down the back alley, and we were even asked if we were a prayer group (some of the local refuges were church sponsored). Mushrooms seemed to confuse most, but one more inquisitive fellow seemed to be completely thrown by the knowledge that you could eat mushrooms rather than just get high on them.

Quite shocked that we really had used the full 6 hours up, I loaded up my new fungi and headed for home… past a different woman who seemed to have problems finding clothes that covered her up properly. As I drove, I realised my left thumb was bloody sore, and was horrified to see a massive bruise on the pad of it. This was from pushing the dowling rods into the logs, and my “one a day” Aspirin causing my blood to be thinner than usual. I bleed more easily these days. Life’s a bitch, eh?

Now, as long as Mrs E doesn’t spot the boxes and bags of fungus in the garage, and the slugs don’t munch the spawn out of the logs outside, we’re on to a winner, dear reader. Photos to follow… if anything is good enough to eat!





BC Landscape

16 09 2012

So, I was challenged a few months ago by barbaraelka and kalyrical to post some photos of the wide open spaces of BC.

Now BC is a very diverse province in terms of landscape. The Lower Mainland is pretty urbanised in places. There’s wide open areas of agriculture in the Fraser Valley. Obviously the ski hills around Whistler as well as Big White are different again. Loads of unspoiled first growth as well as second, third etc. growth (i.e. previously logged and now managed) forests. And desert and near-desert in the east of the Province.

A couple of weeks ago, I took my son and heir (in lieu of the missing hair) for a couple of nights camping, when we had a public holiday. Expecting the more popular sites to be totally heaving, we went to one of OUR favourite sites. Being a bit out of phase, our favourite places are  w-a-a-a-a-y  less likely to be busy. Sure enough, we easily got into the Juniper Beach Provincial Campsite, just outside Cache Creek. As well as the usual RV pads, it’s a lovely tent site with a beautifully manicured lawn to pitch on, as well as hot showers to offset the usual pit toilet experience common to BC campsites. So why so easy to get a spot on the long weekend? Easy… trains. Lots of trains. It’s in the Thompson valley, with CPR tracks on one site and CN tracks on the other. Every hour or so (all night too) there’s a freight train on one side or the other. You get used to it, but apparently it’s not to everyone’s taste!

Needless to say – I took a few snaps. The colours were a challenge, as it’s quite an arid area, with lots of washed-out hues. Below are a few of what I think are the better photos. Comments always welcome…





It never rains in Southern California…

13 08 2012

…. because it’s all in BC!

So what better way to end a lovely sunny day visiting military museums and lighthouses than getting soaked to the skin? Welcome to Super Natural British Columbia!

After we got back from Fort Rodd Hill, we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria for some fish and chips. We just nicely arrived and the heavens opened. Obviously then, as soon as we got served and bolted for refuge in the car, it all stopped and returned to tranquility!