In our own back garden

4 03 2015

Believe it or not, I began to write this post way back on Monday. That though was the day I decided to return my shiny new laptop to Best Buy because the battery wasn’t charging properly. The reason I’d bought the laptop was because this desktop PC runs like the proverbial 3-legged dog.

Anyway, we’re all here now, so let’s get on with wasting a few minutes of your life…

Way back in 1992 there was a leap year. That coincided with the sense that my fiancée and I shared that it was about time we started thinking about improving our tax position and getting married. Though it wasn’t exactly planned, we weren’t averse to the fact that the next free Saturday wedding slot at the local registry office happened to be the 29th of February. As if the 29th of February itself wasn’t memorable enough, in Europe dates are written day/month/year or in this case 29.2.92. What can I say? Seemed like a good idea at the time!

So here we are, 23 years and only 5 real anniversaries later. We figured we’d go away to mark the occasion, but couldn’t decide where to go. In the end we opted to stay in down-town Vancouver and be tourists in our own back garden. We’d had occasion to stay at Le Soleil on Hornby a few years ago, and really enjoyed the little boutique hotel. It has a sort of Napoleonic French vibe going, with gold and yellow stripes, sun motifs and bees everywhere. A few obelisks are reminiscent of Napoleon’s Egyptian adventures too.

Luxurious bees on the chairs

Luxurious bees on the chairs

So anyway, we got down-town on the Friday evening, the 27th, got settled in and then headed out for some dinner and a bevvie. I used to work down-town and felt oddly disjointed to be there “for pleasure”. In the end we walked towards the harbour, and settled on the Lions pub. Nothing special, but one of several wannabe English style pubs in Vancouver. Though the significance was lost on me at the time, my eye fell on the Welsh Rarebit in amongst other yummy familiar items on the pub’s menu. This proved to be foreshadowing of the most weird nature.

On the way back, we ambled through Canada Place and bought tickets for “Fly over Canada“.

The tickets are not timestamped and you can use them any time. We figured we’d try and get to see the show reasonably early on Saturday, and this would avoid queueing. Experience has taught us that Vancouverites rarely rise before about 11am, so if you want to avoid a queue get up early and you’re done before the crowds even materialise.

Canada Place - after hours

Canada Place – after hours

Saturday, I woke up bright and early and went to check out the hotel gym. It was pretty small, but the worst thing was that the extra foot of elevation the elliptical machine gave was sufficient to embed my head in the ceiling tiles. I was getting sunburnt from the pot lights and gave up well before my usual routine would dictate. After showering we headed off for breakfast and opted for a new Tim Hortons on Pender. It turned out that Vancouver had sprouted at least two new Timmie locations since I was last in these parts. The two young ladies in there seemed ill prepared for the steady stream of customers and we had to wait quite a while for the English muffins with mmmmmm bacon. Fully energised we headed off to Canada Place and joined the short queue for the first showing of Fly over Canada.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and there was a very Chinese New Year vibe going on. We were eventually ushered into a staging area whilst the queue was carefully counted off. We were then led to an inner sanctum where we were placed on individual circles on the floor. Jokes about Twister and Star Trek were in abundance. Eventually we were taken to the actual viewing area. This is a two tier balcony with rows of seats similar to aeroplane seats. In front of the chairs was a barrier. Still not quite knowing what to expect, it struck me that the barrier seemed highly engineered and I surmised that it likely moved in some way.

After much bleating about safety, strapping in and lots of other things which didn’t really seem to go with the situation, the lights went down and all became much much clearer! Basically the theatre is a large curved screen. Not quite IMAX quality, but definitely large enough to encompass your peripheral vision. The seats are in rows of about 5 or 6, and each row independently slides forward. As suspected, the barrier had folded out towards the screen, allowing the seats to move out over the chasm. As well as moving in and out towards the screen, each row could independently tilt left and right. Coupled with the surround-view showing wide vistas this led to a quite convincing sensory illusion of hang-gliding. The warm up film was a flight over China to celebrate the lunar New Year, but the main feature was some stunning cinematography of our great country. Taken from helicopters, the film led you to believe you were sweeping up and down over jaw-dropping scenery, with the seats swinging in synch with the visuals, and an occasional misting insinuating that you were really climbing in and out of clouds or plunging low into the sea spray. I felt a bit like a supermarket lettuce by the end of the show.

It was pricey at $20, but it was certainly an experience. I turned down a fortune cookie on the way out. This turned out to be bad fortune, as the fortune slip included a 30% discount for someone to visit again.

The primary order of the day was to find a nice place to have dinner, but before that we needed to acquire a bottle of fizzy wine. We opted for a bottle from the See Ya Later ranch near Skaha Lake, Kelowna. Then we were off to explore Vancouver like tourists do. We walked all the way South on Hornby to the Aquabus, and headed over to Granville Island.

Aquabus stop

Aquabus stop

The real reason for dropping in to Granville Island was for me to photograph the cement silos. Regular readers will recall my excitement at the giant art project a few months ago. First though… lunch! Memory’s a funny thing. We’d remembered “a great little pie place” in the marketplace, and found it easily enough. It was at the peak of lunchtime though and we were forced to decamp to the outside benches in order to sit and eat them. I had mushroom pie, and the crust was just as rich and flaky as I’d remembered. The innards though? Basically just mushroom soup with a few chunks of tomato – yes tomato – to make it a bit more lumpy. Pink mushroom pie. Nearly as offensive as the dodgy ukulele singer trying to entertain the seagulls.

We ambled around to find tea, and settled for the Granville Island Tea Company. They were selling bricks of compressed tea for $20, in the style of the ones traditionally traded over the Steppes on the Silk Road for centuries. I was tempted, but each brick represents an awful lot of tea if you decide you don’t like it. Suitably sated with a single cup of non-bricked tea, we headed off so I could photograph the silos. It was a lovely sunny day, but the Ocean company had inconveniently parked their trucks to obscure a clear view of the silos.

The silos were painted by Brazilian street artists “Os Gemeos”, twins from Sao Paulo. Quite the project!

Giants by Os Gemeos

Giants by Os Gemeos

While trying to get a better angle (there wasn’t really one) I was half listening to the patter from a young magician entertaining a knot of onlookers. He was just about to begin a trick and offered to pull up his sleeves to show there was nothing hiding. He then corrected himself and said, actually he was just showing off his tattoo. Baring his unadorned forearms he then declared that the tattoo was of a chameleon. I chuckled, but plainly nobody else got the joke. Quick as a flash he added “let’s join hands – perhaps we can raise the living”. In support of his acerbic wit I stage whispered “well I thought it was funny” as I passed between the still perplexed onlookers. I commented to Mrs E about his almost British humour, and she remarked that he’d said earlier that he was from Hong Kong. I wish him well. I didn’t stay to watch his tricks, but his wit should serve him well in his chosen career.

Having to satisfy myself with obscured views of The Giants, we headed back to the ferry which is a particularly colourful little number built low and flat to more easily accommodate bikes and pushchairs.

It's OK, we'll take the next unicorn

It’s OK, we’ll take the next unicorn

We ambled along the seawall enjoying the urban version of what we normally experience walking the promenade in White Rock. At one point we were horrified to see a pair of youngsters being encouraged by their guardian to pick the grass slope clean of all the lovely crocuses that were blooming there. Each child had their fists full of the purple and white blooms. The kids were too young to know any better, but it was shocking to see such encouragement from their adult.

World’s cutest hooligan

Dinner was arranged at The Fish House and we had time to walk back to the hotel to freshen up before returning for the sunset and a great slice of Haida Gwaii halibut. Having already amply sampled the bubbly before dinner, the G&Ts during dinner and a lovely little port after dinner, the walk back to the hotel is a bit vague I’m afraid.

Sunday breakfast was nice. We ate at a lovely Parisian pastry shop I must have passed several times without noticing. It’s squeezed in between Bellaggio’s and Artigiano’s on Hornby, by the VAG. Goes by the name Faubourg. The proprietor was indeed French and I was surprised to see the tea he served was also Gallic! I never knew they had it in them. ;o)

Seems there’s actually three locations around Vancouver with others in Kerrisdale and Park Royal. I can recommend the pistachio croissant. ‘Nuff said.

As we ambled down the seawall to do one more lap of the West End (22km of walking on Saturday. Slightly less on Sunday), I noticed someone had tied a leek and a couple of daffodils to a park bench. Of course… it was 1st of March! St. David’s day. Though I didn’t go and check, I strongly suspect the bench was in memory of someone with a surname of Jones. Or Edwards. Or Davies. Whoever they were, they were missed, and their Welsh heritage was being celebrated on the appropriate day.





Well THAT was a funny old day…

29 07 2012

As I get older I realise that there’s no such thing as “normal” – just varying degrees of “weird”.

Things got off to a bad start due to the normal miscommunication anyone with children will be very familiar with. It doesn’t get any better… get used to it. I’m 48 now, and my parents understand me no better today than when I was a teenager bristling with attitude and bad skin. I’d spoken briefly with my father over in Blighty on Friday and he’d said my mum was very keen to chat via Skype, as we hadn’t spoken for several weeks. (Now well into retirement, they make good use of their abundant free time and travel extensively around the UK and Europe.) This was also father-speak for “I’m uncomfortable speaking to you, male offspring, so I’ll leave that to your mother – and she’s not here right now.”

So anyway, I’d reminded him that BC is -8hrs from Yorkshire (well, 8 hours behind, and a few centuries ahead, all at the same time), and that if she really wanted to call me on Sunday, please make it after 4pm their time, which is 8am in BC. So anyway, at 8:15am the phone rang, and with bleary eyes I answered. My mum said she was surprised I’d wanted her to call so early, and wouldn’t it have been better to call a bit later?

“After 8am” had become “at 8am” somewhere along the way. No matter. I made arrangements to reconvene on Skype – keeping emigrant offspring connected to long-distance parents, the world over – and blundered my way downstairs to be regaled with tales of my sister’s exploits in Spain, and her concern at my nephew travelling to Italy with his girlfriend. (He’s almost 21 now, and she seemed to think he was in imminent danger of getting engaged.)Que Du Vent

Mrs E rescued me from falling asleep by delivering me my morning tea at the PC. Morning tea – a ritual that, should it be missed, can result in near-fatal consequences for those around me. It’s not so much a mug of tea, as a small bucket. Anyway, once my mum had run out of things to tell me, and failed to ask me anything at all about events in BC, we hung up and my day began in earnest. Well, not really. I had some thick sliced toast and marmalade, got washed, shaved, and tried to look human, then watched a film (something I’ve not done in too long).

I had a tasty, but lingering Mexican bean salad for lunch (it’s the raw onion… overdone a little), and generally wasted my limited time on this spinning globe. After lunch, we offloaded half a garage worth of empty bottles and cans at the recycling, and went “barbecue shopping” on the proceeds.

This became quite stressful as Mrs E forgot the first cardinal rule, and considered it the same as normal shopping. Barbecue shopping is the sacred domain of the male of the species. It is when he pretends that he knows all about home economics, and good choices in nutrition. Or not. A wise woman will find her “happy place” and just let the moment pass. Mrs E, on the other hand questioned why I was looking at peppered goat’s cheese. I was merely interested in it as a product, with no particular interest in actually purchasing it, I might add. And then the blue touch-paper was lit: “It’s a bit expensive, isn’t it?” Despite the fact that I had no real interest in purchasing the goat’s cheese in the first place, this was breaking the second cardinal rule “barbecues are not a particularly cost-effective way of feeding a family of four (or five with an absentee student), so ignore all the price tags”.

Knowing that calm is often restored to my fetid mind by taking photos, I took my trusty Canon for a walk. Together we perused the neighbourhood. Its gardens, its shopping centre… and its cricket match. Yup… there was a full on Sunday league match in full swing. Oh – and a beach volley ball game.

Finally it was time to start the barbie, and the womenfolk had figured it was best just to keep out of the way, since sharp objects and flames were involved. Not a bad little spread really. Grilled veggies (red peppers, sliced portabello mushrooms [OK, not technically a vegetable], courgettes, red onion), steamed sweetcorn, burgers, bangers, Maui marinaded steak and chicken. Garlic bread of course, and ciabatta for stopping the meat burning your fingers.

The dog surprised me by asking most politely for a sweetcorn of her own, and I resisted alcohol preferring instead fizzy water with a few squirts of angostura bitters.

So I sit here now drinking “False Creek Raspberry Ale” from Granville Island Brewing Co., (having sworn that beer and fruit should never mix – don’t tell anyone I know… it’s actually quite passable at 4.5%), and listening to “Que de Vent” by “Les Cowboys Fringants” from Quebec.

Now tell me that’s not odd…





The Maya Guesthouse Project

27 12 2011

So there I was, bumbling and Bunburying around in the virtual world on my desk, when I came across this image.

THermograph of straw bale building

Thermographic comparison between a straw bale house and a traditional building | The Maya Guesthouse Project.

It was the next stop after a site I’d checked out that was populated by images taken on a pin-hole camera. I love those things. So simple. I almost bought one in Granville Island, Vancouver the other week… made out of a coffee tin. Back at school, we made them out of shoe boxes. They can make remarkably sharp images if you have the patience… and a sheet of photographic paper. At the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK, there’s a real walk-in Camera Obscura, which projects the city skyline (upside down of course, if you remember your physics lessons) on a wall. The pinhole blog site would have been linked and part of this blog, but the owner’s About page was all arsey about copyright infringement and not re-publishing, so I left him and his camera images obscure.

The thermographic image is to illustrate the amazing insulation properties of the humble hay bale when used in construction.

According to the site: “The Maya Guesthouse will be the first hotel built with straw bales. The design is from the Swiss architect Werner Schmidt. Situated at 1300 meters in the Swiss Alps it will exceed passive house standards and will need no heating. Construction works have begun this year and will resume in summer 2012.”

Presumably all the rooms will be non-smoking…