Open your eyes

19 10 2013

It’s been foggy in the Lower Mainland for a few days. Quite mild, but pretty murky. It adds a dampness, without actually raining.

It was as if it highlighted every spider’s web in every bush and shrub. It added sheen to all the autumn leaves just waiting for their command to let go of their particular branch. But there were still some flowers in full colour.

I had just a few minutes playing with my camera, but I felt so calm and relaxed afterwards. Looking at nature slowly and deliberately as one does through a lens.

How much there is to see, if only we’d take the time to look.

Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.

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!

Of Yetis, Sienna Miller and Snowshoeing

9 02 2013

So my father-in-law just got a new car, in the UK. A Škoda Yeti. Here’s a great Top Gear piece showing how good they are if you feel the need to land a helicopter on the roof of your car, open a mobile (off-roading, no less) tattoo parlour… or casually pop Sienna Miller into your glove compartment.

Top Gear – Skoda Yeti road test – BBC – YouTube.

Seems like Jeremy Clarkson approves, so it can’t be bad at all. He’s from Doncaster, I believe. God’s Own County. Despite that… he’s still a bit of a plonker. Must be the water in Chipping Norton where Wikipedia tells me he now lives. There had to be a good reason…

While this car acquisition news was making its way through the internet, I was off doing the Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run, with Mrs E. I’d like to say it was “bright and early”, but as Rick Cluff on the CBC’s Early Edition says, it was actually “Dark and Early”! I was up (at least corporeally) at 5am. The upside was that the roads were nearly empty and I got a prime location in the Grouse Mountain car-park only an hour after setting out from White Rock. I can’t remember the last time I’d managed to park so close to the SkyRide.

Checking in was painless, and Mrs E and I signed away all our rights to everything including our first born and any superfluous kidneys we may be in possession of. In return we were given shiny racing bibs with some neat RFID strips on the back. I smiled, as I knew my own time could be just as easily tracked with an hour-glass or a sun-dial (the latter admittedly being less reliable at this time of year in The Lower Mainland).

We then joined a throng of far too energetic youngsters on their way to learn how to be Canada’s future Olympic Team. They had Nancy Greene Ski League bibs on and looked like they knew how to make a pair of skis fly. The SkyRide gondola was packed, which made it swing more robustly than usual as it went past the two pylons on its way to the Chalet. Let’s just say Mrs E didn’t enjoy it quite as much as most…

Source – Grouse Mountain: SkyRide Gondola

Now technically, as one might infer from the title of Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run, it’s a race you’re supposed to run. Well me and technicalities don’t always see eye to eye. Or even eye to navel. I had registered just to say I’d been there. That I’d taken part. We were up at the Chalet in plenty of time, and sat comfortably as the other competitors started to gather. (Forgive the blurry crappy BB photo.)
North Vancouver-20130209-00099

I thought it was the first time the race had been organised, but it turned out to be the third time. It was only my own fourth ascent to the race’s high point at Dam Mountain. On my last ascent (last weekend) I’d seen one of the competitors… twice! Plainly real training is necessary if you are serious about the numbers you leave to history on the Race Results Page. At the time, I’d just thought he was bereft of a social life. (It’s easy to be critical of people when you’re out and about… alone; bereft of a social life. :))

As Start Time approached, everyone made their way outside and donned their weapons of choice.

North Vancouver-20130209-00100

I was surprised at the variety. Some of the hard core had proper running snowshoes. Essentially these were a pair of trainers with snowshoes bolted directly to the soles. There were no bindings except the laces used to tie on the running shoes. They looked very lightweight.

The route, according to this Grouse Mountain map, is 5.5km in length (much of it shared in both directions,) and has a height gain of 800′.

SnowshowGrind Mountain Run 2013 route

Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run 2013 route

Now 800′ doesn’t sound like a lot… until you’re looking up at it! Actually, the two or three steep bits were way worse coming down. The Dam Mountain loop at the top was new to me, and not a part of the usual Snowshoe Grind route. It was a sensible addition though, as it avoided congestion at the rather sharp and small peak at Dam Mountain. People could flow off the peak and around the loop, rejoining the up-coming traffic at a much broader part of the trail.

There was one small downside though. As I mentioned in earlier posts, the “high heels” on my new snowshoes are awesome at aiding you climb steeper sections. There was something cathartic about reaching the peak and ceremoniously flipping them back down flat. “It’s all downhill from here!” Except now I was into this new-to-me route in the Dam Mountain loop. It wasn’t a particularly steep descent off the backside of the peak… but it had lots of fresh loose powder. For a little while, I forgot I was in a race, and waited patiently behind an older lady as she gingerly picked her way down. Then I remembered, exclaimed “sorry”, and took off past her in a flurry of powder and sweat. Not 20m later, I was skidding on my arse through virgin snow as my reward. Oh well – it helped cool me off a bit. Then came the downside… this Dam Mountain Loop has ascent in it! As it comes back to rejoin the main trail, it has some elevation to reclaim. Having mentally checked out of “the up bits”, this was a bit of a demoralising realisation. No matter though. We were in the guts of a low cloud, and I put my head down and dug in.

The event is well organised and there were probably a dozen or so marshalls at strategic points whooping and encouraging you on, as well as pointing you in the right direction. As is common in BC’s ski resorts, they mostly had Australian or UK accents. Students or world-travellers enjoying what BC has to offer and getting a little pin money while they’re at it. Almost at the peak, one particularly enthusiastic supporter had been cheering on the older lady and assuring her she was nearly there. When I got to her, I put on my best straight face and calmly asked if this was the bus-stop for the return shuttle.

There were only 69 entrants in all, which looking at previous years’ results seems par for the course. There were prizes for each age group, and extra prizes for “best dressed”. This guy won one of the two prizes … for being best undressed! The other (bending over) didn’t quite go so far, and wore a pair of cut-off denim shorts and a particularly dodgy red vest. As well as being best (un)dressed, the guy in tights was also fastest in his age group.

North Vancouver-20130209-00101

I managed to put in a bit of running on the return leg, despite the hiking boots, and so in spite of the addition of the Dam Mountain Loop section, I actually managed a time that was easily 5 minutes faster than my previous best SSG time. Despite telling myself I was there for the experience not to race per se… I couldn’t help a sprint finish and burning off 3 other competitors with the finish line well in sight. So  I wasn’t last either! 🙂

The best prize – available to everyone – was the full cooked breakfast in the comfy Altitudes Restaurant after the race. There was plenty of scrambled eggs and crispy bacon, as well as some quite zingy ginger and carrot juice concoction. I quaffed a litre of Whistler Water (one of the sponsors), and managed to studiously avoid the pancakes and rather delicious-looking potato chunks. There were some random prizes for entrants, based on your bib number, and Mrs E (who was very leery of even entering the race) managed to snag a pretty cool Molsons Canadian ’67 T-shirt (they were also a sponsor).

As we left, I realised I’d not had a hot drink, and managed to acquire two Earl Grey “Mighty Leaf” tea-bags on my way out. This brand is definitely better than average… though still not sufficiently so to justify the high prices charged for tea in such places. I suppose it might be considered stealing, since I had no intention of making tea right then. However, I figured after my busy morning, and given that the breakfast was fundamentally free… I’d bloody well earned them!

Would I do it again? Hell yes!

A free school under a bridge in India – PhotoBlog

28 11 2012

So cool!

The photos themselves are amazing. But way more importantly, here are educators bringing learning to where it’s needed… to people who want to learn! Slum kids living in New Delhi. The blackboards are black paint on the underpass.

Compare these expressions to those on kids who take education for granted in any number of schools you care to mention.

A free school under a bridge in India – PhotoBlog.

You look good enough to eat

25 11 2012

So I will!

Today was the day. After weeks of patiently watching fungus grow in my garage… I ate it. It tasted wonderful. I have never eaten oyster mushrooms before, so wanted to eat them tout seul to savour the taste. Having said that, I ended up frying them in a little bacon fat, but when all is said and done – I’m a bloke! The alternative would have involved an extra 5 minutes and some washing up liquid. Unconscionable! I went all out and put a sprig of fresh basil as garnish from my kitchen windowsill stash.

Feast your eyes…

Ottawa – the nation’s capital

19 11 2012

So this last week I gave up two precious days of my limited holiday to travel to Ottawa to represent Fraser Valley Scout Council at the national conference and AGM. Due to time zones, my entire Thursday was lost in travel, and with two full days of conference and leaving for the airport home at 5am on Sunday, I only had one hour to myself while there. I apologise then for the paucity of photographs, but here they are anyway…

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

It’s not creepy at all!

9 11 2012

Not really.

I mean – I know I’m just mucking about with my new lens to see what it can do. So it’s pitch black on a winter’s evening and I’m pointing my camera at people’s lit windows. That’s normal, right?! 🙂

OK, so as well as my new lens, I found some new-to-me buttons on my camera which let me push it up to ridiculously high ISO speeds of 6400 and 12800. Sure, the images can get super grainy, but I can take shake-free shots at 1/60s in near total darkness and still register an image! If I could be bothered to post-process them, I’m sure I could make them half decent.

Anyway, in the end I took the easy route and limited myself to trees backlit by street-lights and similar things. Just messing about – don’t expect high art in the images below – but I was quite pleased with what it seems my camera is fundamentally capable of capturing. It’s a long weekend in Canada, and suddenly I’m full of new ideas with what to do with it…

BACK TO THE FUTURE : Irina Werning

6 11 2012

Cameras are amazing bits of technology. Digital cameras even more so. But it’s what you choose to do with them that makes the difference between “a snap” and something more interesting.

Irina Werning is fascinated by those “ordinary” photos many of us have around our homes, and by recreating them 10s of years later brings a new dimension – moving them from “snap” to “statement”.

Enjoy: BACK TO THE FUTURE : Irina Werning.

25 Most Beautiful Animals Photography | Beautiful Animals

3 11 2012

”     “. Yup – that’s me speechless again!

25 Most Beautiful Animals Photography on StumbleUpon | Beautiful Animals.