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Having been out for a significant chunk of the day on Friday last (not returning home until around six o’ clock of the evening) I realised on our return that I had not yet checked the mail.

Now – for our first month in this house, back in 2015, the post was still delivered to the door. Ever since then we have been obliged to scamper along to far end of the terrace to the new roadside mailbox stack – an ‘improvement’ to the service which has naturally been planted in quite the most inconvenient of locations. These days I usually break out the bike and cycle up the road: Friday being no exception.

As I went to get my bicycle from the store in which we keep all of our outdoor equipment I glanced – as is my habit – out to sea. I was immediately taken by an unusual pattern of marine movement; an odd assemblage of a not insignificant number of assorted vessels. One gets quite used to the tracks that boaters take across the bay and this unusual gathering of craft – some eight or ten of them – was definitely not normal. Something was up.

We live up on the hillside above Highway 17 (the Pat Bay) at a point at which it follows the coast quite closely (a little below the uppermost ’17’ on the accompanying map) on about the same latitude as the top end of James Island. It takes less than five minutes to ride down the hill and to cross the highway on the pedestrian bridge to get to the shore. Coming back up takes a a little longer as one might expect, for the gradient is quite severe.

As I rode along the terrace I could see that the cluster of boats below was still extant, though now moving slowly southwards down the coast. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided that I just had to ride down to see what was going on. Once I reached the waterfront I could see that the craft had arranged themselves into a broad U-shape between the shore and James Island – a stretch of water called the Cordova Channel. There was clearly something unseen at the centre of this formation.

Image by djmboxsterman on PixabayA little patient watching and waiting revealed the answer: a pod of some five or six Orcas! My best guess is that the boats were trying to guide the Orcas out of the channel into the open ocean, thus preventing any of them becoming beached in the shallows around Cordova Spit.

What a stunning and beautiful sight! Inevitably I had neither camera nor mobile phone with me (hence the splendid stock image accompanying this piece) though I very much doubt that I could have got any decent shots in any case.

This is not a sight that one sees every day. Had anyone suggested – ten years ago – that on a Friday evening in August I would have been watching a flotilla of small boats shepherding a pod of killer whales past the bottom of my garden…

…I would have had a good chuckle!

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Now that the wildfire smoke has dissipated – from the coastal regions of southern BC if from nowhere else – much of the Salish Sea and its surroundings have sprung back into their normal summer focus… with bright sharp colours and sparkling vistas.

A trip with good friends on ‘Dignity’ to Sidney Spit provided an opportunity for some relaxed photographic reconnaisance:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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For the past twelve days the Georgia Strait and surrounding areas have been enveloped in a miasma of smoke from the wildfires (to which I made reference in this earlier post) which are still ablaze in the BC interior. The image at the head of this missive (and at the top of my last post) give an idea of the impact that this effluvium has had.

There have been mornings on which my customary first gaze out of the windows has given the rapid impression of a seriously hazy day, only for the realisation to dawn that the layer of vapour was not the result of any early morning micro-climatic condition, but rather a dense layer of smog lying immovably atop the sea.

The more northerly view from our deck normally reveals Moresby Island, with the higher Pender Island pair behind. On a clear day we can see further – all the way to the mountains behind the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver. The more southerly view stretches out across Sidney Island to the American San Juan islands beyond – and then all the way to distant Mount Baker.

For the last several weeks it has been just about possible to make out Sidney Island, but even Moresby has occasionally disappeared into the murk, leaving only the Little Group visible in the immediate foreground.

It really has all been quite depressing.

The reason that this cloud of noxious fumes has hung low over the sea (and of course over Greater Vancouver and beyond) for so long is that a ridge of high pressure became wedged over the BC coast – depriving the region of the usual cleansing zephyrs that should have dissipated the pollutant.

Finally, yesterday (Saturday), the weather system began once again slowly to move, the winds changed direction and – as if by magic – the banks of smoke dissolved, leaving ‘not a rack behind’. The sun renewed its efforts and Mount Baker became once again illuminated by the late afternoon glow.

Then, as an evening of croquet and good cheer in the garden with our dear friends from Saanichton entered its twilight phase, the first rains for nearly two months began gently to fall.

Today the world (this part of it at least) is a different place!

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The ship called ‘Dignity’ is enjoying her sabbatical at Westport Marina in Tsehum Harbour to the north of Sidney. Renting a slip there means that more time can actually be spent ‘messing about in (one particular) boat(s)‘ than would be possible were she to have to be launched afresh each time she goes out – and the prices are really very reasonable this year.

I have also taken the opportunity to do some tinkering – tweaking idle speed and fuel/air mixture for example – so that she now runs as she should at slow speeds. This makes navigating through the maze of channels and marinas that comprise Tsehum Harbour a whole lot easier than it was before.

Taking the boat out on my own sadly means that I don’t get the opportunity to take as many photographs as I would like whilst out on the water – which explains why most of these were taken in the marina itself.

This is Sidney by the Sea:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidReflections…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidShipshape!…

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…though we all have our own ways of doing things. Now – which do you suppose would be my preference?

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Beata May on Wikimedia CommonsEvery so often comes a film that finds itself the subject of much earnest discussion – not with regard to the subject matter nor to any particular individual performance, nor even because of the use of some dazzling new studio trickery – but rather because it represents a significant advance in the film-maker’s art.

Such a beast is Christopher Nolan’s film of the miraculous evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940.

‘Dunkirk’ has caused much comment and in the case of the critics this has been overwhelmingly favourable – the great majority being of the view that this is a noteworthy piece of film-making that lends new perspective to an historical event.

In this case I am with the critics. I think that ‘Dunkirk’ is a brave piece of film-making.

Consider:

Nolan determined to make an epic film about this major historical event which featured some 400,000 troops on the allied side alone, along with in excess of 800 vessels, without resorting to the use of CGI. The film also lacks entirely the uber-realistic blood and gore that has become a staple of modern war films; it features very little dialogue and no backstories for any of the characters; it has no scenes showing those in command on either side directing the engagement and no enemy combatants are seen at all until the very final scene.

Bear in mind also that this is a Hollywood film about a battle that not only featured no Americans (Nolan also insisted that the cast be entirely British), but which was actually an epic defeat!

As though all of this were not enough, Nolan’s script is also divided into three elements – the action on land, the evacuation on water and the aerial battle over the beaches. These elements – each of which flows across the entire film – take place in three different time-frames. The land action encompasses a week – the naval component covers one day in the evacuation – and the aerial action takes a mere hour. The three strands overlap at the climax of the piece, which of course means that the viewer sees the same action from multiple points of view.

The effect of the decisions taken by the director is that the film captures in a visceral manner just a little of what the experience of being on the beaches at Dunkirk might have been like. No individual’s story is more important than any other. No-one on the beaches knows what is going on, and nor can they imagine the wider picture. All that they know is that if they are to survive this calamity – for which no training can possibly have prepared them – they must fight against all the odds. The film has been described as ‘immersive’ – and that perhaps best sums it up.

The commentarists on the InterWebNet – those driven to add their voice and opinion to any and every matter –  have been less generous. Complaints include a lack of historical accuracy; an inadequacy of scale; the omission of important characters, events or even themes (including gripes concerning the under-representation of nationalities, races and genders!); the incomprehensibility of the narrative to those not familiar with the history and the supposed incompetence of writing which does not indulge in the usual tropes – well defined characters with revealing backstories and emotionally engaging story and character arcs.

We are all of us entitled to our views – of course – as we are to express the same. It does seem to me a little perverse – however – to apparently willfully miss the point in quite such a manner. To sit through Nolan’s impressionistic work and then to cavil that it is not the film that one wishes the director had made is perhaps – and only a little facetiously – somewhat akin to wishing that Van Gogh had possessed a camera with which he could have taken a few snaps of some sunflowers!

Exaggeration – naturally – entirely for effect!

Anyway – five stars in my book…

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid
Smoke from wildfires in the BC interior hangs heavily over the Malahat mountain opposite Brentwood Bay on Tuesday night.

2017 is already one of the worst years for wildfires in recent times and the situation is expected to deteriorate further as the province heads into a heatwave over the next few days, with temperatures soaring into the high 30’s Celsius in places.

More than 800 fires have been tackled since April 1st – of which some 138 are still active and currently being fought by around 3,700 firefighters. Additional firefighters from other provinces are joining the battle as well as – for the first time – more than one hundred from Mexico.

Whereas the early part of the year was marked by above average rainfall (with records for precipitation set in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria during March) it has not now rained in Victoria since the middle of June.

No sign of Mount Baker either…

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image by Andy Dawson ReidEven so, there were times I saw freshness and beauty. I could smell the air, and I really loved rock ‘n’ roll. Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams. I liked movie theaters, the darkness and intimacy, and I liked the deep, sad summer nights.”

Haruki Murakami, ‘Dance Dance Dance’

Summer is at its height and that must perforce mean that Wednesday evenings are spent in Pioneer Park, Brentwood Bay, chilling with friends on the greensward, dining al fresco and listening to some good music.

The season was caressed into life at the beginning of July by the smooth but soulful stylings of The R & B Toasters and the Butterhorns from Vancouver. These guys are all old hands and could probably crank this stuff out in their sleep. They feature one of the tightest rhythm sections I have heard in a good long time and for an outdoor gig their sound was exemplary – punchy and tight. I expressed my admiration to the bass player and drummer at the end of the show and they admitted that they had been playing together for a very long time.

Week two brought us Auntie Kate and the Uncles of Funk. Auntie Kate sings the blues and The Girl and I have seen her before – The Girl many times! We both agreed that she was in even better voice than we had heard previously. There is obviously something in the Vancouver Island summer air that brings out the soul in a performer.

We were looking forward to week three as – it seems – were many other inhabitants of the Saanich peninsula, evidenced by the extensive crowd staking out their spots in the park well before kickoff time. The focus of this interest was Dustin Bentall and the incredible Kendel Carson. Dustin has been mentioned in these dispatches before – being the son of Canadian superstar Barney Bentall – and Kendel is his even more talented other half. We have seen them both with The Caribou Express and if expectations were high they were well lived-up to. Kendel has a gorgeous voice and is a hugely gifted fiddle player – not to mention being ‘awful easy on the eye!’ – as they saying (probably) goes.

Week four’s offering – Echo Nebraska (pictured above) – were always going to struggle to match the Bentalls. They have a decent singer but the rest of the band are a perhaps little one dimensional and they still have much to learn. They are yet young though…

As can be gleaned from the image above, the bands currently play on a small temporary stage just outside the Brentwood Bay library. As of next season they will instead grace a purpose built and very beautiful permanent stage (construction of which has just started) courtesy of the fundraising and organisational efforts of the Brentwood Bay Community Association. Kudos all round – say I – for such a splendid campaign and fantastic effort.

We are in little doubt the the remainder of this season will match the standards set thus far – which means that we are all in for further treats!

Good-oh!

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I am always quick – when friends or acquaintances make appreciative observations concerning our garden (yard!) – to sing the praises of the previous owners of this fair domicile, who clearly knew a great deal more about gardening than do I (though it must, of course, be pointed out that that is not difficult!).

Yet – even though I make reference to the fact that there is scarcely a week during the spring and summer months when there is not a riot of colour and activity somewhere within its boundaries – I still find myself surprised that – just when it looks as though the display is about to peter out – some fresh wonder bursts forth.

All this by way of making apology for yet more photos of plants!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image from Wikimedia Commons“We have wasted History like a bunch of drunks shooting dice back in the men’s crapper of the local bar.”

Charles Bukowski

I watched again the other night Cambridge University Professor David Reynolds’ fascinating documentary for the BBC on Winston Churchill’s long struggle during 1942 and 1943 to promote his preferred campaign in North Africa – and thence up through Italy and the Mediterranean islands to attack what he called ‘Hitler’s soft under-belly’ – in the face of constant and increasing pressure from the Americans and the Russians to open a second front on the European mainland by effecting a landing in France.

Professor Reynolds provides an excellent summary of the reasons for Churchill’s resistance, long beyond the point at which it must have been clear to him that the Overlord landings were not only inevitable but – in the face of the Soviet advances in Eastern Europe – increasingly vital should the British hope for any say in the shaping of post-war Europe.

Under political pressure in the UK as a result of the military disasters of 1941 and 1942 – the which had led to two votes of confidence in parliament – Churchill (and the country) was greatly in need of a victory. With his understandable fear of another catastrophic stalemate in the fields of France and the low countries (or of an attempted landing ending in disaster) having its roots in his experiences of the first war, Churchill took the view that any such success was more likely to be found in Africa than on the European mainland.

Churchill’s thinking was further informed by considerations that were of little consequence to the Americans or the Russians – those of empire. He saw maintaining control of the Mediterranean and of Egypt as vital to the continuance of British interests in India and in the colonies to the east. Professor Reynold’s documentary (along with Max Hastings 2010 book on Churchill’s war, the which I also read of late) brought home to me anew Churchill’s growing realisation – during the closing years of the war – that Britain’s position in the world order had been diminished irrevocably by the need to rely on intervention by the American and Soviet superpowers to save Europe. Even so, his sentimental attachment to the notion of a ‘special relationship’ with the US prevented him from recognising that the price to be paid for this salvation would be the ultimate surrender of the British empire.

The Second World War and the half century (and more) of world-wide chaos that followed have been so widely documented and discussed that it is difficult to reconcile what we now know and understand of the period – and of the vast change in Britain’s place in the world – with some of the shrill voices that are to be heard from Britannia in these troubled times. It is difficult enough to observe the resurgence of nationalism across a continent that has good cause to fear exactly that, without also having to listen to those voices that seem almost to be calling for a return to the mythical days of yore.

As Churchill knew all too well in his twilight years – those days are long, long gone!

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Image from Wikimedia Commons by http://www.flickr.com/people/theeerin/It did not occur to me for a single second that – when during the composition of my last post, (touching as it did upon the subject of my new bicycle) I described the Sturmey Archer three-speed rear hub with which the cycle that I was given in 1965 as ‘prehistoric’ – said engineering marvel might actually still be in production!

Discovering from the InterWebNet that this is indeed the case I was rendered what can only be described as ‘gob-smacked’!

Sturmey Archer was apparently established in Nottingham in the UK in 1902 as a division of Raleigh Cycles and production of their most ubiquitous model – the AW three-speed hub gear – commenced in 1936. For an extended period virtually every three-speed bicycle sold in the UK was fitted with a Sturmey Archer hub gear.

The company got into financial trouble towards the end of the last century and by 2000 was on the verge of bankruptcy. Following a period during which it appeared that the company would disappear without trace the entire assets were eventually sold to a Taiwanese company called SunRace, who moved the whole operation lock, stock and barrel to Taiwan.

Despite discovering that much of the machine tooling was obsolete SunRace persevered with production of the hub gears – and as of 2016 the famous three-speed AW model (amongst many others) was still in production.

Now – whereas I cannot for the life of me imagine what I am going to do with at least two thirds of the twenty four gears that I have on my new machine, I am mighty glad that I don’t still have to cope with the old three-speed hub gear.

But then – I am an old codger these days!

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