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Well – not exactly… but it does feel a bit like playing hooky to have left our contractor and tradesfolk of all descriptions beavering away on our renovation whilst we have flown south for some winter sun in Mexico.

This is my first visit to this part of the world though The Girl is, of course, a regular. So many Canadians use the Mexican resorts as their winter home from home that it almost doesn’t feel like ‘abroad’.

So – what do I make of Puerto Vallarta? On what I have seen thus far – I love it. That means photos, of course. These from the balcony of our rather swanky suite:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidI am fascinated by the amazing Frigate birds that constantly circle above our roof, riding the thermals with their seven foot wingspan. The hawks are eager to get in on the act too:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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“Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.”

John Stuart Mill

I have manfully resisted (with but a few exceptions) making any commentary on the grim farce that is being played out in the old country in the matter of the leaving (or otherwise) of the European Union. The reasons for my reticence will – I feel sure – be obvious to many. Quite aside from any other consideration it is hard in the extreme to know what one could possibly write about this farrago (which quandary does not, sadly, seem to stop many of the more rabid online commentators).

If it weren’t all so damnably serious it would be quite good fun watching the Tory party twisting in the breeze as they try to hold together the fractious coalition of extremists of all hues that is their core constituency. Unfortunately the matter is serious – and thus no fun at all.

Yesterday’s ‘deal’ – which will apparently enable negotiations to move on to the next phase (trade talks) in the long, long process – was such an extraordinary piece of work, however, that my breath was quite taken away. I cannot decide whether it is a work of utter genius or just more stupid than can possibly be imagined. Without going too far into the nuts and bolts of the whole ghastly business, much of the recent debate has concerned the impossibility of maintaining a soft (ie – no controls) boarder post-Brexit between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (very much a member of the EU). The rebarbative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland  (who are currently keeping the Tories in power as a result of a desperately poor post-election decision by the PM) scuppered the first attempt at an agreement on the very reasonable grounds that they didn’t want a ‘boarder’ between themselves and the UK either.

The essential paradox at the heart of the ‘interesting‘ compromise that was eventually agreed was summed up by online commentator, Andrew80, thus:

“That agreement in plain text:

  1. We’re leaving the EU single market and the customs union.
  2. There will be no hard border between NI and Ireland.
  3. To avoid that, we’ll come up with something clever.
  4. Failing that, we will stay in the single market and the customs union.”

The devil is – as ever – in the detail and the detail here will be decided at a later stage in the process… or not! This classic fudge – essentially kicking the can as far down the road as is possible – seems to have achieved the impossible and united all shades in… in what no-one quite seems to know! According to a range of commentators of all complexions the agreement is a vindication of their position. Others – again of all hues – are apoplectic with rage at this ‘betrayal’.

I guess that for Theresa May this counts as a ‘result‘!

You literally could not make this stuff up…

 

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“…a little becomes a lot”

Anonymous

A quick pictorial update on our renovations. This is where things stand after our wonderfully perfectionist dry-waller (and his partner) have spent a week and a half working on our walls and ceilings. What you can’t discern from the pictures is just how wonderfully smooth and silky the ceilings now are. The spaces immediately look larger and far, far cleaner than they did before.

Next up – floors throughout and tiling for the bathrooms:

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIt has long been my habit to maintain a couple of decanters of spirits for everyday purposes. One of these is charged with whatever reasonably cheap brandy I can source locally (since it is intended for mixing with ginger ale or suchlike) and the other – the teardrop decanter in the accompanying image – with whisky. I tend to prefer J & B for this one – Justerini & Brooks being a familiar Edinburgh concern and this being their signature blend.

These decanters normally reside in some splendour upon the sideboard in our dining room. During the renovations they are perched on top of a bookcase in the hall/kitchen that forms the spine of our basement abode.

Yesterday found me once again vacuuming our cosy crypt in what is an ongoing effort to mitigate the ingress of the all pervading plaster (mud) dust. I had worked my way through the hallway and into the family room that is currently doubling as our living space and a warehouse for our goods and chattels. As I dragged the machine in behind me I thought I heard a noise from back in the hall. I stopped what I was doing and went to have a look. I could see nothing amiss so determined to think no more about it and to complete my chores.

This morning The Girl was herself sorting through some of the many items that are now vying for living space in our hallway. She picked up a redundant cardboard box in which some life-essential had but recently been delivered.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWhy is there a decanter in this box?”, she queried. It took but seconds to determine what had happened. As I had moved the vacuum cleaner the power cord had caught around the decanter (the power socket being on the wall at dado height beside the bookcase) and whisked it off the shelves and into the open box below.

Here, of course, is where the luck came in. The box was still a third filled with packing material. The floor below is of concrete covered with a thin layer of vinyl flooring. Had the decanter hit the floor rather than the packing material in the box it would undoubtedly have shattered.

But that is not all. The decanter had come to rest on its side and the glass stopper had come loose and was lying in the box beside the decanter. I lifted them carefully out of the box and inspected them. As you can see the decanter was only about a quarter filled and – because of the vessel’s shape and the angle at which it had come to rest – not a single drop had been spilled…!

…and I feel sure that you know just how much a Scot hates to waste good whisky!

I think that calls for a wee dram…

 

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Image by Tony Hisgett on Wikimedia Commons“The music is in the air. Take as much as you want.”

Edward Elgar

It is highly likely that a fair proportion of the English expat community of Victoria were unknowingly gathered together in one place on Monday evening last.

The Kickass Canada Girl and I were amongst those attending the Royal Theatre for a concert by the Victoria Symphony Orchestra (the first such that I have experienced) featuring a programme which included works by Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Edward Elgar.

In musical terms one cannot get much more ‘English’ than this and the Brits appeared to have turned out in force!

Though I have long been a fan of Vaughan-Williams I was not previously familiar with the F Minor Tuba Concerto – the which work was featured on Monday. In common with most other commentators I do not find the bass tuba particularly suited to being featured as a solo instrument, but the orchestral passages in the piece are marked by the composer’s familiar elegant phrasing and it proved to be most enjoyable as a whole.

Now – I grew up listening to Elgar. As would seem to be the case for many others I came first to the Enigma Variations, falling in love with the Nimrod and sensing that it somehow encapsulates much that is good at the heart of the English pastoral. I discovered the E Minor Cello Concerto somewhat later but the work has grown to have a profound effect on me. The piece – Elgar’s last major work – was composed shortly after the end of the Great War (during which he had written very little) and has been described as a lament for a lost world. To me – and clearly to many others – its elegiac and melancholy mood captures to perfection the sense of tragic loss both of a generation and of the innocence of the ‘golden summer’ that preceded that catastrophic conflict.

The last time I head the Cello Concerto played live was at a concert at one of the schools at which I worked. The cello soloist (still a schoolboy at the time) was Tim Lowe – now a highly respected international performer. His rendition of the work moved me to tears, as did that of English cellist Raphael Wallfisch on Monday last. Wallfisch’s reading is maybe a little more clear-eyed and less sentimental, but the power of the work over those of us who are susceptible (Englishmen mayhap?) is undeniable.

Mind you – the Nimrod also has me blubbing uncontrollably as well. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, except that Elgar clearly tapped into something that speaks eloquently to at least some of us who hail from from that blessed plot.

The first time that one hears a ‘new’ orchestra is always a somewhat nervy experience. I am delighted to report that the Victoria Symphony – under its new director, Christian Kluxen – gave an entirely admirable performance. I very much look forward to hearing them again.

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“I haven’t found anything to complain about. But being Scottish, it won’t be long.”

Peter Capaldi

Regular sufferers of these jottings will be familiar with my routine but wildly varying updates on the current state of Scottish rugby. My first item on the subject – way back in 2013 – introduced the eternal conundrum of supporting a national side whose fortunes have experienced more ups and downs than a roller coaster. The strangely stoic optimism that I believe is part of the Scottish makeup is essential if one is to be able to live in stasis with Kipling’s two imposters.

In recent times – however – the fortunes of the Scots have taken a most pleasant upward trajectory. Under the patient tutelage of (stern!) Vern Cotter and more recently Scottish rugby legend, Gregor Townsend, the side has steadily improved and positive results have started to follow. This very summer the Scots – having been largely ignored by Warren Gatland in his Lion’s selections for the All Black’s showdown – toured the southern hemisphere themselves. In Australia they took on – and beat – the number three side in the world.

Last weekend – in the Autumn Internationals – it was their turn to face the All Blacks in a Murrayfield encounter that many predicted would turn into a rout. The Scots not only matched the fearsome Kiwis for much of the game, but at times made them look distinctly ordinary. With time on the match clock almost expired the Scots trailed by a mere five points and their superstar fullback, Stuart Hogg, broke free down the left hand touchline. For a second it looked as though a match-winning try might be on until the All Black’s fly half, Beauden Barratt, scrambled Hogg into touch at the last moment.

Fears that the Scots (already missing a number of key players to injury) might have shot their bolt and be unable to raise themselves again this week for their rematch with Australia (who were themselves smarting from a somewhat exaggerated defeat by the English the week before at the Cabbage Patch) were only heightened when Stuart Hogg injured himself during the warmup for the match and had to be replaced.

It turned out to matter not a jot. Neck and neck as the first half drew to a close one of the Aussie forwards, Sepoke Kepu, essayed a rash challenge on Hamish Watson and was rightly shown the red card. Though there have been many examples of matches in which being a man down has not greatly affected the outcome, such was not the case on this occasion and the Scots showed admirable ruthlessness to put the Aussies away in a record 53 – 24 demolition.

For now at least the days of being tagged ‘plucky losers’ are a thing of the past. The Scots have shown that they now have strength in depth and that on their day they can live with just about anyone.

Lang may yer lum reek” – as they say north of the border!

Many congratulations!

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In the drama that is our ongoing renovation the first two acts are over and there is now a brief intermission before act three. The tearing out has been completed and the loaded bin (skip) of detritus has been hauled up onto its truck and trundled away. The new infrastructure has been installed; wiring, plumbing, gas, ventilation, sub-floors, windows and so forth…

We now stretch our legs gratefully and pop to the bar for a swift sticky whilst we await the fireworks of the cosmetic part of the project that start the second half.

The shell of the kitchen is ready for dry-walling and flooring:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe drawing room awaits its new ceiling and floor:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe bathrooms are also ready for the dry-waller:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidSome of the new windows have even been trimmed, though others must wait for further finishing:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidThe dry-waller comes on Monday to start on the walls and ceilings. The following week sees both the flooring and the tiling done and we will then be ready for the installation of kitchen cabinets and bathroom fittings.

All most exciting!

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Image by Andrew Thomas on WikimediaI could not resist sharing with the gentle reader this extract from a longer opinion piece concerning public offence – by Tim Dowling of The Guardian. In my view Tim absolutely nails it!

This snippet goes under the banner “In-flight entertainment“:

 

“Which brings me to the giant penis in the sky. If you know about it at all, you will have seen the image online at the weekend: a huge penile outline – with testicles – drawn using the condensation trail of a US military aircraft. About 2,500 people from Okanogan county in Washington state had a brief opportunity to be offended by it, although I can’t find any accounts of actual outrage – and one has to assume the locals are the source of all those gleefully retweeted pics.

I will admit that my first reaction to the image was: skill. I think all trainee pilots should be able to trace a passable penis in the sky before they graduate. The US navy thought different: it apologised for “this irresponsible and immature act”, and grounded the air crew of the E/A-18 Growler responsible. But I have to say that this is my kind of public offence: immature, irresponsible and absolutely massive. If there’s a better use of the $67m fighter jet, I can’t think of it.”

Too true…

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The English boys’ school that was my penultimate place of employ before we moved to Canada is known for many things, not least of which is its plethora of distinctive customs and traditions. These are sufficiently extensive – and codified in such a unusual vocabulary – that the institution provides an extensive guide to its unique terminology for all new members of staff.

One of the minor (but particularly charming) traditions on the staff side concerns a ‘miserable Monday’ in November. In short, a long serving member of the school staff from times gone by bequeathed to the School a financial gift sufficient to provide – on one particularly miserable Monday morning each November – Madeira and Bath Oliver biscuits to be served at the morning staff meeting – ‘Chambers‘. The School Clerk is tasked with choosing the Monday to be so graced and the skill clearly resides in picking the most miserable of the days concerned. Of course, should one go too early there is always the possibility that the weather might get even worse later in the month.

However arcane this odd little tradition might seem to outsiders it had the effect of brightening not only the Monday concerned but, through anticipation, those that preceded it.

Talking of November traditions – now that we are resident on the far side of the planet we are beginning to create (as one does) our own customs and recurrent habits. As regular readers might therefore already be aware – if it is November it must be time for Barney Bentall and the Cariboo Express! As you can see I have extolled the delights of this particular evening’s entertainment before. Suffice to say that this year’s outing was equally enjoyable.

On a different (but also delightful) note, being a household currently without usable bathtubs – but being at the same time imbued with the British love of submerging ourselves for extended periods in hot water – we are delighted to report that our little hot tub is at last in action. For various reasons – having much to do with electrical supplies – it has taken far longer than anticipated to get it up and running. We finally ‘leveraged’ (bah!) our renovations to make things happen and we can now wallow under our new deck whilst the rain pelts down but a few feet away.

Cool! (or more accurately, hot!)…

Hmmm! I think I hear the tub calling now…

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Two weeks into our renovation project and good progress is being made – though not all such will be immediately apparent to the quick glance.

First appearances, for example, would suggest that the kitchen is practically unchanged from its state of a week ago – whereas in fact much has been done. The gas feed for the range has been run in; the plumbing for the sink and dishwasher laid on; the electrics for lighting, appliances and so forth installed; and the extraction facilities for the range hood put in place.

The kitchen is actually very nearly ready for the drywaller to come in and to make it look like a real room again.

Similar progress has been effected in the bathrooms, for which first fix plumbing, electrics and extraction have been completed.

At one point it looked as though we may have found ourselves waiting for more than ten weeks for the delivery of our bath tubs, such being the current shortage in north America of the model that we (and clearly others) have chosen.

Mine is the larger of the two tubs (I have expressed before my feelings regarding the diminutive size of many Canadian bathtubs) and we were concerned that it might prove difficult to source. As it turns out we were most pleasantly surprised when it was delivered within a couple of weeks of an order having been placed, enabling our plumber to crack on with the installation.

Acquisition of the other tub promised to be a more difficult proposition and I thought it a good idea to visit the other bathroom equipment wholesalers in Victoria to see if anyone had an alternative that would do the job. To my great delight the second supplier that I tried had in their warehouse one (and one alone!) of the very tubs that we were seeking. It was duly delivered the very next day and installed forthwith.

In addition to the above mentioned construction tasks good progress has been made with the stripping of the ‘popcorn’ from the ceilings and on the laying of a new sub-floor – that which had been uncovered during the demolition phase being deemed unsuitable on its own for the task of carrying our splendid new flooring.

There have been times when our humble abode seems to have been hosting an apparently never-ending round of tradesmen. Our contractor and his young accomplice (or two) are constants; the electrician and his two sidekicks have done a number of days to complete their first fix; the gas fitter and his mate have done likewise; the plumber has worked alone but is a large enough character that he more than makes up for it; and the roofer (who put in the extractor vents) came and went before I knew it.

Add to this multitude the man from the flooring company and the window supplier and you will get an idea just how busy the place has been. We have not yet seen the drywaller, the kitchen cabinet installers, the counter-top templaters (and installers) or the roof insulators.

What a merry throng; all appropriately dedicated – it would seem – to the creation of our splendid new home…

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