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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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“I would say just the weather in Vancouver in the winter can be kind of unforgiving.”

Brandon J McLaren

Here be some photos of a wintery weekend in Vancouver.

Brrrr!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidThese guys had some bottle!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIn the midst of last week Victoria was basking in pleasant sunshine with temperatures hovering in the mid teens Celsius. By Friday morning (at the point at which our kitchen ceiling and all of the insulation had been ripped out, leaving the main floor of the house open to the attic and the fresh air vents therein) the temperature had plunged to around zero.

On Thursday night a storm blustered its way across the Saanich peninsula and we suffered the first power outage of the season (the which lasted more than three hours!) as the lines were brought down by falling branches. When I was awoken in the middle of the night – by all of the lights coming back on – I looked outside to find the garden (yard) covered with a blanket of snow!

All of this caused no little consternation since I was due to travel to Vancouver on the Friday to join the Kickass Canada Girl (who had been participating in a work conference there) so that we might attend BC Place for the much anticipated rugby encounter between Canada and the Maori All Blacks. It was our further intention to enjoy a weekend of wild hedonism in Vancouver before slinking back – tail between our legs – on the Sunday evening. According to the forecast, however, the weather was clearly in no mood to co-operate with our agenda.

Further concern arose from the realisation that – as our retreat into the basement for the duration had been accompanied by the closing off of the heating vents on the main floor (along with the cutting of a temporary return air feed into the downstairs ductwork) – the heating thermostat, being yet upstairs, was faced with the futile task of trying to engender some warmth into what had effectively become an outdoor space, whilst in the process almost incinerating everything that was now below stairs. The only alternative seemed to be to turn the heating off completely and to let everything freeze. The thought of going away and leaving the house in either state for the weekend did not fill us with enthusiasm.

Fortunately – having some little experience with cabling – it was not a overly difficult task to disconnect the thermostat, to pull the cable back down into the furnace room in the basement (being careful to leave a draw-wire in place for later reinstatement) and to reconnect the thermostat temporarily to service the lower floor alone.

Mighty glad by the end of the (chilly) weekend that I did so!

The Maori All Blacks? Well – no unexpected tales there. They gave the nearly 30,000 strong crowd a great exhibition of the finer points of the game of rugby and Canada a lesson from which they should learn a-plenty!

And we had a great time…

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Being new to the whole concept of timber-framed houses I find myself on a steep learning curve when it comes to the business of the construction and – more pertinently – the renovation thereof.

My long career in IT brought me repeatedly, if somewhat unexpectedly, into contact with the UK construction industry. Wearing my networking hat (one wonders exactly what sort of head apparel that might be!) I was involved with a wide variety of new-build projects pretty much throughout. I became as a result familiar with the methods and materials used, be they brick, concrete, engineering block, steel frame etc, etc…

This is far from the first kitchen that I have renovated and I thought that I knew a fair bit about that which is involved. It is, however, the first such that I have done in a timber-framed residence. In a brick built house the norm is for the kitchen services (electricity, water, gas and air extraction) to be run behind or on top of the cabinets. Stripping out a kitchen or bathroom is simply a matter of removing the appliances, tearing out the units, making good any damage and then rejigging the services appropriately.

I was taken aback to discover, therefore, that in a timber framed house all of the services are run through the walls instead. Stripping out a kitchen or bathroom thus also involves tearing out the drywall (plasterboard) walls and ceilings along with any insulation, going right back to the bare stud-work. The rebuild thus essentially starts with a blank canvas and is done from scratch.

The images that accompany this screed will give an idea as to what is involved and comparison with my last post may startle the gentle reader as much as the real thing did me.

This first phase of the project – the demolition – has been mercifully quick. From here on in we start to play the longer game.

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Well – here we go! Renovation – part II…

Having spent the past two weeks packing up all of our worldly possessions – again – and setting up a ‘cosy’ living space in our walkout basement, we are about to hand the entire top floor of the house over to our contractor.

Scary stuff indeed – not least because right now it is not clear that all will be done in time for Christmas. There are so many balls to juggle – so many different plates to be kept spinning – so many… well – you get the idea…

So – farewell 1970s kitchen:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidGoodbye weirdly pink bathrooms:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidAdieu popcorn ceilings, variegated floor coverings and yet more pink walls:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidAnd in answer to the question – “Where did all your stuff go?“… here it is in our makeshift warehouse in the downstairs ‘family’ room:

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

 

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Image by Tabercil on Wikimedia CommonsA sad evening last night…

Way back in the mists of time (actually somewhat earlier this year!) it was announced that the ‘Legendary Gordon Lightfoot’ would be coming to Victoria this fall for a couple of concerts at the McPherson Playhouse.

Wikipedia says of the great man:

“Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music, and has been credited for helping define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He has been referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and internationally as a folk-rock legend.”

Now – it is probably fair to say that for many of us who hail from the UK (and elsewhere ‘abroad’) familiarity with both Mr Lightfoot himself and with his oeuvre are somewhat limited. The name I knew, of course, but I could not bring to mind any of his classic songs.

For the Kickass Canada Girl, however, it was a different matter. She grew up on Mr Lightfoot, and his compositions – as for so many Canadians – were woven into the tapestry of her upbringing. Not a second was wasted, therefore, in placing an order for two tickets for the aforementioned show, so that she might revisit old favourites and stir some memories in the process, whilst introducing me to something that I had previously missed.

So where – the gentle reader will doubtless be wondering – does the sadness come in? Well – the Girl and I did something that we virtually never do: we left at the interval!

Mr Lightfoot used to have a beautiful rich haunting baritone voice but sadly – on last night’s evidence at least – it is no more. In a form in which the words are pretty much everything, the strained croak with which we were greeted at the McPherson yesterday struggled to render many of the lyrics intelligible. In addition, Mr Lightfoot’s four-piece band were obviously under instruction not to provide too much competition and were dialed back almost to comatose. Given that none of them provided backing vocals either the man’s voice was left painfully exposed.

Checking his history on the InterWebNet I gather that over the years (Mr Lightfoot is 78!) illness has taken its toll and – though I would be one of the last people to suggest that he should not indulge his love of performing to the many appreciative fans who were clearly willing to overlook such frailties – I can’t help but think that he needs a little help. The Girl and I saw Burt Bacharach some years back at the jazz festival in Perugia. He was 80 at the time and – recognising that his own voice was shot – had surrounded himself with three gorgeous young vocalists (male and female) to handle such ‘chores’ whilst he amused himself (and us!) on the piano. It made for a stunning concert!

In the case of Mr Lightfoot the Girl was – understandably – really quite upset.  When the tenderly preserved memory of something that has played such a key part in one’s life is delivered such a rude awakening it can leave one somewhat shaken.

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My post of yesterday concerning the poignant death of Gord Downie was necessarily brief – because:

– the occasion was just too sad and I could not find words to adequately express the sense of loss…

– because in many ways there is little more to be said…

– because there is much more to be said but there are many considerably more qualified (and way more eloquent) than I to say it…

Canadians doubtless need read no further but for others – particularly those across the ocean in Europe – I sense that it may be important to add something more for the benefit of those wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.

I posted this missive on the occasion of the Tragically Hip’s farewell concert last summer, which might give the puzzled reader some insight into why it is that the premature but expected death of a rock singer has so traumatised a nation. That it has indeed done so may be confirmed by watching Canada’s premier – Justin Trudeau – failing to hold back the tears as he pays tribute on national television. “It hurts”, he says. “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it”.

Given the almost total lack of interest in the Tragically Hip outside Canada this may seem somewhat over the top. All I can suggest is that the gentle reader spends ten or fifteen minutes reading some of the many tributes to Downie, in order to gain just some insight into why he was so loved and respected. For example,

‘The place of honor that Mr. Downie occupies in Canada’s national imagination has no parallel in the United States. Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close. The Tragically Hip’s music “helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.”’

As Vozick-Levison suggests, Downie was much more than just a singer. He was a writer – a poet – an occasional actor – a philanthropist – an activist on behalf of indigenous peoples and much, much more…

Above all, perhaps, he was a Canadian.

 

 

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Gord Downie

 

1964 – 2017

 

 

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

“First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk,
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life”

 

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There is something completely magical about the way that fungi live patiently in one’s lawn – in the shape of millions of spores just waiting for the perfect conditions in which to thrive – before suddenly bursting forth for the purposes of reproduction. They have a relatively narrow window in which to do so once the air turns cooler and the moisture levels rise, before the first frosts persuade them once again to keep their heads well down for the duration.

Persistent little buggers, aren’t they!

Photo 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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