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August 2012

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Given that Kickass Canada Girl and I lead what, in the main, what can only be described as a charmed existance it would seem somewhat churlish – if that is a strong enough term for what I am about to do – for either of us to whinge or otherwise complain about it. Indeed some might find such behaviour reprehensible or even – given the manifold ills of the world as a whole – somewhat offensive. My nature is to be an optimist and to look on the bright side – but there are times when even I feel beaten down by things and am moved by the urge to unburden.

To cut to the chase – what I am saying is that if the very thought of my grumbling on about  our lives turns your stomach – look away now! Click through to another, more upbeat posting maybe.

<Grumble on>

The Girl has gone back to Victoria. Boo!! She and I will not see each other again until early in November – which sorry inevitability really is proving pretty tough to bear. As posited in a previous posting on Long Distance Relationships – and is definitely turning out to be the case for us – these repeated partings are becoming more difficult with repetition rather than easier.

The Girl – having been away from Victoria for some time on a combination of leave and foreign work trips – faces what she knows will be a tough period back in the office. She is well aware that things are difficult all over at the moment, but as she is still relatively new to this particular challenge she is finding it all rather daunting and would much rather that I were there to support her (as would I!) instead of being 5,500 miles away.

I have started my last full academic year at work. This should feel good but it has been a very tough and chaotic summer – not just for those of us in IT but across the School as a whole. There is going to be a mad scramble over the coming months to try to get everything working as it should, with the further threat of an inspection hanging over us throughout. There is clearly more to do than can reasonably be accomplished in the time available, and the very thought of heading into the winter – with my commute and long days of work – makes me feel almost resentful that I have to do this final year.

The housing market is flat. The various statistics available online for our area suggest that the average time on the market is in excess of two thirds of a year and that very little is selling. Our apartment in Buckinghamshire inevitably does not fall into the ‘average’ category – in terms of selling if no other. The longer it remains unsold – and with no indication that the market will pick up anytime soon – the more worried we become that a vital element of our plan will simply fail to materialise. There is also the ongoing expense of being the landlord of a rented property. There seems always to be something needing to be done!

I do not much like the autumn. I never have. Spring is my time of year – when new life is appearing and all is being born afresh. Yes – I know that the cycle of death and rebirth is natural and essential, but that doesn’t always help my mood.

Wonderful as it is for the Girl and I to meet each other whenever we can, the cost of flying around the world like this really is unconscionable – let alone being the slightest bit ‘green’. I can’t wait to be settled in one place and to put what monies we have left to some more fruitful purpose.


You know – I think that is quite enough of that. This is making even me a bit queesy – and if you have read thus far I am sure that you are feeling the same.

Deep breath – and…

<Grumble off>


Sorry about that. Normal service has been resumed…


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The feeling is that of the lost soul who – when dying of thirst on the remorseless sunbaked sands of an unforgiving desert and on spotting on the heat-hazed horizon a life-saving oasis – discovers that – contrary to his initial fears – it is not after all a mirage, but is indeed the fountain of life…

You may think this somewhat too effusive given that the object of my preroration is a mere television programme, but I can assure you that it accurately reflects the emotions experienced by this viewer on discovering – in the wasteland of the UK’s 21st century televisual output – an intelligent, complex, splendidly crafted, subtly directed TV drama – acted with exactitude and beautifully shot.

I refer – of course – to the first episode of ‘Parade’s End’ which was shown last Friday on the BBC. Adapted from Ford Maddox Ford’s quartet of post-Great War novels by the estimable Tom Stoppard this splendid offering starred – amongst other luminaries – the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch. Stoppard is a personal hero and I have been lucky enough to have met him twice – at first night parties for ‘Indian Ink’ and ‘The Invention of Love’. This was not only a lot more prosaic than it sounds but was also proof of the dictum that one should never meet one’s heroes. At each meeting I was reduced to babbling incoherence, telling him only on one occasion – as I recall – that his play was “quite brilliant”. He gave me a pitying look…

I could wax lyrical for a further 1500 words on the subject of ‘Parade’s End’, but the critics have already done so far more eloquently than I ever could. Here is Euan Ferguson in the Observer. All I will do is to urge those of you living in the UK who missed it on Friday to seek out the remaining four episodes – and for those of you in Canada and elsewhere to lobby your local TV stations to purchase said work and to screen it forthwith.

Following Friday’s episode there was a ‘making of’ documentary which featured a number of astute commentaries on the piece, including that of Cumberbatch himself. Without being too rude I think it safe to say that not all actors are as erudite on the subject of works in which they have appeared. Cumberbatch came over sufficiently well that I will forgo my usual somewhat childish remarks about his Alma Mater.

Well – they are rivals!


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“Fools may our scorn, not envy, raise.
For envy is a kind of praise.”

John Gay

The day after Kickass Canada Girl and I returned from Provence we had lunch – sitting under the blazing sun outside a surpassingly pleasant country pub in a typically bucolic Surrey village – with my oldest friend and his wife. By ‘oldest’ I actually mean ‘longest serving’, as it were, since he and I have known each other since I was nine and he seven and we were at school together back in the late 60s. I have known his wife for nearly as long – she being the same age as he – and it is one of the apparently inevitable sadnesses of modern life that these days we don’t get to see each other nearly enough.

Without going into detail it is fair to say that my friend and his wife have had a difficult couple of years. Some of the things that have happened to them have been echoed to a degree in both my life and that of the Girl, and as a result our empathy levels are high…

Both the Girl and I felt on this occasion – however – that there was a new-found air of tranquility about them which suited them well. The genesis of this was not difficult to ascertain; Oldest Friend’s wife (who has been Deputy Head of a preparatory school for as long as I can recall) had – shortly before the end of the summer term – taken the apparently un-premeditated decision to retire with immediately effect – or as close to such as can be achieved by those in the teaching profession!

Though it might – under the circumstances – seem inappropriate to feel even a tad envious, I must nervously admit to having briefly experienced that emotion. I am well aware that retirement can bring its own difficulties, and that the transition can be stressful. I have observed first hand examples of those for whom the entire undertaking was an unmitigated disaster. I am also only too aware of current pressures to extend one’s working (though not necessarily productive!) life longer and longer. However…

On the day following the aforementioned lunch the Girl flew to Warsaw on business, where she languishes even as I write. Once again we are restricted to Skyping each other, though at least for now without the eight hour time diference. She will be back in the UK tomorrow and then – after the Bank Holiday weekend – will return once more to Victoria. This time – and it hardly bears thinking about – we will not see each other face to face until November, when we meet in Hong Kong to attend the wedding of some lovely friends of ours. Under the circumstances a little envy may surely be forgiven.

Oldest Friend ventured the opinion – with reference to his wife’s decision – that even when such a course of action has not been seriously considered, one often knows – instinctively and instantly – when the time is right. I absolutely concur with this view. Even though I have to work out this coming academic year I know already that the time has come for me to step away.

I’m done!

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The eagle-eyed amongst you – and probably in this case even the short-sighted – will spot at once that the image above is the original from which the masthead to this blog was derived. It was taken in August 2010 on a really rather inexpensive digital compact shortly before said camera ceased working entirely a few days into our honeymoon – forcing me to seek another such in the (relative) wilds of southern Alaska. One of the things that I like about the photo is that I did nothing at all to pre or post-process it – this is exactly as the camera saw it.

One of the great joys of our recent break in Provence was that – for the first time in ages and notwithstanding the demands for attention of our dear Saanichton friends’ (our travelling companions) two young sons – I was able to catch up on some reading. I finished David Ross’s excellent and comprehensive biography of Richard Hillary – of whom I will write more later – as well as hugely enjoying Stanley Booth’s kaleidoscopic description of the Rolling Stones fated 1969 tour of America – ‘The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones’. You are probably familiar with how that particular tale ended, but needless to say this classic narrative – sufficiently difficult to write that it was not published until 15 years after the events concerned – is the definitive guide to the essence of the times. For those of us who grew up in the late 60s – and for those who wish that they had – it is required reading.

Neither of these weighty tomes, however, moved me as much as did a slender volume that I picked up (in Costco of all places!) whilst in Victoria at the beginning of July – ‘Long Beach Wild’ by Adrienne Mason. Subtitled ‘A Celebration of People and Place on Canada’s Rugged Western Shore’ this is a heartfelt evocation of Long Beach – that spectacular sweep of sand on the west coast of Vancouver Island between Tofino and Ucluelet – written by someone who has lived in the region for 20 years and is clearly in thrall to the place.

The connection between these two apparently unrelated items – as you might already have guessed – is that my photograph was itself taken on Long Beach, with which I have also fallen in love though, of course, much more recently than did Mrs Mason. The image is of what is now the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre but which was – as I learned from Mrs Mason’s excellent history – the original Wickaninnish Inn that was closed and taken over on the foundation of the Pacific Rim National Park and the incorporation of Long Beach thereinto. A new – and somewhat up-market – Wickaninnish Inn was created rather more recently a short distance to the north on Chesterman Beach, which destination will – I firmly intend – be the location of my sixtieth birthday celebration in January 2014.

Those of you who are inhabitants of Vancouver Island will probably already be familiar with this part of the Pacific Coast. Some may not find themselves moved by its austere attractions, particularly during ‘Fogust’, though I myself find even those mysteriously murky mornings strangely enticing. In any case, whether an old Long Beach hand or a complete ingenue I recommend regardless investigation of Mrs Mason’s book and of her excellent blog on the subject – The Long Beach Blog – one that will certainly be added to my blogroll.

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The staggeringly beautiful villages of the Vaucluse have been documented by far, far greater photographers than I could ever hope to become, and I do not intend to add my humble efforts to the many gorgeous images than can already be found on the InterWebNet. I will simply, therefore, post a few snaps taken over the last week or so that I quite like, in the hope that the gentle reader may also obtain some pleasure therefrom.


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O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention

William Shakespeare

I have long been fascinated by the nature – and the mystery – of creativity.

In one way or another – and for the greater part as an amateur – I have been a writer for as long as I can recall. I have read throughout extensively on the arts of writing and composing but – although I have learned much about technique – I still don’t understand how the muse itself functions. Perhaps no-body does.

In my youth and young adulthood – throughout the 70s and early 80s – I played in bands for which I was often the principle songwriter. Later – through my background as a musician – I became involved with youth theatre, and shortly thereafter started to write musicals. I wrote – or co-wrote – six such shows (including a re-working of Hamlet set in Thatcher’s Britain!) the majority of which were performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When I ran out of collaborators willing or mad enough to take on such ventures I turned to writing straight plays instead.

One of the great hopes for my retirement to BC is that I will have the time to devote to writing properly. A full length play will currently take me 2 or 3 years to complete (though of course a play is never actually finished) as I have to fit the writing around work, commuting and sleeping – all of which consume far more of my life than does creativity… at least in the temporal sense. I have only once had the opportunity to write ‘full-time’, as it were, when a (sadly) quiet and lonesome Christmas fortnight enabled me to pretty much complete the first draft of an adaptation of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s ‘Parzival’. Sounds pretentious… was a lot of fun!

Recently I have spent a considerable chunk of my spare (ha!) time re-working some of my songs that were written over the past four decades. The driver for this was that my home studio – which at one point was indeed a room full of equipment but which has now shrunk to a single keyboard and a computer – has reached a point in terms of the technology involved that reasonable quality recordings can be made single-handedly and without great expense. Indeed, when now I meet old friends with whom I once played we often find ourselves discussing – somewhat longingly – what we might have achieved had we access to the technology that the young now take for granted.

All this is of course an aside. Back to the muse…

I have not written a new song for nearly 10 years. Until now – that is.

When we stayed – on my recent visit to Victoria – for a week in Oak Bay, it happened that the house in which we were living contained an upright piano. As Kickass Canada Girl had to work on some of the days that we were there I took advantage of being at a loose end to sit at the keyboard and to doodle around (extemporise!) a little. To my surprise a couple of interesting sequences popped out, and when I discovered the following day that I could still recall them quite clearly it became apparent that an new song might be emerging. A 20 minute wait for the Girl in Serious Coffee in Oak Bay Village gave me the subject for the song, and a little further head scratching produced a workable lyric for the first verse and – as a bonus – an idea for the chorus. All of this before she arrived…

Back home in the UK I thought I should see if I could get something down. I have become accustomed to spending a month or more working on a track trying to get a decent recording, but this one sprung to life in no more than a couple of weeks of snatched moments, and that included writing the bridge and instrumental passage that seemed to be required. I have become used to the incidence of happy accidents during the recording process, but in this case they not only all worked out well, but added a couple of layers of meaning to the song that certainly didn’t come from the conscious mind.

At this point the Girl arrived from BC and we traveled to Provence. I thought I might find a little time to work on some more lyrics but was greatly surprised that – in a spell of no more than 30 minutes yesterday – the rest of the song appeared “as if by magic”! Now all I need to do is to record some vocal tracks (regrettably only with my unfortunately scratchy voice) when I get back to the UK and – hey presto!…

It is not the most original song ever written, but I think it works quite well for what it is. Have I learned anything new about the creative process? Not really – except that one should never, ever think that the muse might have deserted one – no matter how long since one last created. My father – having given up composing when a young man – came back to it in his retirement.

There is definitely a lesson there…

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I was really quite taken aback – after nearly eight years together – to discover that there are still major cultural differences between Kickass Canada Girl and myself.

Picture the scene… The Girl and I exit the Hypermarche laden with Provencal goodies which I lovingly load into the minuscule boot of our diminutive hire car. She tosses me the key and says,

“You drive”.

With the sun attempting to scorch us to toast before the air conditioning has a chance to kick in I jump into the driver’s seat and fumble with the key for the ignition lock. Got it! I twist the key vigorously. The car leaps forward and slams into the kerb in front of us.

“What the heck!”, she exclaims. “Could you jolly well not do that?”

She didn’t actually say that, but for the sake of the sensibilities of the gentle reader let us assume that she did.

“Could you not leave the jolly car in gear!”, I retort.

Actually, I didn’t say that either…

Apparently I am a particularly slow learner, because it took me four or five bunny-hopping commencements to excursions before I figured out that the Girl was not – in some heat induced stupor – forgetting to put the car into neutral before disembarking… This is, clearly, what she always does. I had not noticed before because – under a peculiarity of UK regulations which meant that the Girl could only exchange her Canadian drivers’ licence for an automatic licence – she had not driven what the Canadians call a ‘stick-shift’ during her time in England.

It turns out, of course, that in Canada one is taught always to leave the car in gear when parked. My protestations that this renders the parking brake somewhat redundant – particularly because Canadians are apparently taught not to use it when waiting to move off on a gentle incline either – cut no ice. It seems that the gearbox is to be relied on but that the parking brake is not. So much for automotive technological advancement!

Let us hope – in the interests of saving face in front of the amused locals – that we reach a compromise rapidly, and that our progress throughout the south of France is free of further lapinary lurches.

Still – as they say here – ‘Vive la difference”!

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Some images of the residence at which we are staying in Avignon…

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In about an hour from now (time of writing rather than posting!) Kickass Canada Girl will be touching down at Heathrow. Hooray! I will, of course, be there to meet her.

We are going on Holiday.

Double hooray!!

On Friday evening we fly down to Marseilles – in the south of France – and on the Saturday will drive up to Avignon where we will meet our dear friends from Saanich and their two small boys. They are travelling to France independently – and directly – but once we have conjoined there we will be spending a (hopefully) completely relaxed fortnight recovering and recuperating from all the recent trials and tribulations. I can’t wait…

I intend to send images and despatches from Provence if at all possible. The apartments we have booked are equipped with wifi and as long as there are no unexpected hitches I should be able to post some relaxed and contemplative musings on life, the universe and – well – everything!



The Girl and I also have reason to celebrate as yesterday marked our second wedding anniversary. Strangely whereas, on the one hand, the wedding feels as though it took place only yesterday, at the same time it is as though we have been married forever. I think this must be a good sign – though as I am an optimist I think that everything is a good sign…

Happy days!

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