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November 2014

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No more than a few days ago – in a post generally bemoaning the lack of progress on our long road to retirement in BC – I wrote this regarding my application for Canadian permanent residency:

“My application is – however – approaching the average time to decision, and I am thus in a state of considerable anticipation.”

Yesterday the following popped into my inbox as I slaved away at my desk at School:

rprfNot only is this the first indication that I have had that London is now actively processing my application, but also – I feel – most convincing evidence that it will meet with approval in reasonably short order. I would not – after all – be asked to pay the Right of Permanent Residence Fee (RPRF) were I not soon to be granted that privilege.

Naturally I paid CIC immediately by credit card and forwarded the electronic receipt to London – so as not to delay the process further.

This is really most exciting!

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Image by  Bushey on Clker.comEvery once in a while something happens that takes one by surprise – that brings one up short – that shakes one abruptly out of any sense of complacency. Well – such a thing happened to me just this last weekend. The Kickass Canada Girl flew back to Victoria for a brief sojourn to visit loved ones and friends.

Why did this come as such a shock – given that I knew well in advance that she was going?

For the answer to this question one need only look back over this journal to the entries from a couple of years ago. At the start of December 2012 the Girl flew back to Victoria to wind up her affairs there after the nine month experiment of the two of us living on different continents. Her job in Victoria had gone up in smoke, as had our plans of a rapid redeployment into retirement on the Saanich peninsular. The Girl was on her way back to the UK in time for Christmas – and our plans were on the way back to the drawing board.

This visit marks the first occasion since 2012 upon which the Girl has gone to Canada without me – and I have to say that I don’t at all care for the experience. I was not expecting such a strong echo of the many poignant occasions during those nine months when – following our all too brief visits to each other – we endured the abrupt wrench of renewed parting as we went our separate ways for a further six to nine weeks.

This period of absence brings back the sort of memories and feelings that I thought I had safely tucked away for good.

It is – of course – but a brief parting and we will soon be back together under the same roof – enjoying another Christmas together. In all probability the next time we make the journey to BC we will be traveling one way only.

All of this I know – but I still don’t like the sensation…

Sigh!

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Image by Geni on WikipediaA recent and somewhat vexatious – though in truth fairly mild – infection at the root of one of my molars has caused me to enter into my much dreaded decennial engagement with the amalgam of dentists. This suitably apposite collective noun, incidentally, (see what I did there?) comes courtesy of a rather wonderful website called ‘All Sorts‘, whose splendid ‘mission statement’ reads thus:

“All Sorts is a collection of collective nouns that may or may not have found their way into the Oxford English Dictionary. If you think that a charismatic collective is far superior to a dullard ‘bunch’ or ‘flock’ then this is the place for you.”

I digress!

Now – I know that those of you who are of North American origin will have a totally different outlook to us Brits when it comes to oral maintenance. I know this because the Kickass Canada Girl is at pains to point out the fact. Frequently! To understand the loathing that my generation has of all things carnassial one must revisit a little post-war English dental history. To quote from the online ‘Dentist Forum’ – in response to an item in the tabloid press concerning the perceived neglect of dental hygiene in the UK:

“What he fails to mention is the over treatment by dentists to anyone who is now aged around 50 or 60 will have suffered in their younger years. Many of this age group had the drill, drill and more drilling treatment. It wasn’t unusual as a child to visit the dentist for a check up in the 1960s and be told “that’s 10 fillings you need”. If many of this age group had only visited a dentist occasionally in their childhood, perhaps only when in pain, they would have had less unnecessary treatment and their teeth might be in better shape now.”

I was one such child. My memories of those two decades are of almost constant toothache – subsequent to each visit to the dentist. By the time the pain had subsided it was time for another checkup. What with the endless fillings (not in truth helped by the lack of fluoridation in drinking water in England at that point, nor by the sweet tooth that I inherited from my mother!) and the impacted wisdom teeth, I had a pretty rough time of it.

To cap it all I had a gap between my two front teeth. It was not a massive gap and nor was it unsightly. In truth was rather fond of it. The dentist – however – persuaded my parents that it should be fixed and I was reluctantly forced to wear a hideous and uncomfortable brace. I hated the thing so much that I avoided wearing it whenever I could get away with it. Eventually the dentist started to smell a rat – suspicious of the lack of progress. Finally my brother resolved the issue inadvertently on the cricket green by breaking one of my front teeth with a particularly vicious short-pitched delivery. The resulting cap removed the gap once and for all.

 

Dentistry has changed – of course – out of all recognition. Such barbarism as we knew in the 60s is a thing of the distant past. My practice now even calls me up the day following treatment to check that there has been no resultant discomfort. The surgery has more technology than NASA and can engineer a perfect set of teeth with laser like precision whilst rotating 3D animations of my molars on a large flat screen for my education and edification.

I was fitted – the other day – with a temporary crown; the which involves quite a lengthy procedure. There was at no stage – either during the treatment or at any point thereafter – any pain at all (unless one counts the cost of the procedure – which is eye-watering in much the same way as is a boot to the testicles!).

There remains but one complaint. The drill! It is not that it causes any discomfort these days – but the sound of the thing is exactly as I remember it from my youth. As a result my visits to the dentist these days cause me to suffer grim psychological flashbacks to my childhood some five decades ago.

Now – if they could only fix that…

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Image from Pixabay“It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”

Elizabeth Taylor

The truth of Elizabeth Taylor’s dictum is not lost on us, and it is a good thing that it is so. I would not want – for example – to be considering our impending move to a different continent were I still in my younger years – since every part of the process seems to require the patience of a saint.  I do not recall being particularly blessed with that virtue in my youth and I am fairly sure that the Kickass Canada Girl would tell a similar tale.

There have been a good number of viewings at our Buckinghamshire apartment but – as yet – not one by its next owner. It is difficult to remain resolutely positive regardless of the passage of time since we went to market. It is especially frustrating that there is little that we can do to move things forward.

Negotiations drag on regarding our respective retirement dates. Though we have fixed ourselves a definite cutoff point in mid-July next year we are both aiming to wrap things up significantly in advance of that date. Nothing – it would seem – moves quickly on this front either.

I am still waiting to hear the outcome of my application for Canadian Permanent Residence. Gut feeling tells me that I will hear something any day now – but I guess I could be feeling the same in a couple of month’s time.

The blogroll for this compendium – that list of InterWebNet sites (to the right of the posts) that, in my wisdom, I have decided might be of use to like-minded persons – contains a link for the British Expats website. This invaluable resource contains much information concerning emigration to a wide range of destinations including – naturally – a most useful section on Canada, the which comes complete with a thriving forum on which many going through a similar process to ourselves post religiously.

These include frequent updates on the current status of the posters’ sponsored applications for Canadian PR from the UK, and I have noted therein repeated references to a spreadsheet maintained by one of the members. This would seem to pull together detailed information – submitted voluntarily by those involved – concerning the dates that the various deadlines in the process have been achieved. This has clearly been in operation for four or five years now and has grown over time into a most valuable resource through which one might gauge the progress on one’s own application.

It took me quite some time to locate the speadsheet itself, but it was well worth  the effort. What is immediately clear it that the processing times for applications varies widely, and that the completion dates of clusters of submissions from around the same time can be separated in some cases by many months.

My application is – however – approaching the average time to decision, and I am thus in a state of considerable anticipation.

Fingers firmly crossed!

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidFor the first time since since I joined the School not far short of a decade ago, the whole community gathered as one in the Founders’ Court just before 11:00am yesterday morning to participate in a simple but effective ceremony of remembrance.

It is – I suppose – little surprise that this particular Armistice Day should be accorded such significance though, of course, 2014 is the centenary of the commencement of the Great War rather than of its close. That it has acquired this importance may be determined from – amongst other like signifiers – the public response to ceramic artist Paul Cummins’ installation at the Tower of London. This extraordinarily moving presentation – entitled “Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red” – has clearly caught the public imagination far beyond the expectation of those who commissioned the work.

That we stand in silence and remember those who gave their lives is entirely apposite. Given even that the images of modern warfare are these days beamed into our homes like some obscene computer game, we still cannot begin to imagine the true nature of the ordeal experienced by those who find themselves in the combat zone. The utter horror of warfare – the mechanisation of destruction – the unimaginable cruelty of the carnage that men are persuaded to inflict upon one another – the impossibility of ever truly ‘coming back’ from war…

Those of us fortunate enough to have avoided any need to undergo such a baptism can only marvel at the fortitude, the courage, the sacrifice of those that have done so. There but for the grace of god – go each of us…

What should not be forgotten – especially at this time of remembrance – is the part played by those powers and potentates at whose behest and command our young men head for the battlefield. We would – of course – love to imagine that the wise heads and stout hearts of our leaders direct them to strain every sinew to ensure that any such conflict be avoided if at all possible. War should only ever be a last desperate act of self-defence. It is sadly all too clear that in many conflicts this is simply not the case.

I was moved to tears by an article in Saturday’s Independent newspaper that drew attention to the scarcely believable fact that – since 1945 – there has been but a single year (1968) in which no member of the UK armed forces was killed in action. This is a truly shocking statistic!

When we as a nation ask the ultimate sacrifice of our young men – the most precious gift that is life itself – do we not bear the immense responsibility of ensuring that we do so only when there is absolutely no alternative?

The Great War – as so many others – should never have happened. Europe’s rulers and political leaders – by their mendacity, their naivety, their ignorance, their incompetence… their fragile egotism… allowed the continent to slide into a cataclysmic conflict that wiped out a generation and changed the world utterly!

This also we must remember.

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Image from WikipediaNo sooner had I posted my previous epistle lamenting the cynical manipulation of statistics by those with political ambitions (whatever might be their particular persuasion) than the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer – George Osborne – obligingly provided a perfect illustration of this dark art.

The background is thus:

Just over a week ago Prime Minister Cameron embarrassed all concerned with an ill-judged, table-thumping tantrum when informed of a bill for £1.7 billion – for payment by December 3rd – that had been presented to the government by the European Union (EU). The fact that the figure was the product of the standard annual re-calculation of EU contributions based on GDP that applies to all EU member countries – in this case covering years back as far as 1995 – and that those involved had all known well in advance that it was coming up, apparently counted for little. Cameron chose to throw a hissy fit, claiming that the UK would not be paying what was owed – and certainly not by Dec 3rd!

The reasons for this unseemly display are – of course – entirely to do with the pressure that Cameron is under both from the anti-Europe UK Independence Party (currently busily engaged chipping away at tory support) and from the Eurosceptics within his own party.

On Friday Osborne met with European finance ministers to try to brow-beat them into making a deal. Such was indeed achieved – in that the EU ministers were persuaded to let the UK pay in two installments rather than one and – crucially as it turned out – with the initial tranche delayed until next year. This only marginally impressive concession gave Osborne the opening he had been looking for. Since the UK stands to get a rebate from the EU next year in any case, Osborne – by dint of a little devious ‘creative’ accounting – was able to claim that the amount to be paid had actually been halved! It has not – of course. He has simply subtracted from the total the rebate that we will be receiving anyway.

Osborne was immediately called out on this chicanery – not only by the opposition parties (as well as their own coalition partners!) in the UK, but also by the assembled EU finance ministers – leaving him looking decidedly foolish.

Now – it is no secret that I dislike Osborne intensely. He displays all of the very worst traits of the modern career politico and must surely bear a considerable measure of the the blame for the ongoing decline in trust of the political classes in the UK and the resulting disengagement from the political process.

I heard Osborne being interviewed on the BBC. As is usual with him:

  1. he simply refused to answer directly any question that was put to him by the interviewer, choosing instead to make tangential pre-prepared pronouncements instead. Apart from anything else this is downright insulting both to the interviewer and to the listening public.
  2. he wasted no opportunity – as ever – to place the blame for all of the country’s woes on policies that the previous administration enacted more than half a decade ago, regardless of the relevance to the topic at hand. Osborne appears to believe that the making of political arguments is akin to advertising soap powder or suchlike –  and that the simple and endless repetition of crude mantras will result in the gullible consumer eventually accepting the message as gospel.
  3. he constantly talks down to others in a condescending and patrician manner – the implication being that we are all insignificant nothings who should be jolly grateful to have such and intelligent and noble figure to whom we can look up.

The worst thing from my perspective is that Osborne is an old boy of the School. The notion that he might have picked up any of his Machiavellian trickery from his schooling does not bear thinking about.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons This week’s depressing mid-term poll results from the US of A – as a result of which the Republicans have been (distressingly) able to declare possession of a mandate that all the evidence suggests the American people had no real wish to hand to them – reminds me that it is but a matter of months before we in the UK will also be subjected to an interminable period of electioneering by our own oleaginous political pretenders.

We face the prospect yet again of having to pick the bones out of the endless reams of misinformation, half truths and evasions that are the stock in trade of the office-seeking hustler. Each of the political parties has – of course – its own agenda and its own target demographic – and can inevitably be expected to distort the same basic facts in an effort to make its case. As the saying goes there are – “lies, damned lies and even bigger damned lies“… or something to that effect.

The rise both of the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales and of the newer groupings of the extreme right (the extreme left being no-where to be seen these days!) has predictably thrown all into a state of panic and confusion. The battleground will – as ever – comprise the usual fertile conflation of the economy and the size of the State – the two being inextricably bound together, particular in times of austerity.

All of those even slightly to the right of centre will once again bang the drum for further swinging cutbacks to the welfare state – and their half (or even less) truths will as usual play upon the basest emotions of the masses… anger over benefit cheats, scroungers and feckless wastrels – and fears about the over-running of this fair land by hoards of illegal asylum seekers, eager to sup deep at the well of our state largesse.

In search of some balance I found this most useful article on the BBC’s website:

The truth about welfare spending: Facts or propaganda?

…by Brian Milligan, the BBC ‘s personal finance correspondent.

The Treasury is apparently sending to all 24 million UK taxpayers a document purporting to show the breakdown of the government’s tax spend – with particular emphasis on the welfare spend. The gist of Mr Milligan’s article is that the easy-to-digest pie charts that are clearly intended to strike a chord with disgruntled tax payers are in fact highly misleading. As ever with statistics it all depends on how the counting is done and on which criteria are used to categorise the outcome. By tweaking the methodology it is possible to demonstrate that the areas of welfare spending that might be the subject of cutbacks could comprise anything from 14% to 56% of public spending. Naturally the figures chosen – highly selectively – by those from each political camp will ‘prove’ exactly what those concerned most desire.

I have myself printed out a copy of the article to keep to hand throughout the campaign, as a prophylactic against the seductive siren voices of our would-be masters.

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I made reference in a recent post to my (apparently) annual search for new and unfamiliar musics. I thought the gentle reader might like to be updated as to the outcome…

Well – I am actually going to reveal same regardless – so if you have no interest simply skip the rest of the post!

Having – as reported in that previous post – been unexpectedly captivated by Sarah McLachlan’s utterly bizarre rendition of “Unchained Melody” (which I find I now love unreservedly) it occurred to me that my search should probably be centred in the Pacific North-West. It further struck me that should I be able to find what I was looking for (something suitably haunting and ethereal, reasonably contemporary and probably incorporating the female voice) as close as possible to Vancouver Island, this might bode well for future fandom and potential gig-going.

In the event I spent a fair amount of time searching feverishly for just such on the InterWebNet but could not find exactly what I was looking for.

When I did finally find something that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention in the desired manner it was from considerably closer to home. As they have already become quite a big deal over here you might already know of them – but in case you don’t please allow me to introduce… ‘London Grammar.

Wikipedia says of them:

London Grammar is a British electronic pop trio formed by Hannah Reid, Dan Rothman and Dominic ‘Dot’ Major. Their début EP ‘Metal & Dust’ was released in February 2013 by Metal & Dust Recordings Ltd. Their debut album ‘If You Wait’ was released on 9 September 2013 and set platinum certification by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) association.

Both vocalist Hannah Reid and guitarist Dan Rothman are originally from London and met in a residence hall at the University of Nottingham during their first year in 2009. Rothman saw a picture of Reid on Facebook with a guitar and sent her a message to see if she wanted to “collaborate”. They were joined by Northampton native Dominic ‘Dot’ Major (keyboard, djembe, drums) a year later, after he began playing music together with Rothman.”

This is all well and good of course – but what you really want is to know what they sound like. Herewith some samples:

Hey Now:

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Strong:

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Flickers:

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So – let me know what you think…

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