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November 2015

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I have previously made mention in these meanderings of my antipathy toward this particular time of the year – which I have always found induces in me a degree of melancholy. Though that is still true on this side of the pond Victoria does have a massive advantage over London in that – even when the temperature in both locations hovers around the same mark – the air here seems to lack that raw damp chill that is a feature of November in the UK. On relatively windless days it feels almost balmy. Time to take a stroll down to the seashore.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid
On the way to the ocean I passed this strange but rather delightful “Pop-up Sculpture Garden”, which occupies a corner of the road pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidAnd here is Mount Baker again – looking suitably epic!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image from Public Domain Images“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”


Long serving followers of these ramblings (and if such you be then you deserve some sort of special prize, though you may have to make do with my grateful thanks) will be aware that I have – on occasion – enthused over some artistic venture or other that has taken my fancy – be it on stage, screen or television. Close observers will also note that there have not exactly been a plethora of such instances, for I am what the Girl describes as a ‘picky customer’.

As the more astute reader will by now have gathered this is by way of a preamble for one of those infrequent occurrences.

We have this week just finished watching the sixth and final episode of the BBC drama – “River“. Should you throw up your hands in exasperation and enquire as to why I am writing about it now – when it is over and done – then you should be aware that the rights have been acquired by Netflix and you can thus catch up with this splendid production at your leisure – the which I wholeheartedly recommend.

River” was – I repeat – shown first on the BBC. Most of what the Girl and I watch here in Canada is from the BBC and if our viewing thereof be not strictly legitimate then that is simply a sad indictment of the fact that – even in this age of global communication – there isn’t a way of paying to be able to stream the service that we really want – even though we would be delighted so to do if we could.

At a first glance “River” might have given the impression that it was just another police procedural. At the start of the first episode curmudgeonly detective John River (the excellent Stellan Skarsgard) and his longtime sidekick ‘Stevie’ Stevenson (the equally excellent Nichola Walker) are in their car on night duty. She is teasing him playfully, trying to get him to engage in karaoke renditions of seventies disco hits – he pretending that he disapproves of her attentions.

River sees a car that is clearly under suspicion and they give chase. The pursuit culminates in River following the young male driver into a housing estate and thence to the second floor of a tower block from which the young man jumps to his death.

Cut to River – with Stevie in the background – being chewed out at the scene by his boss. “You can’t bring her back” – she tells him unexpectedly, and as River stalks away and Stevie turns to join him we see that there is a hole the size of a fist in the back of her head! Yes – River sees dead people – in this instance his recently murdered sidekick, whose killer he is now endeavouring to find.

The show proves to be not really a murder mystery at all but rather a deeply moving study of the effects of mental instability on a man under pressure.

The writing – by the annoyingly wonderful Abi Morgan (dammit!) – is really quite exquisite. Morgan has reached the level at which she apparently has no fear and can thus do things at which mere mortal writers will balk. The closing scenes of the finale – six episodes down the line – would certainly have appeared mawkish or clumsy in the hands of a lesser writer. Morgan’s judgement is assured – treading that fine line with élan, remembering that less is always more and leaving us all in floods of tears. As River finally dances with the manifestation of Stevie that only he can see – on the spot at which she was killed – he is interrupted by his new partner, the splendidly lugubrious Ira King (Adeel AKhtar). Ira watches River for a brief moment and then simply says: “Alright?”. Perfect!

The actors to a man (and woman) – knowing a good thing when they see it – rise to the occasion and are uniformly splendid. The entire piece is given air to breathe by director Richard Laxton and allowed to unfold at an appropriately thoughtful pace. All is good.

So – should you already have caught it – congratulations. If not – consider the series recommended.


As a footnote – and I don’t mean to be unduly pessimistic – it seems to me a good idea to grab as many quality offerings from the BBC as possible before politicians of all hues – believing that they know better than anyone else – finally get their long-cherished way and emasculate the corporation entirely…

…and what a piss-poor (pardon my French) ambition that is!

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Stormy weather

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe recent storm that has troubled parts of the UK has been brought to my attention by the ever helpful BBC website on the InterWebNet. This storm is the second to have been considered powerful enough by the Met Office to have been given a name under their new classification system – though it must be said that compared to ‘Hurricane Joaquin‘ and ‘Typhoon Champi‘ – ‘Storm Barney‘ does sound a little – well – feeble! (My apologies here to any who have suffered damage or inconvenience. I certainly don’t mean to make light of your troubles).

It is marginally by coincidence – this being November on both sides of the Atlantic – that the past few days have also seen the first real storm of the season here on Vancouver Island.

It was only this morning that we could – for the first time in a week and then but briefly – make out Mount Baker through the cloud cover. For the last few days we have been ‘socked in’ – as the parlance has it (according to the Kickass Canada Girl) – and it has both rained heavily and at considerable length and blown half a gale for good measure.

In our little spot on the east side of the peninsula we seem to be quite well protected from the winds but there is still a considerable quantity of detritus on the roads and in our yards (UK: gardens!) from the evergreens. I guess this is just nature’s way of whittling out the dead (not to mention the weak and the feeble) wood before winter really sets in. We also seem to have had a bumper fall of pine needles this year – possibly because the summer was so dry.

The other sign that storm season has arrived manifested on the dot of midday yesterday – when the power went out! One rapidly realises once resident in BC that, in rural areas in particular, virtually all power cables are above ground on poles – and that there are also a lot of very tall conifers around. Add wind to the mix and the outcome is hardly surprising.

The helpful man at BC Hydro told us that the estimated time to fix (“It’s because of the storm” – “No kidding!”) was eight o’ clock in the evening. In the event the power was back by five – but by then we had packed up our lunch makings and scurried over to our good friends’ farm in Saanichton to commit an act of piracy on their kitchen.

We are in the process of having natural gas laid on (they should be doing the install tomorrow) and we are aiming to get a gas log fire for the drawing room and a gas range for the kitchen. We will then at least be able to cook and to keep warm should there be further outages…

…which is – according to the Girl – highly likely.

“Welcome to Victoria” – she muttered wryly!

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Image by Jean Jullien

Image by Jean Jullien

A deep sense of dismay filled us on Friday evening last as the terrible news began to filter in from Paris. For a second time this year we looked on aghast at the horrific scenes from that most beautiful of cities. Our hearts go out to those who have had loved ones torn from them in this senseless slaughter and our thoughts are with the injured and bereaved.

It is deeply depressing that – whereas but a few days ago across many of the world nations had joined in remembering those who gave their lives in previous conflicts – here we are again grieving afresh. It is difficult not to feel anger along with the sorrow – anger that we seem incapable of conducting our international affairs in a manner that can prevent such hideous and wicked acts.

It is further – given the apparent motivation for these atrocities – impossible not to revisit critically the role of religions in the grisly affairs of man. We do altogether too well at glossing over the difficult questions that should be asked.

My issue with the major faith-based religions is not that they require their adherents to accept absolutely their textual and historical sources – and by extension to believe in their spiritual creeds – without adequate evidence. Frankly, this is in itself of little concern and the endless debates concerning ‘truth’ amount in many instances to little more than sophistry. The argument is in any case un-winnable either way.

No – my issue is with what is clearly the central tenet of such faith-based religions… that we mere mortals must surrender ourselves – subjugate ourselves – to some higher power which has a ‘purpose’ for each us that we are to fulfil without question. If the faith does allow us to retain some element of free will this usually simply concerns whether or not we accept our essential nature as a tiny cog in the supreme being’s omnipotent machine – there being inevitably some form of ‘punishment’ should we make the wrong choice.

Most religions insist on the belief that only by such submission to a higher power can humankind truly know and achieve its greater purpose. Such claims are doubtless made in good faith, but the dangers must be all too clear. It takes but a slight corruption for an ardent adherent to believe that they have been charged with committing an act of violence and wickedness as part of their gods’ purpose – thus not only essentially absolving themselves of responsibility but also justifying the unjustifiable.

The world’s major faiths would doubtless – and understandably – defend themselves by claiming such instances to be a perversion of true belief. History, however, demonstrates repeatedly that the basic premise is supremely vulnerable to corruption, and that the end result is more often than not some form of extremism.

Again the faiths would probably argue that secular society is no less corruptible than the spiritual, and that demagogues can spring up from all sides. This is absolutely correct. There is no such thing as benevolent dictatorship – whether spiritual or secular. However – misguided governments may be voted out – dictators and tyrants may be overthrown – oppressive regimes may find themselves the target of revolution.

Supreme beings are – by definition – inviolable.

Free men and women are absolutely entitled to seek consolation from any faith (or indeed from none) that works for them. There is no right, however, to impose those beliefs on others – and to commit acts of violence in the name of a belief can never – never – be justified.

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Image from PixabayToday was Remembrance Day – the eleventh day of the eleventh month – which marks the falling silent of the guns on the western front at the end of the Great War.

In the UK it is a normal working day and the occasion is marked – for those who mark it at all – by a two minute silence at the eleventh hour. The UK has always made more of Remembrance Sunday, which is held on the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day itself.

In Canada the day is a public holiday!

Either way it is entirely right and proper that there should be an annual reminder of – and a chance to reflect upon and give thanks for – the sacrifices made by those obliged to become engaged in armed conflict on behalf of their countries and who have paid the price thereof. It is a time also to extend thoughts and sympathies to those left behind.

I have always personally felt ambivalent about the wearing of the poppy, though it is a splendid symbol and the campaign raises essential monies for a truly worthy cause. During the sixties and seventies – when I was in my youth – the campaign in the UK featured the tagline “Wear your poppy with pride”. The prevailing mood at the time seemed very much to celebrate our glorious military history.

I couldn’t help feeling that – whereas pride might be an appropriate emotion for the combatants themselves, given the part they had played – for those of us with no direct involvement neither pride nor glory had a place in the remembrance of loss and sacrifice. It was surely more appropriate to feel sadness, regret and shame… shame that our country had been obliged to ask its young men to kill the young men of other countries and to make the ultimate sacrifice themselves.

Whatever one’s notion might be of ‘just’ war it is indisputable that of all the conflicts that have raged throughout history wars that could truly be thus classified are far outnumbered by those that could have – should have – been avoided. It is a shameful reflection on humanity that, whereas we continually spend vast fortunes and devote considerable ingenuity to developing newer and more hideous ways to kill each other, we are incapable of making a similar investment towards bringing war itself to an end. We struggle even to terminate the most prosaic of conflicts.

Perhaps on this day of remembrance we should also turn our minds to all those who are responsible – through their madness, their bigotry, their misguided idealism, their fanaticism, their political ambitions, their misplaced xenophobia and jingoism, their greed, desire, lust – for any part in fomenting or promoting armed conflict.

It seems – tragically – that remembering the dead alone is not enough to bring an end to war. Perhaps we must also keep fresh in our memories all of those whose actions – or lack thereof – have helped to sew the seeds of conflict.

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Image from Wikipedia.enSpeaking as I was only recently (in the sense of posting to this picaresque periodical) of living legends… cf. Mr Richard Starkey… not more than a couple of weeks have elapsed since that joyous outing until I found myself again heeding my own dictum – ensuring that no such opportunity be missed to catch these legends whilst there is still time.

Billy Connelly – like Ringo – is in his seventies, though he is by comparison a mere youthful seventy two. Unlike Ringo however (who has the air of a man intent on going on for ever) Connelly not only came through a recent prostate cancer operation and the subsequent treatment, but has also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

This hardly seems fair – though fairness naturally plays little part in such things.

When Connelly shuffled onstage at the Royal Theatre in downtown Victoria (whence we had gathered with dear and good friends on Wednesday last) for the second of two shows in a city of which he is clearly very fond, his painful lack of mobility and apparently fragile voice caused one’s heart momentarily to skip a beat – for a second wondering how on earth he was going to get through the show.

Two and a quarter interval-less hours later we had our answer and the capacity audience responded by giving the comedian a generous standing ovation. No encore was expected or offered – which seemed in the circumstances to be entirely appropriate. One should never forget that Connelly is a Glaswegian, that he started out as a welder in the shipyards and that whatever has happened to him since he is undoubtedly hewn from that tough stuff for which the inhabitants of that tough city are reknowned.

Not everybody gets The Big Yin. Not everyone appreciates the genius of his comedic talent. For me he is simply one of the funniest men on the planet, and that is before taking into account his award winning acting career and his heart-warming TV travelogues.

Respect – I say. Respect – dammit! I wish the man nothing but the best and I am delighted to have had the chance to catch him here in Victoria whilst he is still touring.

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I really do hope that I am not going to turn into a massive bore about this, but one of the most splendid features of our new North Saanich home is the view from the reception rooms and the master bedroom of the sea and the mountains. Just to clarify with regard to our location – we are on the east side of the Saanich peninsula – facing east. Our view is of Bazan Bay and of the most southerly of the Gulf Islands, and thence on to the American coast beyond the Georgia Strait.

The garden is well screened by trees and mature shrubs which gives the property a blissfully private feel, but there are also two significant openings through which the vistas are revealed. Through the southern of these can be seen Mount Baker – more than 70 miles away on the American mainland. If – when I get up in the morning –  the sun is showcasing the mountain in glorious silhouette it is virtually impossible not to want to take yet another picture of it…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidThe northern opening looks out over Bazan Bay, with Sidney to one side and Sidney Spit to the other. This view is also extremely pretty in the morning light, but also regularly features the Anacortes ferry – threading its way from Sidney out through the islands to the American coast – and flotillas of yachts of a wide variety of sizes enjoying the sunshine and the peaceful waters.

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid Photo by Andy Dawson Reid Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe full moon a couple of nights back demonstrated that it is not only the sun that can reveal this landscape in all its glory.

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by D Sharon Pruitt on FlickrA few weeks back (there having been so much to write about over this last period that I have been struggling to keep up with it all) I went with one of our dear friends from Saanichton to a concert – or perhaps more accurately a gig – at the Memorial Centre here in Victoria.

Peter Gabriel visits aside I don’t venture forth to big gigs that much these days. I find that large impersonal arenas, the gridlocked post-gig car parks and the obligatorily aggressive comestible marketing all too often result in a somewhat wearing night out. Granted that modern technology usually now produces a auditory experience that would have been unimaginable when I first started attending live concerts (a good thing too as my ageing ears would not otherwise stand the strain) but that does not altogether compensate.

So – it takes something pretty special to get me out of the house of a night. In this case the something special was provided by Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band.

Now, I am a long time – a very long time – Beatles fan, but to this point I have never seen a Beatle perform live. There have been numerous opportunities over the years to catch McCartney in London and Ringo has been making these All Starr forays since 1989. I have not before, though, felt the slightest need to catch either of them – so why now?

Part of it is clearly the ‘London’ effect (other options available). Like London buses, if you miss one there will be another (or possibly two or three!) along in a moment. Cultural events are just so thick on the ground that if you miss a big show you can almost certainly catch it next time round – or just choose something else from the extensive selection on offer. For Victoria it is different. If the big names do land here the opportunity should be grasped with both hands.

Another reason is that there has been little incentive to see either Beatle right now. Yes – seeing either of them might be on the bucket list – but where’s the hurry?

Well – Ringo is 75! That’s right…

Fair enough – if I look a fraction as good at that age as does he then there would be serious suspicions that my loft housed a pretty decent collection of art. The point is that neither of these guys will go on touring for ever. In the same way that – a few years back – I decided not to miss a single Peter Gabriel show in case it turned out to be the last – I didn’t want to let this opportunity slip.

As for the show itself… It was excellent! The format is thus: When not bounding around the stage like a teenager flashing peace signs Ringo sings pretty much all the songs one would expect. The All Starrs – Todd Rundgren, Steve Lukather (Toto), Gregg Rolie (Santana) and Richard Page (Mr Mister) – each get to lead the band for three of their own best loved numbers. One thus gets to hear seriously good versions of songs such as ‘Africa‘, ‘Rosanna‘, ‘Black Magic Woman‘, ‘Oye Como Va‘, ‘Love is the Answer‘, ‘Broken Wings‘ and ‘Kyrie‘.

Best moments? Ringo announcing a song that he used to do with: “That other band I used to be in… Rory Storm and the Hurricanes!” – and Gregg Rolie commenting of one of his numbers that: “We played this at Woodstock!”

Blimey! It’s enough to make one feel old!

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