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You are currently browsing the yearly archive for 2016.

Image from PixabayThe year just ending will be difficult to forget… no matter how hard one might wish to try. The grim catalog of events which has confounded us has been, of course, most widely promoted already – just as have the all too understandable reasons for seeking sweet oblivion in the face thereof. It is difficult to recall another recent period during which this little blue/green planet feels as though it has been buffeted to quite such an extent by the ‘slings and arrows…‘ etc, etc.

Though our own year here on Vancouver Island has not been entirely without incident there is no doubt that we have escaped considerably more lightly than have many. I thought I might canter briefly through the high (and low) lights for the benefit of anyone who would like to be brought up to speed – and in the process maybe to answer some questions that I have not thus far addressed.

The year has certainly flown by, but then they all do once one attains a certain age. The Kickass Canada Girl was shaken quite badly this last time last year by the passing of her aunt and took a while to recover her joie de vivre. The process of introspection that followed led her to reconsider what might have become a permanent retirement and she has instead returned to the world of work – providing assessment services for a charity that organises volunteers for the (mostly) elderly. This focus has renewed her sense of purpose and restored a spring to her step.

I have made reference already to the legal matter that has thus far prevented us from starting renovations to our North Saanich home – and also to the fact that we have now set same in motion regardless. It is a good thing that we have done so, as it turns out, since the latest thinking is that we should now apply for a court date as a means of chivvying things along. It is apparently inconceivable that such an appointment could be scheduled before 2018 and we are not prepared to wait another year before getting things started. This coming spring will see definite moves forward.

I spent three months at the start of 2016 studying for (and mercifully passing) my various boating qualifications before finally – with the summer already more than half gone – finding and purchasing a boat! Next year ‘Dignity‘ will doubtless be much in demand – particularly if the summer is anything like the one that we enjoyed this year.

I also spent a fair amount of time this year trying to establish a youth drama programme – a project which is most dear to my heart. Considerable progress has been made but there have also been a number of unfortunate setbacks. I am not convinced that we yet have the right framework and the early part of the new year be given over to further study and much head-scratching. These things take time, I know, and my fingers are firmly crossed for the season to come.

During the summer my brother and his S.O. became our first visitors from the UK – he celebrating his sixtieth birthday. By all accounts they had an enjoyable visit (in spite of still not having seen a bear!) the which included a trip to the interior (Kamloops, the North Thompson, the Okanagan) and a great deal of merriment and indulgence in our own ‘hood’. Hopefully this will be the first of many such.

Reviewing the year’s deaths amongst the great and the good is always salutary; this year as much – if not more – than many. I just wish that that number did not include quite so many who were younger than are we – though I fear that it will increasingly be so.

Still – let us be of good cheer and celebrate the turn of the year in whatever manner suits each of us best.

Happy Hogmanay to all – and ‘Lang may yer lum reek!‘.



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It is Christmas Eve…

On this day each year I routinely upload a few images of Christmas trimmings and suchlike and wish everyone the compliments of the season.

Why should this year be different?…

…to friends, acquaintances and gentle readers…

from the Kickass Canada Girl and the Imperceptible Immigrant.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a splendid Hogmany!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto 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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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI purchased the apartment in the small village in the south of Buckinghamshire (in the UK) that the Kickass Canada Girl and I were to have such trouble selling before we moved to Canada last summer – back in the first year of the new millennium.

When I took possession in the November of that year I knew that the place needed a fair amount of renovation before I would be able move in but as I was, by great good fortune, at that point housed by the school at which I then worked, I was able to engage a builder and to give him free reign over the apartment in the run-up to Christmas.

As I mentioned in the very early days of this blog, the Georgian manor of which my apartment was but a portion occupied a prominent position in the centre of one of those arcadian English villages (four hundred inhabitants (or thereabouts), sixteenth century church, one pub (of varying quality), a cricket club (likewise!), a huddle of ‘artisans’ dwellings and farm buildings) which are, of course, all as pretty as a picture postcard!

Most days, after leaving work, I drove the short distance to my new residence to check on the (apparently inevitably) glacial progress of the building works. It would be dark by the time I wound my way down the hill into the village so I was accustomed to not really being able to make out that much of the surroundings. Given the sleepy, bucolic nature of the place, therefore, you might imagine my surprise – nay, total shock! – on entering the village on one such dark evening to come face to face with a single small terraced cottage – just across from the pub – that had been adorned with sufficient Christmas illumination that it must surely have distracted pilots on their run-in to Heathrow airport.

Lest you think my reaction excessive you should remember that in the main the Brits don’t go in for American-style public displays of decoration for the outsides of their residences (the which they tend to find a little on the… er, garish side) preferring instead the traditional Christmas tree, tinsel and paper-chains on the inside.

Canadians are (as in most things) somewhat more restrained than their neighbours to the south, but do have something of a liking for illuminated inflatable figures of such size that they must needs be deflated should the weather forecast prophesy wind speeds in excess of the balmy. This year – ignoring my habitually raised eyebrow – the Girl persuaded me that – as we are both now Canadians (if only in the honorary sense on my part) – we should make a little more effort to join in. As you can see from the image that heads this post we didn’t exactly go overboard… but this seems to me to be a suitably mid-Atlantic compromise.

Those who find my attitude to such things snobbish will be delighted to hear that back in 2000 I rapidly received my comeuppance. Having grumbled to all and sundry about the unsuitability of such a vivid display for a sleepy rural village I discovered – on my next visit to the pub – that the owners of the cottage had lost a young son to a cancer and subsequently each year decorated the frontage as part of a fund-raiser for an appropriate children’s cancer charity.

That shut me up!

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Er – pardon?

One of the issues concerning which I consulted my new doctor (details here) during my introductory interview with him at the start of November was the mild but persistent tinnitus with which I am now cursed – though in my left ear alone!

This ‘irritation’ takes the form of a constant high pitched whine or whistle at a level such that, though it is apparent when in quiet surroundings, I really don’t notice it at all for much of the time. Its presence did – however – focus my mind on the fact that I have never actually had my hearing checked.

This little message from the gods was reinforced by our recent spate of attendances at musical soirees of one sort or another. As far as I am concerned my hearing is in itself unimpaired, but I am increasingly aware that my ears get tired more quickly these days after an evening of listening to music – or should I spend too long in the studio.

My doctor – being, as he is, admirably proficient at his job – did as he should and suggested that I visit an audiologist for a hearing check. This – following some initial research on the InterWebNet – I duly did.

The good news is that my hearing is perfectly good, with the exception of a slight dip in performance for my left ear at high frequencies. Given that this corresponds pretty closely to the range in which I have tinnitus it is most likely that other signals are being slightly masked thereby.

In conversation with staff at the audiologists I raised the question of investing in some ear protectors, for those occasions on which which I attend concerts or other events at which the sound levels can be uncomfortable. For the musician it is essential that ear protection should attenuate the audio signal without compromising the frequency response thereof. In other words – such protection should make the music quieter without altering its tone or timbre.

These devices are certainly available but are, as you might expect, a sight more expensive than simpler equivalents and must be made to fit the individual ear. I decided that my hearing is too important to me not to be treated to the best and I was duly tested, measured and an order placed.

I took delivery of my new ear-pieces just the other day (see the above illustration) and jolly splendid they are. The silicon based moulding sits snugly in the ear and the attenuation capsules can be changed for those of other values should the need arise.

Now to see if they do the job…

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“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”

Carl Reiner

Snow in Victoria is a lot like snow in the south east of England; it doesn’t happen that often and it is always a bit of a non-event when it does. Compare these images with the shots that I took in Kamloops last Christmas

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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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWhen Bob Dylan set out in the latter part of 1965 on the American, Australia and European tour that would wind its way long into 1966 – having already that year shaken the American folk scene to its core with his first public amplified appearance at the Newport Folk Festival – he took on the road with him an electric band… the Hawks.

The Hawks – based in Arkansas – had been the backing outfit for rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins before striking out on their own in 1964. Following a recommendation from a friend they were hired by Dylan in 1965 to back him for the electric component of his upcoming world tour. The format of the shows comprised two parts – a solo acoustic set by Dylan followed by the more controversial amplified section.

For an outfit based in the deep south the Hawks had a strong Canadian component – at one point featuring four Canadians and one American. One of those Canadians – who had headed south on his own as a sixteen year old in 1959 to join the band – was Jaime Royal Robertson… better known now as Robbie Robertson.

The Hawks famously morphed into The Band. Robertson emerged as a major songwriter whose later history need hardly be catalogued here. Suffice it to say that the man who wrote “The night they drove old Dixie down” is a legend in his own right and I have recommended him before in these jottings with reference to his wonderful recording – Music for the Native Americans.

Robertson – now seventy three – has recently published a first volume of his autobiography – “Testimony” – and Victoria’s excellent Bolen Books invited him, somewhat speculatively, to come to the city for a reasonably rare public appearance. Roberston – never having visited Victoria – agreed and the ensuing event – at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium – drew a crowd in excess of a thousand souls, each of whom received a signed hardback copy of the book as part of the package.

Needless to say I would have crawled over broken glass to attend the event. Our coming to Canada – and coincident attainment of a certain venerable stage of life – seems to be offering us opportunities to reconnect with those who have become our heroes and exemplars over the years. Given the tragic number of such who have passed beyond these shores during this strangest of years this is clearly an important and necessary experience.

Robertson described the effect on a fresh-faced twenty three year old of having to endure – night after night over a period of some nine months across three continents – the fury of Dylan’s acolytes at their hero’s adoption of the electric guitar and the accompanying band. The start of the second set was routinely met with boos, heckles, the throwing of objects onto the stage and – infamously at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall – the denunciation as ‘Judas‘ of the recent Nobel laureate.

If one can endure this sort of experience as a young man I guess one can endure just about anything.

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Centennial Park in Saanichton is lovely at any time of year, but there is something about this season that makes it particularly photogenic. Whether or not one can capture that is of course either a matter of talent or else in the lap of the gods. I go with the latter option – closing my eyes, crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

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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Image from WikipediaIt is really most remiss of me to have jotted nary a peep thus far regarding an issue here in British Columbia of which I was not aware before we arrived in the summer of 2015 (though I feel sure that I had been told!) but which would definitely be of interest to anyone moving here from another part of the world.  BC as a whole – and Victoria in particular – currently suffers from an extreme shortage of General Practitioners.

Now – to this point in my life I must admit to having had things pretty easy in this regard. Not only is the UK thankfully well pretty provided for when it comes to GPs, but I was also been fortunate enough over the last three decades or so to have simply signed up with one of the doctors at whichever educational establishment I happened to be employed.

It was thus a rude shock to discover, on arrival in the province last year, that finding a GP in Victoria would be a major operation and that it would undoubtedly take some considerable time to effect. In the end it took me fifteen months and I was lucky in that one of the practices in Sidney, which was recently refurbished, also took on a couple of new doctors. This sort of opening comes but rarely.

Once the practice had let it be known that it was taking on new patients and that applications should be submitted before before an advertised deadline there followed an almost unseemly rush to get on to the list. Applicants were not to be selected on a first-come-first-served basis, the new GPs rather assembling a clientele with an appropriate variety of needs. Fortunately mine are relatively straightforward (comprising as they do in the main a repeat prescription for the medication for the hypertension that I inherited from both parents) making me a pretty good risk and thus the ideal patient.

The only minor fly in the ointment was that the Kickass Canada Girl had suggested that I take out some life insurance here in Canada. It should come as no surprise that insurance companies are as risk-averse here as they are anywhere else in the world. I had no objection to being subjected to further medical examinations, but it did seem that they wanted to cavil at everything. I had to pay several visits to a drop-in clinic, to the Saanichton Hospital laboratory and to an ultrasound lab whilst those in white coats quibbled with the insurers over the sort of test readings at which one’s GP normally just shrugs his (or her) shoulders.

As I have currently been asked to get one reading repeated every three months or so the insurers have gleefully taken the opportunity to kick my application into the long grass.

The Girl is not best pleased!

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Image from Wikimedia“The worst part about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth”

Jean-Paul Sartre

The release this week of UK cabinet papers from the 1980s reveals as true something that opponents of Margaret Thatcher’s administration have long protested – that she and other leading tories had continued to plan the dismantling of the welfare state – including the privatisation of education and the National Heath Service – even in the wake of her sophistical proclamation that “the health service is safe in our hands“.

It is – of course – jejune to be shocked at the mendacity and dishonesty of politicians of all hues… a truism that has been borne out in spades this year. As far as I can recall I graduated my own education in such matters shortly after the 1979 UK general election in which Thatcher came to power. That election campaign had featured prominently the infamous Saatchi and Saatchi advert showing a long snaking queue for the dole (unemployment) office, under the banner heading “Labour isn’t Working“.

In 1979 the tories inherited an unemployed total of 1.4 million. The monetarist policies pursued by the Thatcher government saw this figure rapidly rocket to north of 3 million! It subsequently became apparent that the thinkers behind the tories’ strategy – and in particular Keith Joseph, the chief architect thereof – had known all along that their policies would indeed cause unemployment to soar… a price that they considered ‘worth’ paying.

Such hypocrisies have led me to adopt the attitude attributed to Louis Herren – foreign correspondent for The Times in the 1960s and 70s. He would ask himself – on being briefed by some politician or other – “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?“.

Good advice!

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musicHard on the heels of my last post (which detailed the first two days of an elongated weekend of musical delights here in Victoria) and following a brief intermission, comes the second half… as it were!

To The Belfry theatre on the Sunday for a matinee performance of a new entertainment – “I think I’m fallin’” – based on the songs of Canadian singer/songwriter (and all round icon) – Joni Mitchell.

Now, one might argue – were one being particular – that this is not strictly a piece of theatre at all… at least not in any form that I have previously encountered. It is in fact more of a performed homage. There is certainly no overall narrative and such character as there be rises largely unfiltered from Mitchell’s poetic lyrics themselves.

The five massively talented singer/musicians brought their full vocal and instrumental gifts (including a couple of particularly wonderful voices and some gorgeous harmonising) to bear on new and in some cases most imaginative arrangements of the songs. Inhabiting the stage in a variety of configurations the cast mercifully resisted the temptation to over dramatise the selected numbers; the songs being allowed to breathe on their own and all the better for it.

If the above comments intimate in any way that I might not have enjoyed the piece then they have misled. Certainly it helps to be a Joni Mitchell enthusiast to fully embrace the show – but there is, as you might expect, no shortage of same in Canada. I came late to Mitchell (as to many things!) but I am now a perfect proselyte.

The final event in our busy (extended) weekend actually took place on Tuesday – giving us a much needed night off on the Monday. Along with 1500 other like-minded souls we gathered at the Theatre Royal in downtown Victoria to re-kindle acquaintance with a face from way back when; Roger Hodgson – co-founder and former member of Supertramp.

For many of us who were in our late teens back in the UK in the early 1970s Supertramp provided an essential part of the sound track to our growing up. Their beautifully produced and quirkily dramatic songs put them into much the same camp as Genesis and other similar(ish) progressive rock outfits. It turns out that – if anything – the band was even bigger in Canada than in Europe.

Supertramp were unusual in that they featured two main songwriters – in Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies – who shared the writing duties in a roughly even split. When Hodgson decided to leave the band in the early 80s Rick Davies carried on as the leader. Eventually Supertramp stopped playing Hodgson’s songs completely whilst the latter – now touring as a solo artist – featured just those compositions.

As is often (though not exclusively) the case neither constituent has been able to match the achievements of the original line-up (at least in the eyes of the record-buyers/concert-goers) and in both cases their later careers have consisted in the main of providing a nostalgic revisit to the glories of the past…

…in which – in this instance – we were happy to indulge.

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