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April 2015

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VESPERS by E.H. Shepardwhisper who dares
The Kickass Canada Girl and the Imperceptible Immigrant are saying their prayers!

With apologies to A. A. Milne

No sooner had I posted my lament of Sunday evening bemoaning the lack of progress in the sale of our Buckinghamshire apartment…

…than we had an offer!!

I wasted no time in passing this rapidly on to the Kickass Canada Girl who has previous in the field of negotiation – and before we knew it a price had been agreed…

As I have made mention in a long-previous post, buying and selling property in the UK is a very different proposition to so doing in Canada (and indeed in most other places). As a result there will be no chickens counted – and indeed very little said – for fear of offending the fates and invoking bad karma.

Let’s say no more for now – just tiptoe away quietly…

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Image from PixabayWhen I started writing this blog in January 2012 at the ripe old age of 58 – with the intention of documenting my odyssey across the waters to Canada and into retirement in British Columbia – I knew even then that the process would not be an easeful one.

I chose its appellation carefully – the sense of danger, of striving, of progression and adventure implicit in the journey into a new world balanced carefully by the anticipated glacial progress of the process itself. The Kickass Canada Girl and I were about to embark on our short-lived experiment in living five thousand miles apart and – even though I was at that point expecting to retire in 2013 – I knew that this relatively brief span would feel like a lifetime.

I had – however – no idea just how imperceptible progress towards our ultimate objective would turn out to be.

Should you ever determine that you have a problem with impatience – an intolerance of prorogation – then let me recommend to you as a form of therapy an application for Canadian Permanent Residency (PR)… or an attempt to sell a ‘quirky’ property in a buyer’s market. As an exercise in having absolutely no control whatsoever over the outcome of said venture, neither of these can be beat.

To be entirely fair, when I submitted my application for PR at the very start of June last year the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website was indicating that the average time to process such would be around eleven months – which period is not strictly up until next week! Such details don’t help much for those having actually to endure this interminable wait. The fact that almost no indication is given at any point as to current progress only makes things worse.

Until my sponsor – the Kickass Canada Girl – was approved almost two months subsequent to the original submission there was no indication that the application had even been received. The listing on the Electronic Client Application Status portal (ECAS) thereafter read ‘Application Received’  for nearly eight months until it suddenly flipped to ‘In Process’ in mid March this year. Word on the various expat fora is that one might hope for a decision within three to five weeks thereafter, but it is now at the furthest extent of that range and there has been as yet no word.

Naturally I check ECAS daily. Naturally I pore over the London spreadsheet on the British Expats forum to see if anyone from the same cluster as me has heard the good – or indeed any – news. Naturally I rush to check the post to see if anything has magically arrived from CIC.


We first placed our Buckinghamshire apartment on the market in the spring of 2011. Though it has been on and off the market since then, over that four year period we must have had dozens of viewings. We have yet to to receive a single offer! This is – of course – somewhat dispiriting… to put it mildly. We have taken much advice. We have adjusted the price diligently at the behest of our agents (realtors!) and thus far elicited only the reaction that no-one knows why it hasn’t sold…


As the deadline for our departure for Canada approaches with all the subtlety of a runaway train we must keep our faith, our belief in our good fortune and our fingers firmly crossed. The universe is surely planning for everything to pan out just right – at just the right moment.

If nothing else we will have learned a heck of a lesson!

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Image from Pixabay“What bothered me about this terrible recognition was the way in which the evidence of past things lies before us, trailing clouds of meaning… and we miss it!”

Hugh Hood – ‘A New Athens’

In my last posting – with reference to the start of my final term at the School – my train of thought terminated with a perhaps slightly unexpected reference to the circle of life. It was not the first time that this notion has featured in this eclectic assemblage of jottings.

I find myself – as life progresses – increasingly aware of its oblique nature. The events of the past make appearance alongside that which is present and – indeed –  that which is yet to come. Should an analog assist at this point you might try imagining that you are standing on the face of a huge clock at – say – seven o’clock. You can look back across the clock face to three o’clock – and indeed look ahead to ten o’clock, but when all is said and done time will still appear to sweep by in a continual circuit – a sort of temporal Mexican wave – with midnight marking both the end of the old and the start of a new cycle.

To what – I hear you ask – might this metaphysical mood be attributed?

On Friday last I attended the funeral and wake of a widely loved and sadly prematurely deceased member of the School’s support staff. The turnout was of such proportion that the diminutive chapel at the cemetery was almost literally bursting at the seams, the magnitude of which congregation might at least have offered some small consolation to the grieving relatives.

Such occasions do of themselves have a tendency to promulgate the philosophic. A little more than a year ago – in March 2014 – I posted this piece on the occasion of a not dissimilar event that had contemporaneously marked the the passing of one life and the arrival of another. The Kickass Canada Girl and I had attended the memorial service for a very old friend, the day before hosting a gathering at which was present a very dear but considerably younger friend, whose four month old baby boy inevitably and utterly stole the limelight.

At last Friday’s gathering the self-same friend (whose connection to the School was the source of our friendship) was once again present – this time bearing another very recent and as yet unmet addition to the family – a three week old daughter. On both occasions it was impossible not to be moved to the quiet contemplation of higher matters.

It would seem that – in these days – even our reminders of the cyclical nature of existence are now arriving periodically…

Perhaps the ultimate cybernetic system!

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Image from PixabaySummer term at the School started yesterday…

It need hardly be repeated that – for one member of staff at least – this term will be unlike any other. It is not merely my last term at the School – but my last term anywhere!

Retirement is a big deal. Retirement and emigration in one fell swoop is an even bigger one. There will, doubtless, be plenty of opportunity on future occasion to dwell at length on the emotion and intellectual chaos that will almost inevitably be the outcome of pursuing such a rash, if delightful, course – and you just know that I will avail myself of that opportunity. It is not – however – my topic for today.

Having spent my entire career in education – both higher and secondary – I am in consequence well used to that particularly perennial rhythm familiar to those whose years are divided into academic terms.

Since the age of five my annual round has comprised three concentratedly intense and well defined trimesters separated by welcome periods of recovery. When at school myself – and when later at college – such hard-earned breaks actually were holidays, rather than simply the much-needed respite from the demands of academics that has been a feature of my working life since. It will surprise the gentle reader not at all to discover that – at the School – such exeats are – in the splendidly anachronistic tradition of public school terminology – designated ‘Remedy’!

I am grown so accustomed to this familiar rhythm that I fear that life post-retirement without such a framework might take some getting used to. The ebb and flow of the academic year is – for those who choose such a life – part of the attraction.

Academic terms are simultaneously tense, exhausting and strangely exciting. So much happens in such a brief period that the senses can be quite overwhelmed. It is very much the norm for all staff in schools such as this to become heavily involved in a wide range of extra-curricular activities, and those who complain that teachers have a cushy number, blessed with long and undeserved holidays, should remember that a house master at a boarding school – for example – is pretty much on duty for eleven or twelve weeks on the trot, twenty four hours a day and with the bare minimum of time off throughout that period. Staff not in house might have things slightly easier, but will still probably find there to be little opportunity during term time for a life outside the school.

This is not – you should understand – a complaint. As I have indicated, this life and its associated rhythms really are most attractive, for its variety as much as for anything. By the end of the summer term I may not much care if I never see another boy as long as I live but, after a measured, low-key, methodical and rejuvenating summer break from their presence, the place is only too ready for their return.

The Kickass Canada Girl is wont to extoll the virtues of Costa Rica – the climate of which blessed country supposedly varies nary a jot from a steady 72F throughout the year. This is – so she claims – her perfect temperature! That is as maybe but – as I will argue whenever the topic is raised – I much prefer that we actually enjoy seasons. How can one truly appreciate the glories of the summer if one has not had to endure at least some winter? Spring and early summer are my very favourite times of year because I love to see nature reborn after the vicissitudes of the autumn and winter. The seasons’ cycle does – after all – reflect the circle of life.

I clearly have a preference for a perennial routine. The varied Victorian climate looks pretty ideal to me, and I have no doubt that we will rapidly fall into a regular rhythm – rugby and trips to warmer climes in winter – cricket, boating and the great outdoors in summer – the familiar round of pagan festivals…

I am – all too clearly – a creature of habit!

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zero“Generally speaking, we get the joke. We know that the free market is nonsense. We know that the whole point is to game the system, to beat the market or at least find someone who will pay you a lot of money, ’cause they’re convinced that there is a free lunch.”

Ron Bloom

We all know this to be a truism – that there is no free lunch and that always, always, the little guy ends up paying – and through the nose at that!

Except – perhaps – when it comes to that totally wonderful organisation – Freecycle!

You may be familiar with their mission statement:

“Welcome! The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 5,238 groups with 8,743,027 members around the world. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on ‘Browse Groups’ above the search box. Have fun!”

Not for the first time we find ourselves massively grateful that such an organisation exists. We have in just a few days found a good home for my treasured piano, for a surplus double bed and for some old bookcases that had been in use in the garage (‘shop’ to our Canadian friends) to house the usual tool-shed detritus.

If one were to ask for advice in this day and age regarding the disposal of an old upright piano the received wisdom would be that “you couldn’t give it away”. Except that it turns out that you can! Selling a piano may indeed be a near impossibility (given that most of us do not have the space for such a beast even should we actually want a real one rather than an electronic substitute) but Freecycle has enabled us to locate a good home for the instrument with someone who will appreciate it and use it but who couldn’t possibly have justified the cost of purchasing one.

Likewise the bed – really nothing special though in good condition – went to someone who was so grateful to have it that it hurt… and the bookcases – which I was all for taking to the dump (as we call landfills here in the UK) – have found a home with someone who ‘distresses’ furniture. Not that they will need to do too much in this case!

Each of these items came into our possession in a different way. They have all served us well and owe us nothing. We are delighted that we can now freely pass them on to others for whom they will have their own uses and meanings.

How satisfying is that?


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As we approach my favourite compass of the year here in the UK it is time to blow the cobwebs from the trusty Fuji X10 and to see if I can dredge from the recesses of my memory just how to go about capturing images with it. The dreary UK winter – with its dull and barren light – offers little in the way of an incentive to get out and about looking for those conjunctions of form and colour that just cry out to be recorded for posterity. Some practice is clearly called for.

Herewith some trial shots of nature awakening from its winter slumbers:

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 ReidAt around about this time last year the Kickass Canada Girl and I were eagerly anticipating our then imminent excursion to Barcelona on which we accompanied the A level Theatre Studies students from the School. As I wrote in a post at the time, Easter last year fell about as late as is possible and our jaunt to Catalonia was over and done before the feast itself was celebrated.

Whereas the festal day this year is not quite as early as that of 2013 it is still a little on the precipitate side. As a result the weather – until today at any rate – has been anything but spring-like – erring in fact on the side of the distinctly chilly and leaden. Normal Easter bank holiday activities – dropping the top on the convertible, sitting outside some pleasantly rural hostelry nursing a glass of cool Sauvignon Blanc and otherwise generally celebrating of the vernal season – have thus had to be put on hold.

As it happens this is no bad thing as there is much to be done.

The bulk of the holiday weekend was thus spent sorting through cupboards, bookcases, storage shelves and the loft above the garage, doing what Canadians – and doubtless plenty of others (though clearly not Apple who auto-correct the phrase to ‘bucking’) – describe as ‘hucking out’ all those goods and chattels that will not be making the trip to the Pacific North West with us. Normally a brutal operation, on this occasion the task was facilitated considerably by its being the fourth such episode within the last decade. When the Girl and I moved in together in 2005 we had of necessity to find space for our combined possessions. Then, when we first put the Buckinghamshire apartment on the market in 2011, we had a clear out as part of the staging process. Further, when we came to Berkshire later that same year we carried out yet another purge to ease the move.

Now the process must be repeated – this time with an immovable deadline!

All the surveys carried out by our shortlisted international movers agree on one thing – we have approximately 10% more ‘stuff’ than will fit in a 20 foot container. As we are determined that this will be our limit some things clearly have to go. The double bed from our spare room – an inexpensive item purchased primarily for the staging exercise – was an obvious selection. My piano – a rather beautiful Edwardian upright that I inherited from my father – is considerably tougher to part with. The balance is tipped by the knowledge that the trans-Atlantic crossing might in any case prove rather too much for its increasingly fragile fabric. The challenge now is to find a good home for it before we depart.

All else is really just nipping and tucking to bring down the volume – but there is no harm in that in any case.


I am perhaps actually being a little unfair with regard to the holiday break as a whole. The Girl is in the midst of a two week exeat from work – taken in part to use up leave that she would otherwise lose. In addition I took the Thursday before and the Tuesday after Easter off so that we might share a six day recess during which sojourn we could once again rehearse being retired together.

I am very happy to report that it has all gone extremely well…

…as has the opportunity to catch up last Friday with some dear friends whom we have not seen since last autumn. Our most grateful thanks to them for entertaining us so splendidly!


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"Alex Pickering van"  - Photo by Harry Shipler - Wikimedia Commons In a previous post – ‘Movers and Shakers‘ – I described our search for an international removals company who could assist us – for a healthy fee, it must be said – with our relocation in July to Victoria, BC.

As that post made clear the process involves a fair amount of research even before the first call is placed, if one is to avoid the fate of those poor souls who bewail their lot on the expat InterWebNet fora as a result of having been ripped off, treated negligently or finding themselves the victims of some insensate act of god… without adequate insurance!

We felt confident that we would be treated well by our chosen quartet of companies – Abels, Bournes, GB Liners and Renmar – and that indeed proved to be that case. None of them flinched under the Kickass Canada Girl’s steely gaze and each responded to her carefully weighted interrogation with an appropriate degree of confidence. They clearly all know what they are about.

Fundamentally all four companies offer a very similar service. They take similar routes, use similar storage facilities, take much the same time and trouble with packing, offer much the same insurance and have almost identical terms and conditions. They all have a decent track record and belong to one or other of the well established trade associations.

What did come as a bit of a surprise – therefore – was that they quoted a wide spread of prices, from around £6,500 (including the quoted insurance) to getting on for £11,500. Each of the companies was quizzed further in an attempt to identify some discrepancy in their offering that had not hitherto been apparent – but there did not appear to us to be any substantive difference that would account for the price gap.

In the end the field was narrowed down to two very similar offerings that were only a few hundred pounds apart. Our ultimate choice was based to an extent on membership of the British Association or Removers (BAR) – the which operates a very useful guarantee scheme in the unlikely event of the carrier folding at the critical moment.

Our chosen international removal company is Bournes International Moves.

The expat fora on the Interwebnet offer much advice on the subject of insurance – largely to the effect that one should eschew that offered by the carrier (at a healthy premium) in favour of a keener deal from a specialist third-party. Opinion seemed to be divided – however – as to whether or not this course of action would make one’s life harder should a claim become necessary. As we (or at least this half of us!) are now officially old farts we decided to take the course of least resistance and to accept what was actually not an outrageous mark-up from our chosen tranter.

Fingers, arms, legs, toes, eyes, etc, etc – firmly crossed that it will not be needed…

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