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January 2016

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI have made mention more than once in these ramblings of my intention – be it sooner or later – of owning a boat. So to do has long been an ambition of mine and it would be frankly unconscionable to live on this verdant coast but not to indulge my piratical fantasies around and about the Gulf Islands.

For a potential corsair I am, somewhat disconcertingly, really rather on the cautious side and I certainly won’t be making tracks to the nearest boat dealer until I have a good idea as to what I am doing. That – of course – means study!

As it happens one cannot in any case operate a small craft in Canadian waters without being appropriately certified. The Pleasure Craft Operator’s Certificate (PCOC) must not only be acquired before setting forth but must also be carried at all times when on the water. The test that one must pass to gain this qualification is straightforward and is mainly concerned with safety afloat. Helpfully it may be studied for and taken online should that be one’s preference.

With a typical desire to be thorough, however, I decided that I wanted to do more than just cover the basics. The next level up includes (though is not confined to) the study of maritime navigation the ‘old fashioned’ way – eschewing such modern aids as GPS. Naturally that appeals to my old-school nature.

Fortunately courses covering all such matters are conveniently provided by the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons of which – as befits an island city with water on three sides – there are no less than five within the Greater Victoria area. The website for the nearby Brentwood Bay squadron was the first to allow me to book a course online (some shaky web design on other sites!) and I quickly signed up for the PCOC course and a Boating Essentials course – to be given at a nearby school.

The PCOC was rapidly dispatched within three sessions culminating in a fifty question multiple-choice test. Being of a certain age I had not previously sat an exam of this form and I was dismayed at getting an answer wrong simply because I misread – through trying to hurry too much – the responses on offer. As the pass rate for the PCOC is a mere 75% this mattered not a jot, but there was pride at stake (mine!). I now await delivery by post of yet another vital credit card sized piece of plastic.

The Boating Essentials course will occupy me for the next two months and looks to be good fun. I have thus far discovered that once learned – courtesy of my Boy Scout upbringing – one does not forget how to tie knots!

If only the same were true of all else in life…

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DSCF7357What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Rabbie Burns

To the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney BC on Saturday last to celebrate the life and works of Scotland’s foremost poet and favourite son – Rabbie Burns!

It is no secret that the Scots have a special relationship with Canada – or that Scotland’s sons have played a huge part in making the country what it now is. Ken McGoogan – a Canadian with a professed Scottish-French-German-Irish-Danish ancestry – explored this theme in his 2010 book, “How the Scots Invented Canada”. Roy MacSkimming – in his review of the afore-mentioned tome for The Globe and Mail – elaborates thus:

“As McGoogan demonstrates, the restless, ambitious, hard-working Scots arrived in Canada early, when there was still plenty of scope for action. They explored the place, extracted its resources and, overcoming the hegemony of the English Family Compact, virtually ran it for decades. McGoogan points out that Scots and their descendants have represented only 15 to 16 per cent of the population throughout Canada’s history, yet contributed more than half the Fathers of Confederation, and no fewer than 13 of our 22 prime ministers – including, of course, the father of the country.”

Hardly surprising – therefore – that Canadians of Scotch origin across the continent are delighted to take any opportunity to revel in their ancestry and to celebrate all things Scottish. Celtic music can be found everywhere in Canada. Victoria is not alone in hosting an annual Highland Games. There are pipe bands and Scottish dance troupes galore.

The supper at the Mary Winspear Centre was hosted by the estimable and most excellent Greater Victoria Police Pipe Band and featured the Bon Accord Dancers, who were as athletic and spirited as any that I have seen in the Auld Country. The toast to The Immortal Memory was given by Dr. Katie McCullough – Director of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser (another Scot!) University.

Much merriment was had, including a mass but untutored attempt at the Gay Gordons – which truly was a sight to behold. I was sitting with at least two other gentlemen who professed to having had to learn this “old-time” dance at school – which might explain why they both sat it out on this occasion.

Wines and ales were quaffed and really quite respectable whiskies sampled. The buffet repast was splendid – the second such really excellent dinner that we have enjoyed at the Mary Winspear – though to this foreigner the haggis seemed a trifle heavy on the oatmeal and light on the offal and we were lacking the ‘neeps’ (probably because no-one seems able to agree as to exactly what a ‘neep’ is. To the English they are swedes! The Scots call both swedes and turnips ‘neeps’ and happily use them interchangeably).

A splendid evening was had by all and the only thing missing – in my view – was a rousing rendition of ‘Flower of Scotland‘.


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Image by SSgt. F. Lee Corkran, DoD“As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.”

Ernest Hemingway

When an iconic figure – one who regardless of the ceaseless march of the hours and the concomitant diminution of all other childhood heroes, their lustre etiolated with the passage of time – passes from this plane, the event causes a shock to the system no matter how timely that demise might be.

When two such figures succumb within a short space of time it is – with a not entirely disproportionate degree of exaggeration – as though the earth had shifted upon its axis.

I am not going to attempt to pen anything like an appropriate appreciation of the genius of David Bowie. Much has been already been written and can easily be found on the InterWebNet and elsewhere. I will simply state why – in my view – he was one of the most influential and revered of figures in popular music.

Bowie was impossible to characterise or to pin down, whilst at the same time blazing a trail across such a wide range of creative and media forms that a hundred people could admire him and his work and each do so for completely different reasons. In my opinion Bowie’s musical talents and chameleon-like imagination put him on a par with the Beatles – and with no less a luminary than John Lennon. From me there can be no higher praise.

As I say – we each have our own reasons. Being an old-fashioned boy mine are all to do with songwriting; Bowie having composed far more than his fair share of timeless classics. ‘Life on Mars‘, ‘Heroes‘, ‘Fame’, ‘Fashion‘, ‘Ashes to Ashes‘, ‘Loving the Alien‘… I could – quite naturally – go on. This oeuvre was writ large across the soundtrack of my growing years and Bowie was a massive influence on much that I scribbled musically – mayhap sometimes more than was strictly necessary.

David Bowie died at the age of 69 after fighting a battle against cancer…

…as – with fearful symmetry – did a leading light of the current generation of British thespists – Alan Rickman.

Despite the fact that – in the main – I abhor the practice of choosing to see a play, film or television production on the strength of the casting of any particular thespian, I have been known to disregard totally my own rules in the case of certain individuals.

Alan Rickman was one such – for he was an actor who was worth watching even if the vehicle itself were complete rubbish. Who can forget the Kevin Costner vanity project – ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves‘ – from 1991? As Lanre Bakare put it in a Guardian retrospective in 2014:

“Most things about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves are terrible. Kevin Costner’s and Christian Slater’s attempts at English accents: terrible. Bryan Adam’s theme song which refused to go away during the summer of 1991 and can conjure mass feelings of nausea to this very day: terrible. Seeing Costner’s naked arse as he gets washed in a waterfall: terrible…

...Yes, it’s ridiculous and cliched, but it’s entertaining, and there are some – OK, there’s one – genuinely great performance. Alan Rickman managed to polish one of the 90s cinema’s biggest turds when he put in a brilliant turn as the ruthless Sheriff of Nottingham, who attempts to usurp King John while being held back by his workforce of incompetent jokers and a witch.”

It is truly one of the cinema’s greatest pleasures to watch Rickman acting the ‘star’ of the show off the screen at every turn – and one for which I still occasionally endure reruns thereof.

Rickman would probably prefer to be remembered for his work at the Royal Court and with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 80s – or perhaps for playing the male lead – the Vicomte de Valmont – in Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses‘. Younger readers – should any such there be – will know him as Snape from the Harry Potter films.

Whichever role it may be, his presence will be sadly missed. The United Kingdom seems curiously able continually to turn out generations of massively talented actors and actresses – far more than is statistically feasible. That does not mean that we can readily afford to lose the likes of Alan Rickman.

David Bowie – 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016

Alan Rickman – 21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016

Rest in peace!

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Snow drops

The snow itself is lonely or, if you prefer, self-sufficient. There is no other time when the whole world seems composed of one thing and one thing only.

Joseph Wood Krutch

Aha! I see from the indispensable BBC website that winter has finally arrived in the UK and that there has been snow in many parts. Well, well, well!

On learning that we were to be moving to Canada the most common reaction engendered in those to whom I had imparted the news was to wonder how we would survive the endless sub-zero winters – or to surmise that we must surely have a penchant for winter sports. To keep such innocents happy here are some images from our sojourn in Kamloops:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidNow – whereas those from the interior may scoff and cry “You ain’t seen nuttin’ yet” – given that to them 10 degrees below and 10 inches of snow merely represent a somewhat chilly day – here on the island we are partial to a more riviera-like climate. We are currently enjoying pleasantly balmy conditions – and we have these…!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

So there!

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI have to admit that – in spite of my advancing years and general all-round good fortune when it comes to opportunities for adventure and experience – I am still a neophyte in many regards. There are skills and proficiencies that I have yet to attempt, let alone to master, but at which others seem to have been practicing since they were able to walk.

Some such – hunting, fishing, flying, parachute jumping, skiing and so forth – I am not even sure that I much care about, although I am aware that they arouse in others a mighty passion. Other competences I have attempted in my later years, mindful that a chap probably really ought so to have done. Riding was one such. I didn’t stick at it for long – sad to say – discovering that (although like everyone else I must surely have already known) the pursuit is massively expensive and also that (and this was news to me) all horses are actually a fair bit madder than their owners.

The subject of this post is – however – none of the above. I was – until a couple of days ago – a tow virgin!

I know – I know!

Though I was for several decades the proud possessor of a 12 seat V8 Land Rover County Station Wagon (named Katy after the 4×4 army ambulance that John Mills cajoles across the desert in ‘Ice Cold in Alex’) which I even took off-road on occasion, I never did get around to towing anything with it.

My only real experience in this regard was assisting our dear friends here in Saanichton a few years back in taking their boat to the launch. I had to drive the empty trailer back to their farm on my own, the which I duly did with a certain degree of trepidation. I must admit that after a few abortive attempts at backing the trailer into its parking space I gave up, uncoupled it and pushed it in by hand. Not feasible when fully loaded of course.

Since I firmly intend to own a boat here on the island and will definitely need to trailer it, I already had on my agenda for the coming months some time spent in a quiet spot practicing. This gentle approach was blown out of the water in snowy Kamloops earlier this week when it became apparent that we would need to convey quite a large number of boxes back to Victoria. The only feasible method of so-doing was to hire a U-Haul trailer, to tow it over the icy mountains to the coast, to take the ferry across to the island and – having unloaded – deposit the beast at the Victoria U-Haul depot.

To say that the prospect aroused in me some apprehension would be to put it mildly. I had no real experience to call upon and – though the Lexus is supposedly well up to this sort of task – I had no way of knowing if it were fully equipped so to do.

In the event – and with some extremely cautious driving on my part, particularly when it started to snow – we made it back in one piece. We took the Fraser Canyon in preference to the Coqhuihalla – the former being nowhere near as high a pass, with Jackass Mountain being the only really tough stretch. The weather tends to be a little kinder as well on this route and the only downside is that it adds an hour to the journey. The Girl estimated that departure from Kamloops at 10:00am would see us reach the ferry at Tsawwassen at 4:00pm and she was bang on the money!

The hardest part of the whole proceeding was back in North Saanich. It was dark by the time we got home and raining heavily. I had to back the trailer off the road and into our steep and fairly narrow drive. It took two attempts and I nearly put the Lexus into a ditch in the process. Fortunately the natives are friendly in these parts and the few passing motorists forced to delay their journeys indulged my amateurish attempts with patience and the minimum of heckling.

Considerable amounts of practice will be required before I attempt that with a boat!

What I did learn is that the Lexus is a magnificent vehicle for this sort of thing. It scarcely turned a hair at having to lug a heavy trailer over the mountains in snow and ice and at no point gave us the slightest cause for concern. I am also extremely glad that we spent a packet fitting new winter tyres before we headed inland three weeks ago, a feeling amplified each time we saw some hapless soul in the ditch on the more treacherous stretches of the road.

The Lexus is clearly currently far better equipped than am I. Back to school for me!

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Image by Wolfi Korn (Cartoonist Illustrator)The wine’s all drunk and so am I
Here with the hoi-poloi, don’t ask me why
We’re celebratin’ anticipatin’; end of the year
everybody come, everybody here
– well more or less
Some already in a mess
I guess they’re waiting for the big one.”

Peter Gabriel – “Waiting for the Big One”

Plus ça change!

A little over a year ago I used a very similar title and exactly the same graphic and Peter Gabriel lyric to introduce a post concerning the year into which we had just nervously stumbled. We knew then – without a shadow of a doubt – that a year hence we would be seeing life very differently.

It will not surprise the gentle reader, therefore, that I should use a similar introduction now for a totally different topic.

A feature of life on the Pacific Northwest coast that really doesn’t register until one actually resides there is the fact that one is living in an earthquake zone! I knew before we came here that this would be so because the Kickass Canada Girl told me repeatedly that it was so. I am, of course, a chap – and as with many things that chaps are told that don’t seem to have an immediate relevance I did what chaps traditionally do and filed the ‘fact’ away somewhere in what Sherlock Holmes called the Mind Palace – as being something of vague interest but having no direct import.

I can sense those of you who live on the coast tutting piteously at this point and rolling your eyeballs noisily, but I can assure you that those from ‘sheltered’ parts of the planet will be racking their brains now for dimly remembered references from Hollywood movies or nasty Channel 5 documentaries to glean some idea as to what this might mean. Clearly many millions of people – including the Girl herself – have lived for a considerable number of decades in this part of the world in complete safety.

To gain a clearer picture do please have a look at this most useful earthquake tracking site.

It may surprise you nearly as much as it did me to observe that one of the most recent events listed thereon is a 4.8 magnitude earthquake with its epicentre 52 kilometres beneath North Saanich.

Hold on” – you cry. “North Saanich? Isn’t that where you live?

Well yes – it is… though because the Girl and I are currently in Kamloops in the interior of BC we got to hear about the quake in much the same way as most other British Coumbians – by reading about it on the news. Our friends in Saanichton were awoken at around midnight by a sudden shock.

What the f**k was that?” – she enquired sleepily.

Earthquake” – he replied, rolling over and going back to sleep.

OK – he got into trouble for that, but the point remains… British Columbians are sufficiently used to such apparently minor happenings that they pretty much ignore them. As one commentator wrote after the event (I paraphrase):

How many rushed out the next day to update their Earthquake Kits? How many actually have Earthquake Kits? I have – it’ a bottle of single malt!”

The probable reason for this almost English-like complacency is that these frequent minor quakes usually cause very little damage and are apparently no indicators of – nor have any relevance regarding – that which is at the back of everybody’s mind – the Big One! In common with the whole of the west coast of the North American continent British Columbia is (not) holding its breath for the forthcoming major cataclysm – which is due any century now!

In the meantime I rather liked the caption – which has I know been used before – in a local paper. It read:

Vancouver Island 2015… We will not forget… We will rebuild!”

…over a picture of a fallen garbage bin!

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We broke our Boxing Day journey up to snowy Kamloops (where the temperatures continue to be a bracing minus ten celsius!) at Harrison Mills, the which is situated toward the top of the broader part of the Fraser Valley between Mission and Hope (fabulous – no?) before one hits the mountains and takes to the canyon or to the high passes.

We spent a lovely night at Rowena’s Inn on the River which I cannot recommend highly enough to travellers in these parts. This beautiful old lodge is still owned by the Pretty family who built it (their history being revealed in photos throughout the house) and who now run it as a boutique B & B with a really rather good restaurant alongside to boot. Apart from anything else the place is clearly a twitchers’ paradise (see below)!

As ever – here be some photos…

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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Shirley D. Bertoli

1932 – 2015

Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded in a sleep.

Prospero – from The Tempest, Act IV Scene 1
William Shakespeare 

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want:
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

David Harkins

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