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April 2016

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Image from Pexels…that’s fit to print!

New York Times masthead

Time for a quick catchup on some news from Victoria.

For the Kickass Canada Girl and I (wrong – but so right!) life sometimes seems to comprise such a constant stream of happenings and doings that our nascent existence here in BC evolves more rapidly than can reasonably routinely be communicated to those who are not fortunate enough to live at this end of the island.

To remedy this unfortunate situation herewith a brief parade of news items in no particular order.

Though I am myself a confirmed retiree – and delighted so to be – it was always a matter of some conjecture as to whether or not the Girl was entirely done with the world of work. After six months in which she greatly enjoyed a sort of trial run at retirement she perhaps unsurprisingly decided that she had more to give.

Following a couple of half-hearted applications for not entirely suitable positions the ideal opportunity finally offered itself. The Girl made a serious application – turned on the afterburners at the resultant interview and – to the complete lack of surprise on the part of all who know her – watched the interviewing board’s eyes light up not just with regard to the position on offer but also with a view to future elevation.

She is now working four days a week appraising the needs of clients of an extensive volunteer service that provides support for the elderly (and others) to enable them to live independently.

Hoorah for the Girl! Well done…

In my end of year post of December last I made reference to the legal matter that has resulted in our having to put in abeyance any immediate plans to renovate our house in North Saanich. Our initial hope was that the mere presence on our team of the big guns – in the shape of our hot-shot lawyer – would send the vendors scurrying to the negotiating table. Sadly they have thus far eschewed doing the decent thing and it has been necessary to serve the papers for a civil claim.

Hmmm! Matters grind on at glacial pace – in all regards save that of the ever mounting fees payable…

As also referenced in a jolly post but a couple of weeks back, my ‘Boating Essentials’ course reached its conclusion with yet another multiple-choice exam. To my intense chagrin I was yet again defeated by a single question in this test, though I did score well above the required pass mark. We then rounded matters off with a two day course on ‘Marine VHF Radio’, for the use of which it is obligatory to hold a certificate. I finally conquered my multiple-choice demons and registered a perfect score.

I can, however, take no credit for this happy state of affairs – that going instead to the Brentwood Bay Power Squadron. The preparation of students for examination by their training team is second to none and they have the awards to prove it. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole kit and caboodle and was most impressed by all concerned.

All that remains is for me to find a suitable boat…

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justice-collectiveThis day – twenty seven years after the event – the second inquest into the Hillsborough disaster – having been convened after the findings of the original inquest were quashed following the report of an independent panel four years ago – finally declared that the ninety six Liverpool Football Club supporters who lost their lives on that terrible day were killed unlawfully.

Though this is far from the end of the process – the Crown Prosecution Service may now decide to commence criminal proceedings against those deemed to have been culpable – it is to be hoped that the relatives and friends of those whose lives were lost can now finally grieve them properly and that – for their sakes – a line can be drawn. The shameful treatment to which they and others were subjected throughout this outrageous miscarriage of justice must, however, never be forgotten.

It is now clear that terrible mistakes and lapses of judgement were made both on the day and beforehand by those charged with ensuring the safety of the fans attending the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that was to be played at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium.

Terrible as were the events of the day itself, however, what followed was in some ways even more awful. The twenty five year campaign of obfuscation and misinformation that was waged by executives of all of the key agencies – the aim of which was to draw attention away from those actually responsible for the disaster, in large part by pushing the blame on to the supporters themselves – should of itself in any just world give rise to criminal proceedings.

That these attempts at evasion found support through the active or passive collusion of other forces of the ‘establishment’ leaves a stain which may not be removed in our lifetimes. The then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary – Bernard Ingham – wrote a letter to one of the Hillsborough campaigners in the mid 90s blaming the tragedy on “tanked up yobs“, a slander for which he still refuses to apologise in spite of the new inquest’s complete exoneration of the supporters’ behaviour.

The divisions in English society that have been increasingly actively fostered from the 1980s onward must surely in part be to blame for such reprehensible attitudes. As long as a monied and powerful elite – puffed up with its own sense of entitlement and residing primarily in the south east of the country – determinedly sets itself apart from humbler mortals throughout the rest of the land, the notion that the latter belong to some lesser order that can be traduced as desired will – though unspoken – continue to prevail.

It seems to me inevitable that – unless the growing inequality that blights modern society can be reversed – such travesties on the part of those in authority are likely to continue.

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Image from Pixabay“There was a time in my life when I did a fair bit of work for the tempestuous Lucretia Stewart, then editor of the American Express travel magazine, ‘Departures’. Together, we evolved a harmless satire of the slightly driveling style employed by the journalists of tourism. ‘Land of Contrasts’ was our shorthand for it. (‘Jerusalem: an enthralling blend of old and new.’ ‘South Africa: a harmony in black and white.’ ‘Belfast, where ancient meets modern.’) It was as you can see, no difficult task.

Christopher Hitchens

Driveling or not (and Hitchens is indeed mostly correct on that one) I think I can safely state that – with regard to the weather if nothing else – Canada truly is a land of contrasts!

This past week has seen Victoria – along with the rest of western Canada – basking in some exceptionally early summer-like weather, with sunny cloudless skies and temperatures well up into the mid-twenties. Across the southern end of Vancouver Island (as well as in the interior) temperature records for April have been smashed. These figures for Victoria are from a couple of days ago:

Victoria area
New record of 24.3
Old record of 19.4 set in 1934

Victoria Harbour area
New record of 20.0
Old record of 17.8 set in 1897

The same day on the far side of the continent the situation could not have been more different. Parts of Newfoundland experienced ten hours of blizzard conditions with more than forty centimetres of snow falling. Temperatures struggled to get above zero and winds gusted close to 90 kilometres per hour in places.

It is perhaps little surprise that when those not local to the northern American continent discover that one lives in Canada they immediately think of snow, freezing temperatures and long winters, and are moved to inquire as to how one can stand it. I am happy to go on disabusing such folks of this notion – at least when it comes to the west coast – just as I am happy to be living in the best part of the country.

Picked up a bit of a tan mowing my lawn yesterday!

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In my last post I mused upon the notion that Victoria might just be the best possible place in the world to be an expat Brit. At the weekend just passed we enjoyed a delightful dinner engagement with friends who live downtown. The occasion provided (as so often seems to be the case) yet more evidence in support of whichever conjecture happens to be my current fascination.

Earlier posts in this journal attest to my love of springtime… those hazy blue carpets of bluebells… the lush and fragrant azaleas (particular favourites that I would go out of my way to see)… the keening of the peacocks… Peacocks?! Well, yes – for various reasons I associate them with the sort of country estates to which I used to go in search of bluebell woods and azalea glades.

Anyway – before dinner on Saturday we accompanied our friends on a most pleasant stroll through Beacon Hill Park. I took some snaps:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidNow – I am very aware that back in the UK it is not yet quite azalea time. Indeed, should you care to follow any of the links above you will find that all of the posts concerned date from various months of May. Yes – here in Victoria spring comes earlier:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidAnd what can this be?

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidOf course, Victoria has a few things that are more difficult to find back home:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“Chinstrap: Here’s to the old country, sir!
Bloodnok: What old country?
Chinstrap: Any old country.”

The Goon Show, ‘Shifting Sands’

It is fairly widely acknowledged that – for the expat Brit looking for somewhere not too ‘foreign’ in which to establish his or her habitat – Vancouver Island, and Victoria in particular, pretty much tops the bill.

Many things about life on the southern tip of Vancouver Island will seem familiar to those from England – from the red double decker buses, the unexpected fondness for cricket, rugby and rowing, the love of messing about in boats, the discovery that hoards of other Brits have already made the journey – right down to the fact that the locals very nearly speak the same language as do we in the old country!

The fact that the standard of living is so high (whilst the cost of petrol (gas) is so low) and the discovery that the climate is way better than that in the south of England make living here a no-brainer. For those who prefer a relaxed, casual we(s)t-coast lifestyle, with perhaps just a slight tendency to left of centre politics… well – check! check! Plus – the familiar comfort of living on an island… Plus – being within sight of the sea and the mountains just about everywhere… Plus – just how beautiful it all is!

Little surprise though that one gets the occasional reminder of the old country herself. Some such – however – come as more of a surprise than others. Herewith a few recent examples.

I have in my meagre wardrobe a rather swish replica Great Britain polo shirt, of which I am inordinately fond. It has on the left sleeve at suitably subtle Union Jack emblem. Wearing this out and about seems not infrequently to inspire those of a certain background to approach and engage me in conversation. For example – just the other day in ‘Thrifty’s‘ – our local supermarket:

He:   “Bet you wish you were back there now?

I:      “Oh – well I only got here last summer – and I love it!

He:   “Ah!” – a pause – “What’s it like there now – with all the immigration?

I:      “Um – well, around London it hasn’t really changed that much since I was a youngster. It always was a very multi-cultural city.

He:   “I read about it the Daily Express!

I suggested as gently as possible that a British tabloid rag – particularly without the sense of balance that might have come with actually living in the place concerned – was possibly not the most reliable source of what might delicately be called ‘the truth!’. I’m not sure he was convinced. He was – he told me proudly – a Welshman! I thought it best not to point out that the main source of immigration in his part of the world was probably the English purchasing holiday cottages in sleepy Welsh villages.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidBut a short step along the road from ‘Thrifty’s‘ is one of Sidney’s many bookshops – in this case a secondhand and antique bookseller. I paid them a visit following my grocery shop to see if they had a copy of a particular marine atlas for which I have been searching.

They did not!

I did, however, discover – taped in a polythene bag to the outside end of one of their bookcases – this estate agent’s (realtor’s) street plan of the Merton Park area to the south of London. The map is not dated but – from various features contained thereon – I can deduce that it was printed sometime in the early 1930s. At that time Merton Park and Morden (Merton’s close neighbour) were outside London in the English county of Surrey. These days the area is some twenty miles inside the Greater London boundary.

This was certainly an odd item to find some five thousand miles away on the far side of the world – but why did it interest me enough that I felt at once moved to purchase it?

It shows the street on which I was born!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image from PixabayLast week the Kickass Canada Girl and I attended the Royal Theatre in Victoria for one of two performances by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet of a new piece – ‘Going home Star – Truth and Reconciliation‘ – which was commissioned for the Ballet by Artistic Director André Lewis and presented with the support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The subject matter of this ambitious work – concerning the residential schools programme controversy and its effect on those of First Nations’ descent – attracted a heavyweight artistic team. Joseph Boyden – award winning Canadian author of ‘Three Day Road‘ and ‘Through Black Spruce‘ – provided the story. Mark Godden – whose list of credits and awards throughout North America is too impressively extensive to list here – choreographed. The excellent music was by Christos Hatzis – two time Juno award winner.

Those without Canada may not be familiar with the background of the residential schools programme. Herewith for your benefit (should you be at all interested) is a brief history lesson.

An amendment to the Indian Act of 1876 – intended to remove First Nations’ children from the influence of their families and culture to assimilate them into the dominant ‘Canadian’ culture – made attendance compulsory at day, industrial or residential schools. By 1931 there were 80 of these residential schools across Canada. The numbers declined thereafter, with the last federally operated school closing in 1996, but by then some 150,000 (around 30%) First Nations children had passed through the system. More than 6,000 did not survive the experience, dying whilst yet in attendance.

A new consensus emerged in the early 21st century that these residential schools had done significant harm to the Aboriginal children who attended them by removing them from their families, depriving them of their ancestral languages, through sterilization, and by exposing many of them to sexual abuse by staff members and other students. In June 2008 a public apology was offered by the then Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, on behalf of the Government of Canada. At around the same time the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to uncover the truth about the schools.

As might be gathered from the weighty subject matter, experiencing a work of conscience and of art such as this was no walk in the park. Though the music set the tone masterfully – being a highly intelligent blend of European classical, contemporary stylings, Inuit throat singing and traditional drumming – and the movement was both highly imaginative and at times exquisitely beautiful, the work was also inevitably harrowing at times. The Girl – whose grandmother and two of whose aunts were survivors of the residential schools – not surprisingly found it particularly difficult.

I think that it is fair to say that not everything came off – and the fact that the Royal Winnipeg Ballet includes not one dancer of Aboriginal origin left this attendee at least feeling distinctly ambivalent – but in general the avoidance of the obvious pitfalls and the bravery of the conception and the execution should be – and was – applauded unreservedly.

It is right that art should be able take such risks and sometime to make us feel less than comfortable by so doing. Long may it continue to do so.

Kudos to all concerned.

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“To dwell is to garden.”

Martin Heidegger

The weather has at last become more clement and it has been possible to get out into the garden and to start doing all that must be done to wake it from its winter slumbers. I am a gardener only in the sense that I have a garden. I do think – however – that it would have made my father happy to see me tending my (half) acre(s). Yes – you do detect a theme… my father’s birthday would have been at the start of April!

When I got outside these ‘guys’ were already there!

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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imageIn the early days of these scribblings I ‘penned’ a piece on the mysteries of creativity. That I feel moved now to add something to that disquisition can only be seen as an indication of the continuing surprise and delight that the whole business affords me – as certainly must also be the case for anyone else who ventures into the realms of self-expression.

Thomas Edison famously declared that genius was “One percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration” (though other accounts give the figures as ‘ten’ and ‘ninety’ percent respectively. I don’t suppose that it really matters much either way – the point is made!). The same could certainly be said of practically all forms of creativity.

A prominent playwright – sadly I forget which – opined that the art of writing might more properly be called ‘re-writing’. His point being, of course, that writing a play (or anything else for that matter) not only comprises the two basic elements (the inspirational phase in which ideas and musings are recorded as quickly as possible as they occur to the author/composer, and – following a suitable period of reflection – an extensive process of editing) but also – in order that the the piece might be rendered ready for ‘public’ appraisal – it will inevitably have gone through a considerable number of re-writes before anyone else is allowed to see it.

Much of this process is – of course – ‘craft’, and relatively few are sufficiently competent at it to be able to make a living therefrom. Inspiration is something else and the mysteries thereof are still not readily understood – especially by me!

The story of Paul McCartney waking one morning with the score for ‘Yesterday’ fully formed in his head might be thought apocryphal, were it not that it is attested to by the great man himself. Anyone who has experienced anything remotely similar will identify with McCartney as he – believing at first that he must have heard the song elsewhere – quizzed friends and colleagues as to what it might be.

My own recent experience was considerably more prosaic.

A few posts back I referred to a brief wave of melancholy that passed over me during the first few days of March, brought on by recollections of my Mother whose birthday would have been around that time. I felt moved to compose a song in an appropriately thoughtful vein. My Mother had slipped into dementia in the last year of her life and I felt the need to try to capture something of that elegiac mood. Sitting at the keyboard I rapidly found an interesting harmonic progression around which I started to experiment. An image came to mind – of a bonfire on a dark night. The dying embers swirling up into the night sky before fading into the blackness seemed to offer a possible metaphor for a mind slowly floating apart and a personality fading away.

It was at this point – however – that the subconscious part of the imagination took over. The more I worked the theme the more it seemed determined to evolve into something else entirely. I ended up with something that sounded more celebratory than melancholy. There is only one thing to do in such circumstances – and that is to give the imagination its head. Within a couple of days I had recorded all of the components of what had turned out to be a rather uplifting piece. Further – the image of the fire in the darkness had remained but had itself evolved and become a beacon fire lit on a hilltop to celebrate the end of winter. The song had changed from a lament over something lost to a celebration of something gained – in this case my recent recognition of my significance here.

That such a creative act is possible – and in such a brief period of time (a song can take me months to complete!) – is to me a thing of wonder and amazement and I am massively grateful that such occurrences still take place. Those of a spiritual or metaphysical bent might muse that perhaps this was a gift to me from my Mother. Maybe so.

I am content simply to enjoy the mystery.

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