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My post of yesterday concerning the poignant death of Gord Downie was necessarily brief – because:

– the occasion was just too sad and I could not find words to adequately express the sense of loss…

– because in many ways there is little more to be said…

– because there is much more to be said but there are many considerably more qualified (and way more eloquent) than I to say it…

Canadians doubtless need read no further but for others – particularly those across the ocean in Europe – I sense that it may be important to add something more for the benefit of those wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.

I posted this missive on the occasion of the Tragically Hip’s farewell concert last summer, which might give the puzzled reader some insight into why it is that the premature but expected death of a rock singer has so traumatised a nation. That it has indeed done so may be confirmed by watching Canada’s premier – Justin Trudeau – failing to hold back the tears as he pays tribute on national television. “It hurts”, he says. “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it”.

Given the almost total lack of interest in the Tragically Hip outside Canada this may seem somewhat over the top. All I can suggest is that the gentle reader spends ten or fifteen minutes reading some of the many tributes to Downie, in order to gain just some insight into why he was so loved and respected. For example,

‘The place of honor that Mr. Downie occupies in Canada’s national imagination has no parallel in the United States. Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close. The Tragically Hip’s music “helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.”’

As Vozick-Levison suggests, Downie was much more than just a singer. He was a writer – a poet – an occasional actor – a philanthropist – an activist on behalf of indigenous peoples and much, much more…

Above all, perhaps, he was a Canadian.

 

 

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Gord Downie

 

1964 – 2017

 

 

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

“First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk,
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life”

 

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWishing a very happy one hundred and fiftieth birthday to (colonial) Canada – whilst recognising that the indigenous peoples of what is now the Canadian nation have a cultural history here of well in excess of three thousand years.

In any case – in the midst of the madness that seems to exemplify much of the modern world it is indisputable that the majority of Canadians offer a most welcome breath of sanity and that – whilst not perfect (nobody is!) – Canada is clearly doing something pretty right.

Hard to argue with Bono (later echoed by Barack Obama) that:

The world needs more Canada

Happy Birthday!

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Image by Alana Elliott on Wikimedia CommonsBefore I came to Canada in 2015 I was entirely unaware of Stuart McLean, or indeed of the much loved weekly CBC Radio show – The Vinyl Café – that he hosted for more than twenty years.

I am absolutely certain that the Kickass Canada Girl – who has long been numbered amongst the humourist and storyteller’s many fans – had for my benefit at some point extolled his virtues long before we crossed the pond for keeps, but I am a bear of advancing years (as well as very little brain) and there has been such a lot to learn (this is called “getting your excuses in early”!).

Once in Canada, of course, and having had the opportunity to experience the show ‘in the flesh’ (so to speak) I rapidly became a convert too. It was therefore deeply saddening to hear the news this week that Stuart had succumbed to the melanoma that he had been battling for more than a year.

I am way too much of a Vinyl Café neophyte to be able to indite anything remotely apposite at this point. I urge the gentle reader instead simply to ‘Google’ “Stuart McLean” and to peruse some of the many tributes to the man. This page of twitter reactions gives a good idea as to just how deeply loved he was.

For myself all I would say is that there was something about his writing and on-air manner that reminded me of how radio used to be when I was growing up in the UK, where my earliest exposure to the outside world came exclusively from the BBC’s ‘Home Service’ (later Radio 4). That’s pretty much as good as it gets in my book.

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Dea Flower Plant Nature Purple Thistle

OK – I promise that I am not going to keep up a running commentary for the next six weeks regarding Scotland’s progress in the Six Nations, but I really couldn’t let this opening weekend pass without raising just the tiniest cheer…

For those who don’t follow such things my last post – by way of introduction to the 2017 tournament – included the following in reference to Scotland’s opening match against the much fancied Irish at Murrayfield:

“Can they beat the dynamic Irish in the tournament’s opening game tomorrow? The head says ‘no‘, but the heart says ‘yeeeeeeesssss!’.”

There would have been times not so very long ago when – having played a blinder in the first half to lead 21 – 8 at the break and then having been on the wrong end of the inevitable Irish fightback – the Scots would have succumbed as brave losers by a few points at the finish. That they did not do so here but instead ran out 27 – 22 winners says much about their character, but also a great deal about the excellent work done by both coaching staff and players over the past couple of seasons.

Needless to say – for this week at least – the heart is very happy!

Next week – the French in Paris – and there cannot be a Scot alive (of any decent vintage!) whose pulse does not quicken at the distant memory of (soon to be national coach) Gregor Townshend’s back of the hand pass that put Gavin Hastings in for the last minute try that unexpectedly beat the French in Paris in 1995. Yes – that was a long time ago… about time for a recap methinks!

Elsewhere – the English did what great sides do all over the world. They played a distinctly average game against the French but even when they were behind entering the home straight somehow we all knew that they would find a way to win – as they duly did. Those who gripe about such things should recall that even the 2003 World Cup winning side occasionally survived similarly poor matches.

In Rome the Italians kept in touch with the Welsh until the last quarter before running out of steam. I’m not convinced that we discovered much about the Welsh in 2017 that we did not already know.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIn Victoria, playing in really pretty atrocious conditions, the Canadians sadly handled the weather rather less well than did the Argentinians – to whom such conditions must be much less familiar. The match was all square at half time – 3 points apiece – but in the second half the Canadian game disintegrated somewhat as the Argentinians realised that if they persevered with their handling game sooner or later something would stick – which is pretty much what happened. Canada face Chile next Saturday – again at Westhills – and at the moment it doesn’t look as though the weather is going to improve much. Let us hope that the Canadian game does.

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Image from Pixabay“Rugby is great. The players don’t wear helmets or padding; they just beat the living daylights out of each other and then go for a beer. I love that.”

Joe Theismann

Hurrah! It is time once again for the start of the Six Nations rugby tournament. I say again – hurrah!

Now – for those of you who grumble that rugger is a minority sport played only by ex-colonial nations and is thus widely ignored by the greater part of the world, here (courtesy of the BBC website) is a most interesting statistic:

“The 123rd edition of the Six Nations, which begins on Saturday, is set to be watched by the highest average attendance per match of any tournament in world sport.”

Astonishing – no? Here are the relevant details:

Best-attended sports events

Event Average attendance per match
Six Nations 72,000
NFL (American football) 64,800
Fifa World Cup (football) 53,592
Rugby World Cup (rugby union) 51,621
Euro 2012 (football) 46,481

 

The figures apparently come from UEFA’s ‘European Club Footballing Landscape Report‘.

As to the tournament itself – expectations are, as ever, sky high. England – having gone undefeated throughout 2016 – would be championship favourites were it not for the fact the the Irish are also looking spectacular at the moment. In the autumn internationals the latter took the scalp of each of the vaunted Southern Hemisphere sides – including a famous and record breaking win against the All Blacks in Chicago. The fact that the ABs got their own back a couple of weeks later in Dublin and that the Irish only just scraped home against the Australians (who were soundly beaten by England) only goes to show just how close the outcome is likely to be. There is already much talk of the final game of the tournament – England/Ireland in Dublin in six weeks time – being the championship decider.

The Welsh managed also to win all of their autumn internationals whilst yet looking distinctly out of sorts. Always too early to write them off, of course, but there are worrying signs concerning their adaptability and current form. The Italians – having looked outclassed over the last couple of seasons – are under new (Irish) management. It may be far too soon to expect a complete turnaround but it is certainly worth keeping a close eye on their first game this Sunday against the Welsh.

The English host the French at home tomorrow – the latter continuing to blow sufficiently hot and cold that it is still impossible to know which side will turn up on the day. The English should have too much for them, though the opening matches are always difficult.

The Scots look a different side to those of recent years. Vern Cotter has worked wonders and hands them over to Glasgow’s Gregor Townshend (a true Scottish legend) after the Six Nations in good shape. Can they beat the dynamic Irish in the tournament’s opening game tomorrow? The head says ‘no‘, but the heart says ‘yeeeeeeesssss!’.

The coming rugby weekend is not confined to Europe alone but stretches all the way around the globe, seeing on this side of the pond the first weekend of the America’s Rugby Championship. Canada host the Argentina XV tomorrow evening at the Westhills stadium in Langford. Canada’s last year has been decidedly mixed in rugger terms (disregarding the wonderful womens’ Sevens squad of course) and Argentina should be too strong for them. Home advantage may play a part in the outcome, however, as may the weather… it has today been snowing determinedly across Greater Victoria, which may well result in a gritty old game tomorrow. We will be there!

So – go Scotland! Go England! Go Canada!

Plenty to cheer about there…

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Way back when The Girl and I were still living in the UK and taking appropriate advantage of the cultural offerings that the capital had to offer, our thoughts would – every once in a while –  turn away from the high arts – the galleries, concert halls and the National Theatre and so forth – in the direction of a little light relief.

At such times we would go looking for some comedy!

On one such occasion we decided to eschew our favourite Irishman (what is it that makes pretty much every Irish comedian funny, even before they have truly gotten going? All it takes is an – “Ah, c’mon now…” – or a – “Jaysus, yer a feckin’ eejyut” – in the brogue and I am well on the way to cracking up) and went instead to see a certain Scottish funny man who was at the time highly visible on television.

It was an interesting evening. The Scot was disappointing. It wasn’t that he was unfunny, it was more that what had appeared on TV to be a rapier wit – firing off one-liners and acid put-downs on all sides – turned out to be wholly scripted, down to the last barbed repostes.

What did not disappoint – and not only because we had no expectations – was the warmup act – a Canadian comedian called Craig Campbell. His sharp-eyed observations on both Canadian and UK life and culture had us in stitches, practically slipping off our seats and into the isles.

I turns out that Mr Campbell is sufficient of an Anglophile that he has taken up permanent residence in the West Country and now tours regularly in the UK. I was surprised to discover that my brother had also become an enthusiast for the hairy Canadian’s humour and we subsequently all went together to see him on several further occasions before we left the UK.

A couple of weekends ago – on the eve of my birthday and after The Girl had retired for the night – I was searching our cable channel for a little late night viewing when I happened upon a recording from Nanaimo of a touring comedy show – compared by one Craig Campbell! Not having heard of the ‘Snowed In Comedy Tour’ at all I immediately went online to the InterWebNet. I discovered that, though the recording I had found was from last year’s tour, the 2017 version was not only already underway but was also coming very shortly to Victoria.

I had half a mind to quiz The Girl the next morning as to whether she was aware of the engagement (she being primarily in charge of our social calendar) but before I could so do she presented me with a birthday card containing… tickets for the show!

Isn’t she a darling?!

I can happily report that Craig and his fellow Canadian comedians were in fine fettle and a riotous evening of merriment was enjoyed all round.

If you get a chance – in Canada or in the UK – I do urge you to catch him!

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“Tax is not a four-letter word; rather, it’s the price we pay for the country we want.”

Alex Himelfarb

My last post went some way towards explaining the vexatious complexity of our tax affairs upon leaving the UK last year and heading across the pond to Canada. I promised – for those who simply could not sleep without knowing how the issues had been resolved – to reveal all. As I am (mostly) a man of my word…

I had, naturally, taken the trouble to consult Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) well in advance of our departure from the UK to discover exactly what steps would need to be taken to ensure that I ceased paying tax in the UK on our departure and started so doing in Canada. A most Helpful Young Chap had given me chapter and verse… though as it turned out not all of the chapters and rather less verse than he might have!

He did advise that I should acquire – from the HMRC website – “Form Canada-Individual” (for those seeking this document it should be noted that it does not – unlike most other HMRC forms – have a form number!). At the bottom of the first page of this document there is a box labelled “For use by Canada Revenue Agency” and the guidance notes helpfully state that once completed the form should be sent to the “Tax Services Office of the Canada Revenue Agency for the area in which you reside“, for them to stamp and to sign. The HYC from the HMRC was unable to elaborate further on this instruction so I figured I would have to wait until we got to Canada and to ask questions there.

A few days subsequent to our arrival I paid a visit to the Revenue Canada building in Victoria, thinking that this would be the best way to find out whom I should approach. The Canada Revenue office may well be open for business but the building itself certain isn’t – not to the public at any rate. There is no open foyer or reception desk – just tight security and locked doors. I was forced to resort to the InterWebNet instead and – taking what seemed the best bet – sent my “Form Canada – Individual” to the Revenue Canada office in Vancouver.

Nothing at all happened for two months but eventually a reply limped into our mailbox. According to Revenue Canada Vancouver my application could not be processed because I had not provided them with my Social Insurance Number (SIN). This was – of course – because I had not been able to ascertain from anyone what the correct procedure was. I duly added the requested information and resubmitted the whole application – as directed by Vancouver – to Ottawa.

This time a mere month elapsed before Revenue Canada once more returned my application. Apparently they did not have the required information to determine that I truly was now a Canadian Resident for tax purposes. I would needs complete and return Form NR74 – “Determination of Residency Status (Entering Canada)” along with my resubmitted application before they could proceed.

Manfully resisting the temptation to enquire as to why Revenue Canada could not have sent me this form the first time they returned my application, I duly completed it. I could not help but notice that the information requested was mysteriously similar to that already submitted on “Form Canada – Individual” – but thought it best not to point this out either.

Another hiatus ensued.

Eventually – some six months after setting the whole process in motion – I finally received from Revenue Canada the duly stamped and signed copy of “Form Canada – Individual“, which I promptly sent back to HMRC in the UK. I was now registered as a tax payer in Canada – effective from the date that we landed.

Now – the Kickass Canada Girl has a long-standing relationship with a tax accountant in Victoria, who agreed to handle my tax affairs as well as the Girl’s. She was most helpful to us both in completing our tax returns following the end of the 2015 tax year on December 31st. Our attention was drawn to some highly beneficial rebates of which we would not otherwise have been aware and – as a result – my tax bill was considerably less scary than it might have been.

All that remained was for me to persuade HMRC to stop taxing me a second time (or first – if you see what I mean) in the UK and to return any excess tax that they might already have deducted.

The tale of how that went must – however – wait for next time.

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidFor three hours on Saturday night last Canada was ‘closed’. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) wall to wall coverage of the Rio Olympics was put on hold and there would even have been (had the hockey season yet commenced) a brief hiatus from the nation’s abiding passion.

Much of the country instead settled in (or partied out) to watch the live streaming from Kingston, Ontario of the final ever concert by ‘The Tragically Hip‘.

Canadian readers will require no further explanation and can skip blithely ahead. For many of them ‘The Hip’ have provided an iconic soundtrack to Canadian life for the last three decades and more, capturing the essence of Canadiana to a degree matched by no other. The band is – however – largely unrecognised without these shores and, though they have achieved some recognition in the UK and elsewhere, the Americans don’t seem to get them at all. This naturally endears them all the more to the inhabitants of these fair lands.

Non-Canadians might yet wonder why – in the age of the endless resurrection of their careers by those old enough to know better – quite so much fuss has been made of ‘The Hip’s’ farewell. The answer is tragically simple. Lead singer, lyricist and poet, Gord Downie, has an incurable brain tumour. To suggest that the occasion of the final concert was emotionally charged would be an understatement.

Prime Minister Trudeau (apparently a huge fan) was in the audience and Downie took the opportunity to publicly hold his feet to the fire concerning election promises, particularly with regard to the matter of the treatment of the First Nations. It is most likely that the many fans of the band will use this exhortation to endeavour to ensure that there is no backsliding on the part of the Liberal government.

We attended a splendid ‘Hip Party’ hosted by our dearest friends in Saanichton, complete with big screen and sound system in the garden so that no-one would miss the show. We cheered – we sang – we danced – we shed many a tear… The moment – and the occasion – was duly celebrated.

I am, of course, a newcomer – both to this fair land and to ‘The Hip’. The making of a myth – however – is easily recognised by those for whom such rites are an essential part of our existence in this realm.

I am one such.

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To Edmonton for a long weekend – on an excursion with two objectives. The first of these – and the subject of this post – was a visit to long-time friends who previously lived in Victoria. It was lovely to see them and they spoiled us rotten – plying us with all manner of sweetmeats and tinctures and laying on the most excellent and generous entertainment (even if the price thereof was having my a*se kicked at street-hockey by our friends’ ridiculously talented six-year-old progeny).

With my Canadian experience limited thus far to British Columbia (it is a very big country!) all that I really knew about Alberta beforehand was that it was flat – relentlessly flat – and that this is not the best time to be in oil! This first visit confirmed that it is indeed flat (with impressively big skies) but also that there are numerous other places of interest in and around Edmonton – a fact to which these photographs will attest.

At Elk Island National Park we had the truly magical experience of being able to get up close and personal with the splendid herd of plains’ bison. It was possible – if only for a fleeting moment – to gain some sense of what this country must have once been like.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

It is also possible to get a sense of the past at Fort Edmonton Park, where the history of the city is brought to life in a series of recreations of the townscapes of different eras.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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