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Celebration

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Image from WikimediaI was thirteen when the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

As were so many others I was already captivated having heard such extraordinary songs as Eleanor Rigby, Tomorrow Never Knows and Strawberry Fields. Now – on experiencing their first post-touring long-player – I was completely blown away and a lifelong love of the works of Messrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr was cemented.

My most immediate and startling memory, however, of the post-Pepper-release period was not directly to do with the Beatles or with the record at all. My school at that time held an annual public speaking competition, involvement in which (somewhat strangely in the light of subsequent events) I contrived to avoid throughout my entire career there. This widely disregarded event took place over two days. On the first each of the competitors mounted – one at a time – the stage in School Hall to recite a poem. On the second day they gave a five minute address on some subject either close to their hearts or the choice of which they coldly calculated would most appeal to the judges and/or the forcibly assembled audience.

On day one of the 1967 competition one of the seniors (a popular prefect – words rarely heard together in those days) stood proudly upon the platform and recited – instead of the usual Tennyson, Wordsworth or Coleridge (or if particularly daring, Byron or Keats) – the lyrics to Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, a song at that point banned by the straight-laced BBC for being quite obviously about the experience of taking LSD. We plebeians in the stalls gasped and looked shiftily at each other and to the masters present, trying to gauge how they would react to their solemn ritual being thus traduced.

The world – naturally – did not end. The staff simply looked bored and did nothing. The popular prefect did not win the contest. We mere mortals, however, realised that something, somewhere had changed irrevocably – and we were right.

What was most remarkable about Pepper of course (apart from the dazzling imagination and unprecedented soundscape on display) was the sheer variety. From LSD to traffic wardens, from Victorian fairground barkers to Indian gurus… all human life appeared to be represented not merely on Peter Blake’s pop-art cover but also within.

For this reason Paul McCartney’s whimsical musing on just what it might be like to achieve three score years and four seemed hardly out of place at all and those of us who could not begin to imagine ever reaching such a decrepit age simply took it as one more example of a fertile imagination.

This week – you will by now have deduced – I turned sixty four!

 

 

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It has become a habit for me to post – usually upon New Year’s Eve – a bit of a retrospective on the year just passed. In such missives I am wont to muse in a suitably contemplative manner on the happenings – joyous or otherwise – of the previous twelve months, with a view to wrapping up that which is past and wishing it a tremulous farewell before gazing nervously ahead into the murk of the nascent year before us.

This year I have done none of this.

The reason is simple – there are things going on right now that are taking a fair bit of my attention and for which the outcomes will not be known for a few days yet. I will provide such a conspectus of 2017 – in a short while when things have settled!

In the meantime The Girl and I naturally wish you all a very Happy New Year – and hope fervently that 2018 eclipses 2017 in all the right ways.

Slàinte maith, h-uile latha, na chi ‘snach fhaic!
(Good health, every day, whether I see you or not!)

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…to friends, acquaintances and gentle readers…

from the Kickass Canada Girl and the Imperceptible Immigrant.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a splendid Hogmany!

 


It has been my habit over the last five years or so to post to this blog a collation of festive photos of Christmassy paraphernalia such as Christmas trees, lights and decorations, sumptuously wrapped gifts and suchlike.

Christmas this year is different.

The decorations have remained in the Christmas cupboard. There is no tree or twinkling lights. There are no decorations. Our renovations (and the concomitant basement dwelling) and the last minute return from our holiday in the sun has mitigated against our usual display of festive cheer.

There is – nonetheless – an abundance of Christmas spirit. There is also the possibility here in Victoria of something that I do not recall ever having experienced before… a white Christmas!

So, whatever form the festival takes for you this year – and wherever you may be – we wish a very Happy Christmas to to you all!

 

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“I haven’t found anything to complain about. But being Scottish, it won’t be long.”

Peter Capaldi

Regular sufferers of these jottings will be familiar with my routine but wildly varying updates on the current state of Scottish rugby. My first item on the subject – way back in 2013 – introduced the eternal conundrum of supporting a national side whose fortunes have experienced more ups and downs than a roller coaster. The strangely stoic optimism that I believe is part of the Scottish makeup is essential if one is to be able to live in stasis with Kipling’s two imposters.

In recent times – however – the fortunes of the Scots have taken a most pleasant upward trajectory. Under the patient tutelage of (stern!) Vern Cotter and more recently Scottish rugby legend, Gregor Townsend, the side has steadily improved and positive results have started to follow. This very summer the Scots – having been largely ignored by Warren Gatland in his Lion’s selections for the All Black’s showdown – toured the southern hemisphere themselves. In Australia they took on – and beat – the number three side in the world.

Last weekend – in the Autumn Internationals – it was their turn to face the All Blacks in a Murrayfield encounter that many predicted would turn into a rout. The Scots not only matched the fearsome Kiwis for much of the game, but at times made them look distinctly ordinary. With time on the match clock almost expired the Scots trailed by a mere five points and their superstar fullback, Stuart Hogg, broke free down the left hand touchline. For a second it looked as though a match-winning try might be on until the All Black’s fly half, Beauden Barratt, scrambled Hogg into touch at the last moment.

Fears that the Scots (already missing a number of key players to injury) might have shot their bolt and be unable to raise themselves again this week for their rematch with Australia (who were themselves smarting from a somewhat exaggerated defeat by the English the week before at the Cabbage Patch) were only heightened when Stuart Hogg injured himself during the warmup for the match and had to be replaced.

It turned out to matter not a jot. Neck and neck as the first half drew to a close one of the Aussie forwards, Sepoke Kepu, essayed a rash challenge on Hamish Watson and was rightly shown the red card. Though there have been many examples of matches in which being a man down has not greatly affected the outcome, such was not the case on this occasion and the Scots showed admirable ruthlessness to put the Aussies away in a record 53 – 24 demolition.

For now at least the days of being tagged ‘plucky losers’ are a thing of the past. The Scots have shown that they now have strength in depth and that on their day they can live with just about anyone.

Lang may yer lum reek” – as they say north of the border!

Many congratulations!

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The English boys’ school that was my penultimate place of employ before we moved to Canada is known for many things, not least of which is its plethora of distinctive customs and traditions. These are sufficiently extensive – and codified in such a unusual vocabulary – that the institution provides an extensive guide to its unique terminology for all new members of staff.

One of the minor (but particularly charming) traditions on the staff side concerns a ‘miserable Monday’ in November. In short, a long serving member of the school staff from times gone by bequeathed to the School a financial gift sufficient to provide – on one particularly miserable Monday morning each November – Madeira and Bath Oliver biscuits to be served at the morning staff meeting – ‘Chambers‘. The School Clerk is tasked with choosing the Monday to be so graced and the skill clearly resides in picking the most miserable of the days concerned. Of course, should one go too early there is always the possibility that the weather might get even worse later in the month.

However arcane this odd little tradition might seem to outsiders it had the effect of brightening not only the Monday concerned but, through anticipation, those that preceded it.

Talking of November traditions – now that we are resident on the far side of the planet we are beginning to create (as one does) our own customs and recurrent habits. As regular readers might therefore already be aware – if it is November it must be time for Barney Bentall and the Cariboo Express! As you can see I have extolled the delights of this particular evening’s entertainment before. Suffice to say that this year’s outing was equally enjoyable.

On a different (but also delightful) note, being a household currently without usable bathtubs – but being at the same time imbued with the British love of submerging ourselves for extended periods in hot water – we are delighted to report that our little hot tub is at last in action. For various reasons – having much to do with electrical supplies – it has taken far longer than anticipated to get it up and running. We finally ‘leveraged’ (bah!) our renovations to make things happen and we can now wallow under our new deck whilst the rain pelts down but a few feet away.

Cool! (or more accurately, hot!)…

Hmmm! I think I hear the tub calling now…

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Giving thanks

Growing up in the UK and paying little attention to matters beyond the confines of those verdant isles, my only vague understanding of the North American tradition of Thanksgiving came from the sort of cultural osmosis that arose from the post-war mid-Atlantic homogenisation of the entertainment industry. Even then I had no idea what it really signified and indeed thought little enough at all about it, except to wonder why on earth the Americans had instigated another turkey-based festival so close to Christmas.

I most likely assumed that the celebration had something to do with the secession of the US from its former colonial state, or was perhaps somehow related to the civil war. Either way I figured that it had little to do with us Brits and that given our long and (in)glorious history we probably didn’t feel the need to hold any special festival because we were permanently thankful for who we were.

The gentle reader will be unsurprised to hear that I received a rapid education in such matters when the Kickass Canada Girl and I moved in together. I learned that the Canadian and US Thanksgivings were different things and that they take place almost a month apart. As in so many areas the Canadian variant comes first! Whilst yet in the UK we celebrated the festival on a number of occasions with a gathering of Canadian expats and most enjoyable it was too.

What I still had not gleaned (a fact I can only blame on the sad decline of brain activity that comes with age) was that there is after all a correspondence between Thanksgiving and a UK feast day. I refer, of course, to that excellent pagan celebration – Harvest Festival. Doh! In my defence I would point out that Harvest Festival is not a public holiday in the UK, being traditionally celebrated on the nearest Sunday to the Harvest Moon. I was also misled by the lateness in the year of the American version – way after the harvest has been safely gathered in. Nonetheless, now that I have been enlightened it all makes perfect sense.

The long and the short of this inconsequential musing is that we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving last weekend with our dear friends from Saanichton and were treated to a truly magnificent feast. A good time was had by all and the harvest was well and truly lauded.

Hoorah!

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Image by Andy Dawson ReidEven so, there were times I saw freshness and beauty. I could smell the air, and I really loved rock ‘n’ roll. Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams. I liked movie theaters, the darkness and intimacy, and I liked the deep, sad summer nights.”

Haruki Murakami, ‘Dance Dance Dance’

Summer is at its height and that must perforce mean that Wednesday evenings are spent in Pioneer Park, Brentwood Bay, chilling with friends on the greensward, dining al fresco and listening to some good music.

The season was caressed into life at the beginning of July by the smooth but soulful stylings of The R & B Toasters and the Butterhorns from Vancouver. These guys are all old hands and could probably crank this stuff out in their sleep. They feature one of the tightest rhythm sections I have heard in a good long time and for an outdoor gig their sound was exemplary – punchy and tight. I expressed my admiration to the bass player and drummer at the end of the show and they admitted that they had been playing together for a very long time.

Week two brought us Auntie Kate and the Uncles of Funk. Auntie Kate sings the blues and The Girl and I have seen her before – The Girl many times! We both agreed that she was in even better voice than we had heard previously. There is obviously something in the Vancouver Island summer air that brings out the soul in a performer.

We were looking forward to week three as – it seems – were many other inhabitants of the Saanich peninsula, evidenced by the extensive crowd staking out their spots in the park well before kickoff time. The focus of this interest was Dustin Bentall and the incredible Kendel Carson. Dustin has been mentioned in these dispatches before – being the son of Canadian superstar Barney Bentall – and Kendel is his even more talented other half. We have seen them both with The Caribou Express and if expectations were high they were well lived-up to. Kendel has a gorgeous voice and is a hugely gifted fiddle player – not to mention being ‘awful easy on the eye!’ – as they saying (probably) goes.

Week four’s offering – Echo Nebraska (pictured above) – were always going to struggle to match the Bentalls. They have a decent singer but the rest of the band are a perhaps little one dimensional and they still have much to learn. They are yet young though…

As can be gleaned from the image above, the bands currently play on a small temporary stage just outside the Brentwood Bay library. As of next season they will instead grace a purpose built and very beautiful permanent stage (construction of which has just started) courtesy of the fundraising and organisational efforts of the Brentwood Bay Community Association. Kudos all round – say I – for such a splendid campaign and fantastic effort.

We are in little doubt the the remainder of this season will match the standards set thus far – which means that we are all in for further treats!

Good-oh!

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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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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“Now I will believe that there are unicorns
That in Arabia there is one tree, the phoenix’ throne
One phoenix at this hour reigning there.”

William Shakespeare – The Tempest

To those who live in any degree of proximity at all to mother nature – be it through custody of some humble (or grand) garden (or yard!) or by virtue of residing on the brink of the barely-charted wilderness – the persistence of the myth of the phoenix will make perfect sense.

To the centrality of the bird (with its magical ability to fly all-seeing above our prosaic earth-bound existence) to mythologies from around the globe is added the life-giving power of the renaissance/resurrection connate in the cycle of the seasons. The added bonus in many versions of the myth of the cleansing/regenerative power of fire only adds to its potency and illuminates the Christian church’s desire to appropriate this pagan apologue (along with many others of course) into its oeuvre – however temporarily it may so have done.

Further idle musing upon the subject of the bird summons for me images of autumn – of the fallen dead leaves fueling November bonfires – of the blade-razed stubble burning in crimson swathes across the moribund fields as the chilled charred soil surrenders to the winter… and then of spring – the first tender shoots pushing their tremulous way through the dank, inclement loam, searching for the first warming kiss of the sun god’s life-giving rays…

But I fear that I digress – and this time I have not yet even begun…

This post – although appearing at an appropriate juncture in the new year – is not actually about nature at all, but rather concerns a quite different rebirth – though one just as keenly welcomed as is (or would be!) the spring itself – or indeed the fiery metempsychosis of the indomitable bird. Allow me to elucidate…

Way back in the early days of these dribblings I posted to this blog a miscellany of images which included one such of my favourite Greater Victorian supplier of meats – Orr’s of Brentwood Bay. I proselytized all too briefly regarding the extensive merits of this Scottish family institution at the time, but in a further post not two years later I found myself reporting the sad news that Orr’s was no more – having in the meantime gone out of business.

It is with great delight – therefore – that I can now report that Fraser Orr has again set up shop in the neighbourhood, this time even closer to us in Saanichton. We will once again be able to source Ayrshire ham, black pudding, Scotch pies, Forfar Bridies, Clootie dumplings, proper haggis and all manner of wonderful meats and other provender from the auld country.

Joy of joys! For this we are truly grateful…

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© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.”

Rabbie Burns – ‘Address to a Haggis’

Hmmm!

A little more than a year ago we spent a most enjoyable evening at the Greater Victoria Police Pipe Band’s ‘Robbie Burns Supper‘. As may be determined from the scribblings with which I marked the occasion, a great time was had by all.

This year – for a variety of reasons – we decided instead to celebrate the ‘Immortal Memory‘ at home and duly purchased a haggis from a local purveyor of ‘meats and more‘, intending ourselves to furnish the neeps and tatties as accompaniment – along, of course, wi’ a suitable wee dram!

Now – we have greatly enjoyed much that we have purchased at the aforesaid emporium over the last year or so and we are jolly glad that it is within but a short distance of us. On this occasion – however – we were to be seriously disappointed. To be fair to them (though I’m not entirely sure why we should be so) they did not cook the haggises themselves but rather purchased them in from a third party.

On first sight the beast certainly looked authentic; I had no argument with the appearance and texture of the sheep’s stomach which forms the traditional enclosure. The puddin’ was most carefully cooked – as it should be – and then cautiously unwrapped. We rubbed our hands, licked our lips and cut into the casing…

What emerged proved to be something that tasted almost exactly unlike a haggis. To be fair – it tasted almost exactly unlike anything at all! It had not the texture of a haggis – it had not the consistency of a haggis – it had not the aroma of a haggis… Had it not been for the appearance of the sheep’s stomach there would have been no way to tell what it was that we had in front of us.

For those unfamiliar with this great (and simultaneously most humble) delicacy, the Edinburgh butcher MacSween’s describes it thus:

Now I find myself in something of a quandary regarding next year’s festivities. Do we take a chance on another locally produced puddin’ or do we revert to celebrating the occasion in a more formal setting?

Or do I simply bite the bullet and make my own haggis?

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