Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tea and texting

We won't zero in too close on them, but these girls are texting as they sit together beside the tea for two they've just ordered.

The splendid meal looks attractive, but they don't appear to have noticed it yet.

They're also not looking at each other. The tyranny of the iphone had decreed that each is distracted by a conversation with someone else.

Don't let your tea get cold, girls!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Young men reading

On a recent ferry trip from to Tsawwassen from Duke Point, I was delighted to observe that two young men at a neighbouring table spent the entire crossing absorbed in their books. Maybe they're students at the University of Victoria.

By the way, I spent my time aboard ship doing the same thing. To be precise, I was reading Patrick Taylor's delightful historical novel, An Irish Doctor in Love and at War.

Didn't glimpse what the fellows were reading, but the one on the right was chewing his way through a pretty weighty tome.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tiny tug pulls enormous load of logs and ferry rescues canoeists

As the ferry travels through wind and whitecaps, the sunset lights the horizon. Undeterred by the weather, a tug hauls an enormous barge of logs through the heavy seas. Glad I rode this ship when I did. A few days later, the ferry had to delay docking due to heavy seas. Passengers had to wait until the weather improved to get safely off the boat. It's been an exciting week for BC Ferries. Yesterday one of their ships rescued a capsized canoe and its two occupants off Denman Island.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Nature wreaks change at a slow and steady pace

The temperate rainforest of the West Coast is full of huge trees. The deep forest is also home to deadfalls, which slowly decay back into the soil as the great cycle continues. Where a tree is cut or falls, its stump or trunk may become a nurse log upon which a new tree begins its life.

One day this giant cedar will fall across the trail. Already its subtle movements have displaced rocks and exposed the soil that bound them together.

The roots reach steadily for nutrients, and bit by bit the trunk grows heavier. Before too long, this tree may be cut by those who maintain the parks and see its potential for falling. Or a wind might blow it down.

It is difficult to observe life's small daily changes; even so, they continue unceasing.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cathedral Grove

The trees of Cathedral Grove are between 300 and 800 years of age. In 1997, a storm knocked some down, so there are many fallen giants among the living trees.

The forest is so damp and spongy that a wooden walkway has been built for those who want to walk around and see the largest specimens. Even so, you need boots just to get to the boardwalk. The ground is soppy and spongy -- just as you would expect it to be in a rainforest.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Englishman River Falls above Qualicum Beach

Englishman River Falls Park is a beautiful place for a hike. The deep and silent forest hems in the walker who seeks to enjoy a wide and easy trail.  The spectacular upper falls is partly obscured from view, even at the lookout point, but the intrepid can venture out onto the bridge above. Being less intrepid, I enjoyed the lower falls walk more, with its varied views of the river and the ancient and mysterious trees. The sign suggests the presence of cougars. Fortunately, I saw none of those shy wildcats.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rathtrevor Beach on Vancouver Island

Rathtrevor Beach faces the inside passage between island and mainland. It's a place of spectacular natural beauty, with a climate softened by the sheltered location.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

All decked out and a goose egg too

At Tigh-Na-Mara in Parksville last weekend, the All Decked Out Christmas Craft Fair had an air of fantasy.

Artists and even shoppers were all decked out from top to toe in special gear. The special charity cocktails were great too, and it was nice to be able to return the following day on the same ticket.

An earring maker (left) wears strange shoes while another artist shows off the goose eggs he's carved into amazing objets d'art.

The Bastion at Nanaimo -- a historic structure

The Hudson's Bay Company began building the Bastion on Nanaimo Harbour in 1853. This watch tower stood in place of the customary fort build by the Bay around its trading posts and the homes of its workers.The port of Nanaimo also began to ship the coal mined on the island.

Fort Victoria possessed a similar defensive watching post. Today, it is remembered in the name of Bastion Square, a hub of shopping and other touristic attractions in the downtown area of the provincial capital.

Currently under repair, the Bastion is attached to the city's Museum, and open from 10-3 from spring to fall, when visitors are allowed to climb aloft and scout the harbour, since 1967 home to the famed Nanaimo Bathtub Race.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reading aloud to myself in Parksville

I'm just back from a wonderful writing week -- well, okay, I also did some exploring and some visiting -- in Parksville, on Vancouver Island. Pacific Shores was tranquil, the perfect place to edit the "definitive draft" of The Habit of Secrecy, checking for things that didn't sound right.

In the quiet atmosphere of seaside and gardens, I read my novel aloud. Listening to my own words, and sometimes surprised by them, I marked out changes in pencil on the printed draft. Now I must edit the file on my computer.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tizer, IrnBru, shandy, traditional English fare

Recently, the popular British Bobby Restaurant in Parksville provided a chance to enjoy some British culinary experiences. My the main course was a familiar style of chicken mushroom pie with mashed potatoes and peas. For dessert, I chose spotted dick, having read of it in Dickens and other British writers. This "pudding" (dessert) is a spicy cake served with warm custard.

The drinks were exotic but not tempting. Tizer (introduced in 1924) was a favoured treat on an elderly friend who spent the blitz in Wimbledon. IrnBru (pronounced Iron Brew) was made famous by Edinburgh mystery writer Ian Rankin and his character John Rebus. On the rare occasion when Rebus isn't having beer or whiskey, he likes a bacon butty with an IrnBru. The presence of Ginger beer reminded me of my mother, who drank that and Spruce beer, long ago in Newfoundland. The Bobby bar also had dandelion and burdock shandy and a Bass ale, favoured by mystery writer Peter Robinson.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Goats absent from the roof at this time

Beside the road in Coombs, on Vancouver island, an intrepid shopper approaches the produce market where, at the moment this picture was taken, the goats are noticeably absent from the roof. No doubt they're keeping out of the heavy rain.

Many years ago, I remember pointing excitedly as we passed by. "Look, goats on the roof."

Well, now it's official. The Coombs Old Country Market is a tourist attraction famous for -- you guessed it. Goats on the roof.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Artistic island


Right: The Old School House in Qualicum is now a studio space where many artists share studios. Left, a carved goose egg is displayed by the artist at All Decked Out, a Christmas Craft Fair held at Tigh-Na-Mara Resort near Parksville. Vancouver Island's artists work in every conceivable medium, and produce lots of amazing art.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wine cellar rising?

It seems that wine is going up in the world.

At Smoke N Water Restaurant in Parksville, it's no longer stored in a cellar.

On the contrary, the shelves are so high that a ladder is required to reach the appropriate vintage.

Desert plants in the temperate rainforest

We have a great mild climate here in the Lower mainland, but a recent stay on Vancouver Island reminded me it's even milder and warmer over there. At Pacific Shores in Parksville, fan palms and desert succulents grow in the gardens cheek by jowl with the temperate rainforest evergreens.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat

First published in 1951, The Cruel Sea has been re-issued at least twice. My father served on corvettes in World War II. When I saw Dad lying on his bed, ankles crossed, reading this novel, I was too young to understand about corvettes, or "the war," though I'd already heard plenty about both.

A half-century later, Monsarrat's faithful evocation of life aboard a corvette rivets me. I am amazed by the primitive simplicity of these nautical sheepdogs, "not much more than a floating depth-charge platform." As well as being small, these ships were slow and poorly armed. Early versions would pitch and roll up to 45 degrees.

Yet they guarded the convoys of merchantmen that crossed the Atlantic, with its bitter storms and wolf-packs of U-boats, carrying life-saving supplies to an embattled Britain.

My father, Petty Officer Leonard Johnson, was a stoker; he spent the war firing the boilers below the water line. In the novel, after a terrifying incident spooks him, one seaman refuses to go below at all, not even to sleep.

Among the many poignant scenes is the one featuring three Norwegian captains who were saved when Captain Ericson took the risk of stopping the corvette Compass Rose so they and other survivors could be pulled from the water.

After a trip ashore in Gibraltar to drink and buy civilian clothing, the Norwegians return to visit Ericson and thank him for their lives. Having witnessed his decision to attack a U-boat that was attacking the convoy while men were still in the water, the other captains sympathize across the language barrier.

“There is no blame,” said one.
“But there may be thoughts,” said another.
“Naturally there will be thoughts.” 

“For thoughts there is gin,” said the first captain, with an air of logic.

Skoal!” said Ericson.'

And so they drink together. Drinking when off duty is a strategy for getting the job done as situations arise. Ashore, the narrator, Lockhart, Captain Ericson's Number One, as he is called in naval parlance, drinks twelve pink gins. Two other sailors go ashore and sink seven pints of beer each without showing "an atom of difference to either their diction or their bearing.” 

Drinking is also a defense, as the men become parts of "the tireless machine of war." This "hateful struggle," former journalist Monsarrat tells us, "demanded one hundred percent from many millions of individual people; death was in this category of demand, and, lower down the list, the cancellation of humanity was an essential element in the total price."

Eventually the war ends. After the German surrender, the U boats leave their hiding places and surface, "dripping and silent, in the Irish Sea, and at the mouth of the Clyde, and off the Lizard in the English Channel, and at the top of the Minches where the tides raced...near Iceland, where Compass Rose was sunk, and off the northwest tip of Ireland, and close to the Faeroes, and on the Gibraltar run...and near St. John’s and Halifax, and in the deep of the Atlantic."

The deadly Battle of the Atlantic was waged by England and Canada. Early on, the convoys met in mid-ocean, where the British took over from the Canadians to guide the ships into Liverpool or the Clyde, while their allies returned to St. John's or Halifax to start the journey again with another convoy. Though it seems so distant now, this is a significant aspect of the history of our nation.

My father was part of it. Reading Monsarrat's book, I felt sorry not to know more of the details of his convoy experience. Did he serve on the dreaded Murmansk run to the icy Russian port on the Arctic Ocean? Did he sail to Gibraltar, "where the sunk ships lay so thick?" I'll probably never know.

This remarkable book has been adapted for radio and was made into a 1953 movie as well.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Remembering Irish dancers at Citifest

Image from thumbs dreamstime

Remembering The Comerford Irish Dancers

Under a cloudy sky, in an open tent, two young men dance on a rough plywood stage. Tall, slim, blue-eyed and fair-haired, the first dances loosely and rhythmically. He wears an inward look as his strapped-on clogs, worn over black dress shoes, tap gracefully on the rough plywood stage. His movements are innocent, effortless, young. 

The other dancer is the really stunning talent. His features bear a classic delicacy, and his perfectly arched brows are half-hidden by the black curls that dance along with him.  His collarless shirt is of a drab colour, and baggy black dress pants, with two pleats on each side, complete his anachronistic perfection. This boy, at the cusp of manhood, dances with such joyful abandon that his consummate skill seems incidental. He is pleasurably aware of his perfect young body, and his sure steps on the boards are playful, easy, light. The crowd observes this magic with a unified indrawing of breath.   

In perfect harmony, these young men dance until perspiration dews their faces. Each bows casually to acknowledge the howls of applause. Then each takes his turn at a solo, while the other steps back to stand loosely relaxing. At the climax of the second solo, both bow low, polite but indifferent to the crowd’s appreciation. Lightly, they leap from the front of the stage, stroll into the crowd. 

Still electrified by the performance, I remain seated on the damp grass while the dancers walk away, their limbs loose with the youthful satisfaction of having abandoned their bodies to the joys of movement. Then, flinging a leather jacket over his shoulder, the dark one places a cigarette in his mouth and stalks off. The fair one follows.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Where once were trees

It looks like a tree farm licence, but it's a street in central Surrey. On the left is the city logging scene from September. Below, we see the latest changes: tanks, hoses, trucks. Ever more of our once green city's being built up and paved over.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The peace of a writing retreat at Loon Lake

From the human-powered platform ferry that pulls passengers across the lake by their own power to the gorgeous tapestry fabric that adorns the comfy chairs in the Koerner Lodge, the Loon Lake retreat was a delight. Thanks, Katherine Wagner, for organizing it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Empire of the Son: Tetsuro Shigematsu remembers his father who remembers WWII

Image from the Cultch

Actor, broadcaster, and writer Tetsuro Shigematsu grew into middle age, watched his children grow and his father die. He was moved to create a show that would help him and his audiences bridge old gaps between past and present, fathers and sons.

Tetsuro's father, Mr. Akira Shigematsu, was a well-known broadcaster on Radio Canada International. Introverted, yet familiar to listeners around the world, he embodied traditional ideals of stoicism, respect and modesty.

With the father in his final illness, the son finally interviewed him about his experiences of World War II. Tetsuro learned for the first time how close his Japanese father had been to the horrific bombing of Hiroshima, and how he'd seen his own home scorched out of existence during the brutal firebombing of his home city.

This one-man show is Shigematsu's unique and tender effort to make peace with abysses of generation and culture, come to terms the loss of his parent, and give him his due. This show evokes the universal joy and pain of father relationships, making audiences weep and laugh by turns.

Launched last year and sold-out in advance, this year's run at the Cultch (until November 13) has also been sold out. After that, the show goes on to Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, Tetsuro's second home town (after London, England, where Dad worked for the BBC). The play has also been published in book form.

Today, as I always do on Remembrance Day, I think about my own father, dead these twenty-eight years. He also fought in WWII, but on the other side. Dad was on convoy duty during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Aaron Chapman shares the history of the Vancouver Police and the Clark Park Gang with Canadian Authors Vancouver

Wednesday evening, Canadian Authors Vancouver hosted Aaron Chapman, who has just launched his latest true tale of Vancouver history. It portrays the struggle of an east side gang versus the Vancouver Police.

Based on interviews with retired officers and former gang members, the book proved itself immediately by drawing crowds from both sides to last week's launch at the Biltmore, former Clark Park Gang turf.

A writer and musician with an eclectic education in medieval history, religious studies and film-making, Chapman is an entertaining presenter who enjoys sharing stories he's managed to tease out from the vanishing past of this fast-changing city.

Earlier books capture Chapman's special interest in Vancouver entertainment history. Live at the Commodore describes a legendary venue, and one where Chapman once played with his band. Liquor, Lust and the Law is a history of the Penthouse Night Club and the Philliponi family that lost one member to murder while they ran it.

Advice he shared with the audience of writers was to choose a subject that interests you, then "work yourself into enough of a lather to convince yourself you can do it...You have to be obsessed... That fuels the writing." He also mentioned the old advice of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. A tip for non-fiction writers is to interview people at the places where things happened. This evokes memories and elicits information you can never get doing the interview elsewhere.

Aaron Chapman has a new project in mind. Now that he's written about entertainment venues that are still around, he'd like to find out and share the past history of some that have closed, like the Cave and the Egress.

Canadian Authors Vancouver members and guests, we look forward to seeing you on December 7 at the Cottage Bistro for the AGM and Holiday Social.