Tick Tock…

FreedomI know, I know. After ‘The Pressure to Blog’, I promised I would try and write more. And I have tried. I haven’t really succeeded, but I do have an excuse – I’ve been blogging less because we’ve been living more. I couldn’t quite put it into prose without a bullet-pointed list, so I wrote a pome (with some tenuous rhyming phrases) instead:


The drums of time are beating on,

With all of life’s demands.

But this time, life is really fun,

More cooking than washing of pans…


A road trip, a hike, a surf in the sea

Have been keeping us busy and so –

The blogging and writing just take a back seat

And wait for ideas to grow.


But ideas come slowly when living carefree,

And sat watching The Turtles outside.

And talking of whales, and bears, and bald eagles,

Seems like bragging, not passion and pride.


I wanted to write about sunsets and views

But thought that’d be sappy, at best.

I wanted to write about me in a wetsuit,

But you’d be sick before you’d read all the rest!


The visits, the laughs, the friendships we’ve made

Are making this summer so great.

The playlists, the tennis, the ‘Scatch’ that we’ve played

Make all of my blog posts too late.


I’m aware that this time will not last forever,

So we’re laughing and eating ice-cream,

Before we return to real life’s endeavours

And this time of our lives is a dream.


So I’m sorry, my readers, if I’m not very good

At keeping my blog up to date.

I’ll write more of it down – and I know that I should –

To stop you all having to wait!


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Live a life that matters…

Having heard some sad news recently, I found myself re-reading a poem that I first encountered a few years ago:

Ready or not it will come to an end.

There will be no more sunrises, no more minutes, hours or days,

All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten

Will pass to someone else.

Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrive to irrelevance.

It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.

Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.

So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.

The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.

It won’t matter where you came from,

Or what side of the track you lived on in the end.

It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.

Even your gender and skin colour will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought but what you built.

Not what you got, but what you gave.

What will matter is not your successes but your significance.

What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught.

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage and sacrifice.

That enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence, but your character.

What will matter is not how many people you knew,

But how many will feel a lasting loss when you are gone.

What will matter is not your memories,

But the memories that live on in those who love you.

What will matter is how long will you be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.

It is not a matter of circumstances but of choice.


[Author unknown]

I got to thinking about how to make a life well lived, a life that matters. If you believe the popular hype, your life is all about you. You have to ‘enjoy every moment’ and ‘act like every day is your last’. Ok. Of course, aiming to enjoy every minute is a great goal. If you manage to enjoy even half of the waking minutes of your life then you’re really not doing too badly. But actually, this won’t get you down to the roots of it. It’s a great start: so, you’ve enjoyed your life. But when it comes down to it, who really cares about that apart from you? Your memoirs are your memories; and unless they make the best-seller list you take them with you when you go.

No, there must be more to it. How can you combine the ‘really matter’ and the ‘really enjoy yourself’? It might be that you have to take the ‘you’ out of the equation. You have to start thinking about your impact, and that might even get you on the path of thinking about….gulp….others. And not in a “well I give three quid a month to Cancer Research, that’s charity, yeah??” or “I gave that homeless guy the rest of my Big Mac when I was drunk, I’m such a great person”. Nope. I’m talking about deep impact, a legacy, and that means developing a constant awareness of your affect on other people.

I guess you would start by ‘putting-others-first’. Be a good person! Ouch. Giving to charity, being the friend for those in need, cat-sitting your cousin’s kitten despite your allergy to fur? It can’t just be that, though. The people who have had the greatest impact on my life, the ones I’ll always remember, aren’t especially good people, or particularly selfless. They influenced me because they guided me, developed me and made me a better person. Maybe, to live a life that matters, to have an impact, you don’t have to be a better person – you have to help others become better people. And by doing that, maybe you can become that better person anyway – which would be a nice bonus!

What will matter is not your successes but your significance.

What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught

But to make an impact on the world, the first place you have to start is with you. And close behind, there has to be the others. The rest is about what you do with it. The rest is history.

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The hierarchy of traffic: An observation

Just in case you ever need to venture out into the Vancouver traffic, there are a few vital nuggets of information that you need to know:

1. There are some roads that you cross using a white pedestrian crossing light. Some using flashing green traffic lights. And some where you walk out into the road with your eyes closed and hope the cars on what appears to be a dual carriageway see you in time.
2. You think you’re safe on the pavement? Wrong. The buses can get you there. And will loudly beep their horn if they think you’re within a metre of the kerb in case they hit you with their bits of sticking out metal. If you think it doesn’t happen, talk to the bin on Granville Street which was minding its own business when a bus completely took it out. It’s never been the same since.
3. If you’re in a car, good luck getting anywhere. You’re bottom of the food chain. Yep, behind pedestrians, animals and….yes…cyclists! (I know!)
4. As an extension of this, if you are a pedestrian crossing a road at the appropriate time (see point 1) and a car tries to nudge you out of the way, the appropriate response is to pointedly look up at your legitimate crossing light. And walk slower.
5. Finally, if circumstances dictate that you need to board a bus, look carefully into the eyes of the bus driver. If you see manic laughter in their eyes, make sure you get a seat and anchor yourself down quickly. These types think an emergency stop is gentle braking, and they’re not afraid to use it.

Now, these tips may save your life one day, so it’s important to read them carefully. Or you could do what I do – ignore the traffic conventions and fly!


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The pressure to blog….

Awake in the night….

Wings sweating, stuffing beating rapidly…

The pressure to blog has arrived.

I find it hard to describe fully what the pressure to blog feels like, but I liken it to when I put off doing washing until I’m down to the very last skin pair of pants. Or when I just have to finish on internet banking when the laptop is dying and the charger is all the way over the other side of the room. Not to worry, you don’t need to rely on my terrible descriptions to gain a better understanding of the emotional torment that is misery blogging. The time continuum chart of pleasure-guilt of blogging has been closely and scientifically studied by me researchers around the world and they have come up with something a little like this:

Very scientific research done by scientists

Very scientific research done by scientists

Now, people may consider the impact and implications of this highly scientific chart and wonder why on earth one would get into this vicious blogging world, and that would be a very good question. The pressure to blog can come from many sources, internal and external, and these can build and build to a crippling point of no return. The point where every great idea you’ve noted down for the past three months suddenly looks like something from the National Enquirer recycle bin. The point where every sentence you write is deleted ten times before settling on one that just doesn’t sound quite right. And the point where you delay putting finger to keyboard or pen to paper day after day, waiting for that ‘inspiration’ that’s definitely going to come tomorrow…right?!


What I have discovered over the last 6 weeks is that you can’t just wait for inspiration to come if you’re going to ride the wild ride that is blogging. There will be natural peaks and troughs in both inspiration and motivation that you have to learn to manage – though probably not control – so you’re not MIA for weeks on end. Obviously, there will be those times when you just-have-to-write-that-down-and-share-it-with-the-world, but there will also be the quieter times, times when you can spend a little longer thinking and crafting a post that might start out crap less inspired than the others, but may evolve into one of the most insightful things you have ever written.

The point is – if you don’t actually write it down, you’ll never know….

….See you in 6 weeks….. 😉

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An ode to the in-laws

This particular duck considers himself lucky. “Because you spend all day in bed wrapped in 3 woollen layers?” you ask. Partly, yes of course, but mainly because I get to spend so much time engaged in active surveillance observation. Take, for instance, the arrival of the in-laws for a fortnight’s holiday. Now, this concept in itself is enough to send some lesser ducks running for their extra covers, but not in my case. If you’re looking for the usual ‘mother in law’ jokes, you won’t find them here, no sirree she’s far too scary!. This is far more a tale about the man in the family….the scary and intimidating father in law. At 6 foot something, this man mountain makes the floors shake when he walks and people look up to him when he talks. He can talk in foreign tongues brummie, including Canadian (“Can I have some new silverware? Look, I said silverware, I’m so Canadian!” to a baffled waitress in our local Indian). Scary and intimidating…


What, I ask you, can be scary and intimidating about a giant who doesn’t know where his own pants are? Or where his jacket is? Or his wallet? Or any of his stuff, for that matter? A man who drains the battery of his wife’s Kindle by playing hours of Angry Birds while his wife runs around in increasingly frenzied circles packing away his stuff. Someone who has to be shown “how to lie in bed properly” and “how to use shower gel without spreading it in a thick layer across every wall”. Someone who is not allowed near the kitchen in case he smashes stuff up, and someone who needs constant reminders about how to sit down on the sofa without breaking every supporting brace. His wife, let’s call her ‘Piane’, won’t trust him to do anything except the tasks requiring brute force strength and even then he will sometimes require a demonstration on how to do it properly.

Luckily, scary and intimidating don’t have to be his only strengths. He has many others.

The one with the most impact is his fixing of stuff. Unfortunately, this man (let’s call him…‘Pave’) learned the majority of his DIY skills from a Fred Dibner demolition documentary. ‘Pave’ once changed a brake light in Kate’s car – a request which cost her 200quid and 3 days for the mechanics to dry out inches of rainwater from her back seat, leaked in through the brake light…she asked him because he loves cars, could tell you anything you want about every model of every car from 1970 until the present day a 6 hour trip around the Heritage Motor Museum proved that point well and most importantly of all because he said he knew how to do it. Aha, her first mistake. On closer observation over this fortnight, I have learned to NEVER BELIEVE A WORD PAVE SAYS!

He claims to be able to speed read. On further interrogation of this useful skill, what he actually means is that he skips out every other line until he gets to the end and then makes up the bits in between. This would explain why the Daily Mail seems like a good newspaper.

He claims to know the number 1 reason house fires start (phone chargers, don’t ya know), in order to justify him unplugging every phone charger in the house overnight – and keeping quiet when people marvel at how slow Canadian electricity is if it won’t charge an iphone in 12 hours. Unfortunately for Pave, there is a little known information superhighway called the internet which soon proved his tenuous and anecdotal evidence wrong (“No, I’m definitely right about this. My friend Bobold was told by the insurance company when his house burnt down for a completely different reason”….erm, what!?).

Luckily the best thing about him is his sense of humour – his ability to laugh at himself and others. I’m so confident in that fact that I have written this post the night before they’re due to go home. If he doesn’t think it’s funny, I’m in big trouble. But only for a night.

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All I want for Christmas is…not to be completely won-over by false advertising, pretty pictures and a vivid imagination

It was a clear, peaceful Christmas evening. We walked towards the ship’s dock, hearing children’s laughter tinkling in the background, and feeling full of the festive cheer which comes but once a year. As we reached the dock, excitement coursing through our veins, we saw it, rising up out of the water in front of us, like a beacon in the night sky

Not like this in any way...

Not like this in any way…

…Hang on…

It only had one string of soddin’ lights on it!

Much more like this...

Much more like this…

My expectations of a ‘Carol ship cruise’ were high, I’ll admit it. I’d heard stories of the cruise ships travelling in beautiful twinkly convoy, covered from bow to stern in thousands of beautiful, colourful lights. The reality – on that cold, crisp Vancouver evening – looked remarkably more like a family yacht, half-heartedly decorated by the teenage kids as a treat. Who had then run out of money. As we waited to board, we examined the queue of people who were starting to arrive around us. It was safe to say that even in duck years we were by far the youngest people in about a 1500 metre vicinity. The people were old, lost and confused…maybe they too were expecting more than one string of lights and a half-dead fibre-optic tree hanging, Titanic style, from the front; they thought they had happened upon the wrong ship. “Ho, ho my dear wife, this can’t possibly be OUR cruise…oh no! Ours, my darling, is going to be covered in lights, and we’ll be able to hear the angelic choirs singing even from the lowly shore. Oh no, this isn’t OUR cruise”. It was. And unfortunately, it was ours too.

On embarking the ship, with my boarding card printed out from the work printer, not being required to show my passport that I had hopefully brought along, we walked into what can only be described as a Phoenix Nights style social club with a mirrored gold ceiling and table cloths. We were greeted in a friendly and excitable way by the hostess, who walked us across the tired, plaid carpet and showed us to our window seat. Excellent, we thought, what a great view we’ll have – until we realised…we couldn’t see anything out of the window due to all of the condensation – that had no qualms about dripping all over my face and right down my neck. This was going to be a long, damp night.

On the plus side, they served alcohol, so a stiff glass of red and a lighted tea-light candle later, we were feeling much cheerier about the whole debacle. We could smell the food, and could see people returning from the buffet with their plates heaped high, so we ate our fill of the random combination Caesar salad, bean salad, bread rolls, tomato pasta, chicken in some sort of sauce, pilaf rice and beef. At this point, buoyed by our plentiful food and drink, and having wiped down the windows with my sleeves, we were looking forward to the delightful musical treat that would be the carols. We could hear it getting started…a crackle of electricity…some excitable mutterings, followed by………. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Huge mic feedback, and what felt like an electric shock through my ear drum – all the water that had dripped in there probably didn’t help. Take two. An excitable introduction, and, like a vision, a woman emerges (with her dress tucked into her knickers) and begins to sing that most famous of traditional carols “Santa Claus is coming to town”, followed by more traditional classics including a tortured version of ‘All I want for Christmas is You” and a much too low “Merry Christmas Everyone”. All this was complemented by the truly awful CD backing track, and the tuneless singing of our peers on the neighbouring tables. We thought we had hit the lowest point, but we were wrong – it was still all ahead of us.

An introduction began playing on the CD player that sent shivers down my spine…the (slightly flat) electric piano intro of one of my most favourite true Christmas carols, O Holy Night. I looked out of the window at the beautifully illuminated Vancouver night skyline, marvelling at the reflection in the water of the real thousands of colourful lights and beauty. When I turned back to survey my new friends the small boatful of old people, with gladness and merriment in my heart, I saw it. Two middle-aged couples were …. DANCING. Despite the small dancefloor, and the lack of follow-on participation from anyone else in the room, they went for it, gliding around the dancefloor like swans from Swan Lake, sliding and spinning to the poor-relation-cover of the Il Divo classic. And then it was over, just as quickly as it had begun, followed by ‘disco party time’ for the remaining 45 mins. It is the only Christmas experience I have ever witnessed where there has been such a seamless transition between Silent Night and ‘If You like It Then You Should Have Put A Ring On It’. It worked, in a strange way, and we all went home smiling.

Don't believe everything you see on the internet

Vancouver – Don’t believe everything you see on the internet

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Ladies and gents, this is your Captain speaking…

“It’s not as if I’m never friendly. Okay, maybe I don’t go around loving everybody I meet, maybe my smiles are hard to come by, but i do care for some people.”  (The Hunger Games)

North Americans….they’re all about the friendliness, yes? I could write an ode to the friendliness of Vancouverites, but I’d get stuck on the verse about customer service. I can’t decide which way to go with it, the experiences have been so diverse. I get the same buses every day stuffed in Kate’s bag and have therefore gotten to know a lot of the drivers on the bus route. They span the whole cross-section of humanity – some practically know my name, they’re genuinely happy to see me and really hope I have a good day when they wave goodbye as I get off the bus. A great example was a recent new driver on the route – his ‘in-flight’ announcements were phrased as if he were the pilot of a plane, rather than the driver of a bus. He announced things like “ladies and gents, this is your Captain speaking. There is another bus behind me which is empty if you’d like to get on that when we stop. Don’t tell him I sent you…!” and berating passengers waiting at a stop for a different bus “Ah come on, get on – I’m paid by the kilo”. What a guy – he was entertaining us for his own amusement, there was no hidden agenda with his attitude, and we all got off with an extra spring in our step that morning.

However, when we move across different industries, we encounter a different set-up. One of the main, marked differences between the UK and Canada has to be the customer service element to every tiny interaction throughout every day. Now, this is not to say that in the UK there is no concept of customer service, or that in Canada they have great customer service, just that a whole different approach is taken. The cynics among us might call this ‘doing it for the tips’. Customer service in Vancouver bars and restaurants takes on a life of its own – it is the friendly elephant in the room – the one wearing a short tight skirt and high heels who greets you the second you enter a building. Now, this is great for lots of reasons – you don’t have to queue at a bar in lots of places, someone brings you drinks (a massive plus), you find yourself being drawn into conversation and occasionally learn new things, the quality of food tends to be higher and service is quicker. Generally. Strangely enough, however, this concept doesn’t filter through to industries other than the hospitality sector. Shops, for example, have a whole other customer service code, which I am still trying to figure out. They smile, they chat, they ask you how your day’s been….that isn’t the problem. The problem arises when you ask them for help and they don’t know the answer. This is where the two countries divide – in England, if this scenario crops up, on the whole the assistant might attempt to help you find out the answer. They might call another store, they might ask a colleague.They might look up the answer online or in a catalogue. In short, they see your problem as their problem. In Vancouver, we have the opposite – your problem is your problem; if the assistant can help by telling you something that they know off the top of their head, they will probably do so. But if they don’t immediately know the answer to your question, god help you. They might give you some helpful ‘advice’ (“have you tried googling it?”), or just look at you like you’re crazy. They might (in some instances that I have witnessed) snap “well I don’t know the answer to that, try someone else”. Or they play the ‘I don’t understand your accent well enough to understand what you’re asking’ card, which is the one they keep under the counter for unintelligible foreigners such as the Brits. It never ceases to amaze me – in a country (and indeed a continent) that is renowned for the smiling fake customer service (“have a nice day, now”), the contrast between these different elements of service is startling. And neither really feels honest – you veer wildly from the effervescent, chatty sometimes intrusive hospitality sector to the sullen, sulky and downright unhelpful attitude of some people behind a retail counter – are either of these attitudes real? It seems that people become caricatures of themselves when they accept these positions – they can’t really be that happy or that sullen in real life. Unless…everyone here begins life with a natural demeanour, genuinely interested in the world and people around them. Until someone tips them 20%, and a new beast is born – ladies and gents, meet the career barmaid hostess.

Would you like fries with that?


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Nice weather for ducks…and duckin’ umbrellas

Thursday night.

’twas the night before Rain,
And all through the street
People were strolling,
enjoying dry feet.
The brollies were hung
in the wardrobe with care,
In hopes that the rain season would never come there.

The children were playing,
enjoying their fun
With visions of beaches,
filtered by sun.
And mamma in her skirt,
and me in flipflops,
settled ourselves down,
to sunbathe on the rocks.

When out on the road
there arose such a splatter.
I sprang from my seat
to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew in a flash,
Tore up the shutters and threw open the sash.

The moon from the glare
of a newly soaked spot,
Turned all the green spaces
To grey parking lots.
The silvers and dulls,
the washed away sand,
The rivulets of rain
turning liquid the land.

With a shake of my head,
and a shiver in my bones
A wail of sirens,
And the water-soaked homes.
More rapid than seagulls,
The raindrops did fall,
Until the roads were all flooded,
and all the people in malls.

So up to the bus stop,
The people did flock,
Joining queue after queue To travel only a block.
But I heard them exclaim,
through the steamed-up window,
“Get your brolly from the Island
The shop’s quite a show!
There’s purples and pinks,
And auto open and close,
The waterproof canopy
takes away all your woes”.

So now I step out into
puddles with joy
The rain a mere nuisance,
It’s simply a ploy
To get more people shopping
and away from beach fun
So now it’s quiet when I go
Who needs the sun?!


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The crazy, the dull and the downright depressing…

The good thing about having my ears covered by three layers of extra woollen skins is that people don’t realise you’re eavesdropping on their conversations. One of my favourite current pastimes is not ‘people watching’, but more specifically ‘people listening’! You can separate what you hear into three basic categories:- the crazy, the dull and the downright depressing. I thought i’d share some of these little gems with you….


“Where am I going?”. Philosophical

“So I said to him ‘open your mental notebook'” (Guy talk on Seymour st)

“Who has the best hedgehog service that you know?!” …try as I might, I still can’t figure this one out! Answers on a postcard…


“An’ then I just sat at the end of my bed for a while… An’ just went to sleep”

“Why would you wanna go for that long when you’re gonna be worried about Darcy doing this and that and constantly being bitten by mosquitoes?!” / “Ok ok how bout we leave Sunday morning?…” (middle aged couple having row on Robson st) …wish I was Darcy

“What do you think of terminal 5?”

Downright depressing

“Focus on getting some sorta security object, like a dog” (homeless guy to homeless novice on Davie Street)

The last one struck me deeply, sad because in one phrase it sums up the ‘darker’ side of Vancouver. There is a huge homelessness problem here due to the milder climate (birds fly south, homeless people come West). There’s so many that alot of them do tricks or write amusing signs in order to persuade you to part with your cash. But how on earth do you decide who is ‘worthy’? Kate and Chris had leftovers one night that they decided to give to someone on the way home…they passed a crazy half-naked 70 year old, a young guy sitting on the kerb rocking and moaning and a girl whose hand-scrawled sign said ‘Money for drugs please’ and then listed underneath all the drugs she wanted. All of these people were homeless and therefore equally deserving…right?! Anyway, it blew all of our combined ethical compasses to try and pick just one person out of this huge melee of people, so we placed it (wrapped) in a bin for one of the ‘binning entrepreneurs’ to find. Is this survival of the fittest in action?


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Oh I do like to be by the seaside…

Well, the unthinkable happened…we left the hostel. There were many broken hearts and tearful goodbyes to the terrible furniture and loud building work, but somehow we managed to ignore those enough to pick up our bags and leave. I say ‘we’ picked up the bags, I was in one, but still. We have now moved into our apartment, which is complete luxury in comparison. The bed is comfy, there’s a table I can sit at and Kate and Chris have just bought a massive new sofa/sofa bed so I can see I’ll be spending a lot of my time – face down, labels up – on there.

We have had a busy week. Or Kate has, anyway, as she has to go to work every day. I have mainly been sitting in bed and exploring when they’re both out. I did the Grouse Grind a few weeks ago! For those of you that don’t know, almost 2500 steps up about 2700ft in the air up a mountain. I know I do heights, but even for me it was damn high! Luckily I snuck into one of the baby harness constructions that some ‘super moms’ had on their back. They did the whole thing (in half the time it took Chris and Kate!) with a baby and me on their back!! mental! Amazing!

I do like to be beside the sea…
We also went pedal biking…in the craziest stretch of water ever! I like water, of course, but my swimming days are long over…and even in my youth I wouldn’t have been swimming along there! – too many massive ferries, yachts, speed boats, making colossal waves and trying to drown us. It was an experience that I don’t wish to repeat!, reminded me of my duckling days!

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