Duck’s soapbox

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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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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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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Dear Canada, please make some more noise

It’s been exactly 7 days since our arrival in sunny Vancouver and I have to say, things have been as great as we expected. Even better in some ways (amazing weather) but less great in others (I have to live in a carrier bag most of the time in case the bed bugs get me!). Maybe it’s just adjusting to city living after suburban Surrey but MY GOD IT’S NOISY HERE. Kate and Chris managed to pick the noisiest road in the world to stay on – there’s an apartment block being built just across the street, they appear to be demolishing the building we’re staying in brick by brick, it’s a road that attracts a lot of beeping horns and – best of all – buskers on drumkits!! No I am not joking. The effort that must go in to transporting and setting up a drumkit for busking must be immense and, to be fair, unless you are Mick Fleetwood, drums on their own sound shit not very musical. Especially after a day of constant banging and booming – though I am starting to make little duck songs out of the blare of the pneumatic drill!

In other news, food here is beyond amazing almost without exception. Kate and Chris set themselves a target of $80 a day for food and any other activities – like roller blading round Stanley Park, me in the bicycle basket! – and we have all dined like kings for that. Hand pulled noodles, amazing burgers, yam fries, design your own pasta and frozen cocktails. Haven’t had any duck yet, but there’s still time! – by the time we get back, Heston Blumenthal is gonna be putting me in his new restaurant!


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I’ll help you carry on

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

This is the song I have been singing to Kate all week as she has been getting overwhelmed with the sheer amount of things to sort out before our trip. I’ve done my best to calm her down, pack her up and move her out and we are now at a more peaceful place in our journey. Certain things we have learned:

1. Make lists, then make another one, and then make another and then put it on a calendar.
We all sat down (me, Kate, Chris and Ted) and contributed to a giant list. Chris being Chris, he tried to stop the creative flow at point 5 but we persevered and got to a more realistic 25 points! From that we made another list which linked related tasks and prioritised our items and THEN we drew out a calendar for the next three weeks and put the tasks in. This would have been a great idea until we saw that most of the tasks had to be done in the first 5 days! Cue Kate-faint number 1! We then colour coded responsibility for each item (I had important contributions like ‘be blue’ and ‘sit still doing nothing’) and we were off. I have to say, lying in bed sitting here at the other end of the mammoth week, it did work well.

2. It takes longer than you think to clean a 1 bed flat and we have been living in filth without realising
So far, the time tally is racking up on the cleaning front. Kate has spent the about equivalent of 2 days cleaning and scrubbing and bleaching. We have also realised that if you have to clean this much to move out, why weren’t we cleaning this much while we were actually living there?! I’m not going to highlight this fact anymore – I’m not a big one for cleaning as the bleach makes my wings wrinkly.

3. Looking forward doesn’t stop you looking back
I think it goes without saying that we’re all very excited about our trip. Especially now we’re packed and more on our way. However, I think we’ve also learned that no matter how excited we might be, it doesn’t stop the feeling of sadness that something special has come to an end. I know Kate feels like that about her job and it has tinged this part of our trip with a bit of sadness. However, lovely quote is helping us to move on –

You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present. ~Jan Glidewell

So we may keep glancing back, but eyes (and wings!) now turned to the present.

So, many useful things learnt over the last few weeks, which we will hopefully use over the next year with our strange lives. I’ll need a new skin at this rate! Get knitting granny!


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Mr Creosote comes to China Palace

The difference between ‘eat all you like’ and ‘all you can eat’ may only be one word but the meaning is so much deeper. Case in point, watching Chris work his way through a menu in a Chinese restaurant, ‘sampling’ (polishing off!) most of the menu. His mentality was different even to the above definitions – he was going for ‘eat as much as you can’ which, on witnessing it, I can say was a hugely disgusting task. As he threw another piece of crispy shredded beef into his waiting mouth and half chewed it, even the staff were beginning to notice his perseverance. The waitress tried to take it away before it was finished for his own good and almost had her arm bitten off too. He spooned in some special fried rice straight from the bowl, bypassing the plate, lazily dabbing at flecks of an unrecognisable sauce that had splattered his face Pollock style. He looked tortured as he finished off the special rice and turned to face the egg fried rice leftovers, upending the bowl into his plate with some style and effort. By now, he was eating with his fingers, face close to the plate so it was less effort to make the long journey to his half-open mouth. Hair covered in bits of rice, he finished off the last of the beef with a sigh of accomplishment, not satisfaction. It was more about the challenge than satiating any hunger, that had long passed. He proceeded to ask for a tap water three times and finished his long meal by chomping on the ice and massaging his swollen digestive system while moaning quietly.

But it’s ok because he didn’t have any crispy duck pancakes.


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Posh? Or just getting standards in my old age?

I always considered myself a bit of a working class Duck, as my whole purpose in life is to be a life-partner style companion to Kate. A Duck-in-Waiting, if you will. So, because of this, I thought I might feel a little out of place at Royal Ascot on Saturday when I had the opportunity to go. I got myself all dressed up, made sure there were enough skins layers to keep me warm, and set off.

I have to say, my initial impression was one of great excitement and anticipation. I was surrounded by beautifully turned out ladies and gentlemen, top hats and tails and everything! Bottles of champagne popped around my ears and I basked in this glimpse into the upper echelons of society, enjoying a window into their world. This.did.not.last.long!

We strolled through to the main part, where we were going to daintily sit around eating crumpets and drinking tea (or something like that), but when the man on the ticket gate took our raspberry liqueur off us because it was ‘spirits’ (come off it!), I had a sinking feeling – and I’m a Duck…sinking feelings tend to be bad! This was further compounded when we got in and were instantly engulfed by a huge crowd of mingling people (and a husband and wife having a tearful row) struggling to find a tiny patch of grass that we could call home for the following 4 racing hours. When we eventually found a tiny patch miles away from everywhere and still surrounded by people, we were able to place our bets in peace. This lasted all of 15 minutes when, out of nowhere, slices of bread flew through the air. Then half a French stick. Then a Ginsters pasty landed in the middle of our picnic food. Hmm. Our afternoon was punctuated by a variety of different baked goods landing on or near our picnic area, groups of inebriated fellows plumbing the depths of the English language and then followed up by witnessing a  fist fight on the way back to the car-park. The only conclusion I can draw from this experience is that working class or no working class, I may be too much of a snob to enjoy Royal Ascot. I think I need to go up in the world…how do you get tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show? I think that may be more my scene.



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Introducing a new duck to our herd…swarm…pack….


Hmmm! Apparently it depends on the type of duck. We have some fairly exotic ways of identifying ourselves in the plural form…badelynge, bunch, brace, flock, paddling, raft or team. It’s also possible to have a ‘dover’ of ducks…Yep, I’ve never heard of many of those either. Not sure about ‘team’ – it seems a bit sad, a bit ‘Gooo Team Duck’ – not really my scene. But if it depends on the type of duck, then therein lies the problem we face – the new addition to our ….family…. of ducks is a different breed to me! In all honesty, I don’t quite know what I am, but the new thing is yellow, big and wears a hat (see photo). We’re fairly different, all things considered, so our collective may have to wait until we identify our relationship to each other!

Our new addition is called Saffy (short for Saffron and rhymes with Daffy…as in Duck) ‘cos he’s yellow. Yes, another key bit of info there, he’s a boy too. I can already see that we’re going to be great friends, especially as he’s volunteered to go on a lot of the photo opps that I was worried about doing. And he’s lent his lovely new, green labels to me. They are of excellent quality and will suit me down to the ground.

Having just done a quick Wikipedia of different collective nouns, there are some excellent phrases. I think my favourite is a ‘rabble’ of butterflies – surely that couldn’t be further from the floaty truth? I also liked a ‘gulp’ of cormorants, or a ‘murder’ of crows. Now that one is appropriate….bloody hate crows. Another couple of gems – a ‘piteousness’ of doves (haha, stupid beautiful doves!), a ‘whoop’ of gorillas and a ‘bloat’ of hippopotamuses. A ‘smack’ of jellyfish and a ‘scream’ of swifts. After discussion with Saffy, we’re going to be serious contenders in the duck world….we are going to adopt the collective ‘mob’ (SO much better than a ‘knob’ of wildfowl…seriously!).

So…on that note….”Introducing a new duck, Saffy, to our mob”. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of you in the future!


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Bit political for the dads – Duck gets serious

Well, finally, after 11 years of declining, Alistair Campbell deigned to grace the BBC 1 show HIGNFY with his godly presence. And better than that, it was one of the most political weeks for ‘Old Labour’ since they fell from power. And even better than that, Ian Hislop’s tiny face looked so delighted all the way through, I thought it would break in half horizontally. I couldn’t help but smile. And that takes a lot cos it loosens my stitching!

Hislop giggled his way through a constant onslaught of character assassination, innuendo and brute force abuse. It was hilarious for two reasons – one, because it was amusing to watch Humourless Alistair Campbell try desperately to play along, completely out of his depth. But, more importantly, it felt like a bit of sweet justice – Ian Hislop held Old Labour to account much more than any inquiry ever did. I guess that’s why Kate pays her licence fee – the BBC can still show, at times, an irreverence and satire that hits the spot for audiences. Sometimes we don’t want impartiality, we want a full-scale war. Not on Iraq though, as Hislop pointed out.
If I actually liked Campbell, I’m sure I would have disagreed with everything about it. But I’m also sure that complaints like that will be few and far between. And they’ll probably be from Liberal Demoncrats who don’t agree with the tone of the show on principle. Sometimes that’s what it takes to show people they’re not invincible.

The main downside about the Campbell Onslaught is that now Tony Blair will NEVER do it! #wastedopportunity

To lighten the heavy mood, I thought I’d share a classic track for you to disco to…enjoy!
*8 and a half weeks*

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