Sunday, 30 August 2015

Lending to the Library

If you were to visit my house you wouldn't take me for a bookworm.  I have no floor to ceiling shelves filled with everything that I've ever read. A nosey parker might eventually find the cupboard where my recipe and craft books are kept. There's a few inspirational volumes by my bed and whatever I'm currently reading  sits there too.  That's all.  I'm not really a re-reader so once a book is finished it leaves the house, given to friends or donated to charity.

In a further canny space saving deal, all my textbooks are kept at work.  Let the NHS bear the cost of their storage. On the flip side they've become a resource that my colleagues and passing students can share.  There was uproar recently when the swanky but cash strapped Birmingham library asked for book donations.  But I think that it's a great idea that could be rolled out nationwide.  In a country where the survival of our libraries is threatened this could be one of the money saving schemes that put a halt to closures.   And once a person has donated a book it doesn't mean that they wouldn't be able to read it again.  All they'd have to do was pop along with their ticket and borrow it!

Saturday, 29 August 2015


Whilst I'm in the largely Internet free zone of Yellowstone I thought that I'd share  some pictures from that time a few days back when I was having difficulty downloading photos. They're reminders of moments spent with happy kids. Now in Pike Place Market there's a very famous fishmongers stall. Each time someone makes a purchase the stall holders throw the fish around and sing.  There's also a rubber monkfish on a wire.

My boy has a decidedly mischievous streak.  I admire that in him. He found the wire back here and had a lovely time startling unsuspecting tourists.  They'd come up close, that fake fish would flap and they'd start shrieking.  Lou found that hilarious.  I have to say that I did too.

There's all sorts in Pike Place: food stalls, souvenir shops, weird exhibits.  The kids didn't want to pass by the opportunity of seeing the shoe worn by Roberts Wadlow Pershing, the World's Tallest Man, ever.  He was killed by a blister on his ankle at the age of 22.  And there's a thing.  None of us really know what is around the corner for us, good or bad.
After Pike Place we walked along Seattle Waterfront.  It's fascinating. There's touristy stuff and wharf and jetties that  have an important role to play in keeping this huge  working port alive.

Our walk ended  at Seattle Center and the Space Needle. Yay!  The most iconic of Seattle's landmarks that we kept ending up at.   We never made it to the top as it's an expensive old trip and would probably have turned out to be a short stay.
And there was more!  The evening was spent at our very first baseball game watching our new favourite team, the Seattle Mariners getting well and truly trashed.  The best fireworks ever compensated for this!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Bees Hold It In!

Catch up time!  Seeing as I might be out of e-contact with the world whilst in the pristine wilderness of Yellowstone I thought I'd schedule some posts ahead.  Here's a little pictorial tour of our trip to Science World from the first day of exploring Vancouver.  It had to be the best interactive museum that we've ever been to.  The people that run the place have a similar fascination to all things lavatorial to my one. There's poo and fart fact on the loo doors in the wash rooms.  And we came across this sign near the bee exhibit.  For a tiny creature their turds are enormous.  They must be suffering  severe abdominal pain by the time that they make it outside to powder their little noses on a sunny day.

'Ultimate Dinosaurs' is one of the temporary exhibitions running at the moment. Here's my kid next to a enormous leg of one of the beasties. His zombie like expression is down to my bad photography rather than being fearful.   I think he was rather too nonchalant.  'It's okay - this one was a vegetarian' he said. Bejesus!  If that thing had stepped on you!

Here's a rather toothier exhibit. The Gigantosaurus with an eery green glow.  As well as dinosaurs we also watched the Hidden Universe, an gobsmackingly amazing IMAX movie with incredible footage from the world's most powerful space telescopes and the story of how these images are taken.  In my next life I want to be a space scientist.

There's lots of hands on stuff to do at this place.  I was too busy playing to take loads of photos.  My better judgement must have been working just fine when I decided to forego the challenge of fitting into this small space even though I'm a bit double jointed.  Oh the indignity of having to be prised out!

A moment of peaceful reflection.  Until 14 September there's an exhibition of work by Norah Borden called Planet Earth.  I was bowled over by the beauty of these acrylic paintings.  Texturally they're wonderful and so evocative of the natural world.  Norah invites people to take a selfie with her work and post it to Twitter.  Here's mine.  Now you'll have to follow the link to Norah's website to look at this one properly.  Someone's head seems to be right in the way!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Driving Angst

Mostly over the last couple of weeks my mind has been in chilled holiday mode.  Of course this is v. good.  It needs a break from all that thinking it has to do at home.  And I really do notice a slowing down of thought processes.  My reasoning is less acute, it's harder to formulate arguments and things like performing simple arithmetic are way more tricky.  This really seems to happen. Trust me!

However there been a niggling fretfulness over the last couple of days that's disturbed this state of semi-shutdown. When this post pops up we'll be in a Yellowstone  campsite in our hire van that will be our home for the next six days.  This will be nothing quite as fancy as Klaus the Knaus' set up. We will be using the vehicle as a tent with its back seats removed.  It's because I don't fancy sleeping under campus in Grizzly territory even though I want to get a good look at those beasties from a safe distance.

Why I'm nervous is because I've never driven anything without a manual clutch before.  That's a stick shift to you Northern Americans. 'Oh but it's way easier' y'all will say.  You see I'm picking up some Americanisms grammatically too.  What if my left foot gets tetchy doing nothing?  What if I throw it into reverse by accident or press that accelerator too heavily and go flying of into a hard wall?  I'm sure it will be fine, much less tricky than when I drove a six metre left hand drive motorhome on British roads for the first time.  But being rational hasn't stopped that anxiety.  As that book title says, there's nothing for it but to feel the fear and do it anyway.  I'm sure it will be fine.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Brace Yourself Rodney

If you plan a holiday down to every minute you miss up opportunities to be spontaneous and perhaps discover something unexpected. 'You must see Chihuly Garden and Glass' messaged my East Coast friend the Second Martha Stewart.  That was not on my original 'To Do' list for Seattle but I'm so glad that we saw this inspiring attraction.

Dean Chihuly started out as a glass blower in his own right.  Now he has a team of people doing the hard work with hot air.  I was particularly taken by the chandeliers.  They were huge and would touch the floor in my home.  I watched a video of them being assembled and, being arty and highbrow, couldn't help thinking of that most memorable scene from Only Fools and Horses.  Thankfully nothing untoward happened even though people were throwing bits of blown glass around in a rather alarming manner.

I've chosen my favourite snow white exhibit but this doesn't really reflect the overall vibrancy of the amazing installations.  The colours were technicolour and truly stunning.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

All Of A Tingle

We were real touristy yesterday, basing our day around Seattle Center. the space cleared for the World Fair in 1992.  Actually we ended up afloat on Lake Union again, on board one of the Duck boats. They were built in WWII to land stuff on military ships but are now driven by crazy dudes.  Ours told us little known facts about the city.  I've been telling my US friends that R.E.M sound so much like they should be a Seattle band.  They're actually from Georgia and my friend John, who was brought up in a town nearby knows them well enough to them to greet him by name. But what do you know?  'Automatic for the People' was recorded in Bad Animals Studio downtown.  Now I knew that there was a connection to this city!

That was the first thing yesterday that sent a shiver down my spine but there was more!  I must have been particularly emotionally sensitive yesterday. I'm not sure what hit me but somehow I was incredibly moved to standing in the presence of the actual costumes from Star Wars at the EMP.   Of course, these are the habits of the Siths.

I stood less than a foot away from Woody Guthrie's guitar. This was not some fancy rock star custom made instrument but a plain old wooden thing with lots of evidence of wear and tear. Maybe it was the one that was used for busking on Seattle's streets.  I'm going to link here to my favourite Billy Bragg cover by this great songwriter.

Here's the fourth and final thing that sent me all of a flutter.  My passport has to be one of my most precious possessions because of the opportunities it affords.  But this is Jimi Hendrix's!  See all those stamps?  Now that's a guy who got around!

Monday, 24 August 2015


We've moved on to stay with another set of friends in Seattle. John aka Puget Pounder, for we all had nicknames, was a fellow thru' hiker from the Appalachian Trail of 1997 and I met his wife Julie when she came to visit him.  So we go back a long way.  There's a lot of catching up to do. We haven't seen each other for four and a half years since our last Yellowstone trip. Today's adventure was far more sedate.  Julie has to work and John took us back to the locks that we passed through in the boat yesterday on our way to Lake Union. This time we headed underneath

It's about fifteen years since I visited the salmon ladder, the path through the locks that these magnificent fish take for their final journey back to lay eggs at the exact place that they were spawned. Then I saw not a sausage...or a salmon to be exact.  It was just that little bit late in the season and they'd all passed by.

This time though we were lucky.  The Brits think that there are three types of salmon, fresh, smoked and tinned!  There's actually loads of different varieties.  These are Chinook which apparently make fine eating, until that is they've gone too far up a freshwater river.  Then their flesh starts to degrade and turn red.  Being America you could buy a cuddly version of the fish in that state in the gift shop. I have to say that these didn't seem to be a bestseller.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Deadliest Little Catch

What has been brilliant about this holiday so far is the sheer variety of what we've done; cycling one day, sightseeing another, messing about on ferry boats.  Yesterday we were invited out sailing in Puget Sound by Stephanie's boyfriend.  An itinerary was planned.  We'd head on over from the marina on Seattle's edge to one of those islands that we could see from the house, pick up crab pots put out the night before and then sail through Ballard Lock's back onto Union Lnke Marina.  Here's a suitably yachty shot of our craft on its way out to Baker Island,

Ah! the jetty where we landed.  Our skipper and first mate stayed on the boat whilst we explored the island.  We missed the drama of a powerboat crashing into the jetty at full pelt.

Instead we explored the island.  I was promised raccoons aplenty but didn't see any to add to the day's wildlife tally of a couple of seals.  I did spot some deer and a little monkey in a tree.  Later in the trip there was a porpoise, leaping salmon and a bald eagle being given a hard time by some seagulls.

We fired up the barbie on the back of the boat on our return to shore

The first crab pot that we lifted was very disappointing.  The trap was open and the bait gone.  Robbers perhaps or Houdini crab.  Here's Kyle with the second pot he lifted with the 'help' of the kids.
Success!  Six of the beasties.  All male of the Dungeness variety.  Th  I learnt how to sex a crab. It's easy. The boys have a drawing of a willy on their underside!  The girls would have been thrown back to live another day.  Apparently the success of our catch was down to the turkey bait.

Wow! Louis got brave.

Back to berth through the Ballard Locks.  They're huge but take no time to fill.  We were then on Union Lake right in the heart of the city with its houseboats and sea planes flying overhead.  I have pictures of those but my composition was nothing to write home about.   That sea air made us hungry.  It was back to the house with our catch for a glorious crabby supper!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Cat Herding in Seattle

Technology is battling against me today.  I've been wanting to show off everything that we did in an action packed day that culminated in seeing the Seattle Mariners get thrashed by the Chicago White Sox. But can I find a method that will allow me to upload photos quickly and easily? I'm being scuppered on all fronts by stroppy connectivity and a crashing laptop.

We walked and walked yesterday, first at Alki Beach in West Seatlle and then downtown starting off at Pike Place Market. The kids and I promenaded along the waterfront and ended up at the iconic Space Needle at Seattle Centre.  I was sort of in control of the two very excited kids that I was responsible for.   On our journey downtown in the car I thought that the African Art exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum  looked interesting. My eleven year old tourist guide had other ideas for our cultural and culinary edification.  'What do you want to show me in your city?' I asked eleven year old Ava after she'd introduced Louis to corn dogs when I gave her free reign of  luncheon choices.  She had no hesitation in leading us up a very dark alley to the Gum Wall, runner up to the Blarney Stone in the top 5 of the world's germiest attractions!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Small Space Vancouver

We're now in the US, at the home of our friends, John,  eleven year old Ava and their Dutch au pair Stephanie.  'We're keeping her' said Ava.   I can see why. She is lovely.  Oh I forgot to mention Jules.  I was so surprised to see him.  I first met him fifteen years  years ago when his owner, my friend Lori was still alive and he was a  one year old whippersnapper.  He was then known as the devil cat.  If you nipped to the loo in the night he'd pounce, attach himself to your leg and sink his teeth in.  I quickly learnt strong bladder control at a consequence.  In old age he has mellowed and now butter wouldn't melt.  This big ginger beastie likes nothing better than to laze aroud and be stroked.  He purrs for England, or is that America?

The house  has stunning views over the water of Puget Sound out towards Bainbridge and Baker Islands.  From the deck I've watched the ferries, sailing boats and big cargo ships come and go .  John had friends over last night for a barbecue.  The kids played hide and seek and then hunkered down in the basement TV den.  It seems a love of screen time is universal among the small set.    I haven't taken a single picture yet.    Sometimes it is good to savour time without the hindrance of preserving them photographically.  We were talking about that at one point last night.

Anyway I promised shots of the swanky  Airbnb studio in Vancouver that we left yesterday so here they are.  It was an excellent example of how, with clever design a small space can seem plenty big enough.  We couldn't have wished for more perfect base from which to explore that amazing city.  This is Louis adopting rather a swanky playboy pose in  the main living area.  With a bit of clever leverage that coffee table  can seat six for dinner. Seats are stowed away in a clever storage cube. 

Our bed folded up into the wall and behind those mirrors were big cupboards.

The kitchen seemed tiny but yet there was a full sized fridge freezer, oven, fridge and washing machine.

No shower room to save space here.  A proper bathroom with a full sized tub.  On the aquatic front there was also a swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi on the second floor.  We made use of that but didn't touch the gym.  I think that we did enough exercise outside.

And of course  that view over False Creek to die for. Little living accommodation needs lots of light and scenery that makes up for lack of wall space to hang pictures.

Finally I've popped in a random picture of Louis.  Before we came on holiday I promised him T-shirts from Canada and the US.  Here's the one he customised at the rather excellent Make shop on Granville Island.  It's going to be pretty hard to get it off him to wash!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

I Am The One In Six

Today's whale watching excursion didn't pan out. The weather here has been stunning so I thought it was a dead cert.  But what do I know? I'm no meteorologist  Our trip was cancelled because of very choppy seas.  Apparently that's the way it is around here.  If it's fine inland it often blows a hoolie out on the ocean.  So a quick change of plan had us visiting the Museum of Vancouver
where 'The Happy Show' is on until the 7th September.  I reckon fate worked it out that we should see this contemplative and engaging piece of work.  The same thing happened in Barcelona when the Sagrada Familia was too full to visit and we ended up at Miro's pad. I'm so glad we caught the exhibition that chronicles Stefan Sagmeister's search for personal happiness.

On reflection, it seems I'm doing okay in the jolly stakes. Yes, I am in the minority the 15.5% of divorced women, just under 1 in 6, who would describe themselves as very chipper.  Louis and I both scored 9/10 on the bubblegum rating scale.   He has saved his smiley gumball that this exhibit dispensed for his friend Ava who he'll be reunited with in Seattle tomorrow after four years.
This was one of a large number of great interactive pieces.  It lit up in proportion to your smiliness. So what's the secret to our cheesy grins? Louis thinks it's knowing that you're loved.   I reckon that's a pretty good answer.  The capacity for gratitude, being content with what you have and finding wonder on a daily basis have got to contribute too.  Something about flexibility was mentioned during the show, like not being too disappointed when what the planned highspot of your holiday is cancelled due to bad weather.

Here's one I worked out a few years back...the hard way! Maybe there's no bigger torment than living a lie.  Didn't some beardy bloke say that the truth would set you free?

Enough of that navel gazing stuff. Let's get onto the simple pleasures in life.  Here's three of my four yummy sample sized offerings from the Granville Island Brewery Company who make their beer on the premises.  The Maple Shack Cream Ale slipped down especially nicely.  Lou had an artisan Cream Soda.  He prefers Sprite!  I haven't been drinking much alcohol here.  In British Columbia you have to go to a naughty shop to get it.  Somehow traipsing into a liquor store with a kid, rather than dumping it in your trolley with a supermarket shop, just doesn't feel quite right. Thirsty Buddha coconut water has been my righteous tipple of choice.

What's sort of nice about Granville Island is that there's some proper industry going on, not just artisan food and craft shops catering for tourists. There's lots of boatbuilding and a cement company.  These dudes live in their yard.

Finally back to the Museum of Vancouver.  I was rather taken by this  beautiful track by Siskiyou, a Vancouver band that was playing in the background during the exhibition.  Rather melancholic but perhaps we need the contrast of wounds that never quite heal and happiness that is not quite complete.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Bikes and Belugas

Today we hired these for a little jaunt around the seawall of the glorious Stanley Park.  I was impressed with their resemblence to my beloved Raleigh Cameo from my adolescence.  Louis thought they were distinctly uncool.  He turned down the offer of a retro handlebar basket that would have added to the indignation.

I love cycling as a way of getting around to explore a new place. There was beach after gorgeous beach with their backdrop of mountains. This definitely is my kind of city and its cycle network is extensive.  It hasn't taken Vancouver long to be added to my list of places that I'd like to return to again and again.  Just a small question of working out how to find the pennies to do that!

We detoured to Vancouver Aquarium which sets incredible standards for conservation and research.   This is what greets visitors outside.

We were rather taken with the beluga whales.  The cetaceans at the aquarium  have a rigorous training programme.  Some of the aspect of their routines have been introduced so that their health can be checked. Apparently they'll give pee samples on demand!  The aquarium has a rehab programme and returns injured creatures to the wild wherever possible.  Only those that would not survive out in the big wide world remain there permanently.

I'm rather pleased with my shot of this beluga showing off!

Now I knew Louis would just fall in love with these guys who carry their young and their dinner around on their tummies.  Sea otters now rank an equal first with meerkats on his favourite list of animals.  I think that this is the old, blind one who arrived at the aquarium with gunshot wounds. He seemed pretty content in his manmade habitat.

Here's me and Louis nearing the end of our tour near the English Bay Inukshuk, the symbol for the 2010 Winter Olympics.   We survived in spite of the attempts of several novice cyclists  to run us off the road! We reckoned that we deserved a reward for all that strenuous activity and dodging old guys with a death wish.  So it was back to Bella Gelateria for huge cones.  I reckon that we could end up looking like ice creams if we stayed here too long!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Suspense, Steam and Ice Cream

In her comment the other day 50 and counting said that I wouldn't find a mountie in Vancouver city itself.  Those cops we spotted heading on over to an ATM machine were not the real article then? We had to head on over to North Vancouver to find the real McCoy.  And here he is.  Guarding the gift shop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge!

And here's the famous structure itself.  Do not run, jump or shake the bridge intentionally were the instructions.  Even crossing with care was very wibbly.  We are glad that we arrived early in the day.  On our return crossing I marvelled at the number of people that it could hold.

I was also blown away by the size of those Douglas Firs.  This was taken high up on a tree top walk and their height from there was at least the size of two normal trees.  There are special Douglas Squirrels that live in them too. I spotted one as it ran across the ground just feet from my feet!

A Douglas Fir fact: A twelve year old tree is about the same height as twelve year old Louis.  Then I guess it has an even bigger growth spurt than a teenager.

After  Capilano we came down to earth and caught the free shuttle bus back to Canada Square.  In nearby Gastown we spotted the steam clock,  a kind of time piece and kettle combo.

Those  shuttle bus drivers were really knowledgeable.  On the way out of Capilano we were shown the location of Bella Gelateria.  Its ice cream has been a winner at the gelato world championship in Italy. There was a big queue at their city centre branch but a stone's throw from our Yaletown base there is another newer and less frequented parlour on the waterfront.  'The best vanilla ice cream ever' for Louis and mine was pretty lush as well, flavoured with a familiar ingredient - Maldon seasalt  from my native Essex!