Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bell's going to ring Hear the alarms

They tell us that the economy's in a state, that jobs are at risk and that we should all do all we can to help avoid a double-dip recession. That's all well and good, but what can you do when tradesmen can't be bothered to accept a large job?

Our house needs rewiring; that's quite a big job, and will earn an electrician several thousand pounds, so you'd think people would be keen to take it on. We're always told to get at least three quotes, so we asked our friends for recommendations and also looked in the phone book. We generally prefer to use local independent businesses rather than franchises, and five out of the six companies I called were just that.

We were very surprised that three of them never returned my calls (I rang several times over the course of a month in case they were on holiday), and of the three that came to survey the job only one has submitted an estimate, despite the other two both saying they'd "put it in the post on Monday" when we chased them after waiting a week to hear from them. The only one who seems to want the work is the electrician from the franchise, so the job's his.

The electricians who lied to us and wasted our time are N.J.P. Electrics and M.G.F. Electrical. Don't offer them work - they're not interested.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

You've got to pick a pocket or two

Poor old Piggy; what a thing to happen to a gentleman of mature years! We opted for the surgery, and it was done on Monday. We were terribly anxious, especially as the blood tests showed that his liver isn't functioning quite right, but as his kidney function was normal (very good in a dog his age) we went for it. He was, not unnaturally, rather sorry for himself that evening when he was home (his expression reminded us of the Skecksis from the Dark Crystal) but luckily seems to be making a good recovery. He looks very strange from behind, because he used to be quite a well-endowed fellow, and now is rather ... flappy. But that should improve with time. I hope.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Son, you are a bachelor boy

The son in this instance is Piglet, about whom we have to make a decision. Daisy, you see, is a little girl who will, in a few months time, become a Big Girl in an interesting condition, which will make having the two of them in the same house one of the visions of hell. There is absolutely no way that Piggy can be allowed to gain his manhood, but I have little doubt he'll disagree and will work himself into a terrible state of stress which would be very bad for him at his time of life.

We've been running through the options:

1. Piglet could be boarded somewhere for those few weeks. The disadvantages of this are that I wouldn't trust just anyone enough to look after him properly; Piglet's tricky at the best of times and being away with strangers ... I don't think so. He's never been in kennels - I don't think it'd be fair. Boy might be able to have him at his place - he's the only person I'd trust.

2. Daisy goes away - I know from experience how careful you need to be with in-season bitches; not many people do. Kennelling would be out of the question for her - the trauma to the other dogs there of such a tantalising aroma adding to the usual kennel stress would be very unkind.

3. One of two options for Piglet; chemical or surgical castration. The surgical option is the most certain, but at nearly 12 he's not a good anaesthetic risk although he's very fit and it's not a long operation. It would, after a few weeks, guarantee that he wouldn't be able to sire pups, although the desire and ability to try aren't always lost.

The chemical option - an implant called Suprelorin - is supposed to be good; I've had both good and bad reports of it. It takes between 3 and 6 weeks to take effect and lasts about 5 or 6 months before fertility starts to return. Again the desire isn't always lost.

I'm dithering about what would be best longterm. We can't possibly have puppies; just keeping them apart will be a nightmare of noise and stress; but I don't want to risk Piglet's health. We've got about a month to decide.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another pleasant valley Sunday

Daisy had a really good day today, despite starting it at 5.30 which had this result by 9 o'clock ...

She still hasn't overcome her carsickness, so we're trying to do short journeys which end in something fun, so that the car begins to be associated with Good Things. She's stopped the desperate salivation at the mere sight of the car keys, so that's an improvement.

Today the weather was gorgeous so we decided to indulge ourselves; a ploughman's, with a well-kept pint, in a pub garden sounded ideal. The dogs were loaded in the car and off we went to Wroxton, a chocolate-box village near Banbury. When we arrived (before she'd been sick, hurrah!) we reckoned a walk in the fresh air would cheer her up - luckily we know the footpaths (to several geocaches!) fairly well, and both dogs enjoyed running through the long grass and flowering Ladies Bedstraw, stretching their legs after the albeit short car journey. We met a couple walking their dog who was only 8 months old, and she and Daisy had a wonderful game whilst Piglet looked on, doing the canine equivalent of rolling his eyes and sighing heavily.

By this time the pub (the North Arms) was calling us

and we made our way to the only empty table in the beer garden. Now, normally when we go anywhere with the dogs it's to the accompaniment of children's voices crying "Ooh, dalmatian, a dalmatian, look, a dalmatian!" sounding very like a flock of seagulls. Which is why were surprised to hear a child say "Oh no, I don't like dogs". Tough luck, we thought - they're on the lead, behaving perfectly - shut up and deal with it. The child's mother, on the next table, told us he was afraid of dogs. "Oh dear, that's a shame" I said, smiling at the brat, saying "Don't worry, we won't let them off the lead so you'll be perfectly all right." And he was - it was his mother who was teaching him her fear; the child was actually quite interested in them, asking all sorts of questions ("Do you know how many spots they've got?" "If she's 4 months old, how old is that for a person?" and so forth). I hope we helped him override his mother's influence even a little bit.

By the time our food was ready (the ham took a while because it had only just been cooked and had to cool down slightly) another table, with an umbrella against the hot sun, had become available so we took our quiet, calm dogs and moved away from the noisy disruptive children to enjoy our lunch in peace.

By this time Daisy was quite tired and full of the lunch I'd brought for her, so was on a charm offensive, gently kissing everyone who wanted to say hello to her, and offering them a paw, and won everyone over. Poor Piggy didn't get much of a look in; nobody notices the elderly gent when there's a pretty little girl around.

She wasn't sick on the homeward journey either, so the good experiences of the outing (a fun walk in an exciting new place but with Piggy for security, playing a proper game with another puppy, watching children and learning they're not Dangerous, making friends with Strangers - all of enormous benefit when learning about Life.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Let's watch the flowers grow

"The stately Lady-Hollyhock
Has graced my garden-bed for years,
Sedately stiffened in a frock
All frills and ruffles to her ears
Sarah J. Day

Several times in the past I've tried to grow hollyhocks; they're high among my favourite cottage garden flowers, tall and stately and beautiful colours. But every time I've failed; they've either been eaten by slugs, or hit by frost before they were established, or didn't like the soil or succumbed to rust. However because they flourish in the village, even growing in cracks in the pavement, i knew the soil suited them, so two years ago we collected seed from the feral plants and sowed them. They dutifully germinated, were hardened off and planted out last year when we'd finished the new fence.

And they survived! They were sprayed against rust every so often but otherwise pretty much let alone. They coped with the harsh December with its sub-zero temperatures for weeks on end, and valiantly flourished in the warm spring. One even reached a height of at least eight feet.

Because they were random seeds we had no idea what colours they'd be; among the parent plants were yellows, whites, reds and many shades of pink; and of course being hybrids they could turn out any colour, which made planning the colour scheme a real gamble. But it paid off. The four plants made a very pleasing row of dark red, cerise, salmon pink and pink blush in order of density of hue.

The front garden's only tiny but I can't tell you how much pleasure the success of the hollyhocks has given me.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Give me your answer, do

She's growing up.

Daisy, 4 weeks

Daisy, 6 weeks

Daisy, 12 weeks

Daisy, 15 weeks

Sunday, June 19, 2011

She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam

No pictures - I had enough to cope with, doing a journey of more than five hundred yards with a car-sick puppy to worry about a camera - but today was a satisfactorily complete day, although nothing went entirely to plan, which in itself made it just right.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the departure from this stage of existence of our friend henry, so a few of us decided to make an Expedition to his first ever geocache and visit the spot nearby where his ashes are buried. For us this involved taking a car-sick puppy on a long car journey, followed by a long walk (when she's only been allowed outside the garden for 2 days, and is limited to 15-minute walks). We delayed our departure till three hours after her breakfast, so that she got some of the benefit of it, and fair play to hre she lasted for an hour before she threw up the first time. By the time we eventually arrived at the meeting-point (Nelly, you did say meet at Tanner's Lane, I've triple-checked) she'd bee sick a few more times and was feeling very sorry for herself. So was I.

Once we'd located each other with the echoes of "Why does nothing ever fuc 'scuse me, doorbell" ringing in our ears, finding the cache went smoothly ... until we realised that the bottle of cider (of which more anon) had succumbed to the law of gravity and emptied itself downhill ... (Why does nothing etc).

Then we set about locating henry's resting place to plant a replacement tree for him, the original one having failed to thrive. For an hour we searched, first with muttered curses which gradually became more audible as the frustration levels grew. We rang his sister to double-check the location - yes, we were in the right place - and the search continued. By this time I was sitting on the ground ("Am I sitting on him?") and finally called out "Come on henry, where are you?". No more than 20 seconds later Andy cried "Victory!!" a mere four feet from where we'd been standing around for ages. If only we'd asked him sooner where he was! I bet he was chortling at us! The cider? The last few drops were sprinkled onto the tree as a libation, sending our good wishes to our friend.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I didn't know what day it was

May 15th

Heathrow Terminal 5 is a disaster. Despite being built only recently it's shabby, dated and user-unfriendly. It was obviously designed by someone who flies a lot and so knows the ropes, and who is wealthy or well-connected enough not to have to fly cattle-class. They really should have tested it out on guinea-pigs like us who haven't a clue - and we weren't the only ones getting confused.

1. Why on earth would you have direction signs for Baggage Reclaim (which you're not allowed to go to before being dealt with by immigration) before you get to the signs for Immigration?

2. Why on earth aren't the signs for UK/EU passports and Other passports clearly differentiated?

3. Why don't the new biometric passport-recognition machines, designed to save time, work? (To be fair, passport photos are bad enough, but after a 10-hour night flight you look even worse than your picture.)

4. Why, once you've negotiated Immigration (1 person manning two desks, with two people on another, isn't efficient) and make your way to Baggage Reclaim (the directions for which are harder to find now that you need them) is there no large, clear sign as soon as you enter the huge hall as to which carousel your luggage should be deposited on?

After the comfort, cleanliness and efficiency of Vancouver airport, this is an embarrassment.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Trains and boats and planes

May 14th; Day 15

Our last day in Canada; this is a lovely place and we're rather sorry to be going home. We checked out after breakfast, leaving our luggage at the hotel to collect later because our flight isn't till this evening. We took the car to fill it up (Ned cleverly guessed very accurately how much petrol we needed) and returned it to the hire company. Delivering it took more time than anticipated because four enormous cruise ships had docked in the same area and were disgorging 19,000 passengers into the city. Thankfully there were plenty of traffic controllers managing the umpteen cars, coaches and taxis.

That done, the rest of the day was our own. It was a bit showery so we strolled through the shops. The Granville Street/Canada Place area is similar to Regents Street/Oxford Street in London; lovely stuff but we could only afford to window-shop, and then only if we didn't stop for long. We were delighted to find the Hudson's Bay Company shop still has an area, albeit small, where they have their famous blankets ($350!!) and canoes. Ned took some convincing that we wouldn't be able to take one as hand luggage.

There was a very extravagantly-decorated VW beetle parked at the side of the road;

obviously the owner is a Canucks (Vancouver Ice-hockey team) supporter. To be fair, though, I think it's compulsory. The Stanley Cup is on (it seems to be on a par with the FA Cup) and every bar has a TV showing ice-hockey.

By lunchtime the sun had come out again and after indulging in a Starbucks we spent a very pleasant hour sitting on a bench in the sun at English Bay, soaking up the sun and listening to the waves on the sand.

On our way back to collect our luggage to head to the airport we stopped at the weird, creepy set of statues on the corner. I don't know what they're supposed to be about but I think they're horrid!

We were slightly puzzled to discover that the Skytrain (an excellent underground/overground rail system, spotlessly clean, and totally automated so there's no driver. The unions here would never allow it) tickets are $7.50 from the airport to the city, but only $2.50 from the city to the airport.

Things we've learned about Canada:

1. The natives are friendly

2. The drivers are courteous; they give way to pedestrians, obey the speed limit and hardly ever use their horns

3. The light switches are upside down

4. People are capable of either using litter bins or taking their litter home for disposal

5. There are lots of TV channels but not much worth watching (unless you like ice hockey. Needs must, and we got quite keen)

6. Recycling and 'green' concerns are very high on the agenda; even TV adverts stress the eco-friendliness of the products

7. The buses have cycle racks on the front

8. We like it and want to come back

Saturday, June 04, 2011

I would walk 500 miles

May 13th: Day 14

Friday the Thirteenth. We had a disturbed night last night; at 4.30 am the phone rang in the room next door. And rang and rang. And rang some more then stopped. Then it rang again a few times then stopped. Then it did it again. Then someone started knocking on their door. Honestly, if you've arranged an alarm call the least you could do is acknowledge it.

As it was another beautiful day we drove over the Lions Gate Bridge again to North Vancouver and after visiting a Wal-Mart (just to see what it was like; yes, it's Asda) we went to Lynn Canyon. Many people have heard of the Capilano suspension bridge, but there's another one here which has far fewer visitors. It's slightly smaller, but still wobbly enough to give me the heebie-jeebies!

This is a beautiful place with lovely trails along the river which gushes through a gorge and over rocks.

We thought about dropping off the hire car on our way back but had quite a lot to carry so went back to the hotel to unload. We strolled to a little shop around the corner that was advertising 'Bubble tea', which we'd heard about years ago and were intrigued to try. It's very strange; imagine iced milky tea with large purple tapioca 'bubbles'. You have to suck really hard and then the tapioca bubbles suddenly shoot up the straw and nearly choke you. Interesting, but not something I'd choose to repeat.

Then for some reason we chose to carry on our stroll to find out where we should drop the car off; behind the commercial streets there are lovely residential areas, so it made a pleasant walk. We found out where the car needed to be left, and located a garage to fill it up (another challenge; in BC the law is that you pay for your petrol before it's been dispensed, so when you don't know how big your tank is but it needs to be completely filled you have to be good at guessing). Then of course we had to walk back to pick the car up again. That was too much for me - I'm surprised my feet weren't bleeding. We'll drop it off tomorrow.

Friday, June 03, 2011

I walk the line

12th May: Day 13

Today the weather was beautiful again - it certainly isn't boring and predictable! - so we decided to drive inland to Harrison Hot Springs up the Fraser River, both to see a bit of more rural Canada and hopefully visit some of the places that RWH would have known. We only got lost once finding our way out of Vancouver (although we thought we must have got lost when driving through the town of Langley when, instead of the main Highway 1A that we were on - and was a straight road with no turnings - we were in a narrow shopping street. But no, it was still the main road. Bizarre.) Once at Harrison we enjoyed a wander around (failing to find a couple of caches) and visiting the hot spring itself. And yes, that water is really hot - the sign said it's 140ºF coming out of the ground.

All around the edge of the public pool, which says it's fed with water piped from the hot spring but it seemed to be low tide for our visit, there are memorial benches placed so that people can sit and enjoy the view over the lake.

Only two of the people remembered on the plaques were older than us. How depressing.

On the return journey we made a slight detour to a place called Sumas, right on the Canada/US border. RWH wrote a letter home from here on 5th May 1859, so we nearly got the date right for the anniversary. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to be able to get to 'Boundary Road' and take a photo to show that the cleared border line is still maintained. It seems to be colder in America than in Canada, judging by the snow!

We didn't have time to visit Fort Langley - a settlement that RWH knew well and which has been reconstructed on the original foundations; that'll have to wait till next time.

Tonight we went round the corner to eat at the Banana Leaf on Denman Street, a Malayan restaurant. You don't make reservations; when you arrive you write your name and number in your party on a blackboard by the door, and when a suitable table becomes available it's your turn. An odd system but it seems to work well; and the food was lovely. Thoroughly recommended.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

When you're on the street

11th May: Day 12

A damp, drizzly day to say goodbye to Vancouver Island and return to the mainland. It was a very calm crossing and the short drive from the ferry terminal over the Lions Gate bridge (gosh, that's high!) into Stanley Park and back to our hotel (the same one as at the beginning of the holiday) was wet but uneventful. It's funny; when we were here last week the hotel seemed quite swish. Now in comparison with some of the others (the last one in particular) it seems almost ordinary - although it's still very comfortable!

After checking in we went for another explore, despite the rain, this time taking the little ferry (very like the ones we saw in Victoria) over to Granville Island, watching cormorants fishing for weed then flying up to build their nests beneath the road bridge high above the river. This odd little place is home to a great number of art galleries and up-market craft-type shops.

We saw lots of wonderful stuff, but you need to be rich! It's very much an outlet for quality artisan products, not tat.

Then rather than take the ferry back we managed to find our way through a housing area (stopping to read the notice warning about the presence of coyotes!) to the steps up to the road bridge - gosh, that's another high one - back over the river to the main part of the city.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some people might say my life's in a rut

May 10th; Day 11

It was cooler today, our last full day on the Island and we decided to go and visit the local(ish) caves at Horne Lake. We were told that we needed to leave the Highway at Exit 75, and as we got on at Exit 60 we were prepared for a long drive. However it turned out to be the next junction; it was only at this point we realised that the exits are numbered according to how many kilometres they are from the start. This must be a cause for great confusion for Canadians visiting the UK!

The cave tour was great! There was only Ned and me and the two guides, Miles (from Alberta) and Sean (or Wayne - why is it I always get those names muddled?) from Australia. When they came out to meet us you could see their spirits sinking at the prospect of taking a middle-aged couple who'd probably be real drips. They soon changed their minds when, on the steep hike up to the cave entrance Ned and I set a brisk pace and the boys got out of breath trying to keep up; we were quietly amused.

It wasn't a cave tour like Wookey Hole, with walkways and ropes and atmospheric lighting. This involved helmets and headtorches and scrambling ("Make sure you always maintain three points of contact and don't touch the calcite"). We were very proud to uphold the honour of the Empire and didn't slip or get claustrophobic or scared in the dark!

Many of the stalagmites and stalactites are given names, some being more fanciful than others. The 'howling wolf' was okay at the right angle as was the 'bacon slices'. There was one unnamed one that reminded me very much of Nursey (from Blackadder)'s fancy-dress cow outfit.

The 'Buddha' formation (if you look carefully)

Miles and Sean/Wayne were very impressed and told us that we'd have been fine on the longer tour that involves a lot more squeezing, but I'm not sure they were right!

Something that struck us as being rather odd. They do several types of tour of the cave systems; the 'family' one that we did, the 'Wet & Wild Adventure', the 'High Adventure' and 'Extreme Rappel' and, bizarrely, night caving. Bearing in mind that it's pitch dark in the caves even in the middle of the day I really can't see the point of going at night.

Monday, May 30, 2011

And all that rat-race noise down in the street

9th May: Day 10

Another beautiful day, so after breakfast (everything is so 'healthy' here - everything is multigrain this, organic that) we decided to walk a short local trail to stretch our legs after yesterday's drive. It was only about 5k through the woods and along 'Englishman's River' - naturally getting a few caches along the way!

Looking out for bears

Later on we got back into the car and drove a short way to the village of Coombs where in summer one of the attractions is

Unfortunately it's a bit too early in the season for them to have been put up there, but we saw them in the field behind.

So we had lunch instead. We shared a bun called a 'beesting' which, being full of cream and covered in toffee, restored our junkfood levels back to normal.

The store is wonderful and a proper little tourist-trap; it sells local groceries, speciality foods (it has a stand of English goods), quality toys and non-tat souvenirs. In the adjoining courtyard there are other small arts-and-crafts type shops; really nice to look around. The temperature was up to 17°C - practically scorchio!

On the road again

8th May: Day 9

Today we left Tofino in brilliant sunshine to drive back the way we came to Parksville for a three-night stay. The sky was a clear blue and the sunshine was bright, which made the drive very pleasant. The road that had appeared to be downhill all the way didn't seem to be particularly uphill on the return - it seems hard to believe it was an optical illusion,but either that or this little car has a much more powerful engine than we thought. It was a shame that we had a few cars behind us so we couldn't stop and take photos, especially when Ned suddenly shouted "Bear!!". There it was, just on the other side of the concrete barrier at the side of the road. As the road is single carriageway, stopping to take a picture probably wasn't a good idea! But we were thrilled to have seen a real live wild black bear.

When we drove through the snowy area we did stop to take pictures:

but the snow was very crystalline and a bit rubbish for snowballs which is why the one I threw at Ned fell apart in mid-air.

Then we saw some poo on the snow; being in the middle of nowhere it was unlikely to be dog poo, but it definitely looked like carnivore poo. We got back into the car.

We found the Tigh-na-Mara hotel without a problem; our room here is amazing! There are a lot of little log cabins in the grounds, but we have a 'suite' on the top of a three-storey log cabin block.

(It only looks two-story but it's on a slope and the ground floor is lower than ground level, if you see what I mean.)
We have a sitting-room with a log-effect gas fire, a fully-fitted kitchen as well as a beautiful bedroom.

And a terrific view from the balcony.

Canadian TV is strange; there's no discernible moment when an advert break begins or ends, and with some programmes that can lead to great confusion!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

He bravely turned his tail and fled

7th May: Day 8

The weather being rather better today we decided to explore a bit of the Pacific Rim National Park. The coastline is wonderfully rugged and unspoilt, and has marvellous long sandy beaches with trees coming right down to the shore.

The driftwood is rather different to what we're used to seeing ...

We were discussing how the scenery looks just like in the movies, where bears come to the shore to feed - this got us briefly edgy, but we soon put it to the back of our minds. I don't know why we were so surprised to come across this notice:

We decided that the onward path didn't look as interesting as we'd first thought, and that retracing our steps looked the much nicer option. Later that evening at dinner we were told that bears (and cougars! Nobody mentioned cougars!) quite often stroll across the grass just outside the rooms. It’d be wonderful to see one, but not meet one face to face outdoors! I'd be very nervous if we were at the campsite a couple of hundred yards away.

Later on we paddled in the Pacific - well you have to, don't you? - goodness it was cold! But quite nice once your feet and ankles had gone numb.

An Englishman Abroad

Driving back we spotted this sign. Hurrah!

One minor mishap occurred when, although teabags were provided there was no kettle, only a coffee-maker. Obviously a coffee-maker doesn't get the water nearly hot enough to make tea, and a request at reception soon resulted in a kettle being provided. Who'd have thought that Pyrex mugs wouldn't cope with boiling water? As he tea was brewing one went "pop" and neatly broke in half, pouring scalding tea over the floor. When we reported the breakage to the management we were told that using a teapot might be a good idea. We agreed - but what a shame we didn't have one!

What a beautiful spot.