Thursday, December 24, 2009

(2004) Ready for our first Canadian Christmas

December 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Christmas Eve, and it is exactly two months since we landed. Seems like a lifetime now. Guernsey seems so far away and so long ago.

I am starting to get into the job search in a more systematic way, but I must admit I never thought it would be so difficult to break into a market where IT skills are supposed to be in demand. I've been setting up a few "informational interviews", which is a novelty to me and extremely nerve-wracking. It gives me the creeps to pick up the phone, call a complete stranger out of the blue and ask to meet with them, but it seems to be the expected thing to do here. Unfortunately, I am also getting the impression that much of the private sector is effectively a "closed shop", with most positions being handed to local people that the recruiters already know from university co-op placements or other networks. Well, it is early days yet.

In between times, we've continued to explore the region, both touristy and "local" sights. Royal BC Museum, the Wax Museum, the Maritime Museum, Witty's Lagoon, Willows Beach, and the fabulous truck parade. We also paid a visit to the famous Butchart Gardens to see the Christmas lights. As this will be right on our doorstep when we move into our house, we decided to take out a twelve month pass. I'm sure we will be visiting many times in the months to come.

On one of our trips I got talking to a chap who turned out to be an independent IT consultant. He confirmed what I'd already heard about the local job market, but was also confident that persistence would pay off. And he mailed me a list of contacts to follow up.

Well, we are all set now for our first Canadian Christmas. The tree looks fantastic in the apartment, with presents for the kids underneath it, and we've been invited for dinner tomorrow by friends we met camping eight years ago so we will see how real Canadians celebrate. There are snacks out for Santa and the reindeer, and it is time for bed. No knowing how early we'll be up tomorrow!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Not a bad dog, for a cat

One of our cats, Tigger, is a great big affectionate softy. When he and his brother, Tubbs, pale-ginger nearly-twins, are lying together in the sun, they would not look out of place in the Serengeti.

Despite appearances Tigger still has kittenish tendencies, like reaching through the banisters to swat you as you walk down the stairs.

But he also seems to think he is a dog sometimes.

He follows Megan and Matthew down the driveway to the bus stop each morning. And he often meets them coming home again.

A few times, he's hopped into the car when Ali has been taking the kids somewhere, and he's gone along for the ride. Cats don't usually enjoy that.

This afternoon, I took Gypsy for a walk. I got about a hundred yards up the road when I looked back. There was Tigger, trotting up the hill after us. I carried on walking, thinking he'd stop and turn back. Nope! Another hundred yards and it was obvious he wanted to come for a walk too!

As I was getting near a busier road, I had to phone Ali and get her to come and collect Tigger to take him back home, otherwise who knows how far he might have gone?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

(2004) Settling in

December 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

We both passed our BC driving tests you'll be happy to hear. Although not half as happy as us! When you go in to take your test, they take your UK licence off you, and you don't get it back if you fail! So, just to be safe, Ali didn't book her test until I'd passed mine.

We have also made our second major purchase - a new car. We went for a Ford Expedition. Huge great thing by our standards, although I suspect it wouldn't be too out of place in the country lanes of St. Saviours, where vehicle size seems to be inversely proportional to road width. One of the reasons for something this big is pulling power. We plan to go camping, and eventually we plan to buy a trailer (that's 'caravan' to you English) so we decided to start off with a suitable vehicle.

I did say 'eventually'. Right now, with the proceeds of our house sale sitting in the bank in Guernsey, twenty or thirty thousand on a trailer seems like nothing, even after accounting for the balance to pay on our new house. But we know we have a lot of more important things to buy, and I'm sure there will be significant expenses that we haven't yet taken into account, plus we don't know how long it will take me to get a job. The scary thing is that we can easily gain or lose that kind of money just on exchange rate variations from one week to the next. Let's hope for a strong British pound for the next month or so!

Now we know where we will be living next year, we've registered Matthew into a pre-school in Sidney, and Megan into kindergarten at McTavish school. Ali researched a number of pre-schools in the area, and Matthew was immediately at home in this one which was pretty much the deciding factor.

For Megan, we'd toyed with the idea of French Immersion, but everyone we'd spoken to here said that the system was highly over-rated. Also, the nearest school offering French Immersion was ten kilometres away and had no bus service from our area. In the end, we felt that it was more important for our kids to mix with children from the neighbourhood. One thing we are worried about is her getting bored at school. Before we left Guernsey, she was already in full time schooling and her reading and writing was highly advanced. We've found that the Canadian system starts off a lot slower, so while Megan is happily writing whole paragraphs of full sentences in a journal each day, some of her peers are only just learning to write their own names.

We are now all set for our first Canadian Christmas. We've been steadily stocking up on gifts for the kids, and our landlady kindly lent us a box of decorations. On our regular visits from downtown up to the Peninsula, we've driven past a Christmas tree farm, so we went and got ourselves a real tree. We drove very carefully back down the highway with it tied to the roof of the car. We still had the rental vehicle at that time - you didn't think we'd risk scratching the new one, did you?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Never let an eight-year-old pack his own swim bag

Yesterday, I had to drop Matthew off for his swimming lesson.

This is usually something Ali does while I do battle with the Sunday dinner. But yesterday she was helping out at A Touch of Saltspring craft fair, so the task fell to me. She would pick him up afterwards (the craft fair was at the rec. centre), all I had to do was see him safely to the pool side.

Let us gloss over the entertaining forty-minute game of Hunt The Goggles. That was a new one on me. But once I'd mastered that (they were hiding underneath a heap of shoes down by the guinea-pig cage) I thought I'd passed my initiation.

Chicken and potatoes safely in the oven, and vegetables all prepared, the game of Get Your Sweater, Coat, Shoes, and No You Can't Wear Those Shorts It's Minus One Outside was familiar territory. We were there, in the changing room, with a few minutes to spare.

"Dad! These swim shorts are too big!"

Yes, they were. Falling off him, in fact.

"Have you ever worn these before?"

"No. I just wanted to try them."


Go home for another pair? The lesson would be half over before I got back.

Send him in with these? No chance of them staying put.

Send him in without? Dangerously tempting.

In the end, I limped back to the car with one shoe flopping off my foot. After, that is, flapping to the poolside to brief his instructor on the experimental and slightly insecure role my shoelace was playing in his swimming attire.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas in the Village

Every year, the Saanich Historical Artefacts Society holds their "Christmas in the Village" event at Heritage Acres.

There are train rides on the marvellous miniature railway, through the woods and over trestle bridges all lit up.

Buildings everywhere are all lit up too.

And, of course, there's Santa surrounded by trees that the Peninsula Guide units decorated.

And even a bit of imported snow to make Gypsy feel at home.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The slippery slope of time

I often wonder why I always seem to have so little time for things like writing, and why the years seem to pass so quickly these days.

I (and others) usually ascribe it to the onset of old age (I'm allowed to say that. Others are just cruel.) But I'm working on a theory that it's simply because we are all so darned busy!

I present evidence thus:

What does a typical weekend look like for us?

Well, let's set aside all the mundane weekend stuff, like shopping for groceries, preparing meals, doing laundry, fetching in a stock of logs from the carport, cleaning out pet cages etc. because that's only a few hours.

But then, last weekend for example: Saturday morning, Ali and Megan volunteered at the soft plastics recycling bank while Matthew and I fetched a trailer load of logs that a friend had in their yard that they had no need of. In the afternoon, the Peninsula Guide, Brownie, and Sparks units took over the cinema in Sidney for a movie, then took part in the Santa Parade. Sunday, Ali, Megan, and Matthew helped decorate Christmas trees and the schoolhouse at Heritage Acres ready for their annual "Christmas in the Village."

A typical weekend? In a sense, no, most of those things are one-offs, but let's see...

Previous weekend: Saturday, drove up to Courtenay (a three-hour drive each way) to visit a friend who's recently moved up there. That didn't leave much room in the day for anything else! Sunday, we spent the whole day winterising our trailer. It's our first time through the procedure, so it took a bit of figuring out where everything was.

Today, the kids decorated their Christmas tree in the playroom and we put up our outdoor lights, as well as making a (belated) start on our Christmas mail. As soon as darkness fell, we went for a wander around Heritage Acres, then Ali & Megan went to help clean up the church hall after an event. Tomorrow we need to crack on with that mail if our international cards are to have any chance of reaching folks in Guernsey before the end of 2009.

Next weekend there's a Cub camp out in Sooke, and we need to cut a Christmas tree for the living room.

Hmm ... Anyone see a pattern emerging?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A magical start to December

After a long day at work, getting home, walking the dog, and fetching Megan from her musical theatre session, all I really wanted to do was curl up with a glass of wine. I was not in the mood for scoffing a quick meal and then turning out again into a chilly night.

But I'm glad we did.

It was the first night of the Christmas lights at the world-famous Butchart Gardens. By the time we got there, the first rush of visitors had died down and the gardens were eerily quiet. The lights were spectacular as ever, but the big attraction was the opening of the new carousel in its pavilion which we'd been watching slowly take shape on our visits throughout the year.

After a couple of rides, we wandered around the rest of the gardens then stopped for hot drinks and cookies. To finish off, I fetched Megan & Matthew's skates from the car so they could take a turn on the outdoor rink.

On the way out, we drove under the twelve arches each topped by a drummer, the last part of the Gardens' "Twelve Days of Christmas" display. As we left, we all sang the last verse, one line as we passed under each arch.

Barking mad? Yes, but it was a beautiful evening.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

(2004) Jumping through hoops

November 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

We've now been here a month, and life is starting to settle into more of a routine after the frenzy of the first couple of weeks.

After the euphoria of signing paperwork on a house, we had a night of heart-stopping panic while we tried to transfer funds over from Guernsey to cover our (legally binding) commitment. We had a transfer instruction all ready to fax to our bank back in Guernsey, but although the apartment had a fax machine we couldn't get the darned thing to go.

At first we assumed we were doing battle with the phone network again, maybe barring us from faxing to an international number, but obviously we were on panic stations right now. We tried calling the bank, but only ended up talking to some minion in a call centre somewhere on a premium rate and with our phone card rapidly expiring. Luckily I was able to call Dad, who managed to get a direct Guernsey number to use. Once we were through to a "real" person at the bank all became clear. The published fax number had been changed so the one we were trying was out of date.

Punched the correct number in, crossed fingers, toes, anything crossable, and it worked! Yay! Money on the way, and we can pay the deposit.

Of course, all this was taking place at 2am our time (in order to hit the business day in the UK) so we were not in the best frame of mind to deal with such shenanigans.

We were also most thankful that, way before we left Guernsey, we'd switched all our banking over to HSBC. Dealing with an international bank made things so much easier for us. We were able to open up Canadian accounts before we left, and had already been in to speak to our very nice account manager here in Victoria, so we had help both sides of the Atlantic to smooth things along.

Then we had the rest of the house-buying process to work through, checking out all the conditions, or "subjects", on the contract. Our friendly realtor was very understanding and steered us through the process quite painlessly.

Now we had another hoop to go through - getting a BC drivers licence! Our UK ones are useable, but only for 90 days, so we both had to book lessons and tests. This was another major source of anxiety. Ali was worried about the theory test, while I still recalled my Guernsey experience where examiners seem to be on a mission to generate revenue by failing almost all first-timers. We made full use of the ICBC website where you can learn the rules and practice the theory test. There were a lot of small and large differences in driving rules to get used to: four-way stops, shoulder-checks on right turns and lane changes, and being allowed to make a right turn against a red light!

One more hoop looming on the horizon: job hunting. I've started checking out the job market, and one of the themes I keep hearing again and again that this town is very hard to break into. Most jobs are never advertised and are filled on the basis of who you know. Despite the so-called shortage of skilled IT workers, this is starting to look a lot more difficult than it sounded from the other side of the pond.

Still, with all the things we've had to do this month I'm glad to have the time off for now.

And we've been finding time for some fun things too. Lots of picnics (in November! Who'd have thought?), a riotous African-theme dinner/dance at Megan's school, and the massive Victoria Santa parade.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A new novel on the go

Busy few weeks just recently, and starting to panic that it is only FIVE WEEKS TO CHRISTMAS! Heck! How did that spring out at me, all unpredictable like?

Last month I had an idea for a new novel, and started making notes. Knocked out the first 3,000 words in an effort to be ready for my turn in my online writing group's critique circle.

Then started to get cold feet. After the initial excitement, I couldn't work up much enthusiasm for the story. When I read it back to myself, it seemed that the characters might be too remote and distant from everyday experience for readers to identify with them, and what was happening in the opening scenes just didn't seem as interesting as I first thought.

I wonder how common is that kind of self-doubt in the early stages of a project?

But I finished that section off and submitted it anyway, and have got an overwhelming positive response back. And, no, people in this group are not afraid to say if they don't like something, which gives me new hope and renewed energy to tackle the uphill battle of knocking this sucker into shape.

I think that after the euphoria of completing one novel, something that I never dreamed I'd be able to hold my head up and say, I'd forgotten how much hard graft and uncertainty went into it during the actual writing process. Now I'm back at the foothills of that same mountain and the memories are flooding back. Another long road ahead! And I think I just needed some hint that I was not setting off down a dead end.

But I've had such fabulous encouragement that, darn it, I guess I've got to crack on with it now!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Some of the things I like about this place

I won't claim that our experience here applies to everywhere in Canada, or even British Columbia, but here are some of the highlights for me about where we are now living.

Courtesy on the roads - pedestrians come first: Whether a car is emerging from a gateway into the road, or at an intersection with a stop line, or in a parking lot, traffic gives way to pedestrians. In those early days when I walked Megan to school through the suburbs of Victoria, what a breath of fresh air after the "I'm a motorist, get out of my way" attitude in St Peter Port traffic.

Go ahead, have fun: Parks and playgrounds everywhere, with well-maintained (and unvandalised) play equipment. And adults joining in un-selfconsciously.

When we went swimming at the Panorama recreation centre for the first time, I saw grown-ups amongst the youngsters using the rope swing and the six-foot slide by the side of the pool. "Can anyone use that?" I asked one of the attendants, being so accustomed to rules and restrictions. She gave me an odd look, as if the question was meaningless. "Of course," she said.

Now I think about it, I don't think I've ever seen a sign here prohibiting the bigger kids from taking part.

Family-friendliness everywhere: This cuts both ways, from child tolerance in "adult" settings like restaurants, to encouraging parents and friends to join in childrens' activities arranged by schools, clubs, and churches. Picnics, barbecues, games nights, movie nights, camps and other outings, the rule of thumb is "the more the merrier" combined with "and why wouldn't you want to be with your kids?"

Then, of course, there is the country itself. Forests, lakes, wilderness. Coming from a small island, it's an amazing feeling to be a short drive away from so much emptiness. And wildlife so close to home. Eagles, hawks, seals, orca, deer, raccoons, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, owls. Apart from seals and orca, we've seen all of these just sitting on our own deck. And, just to remind us that we are living in still largely untamed country, there are occasional sightings of bears and cougars on the Peninsula.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We will remember...

Something that took us by surprise very early on in our time in Canada was the way in which Canadians mark Remembrance (or Armistice) Day.

Schools, government offices, and many businesses close. There are parades and services, and laying of wreaths at memorials even in little towns like Sidney. With the family heavily involved in both the Scouting and Guiding movements we all took part in the Sidney parade this morning. There was a great turnout of youngsters, and, more remarkably, hundreds of people of all generations lined the streets for the few blocks along the route.

Why is it that places so far from the trenches mark the occasion on the right day, with the whole community stopping to pay their respects, while Britain buries it on the nearest weekend, attended in comparison by only a dedicated few?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Salmon run

While Megan was at a friend's birthday party this afternoon, the rest of us headed out to Goldstream Provincial Park to see the salmon run. It seemed like half of Victoria was taking advantage of the break in the November rains today to get out of doors because the parking lot was overflowing.

The fast-running river right now is choked with salmon, struggling against the flow, spawning, and dying. The fish spend most of their time hugging the bottom. They're difficult to see past the surface of the water and they blend in with the pebbles of the river bed, but the water is shallow and there's a good trail right alongside the bank so we can get right up close.

All those dark grey and pale silvery blobs in the water are salmon. And occasionally one of them makes a move. Here Matthew was startled by sudden splashing nearby.

Friday, November 6, 2009

(2004) Stop press - we have a house!

November 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Well, we are all still a bit shell-shocked. This has happened so much faster than we expected. After less that two weeks in Canada - we've bought a house!

When you put it like that, it sounds irresponsibly hasty, but believe me it didn't feel like it at the time. I guess because life is still such a whirl of novelty that time is still playing tricks on the mind.

We spent a few days driving through various districts around Victoria, checking out locales and driving past a few properties listed on MLS. I suppose, in our defence, that we'd really been on the property search for months rather than mere days. Ali is the family researcher, and she'd been on the Internet endlessly since we got our letter from the Canadian High Commission back in January. But for all that, there's no substitute for getting out there and looking for ourselves. For example, there were some beautiful areas that, when we actually got out there, we decided were just too remote for us.

It didn't take long for us to narrow our search to the Saanich Peninsula. Plenty of rural open spaces, but loads of amenities and handy for Victoria. So we got ourselves a realtor, talked over what we were looking for, and she started showing us around some properties.

Having a realtor acting for the buyer, as well as one for the seller, is a major difference over here. But it proved invaluable having someone to look after our interests and walk us through the process, especially as house-buying is so different from what we were used to.

One of the big things to beware of is that when you make an offer, you are already entering into a legally binding contract. You can choose to place certain conditions on the offer, such as finance and property inspection, but if those conditions are met then you are committed. It's no good unearthing something a few days later that you don't like the look of. So you need to pay attention to include anything you want to investigate that might become a deal-breaker. In our case we included conditions like checking for developments or restrictive covenants at the local municipal hall. We were surprised to find, for example, that if we'd bought a bit further up the road from where we now live, then we wouldn't have been allowed to fence our yard, put up a washing line, or park an RV in our driveway. Things like that are worth checking!

So we fell in love with house number six, which seemed to hit all the right notes with us after properties that would have involved some serious compromise. Our realtor played devil's advocate, pointing out all the things we might not have thought about, but in the end it came down to a matter of probabilities. We asked what was the chance of another property coming up in the next few months that came so close to meeting our needs?

Just one fly in the ointment. We can't move in for another three months. The current owners have their own affairs to sort out which will take time. All the same, we are getting a spooky feeling that this was "meant to be". Right now we have a short term rental on an apartment which we know we have to vacate in ... three months.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Every "no" takes you closer to "yes"

My first (finished but unpublished) novel is called "Ghosts of Innocence". It is a science fiction novel about an assassin, determined to exact revenge for the destruction of her home world, who is ultimately moved to help those she has spent years trying to destroy.

I finished the first draft back in February 2008, and worked on revising the manuscript, with excellent help from the Critters forum, through the rest of that year. In fact, the whole experience of reading and critiquing other peoples' work, an essential part of the forum, was at least as valuable as the direct feedback itself.

But that was only the start of the hard work. At the same time as revising, there was the whole mysterious world of publishing to get to know. Many, many hours on the Internet later, I finally started pitching to agents this year. Sending out a few queries at a time and seeing what happens, taking stock, revising strategy, and trying again.

Query stats to date:

Queries sent: 30
Partials requested: 2 (both subsequently rejected)
Form rejections: 14
Non-replies (assumed rejected): 6
Still hopeful: 8

Huge help with the query process from Query Shark and the Public Query Slushpile, plus uncounted trawls through agents' blogs. After the first batch of outright rejections, I heavily revamped my query letter and chose a new title. Got my first partial request soon after, so presumably moving in the right direction.

I am now at the stage where I think my query letter itself is sound, but wondering if the manuscript (especially the early pages) is letting me down. Time to go through again with a fresh and critical eye before lining up another batch of queries ...

Friday, October 30, 2009

My children held the Olympic torch

Great excitement in the household this evening. The much-hyped torch relay for the 2010 Winter Olympics passed through Victoria today, on the start of its journey across Canada. One of the many stops along the way was "our" recreation centre on the Saanich Peninsula, where students at the nearby elementary school were gathered to watch.

And they got to hold the torch too! No photos sadly, but still cool!

(2004) A whirlwind week

October 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Have we really only been here in Canada less than a week? So much has happened, and time is playing tricks on the mind, not counting slowly adjusting to the eight hour difference from the UK.

Even with the luggage mountain we'd brought with us, we had lots of shopping to do. A computer, cell phones, toys for the kids, clothes, car seats, school supplies, all the things we'd need for the cats, oh ... and groceries.

There were other things to do too. After a first day of strenuous shopping, I had to head back over to Vancouver to collect our cats. It was good to see all five of them none the worse for their week of confinement and travel. Good job there's no quarantine requirement coming from the UK to Canada.

After all that - and less than four days in the country - we were ready for a break. We took in some of the touristy and child-friendly attractions of downtown Victoria - The Undersea Gardens, Miniature World, and the amazing Bug Zoo. And, as it was nearly Halloween, we took a night-time stroll around the spectacular carved pumpkin display at Government House.

Once the shock of travel and the immigration process wore off, we started hitting some of the cultural and technological differences in this new world we've become part of.

Having safely arrived we wanted to phone our families. Naturally. And our temporary apartment has a phone. Nil problemo amigo. Except that the phone is restricted to local calls only.

Hmm. We asked around and found out about phone cards, which give you a local number and a prepaid amount to spend on phone calls. Sounds simple, but even here there were unexplained pitfalls. The first card I picked up was one from Telus, which I tried but couldn't make any sense of the instructions. So I called their support line, and ended up going round in circles in their infuriating automated voice-recognition "help" system. I guess it couldn't cope with the English accent. It seemed to recognise my Angry accent though, and eventually condescended to hand me over to a human being. Turned out that this kind of card was intended to give Telus customers access to an account with them. No use to us. Luckily the friendly lady at the grocery store where I'd bought the card took pity and gave me a Nuvo card instead. $20, and a rate of about 2 cents a minute for an international call. Sorted.

Learning point: When starting out in a new country, be careful to explain what you are trying to achieve before buying something. And don't be afraid to plead ignorance - the locals are friendly and very understanding.

Note: The phone card idea is common in the UK now, but was new to us five years ago. And it is still something we use for anything but local calls. We have found the rate to be better than the plans offered by any of the major telecoms providers.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm a writer - the Shark says so

I am a writer.

I have finished one novel and I have three others in various states of planning, progress, or gathering dust.

But you won't see my name on the bookshelves because I've never had anything published. Nevertheless, I am a writer. If you want to argue that point, you can take it up with the acid-tongued razor-toothed high priestess of Sharkdom here.

That doesn't mean I haven't tried to get published, but that is a whole other story. The point is that the process of getting published is a long road, filled with rejection and disappointment. If you've written a novel and are trying to take it to the next stage then it is easy to forget what you've already accomplished. Little reminders like Janet Reid's are a vital part of preserving some measure of sanity.

So, of course I have a day job which I'm not planning on giving up any day soon, but all the same I can proudly say - I am a writer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Off work with a cold today, and feeling guilty as heck because there is simply too much to do to be off like this.

Odd thing though, back in the UK I used to reckon on a few days illness each year, but on moving to Canada I enjoyed four completely sickness-free years. Then 2009 kicks in and this is my third day off this year. I wonder what's changed?

Monday, October 26, 2009

(2004) The most frightening step of my life

October 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Well, we're here! The start of a new life! It's still hard to believe that we finally did it. How many people talk about emigrating, but how many actually get around to doing it? I guess the adrenalin will kick in later but right now there's too much to do to be frightened.

We said goodbye to close friends and family at Guernsey airport on Saturday (that was my first sight of the new terminal building that everyone's been banging on about), stopped overnight at Gatwick, then on to Vancouver.

Zoom Airlines was great. The few hundred quid for premium upgrades paid for itself straight off when we skipped past the huge check in queue with our mountain of luggage. Once on board, we were well looked-after, I tanked up on Canadian beer, and the kids even got a few hours sleep.

We touched down in Edmonton and the kids got their first sight of snow on the ground. Then it was Vancouver, and the immigration process. A short wait at passport control, then a longer stop at the baggage reclaim. A very long stop in fact, while we counted the number of bags in the mountain and went in search of a missing buggy.

Then it was the turn of immigration. All the time we were waiting, I had recurring nightmares of being refused entry. What would happen? We'd sold up everything back home and had nothing left to go back to. Irrational, I know, but with so much at stake even the merest whisper of a possibility had me quivering. What if we'd overlooked some little technicality? It was simply too awful a prospect to think about.

But in the end it was a huge anticlimax. A few questions, all smiles and welcoming friendliness, and then we were officially Permanent Residents! Then on to customs, where they were more interested in the contents of the container that was still sitting in England than with what we were actually carrying.

The first serious challenge came when we picked up our hire car. We'd gone for a Jeep Liberty, thinking it would have plenty of room for us and our baggage. Hah! It took half an hour of cunning packing using every last cubic inch of space before we managed to stow everything. I think the kids would have been OK in an accident. They couldn't move an inch! But we made it in the end.

I must say, the kids were very patient throughout. Three and five years old, after a long flight, all that waiting around at the airport (I think it was about three hours including the paperwork at the rental company) and we had nothing more than a little grumbling. I think the novelty and adventure was keeping them going. Fortunately we'd booked into a hotel in Vancouver rather than planning to cross over to Victoria straight away. The kids hit the sack at 5pm, and we weren't much later.

So, of course, everyone was awake at 3am! To be honest I'd expected it to be earlier, so can't complain, but it was soon clear that we weren't going to stay sane waiting for breakfast at the hotel. So we checked out and headed off for the ferry terminal.

The wait seemed endless. We'd been up for hours with nothing to eat or drink. It was dark, raining, and blowing a gale. But as soon as we were on board all the stress and discomfort seemed to melt away. We settled down to a magnificent and leisurely breakfast and watched the sunrise as we sailed out towards the islands.

Somehow, and this is going to sound strange given that we'd only been here twice before, it felt like we'd come home.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Welcome to my world

Yesterday, my family and I marked five years since moving from the UK and landing in Canada.

This blog is about my life. My family will feature hugely because they are a huge part of that life, but this is first and foremost a personal account. A lot of it is about the experience of moving and settling into a new country, but it will also touch on my work and interests: art, writing, science, mathematics, information technology ... heck, that sounds so nerdy, but I promise nothing (too) technical here, so for good measure let's also throw in ... cooking, and home improvements.

This will be a blend of current events, observations, and occasional rants, together with the journey itself and all its ups and downs. The latter will appear in the form of (fictional) letters to my (equally fictional - in case any real family members happen to drop in) Aunt Agatha. But the content is real enough.

Although we found the experience mostly easy and overwhelmingly positive, I think this was eased by having mainly reasonable expectations from the start. It was helped by doing a lot of reading beforehand. There were many things we were glad we knew about, and many more that we wished we'd known. I hope that this blog will help and encourage people preparing to make the leap for themselves.

So, how did we mark our fifth anniversary? Well, we thought a while ago about throwing a party, like we did after one year here, but life has gotten so busy these days that it just didn't happen.

But serendipity intervened.

Our local recreation centre has just finished building a new aquatic complex, and yesterday was its grand opening. We've visited the centre many times, of course, but the pool has been closed for over a year while they completely rebuilt the enclosure and added a new leisure area - and a ten metre water slide. Check it out here.

So we took advantage of the free admissions handed out for the opening day to try out the new facility.

We were not disappointed.

Now, here's the spooky bit. The recreation centre is built up on a hill, and the water slide tower has huge windows looking out over the Strait of Georgia. While waiting in line, I gazed out on a gloriously sunny afternoon. Sounds of laughter echoed up from the pool below. Down in the grounds outside, the playground was also busy. Looking down at laughing parents and happy children, I remembered what had drawn us to think about emigrating in the first place fourteen years ago: The spectacular scenery and the relaxed Canadian devotion to fun and family life. This, even back then as a carefree and childless couple, was what had struck us most about British Columbia. This is why we had come here.

Yes, I think this was after all a most fitting way for the whole family to celebrate our anniversary.
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