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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