Unintended Consequences

Having spent the last eight weeks on the beginnings of socialist theory in a historical context I am suddenly see British Columbia in an entirely new light. Cos I am doing a degree, innit…which I suspect I’ll lever into most posts until the novelty has worn off.

I come back to BC every 12-18 months and it’s pretty much the same old same old. Now I notice nationalised – or do I mean provincialised? -functions where I am used to seeing privatised operators (in the UK). BC Hydro is the water company, BC Ferries are the ferry operator, BC Transit is the public transport company and so on and so forth. Over 50% of the population works for the government so this is the closest I have seen to the workers owning the means of production. Marx would be beaming.

Everyone seems fairly happy, few people are disgruntled. Perhaps this is just because the Brits are genetically programmed to moan about their lot and the Canadians are just simpler souls not prone to the introspective self-destruction and external envy that fuels British society. Class distinctions are completely absent here. Not suppressed, not there at all. People don’t judge you by the car you drive, the accent you speak with, where your kids go to school (there are so few private schools here they number under ten). Whatsmore, the have-nots don’t hate the haves. There is no class war, struggle of the workers against The Man, the assumption that all the rich are bastards that only got wealthy by screwing the poor.

All the usual ills of society are here. Drugs, homelessness, historical mistreatment of the indigenous population etc etc. In place of the Class War that the radicals in the UK are forever fighting (I doubt it will ever end) the biggest movement seems to be the environmental protesters. In a tiny little island like the UK I kind of get the worry about large infrastructure projects. Here you only need to drive for four or five hours to get an inkling of the absolute vastness of this one province out of ten. The country is extraordinarily large and is one of the biggest contiguous land masses in the world.  Yet the thought of driving an important pipeline across the province excites the most extraordinary levels of indignation. If anywhere has the land to afford this kind of necessary blight, it’s Canada. Necessary because we ain’t gonna be weaned off oil just like that. Especially here. The Canucks (and I daresay the Septics) think a pick-up truck that manages 25mpg is an engineering marvel. And they moan about petrol that is half the price than it is in the UK. In fairness though most of the distances, except in town, where the environmentalists seem to congregate, are not sensibly cycleable, especially in the winter. The car is here for a while yet.

Food. Food here is terrible by and large. Sweetened to death and with gargantuan portion sizes when eating out and buying. Quantity is considered a marker of value for money. Rarely is the conversation about the quality of the ingredients or cooking. Pile it high, sell it cheap, throw a shitload of high fructose corn syrup on for good measure and then puzzle over the obesity problem? It is considered de rigeur to bitch about the European Union and on many counts it is a gigantic waste of money. However, the directives on food labelling seem to produce more informative packaging for the consumer. Here the lobby groups for the big corporations seem to have won the day regarding what goes into “food” and how it is labelled. Alternatively, I might just be the nut with my obsession regarding what I buy to shove in my gaping maw. I like my bacon to be just that, bacon. Not some minced together turkey (god knows the conditions it was raised in – like the worst chicken farms I imagine) agglomeration that is so full of other stuff in order to look, cook and taste like a bacon rasher with lower fat – for that is how it is marketed, as a “healthy” alternative to bacon – than the real McCoy. Here is an idea…how about steer clear of regular bacon consumption and then when you do eat it enjoy it for what it is? Bacon. Food rant over. It is cheap (and sweet) so broadly speaking no one is moaning. Proper cheese? The Quebecois have a lot to answer for so lets leave it at that.

Just re-reading the last proves to me the basis of my stock reply when asked which is better, Canada or the UK? The grass is always greener. I think the magnificent outdoors would swing it for me if there were not other unchangeable factors keeping me in the UK. That and Hockey Night In Canada.

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Ninja Ho

Much as I expected, Mum read the last post. Apparently she is now interviewing Ninja for a one-off overseas gig. I am not scared as I know the CSC Ninja Squad will end up offing the wrong person. Mum has a propensity to grasp c. 50% facts in a way that only makes sense to her and puzzles the bejesus out of those in full receipt of reality.

I am reminded of a funny but apt phrase I am fond of that I learnt whilst in the police reserves. One slightly older and more experienced officer was keen on telling drunken arses whom were on the verge of arrest, “don’t confuse me with the facts, I have made up my mind” Their puzzled looks were priceless, just prior to the handcuffs going on. If they squeaked too loudly about fit of said ‘cuffs he’d give them a friendly pat on the back, as they were hoicked into the mini-cell in the back of the van, and assure them that , “don’t worry, I am sure they’ll stretch”. Oh how we laughed.

Back to more mother lessons and madness:

  • Racism. Back in the 70’s mum would merrily re-tell jokes to us kids that, by today’s standards, would be considered racist. However, her actual regard for other people, regardless of race,  was not tainted in this way. There was a big influx of Sikh immigrants into Western Canada in the late 70’s. The vast majority were agricultural specialists and in the time-honoured Indian immigrant fashion (Kenyan Indians, Idi Amin and corner stores in the UK anyone?) arrived somewhere with sweet FA, an incredible work ethic and tight family bonds. With this determination to succeeded and make a new life you’d get under-performing farms being taken over and magically the land would start producing vast quantities of fruit and veg. Oh how this made the lazy white racists seethe. We lived in a rural community and there was one such farm down the road.  Some  graffiti soon appeared on the road. A start and finish line that bracketed the Sikh’s property was sprayed on the road and hastily scrawled were the words, “Paki zone 500 mph”. Mum was appalled. I mean properly appalled. She took some homemade preserve – of which there was always a many and varied selection – as an offering and marched the quarter of a mile to the Singh family house. This was not a time for regular walking as that would just not adequately communicate the seriousness of the matter. This was proper pissed off English woman striding. The Home Counties twinset and pearls sort of pissed off that results in strongly worded broadside to the editor of a vaguely right wing broadsheet kind of pissed-off. Us kids were terrified as something had clearly set her off but, collectively, we all knew that for a change one of us wasn’t going to get some learning.  It was not uncommon for Mum to become the self-appointed anti-racism, school fundraising, CSC writing standards or whatever Monitor. So, the Singh’s must have wondered what to make of this slightly demented middle-aged English woman holding marmalade and banging on the front door. Hints of the Raj… When they answered she went inside – she rarely ever required an actual invitation to as the sense of entitlement from “doing the right thing” didn’t require pleasantries – and proffered the culturally inappropriate preserve and announced that we, the wider community but she really meant she,  didn’t all feel like that and in her view the Singh’s were  very welcome additions to the community. She probably offered to locate  the perpetrators as she knew everyone in this small rural community. You can imagine the Singh’s baulking slightly when the inevitable follow-up to the location offer was a public beating possibly followed by a lynching of these dumb white boys. She departed by apologising for the sorry state of the Canadian education system that their kids were to join, that lead to such poorly written graffiti. As any fule knos it was accusing them of being from the wrong country, Canada was metric, no road car can do 804.672 kmph  and there ought to have been a full-stop in there as well. 
  • Immigration. Poor, did I mention we grew up pretty poor? Veg gardens, shopping at the second-hand clothes store, old and tired cars etc etc. Nonetheless, Canada took an influx of Laotian Boat People – refugees that escaped in tiny and vastly overcrowded boats, can you imagine what Health and Safety would say? – and we the Shadbolt’s (mum really) sponsored one of these families into BC. Because Mum spoke French fluently and so did the family matriarch they were matched. I can only imagine the poor woman that headed the refugee family being hit with the whirlwind that is Sara in best intentioned help mode. Though I suppose that if she had fled with family on an overcrowded fishing vessel then she had demonstrated that she could handle challenging situations. This lady and here family, who may well have been hoping to slip unnoticed into society, of a country that is made from immigrants of all flavours,  was wrong. Like it or not she was going to be socialised, taught English, settled, integrated, befriended etc etc and that was that. Mother had decided what was best. End of. Still, you can’t argue the charitable intent and beggars can’t be choosers etc. According to my other brother, Eric, one of the youths is quite a handy Asian Gang member now. Mum takes the very sanguine view that Canadian prison is still better than the Laotian alternative.
  • Sponsorship and Money Management. No one can budget like my mother. It is the only thing I have ever heard acknowledge my dad for. “He may be a bastard – or similar etc etc – but he taught me to budget” Despite spending many years in or near poverty she always had money for Christmas presents, bills and enough to sponsor a couple of kids through Plan. No matter how little we had, she correctly reasoned, there were always folk worse off.
  • Fundraising. To carry on the financial theme it is worth noting that when Sara decided to raise money then it was damn well being raised. No seemed to be a word she was unable to process. Despite her English roots it is something that doesn’t trouble her. Relatively recently she politely demanded a decent contribution from a rock star. This poor guy had obviously figured that rural Canada was a good place to build a big pad all tucked away and melt into occasional obscurity. Wrong. Mum got wind of him and it was pointed out to him that as he now resided in the community and was clearly obscenely minted, an appropriate contribution was expected. As he was so put off I believe he gave her vastly more than the number she suggested just to be left alone. A very wise move imho…but wait until next year my friend. Not such a bright move after all, eh? The local primary school has her to thank for a pretty awesome adventure playground back in the day. It involved committees. However, I have a vision of a bunch of co-opted and terrified members doing exactly what the Chair – guess who the Chair was? – suggested they do.
  • Homosexuality. Whatever, this comes under the heading of ethnicity as far as she is concerned. However, I do have a distinct memory of standing with hands on hips and thumbs pointing forward. She very sweetly whispered in my ear, “Don’t have your thumbs pointing forward my dear. Only homosexuals and interior designers stand like that.” WTF??? Baffled? You will be.
  • Nudity. Mum just couldn’t be bothered with other people’s hang ups and would stroll around the house naked and often sunbathe as such. My mates and I were at a friends house in town when another friend, George, rocks up and is clearly traumatised. When we enquire as to the problem it transpires that George dropped by my house looking for me and my mother greeted him wearing nothing other than bikini bottoms (thank god for small mercies). When a slack-jawed George managed to stammer out that he was dropping by to see me he was promptly upbraided for staring at her chest. It was politely enquired of him – a 16-17y old Catholic boy – whether or not he would extend the courtesy of looking her in the eyes and not the chest. Poor bloody George was probably scarred for life. To make it worse for him she was his Nanny when he was a nipper. That and all the Catholic hang-ups I s’pose.
  • Religion. Mum decided one day that we would all become Catholics just to get us into a good school. Not being content to do anything by halves she dragged us to  Mass, hither and thither to church events and enrolled us in a Catholic school in Chilliwack. Though I am led to believe it is far more civilised now the ‘Wack was a shithole of a place. We were involuntarily baptised at about age 11. I protested strongly as even then I was pretty sure organised religion was an utter crock used to control poor and thick people. The approach to this dilema and moral crisis was laid out thus: if you say anything other than yes I will beat you to within and inch of your life. At 11 that is a no-brainer. I felt that if on some slim chance there was this all-powerful and understanding deity then he’d know I kept my fingers firmly crossed. Chris reminded me that he was an altar boy for the money from sing-a-longs, funerals, weddings etc. He got extra if he stood by the graveside. Obviously for some of the more innocent lads it may have been danger-money. Not for Chris, his mother ensured we’d have no wet and wooly behaviour. Dead is dead apparently. With hindsight I am not really sure she had fully embraced the whole Catholicism thing.

Chris has kindly supplied some food based memories.

  • Eating. As Chris observed, I could probably write a book about Mum’s views on food. We both remember poor Nicky, our half-sister, taking a dislike to some broad beans. Nicky was told that if she didn’t finish them then there would be no pudding. Rather unwisely with the stirrings of pre-teenage defiance Nicky decided to stand her ground. Wrong. Mum’s view was that you finish the food in front of you, all of it. She wasn’t going to tolerate attitude from a young girl. Nicky sat there for several minutes making it hard on herself by eating them one by one. She then tried to pretend she was sick and spat some half-chewed beans back on her plate and claimed that she was ill. Mum breezed by, reiterated the finish it all view and then observed that Nicky was to eat the part masticated deposit. Mum then went further by explaining that we were all eating strawberry cheesecake now and it was far tastier than sicked-up broad beans. We three brothers we were pretty merciless and I can remember a lot of exaggerated enjoyment over said cheesecake. We were little bastards to poor Nicky. Siblings, gotta love ’em.
  • Eating well on a budget. Two dishes have scarred us. The first was beef heart in peanut butter. If I’d have known vegetarianism was an option I may have swung that was. Foul doesn’t begin to describe it. The second was a memory that was re-ignited when Chris referred to stuffed marrow. The stuffing was delicious but the marrow was wet, squidgy and ‘orrible. It was homegrown so it was damn well being eaten. Chris couldn’t even look at a courgette for many years after leaving home. I’ll eat them but they aren’t no.1 on my list. The best intentions to feed hungry kids sometimes led to occasional culinary wrongs. Still, it was probably good for the soul to be force-fed the delights. When I had to eat a worm-omelette on a survival course it was not a challenge.

It feels like I have plumbed a line of enquiry here. It is also a good cathartic thing to get it all down. The kids of today eh? Don’t even know they’ve been born. Pah.

Back To Life, Back To Reality

A few things;

  1. A massive Happy New Year to all my friends.  A bit late but I’ve been on planes.
  2. Home from Canada, all de-aeroplaned (read nicely showered), changed, Radio 4 playing, proper coffee ingested, fire lit and people I have never met being properly surly and dismissive at Heathrow. Ahhhh, home at last.
  3. News broken face to face with my dear mother. Can be open with everyone now without the fear of it getting back via a third party.
  4. Lucy and I are separated and the paperwork is in for the divorce.  Why are people so amazed that we are civil and unprepared to enrich the legal profession ? We are adults and can sort things out in a civilised manner. Sure there are differences and things that grate – hell, we are getting divorced – but nothing that can’t be discussed and agreed. We are both relieved to be shot of the annoyances and frustrations that each brings the other. Lucy has been kind, helpful and supportive when I needed it and for that I will be forever grateful.
  5. I have been in another relationship since mid August and I now live with Rebecca. We met long after Lucy and I decided to separate and Lucy and Rebecca have met and get on, which is very nice for me and Héloise.
  6. I had a great catch-up with my 94 year old Grandmother. She is doing extremely well and it is very pleasing. If I make it to 70 like she is at 94 I’ll be a happy bunny.
  7. 2012 hasn’t been a stellar year. I have been getting divorced, writing sweary ranty blog posts (I promise to try and make it less offensive in 2013), having really really bad bicycle crashes, got filled with surgical steel,  got a good job only to be made redundant 2.5 months after I started, moved house, nearly lost my marbles, had about 4 months of functional memory loss thanks to the painkillers blah blah blah.
  8. Resolutions – pah.
    • Get a job – Really, that is priority 1
    • Reconnect with some friends that I have not given appropriate attention to and try to rebuild the relationships
    • Go on a couple of good holidays with Rebecca (am thinking Canada and Italy)
    • Read more books (not having a telly is a definite advantage)
    • Get the metal out of my shoulder and start regular swimming
    • Cycle properly
    • See more opera

Here is to 2013 being a great year as it can’t be any worse!