Mid-Atlantic Misfit

Mid-Atlantic Misfit

Life between cultures

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Feeling thankful

23 November 2017

It’s a clear, crisp and sunny day as I write this at friends’ in the northern suburbs of Boston, only some 50 miles or so from where those fleeing pilgrims landed and named the new settlement the exact same thing as where they set sail from (inventive those Pilgrims). It’s also coincidentally where I was born… Plymouth, that’s England, not Massachusetts.

The tradition of this day of course dates back to when these settlers and native Americans celebrated the harvest together, giving thanks for nature’s bounty.  That would be before they wiped out those natives through disease and attack and stole their land, but I digress…

So this is a natural day to not just stuff your face full of the bounty from the harvesting of the supermarket, but a day on which to reflect, give thanks and feel gratitude.  My first thought always when I think of what I’m thankful for is the friends in my life.  For me perhaps more so than many, as I’m estranged from my entire family.  Though widely scattered, meaning I don’t get to see you as often as I’d like, you’re always in my corner, there to support me in the down times and celebrate with me in the good ones.  It’s wonderful this year to reconnect with good friends here in Boston and share in this day, my first proper Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.A.

I’m also thankful for my health.  In a year when I’ve seen too many friends in hospital or others battling cancer, heart disease and depression, I’m very fortunate that I’ve had no serious health issue.   The odd shoulder twinge, cold or a few down days, but even my old foe the black dog I’ve managed to keep at bay this year.   We truly have nothing without our health and so I feel fortunate that mine enables rather than disables me and as I approach 50, I’m conscious I won’t always be able to say this.

Next it’s time to give thanks for my career, a career which has made this big move to the new world possible and has delivered three promotions in the last three years.   Again, when contrasted with seeing friends laid off, and search to find a new career path, I feel especially lucky.   That said, I’ve recently seen colleagues laid off suddenly as our company spins off 3 businesses, which represent 20% of our revenue.   It’s such a tough time of year for this to happen.  It’s happened to me twice in the past, and fortunately for me that’s always resulted in better jobs and a higher salary.   But you just never know, despite your education and experience, how much longer your luck will hold out. Corporate America takes no prisoners.  It’s brutal, cutthroat and quick when they want you out.

There are times when I’ve seriously questioned the wisdom of upping sticks and hauling my butt to a new continent, country and city in my middle age. You really do have to almost start from scratch in terms of making a home, putting down roots, establishing good friendships, etc.   However, those feelings of homesickness pass, new people enter your life and you adjust over time, well to most things, the current occupant of the White House I’ll never get used to.   All this said, the move has been a great one for my career… I’m earning far more than I did in the UK and although there’s uncertainty, next year I should have my Green Card and so if I do lose my job, I will have many other options since I’ll no longer be tied to my current employer through my visa.

I’m quite well travelled and so it’s easy for me to contrast my home to those in poorer areas of the US, UK and other countries.   I wake up each day to the most wondrous view of Lower Manhattan, and whenever I doubt what I’ve accomplished in life or question the decision to leave London, I look out and count my blessings.   It also serves as something which spurs me on.   I feel incredibly fortunate.   There is such a contrast between the haves and have nots in this country, and the social safety net is perilously thin here, so you really need be vigilant, work hard and smart and remember how fortunate you are, not that material things are the most important, but so many struggle to put a roof over their head or to even feed their families.  In recent years this contrast has only become more acute.  I could write volumes of my political objections to the policies that exploit the weak and the poor, but I’ll save that for another post.

So those are just a few of the many things I’m thankful for on this day.  I won’t steal more time from you… go, enjoy this day if you have it off, cherish your friends and family, but never fail to appreciate the good things in your life, and no matter what your challenges are, there are always things we should be grateful for.

Long overdue update

20 November 2017

When I look back on this site, I had such high hopes for it, but as often in life, time marches on, we lose focus and thinks drift.   It’s finally time to change this.

If you exclude the weekend, this is my first day off since August and there’s a good chance I’ll actually be able to enjoy it, with it not being interrupted like previous the only other two weeks I’ve had time off this year.

Saturday was spent doing a little retail therapy, a much needed injection of new clothes for my wardrobe, though it’s high time I chucked out the old, ill-fitting garments sitting unwanted in my bedroom closet.  Though not religious, Sunday was definitely a day of rest.  After a brutal workweek where I did well in excess of 60 hours, many of them stressful, a day of indulgent lethargy was definitely needed.

Now it’s Monday… getting the apartment cleaned and the camera gear ready for a day out this afternoon in the city.  I’m venturing to the area called ‘Turtle Bay’ in Midtown East.   This is part of the launch of the sister site to this blog, The Apple Core, where I’ll be visiting a different Manhattan neighborhood each month.   Part of the exploration today will be a tour of the United Nations.  I’m really excited about that!

Tomorrow will be about packing and getting ready for my first visit to Boston since moving to the US some 2 1/2 years ago.  It’s long overdue.  I’ve only seen one of my friends there in all this time and I miss them.   It’ll be my first proper US Thanksgiving, so that should add to the fun as I’ve never experienced one.   I’ll share more on this as the days progress.

That’s it for today, a short update, but I will continue to keep this site up-to-date and share what’s going on in this Mid-Atlantic misfit’s life.

Canada day 11- More adventure than I’d bargained for

21 October 2013 1 Comment

Yes I’m still playing catch up in terms of blog entries.  I guess I’ve been busier doing than I have been writing about it, which I take as a good thing or have I just been lazy or lacking in writing inspiration…  not sure.

Well as I’ve mentioned a number of times, the weather in the first 10 days of the trip has been absolutely glorious.  You just don’t expect sunshine and temperatures in the low 20s in Northern Ontario in early October.  I’ve been very, very fortunate indeed.  Well looking ahead at the forecast, that was all about to change, with temperatures dropping by over 10 degrees and those brilliant blue skies suddenly turning leaden and wet.  With this in mind, I decided I better lift my turkey stuffed carcass off the sofa and get out and explore the Canadian wilderness as I’d planned to do.

So I decided to drive about 2 and a half hours, west-southwest down highways 17, 537, 69 and 637 to Killarney Provincial Park.  It sits on the northeastern shore of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay and is one of larger and more remote parks in this part of Ontario.  It’s features are the white and pink quartzite, La Cloche Mountains, clear blue lakes and jack pine trees.   When they say mountains, they are really hills, but some of the terrain is quite rugged, as I was soon to discover.

The drive there is fairly unremarkable, though I’m always conscious of when I enter the Sudbury basin.  It’s an ancient (nearly 2 billion year old) meteorite impact crater in the pre-Cambrian shield of Northern Ontario.  It’s also noteworthy as one of the geologically richest areas in the world, especially for copper and nickel, but also for many other minerals.  Sadly, that was also it’s undoing in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Mining boomed in the area, but to extract the ore it has to be smelted, which involves using chemicals and heat to separate the valuable minerals from the surrounding rock or ‘slag’.  A lot of quite acidic, toxic smoke is produced in the process and this was carried downwind from the mines, resulting in devastation to the surrounding landscapes.  The emissions caused acid rain, which killed most of the native trees and the fish in the lakes, leaving a barren wasteland.  In fact it was so barren, that the Apollo astronauts actually trained in the area in the 60s, simulating the surface of the moon.  A lot of effort has been made to recover the situation, principally by building ever-taller smoke stacks, some of the tallest in the world, to carry and diffuse the smoke over greater distances.  They’re visible from a long, long distance away.  Efforts at replanting trees and time are slowly healing the blackened terrain, but it remains quite a barren and ugly landscape.

The Ontario government has for years been making investment in Northern Ontario’s roads, as evidenced by being swept past Garden River to the Sault.  4-laning of highways has become a big priority and it’s happening south of Sudbury on highway 69 as well.  It reduces journey times somewhat, but I can’t see any evidence it’s really helped the economy in my old hometown as it’s quite remote.

I first drove to the small town of Killarney right on Georgian Bay, by which time it was approaching noon.  By this time, I was looking forward to a nice lunch, but I was to be disappointed.  It was a bit of a ghost town, save a couple big rigs turning around in front of the marina.  There were two ramshackle restaurants, both of which were closed.  I’d passed an outfitters coming into town, which advertised food, but on reaching it, it was very poorly stocked, with half-empty shelves and no one around to serve me.  After a few minutes of wandering around lost, a guy came out and I asked if there was at least a corner shop somewhere and he told me to drive back into town, turn left and that there was a general store.  It too was poorly stocked.  I did wonder where locals get their food, short of going out with a gun into the forest.  Looking at some of them, this became my conclusion.  It’s pretty red neck.  I ended up with junk food and then headed to the park.

I first went to the park ranger station, carefully disposed of my food waste in the bear-proof bins.  This will be a revelation to my European readers, but bears will rip open ordinary rubbish bins and can smell food for miles and miles around.  I went into the office to pay the day entry fee and get some guidance on hikes.  The advice I got was to do the 4-hour, ‘Crack’ hike.  At 1,165 feet (355m), The Crack is one of the highest points in the Lacloche Mountains and this part of Ontario.  The parking area for the trail head was a few kilometres back up the road.

I set off on the hike at about 1 p.m.  Initially the trail follows an old logging road through the birch forest and it’s quite level and easy walking, save a few muddy puddles.

Early trail in Killarney Provincial Park, following the old logging road

Early trail in Killarney Provincial Park, following the old logging road

The hike is about 4 km one way and just before the halfway point, they’ve built some raised sections on wooden planks and then you arrive at the Kakakise Creek and cross a short wooden footbridge, after which the trail follows the short of Kakakise Lake before abruptly turning away and then the real fun begins!

Killarney_6

The elevation quickly starts building and you climb ever-upward, clambering over tree roots, clinging to poorer and poorer soil. Then you start to reach some of the quartzite rock outcrops, where you have to start using some handholds on tree limbs, trunks or rock to pull yourself up.  This is no mean feat with a 40 lb. camera bag strapped to your back and a tripod in your free hand.

I rested on one of the large outcrops before making the final assent of The Crack and took some photos looking south.  It was breathtaking and there was surprisingly still quite a bit of colour.  I had this vast view and space completely to myself.  This is one of the things I really miss being in the UK.  Even when you go on a hike there, you are bound to run into plenty of other people, whereas here you get complete solitude.

Rested, I pressed on to the final and most difficult part of the trail.  Essentially, you have to climb over 2 to 8 foot boulders, which sit in a huge crevasse blocking the path to the summit.  Making it worse, they’re not all fixed in place, some of them rock and wobble as you climb over them.  Keeping my footing and balance, especially with a shifting lead weight strapped to my back, was extremely tough.  I made it thought and the effort was so worth it as the views from the top are nothing short of spectacular…

I spent quite a while here, taking many photos and then putting the camera down, just looking out and being at one with yet another special place.  I was so blessed to be here and have this amazing view to myself.  From here you look out over crystal clear lakes to the north and to the northwest I could just make out the glistening waters of Georgian Bay.

After 20 minutes or so, I started my descent, which if anything was even more perilous than the climb.  Your weight when headed downhill is thrown forward, making it even more difficult to keep your balance and footing.  A couple of times rocks moved and I slightly sprained my ankles.  It was so exhausting.

The trail where it’s steep isn’t so well marked, as there aren’t as many trees or places to put the markers.  This was a slight problem at a couple points on the ascent, but I quickly found the trail again.  The same, sadly, cannot be said for the descent.  I missed a trail marker, but thought I was on the right path only for it to become narrower and less easy to follow.   I walked on thinking I knew where I’d gone wrong.  I got more and more tired and had to climb down some very steep rock formations, to reach the forest canopy of pines, maples and birch and at this time of years the floor is covered with a lot of fallen leaves, making it both slippery under foot and hard to trudge through.   The more tired I got, the more confused I became and although I didn’t realise it at the time, the more lost.

Killarney_10

I headed down and down and down, thinking mistakenly, that if I did so, I’d end up at Lake Kakakise and pick up the trail again. Oh how wrong I was! I came to a lake, but it was Kidney Lake, which is higher up, quite boggy and lined with dead trees.  The shore is very steep sided, so essentially it’s just a depression and not where I wanted to be,  nor anywhere near the path.

Time was steadily marching on and I was getting more and more tired and slowly panic was beginning to set in.  By this time, it was late afternoon and I was very conscious there was probably only a couple hours of usable light left.  Then what?  It was overcast, so there’d be no moonlight, so it’d be pitch black.  I’d have to break camp for the night.  I’ve not done this since childhood and then it was with other scouts and scout leaders and full camping gear.  I had nothing but a tripod, jacket and camera gear!  I’d also exhausted the bottle of water I’d taken too, so was getting more and more thirsty.

I had a map with me, but I wasn’t sure where I was in the park, so that wasn’t much use.  It was remote enough, there was no cell phone service.  Then I remembered, that my iPhone has a compass app.   I headed close to Kidney Lake again, got out the map and the iPhone and was able to figure out where I was and what direction I needed to head to pick up the trail, but I estimated, I was a good couple kilometres off track.

I pressed on, plodding through the slippery, leaf-strewn terrain, through thickets of branches, over unstable rocks, occasionally straining my ankles a bit further.  I continued on the heading my compass and map indicated would eventually lead me to the trail.  By this time, there was about an hour of daylight left.  I was getting quite desperate.  In all my time in Canada, I’ve never felt fearful being outdoors, but now I was.  Miles from anyone, no food, no water, no shelter… but I did remember some basic navigation skills.

Imagine my relief, when I climbed over a ridge and saw a trail marker!   However, I was a long way from the Explorer and the light was fading.  I was so exhausted.  Each step was laboured.  Many were unsteady.  I pressed on.  My ankles hurt, I was thirsty and my entire body ached.   I pressed on and on and eventually came to the foot bridge, then the halfway marker (2 km to go).  That last 2 km seemed endless.  I had another bottle of water in the car and I craved it so much!

Finally, at just after 6 p.m. I emerged in the trail head car park, relieved but totally drained.  I unlocked the car, got the unbearable weight of the camera gear off my back and slung the tripod in, before flopping into the driver’s seat and pouring the water down my parched throat.

I got a signal on my phone and immediately logged on to let my friends in North Bay know I was ok and that I was about to depart for the nearly 3-hour drive back.

The Canadian wilderness taught me a big lesson on this day and while I still find it beautiful, I have a new-found respect for it.

Canada days 8, 9 & 10 – Time to be thankful

18 October 2013

Monday, October 10th is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, but my friends had the family (including 4 grandchildren) over on the Saturday for a slap up turkey meal with all the trimmings.  I’m thankful on two fronts.  First, I cannot remember the last time I had the big roast meal with company.  Second, to share it with such great friends is very rare for me.  It felt so good to be included.

Chris and I set off from the hotel mid-morning on the Saturday and started making our way north up highway 400.

After the turkey, was pumpkin cheesecake and chocolate cake.  What I wasn’t so thankful for was the feeling that I was going to explode.

On Sunday, we had yet another big greasy breakfast and then in the afternoon went on the hunt for poutine.  For those of you who don’t know, a poutine is a french Canadian dish of chips, covered in cheese curd and gravy.  So so good!  To find it, we drove west about half an hour to the small town of Sturgeon Falls, which is very much a francophone area.  After getting yet more stuffed, we went down to the local marina on the Sturgeon River, beyond the dam and not far from Lake Nipissing.  It was such a gorgeous day… sunny, warm and amazing for October.  We did a short walk and took some photos of each other, before heading back to North Bay for some delicious turkey sandwiches.  Inevitably, there was a lot of turkey leftover… so turkey soup, sandwiches, casserole, etc.  I jest, just the soup and sandwiches, but they were so good!

On the holiday itself, we headed east to the beautiful Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area.  It’s where the Eau Claire River cuts through a narrow gorge in the pre-Cambrian rock, so there are a series of rapids and waterfalls. It was a great hike, a magical spot and I did it with such great friends.  I took a lot of photos there, including many long exposures to get the ethereal water look.  OK… fair warning… boring photography bit follows…  In order to get that look, you need a long exposure, of between 1 and 5s.  The trouble is in daylight if you leave the aperture open that long, even at say f/22, your shot and especially the water will be totally blown out (white).   To prevent this, you need to use a neutral density (ND) filter.  I first tried an ND8, which reduces the light to 1/8 of normal.  That still didn’t cut the light enough.  So I put on my special 10 stop filter and that did the trick and allowed me to leave the shutter open long-enough to get the effect and still maintain detail.

In Eau Claire Conservation Area, east of North Bay Ontario

In Eau Claire Conservation Area, east of North Bay Ontario

We made the quite uphill hike back to the car and headed a little further east to another French town.  This time Mattawa.  Down by the docks there you can get some amazing photos of the Mattawa River, train bridge and up on the top of the hill three white crosses.  My friend Pete researched these and there’s a fascinating story to them.  They were erected way back in 1686, a whopping 327 years ago to mark the confluence of the Ottawa and Mattawa rivers.  The crosses have apparently been replaced numerous times, but there have only been two years, 1953 and 1975 that they weren’t visible.

3 crosses dating back to 1686, over the Mattawa River

3 crosses dating back to 1686, over the Mattawa River

Then we headed off to a local restaurant for lunch, before heading back once more to North Bay.

What I most thankful for, is to have the opportunity to spend so much time, with such great friends.  Friends, which, I just naturally seem to gel with and fit with.  I spend so much time alone in London, because of work and then again when travelling on work.  I also find it tough sometimes to gel with people in the UK.  So I’m very thankful to have this time here.  I’m also thankful to have the financial ability and time to reconnect to this beautiful area and to get away from it all and chill out, while getting some much needed rest.

Life is far from perfect, but I think we’d all do well to remember and be grateful for what we do have.  It’s so easy to look over your shoulder and daydream about how perfect someone else’s life is, but it seldom is.  What would be more constructive (and I’d do well to remember this) is to make each day count and to be thankful for the good fortunes we do have.

Canada day 7 – Wonderful Wonderland

18 October 2013

Well this is long overdue as it’s almost a week late.  I try, but have failed to write the next day, when my memories are fresh and I can convey greater detail.  Last Friday my friend Chris had bought tickets for us at Canada’s largest amusement park, Canada’s Wonderland for their Halloween Haunt, as well as for the buffet dinner beforehand.

We set off from North Bay at about 1.30 p.m. for what should have been a 3-hour drive or so down highways 11 and 400. However… on highway 11 just north of Orillia, we ran into a very long queue (line of traffic).  After nearly an hour of crawling at less than 5 km/h we finally reached the source of the delay, with the inside of two lanes closed or rather it was closed… they were removing the cones just as we arrived.  Apparently they suspended the roadworks for the Thanksgiving weekend.  Too bad they didn’t start the suspension a little earlier.

A further hour and having passed two accidents, we finally pulled into the parking lot of the park.  It’s bizarre to me arriving there amidst what is now the sprawling city of Vaughan in York Region north of the Ontario capital.  When I lived in Toronto, the mountain of Wonderland stood out in the middle of nowhere well up on highway 400, but now it’s hidden amongst the tangle of strip malls, hotels, light industry and new subdivisions.  Greater Toronto or the ‘GTA’ just seems to grow and grow and grow.  It’s now over 6 million!

We met three other friends of Chris before we went in and went straight to the buffet.  Now buffets tend to be my idea of food hell.  In this case, it was a lot of fast food… pizzas, hamburgers, hot dogs and tacos.  There were also an array of desserts.  I was quite wary of eating heavy food before thrill rides, though!

We finished up with the food and headed to one of the haunted mazes, ‘Club Blood’.  Actually, they were all much the same.  Someone jumping out and growling or screaming, someone stamping their foot, someone walking past unexpectedly.  Quite frankly, I get more of a scare looking in the mirror each morning!

Then it was on to the rides!! First up was the Great Canadian Minebuster.  I didn’t care for it.  It’s a wooden coaster and somehow, although it didn’t have the biggest or fastest drop, it felt the least safe of all rides and throws you around a lot, especially side to side.

After that jarring experience, we went on Sledgehammer, which lifts you or drops you suddenly then spins you around.  Just thinking about that so soon after the heavy food, has me feeling queasy.  At the time it made me quite nauseous and that feeling stuck with me for an hour or so afterwards.

Next up were Behemoth, Dragon Fire, Flight Deck, Skyrider, The Bat and Windseeker.  My absolutely favourite and in my opinion the best ride I’ve ever been on was Leviathan.  It drops 306 feet at an 80 degree angle, reaching speeds of 148 km/h (92 mph) in the process. What a rush, but it’s incredibly smooth too.

It was such a fun night with good company.  It took ages for us to get out of the crowded car park to spill out onto Major Mackenzie Road and head to the Marriott, Springhill Suites.  Chris had booked it and it was an excellent choice… new, very funky/modern and clean with all you’d need, though it did have an odd layout.  We were both starving, so although it was 1 a.m. by the time we reached the room, we ordered a pizza and then retired to the twin Queen beds with full bellies and worn out bodies from all the fun we’d had that night.

 

Canada days 5-6 – Mine to discover

11 October 2013 1 Comment

I set an early alarm, but the drive from the previous day caught up with me and instead of getting out for sunset shots, I spent the first couple hours working on photos from St. Joseph Island and writing the previous blog entry.  The slow start was definitely needed.  Including the drive around the island, I drove about 6 hours on Tuesday.  It’s just as well that I really enjoy long drives.  I put the music on and just go.

When I did get out, I went down to the St. Mary’s River boardwalk.  It follows the riverside from City Hall to the Sault Ste. Marie canal and was opened in 1991, a couple years after I left home for good.  In my opinion, it’s the best money the city has ever spent.  There are other new attractions such as the very empty Roberta Bondar Pavilion, but the city’s best asset has to be it’s riverfront and views of the rapids, International bridge and the US side.  Roberta Bondar was Canada’s first female astronaut and a Saultite. I went to high school with her niece, Alannah.  

I’m always drawn to water.  It doesn’t matter where I am, I never feel so relaxed or at home as when I’m by water.  It’s true in the case of the previous day at Gawas Bay, true of the riverfront in the Sault and try too back in London, where I live on an island formed by the Grand Union Canal and River Brent.  I also always enjoy being down near The Thames.  The designer of the boardwalk is to be congratulated because it makes the walk along the St. Mary’s so pleasant and they also had the foresight to build some platforms out onto the river as well. 

You continue onward and reach the Ontario Hydro power station.  The St. Mary’s Rapids, with drop of 23 feet from the level of Lake Superior to Lake Huron, cause the water to flow very swiftly and this is one of the reasons the city is where it is.  It was also a spot where first nations had to portage and a crossing point, which in turn made it a natural meeting point.  In fact the Ojibwa word for the area is ‘Bawahting’, which means meeting place.  It’s true today as well, with the city being a natural stopover point for people travelling along the Trans-Canada highway.  It’s also a popular tourist destination, especially for those who enjoy fishing, camping and outdoor activities as well as those wanting to take the Agawa Canyon tour train.

Past the power station, you then reach the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario canal and lock.  It was the longest and most modern lock of its kind when it opened in 1895.  It’s since been superceded by the larger American ‘Soo’ locks (a set of 4), where the lake freighters carrying mainly iron ore, pass through the St. Mary’s River.  The Canadian lock is now use primarily for pleasure craft.

You walk over the western lock and and reach Whitefish Island, which is once again owned by the Batchewana Tribe.  They’ve clearly started investing in this amazing location as they’ve built a wonderful boardwalk of their own, with several lookout points onto the St. Mary’s River, overlooking the International Bridge.  I lived in Sault Ste. Marie for 20 years and I can’t believe I never visited this place.  It’s just breathtaking.  It rivals my time at Gawas Bay in terms of feeling connected and peaceful and I was the only person there.   I will definitely come back again in another season.  If you ever visit the area, I strongly recommend you make the effort to walk here from downtown.  So worth it!

Then I started back on the approximately 2 mile walk.  The weather was again just stunning.  Sunny with the temperature reaching a balmy 22 Celsius (72 Fahrenheit).  I stopped off in Station Mall for a quick bite and a great fresh juice blend, before jumping back in the Explorer and driving north along highway 17 to Pancake Bay Provincial Park.  It’s about an hour north and the character of the highway here is very different to that of 17 east.  It’s much more rugged and hilly, with many rock cutouts.  Pancake Bay and nearby Batchewana Bay were places we’d often come when I was young.  The beaches are very clean, with narrow, pale golden sand beaches fringed with grasses and a mixture of white pine and maple trees.  You’d need to be brave to have a dip, though as the water rarely gets much above 60 Fahrenheit (16 Celsius).

Again there wasn’t a soul here and I thoroughly enjoyed walking up and down the beach, hearing the waves break on the gentle shores of the lake they call Gitchigumi (Superior).  There’s always a lot of interesting driftwood here.  In fact you can buy sanded versions of it in local tourist shops, but it’s there for the taking on the beach and if you have the patience and skill you can turn it into a great keepsake.  It was so incredibly relaxing here and bizarrely for October, hot enough to sunbathe!

I set off back south to Sault Ste. Marie in time to reach the waterfront once again to catch sunset.  Much of the year the sun sets behind the International Bridge and there’s something about the geography of the area, which often results in some amazing sky art.  I wasn’t disappointed tonight.

After that it was time for a bite to eat and then back to the hotel room to let this amazing day soak in and to work on the many photos I’d been lucky enough to capture.

The following morning, I made an earlier start, checked out and drove to the East End, to check out places I remember from my time here.  The first stop was my high school, Sir James Dunn.  It’s no derelict.  They closed it a couple years back and knocked down Bawaiting High School to build the sparkling new Superior Heights High School.  It looked amazing from the outside, but it’s sad to think your high school sits empty, ready to be knocked down.   Of course the night before I found my Public School had met a similar fate.  Piece by piece it felt as if my past was being dismantled.  As they say, the only constant is change, but it just adds to the feeling I don’t have a foundation on which to draw from.  

Then I drove to Bowker Street, which is where I spent the bulk of my time here. It’s a small 3-bedroom bungalow.  I lived here from age 7-15.  The front garden was very overgrown.  The other bizarre thing is that all of the trees are much bigger than you remember.  It’s a surreal experience!

By this time, I was quite hungry and so I wanted to go to Barsanti’s Small Fry, which was the best diner in town.  It was full of charm, had lots of booths with small juke boxes in each and a long bar.  It’s exactly what you think of when you think of a diner here.  Sadly, it was again a case of another piece of my past having slipped into history.  It was gone.  So instead, I had to the city limits and stopped at the Husky Truck Stop.  Husky are a big chain (though shrinking) chain of truck stops across Canada.  We’d occasionally come here as kids.  My waitress, a friendly woman I’d guess in here 60s, quickly took my order and a very shot time later served up a big plate with 3 maple sausages, 2 rashers of bacon, home fries, scrambled eggs and brown toast.  The sausages were great, but the rest wasn’t.

Unfortunately it repeated on me all the way down 17 east on my return drive to North Bay.  Again the new 4-lane section behind Echo Bay whisked me east.  I drove past the turning for St. Joseph Island and then reached Bruce Mines.  I turned onto Taylor Street and looked for my uncle’s house, but couldn’t find it.  More sadness.

This added to my very mixed feelings about the visit.  It’s fascinating to see how such a familiar place has changed and reconnect with it.  However, knowing my family are still there and I’m totally estranged from them, re-enforces the feeling of loneliness and being cut off.  As you’ve read, many places are gone or not as I remember them also and the city overall, especially downtown, has a rundown and quiet feel.  But I did manage to explore and rediscover some amazing places and overall I’m very glad I made the 5-hour trek west.

Canada day 4 – An emotional homecoming

9 October 2013 3 Comments

Yesterday I set off west down highway 17 from my friends’ place in North Bay quite early.  I had planned to stop at Chutes Provincial Park in Massey (about 3 hours west), but I arrived at about noon and missed the sign for it and drove on 15 minutes up an increasingly narrow and rutted road before turning back.  When I did find it, I was, of course, a further 30 minutes late and looking at the time and the lack of colour there, decided instead to press on down 17.

The next stop was, you guessed it, Tim Horton’s in Blind River, a town of about 3,000 people in Algoma District on the Mississagi River.  This was always the first spot that told me I was getting close to home and I’ve always loved the way the road and the meandering river here snake around.  It’s quite beautiful.  Mississagi is the name of the specific Ojibwe (Chippewa) tribe here. I’d always wondered why there was the similar place name of Mississauga near Toronto in Southern Ontario. Apparently the tribe migrated there at one point and covered a stretch across south central and southwest Ontario.

Belly loaded up with yet more timbits, I pressed on to St. Joseph Island.  It’s the second largest freshwater island in the world and sits in the North Channel of Lake Huron.  It’s also the first place we lived when my parents emigrated to Canada in 1973.  One of my favourite spots has always been a small picnic area, before you reach the St. Joseph Island bridge (now the Bernt Gilbertson St. Joseph Island bridge).  The bridge was completed shortly after we arrived in Canada and one of my earliest Canadian memories is the ferry service here.

St. Joseph Island (Bernt Gilbertson) bridge

I spent about 30 minutes here and by now was starting to get choked up.  Memories were flooding back, so many of them, such a mixture of them.  My childhood was not a happy one, but some of the happiest memories were of this area.  I pressed on.  On crossing the bridge, you reach a t-junction and can either turn left towards Hilton Beach or right towards Richards Landing on Ontario highway 548.  I opted for the latter.  It’s funny, as a child you have a sense that the world is much bigger.  On returning, the island seems much smaller and I guess as we get older, the world in general feels tiny by comparison to our childhood.

Richards Landing is the largest town on the island, but at that only has 600 people.  It’s where I first went to school, at St. Joseph Island Central School.  I also went to pre-school here, but it’s no longer around.  I remember my teacher vaguely too, she was the warmest, friendliest teacher I can ever remember having, but sadly I don’t remember her name.  Other memories here include the school being evacuated as they thought the boiler might explode and the big yellow school bus that would fetch me from Gawas Bay to Richards Landing and having to sit next to Elgin Garside, whom would always pick at his skin and pinch me.  I was just 6.  Also here is the tiny Anglican church, where my mother was a Sunday school teacher.  I remember having to go into the basement and have loads of religious nonsense spouted at me.  Sadder memories include visits to Mathew’s Memorial Hospital, and seeing my Uncle Bill (actually my grandmother’s second husband) being in there on a ventilator. I can still remember the smell of the paint and his illness in there.  Wow… more memories flooding back.  I remember her 3rd husband being in there too, however I sat out in the car on that occasion and it’s when Murray Head’s ‘One Night in Bangkok’ was in the charts as I can remember listening to this on the Casey Kasem’s American top 40 radio show.  There’s nothing like a scent or music to take you right back to a moment in time!

Highway 548 circumnavigates the island, but following a zig-zag pattern aligned to the island’s grid system of roads, which are all designated as A-line, B-line, etc.  Very inventive those early settlers!  In all the time I lived in the area, I never once made that trip, nor to Fort St. Joseph Historical site on the south end of the island.  It’s about 50 km, but it was such a beautiful day and the leaves, though past their prime, were still beautiful.  I turned off the music in the Explorer and just chilled and let memories keep flooding over me.  Sadly the fort was closed, but I enjoyed the drive anyway.

I pressed on towards Hilton Beach.  Again I have many memories of this place.  When I was younger, my grandmother on my father’s side, would take us to the beach here.  Sadly, money has won out though and a huge marina has been built, obliterating the beautiful beach that gave the town its name.  Nearby I recall a Pepsi-branded restaurant making the best crinkly cut fries.  It’s a shell of that now and appeared closed.  Other happy memories were visiting the local dollar store and buying dinky toys (toy cars).  That too is gone.  However, the Hilton General Store is still there and is much as I remember it.

A few more kilometres on and my final stop was Gawas Bay.  ‘Gawas’ is an Ojibwe First Nation word that means ‘sloping sandstone’ and it’s very apt as there are a number of such rocky outcrops / islands in this inlet of the North Channel of Lake Huron.  It’s very sheltered and on one or two of the islands are cottages, with white pine trees over them and then beyond Camp d’Ours Island (Bear Camp Island).  There are more white pine trees on the shore, but beyond this a huge grove of sugar maples and at this time of year they turn the most amazing colours and when it’s calm you get the contrasting dark green of the pines with the blazing oranges, yellows and reds of the maples firing into the tranquil water.   It’s a truly stunning place and it’s the exact spot where my parents had their first house in Canada.  Two doors down my Uncle Ted built his first house in Canada.  He was a master carpenter.  He and my Aunt Val and my cousins Steve and Vince stayed on here after we moved the 60 km west to Sault Ste. Marie.  At Christmas, we’d come up for dinner and after dinner we’d go out snowshoeing or skymobiling on the frozen bay.   I have such happy memories of it here and it feels like my spiritual home.

I parked up by the public dock here and for a while just sat on the dockside, looked out over the bay and was transported back to that 6 year old boy, on my parents’ screened porch looking out over Gawas, sunset bringing a warm hue to the towering deep green of the white pines and the cottages on the tiny rocky outcrop islands.  I’ve long wished I could stay in one of those cottages, but the downside of that is you wouldn’t have the same amazing view.  Even as I write this I’m welling up.  Times were so much simpler then and happier.  At my parents’ house here I had a big sandbox, under a cedar tree and my mum had a big vegetable patch.  I can clearly remember my joy as I harvested the potatoes, the excitement of digging and not knowing what you’d get and the satisfaction of harvesting your own food.

I watched the sun go down and felt the memories flooding back.  Not much has changed here, except the main road used to go right along the bay and now it’s tucked in behind.  Other than that, it’s exactly as I remember it.  This is very much a trip of rediscovery, but so often you find things aren’t as you remember them or that they’ve changed beyond all measure.  Not here, not in this place where I feel most at peace, most at ‘home’.

Gawas_3Gawas_2

Then a wave of sadness swept over me.  I’m here, but I’m here alone.  My Uncle Ted passed away in 1993 from pancreatic cancer.  We always had a special bond.  In any case, they’d long before moved a bit further up highway 17 to Bruce Mines, Ontario, where he built another amazing house and his own 45 foot steel-hulled sailboat, ‘That’lldo’.  My cousins have moved away, my parents are divorced and I’m estranged from my family.  I’ve always hoped that I could bring someone special here, just sit on the dock with them, silent, hold hands, enjoy the peace of this special place and watch the sun slip behind the white pines one more time.

I pulled myself together and jumped back in the SUV for the final leg of the journey west to my old hometown of Sault Ste. Marie.  I’ve not been back since 2002.  I’ve been putting it off, because I knew it’d stir up all sorts of emotion.  A lot has changed.  First of all they’ve built a four-lane bypass around the Garden River, where old highway 17 would hug the St. Mary’s River and gracefully bend around gradually (and very slowly as the traffic was hell), before you saw the welcoming lights of the city appear.  Now you’re whisked behind all that on the longer, but faster 17, until finally being unceremoniously dumped onto Trunk Road.   From here I turned onto Dacey Road, where my grade school, M.J. Dacey was.  When I was here last, it stood there, a dilapidated wreck, but otherwise more-or-less as I remembered it.  Now it’s gone, replaced by townhouse apartments and a small new sub-division.  Yet another example of how things are rarely as you remember them.

From here I headed up Chambers Ave., which was for so many years a key part of my mile-long walk to school each day in all manner of weather.  I saved going past my childhood home on Bowker Street, as it’s a small street and it was dark and I didn’t want to creep out the neighbours.  So I opted instead to go down the broader Eastern Avenue, where my parents bought their next house, which ultimately they couldn’t really afford so we were only there about 18 months.  It looked much as I remembered it.  I turned down South Market Street and back onto Chambers, before hitting Boundary Road and turning left.  This is where my parents last lived together and where I last lived in ‘The Sault’.  It too hasn’t changed much, but it was dark and I had someone behind me (as you always seem to in these drives).

Continuing on, I turned right down Queen St. E.   This ultimately takes you downtown, except there was a detour, where the hospitals are, or rather where they used to be.  My friend Pete tells me they’re gone and replaced by the ‘Sault Area Hospital’ up on Great Northern Road.  So a detour up to Wellington it was, before turning left onto Bruce Street, then Bay and finally St. Mary’s River Drive, to what is now called the Delta Waterfront Hotel and Conference Centre.  In my day, it was the Holiday Inn.   Very strange to be staying in a hotel in the town you grew up in.

After checking in, I hopped over the drive, to Station Mall.   Growing up this is where you went.  Downtown was the focus of the city and you’d hang out in the food court.  It’s been extended over the years, but was always anchored by Sears.  My mum used to work here in women’s fashion and finally the furniture department.  My father was a contractor to the store for the installation of flooring.  Yes, very much a basic background, me.

Like the city, the mall has fallen on hard times.  Sizeable sections of it are closed off.  A huge section of the central part of it has some kind of temporary floor and yet more shops are just vacant.  It was dead.  OK, it was a Tuesday night, but still I got the feeling its days are numbered.  City planners seem to be favouring strip malls and outlets on the main drags rather than downtown.  More is the pity in my opinion.

I decided to drive up Great Northern Road and check out what has happened there.  And this is where you do see a lot of change.  First of all there are a lot of new mini malls, then a large chunk of the old K-mart plaza is being torn down.  Further up beyond Second Line, are a lot of US imports like Walmart and others, before you reach, as Pete had advised, the sprawling Sault Area Hospital.  Sadly the city doesn’t feel so much a city anymore and looks run down.

I stopped at A&W on the way back downtown for a quick bite.  The summer after my first year of university, I worked at A&W in Station Mall as a grill cook.  That’s now a McDonald’s, but it was quite nostalgic in any case to have a mozza burger here.  With that it was back to the hotel, to work on the photos taken on St. Joseph Island and to absorb what has become of ‘home’.

Canada day 3 – Leaf fall, clouds part

8 October 2013

Yesterday started on a very breezy, overcast and damp note and wouldn’t you know it, that combination took down probably half the leaves here.  However, there’s still a lot of colour and this morning it’s completely clear and the orange and yellow leaves against the blue skies, just sing.  My friends back garden catches the morning sun and the low light is picking out leaves randomly through the tree canopy.  Just stunning!   I’m in a bit of a hurry this morning or I’d stop here to take photos.

Unfortunately yesterday was not conducive to photos, but I’ve really lucked out for the rest of the week as it’s going to be sunny with highs nudging the 20 degree mark.  Perfect walking weather!

I spent time with my friend Mark here yesterday and we caught up, went for a short drive and did a bit of shopping, before picking up Chris and doing some food shopping.  Food shopping is always interesting in a different place.  What strikes me here is just how much the grocery aisles are dominated by big brands.  In the UK, we still have a lot of niche companies, which innovate and we seem to have more variety, especially in terms of ingredients as opposed to processed foods, which seem to dominate here.  The other big difference is price of course, with things being considerably cheaper here, though the difference is becoming less noticeable.  After this I picked up a Canadian SIM card for my phone, since roaming costs in Canada are extortionate.  When I go to the US, it’s much cheaper, so much so now that I don’t bother to get a US SIM, but with only Rogers and Bell here, there just isn’t the competition to bring the prices down.

That done we headed back to the guys’ house where they prepared a big Mexican feast and their friend Mike stopped by as he was in town for work.  A relaxed meal with good friends and not for the first time a very full belly.

It’s just as well that I’m heading out today to do some exploring, hiking and photo taking as I need to work off all the food I’ve consumed since arriving.  I’m driving west down highway 17, past Sudbury and first stopping at  Chutes Provincial Park, which is near the village of Massey.  I’ll do a two-hour hike around the Au Sable river, its rapids and set of waterfalls.  Hopefully there’ll still be good autumn colour there too.  Timing-wise it’s going to be late morning, so I’ll have to contend with direct light and in order to get the misty look of the waterfalls I want, I’ll need to use at least an ND8 filter, possibly a ten stop filter to reduce the light levels, so the highlights don’t get totally blown out.

After this, I’m heading further west and if time permits, will stop off by the bridge that leads to St. Joseph Island.  This is the first place we lived when we emigrated to Canada in 1973.  We lived in the tiny town of Richard’s Landing and then by the gorgeous Gawas Bay, an inlet of the North Channel of Lake Huron.  I will definitely take more time here before returning to North Bay on Thursday.

I will reach Sault Ste. Marie, where I grew up by late afternoon and will then head up to Pancake Bay Provincial Park on Lake Superior to get sunset shots and do a bit more hiking, before returning to ‘The Soo’ for the evening.  

So a much more active today.  Best get to it!

Canada day 2 – 6 hours and countless Timbits later

7 October 2013

My body insisted I was still in London or at least over the Atlantic, as I woke up at about 5 a.m.   I’ve decided to write more as I travel and also video blog (vblog), so even if I’m travelling alone, I can share the adventure.  

I decided after the long journey, a hearty breakfast was in order and so made my way to the hotel restaurant.  Again I was greeted in French and responded in kind.  It makes me realise how much I miss using it.  There’s just no opportunity in London to do so.  When I travel, I typically want to sample local food and so I ordered ‘le petit déjeuner Québécois’.  What made it a Quebecker breakfast, the French toast and rillettes, a pâté made of minced pork or other light meat, seasoned and combined with fat.  Magnifique!  Very tasty!  

So full to overflowing, I checked out and jumped in the Ford Explorer for the long drive to North Bay, Ontario.  As is usual these days, the car has, for me what is absolutely essential, both an auxiliary input and USB power.  I’ve got to be able to play music and the Tom Tom sat nav instructions via the car stereo.  There are few things I like more than driving with great music playing.

To exit Montreal west, you take Autoroute 40, off the island and into Ontario.  It seemed like they’d decided to scrap it and start fresh as they whole length was under construction. It was a beautiful, but crisp morning and that showed off the amazing autumn colours, the first glimpse of them I’d had.  Within 30 minutes you arrive in Ontario on highway 417 and then less than an hour later you arrive in Canada’s capital, Ottawa.  It’s at this point I lost the good weather and hit yet more roadworks.

Half an hour later I reached Arnprior, Ontario and the skies opened and from that point on it pissed down.  At about the 3-hour point, I reached Petawawa, Ontario on the banks of the Ottawa River.   I needed rest, but more importantly I had to get my fix of Timbits from Tim Horton’s.  Timbits are doughnut holes and come in about a dozen different varieties.  I’d not timed it well, though as there was a queue and the supply of Timbits was dwindling while I watched in horror.  I reached the counter and downsized my order to avoid getting umpteen of the plain variety.

Belly full yet again, I darted out to the Explorer to avoid being drowned en route.  Another 2 1/2 hours and a few slow moving vehicles later, I arrived in North Bay.  The colours here are stunning and I’ll share some photos tomorrow.  I was kind of nervous. I’ve not seen my friends here for a couple years, crazy really.  I few huge hugs later, I was settling into their beautiful home and it was as if no time had passed at all.

In the evening we went out for Japanese.  What a humongous feast!  It’s one of my favourite foods and we had all manner of rolls, tempura, gyoza, etc. I was stuffed (yet again), but a what a wonderful first night with my friends.

I struggled til about 11 p.m. and then turned in and I’m sure fell asleep before my well travelled head even hit the pillow.

 

 

Canada day 1 – Bienvenue

6 October 2013

Having been totally spoilt with business class on the Emirates A380 to and from my business trip to Dubai, it was with lowered expectations that I boarded the British Airways 777-200 and headed to seat 2J.  Talk about a tale of two business classes!  It started on a lower note, with no limo to or from the airport as you get with Emirates.  Whereas the Emirates experience was one of luxury, light, formal but attentive service, BA was well… beige or perhaps grey.  The whole cabin is so incredibly bland and that perfectly sums up the entire experience.  I’d say I had only half as much room as I did on the flights to and from the U.A.E.  Gone was the extra storage, little minibar, tablet to control the seat, the HD screen, seat vibration, in fact most senses of luxury… poof, gone!   Also gone was the bar.  The service was very friendly, but also very unpolished, with staff spending most of their time in the galley, not looking after their passengers.  That has always been my experience on BA.  This is in stark contrast to Emirates, who were very attentive and professional, albeit quite distant.  So in short, there’s business class and then there’s Emirates business class.

I now write this to you from my room at the Novotel à l’aéroport de Montréal.  Alors, oui je suis au Canada!

First a few words on the hotel.  It was very difficult to find, having to wind your way through ‘les autoroutes’ and all the service roads here in Montreal.  It didn’t help that shortly after setting off from the airport my phone died and with it my Tom Tom sat nav.  However, I got fairly close and pulled over at a petrol station to recharge the phone and then within a few minutes arrived at the hotel.  My friend Chris here wisely advised me to rest after my long journey rather than make the near six hour drive to North Bay immediately off my flight.

The hotel seemed quite full as I struggled to find a parking spot.  Once reaching reception I was greeted with a friendly ‘bon soir’.  As I’m in Quebec, I thought it polite and wise to use my French.  The receptionist therefore proceeded to speak French to me.  Amazingly enough I got about 80% of what she said, only needing one ‘pardon’.  Thinking her a native speaker, I was quite pleased with myself, but as I walked away, her colleague turned to her and said in perfect English, “Come here, you’ve got to see this, it’s so funny.”   ‘Bienvenue au Canada!’

I reach room 302 after quite a long walk with my two suit cases, camera and lap top bags, open the door and was greeted with an expansive room, in fact oddly spacious.  It’s clearly a very new hotel and everything has that just completed smell.  When I went into the bathroom, all became clear.  The hotel was full and I’d been given the disabled room, as the bathroom was a wet room with a fold down seat in the shower.

However, the thing I appreciate most while travelling is free and reasonably fast hotel WiFi.  Thankfully this is becoming more the norm, especially in North America.

It’s now 6.30 a.m. and time to “yawn and stretch and try to come to life.”  Jumpin’ in the shower, sample the hotel breakfast and then hop in my hire car for the trip, a black Ford Explorer with all mod cons.  It’s a big beast.  Quite high up and wide.  It’ll take a bit of getting used to, but it’s perfect for exploring eastern Canada.  Allons-y!

Apple WWDC Keynote review

10 June 2013

I can’t remember ever being so disappointed with an Apple product launch or WWDC keynote.  There was so little that was memorable, that made me sit up and take notice or caused my pulse to quicken with anticipation.  As most of you will know, I’m a keen Apple devotee, but I’m really beginning to worry for the direction of the company.  Nearly 9 months with no excitement, save the odd incremental hardware update, only to met with this drab news.

Let’s break it down…

Mac OSX, Maverick?  More maverick by name, than maverick by nature that’s for sure.  Why not start with this silly name, that may mean something to a select few in California, but means precisely nothing to the rest of us.  How will this develop in future… OSX Mojave?  OSX Malibu?  OSX Long Beach?  No… I can’t see this lasting ten years.  Bring back the cats!  Ah well… what’s in a name?  Well in this case it’s symbolic of an Apple product that is sorely neglected. Where’s the great new user experience here or the sweeping graphic makeover or the big revitalisation of the abyssmal Mac App Store?  That’s right, they’re nowhere to be seen.  One thing that did catch my eye was the better use of processor, improving battery life.  However, I always take battery claims with a grain of salt.  My iPhones have never come anywhere near to the batter life claimed.  I would certainly welcome improvement with my MacBook Pro’s, though.  Oh and we also have a Mac maps app to ‘look forward to’.  Great!  Integration that can get you lost and send misrouting information to your iPhone.  How about fixing the pathetic data?  You can integrate and create great new features, but it’s still GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). I do really like the fact that iBooks will come to the Mac.  While we’re at it though, why not Newstand?  THAT, I’d have been much more excited about.  Could it be we’re guarding the market for the iPad?

On to hardware…

First up was the MacBook Air.  What is the amazing new, streamlined, god-inspired design innovation here?  Increased battery life.  What else? Well, er… um… nothing really just the usual bump in performance.  If I had a recent version of this, I’d certainly not be rushing off to upgrade.

Now the kind of 1/2 announcement of the Mac Pro, which did look much more interesting. However, it is quite odd to have a preview of an upcoming device, but on a day of such meagre news for the technorati, I suppose they had to throw out a few bones.  This did look cool, more like a new age speaker in looks than a computer.  It will be packed with huge power and customizability.  What made my ears prick up here was support for multiple 4K displays.  4K is the successor to full HD and there have been persistant rumours swirling that if Apple releases it’s own HDTV, it may in fact be 4K.  The announcement that the Mac Pro supports multiple 4K displays is a big hint that Apple has big plans here.

And then there’s, iOS…

As expected there’s a sweeping update being made here taking us to version 7.  The look of the entire interface got the Jony Ive minimalist treatment.  Now I’m a huge, huge fan of the man and his design aesthetic.  No one combines the user experience with industrial design like this handsome devil.  There were some great, Ive-inspired changes here… the parallax effect when moving the device relative to the viewer, as well as the use of transparency throughout to give better visual cues to the user.  However, as for the fonts and spacing… Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!  Style has won over usability here.  The emaciated text may look cool and trendy, but it’s all but certain to cause eye strain.  In the desire to create a minimal look, many of the screens / text have been spaced out to Kalahari-like proportions.  Expect to do an awful lot of scrolling.  The colour palette too I found most distasteful and lurid.  It’s very high contrast and quite acidic.  Given the visual aspects of this update, it should be bundled with Migrelieve or a muscle relaxant!  This said there are many, many new features here that in sum are interesting and worth waiting for.  It’s just a shame we have to wait until autumn.  Perhaps you’ll have to wait even longer for iOS 7 to reach your iPad, however, since they demoed nothing on the device nor made mention of any specific features for it.

Now let’s talk about what there was no news of…

  • No iWatch.
  • No new Apple TV (either the simple box or the whizzy new display).
  • No new iPad.
  • No new iPhone.
  • No new iPod.
  • No new MacBook.
  • No new MacBook Pro.

So practically nothing to get the hardware juices flowing.

 In summary…

Thoroughly disappointing and I suspect there will be many grumblings, from even die-hard Apple fans like myself.  If I had Apple shares, I’d be selling them sadly.

Edinburgh, Disney style

6 June 2013

New regime, new me

3 May 2013

I’ve had pushes with eating and the gym before, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as determined as I am now.   I’ve already started dropping weight, from a peak of just over 100 kg, in January, to 95.8 kg as I write this, or about 10 lbs lost.  

Tonight I started back at my gym, Virgin Active in Chiswick Park (West London).   It used to be Esporta, but Virgin bought them out.  When I heard of the takeover, I was filled with dread.  Esporta was a cut above, a little pricier, but great services and quality, amazing trainers.  You really felt you were going to somewhere special, where you would be happy to linger. That, however, has all been swept away by the red, Virgin tide.  Hmmm bad choice of words there, perhaps.  

It didn’t start well.  I approached the front desk to ask about the 9 training sessions I had remaining, prior to stopping about 18 months ago, following a lot of travel for work and a holiday.  The receptionist asked for my trainer’s name and when I gave it, her face dropped.  Oh he left about a year ago.  Strike one – he was an amazing trainer, really pushed me, but was very friendly.  

OK, so I asked who I could use for the remaining 9 of 10 sessions, I’d paid £450 for.  “Let me get the training supervisor, please take a seat.”   You know full well, when they have to bring in re-enforcements and they ask you to sit down, what’s coming ain’t gonna be good!  Sure enough it wasn’t.  It was firmly explained to me that notices were put up around the club telling people you had to use up your sessions with your trainers before they left as Virgin wasn’t renewing their contracts.  “And what if you are lapsed member and never saw said notices”, I enquired.  She paused for a fair while, well you should have received a communication.  I smelt a rat.  That’s always the get out of jail card, isn’t it, I thought to myself.  I explained I’d received no email, no letter from them.  Again I was told I should have.  I explained, firmly, back that had I received such notice, I’d have promptly asked for a  refund of outstanding sessions.

She was getting battle worn, so what’s a training supervisor to do…  You got it, bring in further re-enforcements.   I was told, she didn’t have the power to make exceptions to this.  Apparently, I’d have to speak to the club’s General Manager.   It would be best to email her and ask for an appointment.  I shan’t be asking.  I shall be demanding!   They’re not going to find it easy to weasel their way out of this.  They bought Esporta and with it got their clients, but also all obligations of their clients.  You can’t pick and choose.   So I’m digging my heals in for a real fight here.

Anyway… that’s really an aside as the main story is the new regime.  I did about 25 minutes of cardio and then about an hour of free weights, focussed on my shoulders and chest.  I really pushed it and boy am I going to pay the piper tomorrow, I’m quite sure.  

I’m also taking some new supplements.  One to suppress appetite and more effectively metabolise fat.  Another to help the body boost its own production of testosterone, so completely legal.  A further, complex one to aid muscle growth, including encouraging the body to produce more growth hormone.  All of these are without side-effects and certainly so far, I’ve not noticed any adverse reaction.  Finally I’m restarting my protein and creatine shakes.

So watch this space… I will periodically post about progress.  Not in those every day, I’m working out this or that posts, but perhaps monthly overall I’ve achieved this so far kind of entires.

Frantic, frozen

30 April 2013

Clenching and swirling,
Short of breath,
Burning in the pit,
A living death.

Channels of burning,
Pace all around,
Yearning eyes closed,
Magnified sound.

Stifling the screaming,
Belly hard, flat,
Rocking in place,
Quick this, then that.

Stretching and reaching,
Crushed very small,
Clasping of head,
Rolled up ball.

Sighing and pleading,
Immobilised gut,
Grabbing at shadows,
Eyes wide shut.

Please! Help! Stop!

Sunlit hoodoos

25 April 2013

Sunlit hoods

A time of great change

25 April 2013 1 Comment

There’s a lot going on in my pathetic little head at the moment and I wanted to get it out in writing, wanted to be really open and share it all. Perhaps it’ll help people understand me and where I’m at. You know I’ve not kept up this blog, but I find it so cathartic to write and post, that it’s something I’m really going to devote time on from this point forward. So watch this space!

When I moved to London in ’94, it was on a whim really. I’d come over on holiday and was staying with a friend I’d made during his visit to Toronto the previous summer. Despite being born in the UK, I’d actually never been to London as my family is from southwest England – Devon & Cornwall. While on holiday, I was offered a job and it was such an exciting prospect to me, to up sticks and move to a city like London.

In the proceeding years, my family had broken apart. My parents, who always had a very stormy marriage, separated and divorced. They really shouldn’t have married, much less have had children. I lost contact with my dad in ’93 when they split. My mother, had become increasingly self-absorbed and irrational and it was tough to maintain much of a relationship with her. (We’ve since broken contact as well, back in 2005). I was single at the time too, so I really hadn’t any commitments to keep me in Canada. Perhaps in hindsight, part of the move was about running away from all of that. I’d also never taken up my Canadian citizenship, which also in hindsight was stupid.

The adjustment to life in London, was much more difficult than I’d anticipated. While we may speak more or less the same language, culturally it’s a much bigger gap than you might think. The first year or so was tough and then I met my ex and I settled into life here. We were together for 5 years and have stayed close friends since our split, which I initiated as he’d lost all interest in the relationship.

In the years that followed, I focussed on work more. Over time my career developed and I started to travel more and more, which is a real passion. In doing so I was fortunate to make more and more friends abroad, especially in the US, Canada and Australia.

Over the years too, I came to realise just how much I missed the great outdoors, the peace of it, the way I relax when I’m away from the hustle and bustle. Even in the countryside here, it’s very managed and there are people, in stark contrast to the remote, beautiful and serene country I grew up in, in Northern Ontario.

This background is all relevant to my current desire to move, so bear with me. In the last few years, especially, I’ve felt more and more like a fish out of water. While it’s true, that having been here for nearly 19 years, I’ve adjusted some, I still feel more at home when I get back over to Canada or the US. I went back to Canada in 2011 and spent three weeks close to where I grew up, sharing time with 3-4 good friends. That time, really ignited in me a desire to move back. I explored relocation at that time with my employer. They seriously considered it, but ultimately concluded my project’s focus for the next couple of years would be in Europe, so felt the timing wasn’t right. It took them 6 months to conclude this and it frustrated me. At the same time, I was getting frustrated by the lack of promotion opportunities. I’m a driven sort… I need to be challenged, to learn and to grow or I get bored.

I’ve also built up a great group of friends in the Boston area, via a chance meeting while on holiday in Madrid in 2011. Further, I was lucky enough to have an amazing 3-week holiday all over California in August last year, where I made yet more friends. And of course, I just had the week in Northern Arizona, Utah and Vegas. All of this has only re-enforced my desire to move. Of course holidays don’t bear much resemblance to real life, but I make friends so easily over there, whereas here it’s always as struggle.

So that leads me to now and the current job opportunity. So when I saw this come up, of course I jumped at the chance, pulled out the stops and am more determined than ever to move, if not with this job, another.

I also met a great guy while on holiday in Utah, that I like very much. However, my potential move is independent of these thoughts, for all the reasons I’ve spelt out before this. What I do see, is that it would make it more feasible for us to spend time together and really get to know each other.

Time will tell whether that can be the cherry on top to any move, it’s at a very early stage, but I can say that it’s been a very long time since I felt this much potential.

So there you have it… I know it has helped me to put these thoughts into words. Perhaps for friends that have taken the time to read this, you’ll have gained a greater insight into my character too.

It’s an exciting time, but also one fraught with uncertainties. I’m riding the wave, though!

Rue des Bouchers

9 June 2012 2 Comments

Image

Grand-Place / Grote Markt

9 June 2012

Grand-Place / Grote Markt

Central square in Brussels, Belgium

Spring in my step?

25 February 2012

While the weather outside is sunny and warm all of a sudden, with spring very much in the air, it’s very definitely not in my step.

After yet another marathon workweek… over 70 hours despite booking myself off Friday afternoon, I’m left feeling absolutely exhausted, with very little energy to actually get out and enjoy the sudden warmth. Although we’re only in late February, I feel in desperate need of a holiday. This cannot be right.

I’ve been making more and more waves at work about my ridiculous workload and it finally caught the eye of our director on Thursday evening as he asked me to call him. I have a much better relationship with him, than I do with my own boss who is next to useless. However, it amounted to a pep talk and ego stroking with a token gesture of take yourself out for a meal on the company this weekend.

It doesn’t address the resourcing issue. It doesn’t address the fact that my responsibilities have grown 5-fold at the same time my pay hasn’t even kept pace with inflation. It doesn’t address the issue that I’m not being developed, there are no promotion opportunities and my job title in no way accurately reflects the size, complexity and importance of what I’m working on.

If I’m lucky, I’ll feel half rested by the time I reach Monday and get back on the merry-go-round again and on Monday morning I have my annual review, where I’ll find out my bonus, pay award and development plan. If it’s not top notch, you’ll hear the protests from wherever you are, I’m quite sure.

Skyline

25 February 2012 1 Comment

Toronto skyline