Thursday, 31 July 2008

Penguins, Penguins, Penguins

If you like penguins, this post is for you! It is inspired by Drowsey Monkey, who has some penguins in her sidebar. I felt rather guilty when I was playing with them, since you can make them follow you, dictate their every move, all of them moving as one, none with a mind of their own. Then I suddenly realised that this was just how the penguins behaved when I was watching them in South Africa last summer. Let's look at the photos below:

So, here is a group. They are above the viewing platform, but they want to get to the sea, which is below the platform. This means that they have to waddle past us, but they are not too sure about that. You can almost hear their little brains ticking over:

"You go first - I'll follow."
"Oooh, I'll go too, if you go."
"Me too."
"Well, I'll go, if you go."
"You go first then."
"No, you go first."
"Well, someone has to go first."
"OK, I'll go first if you all follow me."
"OK then, go."
"OK, I'm going, are you following?"
"Yes, we are, go.........."

So, off they waddle, all watching each other and making sure that all are going. If even one hesitates, they all hesitate. And then..........

...........something spooks them. One of them falters, one of them vacillates, one of them starts to turn back, and then they all reverse waddle back, en masse, into the boulders.

"Did you see that?"
"I don't know, but I am sure that I saw something."
"Well, I am going back then."
"Well, if you're going back, so am I."
"Don't leave me."
"Or me."
"Run away."
"Run away."
"Wait for me."
"And me........"
"And me........"

So, there you have it. Go play with Drowsey Monkey's penguins, guilt free. Enjoy. But before you go, here are a couple more penguin photos for your viewing delight.

When in Africa, I saw all the big ones - lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos -but of all the animals that I saw, the penguins won my heart. Look at that face - how could you not love them? OK, so they are not all cuddly and furry, they are not magnificent, fierce, impressive or imposing with their strength and power. But they are so comical and endearing. Their faces and body language is very expressive. They are curious and inquisitive and I love the way they seem as interested in you as you are in them. Now, that might be because they are worried that you are about to eat them, but perhaps, just perhaps, they think we are curious and cute too.

Here is a teenaged penguin - ready to fly the coop - oh, wait, no, hop, jump, waddle or swim the coop.

These photos were taken at Betty's Bay in South Africa.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

I wasn't going to complain, but.........

Mr. DBM and I just spent a very pleasant few days down in Southern California with our prospective brothers - one in San Diego and one in Newport Beach. When it was time to leave, we headed for the airport, ready for our two short flights home.

First leg: United, from San Diego to San Francisco.
Things not looking good when we arrive. The previous flight has been cancelled and there are loads of people queuing up to reschedule flights, connections, luggage etc. Then our flight gets delayed - low cloud cover in San Francisco. It was fog on the way down, and now it is low cloud. Apparently, they need to be able to see to land in San Francisco. If that were the case in Vancouver, flights would be permanently delayed for about 10 months! Anyhoo, not a problem, since our connecting flight would be delayed too.

Now, you may find this hard to believe, but I am actually a very patient person when it comes to problems that cannot be avoided. It is no one's fault that it is foggy, cloudy, windy, lighting, snow, ice, a tornado or hurricane, a plaque of frogs on the runway or rats eating through the signalling cable. What I have a problem with is incompetence and the ways in which paying customers are handled in such trying times. United did an OK job in keeping us informed. Not great, but OK. We were kept up to date on the departure time of our flight and we always knew what was going on. OK, so I was not happy, I just wanted to go home, but some things can't be helped. Mr. DBM did enquire if I would be blogging about our delays when I got home and at this point I said no, this didn't warrant a rant. So what happened to change my mind?

I'll tell you what happened - Air Canada, that's what!

Second leg - Air Canada, San Francisco to Vancouver.
When we arrive in San Francisco, we are told to ask the UA representative at the desk about our connecting flight, so we do. The response - “Well, that is Air Canada, I don't know about Air Canada flights.” I point out that it is a code share flight, sharing a code with UA and so she should know. Well, she can tell us about another flight going to Vancouver, but not ours. Great, thanks very much. So, we go and look at the departures board - no flight to Vancouver listed on that. OK, how about we try the information desk? Well, they vaguely wave us off in the direction of the International Terminal, since that is where Air Canada flies from. OK, so we shall wander around the terminal until we find a gate that says Air Canada to Vancouver. There's a plan - it is not the biggest airport in the world, afterall, so, that is bound to work. Off we wander, hoping that our flight is delayed, since we have no idea how long it might take until we stumble across our desired departure gate. As we wander, we find one Air Canada gate - Gate 68 - there is no one there and no flights are listed, so we continue our random search. We then find another gate - gate 61 - again, no one there, no flights listed. At this point, the gates change back to UA flights and then end. OK, so, none the wiser, I try a UA representative again. He just tells us to go and check with the agent at the Air Canada desk. I point out that there is no agent at the Air Canada desk, he ignores me and manages to find another client that he can help. So, we wander back to the departures board. Aha! A flight to Vancouver, departing from Gate 69. Excellent! Back we trot, only to find the departure board there says that the next flight is going to Washington D.C. Not really a place that I have been dying to visit, but what the hell, we shall hang around here for a while, since it is the best lead we have so far.

While we are waiting, a few other lost souls bound for Vancouver wander by, including a Japanese woman and her daughter. They actually have a boarding pass with a gate number on it - Gate 61. Aha, perhaps that is where we should be? But the board does say 69..........Then, lo and behold, a rare and endangered sight is encountered - an Air Canada agent. Oh no, my mistake, it is a cleaner. Well, we could try asking him - nope, no go, he does not speak English.

OK then, we shall continue lying in wait, hidden behind the pillar, camouflaged by the palm tree, waiting for the shy and elusive Air Canada agent. Surely one has to arrive soon to deal with the Toronto flight at gate 68? Our wait is not in vain - an agent arrives. He busies himself with ignoring all of us and tidying up his desk. So, I go up and ask him which gate the Vancouver flight is leaving from - Gate 61. I go and tell the Japanese women that we are supposed to be at Gate 61, but since neither one of us is sure about this new information, we decide to divide and conquer - we will go to 61 and they will stay at 69. Whoever is right will go back and fetch the others. Cunning, eh? As we are making our way to gate 61, the Air Canada agent makes an announcement.

"For those of you who are unaware, the Air Canada flight to Vancouver is leaving from gate 61"

Well, that's nice - make it sound as if we are all complete idiots for being at gate 69, when obviously the flight is going from Gate 61. I trot back to pick up the Japanese ladies and off we all go with purposeful, confident strides, to Gate 61. Guess what - there is no one there - no flight details on the board, no agent, no plane, no nothing. Well, I guess we could wait?

Next arrival - the duty free man, with all the duty free purchases for the Vancouver passengers. He is about as happy as we are, pushing his alcoholic wares from gate 61 to 69 and back again. But he seems quite confident that we are leaving from Gate 61, so Gate 61 it is. Until another agent arrives. Unfortunately, she is none the wiser than us, the Japanese or the duty free guy, but at least she has a radio. Much back and forth chatter...........................yes, you guessed it, back to gate 69. And who told us this? No, not the agent, but the duty free man!

Right, now even Mr. DBM is getting mad. The natives are getting restless, there is much murmuring amongst the passengers, some nice, polite Canadians are about to be pushed beyond their niceness limit. We all troop back to Gate 69, which still claims to be flying to Washington, still has no agent present (the one from Gate 61 obviously decided that showing her face at gate 69 might not be a good idea) and still does not have a plane there. ENOUGH!!!!! Back to gate 68, where I talk to a young agent with beady black eyes, a nose concord would be proud of and a very gay voice. For an authentic rendering of this conversation in your mind, make sure you remember the very gay voice and that anything I say is said in the most sarcastic voice you can muster.

Me: “Excuse me, but are we at the right gate for the Vancouver flight?”
Concord: “Yes.”
Me: “Well, the board says this flight is going to Washington.”
Concord: “Yes, but that is the next flight.”
Me: “Well, how are we supposed to know that - perhaps you could change the board?”
Concord: “It is a UA board, I can’t change it.”
Me: “Well, there must be some way of letting us know what is happening. We are all getting a little tired of traipsing between Gates 61 and 69.”
Concord: “I could make an announcement.”
Me: “Thank you, that would be helpful.”

The announcement is made, a plane arrives and we finally make it back to Vancouver. And the moral of this story? The obvious one - never, ever fly Air Canada if you can avoid them. The less obvious one - If you have to fly Air Canada, go to the duty free, order a large bottle of tequila and then follow the duty free guy around until he finds the gate. If all else fails, at least you can mug him and do some tequila shots.

Flight delays I can stomach, but incompetence really, really bugs me! And Air Canada flies high when it comes to incompetence. And you know what bugs me even more? The fact that my tax money - my hard earned tax money, is used time and time again to bail this useless, irritating, incompetent airline out. Why, oh why can’t we just let it fold in its wings, curl up its little toes and die a quiet and painless death. Let it go, let it rest in peace. We Canadians have far better things to sink our tax dollars into. We need bribe money to keep Quebec happy, we need to spend billions on keeping an up to date list on all those law abiding citizens that keep guns (what, the criminals aren’t going to register their guns too?), we need to spend hundreds of millions on fast ferries that can’t actually go any faster than normal ferries since the engines break down and their wake is too large (don’t worry, we now have new ferries that were made in Germany and they actually work. The “fast” ones were sold for about 5% of their cost and now sit next to the highway leading to the ferry dock, mocking us all as we drive by). See, we have lots of things to spend our money on.

So, I am now back home and I can relax, knowing that everything around here runs on time, things happen according to our schedule and the levels of incompetence are low - except for when the cable guy comes around. Tess is very happy to have us home and spent half of last night drilling into the side of my head and sucking on my hair. I think that Willow is also happy that we are back. She did sit on the cat tree and stare at me for about 2 hours last night. I suspect she was thinking “Don’t ever leave me alone with that crazy, catnip addled, half wit of a half sister again or I will kill you,” but she must have forgiven me, since she finally came to bed and drilled and drooled into my armpit for the other half of the night.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

So, where is my free lunch?

Apparently, if you are cute, life gives you free stuff. For example, this little fella got several hazelnuts for his lunch, just because he was so cute. Look at that face - how could you not give him something?

My looks never got me anything for free. I did go through a very cute stage between the ages of 3 and 4, but all my lunches were free then anyway.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

10 Things that Scare Me - by Moon.

Well, as there is no room on my blog .... Thanks EM ... I'm having a hostile takeover of DBM's...

To continue the theme set by EM, here are 10 things that scare the shite out of me. This is actually quite tough, because I have been thinking about this, and I have decided not many things actually scare me. After all, I am an adrenaline junkie, sky dived, Scuba dives, been on the back of a motor bike at 140mph, bungee jumped... you kinda get the message, but here are some things :

  1. Snakes. There is definitely a reason why they were cast down and made to spend all eternity on their bellies.. I really hate them, esp the huge Anaconda, swimming in water ...... Jeez, I hate that thought ...they are just evil things, look evil, are evil ...

  2. Mrs M. Natural choice here, she is some scary woman when she starts to swear in Slovakian. She is very strong, keeps me in order, and when she says jump... Man, I am jumping !

  3. Losing Mrs M. Follows on from above really, I really do not know what I would do without her, not going to get all soppy about it, but she is my life. I have had one marriage go wrong, and that feeling of losing the person you love is a terrible feeling, the second time around, it scares me to think of her anywhere but by my side

  4. Being caught naked,or on the loo ! This comes from the numerous dreams I have about these two subjects. I have no idea why, but I wake in cold sweats over both these things. The going to work, end up being naked, and people walking in when I am on the loo... both these things would also appear on other peoples lists of being scared by ...... The door is always locked, even when I am in the house on my own !

  5. The 8th hole at Le Golf Parc - Our golf tour, loving known as The Gimp Tour, takes place every year in France, and the 8th hole at Le Golf Parc (very imaginative name, I will translate if needed ?), well the 8th is a bit like the 17th at Sawgrass, standing over the ball on the tee, nothing but water ahead of you ... squeaky bum time ! Funny how a golf tour with 8-9 of your closest friends can become very scary. Who cares if you dunk 1 or 2 balls into the drink, does it really matter, well, YES !!, to me it does !

  6. Cut by a knife This can keep me awake at night, I think of a really sharp knife, cutting into my hand, finger, and the pain that goes with it... that really scares me !

  7. Losing family and friends Now I don't mean by death... that's too logical, I mean losing touch. Since I moved to the other side of the world, I actually keep in touch more with friends and family. I am obsessed with sending e-mails, updating Facebook, and maybe that why I also started my blog, after all, it's 6am on a Sunday morning, and here I am...... I have got back in touch with EM, we have spoken properly for 3-4 years, now we chat everyday, My sister Bugs, again, we talk once a week. My brother is different. I doubt he reads this, and he never e-mails, but he does call, and sister R and Ma, we talk every week... it's scares me to death to think of losing touch with my friends.

  8. Fat People. It scares me to ever think I could become fat, I mean really fat. I put on some weight after my hip operation, and I hated it. So I now work very hard in the gym to make sure I will never be obese.

  9. The Sea I love swimming at our beach, the waves are proper big, and that means an rip curl, man that scares me. I am a strong swimmer, been in the sea since I could walk, but the thought of how powerful the ocean is, and how it is so easy to be swept away ..... 'shudder' ..

  10. Something that doesn't scare me, anesthetic ! I have a lot of operations, most people fear 'going under'.. me, I like it, I relax, and enjoy the feeling. On my last operation, the nurse was worried her 'beep' machine wasn't working, my pulse didn't move from 55, I was so relaxed !, I guess the way I feel about it is this. If I die under anesthetic, how will i know ?, it won't effect me, I'll just keep on sleeping ! The people left behind, they are the people that are scared .....

So, I'll leave you to ponder what scares you, and I'll bugger off back to my blog. Dearest Sis, I have left things in order, hovered, fed the cats some Tuuuuuuna, and don't go looking in your kitchen cupboards, that will scare you ...............

PS If you are looking for Don't Bug Me!, I believe she has gone to visit English Mum..........

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Have you ever been run over by a horse-drawn caravan?

Brother Moon seems to think that I am far too sensible. Apparently, I play it safe. I do the right thing, what is expected of me, what I should do. I strive, unsuccessfully, for perfection; I always want to do the best that I can. Even when I am no good at something, I still have to do the best that I can. I hate making mistakes, I hate half-arsed jobs and I hate not doing as well as I could. This is all true, up to a point, but the older I get, the less perfect I get. It is just so much effort and it takes up too much time and energy.

Now, the question is - does this sensible streak make me boring? Does it mean that I don't take any risks or do exciting things? Does it mean that I am dull, tedious and no fun to be with? I suspect that is what a lot of people think, but I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it is maybe it is the quiet ones that you need to keep an eye on.

Let's take my latest foray into the wilderness that is Beautiful British Columbia. We are rather spoilt in this neck of the woods for spectacular scenery. Vancouver is surrounded by soaring, snow capped peaks that are smothered by ancient groves of giant conifers (well, most have been logged by rugged, square-jawed lumberjacks in plaid shirts and, perhaps, suspendies and a bra, but there are some left). Now, because these mountains are so soaring, they are usually covered in snow until July, at which point it is possible to don your boots, slather yourself up in mosquito repellent, grab your hiking poles and head for the summit. This is exactly what Mr. DBM and I did this week. Everything was going just fine, until we hit snow. First, there were just little patches here and there. Oh well, shouldn't be a problem, it is the middle of July after all. Let's keep going. So, we did. And the slope got steeper and the snow got deeper. Mr. DBM starts to put his sensible hat on and the inevitable conversation starts:

Mr. DBM: Honey, I think perhaps we should stop now.
Me: But I want to get to the top.
Mr. DBM: Yes, I know, but it is getting quite dangerous. If you fall here, it is a long way down.
Me: But I really want to get to the top.
Mr. DBM: Well, perhaps we can try and go a bit further, but if it gets any worse, we will have to turn back.
Me: Excellent.

And off I trot, with a quick hop and a skip, just like a mountain goat. OK, so perhaps more like a sloth with muscle fatigue, but slow and steady gets there in the end. We squirrel (sloth) our way up through some stunted, rooty, twisted and deformed trees, on a steep and slippery path, only to come out on the snow again. This time, it is steeper, with more jagged rocks and dangerous looking holes. We start up our conversation again:

Mr. DBM: OK, we really do need to turn back now.
Me: But we are nearly there - look, just past that ridge, it gets steeper, but it is more exposed and higher up, closer to the sun, so there is less snow.
Mr. DBM (who has a science degree and is not going to fall for that one): We can always come back in a couple of weeks.
Me: No, really, we can do this, look.........

At this point, I start edging out onto the snow chute. I have my hiking poles. I am carefully digging out little ledges in the snow for my feet. I will be fine, don't worry.......

At this point, Mr. DBM gets his stern voice and serious look out and starts the whole shaking of the head routine - I know that I am fighting a losing battle now, but still I soldier on, one tentative, hesitant and potentially last, footstep at a time.

Mr. DBM: How exactly are you going to get back down again?
Me: Well, I thought that I could just slide down, on my bum, braking with my heels - that should work just fine.
Mr. DBM: What about those jagged rocks?
Me: Oh, yes, well.....
Mr. DBM (sensing victory): Perhaps you should turn around and come back now?
Me (trying to sound cool, calm and under control, when in reality I am beginning to realise that snow really is quite slippery stuff and it really is quite a long slide down and that I am not entirely sure how exactly I am going to turn around and head back): OK.

So, there you go, perhaps I am not quite so sensible after all. If you want sensible, you have to look no further than Mr. DBM. If it wasn't for him, I would have continued up the snow chute, made it to the ridge, clambered up to the summit, taken some photos of the spectacular view, slithered, slid, rolled, scrambled and fallen off the mountainside and finally made it back to the car, exhausted, knackered, barely able to walk, but quite chuffed that I had made it. Or, I would still be stuck up on a ledge wishing that my cell phone would work in the mountains, hoping that the bears prefer the taste of salmonberries to me and that Mr. DBM will forgive me for being an idiot, risking life and limb for a scenic outlook, and will call mountain rescue. Or, things could have ended with an altercation between me and some hard, jagged, unforgiving rocks. You just never know. Sometimes, being sensible really is just the right thing to do - thank you Mr. DBM. But next time, I will make it to the top.

Here is Mr. DBM in the snow, with The Lions peeking through the trees in the background. As you can see, we encountered more snow than expected!

Please note: Mr. DBM did give his grudging permission for this photo to be used.

A deer fern in the woods, one frond highlighted by the sun. Even amongst the majestic mountains, there are small jewels of beauty just waiting to be noticed.

Just how sensible am I? How much risk am I prepared to take? We could always look at some of the things that I have done in my life:

  • Travelling across the U.S and Australia on my own.
  • Hiking the bear and snake-infested backcountry of the U.S on my own - how close is too close when it comes to taking a photo of a bear?
  • Diving down to 170ft to see gorgonian corals and cloud sponges.
  • Diving with numerous sharks, including great whites and shark feedings, where you can be surrounded my more than 50 sharks at one time.
  • Sky diving - static line and freefall.
  • Bungy jumping.
  • Moving to Vancouver, leaving all my friends and family in England.

Some of the things that I have done have been just plain stupid. Hiking in Yellowstone, alone, up a mountain, covered in snow, as a storm is coming in, without telling anyone where I was going or that I was even going, was pretty dumb. But mostly, I take calculated risks. Sky diving and bungy jumping are not very dangerous. Sure, if something goes wrong, the consequences can be nasty, but the likelihood of something going wrong is very small. Moving to Vancouver was a far more daring and frightening thing to do. So, am I sensible?

Well, I did get run over by a horse drawn caravan. How many sensible people can claim that?

Monday, 14 July 2008

Three Things My Husband Knows About Me.

The other day I received the rather dubious honour of being tagged. My initial reaction was that of excitement - well, I had never been tagged before. But then, the reality of the situation dawned upon me. Oooer, now I have to do something. This tagging came from The Depp Effect - thank you very much - and it involves divulging three things that my husband knows about me. This may not seem like a terribly difficult challenge, but then most of you out there in blogdom do not know my other half. Mr. DBM is a very private and generally sensible man who does not believe in the frivolous use of the internet for time wasting activities such as blogs. I try to explain that it is not a waste of time. It is a way that I can wax lyrical about the frustrations of life, it has enabled me to reacquaint myself with family members and to get to know new people that have similar or very different viewpoints to mine. I was very dubious about the whole blogging phenomenon until I gave it a go and now I am hooked. Mr. DBM, on the other hand, is still not the slightest bit interested and claims that he does not even know the name of my blog, and he would certainly never read it. He also tells me that I had better not ever write anything about him on it. Well, let’s just hope he is telling the truth about never reading it, shall we.

So, back to the tagging task. It has been like pulling hippopotamus’ teeth, but I have finally managed to drag three nuggets of scintillating interest from Mr. DBM. Here they are:

  1. I sleep with a cuddly dog called Murphy. I know, I know, I could possibly be a tad too old to be sleeping with a cuddly animal but, in my defence, it is a medical necessity. I always used to sleep lying on my front. However, due to the ever increasing size of the Not-a Baby-Bump, this is no longer possible. Murphy is just the right size to use as a wedge to stop me from rolling over onto my stomach when I am asleep. Besides, my sister R gave him to me when I first left England to move to Canada and I am now very attached to him, especially since the original Murphy - a real life, big, hairy, lovable animal with the most appalling teeth and breath ever known to canine kind - has since left us.
  2. I have a mole on my foot. Now, a couple of other people have admitted to having rather hairy, hobbit-like feet, but me, I have a mole. I have had it all my life and so I don’t really notice it anymore, and it really is not very big. I would call it a distinguishing characteristic. So if I ever disappear under mysterious circumstances, and the police want to know if I have any distinguishing characteristics, you will have one to tell them. Also, if my right foot ever appears on a beach in the Georgia Straight in a running shoe, you will all be able to ID it.
  3. I have obsessive / compulsive tendencies. You will notice, I say tendencies. Luckily for Mr. DBM, I am far too lazy to have full blown OCD. Having OCD really does require a lot of energy, so I only have OCD when it doesn’t require too much effort. For example, Moon will complain about me having a go at him for putting things in the wrong place in the kitchen. It is true, I did, but that was mainly because he was doing it on purpose, just to wind me up. It is also true that I am very particular about the arrangement of my kitchen cupboards. You just don’t mix the beer glasses with the coke glasses or the rum glasses with the wine glasses . Isn’t that obvious? When you load the dishwasher, you make sure all the plates of the same size are nicely lined up and clearly you never mix the cutlery up in the little baskets. This is just common sense, people. It makes it easier to unload the dishwasher. In the food cupboards, there is a place for everything and again, you can’t just shove things in where they fit. I have a shelf for beans, a shelf for canned tomato products, a shelf for canned fruits etc. That way, you can always find stuff and if someone just happens to be visiting and they peek into your cupboards, everything will be spick and span. It is the same with my books - all nicely sorted into subject groups and then arranged alphabetically. Doesn’t everyone do this? If you don’t, how do you find the book that you are looking for? How can you stand looking at all those books randomly piled onto your bookshelves? You see, things not in their place drive me nuts. The garden is really Mr. DBMs domain and I have tried very hard to let him do what he wants, but it is soooo difficult. He keeps planting things wherever there is space - but I want rows, nice, orderly rows, all things of the same type neatly grouped together. You can’t just go planting your lettuces in between my lupines and dog daisies. Humppf. But, you see, this is where my OCD tendencies start to wane. The garden requires effort. Mr. DBM puts in 90% of the effort, so he gets his way. I am just too lazy to do it myself. That is why my house is never 100% clean and tidy. I would like it to be, but I am too lazy to do it. I would like all the sheets and pillow cases on my bed to be completely smooth and cat-hair free, but that would require getting the iron out and then the fur-remover tool, and that requires effort. So, it doesn’t happen. Basically, my OCD is inversely proportional to the amount of effort it takes.

So, there you have it. Three things my husband, and now all of you, know about me. Now, I believe that I am supposed to pass this task on. My blogging world is rather small, so that means my victim list is very short.


English Mum

Yukon Chatter Bug

Moon and EM are the obvious choices. I shall also give Yukon Chatter Bug a go because she is a bug and because she is not scared to talk about boobs in her blog. You have to ask your significant other to tell you three things that they know about you and then publish this information on your blog. You also have to pick more victims and then go to their blogs and leave them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged. The comment must end with the word ‘pthththth’. I don’t know why, I am just repeating what I was told.

PS I have just spent the last 60 minutes spell checking and proofreading this post to try and make sure there are no mistakes in it and it all looks just right. Thank God there are no photos - that adds at least another hour!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Warning! Do not let your children read this!

This post is written in honour of my brother, Moon, who has just started his own blog. I just know how much this will bug him!

We are back in the Canadian court system, so you can be pretty sure something stupid, ridiculous or downright are-you-out-of-your-mind is going to come up. In this case, we have a 12 year old girl suing her father for punishing her. She disobeyed her father's rule and he punished her for it. She didn't think that was fair and so she took him to court. Now, the father did nothing that any normal, reasonable, sane, fair father would not have done. He didn't forbid her from wearing tartan trousers or from reading science fiction books. He didn't tell her that she had to eat suet and tripe sandwiches for lunch every day or that she must prostrate herself in front of a three horned devil god alter every time she had a bowel movement. No, the man was being a reasonable father, doing what he thought was best for his child. He laid down some rules about her internet use. As any decent parent might do, he blocked some unsuitable websites and when he found out that she had been visiting these websites and posting inappropriate pictures of herself to these websites from a friend's computer, he grounded her. No beatings, no starvation, no public humiliation, no torture, no lockings up in a small cupboard under the stairs. Oh no, just a simple grounding, just like any normal, responsible parent who needs to set limits and boundaries for their child.

Now, the grounding did have consequences - oh, yes, we are back to the consequences of our actions, and I suppose the young girl did not think that there would be any consequences to her disobeying her father's perfectly reasonable requests. So, the grounding took effect and this meant that the girl could no longer go on an end of year school trip that she had been looking forward to. Too bad, so sad.

Now, this is where things start going pear-shaped. The girl runs off to her mother, whining and complaining and the mother sides with the girl. Well, the parents are divorced and they have been fighting for custody of the girl for quite some time. Of course, the child is no innocent and is not stupid (very few children are) and has learnt to play one parent off the other. The mother wants to score points with her daughter and so supports her and says she can go on the school trip. Unfortunately for the girl, the school requires permission from both parents. So, off they go to court. The girl takes her father to the Quebec Superior Court and the mother supports her daughter. What a ridiculous, time and money wasting mess.

And the worst of it - the judge lifted the grounding, overturning her father's punishment, justifying this by saying that the punishment was too severe.

Can you believe this? How on earth can a parent be expected to bring up decent, well adjusted, law abiding, considerate, balanced individuals, who know right from wrong and understand that all of their actions have consequences, if they cannot set reasonable rules with acceptable punishments when those rules are broken? In my opinion, one of the biggest responsibilities of a parent is to set limits and boundaries for their child, so that their child can learn what is acceptable and what is not. Unfortunately, many parents these days seem to think that they should be their child's best friend. This means that they don't want to be "mean" to their children, they don't want to deny their children anything and everything that they want, they don't want to have to punish their child, since then their child may not like them. Well, damn it, that is part of their responsibility as a parent. It is not up to schools and teachers and society to do this for them so that they can be friends with their child. And it is certainly not up to the courts to interfere with how a parent chooses to set limits and reward or punish their child for staying within or straying beyond those limits. I for one don't want my tax money to be used to set a punishment for Jimmy when he doesn't do his homework.

Being a parent must be difficult enough, without worrying about your child taking you to court every time you try and punish them. So, whatever you do, don't let your children read this - it will give them ideas and you don't want that!

The father is, of course, appealing this decision.

Monday, 7 July 2008

So, I did go you think it was worth it?

I ask you, what is the point, really?

Not exactly the kind of conditions that I was looking for to try out my new wide angle lens. Still, one must make the best of what one is given. At least, this is what I try and convince myself everyday when I get up in the morning. So, I went diving.

When most people think of scuba diving, they think of crystal clear waters shimmering under a bright, clear blue sky. The sun will be beaming down on the surface of the gently undulating aquamarine waters, small ripples dancing across the glittering interface between air and water. A couple of dolphins will be playfully leaping in the near distance and a turtle will be paddling right underneath the boat as you drop silently into the warm waters and sink below the enveloping liquid. As you drop into this new world, you will be delighted by the myriad of fish around you, flashing their gay colours of reds, yellows, oranges and blues. A manta ray will glide by with the supreme grace of a creature at one with its environment and a clown fish will nip playfully at your fingers as you explore this fascinating aquatic realm. You will glide effortlessly through the water with a slight flick of your fins. You will move around this three dimensional space with the grace and ease of a mermaid. You will relax, be at peace and be one with your watery surroundings. Once the dive draws to a close, you will float to the surface, where a pair of bronzed, muscled arms will descend from the boat to retrieve your gear and you will climb the ladder, elegantly, effortlessly, your blond hair falling down your shoulders, your curvaceous body being revealed in all its glory by that skin tight wetsuit that fits you like a glove...............enough, enough! I can stand it no longer. It is time to face reality.

If you have never gone diving before, the description above may be what springs to your mind when I say that I went diving this weekend. Well, you could not be much further from the truth. You really have no idea about the hassle that is involved in this "sport". I am surprised that anybody ever actually does get in the water, especially in the cold, murky waters found around the great Pacific Northwest. Here, the sky is more likely to be a miserable grey. The water is usually more like pea soup than blue liquid sky. And it is never, ever warm. Never believe anyone when they say "It's quite warm, actually" They are lying and that is all there is to it. Before entering this dark, hostile, and oh-so-cold domain, one has to be prepared. First of all, we need to try and ensure that we don't turn blue and hypothermic within three minutes of entering the water. This requires layers, lots of bulky layers. I start off with some good old fashioned thermal underwear. So far, so good - nice and black and sleek. Then comes the weezle - think down sleeping bag with arms and legs. Hmmmm, if you ever had a figure, it is rapidly disappearing at this point. Next, we go for the large, heavily reinforced, black garbage bag, also with arms and legs, that we call a drysuit. It has really tight seals around the wrist and neck that you have to force your head and hands through. It takes quite a bit of effort and generally feels like a baby probably feels as its head passes through the birth canal on its way into this wonderful world of ours. Once the suit is zipped up, you feel like the Michelin man - even Kate Moss looks fat in one of these! Now we are well on our way with the gear, but we must not forget our heads and our hands - wouldn't want them freezing off during a dive, would we? So, we have a neoprene hood that blocks all sound from reaching your eardrum - there is a lot of shouting "What?" right before a dive. Then there are the gloves, which, once you have them on, prevent most kinds of digital manipulation except poking, you can still do that.

Now we are ready to hit the water - oh no, wait. We need to sling 30lbs of lead around our waist to ensure that we sink and then we need to add a bouyancy device to ensure that we float. We then need some air. Air is light, right? Yes, it is, but unfortunately it takes up a lot of space. To get lots of it into a small space, you need to squish it up. To contain it in this small space you need very strong containers, generally made of aluminium or steel. So, slap a couple of those on our backs and away we go. Very, very slowly. I dive with two small tanks, weight approximately 55lbs. Mr. DBM and Cortes dive with two large tanks, weight approximately 80lbs. Add to that the weight of the belt and all the other crap that we are forced to carry and you are looking at about 100lbs for me and 125lbs for the boys. Bloody hell, no wonder I take half an hour to walk 100 yards to the beach! As I walk, I rattle and clang and ping and ring as my gear dangles from every available O-ring. I have a light (it is quite dark, down there), two regulators to breath from (I need an extra one just in case the first one stops working right when I need it i.e. underwater) an air gauge, (so that I know if I am about to die horribly from a lack of air), fins, so that I can move my monstrous bulk through the water, a mask so that I can see all of five feet and don't forget the camera, snug in its little housing, weighing about another 20lbs. Oh yes, I love this sport, I love it to death.

One of the best parts of diving is when you first enter the water and as the water gently lifts the weight off your back you sigh a small sigh of relief. Excellent, I made it to the water without suffering a massive heart attack or a stroke and I didn't face plant or fall over backwards, never to be able to right myself again, on the way down here. The next task is to fight with your fins for a few minutes trying to get them on to your feet. This is more difficult than it might at first appear, since all that underwear and drysuit etc make it quite difficult to bend in the middle, making it hard to reach one's feet. Some of us have a hard time reaching our feet on the surface let alone in the water and so have to seek assistance - thank god for the patience of Mr. DBM! One last final check - hood? gloves? mask? fins? lights on? reg in mouth? and down we go.

Once the dive is over, we have to do everything in reverse, only this is even harder. Everything is cold and wet and even heavier. It was downhill going to the beach, we now have to haul our arses and all our gear up the hill. Bugger. Getting out of the neck seal of the suit is even harder than getting it on - can you imagine trying to push that baby back up the birth canal? And all your little hairs get stuck in the seal and your neck gets an epilady treatment it really didn't want. And the glamour of it all......

Hair sticking every way possible, like a crazed hedgehog that has recently encountered a creosote impregnated fence, glued into place by congealing salt rather than saliva. A giant banana slug of a bogey hanging off your face. A mask imprint that stays there for the next two weeks so that you get those sidelong glances from the cashier at your local bank, you know the ones, the "What on earth have you been doing, oh no, hang on, I really don't want to know" kind of glances. Your hands are so cold that you can't get any zips or buttons undone, which is a real shame because you need to pee as though you haven't peed for two weeks and you are standing next to Niagara Falls after drinking eight pints of watery lager. Perhaps you can now understand why I am not always as enthusiastic as I could be about "getting wet."

But why do we ever brave the icy, dark, murky waters, the tons of equipment and the mask full of snot? Jacques-Yves Cousteau deemed our west coast waters as the second best dive destination in the entire world, second only to the Red Sea, for diversity of marine life and water clarity. Obviously, he didn't actually go diving off the coast of Vancouver, but he did have a fair point. The diving around here, particularly as you head further north is splendid. OK, so you have to be patient to see it and the weather, water and visibility don't always cooperate and you do have to work very hard to even get in the water, let alone out again, but the rewards out there are worth it all. How many people can say that they have come face to face with the mysterious six-gilled shark? How many people have played tug-of-war with the world's largest octopus, where they have been the rope - luckily for me, Mr. DBM won since octopi bore very quickly. How many people can claim to have been given hickies by an octopus? How many people have watched the world's largest starfish glide across the ocean floor at record breaking speeds (for a starfish, that is). How many people have watched wolf eels devour a sea urchin right in front of their eyes or had one follow them around on a dive just like a puppy (although not quite as cute as a puppy). How many people have had a seal trailing along behind them, hanging onto their fin, just for fun - it was fun, for a while, but it did get a bit tiring, dragging the damn thing around all dive. How many people have been buzzed by sea lions and encircled by playful dolphins? How many people have sat on the ocean floor at 140ft, looking up at the sun shining down through the water, being surrounded by sponges the size of VW Beetles and gorgonian fan corals the size of tables? Another dive not done around Vancouver! The life is just amazing. It is prolific, it is big, and it is so unexpected. Sponges and corals, giant sea slugs and clams, enormous anemones and jellyfish, octopus and sea squirts, huge orange and purple crabs and tiny communal anemones that shine like jewels. Basket stars and feather stars, brittle stars and sea stars. I could go on and I haven't even started on the vertebrate life or all the sunken warships that have been deliberately sent to their watery graves to provide new homes for even more creatures of this Emerald Sea. But does that give you some idea why we torture ourselves in such a heinous fashion every time we kit up for a dive?

Anyhoo, I did dive this weekend and despite the poor visibility, I did find few critters that were worth a shot or two. Here are my best, if not spectacular, efforts. Enjoy..........

Here we have some sunflower stars - largest and fastest of the world's starfish - plus a leather star in the foreground.

This is a quillback rockfish, desperately hoping that I will ignore him and move away very soon.

More sunflower stars, doing their best to ensure that no other life is left in their wake.

At the end of the dive, we did see two very lovely seals playing around us, but I was too busy reacquainting myself with my breakfast to take photos - I know, I know, the photos should take priority, but I have my limits!

Question to self - why on earth did I copyright the snotty photo? Who on earth would want to steal that one? If anyone does, go ahead, help yourself!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Thirty strikes and you're out - shouldn't that be three?

Welcome to Canada! Land of beavers and moose, polar bears and ice. We all live in igloos and go to work on dog sleds - no worry about carbon taxes and greenhouse gases here! The country is populated by "nice" people. Canadians are "friendly"
"peaceful" "polite" and "modest". We don't like conflict, we don't like laying blame or punishing people. We like to encourage people and enable them to better their lives. We want to see the positives, not the negatives. OK, so Jimmy murdered three people horribly, but he is very sorry and he is now taking Grade 12 Biology, so that's good, isn't it? Now, I can't really agree with this viewpoint, but then I am not really Canadian, am I? Oh yes, I have all the official paperwork that says that I am. I can vote for whatever wishy-washy, can't-be-trusted, generally useless politician that I want for at the next election. I have a passport, I pay my taxes, I fill in my national census forms. To all intents and purposes, I am Canadian. But, I don't drink Molson beer, I don't paint maple leaves on my face on Canada Day, I couldn't really give a toss who wins the Stanley Cup and I don't think that the greatest Canadian is Wayne Gretzky or Don Cherry. I am also not wishy-washy or nice and I am not particularly friendly, peaceful, polite or modest. To be honest, I don't think many Canadians actually are, except for their politicians, who have a lot to answer for.

So, to the title of this post. I am sure that most of you have heard about the U.S's policy on crime - three strikes and you are out. What that means is, if you commit three felony offences, you are put away for a long, long time. Now, I don't know if they actually throw away the key, but let's just say that you are in deep do-do at this point. You have had your chances, and you blew them. You now have to suck it up and accept the consequences of your actions. Now that, apparently, is a foreign concept north of the 49th parallel. Consequences? What are those? Why should I take the consequences, it wasn't my fault. And all the bleeding heart liberals seem to agree with the criminals. So, they are not given three chances, not five, not even ten. Oh no, the latest suggested figure is 30! Yep, thirty. Just in case you didn't learn from you previous twenty eight mistakes, we will let you make one more before cracking down on you.

This all comes from Chief Jim Chu of the Vancouver Police Department and it is his way of getting "tough" on crime.

"We say, 30 strikes and you're out, which means we are asking our judges to
protect the public by giving these criminals significant prison time, and we are
asking for Parliament and our appellate courts to give the judges the tools they
need to better respond to this problem."
Significant prison time amounts to a recommended two years. All those big mafia bosses out there must be shaking in their boots and all those drug addled petty crime offenders that plague the city and its inhabitants probably couldn't give a toss, since they probably don't read the newspapers or watch TV and so are blissfully unaware of the whole issue. If they are not high or in a drug-induced stupor, all they are worried about is where their next fix is coming from. Now, I will never have any sympathy with the mafia bosses or any kind of gangs or organised crime. However, I am willing to admit that people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol need to be helped. Let's not wait until they commit thirty crimes, however petty, before we actually do something to help them. Yes, I know it won't be easy, that it will cost money and that most of them will be back on the streets before too long, but surely if we can even get some off the streets and back to a productive, meaningful existence, that has to be better than none. Of course, Vancouver does have the 2010 Winter Olympic Games coming up, so that will at least provide some impetus to, if not solve the problem, at least hide it or move it on so that the world doesn't get to see Vancouver's not-so-pretty side.

So why thirty strikes? I suspect it comes down to "Canadian-ness". The fact that Canadians don't like to lay blame or accept responsibility. The two come hand-in-hand. It is never anyone's fault, the blame always lies elsewhere and therefore you don't have to accept responsibility for your actions."My mother was a drunk and my father beat me." "I came from a broken home." "My wife kept on nagging me. It was her fault that I stabbed her 38 times, she pushed me to it." That last one is from a recent case and that was the reason he gave for trying to get the charge reduced to manslaughter and not murder. Another recent case was the one where a gas attendant was run over and then dragged under his car for 7.5km, all for $12.30 worth of gas. The young offender only got 9 years for this brutal killing, which was then reduced to seven, since it wasn't really his fault, he came from an aboriginal family and had a terrible childhood.

I am not saying that people don't have hard lives, that they don't face difficulties and trials that never came near me when I was growing up or throughout my adult life. I cannot even begin to comprehend or understand what it must have been like to grow up abused or neglected. However, I do think that people do have an innate sense of what is right and what is wrong. You don't need to have grown up in a religious family, being dragged along to church every Sunday to know what is right and wrong. I don't believe in God (although I was dragged to church every Sunday when growing up), I don't follow the Ten Commandments. I don't need to. I generally know what is right and wrong. I know if I wouldn't like something done to me or my friends and family, then it is probably wrong. I know I wouldn't want an ice pick stuck in my eye, I wouldn't want a man to rape me or someone to steal my car, TV, cat, camera etc etc. These things would be wrong and I don't need to be told that. I also know that my actions have consequences. If I beat someone around the head with a baseball bat, they are likely to be hurt badly and perhaps die. If I have personally observed this, then I will know what to expect the second time I do it. So, to say that two teenage boys didn't know that they could kill a man by beating him around the head with a baseball bat the first time is stretching it a bit. To claim that they still didn't know the possible consequences of their actions the second time that they did it is ludicrous. But, after their arrests, the pair were charged with second-degree murder in connection with the deaths, but this was reduced to manslaughter after the judge said they didn't have the experience or foresight to show murderous intent.

Do I need to go on, because I could? This is a difficult topic, and I will admit that there are generally no easy answers. There is little in the way of black and white in such complex issues. But surely a little dose of common sense, reality and accepting the consequences of your actions would go a long way in addressing this issue. There, I have said my bit, for now...........

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

It's a Jungle Out There - a Very Small One!

I have a new toy. It is a Nikon AF-S VR Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens. This magnificent piece of engineering has been coveted and drooled over for the past year and now it is mine, all mine. And I love it! Here are some of the specifications for you:

        • Vibration Reduction (VR) minimizes image blur caused by camera shake
        • An ED glass element minimizes chromatic aberration
        • Nano Crystal Coat that drastically reduces flare
        • Silent Wave Motor for ultra-fast, ultra-quiet auto focus
        • Focal Length 105mm
        • Max aperture f/2.8
        • Min aperture f/32
        • Min focus 0.31m
        • Construction 14/12 elements/groups

        If all that technical stuff doesn't float your boat and you haven't got a clue what this lens actually does yet - well, it is a macro lens - it makes small things big. If the truth be known, I don't understand all the technical stuff either, but I do know that all the photos that I took with this lens were done without a tripod and I can safely say that the vibration reduction is worth its weight in gold.

        So, now that I have acquired this magnificent piece of engineering, I venture out into the jungle that is Green 1/25th of an Acre. And here is some of the wildlife that I found:

        Here is a wasp eating a caterpillar. I know people don't like wasps. I know that they declare war on wasps as soon as they see or hear one droning away anywhere too close to their house. But, please, give them a chance. They are great for keeping the pests off your potatoes, caterpillars off your cabbages and bugs off your begonias.

        This is a snipe fly. Not really sure what it is good for, but it did sit still very nicely for this photo. The larvae are predaceous, so they must be good for keeping down pests in the garden and many adults feed on nectar and so help pollinate all your beautiful flowers. OK, so some may suck your blood, but have you ever been bitten by a snipe fly?

        Here we have a bumblebee on a blackberry flower. Everyone loves a bumblebee, don't they? They are all cute and furry and they are always working hard in the garden pollinating your flowers.

        This is the inside of a petunia flower. Who knew how pretty they were inside? I certainly didn't until I downloaded this photo. So, what are petunias good for? Well, just looking lovely, and isn't that enough?

        Pretty amazing huh? Even if you don't like the creepy crawly things, you have to admit that they are fascinating creatures - stunning examples of natural engineering at its exquisite best. So, the next time you see a "bug" out there, please don't squash it. Take another look, a closer look and be astounded by its beauty.

        If you want to be more amazed than you ever thought possible by the miniature world that exists out there, right under your noses, go buy yourself a copy of Life in the Undergrowth. I don't normally recommend books or DVDs. It takes a lot to impress me. If you get a "well, it was alright, I suppose" out of me, then you are doing pretty good. But this, I am very happy to say, is one that I can enthusiastically recommend. I am sure that you have all heard of Life on Earth, The Living Planet, Planet Earth and The Blue Planet. Well, this is one of Sir David Attenborough's less known series. Less known, but no less fantastic and fascinating. The photography is stupendous, stunning, awesome, breathtaking, astounding - I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Go and buy a copy!