Letter from Vancouver 3

Today we catch the Canadian,the 4000k de luxe train to Toronto. Agatha Christie is not invited but my darling brother and wife will be our fellows. Before then Nick took us to a Waterfront restuarant. Here we saw the modern masterpiece of this fair city. Beautiful blocks, handsome roads, civilised precincts, ingenious monuments, a waterfront view of the North shore and the mountains. Just by a regular service of  sea plane taxis operated,over there the rowing eights were out,all the while to sun set over the mountains.. Suddenly the city lived  up to its reputation of modern elegance and charm.

Which we enjoyed again the next day as we cycled around Stanley Park’s sea wall. This gave stunning views of the harbour and the open sea. Not to mention the area devoted to totem poles.

But we had been distracted. The news from home about our beautiful brother in law Jon Hiseman had not been good. The successful five hour operation to remove the brain tumour  did not live up  to its hopes. An aneurism had developed. Another five hour operation.Any optimism has now been replaced with caution and trepidation. There are no good cards left in the pack. The chimes have got louder and the whispers softer.

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Letter from Vancouver 2

We had been warned . The local bus which goes direct to the swanky Downtown-Waterfront area goes through Skid Alley, Syringe City,Paloukaville-call it what you will. And yesterday we came back that way along East Hastings Street. Here the city’s 2000 plus homeless.,drug addicts, kids  following my dealer and general flotsum and jetsum rule OK. Here are the hostels, the medics,the soup kitchens.Their sad numbers are growing.They crowd the pavements,some selling their life possessions ,slightly better dressed others peck away at the latest stolen goods. For addicts benefits are not enough.All around easy loan,fast food and empty shops-all with iron bars.

Looking  it up, this is a problem that has got worse in the last forty years as the government cut back on cheap subsidised houses and went for up market developements.  Where have I heard that before?  Whatever the reason, people end up down and nearly out . A quarter are retirement age,welcome to the third age. They may have fucked up, they may have been dealt bad cards,but they are where they are. The problem is worse because the Pacific coast’s weather and promise attracts.

One scheme in Vancouver broke down because those working in the hostels were frightened,another because residents objected to the homeless moving nearby. Where have I heard those stories before. The homeless are always with us, so is out of sight is out of mind.

One or two get on the bus. They have no oyster type cards,they dont pay,they are on the phone-to their dealers?,their eyes are popping, their handshakes intricate,the tatoos universal. The statistics tell us that the indigeneous peoples are over represented in this tribe of life’s losers. Throughout the Western World many First Nations have found modern life difficult.

One rushes on but stops just a seat away,the child bride is frightened. We suburbans may travel the world but we dont often get out of our comfort zone .  Vivien  swears she will never going on this route again,we had been warned.

The day before we saw the museum showing off the glory of these tribes, a noble culture based on a world long gone,a world which many cannot and will not replace. Instead they duck,dive and sometimes drown on East Hastings.

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Letter from Vancouver 1

We rook the 99 Express bus along E&W Broadway from Commercial Drive to out of town UBC. The long drive made more interesting by the Chinese Canadian driver being one of the best. You sit in a priority seat and a senior gets on,this driver tells you what to do. You dont park your baby buggy properly he sorts it,you get off he wishes you a nice day. This guy is captain of his ship and a well run affair it is. I comment on his insistence on making people give up their seats,he replies “Some people just have to be told how to behave.” As it happens seat giving is far more frequent on Vancouver buses than those crossing Putney Bridge.

UBC turned out to be as much a city as a university. it boasts 58K students and modern architecture, boulevards and monuments fit for a dictator and its own  cab service. Only a gew weeks ago  I was dismayed at Keele going from 1 to 10 thousand in the last fifty years. Such is the student population at UBC that many of the personal ads are in Chinese only. Even a touch of Big Brother ,a massive poster reads “Human Potential Realised Here.”.We have been warned.

And so on to the Museum of Anthropology. The impressive totem poles knocked us out and we stayed groggy with the artefacts for a couple of hours. As with similar  musees in Paris,London,Sydney the beauty created by these  non productive societies has a charm. Rather like the Celts and the Saxons,except the abo cultures were carving their beads and wearing their masks only 100 years ago.

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Swimming for Putney-Vancouver BC

About a mile from our AirBnB on Venables  Road is the Templeton Park Pool. Yesterday I strolled through the leafy eastern suburb that is our temporary home. Go the other way down Commercial Drive and its community projects,fast food, craft shops ,tattoos and the hint of a not too successful alternative world.

I got to the 25 metre pool at 7.30am. Now the Jerry may be first on the beach,but when it comes to a pool its the Chinks. Two lanes were devoted to Chinese water babes training for the next war,two other lanes were for  Chinese pensioners doing aquatic Tai Chi, I settled down in another lane and did my lengths.

Afterwards while changing only Chinese was being spoken. Whatever the pressure I only gave name,age and rank. I felt they were very impressed as I kept mumbling  Hugh,71,officer cadet. Some retreated to a corner  and started screaching and pointing at me. Luckily my training as a language teacher kicked in and I said,open the books at page 12. Oh they all cried and got on with their lives. I made my excuses and left.

As for the pool,£4, good facilities, very convenient,Vivien says she will join me tomorrow.

Vancouver is well situated between the Pacific and the Rockies. More Perth than Sydney. Four days maybe too many.Today we  go the University of British Columbia to explore the Museum of Anthropology which is full of “the arts and crafts of the native people’s of the Pacific North West”. The excitement mounts.


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Pablo the King

Pablo the King

Art was one of the few O levels I didn’t get. At a school, where reading and writing was optional, those of us who could, were put to work to get as many as possible. But Art wasn’t one and rather like my cricket it was something I was never any good at or for.

But like all amateurs wandering around art galleries without much of a clue has its pleasures. And London is the place to be. Few weeks go by without a trip to a major exhibition. This week it was the pleasant boat trip from Putney to Tate Modern.  To see Picasso 1932 Love Fame Tragedy.

But before I went  I read the thinking neo con New Criterion’s  view of the show. Now the  New Criterion is to political correctness  what Jeremy Corbyn is to bankers’ bonuses.  Here are some of the descriptions of Picasso,’piss poor paint pusher’,’part of the celebrity culture’, ‘a joker’, ‘pint sized prodigy’, ‘Malagan sex maniac’, trouble seeing a vagina without thinking of its complementary dentata’,’in touch with his inner Poussin’,’had difficulties with girls’,’imposter or lunatic who may be added to the list of problematic people’,dirty dauber’,’Picasso’s pharonic pallocentricity’.

But to clinch it ,author Dominic Green ends by saying,”I felt used and dirty after “Picasso 1932” but I loved it. “As did I. I have long realised  even without the O level  Art that  Picasso is to his universe what Elvis, Shakespeare and Beethoven are to theirs. The king. And here is an exhibition that allows you to walk in a little bit of Versailles.

Not least because this show   illustrates  how in 1932 aged 50 Picasso maybe couldn’t arrest the Recession but he could  with flying colours and styles escape the mediocrity which descends on the second half of many creative lives.

On a more prosaic level the show comes straight from the Musee Picasso in Paris which is too popular and crowded to enjoy. At Tate Modern outside of school holidays although the popularity of this long running show continues , you don’t need sharp elbows and or a thick skin to enjoy and see these  quite stupendous pictures and sculptures. Not to mention the photos by Brassai and Beaton. No this a goldilocks show, enough  to excite and comprehend, a good story-man,his art, his pressures,  wife, family and mistress- and not too many pictures and bearable crowds . As we get older we realise the balance between quality and quantity is essential in all pleasures.

As it is  at the Tate Modern.
















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Free Lunch

Free Lunch

David ,one time hot shot lawyer now skier and  artist and I have lunch about once a month. He knows expensive places in Notting Hill and Marylebone. Last week was my choice and I chose the ever changing World End pub/restaurant on the Kings Road. Grand looking place which the 22 bus or my bicycle  have swooshed me  past many times,I had wanted to go for some years.

Always busy in the evening which was a good sign. Last Friday lunch  only a couple of others. A few at the  cool bar sipping champagne ,this is after all the King Road. I got their early,a foxy lady asked me what what, a virgin mary said I. I’ll bring it to the table,I’ll sit at the bar. No problems. All a bit relaxed, fine, open plan  kitchen, smart  young staff. Ten minutes later still no drink, or other customers. Mentioned the fact. Up popped Hungarian(?) Peter who told me his name and   that he would be my barman. Well la di la. David came. He  joined me in a virgin mary.

Peter got to work splitting  the atom. Aka making a cocktail. Now over these last weeks of relative abstinence I have become an expert on virgin marys. The Spencer a  few minutes away  sometimes even puts in  horse radish and  gets  top  Putney vm rating and charges £4. The Club serves very adequate ready mixed Big Tom  for £3 and  Wetherspoons (occasionally) gives you a bottle of straight tomato juice and charges 95p. Peter my bar man for the day was going to charge me £9,but thats with splitting the atom, a smile and  two gherkins,

We sat down ordered a starters and mains. Small but perfectly formed lunch menu. After twenty minutes we looked at our watches. Foxy lady who took our order says that the liver we  both ordered to start was not on. Ok, no we wouldn’t reorder just wait for our mains. Twenty minutes later they had not come. We had now been in the Worlds End for an hour. The foxy lady apologised more than once. Then it was the turn  of the  manageress . This  is more apologies than Windrush.  Head girl goes over to the kitchen, gets our mains,which  were good and  then declared  they would be on the house. Which almost saved the day.

As I left I remarked it was the most expensive virgin mary and the cheapest lunch I had ever had but weren’t we lucky they hadnt been busy. Shame,a really class joint. Trip advisor says 50% find the place excellent and 27% find it very good. Something/where else not to take seriously.

Elsewhere Jon Hiseman’s four hour surgery took out 95% of the brain tumour. He is now in intensive care and the clock starts ticking. There is no such thing as a free lunch.


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Juvenile Green

Juvenile Green

So we had a bank holiday weekend to remember. The sun shone and kept shining. All the trees are now budded and leafed. Swinburne’s “lisp of leaves” is in full harvest and  his “ripple of rain” is coming ,if at all,later in the week . This first outing of  leaves, nervous and exciting is very special and does not last long,I have decided that its best described as “juvenile green”. By next week the leaves will be sturdier and  deeper in colour.

Another sign of the seasons moving to their triumphant climax was a family of Canadian geese complete with three goslings waddling in front of the Putney boat houses. The ducklings usually come a bit later as do the  hungry sparrow parents on the bird feed. Elsewhere all over the common cow parsely has  created its sea of white, the fruit blossoms have gone and the daffodils are still leafed but their triumphant flowers now only an early spring memory. Over the years I have planted honeysuckles,a silver birch , a douglas fir and a copper beach on the common-some are decades old and all  still thrive. My  successful roses flower at the beginning of June.

We also planted a vine in memory of Viviens, vintner father Mike,it fights a gallant fight with the brambles but has  over the last ten years dug in. It may not produce much more than berry sized  grapes but its leaves give us a deep and passionate  autumn show, and  keep the memory alive.

In the woods the bluebells rule OK and it is here we played hide and seek with son and grand child. Over the weekend we  took an early breakfast before the crowds came, in the azalea and rhododendron rich Isabella plantation in Richmond Park.

We have a more suburban sound of the season. The small park  four doors away has tennis courts. The summer brings the early morning thwack and wack of the players who like to  work out before breakfast. It comforts.

Yesterday Jon Hiseman,my dear brother in law ‘s brain tumour went under the knife. But the sap of spring turning into summer flows on.


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