Thursday, 30 December 2010

Year End

I always get reflective as another year draws to an end and a new one is just around the corner. Having a think back over the year I’ve decided to compile a list of favourites in the form of films, books and music.

My Favourite Films of 2010:

Remember Me – Filmed in New York, exploring fraught family relationships and love. Lead characters are excellent (not being biased with my whole Robert Pattinson fascination). The scenes where the central love story is developing are very real and believable. Me and my friend were blubbing at the hard hitting ending. You have been warned!

Let Me In – I’m very selective about the horror films I watch, seeing as I still have a lot of that over active imagination I had as a child spilling over into my adult life and when you live alone you need to consider how scared you potentially might be for nights to come...This was a very haunting remake of a Swedish book/film ‘Let the Right One in’ and an original take on the Vampire genre, seeing as this Vampire is a sweet little 11 year old girl (going on 200). Everything about this film is subtle and beautiful – the acting, the developing relationship between the two young leads, the cinematography...but at the same time it leaves such a big impact and has you in a quandary about what you should feel – sympathy or repulsion for the girl? I’ll let you decide. I still think about this film from time to time and I saw it a good few months ago – a film that lingers like that in your mind long after the credits roll is a sign of a goodie. I’ve not seen the original but I can’t imagine it being any better than this.

Inception – I like films that make your brain twist in concentration, and this one certainly did. I’m fascinated with the whole concept of Lucid Dreaming and this takes it into more complicated and awe inspiring dimensions. A great cast, particularly Leonardo DiCaprio and that girl from Juno. Elements of the film reminded me a lot of The Matrix and the action is non stop but it doesn’t overshadow the emotional human aspects of the story.

An oldie revisited:

Singles – A film from the grunge era of the 90s with a rocking soundtrack (I never realised until re-watching it for the first time since the 90s that it featured one of my all time favourite Smashing Pumpkins songs Drown, probably because I never became a massive SP fan until my late teens and I reckon I must have first seen Singles when I was about 15/16). It was great to watch such a raw film where the characters are unpolished and real and something about it reminded me of my trip to Vancouver (probably the fashions and the apartment block and the music).



My favourite Books of 2010:

This is a difficult one as I’m not good at remembering what books I’ve read when...as I go through periods of reading a lot.

I don’t usually read a lot of non fiction but this year the two non fiction books I have read I have really enjoyed:

City of Glass by Douglas Coupland – DC is one of my favourite authors of all time so of course I had to buy this when I was visiting his ‘City of Glass’ to read an insider’s take on life in Vancouver. One of my favourite sections was when he talks about some kids stealing his car when he is out of town on a book tour and they get drunk and park it inside The Hollow Tree- the oldest tree in Vancouver (which I took a photo of when I was on the trolley bus tour at the top of Stanley Park) and his Mum phones him just to check that he himself didn’t park it here before going on his trip to Europe. Ha! He also threw some light on what the ‘creepy witch’s house’ (see my blog entry Vancouver Day...) probably actually is on Parker Street – a ‘Grow Op’ (place to grow pot).

PoPism-The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol and Patt Hatchett – I’ve already made reference to this book in my blog entry ‘Modern Art’ but it deserves a mention again as I found it so fascinating. Reading this is like stepping into Andy Warhol’s life in 60s New York and is a much better guide to art, music, fashion and the attitude and lifestyle of this era than any ordinary history book would provide.

Fiction:

The Vampire Diaries by L.J Smith – Written many years before the Twilight series you have to feel sorry for L.J Smith for getting mistaken for jumping on the vampire bandwagon just because her books have only recently been televised (from what I’ve seen of the TV series it is vey inferior to the books). I read and loved L.J Smith’s ‘The Secret Circle’ Trilogy when I was in my early teens (or pre-teens even) so why I didn’t seek out any more of her novels until a friend re-introduced me to her work (in my adult life) I don’t know! The main character, Elena, is beautiful and a bit spoilt but the winds get taken out of her sails a bit due to the loss of her parents and with the arrival of the elusive Stefan. To me Stefan is a bit of a bland vampire and it is his brother, Damon, who steps in to provide the dangerously dark mystery that you want from a leading fang man. The fact Damon then goes on to demonstrate sensitivity and some heart beneath that cold exterior had me wondering if by the end L.J herself had regretted making Stefan Elena’s ‘destiny’ in life.

The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver – Explores how one key decision can change the rest of your life. It tells the story of one character living a parallel life - in one life she has given in to temptation and gone in for a fateful kiss- in the other she has resisted. What plays out is a fascinating exploration of relationships and different types of love and a reminder of how our actions can have a major impact on not only our own lives but those around us.

Favourite Discovery:

Box Sets

TV series Box Sets are the best... thing... ever. Episode after episode of your favourite TV programme without advert interruptions or having to wait a week for the next one (or longer if they suddenly change the channel/schedule etc).
It started with series 3 of The Hills, then I moved on to the whole series of Sex and The City and now I am in the middle of season 5 of The Gilmour Girls. I am now eyeing up oldies from yesteryear such as Anne of Green Gables, My So Called Life and a friend’s collection of American Gothic...

Favourite Bands of 2010

The Silversun Pickups – Discovering their albums has renewed some of that excitement I got during my teens and early 20s when I listened to new music, a feeling that I thought I may have lost forever

Biffy Clyro – Mesmerising live performance, nothing to do with the fact the sexy lead singer had his top off the whole time, ahem.

I think that’s enough of my 2010. Roll on 2011. Happy New Year to you all!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Tis the Season



It's been a while since I've written a post on here, mainly because I turned my writing focus for a while onto a new novel I'm working on. I'm about 9,600 words into it and determined to keep going at a fast rate while the idea is still buzzing in my head.

The weather has been a hot topic of conversation, news and general griping of late. The snow is pretty when you are inside viewing from afar (and before the brown grit and slush hits the pavements) but it's been a tiring few weeks. Cold train stations, late and cancelled trains, buses which fail to turn up and puddles the size of small lakes (when a brief thaw hit) has made me yearn for Spring. Spring is really the only season I like anymore and it always seems the shortest.
I find it pointless and annoying when everyone blamed the transport minister for lack of preparation and shock, horror, the weather forecast failed to predict accurate weather (really, I think we all know this by now). The snow fell in the middle of rush hour...would everyone have stayed off the roads even if the 20 inches of snow had been predicted? I doubt it.

I've heard some nice stories of people coming together to help each other out during the particularly bad days and it makes me wonder if neighbours don't talk to each other so much nowadays because there's no need to anymore. Everything is so convenient and laid out on a plate; everybody always has somewhere they need to be- fast. It's like we've advanced ourselves into little independent bubbles.
I think the universe is shaking us up a bit to remind us that no matter how sophisticated we think we are, we are still at the mercy of the basics and shouldn't forget the little things. I was reading that if the sun has some kind of meltdown (I'm not good at remembering scientific technical terms) then it will change the magnetic field of the earth which essentially means goodbye electricity...a scary prospect.

I love this section from Douglas Coupland's Postcard Number Two: Power Failure (taken from his book Polaroids from the Dead) "...During power failures we sing songs, but the moment the electricity returns, we atomize. I am choosing to live my life in a permanent power failure. I look at the screens and glossy pages and I don't let them become memories. When I meet people, I imagine them in a world of darkness. The only lights that count are the sun, candles, the fireplace and the light inside of you, and if I seem strange to you at times, it's only because I'm switching off the power, trying to help us both, trying to see you and me as the people we really are."

Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Modern Art


Art is subjective; that’s about the least subjective comment you can make when referring to it. And this applies to Art in all senses, writing, music, visuals... I always loved English and Art at school because of its subjectivity and the way in which text or images can be interpreted and analysed in different ways. Sometimes looking for too deep an explanation however means that the audience starts to interpret things which I am pretty sure the author or artist will never have intended or even thought about themselves. Studying film analysis as part of my Media and Communications Degree was enjoyable but also laughable as we looked for signs and symbols that probably were never really there. When you get too caught up in analysing text or film it can also kind of ruin the surprise element of some stories as you become really good at picking up on subtle clues. I remember going to see The Sixth Sense and guessing the twist very early on because I clearly saw the scenes which were inserted for a particular reason.

I’ve received comments on stories/poems I’ve written, where people have read too much into things or read it as being about something completely different from what I have intended. Some people have looked for me in my pieces, some look for themselves. I think a lot of people view art with themselves as the central reference point – they understand it in reflection to something they can relate to.

Modern art is subjective with a capital S as far as I’m concerned. A lot of it confuses and annoys me and I wonder if that is the intention – to provoke a reaction rather than inspire an emotion. Some of it seems so simplistic I get annoyed that it is taking up exhibition space. I visited the Fruitmarket Galleries in Edinburgh recently and was confronted with a row of different sized cactus and colour swatches on the wall. IKEA would have provided more tantalising visual stimulation. And the most visualy pleasing image I saw recently in the GOMA was the reflection of sunlight streaming in to the stairway through the stain glass windows (see top pic).


Back in my University days I wrote an essay about Andy Warhol. I read a lot about his life and his art in relation to Postmodern Society (Postmodernity). Cultural theorists believe that we moved into a postmodern era in the early 1960s, just when Andy Warhol was emerging in the fine art world in America and developing a new form of art termed ‘Pop’. Some brief characteristics of postmodern culture: preoccupation with celebrity, consumerism, mass production, pastiche, loss of authenticity and originality, rejection of moral and scientific universal truths, depthlessness, the blurring of boundaries of high culture and mass popular culture... I could go on.
Andy Warhol and ‘Pop Art’ encapsulate these characteristics. Warhol produced art work focusing on celebrities, he incorporated media headlines into his art and everyday consumer products such as Campbell Soup Cans and Coca Cola bottles. He used repetitive images, reflecting sameness and loss of originality and depthlessness, “...the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.” A quote from Warhol himself, in Popism.


His mechanical technique of silk-screening images allowed for the mass production of identical works in a fast and efficient way. His images immediately communicate a message to us, a meaning which really goes no deeper than what is presented on the surface which corresponds with Solomon’s idea that, ‘The attractive surface image is all that matters in a Postmodern Society.’ (Solomon, quoted in Berger, 1998).

I started to put together a visual book a few years ago (which is where the Andy Warhol images on this page are taken from), trying to connect a lot of his art to what is still unfolding in our culture today. The obsession with celebrity is every growing. His films such as Sleep, which simply features one of Warhol’s friends sleeping, forces audiences to take notice of the seemingly banal occurrences in our everyday lives. This reminds me of the live streaming of Big Brother. I’m sure obsessive fans will have stayed up all night just watching the contestants sleep (never me, I have to add! The edited day versions were usually boring enough after you get used to the format). Warhol also made frequent comments about how he wished he was a machine. See quote on the image below and the disturbing image of someone hooked in to a virtual reality helmet as they play on their computer. Warhol appears to have been more progressive in his ideas than even he would have realised. He often filmed the day to days of glamorous people who hung around his ‘Factory’; Edie Sedgwick being one. His films are all the more authentic as they aren’t edited by producers, but I can’t help relating these to TV shows such as The Hills, following the day to days of glamorous 20 somethings in LA. (which I got totally hooked on).



I’m currently reading ‘POPism’, written by Andy Warhol himself (with assistance from Pat Hatchett), which is his account of his career and those around him in the 60s. It’s fascinating reading and is presenting Warhol in a much better light than anything else I’ve read (hardly surprising seeing as it is in his own words). I’ve only got to the start of 1964 so he has yet to meet Edie and isn’t a massive ‘celeb’ yet so it will be interesting to see how it progresses. I like a comment he makes; ‘...Pop comes from the outside...’ pg 20. Again relating to the idea that with Pop Art what you see is what you get– there is nothing deeper than the image which is portrayed. He goes on to say,’...the only thing that counted was what showed up on canvas-not where the idea came from...’ pg.21. When I was in Barcelona I saw some of his work in a gallery there. There was a Campbell Soup dress on a mannequin in the middle of the display. I’m still unsure about what I really think of his art work. At the first look my natural instinct is to say “So what?” and the colours make it all look a bit brash and theatrical. But in comparison to more recent modern art by artists such as Tracy Emin, (whose work, from what I’ve seen, I detest), it’s positively captivating. And in my case Warhol has not achieved what he set out to do – it’s not his surface images that I am really focusing on. I am constantly more intrigued and fascinated by the inside; the story of the person behind those images and everyone round about him during that period. But on reflection this is probably actually what he did really set out to achieve. For him, it wasn’t just about the art, he wanted to achieve fame and recognition and in the end he himself became both an Icon and product of the postmodern world.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Big Dilemma

Over the past month or so I’ve worked my way through my Sex and The City box set. I loved watching this series right from the start, all the way through, as you can really see how the characters grow and I finally understood Carrie’s never ending love for Big.

According to articles I’ve read women are supposed to be in one camp; Aidan or Big. I always thought I swayed more towards Aidan until I watched the love stories unfold in linear order. And more importantly I noticed how Carrie was with each man.
With Big, right from the first scene it is clear that he stirs a big reaction in her (pun intended). He makes her laugh, makes her cry (a little too much, nearly enough to make me jump back into camp Aidan), turns her world upside down time and time again but out of all the men in her life she always runs back. No matter what has gone before, he draws her in and even with all the misery he has caused her when she is with him you can see true love and happiness in her smile. And true despair when she is faced with the news he has to have heart surgery. She has an all consuming passion for him.

He seems baffled by her, but at the same time you can see the fascination and adoration he has for her, the fear that he can’t be with her, the desperation that he can’t lose her. Thank god he finally grows a pair and rescues her from the decidedly creepy Alexander Poxy (who was by far my least favourite of all of Carrie’s starring men. Arrogant, sleazy, pathetically in need of a woman to prop up his ego. Their first phone conversation when she kept hanging up on him due to not being able to understand his accent was about the only humour he injected into her life).

Aidan is Mr Nice. There's a theory that women are at some point supposed to figure out that Mr Nice makes for a wiser investment. But not if he brings out Miss Nasty; which I think Aidan brought out in Carrie. Her character strikes me as a pretty loyal lady, and yet she jumps into bed with Big not that far into the relationship and she snaps quite a lot at Mr Nice, particularly when on a romantic vacation to his man-made country home. You can see her pained recognition that this is a gentle, loyal, adoring, handsome man who loves her, who will give her everything that Big never would....or maybe not. On the surface it appears that Aidan is clearly the better man but not if he makes Carrie compromise herself to the detriment of losing her sparkle.

From date one Carrie really tries hard and here in lies the problem – with Aidan she has to try. She tries so hard to kick her addictions; smoking and Big. She tries to appreciate the wonderful man she has, she tries to convince herself that marriage with him is the logical move but her body protests, violently – vomiting at the sight of an engagement ring and allergic reactions to wedding dresses isn’t even quite enough to make her back off completely (and Big has commitment issues??). It takes Aidan to point out the obvious to her; that she just isn’t ever going to love him enough.

Because of course Big is her one true love. If there was ever an argument for someone having a one true love, their story is it. And, once he gets over being an emotionally challenged commitment phobe, he is her perfect man. Sophisticated and wealthy enough to compliment her fashionista lifestyle, mature enough to not be threatened by her success,(Berger, you had so much promise), on the same humour page so able provide her with plenty of belly laughs, satisfies her between the sheets, reads her column and doesn’t get offended by it (seriously how she manages to keep any man when she writes about them in such a public forum is beyond me). Even her fiercely protective friends in the end recognise that Big is Carrie’s one and only.

For me though, the series biggest love story is the friendship between Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. It’s so heartening to see women’s friendship portrayed in such a fiercely supportive, protective and loyal way. I remember reading that Sarah Jessica Parker said that the series taught her to appreciate her female friends more. There’s a line in the film where one of them (I think Charlotte) says maybe they can be one another’s soul mates and men can be an accompaniment to that. While it’s clear they all still feel more complete with the men in their lives, (Samantha points out a very obvious thing only a man can provide, but I’m talking about more than that of course), I do think it’s true that women can sometimes look to men to be their ‘all’ when we forget that sometimes they just can’t understand us in quite the same way a female friend can. Female friends I salute you!

I have to say out of all of the men in the series Smith has got to have been the model boyfriend (and I’m not talking about his model looks!). I defy anyone who did not cry when he returned home early from a shoot to be with Samantha and she told him how no man had meant so much to her - the tears weren’t just for that scene but from the whole way he had supported her through her cancer. I really loved the finishing scenes of the series. I would never have forgiven the writers if Carrie had ended up staying in Paris with Alexander!









I have to point out these faux pas in the footnotes of this entry: I watched in confusion the episode where Carrie constantly referred to the right hand side of the brain as the logical side, and the left as the creative, irrational side. Anyone as creative as Carrie would know that it’s the opposite way round! How did no one on this show pick up on this?

Oh and when Miranda names her and Steve’s baby Brady it’s a touching moment. Until the episode where she marries Steve and their son becomes...Brady Brady. Doh!

This is what happens when you watch box sets. You become one of those annoying people who start to notice the glips along the way. Like when I watch re-runs of Friends on E4 and it strikes me that David Schwimmer is an appauling actor! How did I never notice that first time around??

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Life Drawing

I went along to my first Life Drawing class the other night, armed with a sketchbook and a pathetic looking HB pencil. (I do have a pack of professional drawing pencils which are hiding somewhere so obvious that I have been unable to find them). From experience I know that you can still get a fairly decent looking piece of artwork out of an HB pencil so I wasn't too bothered.

I was the last to arrive at the class so the model was already standing in full naked pose when I walked into the room. It was slightly disconcerting but also refreshing to see that a female with more than a little extra bumps and lumps stood so comfortably in front of her audience. She had her back to me for the first 10 minute pose. When she turned around for the next pose I was again slightly disconcerted to see her grinning away at me when I looked up. I decided to skip the face and just focus on the body. Getting lost in the drawing soon transforms 'a naked body' into shapes and interesting lines; in short the body becomes art and there is something really liberating about this.

In a world which is becoming increasingly preoccupied by perfection and overdosing on botox, liposuction,(you name it), I appreciated the beauty of the lived in quality of the stretchmarks, cellulite and scars that stood in front of me.

I had a glance at some of the others drawings during break and I have to say I was impressed by the quality. My drawings turned out alright too.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Publication

It's a good feeling to have a piece of writing, no matter how small, formally accepted for publication and even better to see it there in print with my name above it! So here it is (what I would have titled flash fiction but it's in under prose poetry, which sounds more sophisticated really) in Spilling Ink Review Issue 2:

spillinginkreview.com/issue-2/prose-poetry/vikki-gemmell

(I have no idea why this site is not letting me insert proper links. You will need to copy and paste :/)

I'm liking Spilling Ink (not just because I am in it!). It is showcasing a diversity of writing styles, from home and abroad.

My little success has spurred me on to write myself out of a little block I had for a while and it was a good feeling to produce two new stories over the weekend.

Long may the creative spurt last!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Cult


What is it about some film stars, musicians, artists, that causes an adoration bordering on obsession from fans? I’m avoiding using the word celebrity because to me celebrity conjures up images of Jordan (Katie Price, whatever) and even Brad Pitt is more of a celebrity these days than a real star. A real star generates a cult following, makes the public almost worship their indefinable cool and leaves a mark on the world long after they’re gone.

To me stars who embody this are James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix…and I’m hoping the most recent one stays alive; Robert Pattinson.
Ok, so many people don’t think he is the embodiment of cool seeing as his most well known films are Harry Potter and the Twilight series. I remember reading in the press that Cedric from Harry Potter had landed the coveted role of Edward the vampire in Twilight and I thought, Cedric, seriously? A floppy haired posh English boy was far too nice to cut it as a vamp. Then I watched Twilight, a good number of months after it had been released on DVD, and remember feeling like my eyes were glued to the TV as Mr Pattinson walked into that cafeteria (what a difference staying out the sun and coiffing up your hair with super strength hair spray can make).
By the time he was sitting doing science experiments with Bella I was hooked. This was what every Vampire in gothic history should be. Someone with a presence and an indefinable broody passion which you could totally imagine throwing your human life away for. He also had me glued to the screen in his film Remember Me. He is captivating with a capital C. Not since River Phoenix have I felt so compelled and fascinated by a film star.

I’m hoping that Mr P keeps some of that down to earth humour he’s displayed in interviews, to see him through the crazed obsessive following he has acquired which I’m sure contributed to the end of the others. I feel sorry for these stars who have to put up with lunatics who can’t separate fantasy from reality. I admit to buying a vest with Robert Pattinson’s picture blazoned across it (hey, every girl should have one, and every woman too!) but it’s all tongue in cheek and an ode to someone who I think is cool. Do we really want to see a picture so badly of him in the newspaper that the press feel that they have to hound his every move? I think the media should leave him alone, let him breathe and let him retain a little bit of mystery which is what we really want.

I was reading through Douglas Coupland’s Polaroids from the Dead and he has an entry in this titled ‘Letter to Kurt Cobain’. It’s a written account of an ‘I remember where I was when I heard the news breaking ‘moment’’, when some major event occurs that leaves the world a little bit different for everyone, or for you personally. He describes the impact the news of Cobain’s death had on him and his friends.

I remember when I found out that River Phoenix had died. I was 13 and had picked up a magazine at a service station during a family trip somewhere. I don’t know if I found out about his death late (I wasn’t so switched on to the media at that age) as I can’t really think why we would have been on a family holiday around Halloween when he died. The magazine detailed that he had died outside the Viper Room in the early hours of Halloween and it was a suspected drug overdose. Double shock. He was dead. He took drugs? I remember feeling a great sense of sadness and loss that a star I was just discovering had died in such a horrible way.
Back in the car my brother made us listen to his REM cassettes for about the tenth time on the journey. It wasn’t until later that I learned Michael Stipe and River Phoneix were great friends. On the single sleeve for ‘E-bow the letter’ you can apparently see the words ‘For River’ in the driving mirror. REM’s 1994 album ‘Monster’ is also dedicated to River.
Stipe was also incidentally great friends with Kurt Cobain and Cobain died within 6 months of Phoenix. The song ‘Let me In’ was apparently written for both stars. So it seems quite fitting that I was sitting listening to REM five minutes after I found out about Phoenix’s death.

There are other connections between Cobain and Phoenix. Gus Van Sant shot an ode to Cobain after his death, titled, ‘Last Days’ and also directed Phoenix in ‘My Own Private Idaho’, (which could arguably have been titled Last Days also as it’s painfully clear to see this is where Phoenix must have embarked on some heavy drug experimentation). He was a great actor but there’s something unsettlingly incoherent about his performance in this film which makes you question his sobriety.

I once thought I was being haunted by Phoenix’s ghost; (I was about 16? And have an overactive imagination). A biography about his life kept falling off the shelf in my bedroom and I had a really strange dream where I was swimming through a river of rainbows and fish and felt his presence in the dream but never saw him.

So my advice to Robert Pattinson if he is reading this, (which of course he is, he is my biggest fan, can’t it be a two way street?) is to stay away from drugs, Gus Van Sant, method acting, Michael Stipe and loaded guns.
And keep doing what you’re doing; setting the screen on fire and creating that magic that should run on for at least another few generations to glimpse.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Festival







It's that time of year again when the crazies on the streets of Edinburgh turn their eccentricities into acts of entertainment and see an increase in their earnings. Only kidding, but you do have to wonder about some of the festival street acts...

Had a fun filled day on Saturday wandering around Edinburgh, getting a bit lost and marvelling at the explosion of wild enthusiasm and creativity that descends upon the city at this time of year. (The passengers on buses still looked a bit miserable and staid but their faces were lost in amongst the music and colour).

One act stood out for the sheer uninhibited manner in which they threw their bodies around the pavement, with the most ridiculously serious expressions on their faces. The dance moves I can only compare to that episode of Friends where Ross and Monica do their cringey new year dance; the facial expressions like Jack Black's in the opening dance sequence in Shallow Hal. I looked them up on youtube and it turns out not only do they dance, but sing (of sorts!). Check out The Young Dads if you fancy some light entertainment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvNak51jY60&feature=related. I have Micha's number; he gave me and my friend this in case we could make it along to their show and wanted free tickets. I'm kind of disappointed we won't make it. He did an impressive ad lib rap about a monkey for us.

There are some cool little independent shops in Edinburgh, a much wider range than you would find in Glasgow. Two little great shops we chanced upon were Cookie and Pie in the Sky, which sell great retro clothes. I was muttering about how some of the little Indian type shops reminded me of Vancouver and then I came across a scarf I got from Vancouver. Weird!

A great cafe I would highly recommend is The Elephant House where J.K Rowling wrote most of Harry Potter. The toilet doors are full of odes to Potter such as RIP Dumbledore and Ron + Hermione forever. They do amazing cakes and teas. Don't let the queue at the door put you off (I think there's always probably a queue at the door) as it goes down surprisingly quickly and we managed to get a table.

I love browsing round market stalls and came across the most amazing bags at one stall. (I have a thing for bags and have lately thought it would be great to be able to make bags but I can't sew and don't know if I would enjoy learning. I have bad flashbacks to home economics in school where I managed to break one of the sturdy industrial sewing machines and my teacher despairing of me).
This is the website for The Beautiful Bag Lady:
http://www.thebeautifulbaglady.co.uk/index.html.
I love, love, love her bags! I bought one for a friend's birthday and am so glad I have found her site as I am sure I will be ordering a bag for myself soon...
The woman doing her selling on the stall asked if she could buy my necklace from me. I said no as I love it too much. (I bought the necklace last year in Edinburgh during festival time at another market stall). It was only a fiver but it is unique and I would never find anything like it again.

It was good having a change of scenery. Day trips outwith the local area are something I'm going to make an effort to do more of.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Up, up and away...


Thanks to my inventive brother a group of us spent a lovely day flying kites down in Largs on Saturday. Sunshine, sea breeze and a 50 foot chinese dragon to keep us amused.

There was something very relaxing about flying a kite, looking up at the sky and watching it...well, fly...sort of like meditating I would imagine. I've often tried to meditate but find it difficult to clear my mind. I think I probably have reached meditative states unintentionally, like during staff meetings at work when I can tune out quite easily and go into a trance like state.

More and more I like the idea of living by the sea. Having seagulls as neighbours isn't quite so appealing, though they seem to be a bit better behaved these days, and certainly much better behaved than my current neighbours.

I've had enough of looking at a computer screen for one day so that's all for now.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Eat, Pray, Love...

...Or in my case Eat, Love that chocolate cake and pray it doesn't stick on my thighs...

The title is a reference to a book by author Elizabeth Gilbert (which a friend has recommended I read). I've yet to read the book but this a link the same friend sent me of a talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert:

http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html (It won't let me insert a proper link so you will need to copy and past the address into your server).

It's an interesting talk for any creative person to listen to, particularly writers.
She captures the pressure you can put yourself under to produce something of brilliance and the panic that can set in when it just isn't appearing. She also talks about the concept of 'genius', what that moment of brilliance actually is when it arrives and where it comes from.

Having the week off work last week opened a bit of a block I've been having lately and I realised it was probably because I switched off the left hand side of my brain for a while and let the right hand side have more of a look in. I was free to daydream and lose myself in books and music for a while which all help to put my brain on a logical shutdown and wander off into a more creative space.

I've heard lots of authors talk over the years about how they don't buy the excuse of 'I don't have time to write'. Working full time I've used this excuse myself but then I began to realise that there have been days where I have consciously made time to write and it still doesn't happen. I've finally realised it's all about state of mind for me. I find it difficult to write when I'm working full time because I find it difficult to switch off my sensible, logical 'work brain' when I come home at night. I've decided I'm going to attempt to do some serious daydreaming on the train home instead of thinking about what shopping I need to buy for my tea.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Vancouver day 10 - departures

~Make sure you start from day 1 to read in order - see archives on the right~


My flight home is at tea time so I decide to spend my last day on the Drive doing some last minute souvenir shopping. Most of the shops don’t open until 11am so I go in to a cafe which has ‘Enter as strangers, leave as friends’ written on their wall for a hot chocolate. There are some older Italian men and women sitting having coffee together. The young woman who serves me sounds Eastern European and it strikes me again how cosmopolitan Vancouver is. Confirmed again when I go in to a shop where a Mexican woman serves me, and in another one an Australian woman chats to me and asks if I will be sad to go home. I’m always ready to go home but it’s not until I am at home now writing this that I realise how much I actually miss being in Vancouver, in such a different culture and I miss the ‘fear factor’ of travelling around a lot alone, being out of my comfort zone.

I walk up the whole length of the Drive, to the sky train area, knowing that I’m going to be sitting for a very long time on my flight later. I walk past the Tarot guy and he is with someone. I had decided I would get a reading if he was free but he looks like he’ll be some time so I move on. I stop off at one of the pizza places to get a big slice of chicken and pepper pizza. I like that they sell them by the slice here. I call in to a newsagents and buy some ‘Vikki’s crisps’. I walk past a beauty shop which has a coconut hand cream sample sitting on a table outside, with a fan blowing beside it so that the smell of coconut wafts over as you walk by.

I head back to Jane’s apartment early afternoon to make sure I’ve got everything packed away. When I’m in her bathroom brushing my teeth I can hear the Stone Roses blasting from outside the open window. It somehow sums up the vibe of the Drive in a lot of ways. It’s like the fashion and style is a throw back to 90s grunge and, it would appear, 90s indie music.

My taxi arrives promptly and the (Indian) taxi driver engages me in some conversation, asking who I’m flying with, how much my flights cost, that his daughter visits her aunt regularly in England. It’s only 3.30pm and the roads are already getting busy. He tells me it’s just as well I’ve left now as rush hour is about to hit as most people finish work at 4 here on a Friday.

The queue for check in is long and moves very slowly. As I look around I notice there a lot of females travelling alone. An hour and a half later it’s my turn to check in and then it’s time to head to the departure gate. I buy an American Marie Claire and read an article about how being on the Pill can lead you to choosing the wrong ‘mate’ as attraction is really about smell and a subconscious chemistry which the pill can distort. Maybe this is why the divorce rate is so high in modern life. Women come off the pill and suddenly neither they nor their partner smells right any more.

On the flight I’m sat beside a mother and daughter. They pull a blanket over themselves and I see a familiar face staring at me upside down. I ask the mother if it’s Robert Pattinson and she smiles and nods. I show her my MP3 cover. This time on the plane the TV screens are universal, in the middle of the aisles, so we all have to watch the same films. They show 3 back to back and I watch them all so get zero sleep. When at Jane’s we’d watched Trains, Planes and Automobiles when Steve Martin was fresh faced. He appears in one of the in-flight films looking very strange, plastic surgery strange, I am sure...His face has a stretched, plastic look about it now.

There are two men across the aisle from me who are plane nerds, taking photos of the planes on the runway and one of them tells one of the air cabin crew all about this plane, when it was built and other important facts. He’s wearing a Thomas Cook t-shirt, which would be cool and witty if his name was Thomas Cook but somehow I don’t think this is the case.

We touchdown at Manchester airport at 3am Vancouver time, 11am UK time. I head to the toilets beside the baggage carousel and am surprised to see a man coming out one of the cubicles zipping up his jeans. He’s even more surprised to see me and a look of panic fills his eyes as he looks around and sees other women standing at the sink. “Uh, wrong place.” He mumbles on his dash out.

I get my case back and then head through the airport and get a lift up to the walkway which takes me to the train station. The heat hits me as I head through the walkway and it feels strange. This is the first holiday in a long time that I’m arriving home to hot weather. But I’m not home yet...still another 4 hour train journey to get through...

On the train I have my two seater to myself for most of the way. A French girl gets on for a few stops and she tells me she’s travelling around Britain. When she gets off I lie across the two seats and read my magazine and can hear the drone of a woman at a table near me who has a very irritating accent.

It sounds like a fake Edinburgh accent and she is loud with it. She’s also a fake hippie. She hones in on a pleasant older couple sitting at the seat s in front of me. She is telling anyone who will listen that her name is something ridiculous like Armadillo. This isn’t her real name (which is probably Maggie) – this is her ordained Buddhist name. There is nothing Zen about her loud incessant voice.

She takes a picture of the old couple on her mobile phone and tells them she’s going to upload it on her facebook page. She asks them if they know what facebook is; they don’t really, so she explains it in great detail, enthusing so much about it I begin to wonder if she has shares in it. She screams in delight when she tells them that she has titled the photo ‘my new friends on the train’ and one of her facebook friends has left a comment. Probably along the lines of ‘Who gives a bleep, you annoying fake hippy.’

She makes one sensible comment, something that me and Jane talked about back in Vancouver, that we Brits have the ability to laugh at ourselves, that we have a deprecating sense of humour.

Vancouverites seem much more straight forward in their kind of humour. I can’t really imagine them laughing at themselves much. I made a comment to Jane: “They’re cardboard like their houses.”

It’s not meant to be an insult. Just an observation. I tell ya, if I was in a crisis it would be good to be stuck with a Vancouverite. I can imagine they would stay calm and just carry on.

Right on duuude.








Footnotes
Music on my MP3 player for the trip: Dog Days are Over- Florence and the machine, a mix of Hole, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, the New Moon soundtrack, a native Indian Spirits collection (all of that 90s grunge and native Indian stuff being a spookily appropriate Vancouver soundtrack without me even thinking about it), Placebo, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Guns N Roses...and the list goes on.
Scent of Vancouver: Chance by Chanel – Jane’s perfume but I also kept smelling it everywhere!

Vancouver day 9






Today I take a Trolley Bus tour of the city. I want to see Granville Island and decide this is the most hassle free and fun way to incorporate that in to my sightseeing. I get on the ‘Red Loop’ bus at Canada Place and we head further round Stanley Park, to the bits I never had time to walk to. The bus goes right to the top, Prospect Point, and we pass Vancouver’s oldest tree which to me looks like a bit of burnout wood. Our driver tells us that the people of Vancouver campaigned to save it and I’m sure he says the city have spent half a million dollars on it. They must really love nature here!

A woman on the bus keeps her window open and is completely oblivious to the fact that we’re all freezing (men with hoods up, women with scarves tightly wound). She gets off at the same stop as me for Granville Island so I follow her down to the False Creek Ferry stop. The Ferry is round and small and it is a 2 minute crossing to the island. Once on land I have a browse round the outdoor markets and stop in at some interesting craft shops. I find a small shop called Crystal Ark beside the pond and it has some of the largest Amethyst rocks and Rose Quartz spheres I have ever seen. It also has lots of beautiful crystal jewellery.

I go into Sammy J Peppers Grill and Bar for lunch and have really tasty chicken and mushroom tagliatelli with a kick of spice in the creamy sauce. It adds a nice bit of warmth to what is one of the coldest mornings of the trip. It’s hard to believe I left 28 degree heat in Scotland last week!

After lunch I have a wander round some more shops. I see a shop assistant demonstrate a hammock style product which is hanging from the ceiling and she gets a young customer to try it out by sitting on it and swinging back and forth. Outside a man and woman are dressed in strange outfits and are standing motionless on boxes with ‘Puppets’ written on the side. Someone throws some coins in to their tray and they immediately come to life; the woman singing and playing her guitar, the man singing and banging on his drums.



I wander through more of the Island and from my map I see the Blue Loop bus pickup point is just outside the main entrance, beside a small Starbucks. I stand there for a while then begin to wonder if this is the right place. I see two women holding maps like mine so ask them if they’re waiting for the trolley bus. They tell me that the stop is a bit further up the hill and they come and join me once they have picked up some coffee. They’re from Montreal and the mother only speaks a little English. The daughter asks where I’m from and tells me they thought I was Australian. They say Canadians often get the two accents mixed up. I find this strange. I’m sure Australians would find it strange too.

The ‘blue loop’ trolley bus soon arrives and we head back round the other parts of downtown. It takes us through Yaletown which the bus driver describes as a hip and expensive part of town, where a lot of the young business crowd hang out (and where Robert Pattinson and the Twilight gang hung out when filming, that’s my own knowledge, not the bus driver’s). I imagine it to be similar to the Merchant City area of Glasgow. We pass the library which looks like an amazing building, pass some weird Chinese men sculptures, go through China Town, go past an Amsterdam cafe on Hastings which has hash symbols on the sign, and pass through the lovely East Hastings. The bus driver reckons that East Hastings is on the up and will become the new Yaletown. Where the druggies and homeless would camp out, if this were to happen, who knows.

The sun comes out for my last night in Vancouver so me and Jane head out for dinner. As we walk downstairs, we are hit with the stench of Skunk. It’s emitting from her neighbour, Steve’s door. Jane knocks on his door but there is no reply. He’s probably dead with the amount of pot he must be smoking in there.

We head up the Drive to a bar/restaurant called Havana. The outdoor tables are full so our waitress (very androgynous, like Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry) says we can wait in the bar. There is a little art exhibition through the back which has paintings of wolves and the like. It’s not long before a table is free and we go outside and enjoy the sunshine. I have some great Chicken Wraps with Salsa and Feta cheese and some amazing hand cooked chips. The chips here are amazing and are so light they don’t even feel unhealthy! Jane gets the waitress to take some photos then we head for a wander down the drive.



I persuade Jane to go into Joe’s cafe for some hot chocolate. The two men who run the cafe speak Portuguese (one from Portugal, the other from Brazil). Jane impresses them by speaking the lingo and I tell her she’s made some new friends now. The cafe looks steeped in history and I’m sure the interesting looking men who frequent it would have some interesting stories to tell. “Hey, there’s Steve!” Jane waves at a man walking past the window. He waves back and comes in to say hello. He looks surprisingly lucid. We exchange brief conversation, though he can’t really understand me and I can’t really understand him. He misinterprets my description of ‘the hippy’ drive as the ‘happy’ drive and he says he would sure rather be Canadian than Scottish. Alright then.

Ah, I will miss Commercial Drive where young men speed down the road on skateboards, wearing multi coloured shorts with their caps round the wrong way and shout “Duuuude.”

Vancouver day 8





I check out of my suite this morning. Diana, the owner, says the weather has been unfortunate. She tells me that last year, or the year before, it rained non stop for 5 months then was a great summer. Maybe they will have a great summer this year!
I head over to Jane’s (where I’ll be staying my last 2 nights) to drop off my bags. Then I head off to the Skytrain – my first trip on the train which rides above the city and has many stops downtown.

On my way along the drive to the Sky train station there is a guy wearing an oversized American football t-shirt walking in front of me. I notice his t-shirt has holes in it and he has tattoos down his arms. He stops to get a light from someone sitting outside at a cafe and tells them “It’s my birthday today.” “Oh, happy birthday, “ drawls the guy at the cafe.
He then stops briefly to look at his reflection in mirror windows at the top of a shop, spiking up his hair some more. He stands looking at himself too long.
He continues walking down the street, starts talking to another random guy beside him. “It’s my birthday today.” “Oh swell,” is the reply. He starts to tell the guy about his son, something about getting to see him, but I guess he doesn’t get much response to this story because the next I hear is him ranting “Loser” Then he storms off.

Outside the Sky train station a man lays out lots of books for a ‘Book Sale’. There are also signatures on the pavement, like a Vancouver hall of stars, but I’m sure this is just the signatures of average joes.

The Sky trains have no drivers and an automated voice announces the stops. I get off at Burrard Street (this sounds strange pronounced in the automated Vancouverite accent). I manage to navigate my way to the Art Gallery which I’m quite proud of seeing as at home I get lost pretty easily.


I am soaked when I arrive so head to a cloakroom point to drop off my raincoat and umbrella. The woman at the desk makes a comment about the rain. She says when she visited Glasgow it was very rainy and she bought a wax raincoat which was great. At the pay desk I’m informed only 2 floors of the gallery are open because of renovation.

I head up to the cafe first and buy some peppermint tea and a slice of cranberry loaf. This loaf which is sold everywhere is great!

After my breakfast I head to the Fiona Tan exhibition first. Her exhibit is about the ‘Play of memory across time and space.’ I sit down to watch a video installation, ‘The Rise and Fall’. The screen focuses on an old woman sleeping and then splits into two, a young woman appearing on the right hand screen. Contrasting images of them dressing and putting on make up play out. There is always a clear full shot of the old woman but only fleeting glances of the young woman- probably because the young woman is a memory?

The image of them both sitting in the garden makes me think that the old woman is more content and more ‘knowing.’ I get the impression the young woman is more apprehensive and looking at the image of the old woman makes me want to tell her not to be, that life isn’t worth getting apprehensive about. The old woman looks almost relieved that she has lived but is having fleeting moments of being wistful about her lost youth. Images of the sea are interspersed with their story – I find these very calming.

My favourite part of the exhibit is when the screens are aligned so that it looks like the old lady is walking out of her garden, and walks in to the right hand screen a young woman.

I move along to watch another video installation which shows a remote field with trees blowing and clouds moving slowly across the sky. A lot of things I’ve seen on this trip remind me of the film My Own Private Idaho and this scene especially makes me think of this film.

I walk upstairs to see some photo exhibits. One features photographs by Robert Frank, a notable photographer and film maker who documented the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of the race and class divide. He also documented Beat Culture and befriended Kerouac and Ginsberg. There are other photographs by Larry Clark, one titled ‘Accidental gunshot wound from Tulsa 71.’ The blurb says he captures raw, violent images. I remember watching a film he co-produced, 'Kids'; raw being a good way to describe this.

After the gallery I venture back outside and head down Robson Street, on the hunt for a place to have some lunch. I decide I fancy a hamburger and a place across the road called the Cactus Club catches my eye. It’s a good choice as I am served the most amazing hamburger ever – the burger is clearly homemade and has really thin tasty mushrooms, cheese and bacon, accompanied with very tasty homemade chips.

After lunch I set off in search of the big bookstore, Chapters. I soon find it with the help of my guidebook which helpfully tells me what street number it is. It’s massive inside. Floor upon floor and row upon row of books. It’s really airy and new looking. I’m here to find ‘City of Glass’ by Douglas Coupland. I decide to check under Fiction and Literature first – I come across his other books which have different covers or are shaped differently (smaller and boxy) from the ones I own back home. I soon realise his non fiction book is not going to be amongst these so I use one of the public computers set up which allows you to check if your book is stocked here. It also helpfully tells you which section of the shop it’s shelved. So I head off to ‘Local’ and soon find City of Glass. I get a copy for Jane and myself.

A perfect little momentum of my trip as it is Coupland’s view of Vancouver. I’m looking forward to seeing if any of his observations of the city match mine.

I leave Chapters and call in to the Rocky mountain chocolate shop to buy some cookies and chocolate nut/caramel goodies for later back at Jane’s. I then have the task of finding Burrard Skytrain to get home. I only take one wrong turn and one proper look at my map to find it which is pretty amazing for me, my sense of direction is normally so bad.

Back at Jane’s I let her hear my dodgy Nirvana covers on myspace page ‘Bleached’. She reckons this would go down a storm in Vancouver. Maybe I could come back and do a tour.

That night Jane’s neighbour, Cindy the hairdresser and her daughter, Cherish, play their music loud. One song repeats over and over. They’re like a Vancouverite version of my neighbours back home...

Vancouver day 7




A chilled out day today. I try to have a lie in (never a problem back home but my body cant get into proper Vancouver time here). I get up just after 8. I head over to Jane’s after breakfast and we set off to do some shopping up The Drive. The shops along the drive are funky and full of character.

One smells strongly of Incense and reminds me of Osiris in Glasgow, but this one is more ‘wooden’ and hippy. It sells lots of nice scarves, tops, incense and jewellery. Jane points out a Scottish man at the counter. When I hear him talking his accent sounds comical. It’s been a few days since I’ve heard a Scottish accent and it sounds strange and exaggerated to me, amongst the Vancouver drawl.

We go into a funky vintage store called ‘Mintage’ and it’s full of old dresses, jackets and t-shirts. Jane buys a funky little white jumper with pink bobbles on it.



We head into another vintage style shop called Pink Elephant and there is cool rock/retro music playing. It has a real American vibe to it (even although we are in Canada) I can imagine characters from the film Empire Records shopping here. All the shop assistants greet us with a cheery “Hey girls, how ya doin?” There is a pretty little boutique with great clothes in the window (a puffball white skirt with silver studs on it) and very chique clothes inside. The shop is very white and there is French music playing. The girls working in the shop are sunny, blonde and wearing yellow.

We stop for lunch at a French/Tunisian style restaurant. It feels like stepping in to Paris; it is quite small and has very ornate, chique decor, with lantern style lights and European sounding music floating out from the speakers. There are amazing smells floating out from the kitchen. Our waiter has a drawn out Vancouverite accent, he talks in a lazy way like the cartoon voice of Garfield. We decide on Chicken Ratoue; chunks of tender chicken, potato, peppers, onion and beans in a warm spicy sauce, a perfect meal for yet another rainy day!

After lunch we walk further along The Drive. There are lots of murals on the sides of shops and cafes. All very professionally painted and vibrant – it adds so much to the street. We see a Rastafarian man on a bike talking to another guy saying “Yee man.”

We have a tea break at a cafe called Turks. I have Early Grey Tea and a delicious lemon and blueberry cake; Jane has a banana and chocolate loaf – a popular cake in Vancouver which is also yum. It has a great kick of cinnamon. A guy with really furry dreads is sitting at the table beside us. He smells like he needs deodorant, as do a lot of the guys in here. Total hippies. I like the chilled vibe though. The sun comes out so we move to a table outside. Dogs are very popular on the Drive and lots of people pop into cafes to fill up bowls of water for their dogs. Some places leave out bowls for them.




A really hippy guy, tall and skinny with a beanie hat, glasses, wearing cords and beads, who looks a bit like John Lennon, leans against the fence outside the cafe. A hippy girl walks past. He half calls out “Hey, there’s Meegan. Hey Meegan.” She looks like she hasn’t heard him, or is ignoring him at first. Then she walks back over. She is sort of hunched over, is wearing 2 cardigans and a cool dress and boots with little heels. She has a very chilled manner, is kind of strange, possibly on drugs...

We head to a shop called Virgin Marys which has very cool clothes and caps. All of the clothes here look very small but I manage to fit into a Medium sized dress so they can’t be that small. Next we head to Urban Empire where they have great Alice In Wonderland cases.

Before we head back up Parker Street I stop off at a home made chocolate shop called Dutch Girl Chocolates. I buy a Peace shaped chocolate lollipop. The sun is still out so we head back to mine and sit out on my balcony for a bit.

Jane informs me that Vancouverites love British alternative/punk/electro music as it never really reached here. Apparently a lot of musicians move to Montreal because it’s more ‘happening’ there, with more music venues and cheaper rent. Here the nightlife is a lot quieter and it’s apparently called ‘no fun’couver because of this!

Vancouver day 6





It’s raining again. The relentless kind which I’m sure will last all day long.
I take a walk along Commercial Drive and stop to take some photos of interesting murals painted on walls. I stop at the Alice in Wonderland shop -front and take a photo. This turns out pretty cool as you can see me faintly with my hood up reflecting in the window.



I feel like I’ve not eaten enough the past couple of days so stop in at a Starbucks. I guess I go with some familiarity because I’m alone. I feel like I’m selling out in a way by going to a chain coffee shop. It’s crazy the amount of Starbucks there are here. Some are right across the street from one another. The cafe is very busy for a Monday morning. It always strikes me at home when if I’m off during the week how busy places are. I always thought it reflected high unemployment or something, but maybe it’s just a reflection of the change of working patterns. I have an amazing raspberry and lemon loaf, very light and tasty. I realise I’ve never had a cake at a Starbucks back home so I don’t know if we have these in our coffee shops.

A woman who looks in her 50s is sitting at the table next to me along with a woman who looks in her mid 30s and an older man, late 60s/early 70s. She talks about how we only use 1% of our brain. She says she feels like she doesn’t use any of her bran since she became a housewife. She then starts a conversation about skin and she tells the old man he has great skin.

After breakfast I walk further up Commercial Drive to join the 3-row bus queue for BCU (British Columbia University where I am meeting Jane). The queue is called a ‘line up’ and if you get on at the back or in the middle you don’t have to pay as it gets so busy. It’s called an honour system but it would be rare that you would be able to make it to the front of the bus to be able to ‘honour’ this honour system and put any change in the ticket slot.

This bus is much more pleasant than the number 20 and 22 bus. The people look a lot more normal and there are a lot of students. One cool looking guy in a cap and black top and jeans stands in front of my seat. He has a tattoo around his wrist of stars and writing in another language I can’t quite decipher. A young woman comes up beside him and sort of falls into him on purpose and says “Oh excuse me” At first I think this is the most blatant pick up I have ever witnessed on public transport but then she grins and I realise she knows him and they greet each other properly. She says “Hey duuuude” and they both seem very chilled and cool.

I’ve noticed that most people in Vancouver are quite skinny – the females are very slight and the guys are very tall (most of them appear to be over 6 foot). Around the Commercial Drive area a lot of the guys wear Trilby type hats, have jaw length hair and beards. A lot of them wear tight black jeans with checked shirts.

The bus journey out to UBC is just over half an hour. UBC is the last stop and is right at the campus, outside the student union. I meet Jane inside and the SU is massive, with a lot of choice of eateries. We settle on pasta to eat, I go with Torrota Tortellini with veg. It’s very tasty. It’s pretty cool sitting eating lunch in one of Canada’s biggest universities.

After lunch we head to the Museum of Anthropology. To get there we need to walk across the campus which is enormous. It must be terrifying for new students trying to find their way around.

The Museum of Anthropology is housed in a very cool building – it looks like the shape is based on Inuit sculptures. Inside there is amazing Native Indian artwork and ornaments, costumes and masks from all over the world. I can’t believe the amount of stuff they have acquired.



The museum also contains modern art installations.
I walk into a hall and stand inside the middle of a rectangle of mounted images, photos on canvas. There is a hum of a lost native language emanating from speakers in the walls. Standing surrounded by this art and this sound is very surreal. I feel like I have stepped inside an abstract film and become part of the landscape. It feels great, similar to the sensation of becoming absorbed in a great piece of music or inspiring and visually captivating film. Some of the photos are of people who live in the outskirts, speaking this strange dead language. Their pictures vibrate with their chanting and lyrical conversation. Some are photos of forests with place signs. I feel like I could stand here forever, absorbing this sound.



Another art exhibit is of sea landscapes. I put on a pair of headphones and the sound of the sea fills my ears. The exhibit is about reactions to other cultures. It says something on one board about how people feel... “Do you feel like killing them because of the smell of the curry coming from downstairs.” I think killing is a bit of a strong word, but I have to say it does annoy me when I come home to smell the curry from my downstairs neighbours floating up into my bedroom.

Another exhibit has rows of glass jars containing contributor’s idea of ‘home’. Some are disturbing; one contains a small doll sitting on a chair, gagged and blindfolded, a toy dog is stuffed inside one jar, a family photo in another, a teenage mutant ninja turtle in another...

Outside the museum are original houses where native Indians lived, surrounded by a square of totems.

We catch the bus back to The Drive and chill out at Jane’s. Later, on the way back to my suite I see an animal running around beside the parked cars on the street. My first thought is that it’s a fox but I realise it isn’t quite big enough. As it runs out in to the road beneath the streetlights I see that it’s a Racoon. It stops for a second across the road and looks at me then runs away into the shadows.

There's a very creepy rundown house down the road from me. It looks deserted and Jane says you never see anyone going in or coming out. At night I always see a light on at a top side window. I call it the Witches House. Cackle, cackle!

Vancouver day 5





We catch the bus to Stanley Park and do part of the Sea Wall walk. The Totems are massive. Vancouver is full of native Indian art, totem poles and shops sell lots of Native Indian jewellery and trinkets. The Raven is a symbol which appears in a lot of art work (it symbolises creativity). There are also a lot of real live Ravens flying around the city. (On reflection, back home when I see crows flying around, these were possibly just very big crows in the city... But the Raven is still an important local symbol!)

We walk about 4k of the Sea Wall and then realise we won’t have time to make it round the whole way so turn back after Jane samples a plastic hot dog and I have some healthy curly fries. Most things in Vancouver are healthy (they have crisps with no transfat) so this lunch doesn’t reflect the norm.

We head back to the waterfront where we are due to catch the Sea Plane harbour tour. We arrive a bit early so head to the Convention Centre for drinks. I get the most amazing hot chocolate ever –it has a really smooth and creamy consistency. The man serving me says to me, “You’re not Scottish are you?” He tells me his name is McTavish and that his great, great, great grandfather caught a boat to Canada from Glasgow. I tell him I live near Glasgow and he seems pleased by this.

Next stop, the Sea Harbour! The departure lounge is like a mini airport. There are small check in desks for Victoria and the Gulf Islands. We head to the Tour desk and are presented with blue boarding passes. We don’t have to wait long before our flight is called. We walk down a shaky gangway and a group of us load into a tiny plane. From the outside it doesn’t look like it could hold more than 2 people but about 10 of us manage to fit in. As me and Jane are the last to get on the pilot says one of us can ride up front with him in the co pilot seat. I tell Jane to go.



The take off is exhilarating. It feels amazing to zoom along the water; it makes me feel alive and happy. The plane rises up and up, the harbour distorting as we dip to the side slightly. The plane rises up to level with the mountains, the temperature in the cabin cooling as we fly higher. I can see the snow and trees on the mountains really clearly. The town below looks like a plastic model with toy cars circling spaghetti roads. Blue swimming pools stand out against a distinctly grey and fawn landscape. A little remote island catches my eye; it has a lighthouse and looks like it would be a great place to visit. The windows of the plane have what the pilot calls a ‘bubble’ effect. When you stick your head really close to the glass it feels like you are actually sticking your head out the window, they allow you to see really clearly to the sides and below.



On the way back as we approach downtown there are rows and rows of glass buildings, with Stanley Park providing a burst of greenery to one side of the city. The city looks vast and small all in one. The flight lasts 45 minutes but feels like it passed in 5 minutes. As we touchdown on water I wish we could go back up again.
As we walk back through downtown it strikes me again that there is a distinct lack of ‘buzz’ for such a big city. It’s all very understated which I suppose is a reflection of the understated Vancouverite manner.

Back at Jane’s her flatmate tells me a bit about her ESOL teaching. Some of her classes are at a school which has lots of rich Asian kids attending. She says there’s an emerging trend of Saudi Arabians coming over and that Saudi Arabian men don’t tend to obey any class rules. If their phone goes, then they answer it. She says there are more Saudi Arabian women coming over. Maybe to escape the disrespectful men?

Vancouver day 4





Jane is off today, yey, so we can go on an adventure together. We catch the slightly more upmarket number 22 bus downtown. It is raining pretty heavy. Thankfully Jane is the same size shoe as me and has given me her walking trainers as my converse would be a soggy mess in this. When it rains in Vancouver it is relentless. It can rain all day long and all night with no let up! People here don’t seem too bothered by it though, choosing to still sit outdoors sipping their morning coffee and a lot of people walk around with no umbrellas.

Downtown we have a wander down Robson and find the most amazing Rocky Mountaineer Chocolate shop which has chocolate toffee apple animals in the window alongside massive cookies. Yum! I make a mental note to return here...

We walk down to the Waterfront and I take a photo of a whale sculpture ‘Digital Orca’. When you stand back from it, it looks like a 3D digital image. When we wander over to a sign beside it we discover it is by none other than Douglas Coupland.



We go in to the Convention Centre which has a massive globe of the world hanging inside (which looks like the size of the actual world). We discover there is an Eat Vancouver event on and so begins a culinary delight of local food...we get to taste amazing goodies ranging from Cinnamon Cake (yummy), cinnamon honey, breads dipped in various olive oils, Japanese pop, the most tasty pomegranate juice from a shop on Victoria Drive. We get asked for ID when we try to enter the wine tasting section and are very confused by what the guard is actually asking – we try to show him our entrance tickets and then it dawns on us that he is wanting actual ID to prove we are of drinking age. Har!

Next, on to Stanley Park. We pass the Sea Plane harbour along the way and pop in to get leaflets about their trips.

In the Park we head to the Aquarium and I get to see Dolphins. I feel a mixture of joy at being able to see them in the flesh but also concern that one of them looks like it is diving down and swimming round and round the same place like he is not a happy dolphin... There are strange white whales swimming around a pool – their faces look flat and they look like ghosts. I also see a massive turtle and a scary looking alligator, standing hanging over a glass case, looking a bit hungry...





On the walk back through the Parkland we follow the sounds of music into some woodland. We approach a queue of teenagers who inform an enquiring Jane that Massive Attack are playing. We peek through gaps in the fence and stand and listen to a few minutes of the sound check.

Rain, rain, rain all the way home...

Downtown Vancouver is strangely quiet for a Saturday tea time. Jane explains that people don’t seem to go out here so much. I find downtown lacking a bit in ‘buzz’ and atmosphere. The glass buildings reflect back more glass buildings and it’s almost like they are soaking up any noise...

We head out to the ‘Drive’ for dinner. Here, there is noise and life! We pass an enthusiastic busking Banjo player along the way. “Wanna join me?” He calls out in a twangy Vancouverite accent.

We eat at a restaurant called El Salvador. It smells amazing inside and as soon as the door shuts it is as though we are in El Salvador. There is one authentic waiter and foreign sounding music on the player, with fake palm trees above the counter. I have the most amazing grilled chicken with rice and tortilla wraps. It feels like being in a whole other country.

We detour through some backstreets on the way home and I marvel at the massive houses. On the way past someone’s living room window we can see cool art work on their wall. I wonder how many artists live on this street.

We walk past some small houses which look a bit like cardboard houses. There are other great looking houses with porches. We pass a man sitting out on the porch of his small house, drinking a beer, Canada flag flying from his roof, his dog at his feet.
He says: “This is one of the oldest houses, built 1912.” He then says something about the people leaving the house in bags (because a lot of drug addicts around).

His dog comes over and sticks his head up the front of my coat.
“Little too personal, too soon,” he tells his dog.

Vancouver day 3




I wake up feeling a bit more normal, though I still haven’t had a full complete sleep. I have to get up at 6am as I have a 6.50am taxi pick-up for my Rocky Mountaineer trip. My hairdryer runs on half speed here and blows mainly cold air but my hair behaves itself more than usual. The water here is super soft which makes my hair and skin feel super soft. I want to take it back home.

My taxi driver is crazy. He is Pakistani and doesn’t appear to talk much English. He drives like a maniac and we fly over speed bumps. Downtown he careers round a corner, his back tyre smashing loudly against the kerb. He half glances round at me but doesn’t say anything. I give him a 10c tip.

A porter at the Fairmont Hotel opens my door and when he discovers I’m not a guest but merely there for my mountaineer pick up he suggests I go round the corner to some cafe for breakfast.

It’s now only 7am so I don’t really feel like breakfast. My bus pickup is 7.30 so I wander round and take some early morning pictures of downtown glass buildings. I go in and sip on a peppermint tea before heading back to the hotel.

A group gathers around, all for the pickup. An Australian woman comes over to ask if I’m waiting on the pick up and I start talking to her and her boyfriend. They tell me they’ve moved here from Melbourne. They go on about loving my accent and she says she thinks the Glaswegian accent is beautiful. I laugh saying that’s the first time I’ve heard it described like that. She says it’s so distinct and ‘lyrical’. He says he loves it too even although he can’t understand everything I say.

Our bus finally arrives at 8.20. Our train leaves at 8.30 from the North side of town but the tour guide says they will need to wait for us. We cross the famous Lions Gate bridge over to the North.

We arrive at the train and I say my goodbyes as I’m in a different carriage. I get a window seat and the seat beside me is empty so I have even more space on what is already an extremely spacious train. The seats are so comfy and the service is first class. A mile apart from the distinctly cramped flight on the way out.

The rain holds off to allow fantastic views of the scenery as we journey to Whistler. There is a mist and low cloud which makes for very atmospheric views across the lakes. My favourite parts of the journey are when I venture out to the observation car which is outdoors. The train slows down at the most scenic points to allow people to take photographs. As we move past waterfalls and rocks I am so close that if I stretched my arm out full I’d be able to touch them. It makes me feel very connected to nature and makes me appreciate its beauty and the peacefulness of nature. So much purer than the soulless downtown.




We’re served breakfast and drinks all the way and our ‘server’ gives us a running commentary. The train manager walks through the carriages saying “How are you today?” With a serene smile on his face. I think what a cushy job he has!

The train arrives at our destination, Whistler. We’re bussed into the town centre. It’s very much a winter sports place – the 3 Olympic Rings are still visible on one of the snowy mountains, which symbolised the finish line. The village has quaint wooden buildings which make me think of a Christmas village, as if Santa and his little elves could very well live here. There are large groups of mountain bikers catching chair lifts up one of the mountains then speeding down. Die hard sports enthusiasts.

I have lunch outdoors at a local restaurant called La Bocca, though I have to keep my coat on as it’s a bit chilly. The man at the table next to me goes one better and keeps his woolly hat on. The waitress doesn’t understand what I mean when I ask for a still mineral water. She is confused by the ‘still’ part, saying she has never heard of this before. She ends up bringing me tap water.

After lunch I head to a couple of small art galleries. One of them contains the most amazing paintings. Vast scenery with stunning colours, the blood red of a sunset has tinges of black which makes it jump off the canvas. Every time I see good art work it makes me want to paint.

On the bus back to the train we have a bus driver with a very broad Vancouver accent. He says ‘aboot’ a lot and it makes me smile.

On the way back to Vancouver on the train I relax a bit more, not so frantic to capture the scenery on camera, having taken about 100 photos on the journey out. I pay more attention to the commentary. Near the village Squamish is North America’s second largest rock face which is called ‘The Chief’. After climbing the rock face people have to hike off.
As we pass through the West End we are told lots of celebrities buy property here, and some of it is the most expensive property in the whole of Canada. The most expensive house is $37 million. Apparently it was two British men who persuaded people to start moving west and started selling properties here.

One of the nicest parts of the whole journey is when people watch out for the train to wave at us as we roll past. I see a young couple rushing out on the balcony with their baby to wave. Everyone who waves does so with a big smile on their face and something about it makes me want to cry; they look so friendly and happy and it feels like a true connection in a world where people are usually too busy to stop and say hello. (hmm, that is unless you’re travelling on the number 20 bus).

Vancouver day 2






I wake up fairly early the next morning. I can see the sun is trying to come out through the sky lights. The forecast was rain. I really hope the forecast is wrong as my plan today is to visit the Sun Yat Sen authentic Chinese Gardens. I am tired, yet not tired. I can tell my body is confused.

Jane suggested the night before that the quickest way to get into town would be to take the No.20 bus, though warns it goes through the worst part of town, East Hastings. I had already read about East Hastings as being the street to avoid. I decide to go on an adventure and catch the number 20 bus.

The bus driver takes out his earphones when I ask for an all day ticket (misunderstood bit of info Jane had given me) He says “This bus don’t do no all day tickets” so I put in my $2.50 for the standard ticket.
They have a weird system here where your ticket only lasts for an hour and a half. Who realistically only goes somewhere for an hour and a half?

I am met with a sea of bodies at the front of the bus. I shuffle up and grab on to a pole.

At the next stop the bus driver gets up and starts yelling to the front of the bus: “Alright this lady needs a seat (a blind lady getting on the bus) Someone get up and give this lady a seat.” No one moves. He claps his hands. Shouts louder. “Come on now, get up and give this lady a seat.” He goes over and grabs an old lady by the arm and drags her along a row of seats to make room for the lady and her guide dog. He sits back down and starts ranting. “What is wrong with you people on this bus?” He addresses the mass of bodies standing at the front. “Look at you all standing there. There are seats at the back – the back of the bus is empty.”

I look beyond some people and see there are indeed seats further back. I go and sit at a block facing side on. No one else at the front of the bus moves. Ok these people are weird.

A second later a man moves down from the back of the bus and sits beside me.
“Elllo, where you from?” His face is in my face. I immediately want to move.
“Scotland.”
“Where in Scotland?”
“Near Glasgow.”
He frowns. “I not know thise place.”
“Its only one of the biggest cities in Scotland.” I mutter.
“I is from Iraq,” he grins. “Northern Iraq.”
Images of bombs and kidnapped women does nothing to calm the unease of his slimy smile.
“You live here?”
I say no, explain I am visiting.
“You visit for only couple of days?” He frowns, not understanding what I repeat.
“I no understand.” He shakes his head.
Take a hike then. I want to say.
“I live here 8 years. I own restaurant.”
Go away, go away...
“Me and you go for a meal sometime?” He grins.
“I don’t think my boyfriend would like that.” I say.
“No?” He looks at me hopefully.
“No.” I give him a get lost look and look away, keeping my head firmly pointed in the opposite direction.

He eventually gets the hint and moves back up the bus. I begin to panic and worry he will get off at my stop and try to follow me and I know when I get off I’m not going to have a clue where I’m going and don’t want to look lost... In my panic I get off the bus a bit earlier than I’m supposed to. And I’m sure I get off right at East Hastings, the street I’m supposed to AVOID.

There are a lot of homeless and druggy people huddled together looking strange and hollow. Ok, just like home, I tell myself. DON’T LOOK LOST. I look ahead for red lampposts, knowing this will signal my arrival in China Town, where I want to be.

It doesn’t take long to find them but I have the feeling I am still heading in the wrong direction for the Chinese gardens. I know I can’t pull out a map or I will be a moving target for a mugging. I subtly search faces in the street until I rest upon a normal looking old man. Good choice as he says he is walking that way and takes me right to the entrance of the gardens.

I enter tranquillity and breathe a little sigh of relief...

The outside looks like China, an old bike and red lantern at the door. Stepping inside the gardens is like stepping into another world. I catch the end of a guided tour which is headed by a middle aged Chinese man. He explains that the paving around the gardens represents Yin and Yang (Feminine and Masculine energy) The Yang stones are larger. Most of the gardens also have a water feature related to the Yin energy and connected to balance. The Bonsai trees look much more impressive than the ones down Cardwell Bay garden centre. The Chinese symbols on the walls of the Chinese ‘huts’ look mysterious and meaningful. At the end of the tour we get to sample authentic green tea. It’s a lot more woody and bitter than any I have sampled back home.

I go in to the Gift shop and have a look through cards with Chinese symbols on them. A friendly Chinese shop assistant comes up to me. He asks if I understand the symbols. I say no so am grateful for the written translations pencilled on them. He smiles and says he is from Korea and he doesn’t understand them either. He explains that the Good Fortune symbol is luckier when hung upside down as the Chinese believe this allows good fortune to ‘tumble or flow down.’ I buy this card for a friend.

I reluctantly leave the tranquillity of the gardens and head to Gas Town. A homeless guy approaches me and asks if I have a ‘Toonie.’ “A what?” I frown at him. “2 dollars.” He says. I shake my head and move on. I later relay this to Jane and she explains a 1 dollar is called a ‘Loonie’ because it has a Loonie bird on it and the 2 dollar Toonie must have evolved from that. A little bit of Vancouver inside knowledge!



I find the famous Steam Clock spurting and take a couple of photos. I also take a picture of the famous ‘Gassy Jack’ sculpture. I start to head in the direction of the harbour and then jet lag hits me like a tonne of bricks. I suddenly feel very dehydrated so decide I’d better go in somewhere for lunch, even although I’m not really hungry. I head in to the Steamworks (I’m sure Robert Pattinson ate here, how sad that I know this!). I order a burger and fries but am more interested in my bottle of water. I think I drink about 3 pints and manage half a burger. I feel like taking a nap under the table. My waitress comes over, concerned about my burger. “Is it ok?” she asks. I explain I’m jetlagged and not very hungry and she smiles and tells me not to worry that she always feels worse on the way out and on my way home it won’t be the same.

I head back out in search of the number 20 bus home – my quickest option I decide. I exchange brief dialogue with the bus driver and am relieved to see the bus is a lot quieter this time. I get the side seats to myself.

Then an old guy sitting further down catches my eye.
“Where you from?” He shouts across to me. I tell him. He asks how long I’m staying, if I have relatives here. He tells me he originated from Oz and has some Irish/Scottish descent and something about him being a sailor in Germany.
Then he turns to me and says. “You wanna go for a beer?” He pauses. “I know I’m old enough to be your grandfather...but, you wanna go for a beer?”

I kind of laugh and politely decline. You have got to be kidding!

He whitters on about selling t-shirts – he opens a bag he is holding and I see Native Indian type wolf t-shirts. He talks about sending them to relatives in Australia. “They don’t have Native Indians in Australia. I can do you a deal on them.”
He turns to me. “So you wanna go for a beer? I’ll take you for a beer.”

What part of No did he not understand? I decline again.

“What about a meal? You wanna go for a meal?”

He then rolls up his sleeve to show me his sailor tattoos. “This one means killer.”

Great.

Someone gets on and sits down beside him, obscuring his view to me. I
hop off at my stop and decide I’ll try to avoid the number 20 bus next time.

I try to have a nap when I get in. Turn on the weather channel and see the forecast is rain. It was wrong today. Maybe it will be wrong again.

I head to Jane’s for dinner and relay my day’s adventures.