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home is where the art is

Something fantastic has been happening in Calgary this weekend. What’s been so special for Sara and I is that we have been at the heart of it. You see this weekend was the opening (and closing) of The House Project. Curator Caitlind Brown described it as follows:

The House Project is a one-time only group installation featuring 8 artists with an interest in re-appropriated, transformative and re-imagined spaces. Based out of a small home in Kensington, Calgary (229-10A street NW), at the end of the project, the house will be knocked down and all the art inside demolished with it. With this in mind, the pieces inside will be fashioned either from garbage, found materials and re-appropriated trash, or by ripping apart and using the house itself. Each room of the house will be treated by a different artist, along with the exterior of the house, culminating in a collective installation.

Sounds pretty interesting right? This gets exciting for us because it turns out that 229 10A Street NW is the house that Sara and I bought last year. We’ve been renting it out to students until our plans to rebuild have been finalized. With luck demolition will begin this month, taking the house and the art with it. So the House Project is a grand farewell to the house that was. More pertinently it is a wedding present to us from our dear friends and future neighbours, Ashley and Turner. I’ve not blogged about our exciting house building plans yet [YOU HAVEN'T BLOGGED ABOUT ANYTHING MUCH RECENTLY. Ed.] but the short fact of the matter is we found a house in the nicest part of town that just happened to be right next door to my best friend in Calgary. In the midst of all this planning Sara and I got married (twice - more on that story coming up). Now, I’m an old geezer and Sara has been married before, so we asked for no wedding presents as we didn’t need anything to help us set up home.

That wasn’t good enough for some people, and certainly not for Ashley. However her and her husband understood that we didn’t want “stuff” so she contacted Caitlind who she had met on a photographer course at Alberta College of Art and Design. Caitlind’s artistic mojo impressed her from the start and Ashley talked to her about creating a temporary installation on our lawn on the day of the wedding. In the end that idea was abandoned but in the course of talking to Caitlind about us the subject of us having the house next door that was due to be demolished came up. Caitlind’s eyes lit up and said how about working on the house before it got flattened. She knew just the people. Ashley told Sara about the idea and Sara was keen, saying she had read about something similar in Toronto where a group of artists had taken over some abandoned properties and it sounded amazing. “These are the same people!” said Ashley. So we said yes and it was on!

Yes, it turns out, is a simple but powerful word. Improvisers swear by it. Sara and I like to think we have improv spirit on and off stage. This whole project was powered by Yes: we said Yes, Ashley and Turner said Yes, Caitlind said Yes, the Arbor Lake Sghool said Yes. And after the exhibition closed today we think over a 1000 Calgarians said yes to it. Amazing.

We met the artists at the end of July. They seemed like a lovely bunch and we told them to have at it. We were certainly intrigued when Caitlind emailed us shortly afterwards to say:

1. One of the artists - Lane Shordee - wants to build a two-level man-powered whirlpool from the kitchen into the basement, and he’s wondering if there is any possible way for him to utilize the existing washing machine (essentially, gut it for parts for his whirlpool). I know it’s a working appliance, and I hate for it not to be used as an appliance, (he does have a Plan B, so no worries if you prefer to donate it), but I’m also confident that he’d put it to good use. What do you think?

2. Another artist - Danny Kirk - is intending to create a large-scale external painting, along with an internal installation/painting in one of the basement rooms. Danny’s hoping to dedicate an uninterrupted week in early August to the endeavor. Part of his process in the past has been performative (last summer, he spent an entire week locked in his shed producing a pretty amazing mural) and he’s wondering if it wouldn’t be too imposing to spend a week inside 229 creating his paintings. His intentions would be to sleep in the space, spending every waking moment creating art for the space. He’s very respectful, and I know that, considering that you folks are still paying for utilities, etc., he’d definitely be willing to shower/do energy-inefficient things elsewhere. Would this be something you’re comfortable with? Again, there’s always a Plan B, so think it over and let me know your thoughts.

We talked it over online:

Sara: Hiya honey!
me: hi!
Sara: Just fwd’d an email from the artists - or should that be Artists?
I’d like to say yes to a two story man powered whirlpool
me: art’istes
Sara: Ah, I see
And to buddy that wants to sequester himself for an art marathon
me: Have at it I say
Sara: Great!
me: Sounds amazing!
Sara: For shizzle
Can’t wait!
me: and of course the guy can shower etc there right?
Sara: oh yes
me: i do want to know more about the two level man powered whirlpool
they have to promise that it wont create a vortex or summon dark matter that leads to the end of the world because the neighbours will NOT like that
Sara: Ha, all right, I’ll say so :)

And so it went on. Pretty soon the artists were hard at work and the project started generating some interest. Articles followed in the local listings magazine FFWD, the Calgary Herald and Swerve Magazine (<< really good pics!). CBC radio came and did a piece which I heard on the way to work, then CTV Calgary, then CTV national news, then CBC Calgary came and even interviewed Laura about her thoughts on the matter. This was turning into kind of a big deal! The angle in most of the TV media was the same: what an interesting project and it turns out there is art in Calgary! Who knew?

The house was opened to the public on Friday evening. I'd been following developments on Caitlind's blog but I wanted to stay away from the actual house until showtime. Caitlind captured an archive of what the house was like before the artists started. The finished article was incredible. From Lauren Simm’s blacklight laser display with string:

laser strings

to Lane Shordee’s human-powered whirlpool in what was once the kitchen:

i remember when this was nothing but kitchen

lane powering the whirlpool

to the geometric growths spreading out from the living room window (by Andrew and John Frosst)

front room

to Daniel Kirk’s room of nightmares

open wide

next to Ian Ward’s room of fishes


at the foot of the thing that made everyone’s day: the slide from the living room to the basement by Caitlind Brown and Wayne Garret

the slide

In fact there was a lot more to it all than that. I’ve got 60 photos and 14 videos up on my flickr site. I’ll give you one video to be getting on with. I’ll never forgot my first trip round the house. I’d been for a crawl around Lauren Simms’s work then headed to the slide. I swooshed downstairs through what had been the bathroom into what had been a bedroom cupboard only to find myself “underwater” with Ian Ward’s fish. I had no idea it was there and the effect was properly magical.

Having been amazed by the artwork we were truly blown away by the response. There were maybe 300-500 people through the door on the first night. #houseproject was the most tweeted topic in Calgary that evening! Then again on Saturday and Sunday there was a steady stream of people, of all ages, coming in to check it out. Not only coming to check it out, but loving it! There was an amazing atmosphere of wonder and joy as people made discoveries around the house, and even started to make their own contribution.

handy 4

Everyone came out smiling. Today I sat on the porch and watched people come and go and I was on the verge of tears the whole time. Tears of joy though, that this was all happening and I was something to do with it. Just because my wife and I had said yes to our wonderful friends, whose friends had said yes to them. This was our wedding present, a unique gift that we will remember for ever and I hope a lot of other people will too. But actually our present from Ashley and Turner was much more special than just this art. I told them on opening night that they had done something amazing: they had made Sara and I look way cooler than we actually are. That is a hell of a gift!

this way


Another blog silence.What’s been going on? Well let’s see… the weather in Calgary has been very poor, winter dragged on and on and if felt like spring didn’t start till June. What else… Oh yes! I got married! To Sara!! It was great. I’ve been waiting to blog until we got our photos back but even two months later they are only starting to come in now. But for those of you who need photographic proof right away here it is. May 1 at the Ranche in Fish Creek Park:

the ranche

The wedding festivities began a few days before the big day as friends and family began to fly in. First to arrive from the UK was my uncle Andy and aunt Susie, closely followed by my aunt Anne and my uncle Christopher. It meant so much to me to have my mum and dad represented that way. Next up were my old friends from school, Jig and Andy. They stayed at our house and were an amazing help in the run up: on the morning of the wedding Jig suddenly found himself having to drive the hairdresser to the venue, where he had never been in a manual car he had never driven on the wrong side of the road! His CCF training for crisis situations certainly paid off. The kids took to these two straight away. For reasons that have never been fully explained they christened them Noodle and Meatsauce and clung to their suitcases when at last they had to leave.

The UK contingent had been asking what clothes to bring and I had confidently asserted that they should bring them all. Calgary at the start of May is a tricky proposition weather wise and in the space of three days I was proved correct. There was rain, thunder, snow and then a lovely sunny day for the wedding itself.

meatsauce and noodle

The day before the wedding Sara and I hosted a brunch for family and out-of-towners at the Banff Springs Hotel. I really wanted to show the Uk contingent a glimpse of the mountains and this proved to be a great day out. The food was delicious and it gave everyone a chance to get to know each other before the actual wedding.

team photo

As Sara took the kids back to Calgary I took Andy, Jig plus Andy and Susie in the enormo mini-van I rented for the weekend up to Lake Louise. The sun was out by now but the snow was still thick on the lake and I think our visitors got a modest taste of a Canadian winter scene.

Old Abingdonians

The weather stayed fair for the wedding day itself. In fact it was one of the nicest days of the year to date. Sara and the kids headed off early to the Ranche with the rest of their entourage in order to get ready in good time at the venue. This was where we found that we couldn’t get all the entourage into the planned number of cars so Jig stepped up and drove another vehicle in the wedding convoy. Andy and I stayed at home to get ready at our leisure but we at the venue in good time to greet the early arrivals. The wedding was set for 11 and before long the guests were all seated and I was at the front with Ashley my best man and our hard-working MC for the day. Sara and I owe so much to the whole Bristowe-Turner collective for everything they did on the day and in the run up. Thank you thank you once again!

with my best man!

Before too long (hem hem!) the wedding was afoot! Emerson came in on his grandma’s arm, then our flower girls: Sloaner, and Micky and Maddy my new nieces. Then, at last, Sara! I hadn’t seen her dress, I only knew that it was strapless and she loved it. Reader, she looked incredible!

the bride

I’ll never forget seeing her standing at the end of the aisle. As she came towards me I remember feeling a huge and powerful wave of emotion pick me up and carry me through the ceremony. That was only enhanced by the wonderful singing of Sara’s friend Cindy Grove who sang Bach’s Bist du bei mir accompanied by two young virtuoso cellists who she knew. Before you knew it, the words were said and the papers were signed and we were man and wife.

newly weds

We were then into the whirl of glad handing and photos. This gave the very efficient staff at the Ranche the time to re-organise the room from the wedding setup to the required configuration for the meal. I must say that throughout the build up to the wedding and on the day the people at the Ranche were great. The food was really great on the day. There was wonderful charcuterie on the go before lunch and then the main course of bison was perfectly done. Where they outdid themselves however was in the cake. Inspired by the wedding of my friends Alex & Jonny I really wanted a Croquembouche profiterole mountain. Sara and I did exhaustive research around Calgary sampling cream puffs and profiteroles. (It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it). We didn’t find anything that seemed just right but the Ranche said they could do us one and in the end they did us proud. It looked gorgeous and tasted delicious. Once again it was a case of Ashley to the rescue. We needed a sword to whack the top off. Turns out she knows guys who know guys… and problem sorted.

I fear Ashley didn’t get much chance to enjoy the meal as she took her MC role to heart, introducing speeches from Julie Ann (my mother-in-love), Tim & Tracy (Sara’s brother and sister) and even a multiple choice quiz she had concocted to test the guests’ knowledge of the happy couple. There were also two utterly unexpected audio-visual segments. The first was a faux-news report about Sara and I featuring a genuine local CBC reporter. Thank you to Andree Lau for making that happen; it was amazing. The second was a very touching video from Alice in Liverpool featuring clips of all my godchildren wishing us all the best. I may have cried a bit during that one. Thank you so much Alice and all the Cottons, Golds, Crawfords and Trumps featured.

Although we were having a day time wedding I thought it can’t pass without a little dancing. There’s a wonderful local folk ensemble called The Highwater Jug Band who do a great song called “I’m satisifed with my gal”. What could be better for our first dance I thought? Ashley to the rescue once again! Turns out she knows the man from the band and before you knew it they were booked. They were a lovely bunch and just right for the day.

i'm satisfied with my gal

Before too long it was time to go. If anything this was the highpoint for the kids because our gettaway car was a stretch limo. They absolutely loved it. We managed to hold them still long enough for a photo but before long Emerson was running up and down the inside of the car shouting “This is awesome!”

in the getaway car

We made one stop on the way. Sara is devoted to her Grandma Lolly, who at 96 was too frail to attend the ceremony. We stopped therefore to see her in the old people’s home. I think quite a few of the residents enjoyed the sight of the bridal procession down the corridor. Grandma was certainly pleased to be included and for me it showed what a generous and throughtful person I had married.

with grandma lolly

After that the day was done. Well almost done. One wedding gift we did receive was a Pinata from the wonderful Meike and Chris. The kids couldn’t wait to get at that..

pinata time

So that dear reader is that. I’m married and I couldn’t be happier. Thank you to everyone who came on the day or sent email messages to Ashley to pass on. Only another month and we are doing it all again!

Full photo galleries are here:

It’s been a long, cold and unusually snowy winter by Calgary standards. In November when the first snow came I lost my car phone-charger. I surmised that I must have dropped it in the snow outside the house. Turned out to be true when last week we had the first thaw large enough to reveal my charger right outside the house on the road but rather flatter then when I saw it last. Usually we will have multiple Chinooks which raise the temperature and melt all the snow leaving Calgary more brown than white during the winter. This winter however the snow has stayed which I have to say I prefer largely on aesthetic grounds. As a skier I’m also positively inclined towards more snow rather than less. Mind you it’s now the end of March and it’s still snowing and even I have my limits. I’m looking forward to spring.

This has certainly been a good snow year in the Rockies although being a family man now with responsibilities etc etc I haven’t got out there as much as in previous years. I haven’t gone without my fair share of ski days however and we’ve even had a family outing as part of the ThoughtBoarder weekend to Kimberly BC. I had heard a lot about the kids snowboarding prowess and it was great to see them in action. The little guys totally rip and I’m a little bit concerned that it won’t be long before Sara and I will struggle to keep up with them.

Sara and I managed to get away to Revelstoke for a couple of days in February which is a ski hill we both really love. Revvy has been getting hit by massive dumps of snow all winter. Unfortunately the week we went was a rare week of clear dry weather. We may not have powder but we did at least have some great views of the mountains. Unfortunately it was also the coldest weekend of the year in Revelstoke. The forecast high for the first day we were there was -28. This translated into a wind chill at the top of the ski hill of about -40! In those kind of conditions the top of the ski hill was not open. Which is a shame because that’s my favourite part of the mountain there. Only slightly daunted we took to the hill. I abandoned my ski jacket for my down parka, had extra gloves inside my big mittens and handwarmers inside that. With a face mask over the remainder of my exposed skin I was actually toasty warm! Sara was similarly attired and still looking stylish

sara bundled up

We rode the gondola and did a few runs to the base. After a delicious early lunch (on hill catering at Revelstoke is really good compared to most of Alberta ski hills IMHO) we went up again to find that the chairlift to the top of the hill was running. Apparently it was only -35 with the wind chill now. Up we went and the panorama from the top was terrific.

It may not have been the powder conditions that make Revvy so awesome but the groomed runs were in good nick and it being midweek and absolutely freezing the hill was deserted. It was fantastic to be able to go flat out on what felt like a private ski hill. I was lucky enough to ride the gondola with the head of mountain operations who was busy touring the hill delivering hand warmers to the lifties and ski patrolers. He gave me some inside info pointing out a run on the mountain that they never normally groom and I made a bee line for it. It was wonderful: deserted, sunny and perfectly prepared. Good times indeed and it just goes to show that Revvy kicks ass in any conditions.

Luckily I did get a good helping of this winter’s snowy bounty a few weeks back at my other favourite ski hill, Castle Mountain. A friend from work and I had booked a day at the only cat skiing operation in Alberta: the Powder Stagecoach at Castle. Unlike the cat skiing I’d done at Fernie, this is connected to the ski hill itself, the cat picking us up from the top of one of the lifts and then whisking further uphill. We did about 6 runs in the day and I was absolutely knackered by the end. The snow was a bit heavy at the bottom but further up the snow was deep and light and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to connect so many powder turns at a time. It’s not a cheap day out but runs like this make it seem great value

cat 5

many are cold, few are frozen

When Sara and I were pondering wedding dates we were originally thinking of a weekend in January. For various reasons that didn’t work out so we started considering February, maybe coinciding with reading week at U of C. February 20th started to look like the ideal date. That was until news of the 2011 Tim Horton’s Heritage Classic reached us. Turns out on Feb 20th Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, home of the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, would host an outdoor regular season NHL game in front of 40,000 fans between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens (our two favourite teams). We knew we had to be there. When tickets went on sale we hit the phones and the interwebs trying to get tickets for “the faceoff in the foothills”. Such was the demand however that we did manage to get 2 tickets but diametrically opposite to each other on either side of the stadium. That was good enough for us we thought, at least we would get to go.

In fact we went twice. On the Saturday before the big game a special “Alumni Game” was held featuring veteran players from each team. We thought it would be fun to take the kids so they could say the experienced it too. Thing is the entire weekend was cold. Very cold, with wind chill in the -20 region. But this is Canada so people get wrapped up and we deal with this sort of thing. The kids are normally great with the cold but on this occasion cold and (they claimed) hunger conspired to make it a pretty miserable time for them. Thankfully the game was only 2 periods so we beat a hasty retreat. They came home with a renewed vigour for hockey INDOORS!

Undaunted Sara and I came back for more action the next day. I think we were ready for the elements:

good old hockey game

Not all the crowd however seemed quite so well prepared for the conditions. In the end I was able to spend 2/3 of the game sitting with Sara because the people next to her had gone home because their son had got too cold.

heritage classic-1

Canada's game

The crowd was huge and it was a fantastic event. As the national anthem subsided the Snowbirds (Canada’s answer to the Red Arrows) flew low overhead. As a Montreal fan however that was the last bright spot of the evening. The Flames ran out eventual winners 4-0, they are my second team though so I wasn’t too disappointed and I wore my Flames jersey with pride two days later when we saw the Flames play the Boston Bruins in the glorious indoors.

still here!

Nobody would exactly call me Sir Blogs-a-lot after this last little run but I intend to make up for it tonight with a recap of the last few months. Read on!

winter fun

My last update on the blog was just before Christmas and I was looking forward to a family based festive season in Airdrie, AB. It was a lovely Christmas after all marred only slightly by our hosts succombing to some nasty bug which eventually felled me on boxing day evening. I then spent the rest of the holidays in bed with a fever. I was therefore not much use to Sara as she moved in on Dec 29th. Yes… moved in! And the kids came a few days later so I am now to all intents and purposes a step-father. I think the transition has gone pretty well and I am certainly loving it though it is exhausting.

Last weekend we bought skates for the kids so that we could make best use of the outdoor rink in our community. Below is a small taste of how delightful life with my new family is:


It’s Christmas Eve and Sara and I are about to head off to Airdrie (Alberta!) to spend the festive season with her sister’s family. Grandma Julie will be there, lots of kids at just the right age to be totally stoked about Christmas and a puppy. It promises to be a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to it.

Last weekend we had a bit of a Christmas crafts party here to make decorations for my house. The kids had fun making candy canes, stars and hearts out of pipecleaners and making strings of popcorn. I tasked Grandma Julie with making Santa hats for the various figures dotted around the living room. This is something my dad used to do at home in Oxford and I have to say she excelled herself as a festive milliner.

subordinate clauses

getting inuit

Getting a tree turned out to be a logistical hurdle I couldn’t overcome so we decided to decorate the fireplace to welcome Santa when he managed to squeeze himself out of the gas line. Alex and Jonny had sent me wonderful London ornaments and I paired them up with a trio of lovely ladies I’d found in a local market along with the decorations we made ourselves.

double deck the halls

Overall I was delighted with the finished article.

not a tree but the next best thing

Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you all have a happy and peaceful time.

Alberta Clipper

This week we’ve been treated to a classic Calgary weather switcheroo. Last weekend we were still marveling at such a mild mid-November. I was raking up the leaves from the lawn and going for walks in the autumn sun. Tonight the temperature is heading for -20 and it’s been snowing pretty much non-stop for the last 3 days.

Nobody could say we weren’t warned. All the weather forecasts said winter starts on Monday night. Personally I couldn’t wait! Last year I’d been skiing before the end of October but this year I was worried we’d never get started. I didn’t go to bed until I’d seen the rain turn to snow. By the morning everything was white. I was delighted but the good folks on the #yyc twitter feed seemed split maybe 60:40 between those who were sad and those who were stoked.

Apparently the cause of this rapid turn-around was an Alberta Clipper! This is a fast moving low-pressure system that gets brewed up in the lee of the mountains and then sweeps across the prairies. The storm may have passed but the temperature isn’t set to rise above freezing till the middle of next week. I can live with that so long as something is bringing the snow to the mountains and my favourite skiing spots.


My pad is really starting to come together at last. Rooms that looked like this a while ago

moving in

now look much more civilised.

living room looking north.

living room

I’m so happy to be reunited with all the things from my parent’s house in Oxford, particularly the photos of *cough* close family friends…

family photos *cough*

The house also features the very latest in modern entertainment technology:

who needs a play station?

the silent autumn

So my last blog post was about that sweet August snow. If I could have been bothered to get my blog mojo working at all in the last couple of months I would have told you that we then enjoyed a wonderful Indian summer in Calgary in late Sept and early October. Only last week I was biking back from work through a balmy breeze and +23C temperatures. The next morning it snowed. So it looks like autumn is properly here. The snow didn’t last long and the sun is back out and one hopes that more snow won’t be far away and the skiing can commence before too long.

I’ve had some great trips to the mountains recently starting with a great day out at my favourite place (Lake O’Hara) with Sara and the kids. I was really keen to go but a little bit worried that the youngsters would be less than totally stoked by the combination of an early start, long drive then a damp walk around a lake. It was damp in the end but we were all properly outfitted and it was a grand day out. However big or small a bit you bite off, Lake O’Hara is soulful nourishment and I’m going to do my best to make sure we make it an annual outing. I just hope I don’t have to call 78 times next year to make a booking!

the go team


Shortly after the Lake O’Hara trip my stuff finally arrived off the boat from England. 78 items were delivered and pilled up in the living room and around the house. I’m happy to report that as of today almost all 78 boxes have been unpacked and home is starting to take shape. It’s wonderful for me to have all the things from my parents’ house in Oxford out of storage and back in use, particularly the furniture my dad made. I’ll do another post soon about how things are looking now.

My stuff, and in particular the spare bed, arrived just in time for my first house guest. In a beautiful bit of symmetry it was Mr Graham Smart - my last house guest from my pad in Shepherds Bush. The guest bedroom (aka the basement) comes with an en suite fort which I believe every des. res. needs

fort in the basement

Smarty was the perfect house guest in numerous ways not least for the copious amounts of washing up he did. Future guests should be heartened that the dishwasher should be fixed before too long. It was fun to show someone from home something of what Calgary has to offer. And to get the washing up done. His visit coincided with the best of the autumn weather and we were able to get two memorable hikes in. The first is a local classic at this time of the year - Larch Valley, which hangs above Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. I’ve done that route a number of times before but never at this time of the year when it comes into its own. The Larch trees which give the valley its name only grow at about 7000′ in the Rockies and in the autumn the needles turn a vibrant gold colour before dropping. We timed our trip just right and after a hard slog uphill through the spruce and fir trees the forest turned to gold before our very eyes. The weather was perfect too - blue skies and moderate temperatures. What was truly amazing however was that the world and quite literally their dog was on the trail that weekend. The car park at the trailhead was fuller than a ski hill on a powder day and the trail itself was choc-a-block with people of all ages and conditions. At this time of then year when the bears are feeding themselves up before hibernation the park authorities impose a minimum size of 4 on groups on certain trails. Well there was no worries of being below quota that day! And everyone was treated to an amazing show by old M. Nature

fay glacier

I expected that to be the last weekend suitable for hiking but the great weather continued so I hastily cobbled together a plan for the following weekend. The Chester Lake trail in Kananaskis Country is one of the most popular days out for Calgarians but I hadn’t got round to doing it before. I assembled another TW Hike club crew which was perhaps the most international yet: 2 Brits, a Canadian, a Romanian and 3 Russians. We were treated to the most perfect autumn day to be out and about in and even a wolf sighting on the trail.

en route to chester lake

So now we are pretty much caught up. I shall try and keep things a bit more regular in future.

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