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Sweet August Snow

The weather this week has certainly been changeable. Tuesday was roasting hot - over 30C I believe. Today it snowed. Admittedly we were 6000′ up in the mountains but it snowed. And it’s still August.

The reason we were out in the mountains in the snow in August was that I wanted to give my new mountain bike a proper off-road run out. I’ve long had a plan to do a Bike ‘n Hike trip to Tombstone Lakes in Kananaskis Country and now I have a bike I just needed someone with a car and bike rack to make it happen. I talked Martin into coming out with me and God bless him, despite the gloomy forecast, he was still game.

sweet august snow

As we drove out from Calgary the weather showed no sign of improving. The rain eased for a while but as we approached the mountains it started to come down heavier. By the time we got to the trailhead however the rain had turned to snow and snow we decided was much more agreeable than rain to ride in. So we rode. Well actually we mostly pushed the bikes to start with - it’s a steep pull from the highway to Elbow Lake but from there on it was excellent cross country and gently downhill to the Tombstone campground. We abandoned the hike part of the trip - no point yomping uphill into the clouds so we stoped for lunch under the shelter of the campground trees. The campground was deserted but one tent site had only recently been vacated as the campfire was still smoldering. Smokey the Bear may not have been pleased but Martin and I were delighted as M managed to coax it back to life to warm us before the return trip.

martin on the way back

The ride back was certainly damp but the exertion kept us from getting too cold. All in all a grand day out. I think I’m never happier then when I’m being snowed on :)

So it’s been a busy couple of weeks since my last bloggery. What’s been going on? Let’s see there was that hike, that was nice…

waters meet

There was that night they predicted that the aurora borealis would be visible over Calgary but no deal because it was cloudy and the lights from downtown Calgary probably don’t help either…

calgary night 5

I’ve been going to work plenty, that’s been going OK and ,um, what was that other thing?? Oh yes! Sara and I bought a house. An actual Canadian house.. property… real estate! It all happened so fast I still can’t really believe it. I hadn’t been in the country a month and the deal was done. In fact we heard it was going on the market on Thursday, Sara went to see it on Friday and thoroughly charmed the vendors. I put an offer in on Wedensday lunchtime and by tea time it was ours!

It’s not just the speed of the transaction that has me in shock but the fact that weve bought a house in our dream location. I used to joke that Sara and I were tremendous property snobs and that we were only in interested in a small area just NW of downtown. In fact that overstates it - there were actually only 3 or 4 streets we really wanted to live on in the Kensington / Hillhurst area where my friend Ashley lives. Well reader: we bought the house next door to her. Yep - on 10a Street - the street we MOST wanted to live on; right next door to my oldest friend in Calgary. We bought one of the few original bungalows left on that street: the ideal lot on which to build our own family home with room for kids and freeloaders dear friends coming to visit. Sara and I thought it might take years to find the right place but a month after getting here we already own the right place. Not only that but in the end we were outbid for the property. I suppose it wasn’t by too much but they went with us because our offer was unconditional and (rumour has it) because of Sara’s charm when viewing the property. On so many fronts I can’t believe how lucky we’ve been.

It may be that in the cold fiscal light of day, once we’ve investigated planning, permits, building costs and everything else, that building our own place might not be feasible but I’m confident we can do it. That process itself will take a couple of years but when it’s done I look forward to welcoming you all to to our new home. And you should meet the neighbours - they are delightful!

Good old Cowtown

I’ve been back in Calgary 3 weeks now and I’m feeling right at home. Although I arrived just at the start of Stampede it rather passed me by in the whirl of moving and settling in. I did get to Stampede by proxy though thanks to the Cotton family arriving in town 3 days after me on the start of their great Canadian adventure tour. It was great to be entertaining friends from home in Canada and they were quickly into the western spirit as I found out on their second night as we met up for dinner at the fabulous Farm restaurant.

hidee and howdee

We managed another rendezvous out in Banff a few days later which was my first trip to the mountains since I returned. It was a lovely day to be out and brunch at the Bison Mountain Bistro is always yum. The next day was a family affair as I went out for lunch with Sara’s mum and sister Tracy at Tracy’s house in Airdrie (Alberta!). Sara’s mum prepared a wonderful engagement cake and I was showered with cards and gifts to celebrate my return which was lovely.

engagement cake

Tracy and Iver’s present was some lovely furniture for the deck of my Sunnyside (our neighbourhood) pad. I got around to assembling it this weekend and it’s great to have a place to sit outside now.
sunnyside deck

Having a garden is a wonderful novelty. Actually having a house with stairs is quite a novelty but the garden really is a new concept for me. I bought a lawnmower last week and I remarked to Sara that it felt like a real rite of passage into adulthood: I am responsible for a lawn! Having just mown the lawn now I am looking forward to indulging in that suburban ritual of tut-tutting at my neighbours who have let their lawns get a bit straggly.

I may have missed Stampede but there was no way I was going to miss the real highlight of the Calgary summer: the folk music festival. Sara and I went for all 4 days - Thursday and Friday evening just the two of us then at the weekend with the kids. The music is one thing and I always find something I’d never heard before that I really enjoy but mostly it’s a community event about hanging out outside. In truth it’s all about the kettle corn (and the fresh lemonade!) as far as I am concerned
what I go to folk fest for

My new location in Sunnyside is perfect for the festival. It’s only 10 mins walk to the festival site from my house and so this year I thought I would participate in a festival tradition: “the running of the tarps” (aka the Birkenstock 500). There’s no camping on site but each night people start lining up for the next day and quite a few folks sleep out all night to snag the best spots at the front of the main stage field with their tarp(aulin). It’s become quite a tradition (a bit like at Wimbledon) but I’m not that much of a die hard so I set my alarm for 6am and got down to the queue just before 6.30. At that time I was about 200m from the head of the queue
in the line
Gates open at 9.30 and by that time I was feeling a lot better about things as the queue was massive! I had been told that when the doors opened there was the most almighty rush for the front but nowadays it seemed quite regulated and calm. In the end I got a pretty good spot - centre stage and not too far away:
my sweet tarp spot
All around the other Tarpies were getting set up for the day. The idea is that your tarp becomes home base as you wander around the other stages during the day. The main stage only gets going in the evening when everyone comes back to see the headline acts.
tarpies
I think it’s a great way of doing things although others disagree.
Getting up early is a great way to win friends and influence people too as they can come and share your tarp. Here Sara’s family is joined by the Bristowe-Turnerses
tarp fun
Not everything went exactly to plan that particular evening as unfortunately Sara’s son ended up hurting his arm rather badly and we spent the best part of the evening at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Thankfully he is fully restored to health and vigour now and I had friends who could grab my tarp when we made our hasty exit to the hospital. All part of life’s rich pageant!

Settling In

Greetings from Canada! I arrived safe and sound on Sunday afternoon and passed through immigration without mishap and into the loving arms of Sara at the arrivals gate. As it’s Stampede time we were also serenaded by a country band so what could be more fitting.

We managed to manhandle my excess baggage into her car and with great excitement I finally got to see my new pad. I love it! It’s weird suddenly going from 1 bed in W12 to a whole house with an upstairs and a basement in Calgary and right now it’s sporting a minimalist look but once my furniture etc arrives I’m sure we will fill it up. It’s got all mod cons and lovely garden from which I’ve already enjoyed a rhubarb crumble made by Sara. And now it’s got a very fancy toaster too! I couldn’t resist this one when I saw what buttons it had: I’m calling it the Gina G toaster.

Breville Breville aka the Gina G toaster

I ended up posting my kettle a week or so in advance, padding the box with Yorkshire tea. I feared my package might get intercepted as the least subtle drugs deal ever but as it was it arrived unscathed. I also brought a few other essentials to make the kitchen more homely:

fridge

Sara has been fab driving me around to pick whatever else I need to get settled in. On Monday we were inside when the most incredible hailstorm broke out. The noise on the roof of the shopping centre was like a stampede of horses and we later saw hailstones on the ground that were the size of marbles and upwards. This did an enormous amount of damage across town (including my bedroom window!). The bonnet and roof of Sara’s car is dented in multiple places and this amazing video shows every window in a University of Calgary greenhouse getting smashed in under a minute.

That’s how it is in the West!

nearly there

It doesn’t take much effort, the blogging. But it certainly takes more than I’ve been able to spare these last few weeks so apologies for the scarcity of updates. My mental bandwidth has been maxed out with preparations for moving back to Canada, with work, selling my flat and visiting as many people as possible.

Now I’m in my empty, denuded flat and it’s only 3 days to go before I leave for Calgary and a whole new world. Let’s see what’s in my diary for this weekend…

Yeah - that’s about right!

In the last few weeks I’ve been on a grand tour through some of the most charming parts of this country. I finally made it up to Straiton in Ayrshire to see the magnificent Masons and their lovely collection of animals (ponies, sheep, chickens, cats and dogs with gorgeous puppies). I’ve also been to glorious Dorset (twice!), Oxford, Newmarket and assorted parts of Suffolk which has been a real treat. I had a leaving party at the wonderful South London Pacific last weekend and there’ll be TW drinks this Friday. At all these events I’ve been thinking of this as a chance to see people not as a time to say goodbye. Goodbye seems too terminal, too final when that simply isn’t the case. I may be moving to Canada for good but I still hope to come back for visits, to receive visitors in Canada and to stay in touch through the magic of the interwebs. So it’s not goodbye - this thing ain’t over - it’s much more like au revoir!

Throughout my recent tour of friends and family there’s been no escaping what a sensationally beautiful country this is, what great friends I have, and what a wonderful and caring family I am lucky enough to be a part of. I came back from Canada because I missed all of that. On coming back I found that all of that was as special and as important as I recalled but I realised that none of it mattered as much as being with Sara. I can leave now because I know exactly what it is I’m leaving behind. I’m going because I love her and I want to be with her, not because I don’t want to be here. It’s a hard thing to express but my cousin Catherine found that somebody else had already captured the emotion perfectly:

From The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The weary Mole was also glad to turn in without delay, and soon he had his head on his pillow in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour….
…He saw clearly how plain and simple…it all was; but clearly too how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and it’s splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there: the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew that he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place that was all his own, these things that were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.

Engaged

On Tuesday May 11th beside Innominate Tarn on the summit of Haystacks I asked Sara Simpson to marry me.

we did it 3

She said yes! There’s a romantic story that goes with it but not every story belongs on the interwebs…

my fiancée

It was my 40th birthday on Friday and my 40th birthday party on Saturday. Right now I’m sitting at home on Sunday night looking back at a wonderful weekend.

The first treat was Sara’s arrival. Just like at Christmas she arrived to be my best possible present on the big day itself. We just relaxed on Friday because Saturday was going to be a big day. As I only intend to be 40 once and as this is going to be a momentous year with my move to Canada I really wanted to have a big bash. First thing on the agenda was to find the right venue and I had my heart set on the Bush Hall, a mere 5mins walk from my front door. Bush Hall is a wonderful venue. I love it because from the street it looks like nothing at all. Then you walk inside it’s like some kind of punk Versailles - all chandeliers, plaster and red velvet curtains.

Next up was some sort of live entertainment. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some very talented people over the years so I put the word out to anyone who wanted to do a turn. I have to say my friends really came through for me. Mark Dolan agreed to MC the evening and did the perfect job in hosting the show. Jamie Reid was the opening act and did a wonderful country-influenced solo acoustic set: it was great to hear him singing again. Then came some comedy. Glen Long did a brilliant stand-up set musing on ageing and the passing of time. The fabulous Madeleine Brolly then did her Lady Ada Vader cabaret act (ex-wife of Darth, got the Death Star in the divorce settlement, now doing “Earth Magic” to earn £££ - usual sort of thing…) and that went down a storm. After a brief interval the irrepressible Andy Walker did his first stand-up act for 12 years and it was a characteristic tour-de-force from the man I always refer to as the funniest man I’ve ever met. The final act of the night was the magnificent Kate Dimbleby and her band. Kate is an amazing singer and I was thrilled that she offered to perform. I was even more thrilled when she agreed to do a duet with me. You see I’ve done lots of showbiz over the years but I’ve never sung on stage with a band: in the end I had to book my own venue and event to do it! We sang one of my all time favourites “Mr Inbetween” (aka Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative) where I was Bing Crosby (hem hem) to her Andrews Sisters. Even though I say so myself I thought it went really well and it was a huge thrill to do. There’s even a video of the finale (Thanks Chris).

There was also a great turn out of friends and family which is what made the event really special. I was so happy to be able to introduce Sara to so many people in one go and she coped amazingly with the this avalanche of new names and faces. I can’t say any more than everything about the evening surpassed my expectations (not least the food from Fait Maison on the Goldhawk Road) and it was one of the most fun nights of my life. And I haven’t even got round to talking about dancing with Sandra Oh and Kevin McKidd from Grey’s Anatomy. It was fab.

Thank you everyone for all the love!

The Which Blair project

Hello?…. Is this thing on??

It’s clear that I’ve been in a bit of a blog blackout for a while. The reason for that is simple: I’ve been knackered. Mostly to knackered too do anything interesting and then if I have, certainly too knackered to write about it afterwards. Most of this year I’ve found work mentally very tiring leaving me pretty flaked out in the evenings. And then the rest of my energy has been going towards organising a 40th birthday party, selling my house and moving to Canada. Target date for that is July so time is hastening on.

A few weeks ago I went back to Oxford to look at some of the stuff I have in storage. I was aware I have quite a lot of documents and pictures in a big suitcase from my mother’s side of the family and I wanted to see what was there. Having retrieved said suitcase from the storage unit I went round to my Aunt Anne’s to see what we would see. It’s quite a treasure trove - especially of watercolours and drawings done by my great-grandfather on his grand tour to Egypt and the middle east in the 1890s (I think). The most interesting file however belonged to my grandfather. He had been a latin teacher and housemaster at Eton during WW1 and the 20s/30s. On opening the file the very first thing I picked up was a handwritten poem called “The Three Beggars”. In another large hand at the top was written E.A.Blair. Eric Arthur Blair I wondered?? George Orwell??

The three beggars

I asked my aunt if she was aware of any connection between by grandfather and Orwell but she wasn’t. When I got home however I got on the google and made some interesting discoveries. It turns out Orwell was a Kings Scholar at Eton. As a Kings Scholar he would have been under the care of the Master in College of the time. And who was the Master in College at that time: J.F.Crace my grandfather! Not only that I found a website called Orwell Today which showed a photograph of a book entitled The Unknown Orwell. The front cover of that book was a school photo which identified which of the white faced and bow-tied young men was Orwell. I recognised the photo used as I found an original copy in my grandfather’s file. There’s young George and there is Mr Crace in the front row:

College 1921
Click here to see which one is George. You can guess who grandfather is on your own…

I found quite a few other similar photos. If you fancy wasting some time and helping me out, maybe you could compare our one known sighting with the faces in the other pics to see if he is in those too. He ought to be. I’ve put them all on my flickr site.

the true north

Just back from a highly marvellous 2 weeks in Canada. Quality times with Sara, skiing, friends and lots of olympics. Good times indeed. The ski highlight was definitely our day Cat Skiing with Fernie Wilderness Adventures.

mmmm

you can’t argue with that

Like the hand-loom weavers confronted with the first power looms the owners of pound shops around the country must be aghast at this sight. Where do we go from here?

you can't argue with that

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