Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Gramps in the Drawer

Isn't that a hoot, as someone I once knew used to say - okay I still know who uttered the quote, but I haven't seen her in years and am unlikely to have the opportunity to ever meet again. Back to the title. First of all, it wasn't my grandpa - it was my father-in-law, but of course once the grandchildren started arriving his moniker went through some not so subtle transformations - and second, I didn't bind and gag him into submission before putting him away. Not that he had any choice, since it was his ashes which took up residence in the bottom, right hand drawer of my desk for close to a year.

No great mystery why I ended up as the keeper, the memorial center which handled the cremation had me as the family contact. So, once the deed was done I was requested to pick up what was left, a couple of weeks later. It still amazes me how the reductive process enables all that remains to fit into a container about the size of a two kilogram jar of peanut butter. Not being the type to have a nondescript vessel sitting in abject loneliness on the fireplace mantle, besides not wishing to engage in conversations regarding its provenance, it seemed simpler to just stick it in the drawer until the time for final disposition was agreed upon. Six weeks or a couple of months and I thought all would be gone. However, no one else in the family was ever too anxious to discuss the matter, so there he rested.

Forgotten totally what else sat in that particular drawer, all I remember was getting something else out from time to time. Not sure when it started but I vaguely recall offering a greeting such as 'hello' or 'how are things' at some juncture. Now don't get me wrong - I quite respected the old fellow and he did have a sense of humour so my tone was entirely jocular. What is amazing is I never would have guessed myself to participate in conversations with the dearly departed. As the year wore on, the topics discussed ( one-sided, of course ) included recounting of old fishing tales, repairs to a variety of boat engines and a general debate on the vagarious nature of life. And in some unknown way, I discovered answers to questions in these quiet moments, as though Gramps was actually sitting in the same room polishing off his six pack before falling asleep watching the hockey game.

The following summer, I finally decided to discuss whether a final spot for the ashes should be considered - spending eternity in a desk drawer just doesn't provide closure, no pun intended - and an agreement was reached. So on a lovely summer morning, we traveled up into the mountains where the ashes were released into a mountain river a scant quarter mile up from some falls. Cautioning him to be beware of the first step, we said our goodbyes to Gramps while wishing he could spend the rest of time out on the ocean listening to the hum of the engine.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Seniors Advocacy

Keep wondering what happened to the Seniors lobby in Canadian or provincial politics. Not too many years ago the more 'older' cohort exerted a lot of influence in Ottawa on CPP, medicare, seniors rights and other legislation concerning retirees. Now it seems they are a group marginalized, neglected and ignored. As of 2011 over 14% of the population was in the 65 and over group, a contingent that should have a big say in legislation and how the country is governed.

CARP was one of the organizations that used to be in the news fairly often presenting the seniors viewpoint, continually reminding all three federal parties - include the BQ if you wish - that they were a formidable voting block at election time. For a short time I was a CARP member, paid my dues and got my 50+ magazine in the mail. Most of the insurance and travel savings etc. seemed appropriate for Ontario but not much help for BC. However, some of the articles were interesting and supporting the advocacy was perhaps worthwhile.

A lot changed once Moses Znaimer bought the magazine in 2010 and became the de facto head of CARP. Since that takeover the lobbying appears to have fallen silent except when it is used to support the ZoomerMedia empire. Case in point was the ongoing fight  to convince the CRTC to allow Vision TV to remain as part of the basic cable system rather than becoming an optional extra cost channel. According to their submission 65% of seniors wanted the station to remain as a basic channel and up to 80% of the general public were clamouring for no change to the present set up.  All this lobbying was led by CARP using funds which the membership assumed were to be used for over 45 advocacy issues, not for keeping Vision TV on the gravy train paid for by the general public whether they wanted the channel or not. Although the ruling went against Vision TV, during the subsequent licence renewal the CRTC basically caved to the desires of ZoomerMedia and would not force the channel off the basic tier, meaning a lot more money in the corporate coffers. It may be since Moses has attained the ripe old age of 72, he feels CARP has advocated for at least one senior and has fulfilled its mandate.

Rather naive for the rest of us to assume millionaires or corporate heads would be busy watching out for our interests. So, we'll sit and silently fume as governments raise the retirement age, claw back benefits, ignore our individual questions and eventually transfer control of public pensions to the private sector.Or now may be the time to support grass root organizations to put forth the views and concerns of older Canadians. Failing that we may have to rely on the raging grannies to advocate for all of us.

Photo by Flickr user Grant Neufeld used under Creative Common

Friday, 15 August 2014

Apartments in Hell

Seems easy enough. Sell the house you're living in and rent 'an apartment' until you decide where you want to relocate. Nothing too fancy, just a place to hang out for maybe six months while you check things out and about. Grab the newspaper and go to rentals. Not much there because everybody has a program online to find your perfect spot:

and of course .craigslist.ca everybody's favorite.
Confusing to say the least. Most are a jumble of rooms, houses, apartments, condos and basement suites tumbling one after the other. Minimal descriptions. Vague references about size and amenities plus indications that parking, laundry facilities etc.are an added cost.
The first few apartments looked at were at least clean. Very tiny one bedroom units and two bedroom units crammed into 600 square feet. Blurting out that the second bedroom makes for a good storage area doesn't seem to impress landlords.
Our last visit was the best. From the Google street view the older type building appeared reasonable and clean. After parking and approaching the rental office, the true picture began to emerge like a gathering tornado from afar and fast moving. The exterior of the building likely hasn't been touched in thirty years and the growing moss layers seem to hold it together despite the rotted out corners and missing siding. Stepping into the building was an assault on the nasal passages and negotiating a path along the carpet? - between unknown stains and the duct taped seams - required careful route finding. Most of the wall sconces were dangling but they at least distracted one from contemplating the the unwashed walls. Best one could say about the unit was the replacement wood floors as the original carpet must have deteriorated into thin air. Kitchen cabinets made in a grade school wood shop held together by multiple coats of paint. Back out to the hallway and the ever presence of mildew wafting through the air.
Time to go but wait there's more. Would you like a look at the indoor pool? Why not? Maybe an upside exists for this hovel. Not so easy to gain entry even for the manager as the keys stick and the combination key pad only deigns to work after the third try. Once in, lo and behold, a concrete hole in the ground filled with heavily chlorinated water (maybe) and not a lively color or decoration in sight. After a quick peak at the dry saunas, it's finally time to leave, except the door has locked and none of the keys work from the inside. Not to worry another exit exists where it still took a couple of minutes of jiggling keys to free us.
We took the proffered application just in case we need a scratch pad on the way home.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Norvan Falls

Pretty easy hike out to the falls - 14K return and about 200 meters of elevation gain - on a well maintained trail. So good in fact that you could cruise your Lamborghini up and down the first couple of kilometers on the gravel packed surface with no fear of bottoming out. An experienced mountain biker could easily make the next two kilometers rumbling over a few roots and cobbles; although, on this day there was a bike locked up to a tree shortly into the section from someone less than enthusiastic for a bumpy ride. From that point out to the falls the trail has roots and rocks plus a log bridge to navigate with walkways over some swampy areas. It is both a well worn path and well marked. Nice to see a signpost marking the trail off to Coliseum Mountain which was not there a few years ago. Worth wandering over to the suspension bridge for the photo opportunities before the last 200 meters up to the falls.

On a beautiful, warm sunny day (truth be told you don't get to see much sun) it is surprising to see only a half dozen other hikers past the debris chute. While the traffic is noticeably heavier on the first couple of beautifully manicured kilometers, far less people are willing to venture along the rougher sections.Got me to thinking about the amount of money spent on trail maintenance for a small number users. While there are trails with heavy usage e.g. Mount Seymour, Joffre Lakes, Squamish Chief, canyon trails at Golden Ears, most have very limited visitors. Reasonable to understand why those trails receive the lion's share of the funding while the others tend to narrow in with overgrowth, get blocked by dead-fall and have washed out bridges. Many in the outdoor community bemoan the lack of funding for their favorite outdoor areas but fail to appreciate the lopsided expense on a per capita basis. If you venture into the wilds, besides being experienced with maps, compasses, GPS and having  healthy respect for bears, you should not mind whacking through some overgrowth and doing a little trail finding.Not every path requires a city park makeover. Otherwise, enjoy the trip around the well maintained seawall in Stanley Park.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Urban Coyote

Interesting little fellow. Bit on the smallish size so I assumed mother may have chased him off to start a new life on his own. He spent a considerable amount of time wandering in circles checking up and down the block plus gazing longingly down the back alleys. Finally he curled up beside a small tree on a lawn across the street for close to an hour before heading south and disappearing.
Couple of days later it looked like the same coyote loping through the park with what appeared to be a meal in his mouth - about the size of a small cat - so his hunting lessons apparently kicked in before starvation. Been a few weeks without any sightings so either he moved on to a more promising territory or he too bit the dust.
Tough life living in the middle of a modern city!

Friday, 1 August 2014

To Roof Or Not To Roof

This is Vancouver.
No matter how clear the skies, how warm the temperature or how awesome the meteorological forecast, expect rain at any moment. Try to remember we live in the Coast Mountains where the warning is to always be on the lookout for rapid weather changes.

Noticed this house on the way by about ten days ago. Some of the red, clay tile had been removed from the roof possibly to repair broken ones from a wayward tree branch or other mishap. Surprised me to discover the entire roof covering was gone three days later; especially since tiles should last forty to fifty years and these were barely on for twenty five. Looks to be some damage from leakage around the skylight windows because the dark areas my be due to mold. Without being able to climb up there. no way to assess what the problem may be. Judging by the new packages of insulation waiting to be install, it's unlikely the ceiling gyproc was damaged.

Since replacing clay tile is so expensive, perhaps the owners have opted for adding sheathing over the 1 x 4 strapping before installing asphalt shingling. However, other than the insulation no other materials seem to be present. Even more disturbing are the lack of tarps to protect the house in case of inclement weather. Wouldn't take much of a downpour to make a total mess of the interior before anyone has a chance to show up and cover the open roof.

So now every day that goes by seems like playing Russian roulette with the protection of the dwelling. Good luck with that!