Dear Friends

Letters home from Prince George.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dear Friends 11

Written: 18 July 2006
Published: 20 July 2006

Dear Friends,

Reading back over these letters, I notice that while I keep referring to ‘us’ and ‘we’, this has been a bit of a one-person narrative. So I think the time has come to redress the balance a bit, and bring you up to date on what all the other members of our travelling band have been up to since we arrived, and how they are all settling in.

It has been a strange kind of process for us all, this adventure, because while everything has changed, in some ways, nothing has – we get up, we have breakfast, we go off to work and school, we come home, we have dinner, we do homework or housework, we go to bed. That much is constant. But of course, the roles have changed, and all the details from big (we’re doing this in a different country!) to small (the school day starts and ends earlier than it used to) have changed. And the biggest single change is that Zoë and I have effectively swapped roles.

Living in the stressed-out south of England, my day tended to start a lot earlier than everyone else’s. This ensured that I missed the worst of the traffic, which now I look at it from here sounds a particularly wrong-headed way to prioritise my life. Now, we eat breakfast together most days, and Zoë is the one setting off to drive across town to her new job. She is still a Speech and Language Therapist (only now she is a Pathologist rather than a Therapist), working at the Child Development Centre. This has meant that she has had to adjust back to working from an office rather than from home, at the same time trying to adjust to the different Canadian ways of doing things (even the hole punches are different – trouble with stationery items is really the last thing you need when learning a new job!)

The most fulfilling part of her role is her outreach days – regular trips to Vanderhoof (an hour’s drive east of here) and the Robson Valley (two or more hours’ drive west). These are giving her the satisfaction of discovering much more about the country and the people in it, while giving me the experience of trying to figure out how badly delayed she is likely to be by construction (or shopping!), so that I can serve dinner in a relatively unburnt state.

Yes, I’ve been cooking. That’s a whole other letter on its own.

It as been quite a change for both of us; I did wonder at first how I would fill my days (once I had done the school run, the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, the helping-with-homework and the soccer coaching, of course), but I find that the 8 or 9 minutes I have left at the end of each day just speed by.

For Zoë there has been the strange sensation of letting me just get on with things; routines which she had carefully constructed over 8 years of bringing up our children destroyed in a few short days of ‘doing it daddy’s way’. To her credit, she hasn’t shouted at me much. Yet. And I’d just like to point out that it is not true that I sent the boys to school with only candy bars for lunch.

As for the boys, I have to say that they have been just superb. This has been a huge change for them, and they have handled it really well. They have been uprooted from everything they knew , leaving friends and family behind and not only adjusting to a new country where they can say ‘pants’ without anyone giggling, but also a new home and a new school. I would in particular like to point out that Hart Highlands School has been fantastic, welcoming them with open arms and making us all feel part of the community.

They have both enjoyed school (as much as any small child can enjoy school, of course), and they have both found their classmates fun and friendly. In addition, they have both been very active in youth soccer, and that has given them a whole other social outlet, as well as keeping them (and me) fit and active.

And I must apologise to my British readers – the game they play here is called ‘soccer’ – there is already a sport here called ‘football’ (although there isn’t a lot of ‘foot’ involved in it), and even that is subtly different from the kind played south of the border – it’s easier for everyone if we just call it ‘soccer’. Sorry.

So, soccer has been a wonderful way to meet new friends, and the first half of the season culminated in a World Cup Final party to which I (as coach) invited all Cameron’s team-mates, and a great time was had by all (especially those of us supporting Italy). I looked around our family room that day, full of excitable boys (and some excitable parents, too) – none of whom we knew three months ago - and I thought that we weren’t doing at all badly.

As for the final members of the travelling crew: the two cats, they have handled the change very happily. Once they recovered from the indignity of being squashed into a plastic crate and flown halfway round the world, they have enjoyed all the space they have here, and as soon as we felt able to let them explore outside, they have been rewarding us with a constant stream of dead rodents. This is, of course, their way of showing us that they love us. Alternatively, it’s a subtle comment on the Canadian cat food market – I’m not sure which.

So, we’re settled, and now we have our first visitors from the place we used to call ‘home’. My parents and sister have just arrived, and the next three weeks will be taken up with showing off all that’s wonderful about the place we now call ‘home’. It already feels like we’re on to the next stage of the journey.

I’ll let you know how they get on.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Dear Friends 10

Written: 18 June 2006
Published: 6 July 2006

Dear Friends,

My passing comment last time about the road surface has clearly intrigued some of you; I shall expand.

Here in northern BC we have, as I may have mentioned, proper winters. Winters where the temperature gets down low enough for the school to have a rule about not sending pupils outside when it gets below -20. And, therefore, winters with snow, ice, frost and snowploughs (or is that plows? I’m still not sure about Canadian spellings).

As I type this, the sun is beating down, I have all the doors and windows open (albeit with mosquito screens in place), the fans are on, and it’s difficult to imagine that the temperature ever drops low enough for frost, but it does. I know that it does because I have to drive on the roads.

What seems to happen is that a designated point in late autumn (or fall), everyone changes over to winter tyres (or tires, if you prefer. I promise that is my last spelling lesson for now). Now, if you live in Britain and are as old as me, you may remember winter tyres; we used to have them back when we had winters. Winter tyres are essential in this climate, however, but they are not particularly kind to road surfaces. Add to that the fact that the temperature will tend to cause cracking in the road, and that there are snowploughs regularly scraping the top couple of millimetres of hardtop off along with the white stuff, and you can see why Prince George has a certain reputation for the quality of its roads - indeed, I’m sure I heard it being referred to on the radio as ‘the pothole capital of the world’, which may be a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

So when we arrived, we quickly noticed that certain roads were basically a series of potholes loosely connected by random patches of tarmac, and that there appeared to be no road markings at all. And then I understood something I had read when we were here last year; that Canada has two seasons, Winter (with a capital W) and Construction.

Before any Construction can take place, however, first the roads have to be rediscovered. In some places, this is quite easy, because the roads are those wide, sand-covered areas between the buildings. In more rural areas (or in neighbourhoods like ours, where there are no sidewalks), it can be quite difficult to understand where the roadway ends and the rest of the world begins. So, around the end of April, a concerted campaign begins to wash down and sweep the roads. At the same time, conscientious homeowners are using all manner of power tools to remove a winter’s road grit from their front lawns; I’m afraid I was too busy moving in to participate this year, but I’ve got to get me a power broom for next spring!

Once the roads have been revealed, it will probably snow again, but only a little bit, and it soon melts. Then the full extent of the damage can be seen – in most places, the road surface will still look like a normal road, but will give a particularly brutal massage to the unwary; in others, there will appear to be a very real danger of losing your car down one of the holes; it’s one reason to be glad of the size of North American cars.

So please do not underestimate our achievements in passing our driving tests; we may not have done them in the depths of winter, when it is possible not to be able to see the road signs because of the depth of the snow, but we learned and passed in spite of the holes.

And we learned in spite of the lack of road markings. Now in some places, the lack of markings appears to be deliberate – I’m not sure what the criteria are for an intersection to be unmarked, but it’s relatively common, and everyone just gets on with it – there’s not exactly a lot of traffic here at the best of times, and there are places where you genuinely feel you may be the only car to pass that way today, or even this week, so road markings which are going to be scraped away and worn off would just be a waste of time anyway.

But there were many places in town, at busy intersections or tricky-looking crossings where there had been markings, and there was just enough vestigial paint remaining to make you unsure what you were supposed to do; was that faint line white or yellow? You can cross one of them but not the other, so it’s kind of important to know.

Also, pedestrians have an unnerving tendency to step out on front of you. This is generally true in Canada in any case, but here it is exacerbated by the fact that they know there is a crossing here; it’s just invisible at the moment. You, on the other hand, have no idea where the crossings were before the weather did its worst, so you end up driving around town at a crawl with the haunted look of the man who cannot take any more pedestrian abuse.

All of which sounds much more curmudgeonly than is intended; it’s not really anyone’s fault that the road crumbles (although I wonder what high-tech surfaces may be available these days, and what the long term cost-benefit analysis would be on using them; but only when I have trouble sleeping) – it’s just a fact of life in this part of the world. The road keeps on crumbling, the authorities keep replacing and repainting it, and we the driving population keep swerving to avoid the worst of the damage, even after it has been repaired, so that we appear to be a city of cross-eyed drivers. It probably makes everyone who has to pay for their own suspension repairs a little bit more cautious, and in the end that may not be a bad thing.

I promise to talk about something non-road related next time!