Changing my mind about camping

Camping was rarely fun for me. My parents would take us on camping holidays when my brother and I were small, and it was fun to be on holiday, it was fun to visit new places (or old favourite places, like FlamingoLand, or Market Harborough) but living in a tent is not one of my go to choices. Scout camp every year was an adventure, and a chance to do some great outdoorsy stuff, but returning home was always a great relief. Food! Electric kettle! Comfortable bed! Yay!

scan0017

The morning is my least favourite time on camps.

When we came to Canada, we discovered camping was a different animal out here. For one thing, campsites are different. As a kid, I wouldn’t be surprised when we parked the VW in a field, and filled our kettle and pots from a standpipe at the gate. There might have been a toilet block somewhere nearby. But here in Canada we have beautifully maintained individual plots, with a tent pad, a firepit and a picnic bench. There’s always at least pit toilets on a site, often a shower block, and the staff patrol the site several times a day, cleaning, restocking and offering firewood for sale, as well as checking who’s paid for their site and so on.

So this year, when Mrs Dim said she’d booked a campsite for her birthday/Mother’s Day weekend, I grumbled and complained because I always do, but I didn’t dread it. She’d picked Nairn Falls because we’ve been there before, and she loves the fact that the sites with the river behind them have their own white noise generator (the river) to drown out any sound from other campers. This was the first weekend the site was open, so it wasn’t that busy and we arrived on a Friday afternoon that was beautifully sunny.

20180511_153727

It didn’t take long to get the car unpacked and the site set up – it’s the same tent we’ve had these past nine years, and we’ve got a system for putting it up*.

20180511_160334

Since it was now almost teatime, Tiny Weasel and I figured sitting and reading was the best thing to do, but Mrs Dim had a brief commune with nature, and then said we should check out the walk to the lake.

20180511_162728

It turned out to be a little more of a hike than we’d thought, and it was a good thing that Tiny Weasel had grabbed a bottle of water on her way out of the site, but it was worth the walk.

Then we had food, and a well-earned rest.

20180511_201716

The next day we decided to tackle a bigger hike, and drove out to a start point that was along 8km of potholed track. But the opening view was encouraging:

20180512_113303

The terrain was occasionally broken up with fallen trees that will be cleared later in the season, but other than that it wasn’t hard going. Once more, we were heading for a lake.

20180512_115605

Which we had no trouble finding.

20180512_124353-PANO

Though it did take us a while to leave. Along the way we had talked of all manner of things, made great and wondrous plans, and revised the plot of a new play (Mrs Dim is an excellent sounding board for plays, and this one is almost entirely down to her invention.)

We even met a local having a snack.

Chipmunk close up

We spent the afternoon and early evening in Whistler, before returning to the campsite for one more evening round the firepit. Clearing up the next morning was nearly as efficient as setting up had been, and before long, there was just Mrs Dim and Tiny Weasel on the site, saying farewell to the view.

20180513_084149

Camping is still grubby and occasionally uncomfortable, and I don’t sleep well. But it’s also good family time, a great break from the digital world we’re so obsessed with, and a chance to listen.

 

*Argue, argue, argue, huff, argue, tent.

Advertisements

Rhododendron Days, Burnaby

DSC01648

We came to Canada, in part, for a particular way of life. Part of that is the community events, and Burnaby is big on community events. This week it was the Rhododendron Days at Deer Lake.

We’ve been a few times before, and it’s one of Mrs Dim’s happy places. This year the weather was excellent and all the blooms were out on time.

Rhododendron Days isn’t just about the pretty blossoms, of course. There are plant sales, competitions, craft stalls and lots of information displays. There was a stall displaying the eco-sculptures that the City of Burnaby have all around the city, giving people a chance to help plant up the next sculptures.

DSC01651

There was live music and kids’ activities (yes, I tried some of them. No, I won’t be posting my excellent pastel drawing of Mrs Dim doing a drawing of Eldest Weasel and her boyfriend…). There was even an appearance by the Burnaby Public Library Outreach vehicle, with the pop-up library!

20180506_121859

It was, in short, an enjoyable time in beautiful surroundings, and there were a lot of people enjoying it. It was good to be there.

The Pipeline and broken promises

 

20180406_083639.jpg

There’s probably a lot I don’t know about the situation with the Kinder-Morgan pipeline that’s in contention here in Burnaby. I’m not a businessperson, an activist, or a member of the government (federal or local). But to be honest, this doesn’t seem like a very complex issue.

Alberta want to export a bunch of oil products (I hear the word “bitumin” bandied around a lot. Says the Britannica Mining website: “Bitumen, dense, highly viscous, petroleum-based hydrocarbon that is found in deposits such as oil sands and pitch lakes (natural bitumen) or is obtained as a residue of the distillation of crude oil (refined bitumen).“) and to do that, they, or rather Kinder Morgan, have to expand the existing pipeline that carries oil products across BC to the sea.

The point where the pipeline meets the sea is a beautiful area. It would be irreparably damaged by a rupture in the pipeline. How likely is such a thing? Well, here’s the point: If I said “We have a WW2 era bomb here. It’s got a timing mechanism that’s probably faulty. It probably won’t explode. We’re gonna put it in your basement, right here under your living room. Where your kids play. The bomb almost certainly won’t go off. But if it does, I promise, we’ll clean up the mess.”

Would you be reassured? It doesn’t matter how unlikely that explosion is, what matters is that the “clean up” will be too late. So it is with the pipeline. Clean up will be mitigating the disaster, not preventing it.

So that’s one thing. This is a huge ecological disaster that’s waiting to happen. It HAS happened elsewhere. We don’t want it to happen here.

Here’s the other thing. Since the arrival of Europeans in Canada, the First Nations have been abused in horrific ways. For over a century they have been victimised and degraded. The disgrace that was the Residential Schools only closed in the last thirty years (the last one in BC closed in 1996). We have hounded and villified and tortured the original inhabitants of this land, and just very recently, we have started to acknowledge our guilt. We have started to apologise and try and make reparation. Pierre Trudeau, father of the current Prime Minister, was declared an honorary member of the Haida Gwaii in 1976. Most of British Columbia is unceded territory, meaning it still belongs to the First Nations, who believe they are to be the stewards of the land. We acknowledge this fact at the start of almost every public and school meeting, thanking the local First Nations for their forebearance and generosity in allowing us to be here.

And yet… They do not want the pipeline expansion. They have said so, loudly, and in many forums. Despite this, Justin Trudeau feels it is in the best interests of the whole nation to continue with the project. That says to me that we honour our debt to the First Nations right up until the moment it gets in the way of making a profit, and that makes me feel sick.

Alberta says they need the income from the pipeline to fund essential education and medical services for the population of Alberta. I understand that it’s important for the province to generate income to look after the people who live there. I’m sorry that the Albertans have to go through BC to get their oil products out there, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the environment of the BC coast, or the promise we have made to the First Nations, for the sake of Alberta. If the federal government really feels this is an issue they should get involved with, I suggest they should be helping Alberta redirect their energy industry towards the growing solar market, and away from dead-end technology like oil deposits. Oil is finite. We’re already reduced to horrific technologies like fracking to try and extract oil deposits that were considered financially inaccessible not so long ago, but now there is more demand and less availability. It’s time to get out of oil before it’s too late.

I lived in South Wales for several years, and while that was lovely, it was hard to travel through North Wales and see the effect that dependence on the coal industry had on small villages and towns. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Thatcher-era pit closures (and I’m sure there were both) those communities suffered because they had one central industry and nothing else was put into place when that industry shut down. The same thing is going to happen to areas dependent on oil production – it’s inevitable, because there is no new oil being made. Now is the time to make the changes.

I’m disappointed in Justin Trudeau. I realise running the country is harder than my job, ad that there’s a lot of pressure to put money into the economy, but it also matters that we honour the promises we have made to the First Nations.

The Play I didn’t write

First Lesson: Write what you know.

It’s advice handed out almost as soon as you begin, and it’s misunderstood, misapplied and misinterpreted over and over. It doesn’t mean write about the life you live, because if everyone did that there’d be no science fiction, no Steampunk, no historical romances, no pirate adventures, no Narnia or Hogwarts… It’s the emotions we know that matter, it’s writing the truth of how we are affected by events. CS Lewis was never offered Turkish Delight by a woman on a sleigh, but he did know what it was like to be a young boy, to be jealous, to want more. Because he knew, we understand why Edmund betrays his siblings, even if we don’t like him for it. It feels true.

Second Lesson: The only limit is your imagination.

You can write about anything. You can put Victorians on the moon, you can have the American lose the War of Independence, you can say there’s a nice Pot Noodle flavour…Anything can be written about. Anyone can write anything.

And yet. There’s that Jurassic Park warning, isn’t there?

Stop to think

When it comes to honing your craft, all writing is good. You have an idea, write it down. Try to express it as clearly as you can. Try different genres, different formats. Some things will click for you straightaway, some will take real effort, and what you want to do might not be the one that comes easily.

But if your goal is to put your stories out for other people to read, I think it’s worth considering if that story is yours to tell.

Recently the Chesil Theatre in Winchester announced their latest 10×10 competition. This is a great contest to find 10 ten-minute plays on a theme. Last year’s theme was David Bowie, and I had a chance to read through the winners of the competition and they were all excellent. Very different, in tone and style and even in inspiration, but all fitting the theme and all worth the audience’s time. I was keen to enter this year, and the theme of Hidden Worlds sounded great.

Almost immediately, I had an idea and started to sketch it out. And almost as quickly, I realised it wasn’t going to work. I’m a middle-aged white guy from the middle classes of the UK. I wanted to write a play about  a young black woman confronting her boss at work to try and make him see the world as she had experienced it, a world that was entirely hidden from him by the privilege he didn’t even understand he had. I’m sure I could’ve written a ten minute play along those lines. I’m sure some of the dialogue would’ve been quite compelling, and the point would have been made. I think the subject is important and is something that is finally drawing attention. But I’m not the person to write that story.

Is this wrong? Is this self-censorship? Well, I don’t think so. Years and years ago, I read “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole“, like thousands of other people in the UK. It was funny and touching and terrifyingly true, but I remember being just a little perturbed by the fact it had been written by an adult woman. “Who is she,” I thought to myself, “to tell us how a thirteen year old boy thinks?” The fact that she was so right just made it worse. So here I am, among the most privileged demographic of all, and I’m piqued by someone writing a character who’s like me, when SHE’S NOT. How much worse must it be to have someone who doesn’t look like you, who has no real concept of the life you’ve lived, the life your family has lived for the last…what? Couple of centuries? More? What if they write a story about you and your life?

As a child I got to see myself on the movie screen over and over again. Luke Skywalker, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller, Bugsy Malone, Doc Savage, Tarzan, Indiana Jones… They were all people I could imagine being, because they looked, more or less, like I did. Representation matters. I can only imagine how it feels for kids in Oakland to see Black Panther. How it feels to see a vision of an African country that wears its culture with pride and stands tall. To see young black women who are masters of technology, who hold positions of responsibility and power. To see them leading. And if representation matters, it matters even more that the stories we tell are as true as we can make them. I would be telling them second or third-hand, and that’s not good enough.

I will keep writing plays and stories, and some of them will be from the viewpoint of characters who are not me. That’s inevitable. But I will also consider how the stories I write will sound to those who have been negatively affected by my privilege. They have voices, and they can tell their stories with more truth that I ever could. Getting out of the way to let them speak is the best thing I can do.

The Bold Viking Quest

20180212_121835.jpg

It was Tiny Weasel’s birthday this week, and she had very specific plans for her celebration. We would get together on Family Day, dress as Vikings and hike through the woods playing a specially created D&D adventure. And then have a picnic.

We’re fairly new to D&D, having picked up the Starter Set at Christmas, so the campaign I wrote is very basic. It doesn’t actually follow the path we took through the woods of Belcarra to Jugg Island, so you could use it on any walk from about 30 mins to an hour and a half.

20180212_115119.jpg

Dressing as Vikings is essential, however. We had a bard, three fighters and a Cleric, but we couldn’t get the cleric to give up her battleaxe.

Since we are beginners, we played a very simple version of the combat rules, taking along a D20 and a D8. Since we were also outside in the woods, we carried each die in a tin with a clear lid, so you could “roll” the dice without losing them. (And, it turned out, you could jiggle the tin until you got the number you were looking for…)

The Bard suffered terribly, being attacked by Vampire bats almost immediately, and trying to fend them off (unsuccessfully) with her Kazoo. Later she remembered her magical arrow which would have been great against the bats, but was pretty useless against Skeletons.

20180212_125250.jpg

The cupcakes were as important as the combat….

Since it was Family Day, we were not the only people on the trail, so there was a fair amount of explaining to do as we went along, but this is Canada. No one minded at all that we were having fun.

After defeating several horrific monsters, falling into pit traps and solving fiendish riddles (only one of which I stole from “Labyrinth”), the weary questers reached the beach and opened the treasure chest of Captain Mica (Flint having been taken, you see…)

20180212_133959.jpg

Even the plain clothes DM got in on this picture!

I’m sure regular D&D players could make more of the campaign, but it’s also simple enough for noobs like me to run it without too much trouble. I’ve uploaded the text to this Google Drive location as a Word Document so anyone can have a go.

We wish you happy questing, adventurers.

20180212_134306.jpg

Eighteen years of TLC Creative

Image result for TLC Creative

Linked In isn’t tremendously useful. Well, it hasn’t been so far. But this week it sent me a reminder that it’s been eighteen years since the formation of TLC Creative. Our writing partnership is old enough to drink in a pub and vote.

Nearly twenty years ago, writing was a very different experience:

scan0002

As a new Dad, I was still struggling with the challenges of domestic management, and I was trying to build a writing career in the cracks in between. It was a great relief when Steve and David contacted me with an offer to co-write a pantomime. Steve is an impeccable organiser, and David’s writing is inspirational (and he’s a champion fixer if you’re stuck for a punchline or a better joke). After months of trying to sell short stories and finish a novel (every first novel is bad. Every one.) writing the pantomime was fun, and collaboration was a joy.

Babes in the Wood promo

Over the years we have worked in many different ways – writing pieces individually, writing a scene each and collating, writing by dictation and having Steve try to type the nonsense we were spouting on the fly. As time has gone by, we’ve all accumulated more responsibilities, and me moving to a different continent has not improved the regularity of our meetings. But we stay in touch through email and Skype, and even manage the odd planning meeting online. Our joint productivity has slowed a but, but we’re still ready to take on new challenges, reheat old jokes and routines and try to breath life into neglected stories. But mostly the old jokes.

TLC Feb 08

I’m confident that TLC Creative will still be scraping the barrel for the next eighteen years, adding to our publisher’s grey hairs with our eccentric formatting and occasional non-standard stage directions (Stage directions are for the ACTORS. You cannot dictate what the audience are going to do. Even if you use ALL CAPS). Yes, it’s past time to thank Stuart Ardern, our long-suffering publisher at www.lazybeescripts.co.uk for his help and encouragement (and the odd gentle admonition) over the past decade and a bit.

TLC Creative are still looking boldly to the future (though not able to focus brilliantly on deadlines) and we’d like to thank our friends and family for their help, support and understanding, and the many, many theatrical groups who have performed our plays*

You can find a full list of our current works HERE , all available to read online, and economical to download and produce.

 

 

*And the kind volunteers who helped them recover afterwards.

 

Beware, Poetry.

It’s Sunday afternoon. I have appraisals to finish, still haven’t started the Chesil Theatre 10X10 entry, we’re in the middle of cooking, and there’s lots to be sorted before the return of the work week tomorrow. So, naturally, I’ve written a poem. It’s a bad one, because it’s in blank verse. Blank verse, without a recogniseable meter. Sorry.

“Blank verse is the poetical equivalent of Abstract Art. By which I mean, it’s rubbish.”

Henri de Starqueville, 1972*

Anything helps

Yesterday

I saw a woman.

She was holding a sign that said

“Anything helps”

And I thought “No.”

 

“Apathy doesn’t help.

The sideways slide of the eyes

Erasing the woman from the mind

Easing the passage of the pedestrian

Whose pockets jingle as they stride by her.

 

Prejudice doesn’t help.

Assuming that the cigarette

You’re smoking is proof that you

Will waste any gift on the wrong appetites

As if I have the right to decide that.

 

Faith doesn’t help.

At least, I don’t think

That my views on god, or

The righteousness of my beliefs

Will be welcome or useful, or

Even be tolerated unless they accompany

A more concrete demonstration of charity.”

 

These thoughts occupied me.

It was only today, looking back

That I realised, despite these thoughts,

Despite her sign saying “anything helps”

I had not

Given her

Anything.

 

 

*No, there’s no such person. This is my view. Blank verse is a terrible, terrible cheat, but this is how the poem turned up. Once again, I’m very sorry.