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Living with Derek

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Back in February or March, my Eldest Weasel said “Hey Dad, can we build a full-size Dalek to take to Fan Expo?” It didn’t seem like a completely crazy idea, because the Fan Expo is usually in November, and with Eldest helping me, it would be a breeze.

Since my usual efforts in building don’t go beyond the odd helmet (some of which are very odd…)

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..Maybe I would have to actually…you know..do this properly. To that end, I got in touch with the Project Dalek Forum.

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The PDF is a great group of builders who make daleks from every era of Doctor Who, including the movies. They have plans that have measurements for every aspect of the build, and within a few days of registering with them, I had a complete set of plans myself. Yay! Here we go!

But I know me, so let’s start out simply, using cardboard. After all, building a life-size dalek is going to take a lot of materials, and I want to know I can get it right.

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Cardboard is easy, and it gave me a false sense of security. I knocked up the base and the panels in no time, and because they only had to be secured with duct tape, it was easy to do. Then we decided to make the real thing out of wood.

Oh dear.

I measured the base on a piece of wood. Eldest came home and measured it again, correcting my measurements. Then I checked hers and changed them again. Then we took an average of the three measurements and cut it out.

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Well, that looks fine. Let’s stick the wheels on it.

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Brilliant! Except, of course, you have to make the bit with the wheels on separate from the “skirt”, because the bit with the wheels on is called the bumpers, and it’s the widest. If you make it detachable, you can fit your dalek through doorways, which is important.

So we have to make another base for the skirt. But we don’t have another piece of wood big enough. Never mind, we’ll use these planks. There has to be a hole in the middle anyway, so Eldest can get her feet through and pedal.

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Yeah, not as pretty. Then we cut out the panels from some kind of plywood. It was not successful. We decided to ignore the results, and use foamcore board, which we could cut to size in place. And stick together with tape. First, we have to get the top of the skirt fitted at the right height. That involved math.

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Before we clad the skirt, I had a brainwave and installed a small seat, because who wants to shuffle around inside a dalek without taking a break now and then?

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Once the panels were on, it started to look quite convincing.

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Of course, the problem was that this was pretty good. And the next bit was the shoulders, which were very complicated. I needed a good whack of free time to build them, and yet the phrase “I need time to work on my dalek” cuts absolutely no ice in this household, I can tell you. I tried making a mock up in cardboard, but ended up making a muck up in cardboard. A lot of useful time passed.

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When the chance came along, I made the base plate for the shoulders, and the circular plate for the top. Then I had to cut out the four pieces that would delineate the slope of the body. I looked at the plans. I looked at the wood. I looked at the plans. I went away and looked in the fridge for more beer. When there was no more beer, I had to just go ahead and cut something out.

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And this, believe it or not, was the easy bit. Because the next bit was cladding the shoulders, and for that we had to soak two enormous sheets of hardboard, and then clamp them into place so they dried in the right shape. This was not easy.

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See those clamps? They are almost all the clamps I own, and the only ones the right size for doing this job.

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While I had been wrestling with the shoulders, Eldest Weasel had been adding the bumpers to the bumpers, so we could stack up the bumpers, the skirt and the shoulders, and stick a weasel inside. Not bad!

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That white blob on the skirt was a hemisphere of styrofoam. They are light, cheap, and easy to attach. But you can’t spray paint them, because they melt. If you coat them with, well, almost anything, you get the results pictured above. We needed to find sixty hemispheres that would NOT do this. But not right then.

The next job would be building the gun boxes. Some people build them as one unit, but because of the way I’d built the shoulders, it made more sense* to build them separately. My issues with measuring came to the fore again (or the three?), and required a lot of filling, sanding and re-cutting to try and get the gun boxes to be any kind of accurate. Since the next logical thing would be to cut into the now dry and shaped shoulders to fit the gunboxes, I decided to build the dome.

The dome is not a perfect hemisphere, so I got Eldest to cut multiple silhouettes and form the dome that way. Then we covered that with card, then paper mache, then wallboard filler. Later, we slapped some fibre glass on there too.

Now we had the dome, it became necessary to build the second most complex part of the dalek – the neck rings. There are three rings – one sits right on top of the shoulders, then two more are suspended by eight uprights, and the dome sits on top. At the intersections of each ring and the uprights are neck blocks – so, 24 of those. Cutting out the rings was tricky, as was cutting all eight uprights to the right length, but this was nothing – NOTHING – compared with trying to glue those uprights in place. because, you see, all three rings slotted into cutouts on the uprights, and the rings decrease in diameter as they go up, so you can’t put one on and then do the others. All eight uprights had to be glued to all three rings at once. How did I do that? I have no idea. And, unsurprisingly, there are no photos of me doing it because I didn’t have enough hands to do the job, let alone photograph me doing it. Here’s the damn thing done:

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Ok. So now we see how big the final thing is. And it actually looks like a dalek. In this picture, you can also see the upper collar at the top of the shoulders. Professionals used more damp hardboard for this and the lower collar, but I tried that. After being smacked in the face by damp hardboard three times in a row, I cracked and bought two camping mats from the dollar store and used them (they’re made from thin EVA foam, smooth to the touch and easy to glue.)

See the lower collar in place here.

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Now the lower collar was in place, there were no more excuses for avoiding putting the gunboxes in. And let me skate lightly over the process for that, because if fitting the neck cage together was the hardest thing ever, putting the gunboxes in comes a close second. It should have just been “cut two holes and slide ’em in”, but no, the shape of the holes got weirder and weirder to accommodate the gunboxes, and eventually I got them seated, but had lots of tidying up to do. The logical response was to paint the whole area with some spare housepaint to try and get it to look like one unit.

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I’d love to say that this was where we began to sprint for the finish, but the honest truth is that this is the point where we had six weeks of visitors, and dalek production slowed to a crawl. I mean, they were great visitors, and we even put some of them to work producing Derek’s ears:

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But it was slow going. We produced a lot of “slats” from EVA flooring foam, then glued them in place.

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We made lots of neck blocks and sprayed them the right colour.

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We bravely cut into the dome and built the “cowl” to house the eyestalk. The parts we needed for the eyestalk were too tricky to build ourselves, so we go them 3d printed and sent to us.

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That left putting together the two most iconic parts of the dalek, the plunger and the gun (or egg-whisk, if you prefer). The gun was hardest, requiring wire bending and stuff…

The plunger arm was an old shower curtain rod, or something similar, and I made the plunger itself from EVA foam. I don’t know why. Perhaps, by this point, I just felt the difficult way was the only way to do things.

And that was the main work done, right?

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Well, not quite – we bought a LOT of DIY Christmas Baubles from a craft store and sprayed them, and glued sticks inside them to attach them to the skirt. There is a rotation mechanism inside the dome, but it was rudimentary and did not work smoothly. The eyestalk was raised and lowered by means of ( I kid you not) a piece of string. Dalek dialogue and sounds were on an MP3 player with a separate speaker, and the ears lit up because they were LEDs stolen from two flashlights and wired up using Dim’s Patented Home Electrics Method (not recommended to anyone, ever, under any circumstances.)

Derek was ready for the Fan Expo, which was a good thing, because the Fan Expo was the very next day!

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So, we took him to pieces and stuffed him into the car.

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We got hm to the Expo and assembled him on the sidewalk outside and were immediately mobbed by people wanting to take his picture and ask “Is it real?” I honestly had no answer prepared for that.

Next, we decided to move towards the entrance and disaster struck. The front wheel snapped off. Derek came to pieces and got moved inside the convention centre, where we made repairs and people once more gathered around him.

When we went to move Derek further into the hall, the wheel failed again, and this time it could not be fixed. Derek stood guard just past the Prop Check area and made a lot of new friends. We have some serious repair work to do, but for now we’re proud of our newest family member, and glad to have had the chance to share him with Fan Expo Vancouver 2018.

*In as much as any of this makes any kind of sense.

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As You Like It

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Let’s see – I’ve had a birthday, we’ve been camping, but school hasn’t started yet… It must be time for Bard on the Beach!

Every year we try to go (some years more successfully than others) and every year I am driven to blog about the experience because the productions are so good. Bard don’t need the publicity, I think, they’re doing just fine on sales. Tonight’s tent was sold out, and every seat occupied by an enthusiastic supporter of the arts.

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With no visitors, it was only Mrs Dim, myself and all the Weasels, settling into our seats for a performance of “As You Like It”, a play that none of us were familiar with. Well, that’s to say, none of us had seen a full production, but it’s the play that contains the “All the world’s a stage..” speech, and one of the scenes was used in the “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” Shakespearean Special ‘Pick Up Bard’ game.

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What really put the icing on the cultural cake for us this year, however, was a staggering coincidence. All this summer, Tiny Weasel has been obsessed with the Beatles. OBSESSED. She’s watched their films, documentaries, recited interviews and even purchased a cd! A Child of the Millennium, buying physical media! And this year’s production of As You Like It was going to feature 25 songs…by The Beatles!

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It was a toe-tapping extravaganza, with audience singalongs and plenty of sight gags, alongside the snappy dialogue. Mrs Dim’s favourite moment was

“She’s coming. Hide!”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Shakespeare!

Bard on the Beach must work very hard to make this all look so effortless. It proves there’s life in the old plays yet, as there were people of all ages in the audience, and they had no trouble following the plot or the language. I’m already looking forward to next year.

After the therapy

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I spent five weeks visiting the hypnotherapist (see the previous post for a full explanation). She was great, taking me seriously, talking me through the various issues I had around fruit and vegetables and exploring my attitudes and expectations on a variety of things. Each session would end, of course, with hypnosis, and I can’t tell you much about that because, duh, I was in a trance*. But the hypnosis seemed to be more about reinforcing the issues we had been discussing, and bolstering my resolve to try new things. We established that I don’t have to like EVERYTHING, I can still not enjoy things that don’t taste nice. But the options here are fairly stark – eat a better diet, or die early. I don’t want to die early. For one thing, I haven’t finished the bloody dalek.

I’ve always known my diet was unhealthy, and that heart attacks were the probable outcome. But when you’re in your teens, dying at forty seems impossibly far away.

In the months since the sessions ended, I’ve refused less. Mrs Dim has made fewer concessions to my pickiness, and we’ve found some things that work well. But I’m still reluctant, because it’s still me CHOOSING to add things I don’t like to food I would otherwise enjoy. Salad does not taste nice. No, not even with dressing on it. I have eaten some fruit, and I should eat more, but picking up raw fruit and taking a healthy bite is….unlikely, to say the least. Give me more soup, cook those apples into a pie, drown those bananas in custard, and then we’ll talk.

I haven’t been back to the doctor’s to check my blood, so I don’t know where I stand in the pre-diabetic stakes anymore. What I do know is that there’s nothing left to cut out, and I’m not adding very much in. The hypnosis was not what I’d hoped it would be, a chance to sidestep my natural (?) dislike of certain foods. More of a driving force is provided by the thought of how much money we spent on those sessions. It would buy a lot of bananas.

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*Was I? Most of the hypnosis stuff I’ve listened to explains that you’re NOT going to be unconscious, but I don’t remember the actual hypnosis sessions. I know I woke myself with my snores at least once.

Nature versus Nurture

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Being a parent can feel like a real-time experiment on the “Nature Vs Nurture” debate. You get around eight months to decide what having a baby is going to be about *, but then it arrives and you can find your expectations are overturned.

Our experience was that children arrive with a personality already in evidence. You can change behaviour, you can influence them in many ways, but the core of who they are seems to be set from a very early age. For example, a child will always reach to take a thing they want. That’s a natural urge, and parents work to temper that desire, to instill the constraints of manners, to get the child to ask “May I?” before taking something. But some children will always offer the thing to others first, while some will work to secure it for themselves. I don’t think that’s a thing that’s easily taught, though it can be encouraged.

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All this introspection about inherent characteristics has come up because this week I went to a hypnotherapist to change something that’s been a fundamental part of my character for years. I went to see if they could talk me into eating fruit and vegetables.

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That’s me on the far right, eating/wearing the cake. Since I was very small, I refused as many vegetables and as much fruit as I could. No allergies, no bad reactions, just “I don’t like this.” Mum had plenty to cope with at the time, but she did her best to encourage better eating habits. Even so, I eventually shrugged off the only fruit I would eat (bananas) and soon not eating things became a point of pride for me. I would sigh and say “No, really, no fruit at all. No, apples are fruit, I don’t eat them. No, grapes are also fruit. No, really, I HAVE tried them, and I don’t like them.” Vegetables were a trickier prospect, because I DO eat some, but it’s rather under sufferance, and not through joy.

All this was well and good while I was a wiry teen, or a stringbean of a young dad, but now I’m in my mid-forties. Weight doesn’t fall off me the way it used to, and my doctor said I might be pre-diabetic, so I had to cut out a lot of the sugar from my diet. It was a wrench to say goodbye to the two Mars Bars I would eat every day, but I did it. That was good, but it wasn’t enough. When the doc advised cutting down on carbs, I realised I only really ATE carbs and meat. It was time to do something radical.

Luckily, a co-worker at the library is a trained hypnotherapist, and she felt there would be some value in visiting a hypnotherapist. She was saying they would be able to help me work through whatever issues were causing my refusal to eat things. I was hoping they’d simply hypnotise me into liking them.

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Mrs Dim spends ages planting, tending and harvesting our own vegetables. And I don’t eat them. That seems very wrong.

As the time for my first session approached, I found myself wondering. What if it works? What happens then? I’m not saying that not eating vegetables and fruit is a huge part of my character, but…It is part of me. If I can fix that, then can I fix other things that are wrong with me? Can I become organised and tidy? Can I become prepared for the month ahead? Can I actually improve my memory ? Can I have ambitions beyond building a dalek or another Star Wars helmet?

And if the answer to any or all of those questions is “yes”, then who is it who’ll be at the other end of all those procedures? Is it just a better version of me, or is it someone totally different?

The first session was great, I didn’t feel like a lunatic, and I have some confidence that it’ll all work out well. Don’t expect me to sit down and scoff a bowl of salad just yet, but eating a more healthy balanced diet is not that far off, I think.

As for the rest,  I don’t know. I like building daleks and helmets (aside from the times they make me irritated), and Mrs Dim is more than organised enough for the both of us. Perhaps it would be irresponsible to disrupt the harmony of our married life by becoming someone different…

*I mean, from the time you find out about the pregnancy. Obviously you might have considered the issue beforehand, or have been trying for years. I’m trying to avoid parentheses or subclauses here.

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!

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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.

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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*.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Which we had no trouble finding.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rhododendron Days, Burnaby

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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.

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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!

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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

 

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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.