Tag Archives: car

2011: The year of the return visit.

My first car, after I paid the price for overconfidence.

It’s been something people have asked quite frequently over the last two years: “Have you been back to the UK?”. I was always surprised to be asked – moving to a different continent was a big undertaking, after all. We’re two years in and I only just feel like we’ve got all the variables sorted out. I feel settled, so yes, maybe now is the time to go back and see friends and family.

We’re at the start of the planning process, and with five people to transport, it’s a lot to figure out. We’re looking at calendars, at flight prices, at suitcases – this isn’t going to happen in the next couple of weeks, or even the next couple of months. But we’re odds-on for this year.

The thing is, I’m scared. Not of the friends and family, obviously. It’ll be great to see them. What scares me is…Well, a couple of things.

Firstly, the silly fear. Driving. I’m not a good driver. My Driving Examiner told me at 18 that I had passed the test by the skin of my teeth, that I drove like someone who’d been driving for ten years, and he’d hate to see how I’d be driving ten years from now. At 18, that kind of statement makes no difference whatsoever, and I lasted nearly a year before writing off my car. Over here, the pace of driving is slower. My car has developed a worrying vibration at sixty miles an hour, but you know what? I don’t often feel that vibration in everyday driving. I’ve become accustomed to the Vancouver driving style, to the quieter roads, the lack of bottlenecks. For nearly two years I’ve been driving on the wrong side of the road in an automatic, and when we step off the plane after ten hours of flying and three hours of that weird “Sort of picking up bags and doing Customs but mostly just walking through the airport”, I’m going to have to get into a manual shift car and drive on the OTHER side of the road through English traffic on English roads. Do you think someone could make some sort of announcement, for the safety of other people?

And the second fear, the important one, is getting to see enough people. We’re lucky enough to have a good number of friends, but thanks to our pinball lifestyle, they’re spread far and wide across the UK. For some, travel is a challenge, and for others it may be an awkward time to ask them to scoot across the country to say hi. As someone who once spent five hours on the road in the UK, taking the family to visit friends and then had to turn back when an accident closed the only access, I can appreciate that crossing the UK to see us may not be easy, but what a shame to fly all that way and miss out on seeing folks who are so close (in Canadian terms, at least.)

So this post is part confession – I’m scared – part apology – We may not see you, sorry . But we’re flying back for the best reasons, to see family, to catch a friend’s wedding, to give the weasels a chance to see THEIR friends. If we call you and say we’re around, we’d love to see you. And if we don’t get a chance to call this time around, don’t panic – there’ll be other visits. I just might not be driving at all by then.

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A very Canadian Crime

When our car was shiny and new...

The crime scene - No weasels were harmed in the taking of this photo...

We’ve been very lucky as a family. None of the houses we’ve lived in have been burgled (or, if you’re North American or read tabloids “burglarised”. Sheesh.) In our last few months at the Wonkey House some drunk muppet ran off with a garden ornament that Mrs Dim had bought me for our Anniversary. It was a shame it was stolen (it was ceramic pig with wings, called Clothilde, since you asked) but at least we didn’t find the shattered pieces strewn across the road. Maybe it has a happy new home in someone else’s garden somewhere. A little later I neglected to lock the car one night and someone (maybe even the same person) took my phone charger and the road atlas. The atlas was two years old, which is probably why I found it thrown into the garden three houses down the road. The phone charger was so obscure that I found it almost impossible to buy another one. The salesman in the phone shop actually laughed when I told him what model phone I had. I’m not a trend setter with mobile technology.

  Anyway, this came to mind this morning when a neighbour knocked on our door and said my car door was open. Someone had rifled through the contents of the car and left the door ajar. I checked through the inside, and only the parking change was missing – maybe three dollars in total. They had left my bluetooth earpiece, all the cds, the ownership and insurance documents (including the very transferable and expensive sticker that goes on your license plates to show you’re insured. That’s a bit like someone breaking into a UK car that has a brand new Tax Disc without the car details filled in and not taking it. We are not talking about a criminal mastermind here.) But whoever it was had also gotten to at least two other cars along the street, and talking to the neighbours, there are suggestions that this may not have been the first time this particular opportunist has been down our way. But still, it’s only a little more aggressive than the guys on the street asking for your spare change. Considering what could have been taken (up to and including the car itself!) we got offpretty lightly. Almost a polite crime. Very Canadian.

Stil, it’s made me a little more nervous about going away for a week, but everyone is going to be vigilant now, and we did call the RCMP in to have a look round. I’m taking backups of all my important files away with me just in case. Our friends across the street were saying that this was their first ‘first hand’ experience of any type of crime since moving in here three years ago. That’s not a bad record, considering the reputation Vancouver in general has for Cannabis production and usage. I can’t help thinking that last night’s thief could’ve made more cash by going through the bins and handing in the recyclables to Return-It, but maybe he didn’t fancy the walk there.

It’ll be a shame if one of our final memories of living here is a sour one, so I’m hoping our last couple of days will include some neighbourly fun and beer drinking amongst the frantic packing. In fact, we might have to arrange it, just to make sure.

The Great Canadian Adventure – into the third week (originally posted Mar 27/09)

Me and the weasels eat lunch

You call 'em hot dogs if you like, it's indiginous cuisine to us.

The best and worst of this move so far is the confined living space we have chosen for our first few weeks. The apartments here at Stanley Park are lovely, containing pretty much everything a family needs to get by, plus having the advantage of being next to the park with all it’s amenities (and great views etc) and also handy for Downtown, as long as you can manage buses and the Skytrain… The downsides: It’s a two bedroom apartment, so if you’re not in your bedroom or the living room, you’re in the bathroom. Chances are, if you’re in the bathroom, then someone else is hammering on the door because there’s five of you living there and only the one toilet. Long restful baths do not occur here. Another downside is the scale of things here. We really need a car to get out to some of the places we need to go, but that means negotiating the mad roads of Downtown in both directions, and it doesn’t matter when we set off or where we’re going, we always seem to catch rush hour on the way home. One time we got so confused by the “Don’t turn right between 9am and 7pm” signs everywhere that we missed our road and took an unscheduled trip over the Lions Gate Bridge to North Vancouver. Nice scenery.

For me the main points of the last week have really been the fact that we can’t take much of a break from each other. The Weasels are behaving really well, and when I remember what they’ve had to give up just because we said it would be a good idea, I can’t believe how good they are. Trouble is, I don’t remember that often enough, so things can get pretty stressed at times. We went car hunting, since the Hire Car was approaching the end of it’s lease, but after three dealerships I couldn’t cope anymore. The Weasels viewed each showroom as a playground, and each car on display as an opportunity to wipe the mud from their boots. Also, I don’t do the money thing. Mrs Dim has an accounting brain and she has kept us off the financial rocks all our married life (a claim I’m particularly proud of in these uncertain times) but she has strolled into realms of Quantum Accounting in these past few weeks, juggling multiple accounts here and in the UK, trying to track real and forecast expenditure, trying to sort out living expenses from startup costs, and converting everything back and forth from Sterling to Dollars. I know, roughly, what kind of car I’d like. She knows, roughly, how much we can afford. Getting those two ideas to meet in the middle is hard enough, but if you can’t hear what the salesman is saying about purchase incentives and tax breaks because Biggest Weasel won’t give up her spot and let Middle Weasel put her head out through the sunroof too, then it’s damn near impossible. Plus it means you don’t know where Tiny Weasel is until you hear the crash.

The huge volume of e-mails (going both ways) has tailed off a bit, as have the number of phone calls home. We stumbled a little the other day, having promised a friend we would call at 6pm UK time, without realising that meant 11am our time. We wanted to go out that day, but waiting to call meant we lost most of the morning. And we had the number wrong, so they didn’t answer. Staying in touch with the UK is still important to both of us, and with this being still temporary accommodation, e-mail is the main tool for talking. It’s always good to get mail. The APs are off on their big World Tour shortly, and they surprised me by saying they weren’t taking the laptop with them. I know Dad’s worried about security and theft and whatnot, but I wouldn’t be without the link to the rest of the World if you gave me the choice.

All of this sounds a bit negative, but it’s not meant to. The hard parts are difficult, obviously, but I’m amazed how few of them there are. Me and Middle Weasel took a jaunt to the big mall the other day, riding the Skytrain like locals and shopping until we needed a hit from Starbucks. We knew where we were going and we got there and back safely. On the train journey I saw an amazing thing (if you’re from the UK, that is…) Some Teens got on, one stop after we did. They were dressed weirdly, and talking about their school day in derogatory terms and loud voices. One of the girls remarked that she knew where they were going but had no clue which stop to use. Immediately three people, of varying genders, ages and employment, took time to explain the best route to take to their destination. No one was afraid of these three just because they looked different. No one was afraid they might be knifed for speaking uninvited. No one stared huffily out the window and remarked “There is a map on the wall, you know” to no one in particular*. Ok, so this isn’t the London Underground. Canada’s a nice place! By the way, feel free to jump in and say this kind of thing happens on the Underground everyday…I just know it hasn’t happened anytime I’ve ridden the Tube, and I would have been too scared to offer anyone the time, had they asked, which they never have.

Today we found the car we didn’t know we were looking for, and by forcing a line of terrified numbers to jump through a burning hoop of spreadsheet, Mrs Dim has decided we can afford it. The Hire Car will go back and we will own a little bit more of our Canadian Dream. But tomorrow I take the weasels to the Rental House to wait for my piece of Canada to arrive – the Cable Guy is coming to hook up the house!

*Although it was a close run thing. I managed to restrain myself at the last second.