Tag Archives: Eldest Weasel

Graduation

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Seven years in Canada means there are now very few moments where we stop and say “Hey, that’s a bit different!”, but this week, there was a big one. Eldest Weasel has graduated High School.

*Puts on flat cap and lights pipe*

Back in my day, we didn’t graduate from High School. For a start, we didn’t GO to High School. Mandatory Secondary Education finished with the Fifth Year and G.C.S.E.s (I was in the first year to take these new-fangled replacements for the O levels). We spent May and June taking an assortment of exams (nine, in my case) and when you took your last exam, you were done. No more Secondary School. There was, I think, a final assembly, but I got sent out of that for talking, so I don’t know what happened in it.

As an avid consumer of North American film and TV, I’m familiar with the concept of High School graduation (though this one turned out very different from that Buffy Episode…). What I hadn’t realised was the ceremony is really worthwhile. Poor Eldest Weasel was consumed with nerves about the whole thing, which was a shame because this was a great way to mark the early years of education, the culmination of the time that this age group would spend together in school. From this point on, as was made clear by the statements read out for each graduate, they would be scattering to all kinds of different colleges, careers and ambitions.

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That’s not to say that the mood was entirely sombre. The Principal (who is also moving on to a new job) gave a speech that was upbeat and encouraging, inevitably quoting Dr Seuss, and making several jokes (some unintentional). There were catcalls and cheers for the students receiving scholarships, and many of the hats had been decorated by their owners, since they would be kept as souvenirs of the big day. It was a long ceremony, only broken twice by performances from the choir and the band, begun with “O, Canada” sung by one of the graduates and closed with “God Save the Queen” sung by another. The hats were thrown into the air after the Valedictorian’s speech (and you have to love Drama Students for stepping up when it comes to making a great speech) and the graduates filed out to meet the friends and relatives who had packed the arena.

Laurel brolly tweaked

I had come to the event believing it to be overblown and unnecessary , just one more stress to drop on a group of young adults already being pressured to decide their futures. But I came away feeling it had been exactly right – a celebration of the time and effort these students had put into their school, an acknowledgement of what it will come to mean to them in the future, and a reminder that the friendships they have made here can be carried forward no matter how far apart they may travel.

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They make you swear, they really do….

Actually, that’s not true. In the Citizenship Oath, you have the option to swear OR affirm.

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It wasn’t that long ago that I shared this post about sitting our citizenship exam, and we began the wait for the Oath ceremony. Certainly the exam was the more nerve-wracking of the two – though there were several dire warnings about what could happen if you failed to repeat the oath, or didn’t produce the required documents.

The main difference this time was taking the entire boatload of weasels along. Only Eldest Weasel was actually required to make the oath, the other two being below the age of fourteen, but we made this emigration as a unit, and we signed in as a unit too. They seated us together, a row of five seats on the right hand side of the same room we took our exam in. The clerk explained what would happen when Judge Nguyen (pronounced “Wen”) took her seat and began proceedings. The judge was a calm, smiling presence, and took the opportunity to tell us about her own history – nine escape attempts from her home country when she was only a little girl. At least six trips to “Re-education camps” before the successful escape which led to a refugee camp and finally Canada. Mrs Dim and I exchanged glances. Suddenly the various stresses and panics we’d suffered in the run up to our own arrival here seemed very, very minor.

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

We were all asked to state our full names in loud clear voices, one at a time. I was happy to note that even Tiniest Weasel had no trouble with this, and then we were reciting the Oath in English and French. After that it was a simple matter of lining up to receive our certificates and take photos with the judge.

DSCN0837After that it was much like the day we took our exam – with a beautiful day outside and no one having to really be anywhere for a while, we walked the seawall all the way up to Milestones on English Bay. Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know that’s the first restaurant we visited after arriving in Canada. It’s just round the corner from the apartment we rented during our first month, and we’ve celebrated at least one arrival anniversary there. Since we missed the five year anniversary meal out, this seemed like a great opportunity for a double celebration.

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver.....

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver…..

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Every time I think “Ok, that’s it, now we just start living…” another big moment pops up. Is there more to come after gaining citizenship? Now we have to apply for passports and things, and I already miss the security of carrying my Permanent Resident Card with me. But I can vote now! I get to take an active interest in the things going on around me, because I have a voice and I am going to use it. Local, Provincial or Federal, I will get out there and use my vote!

It’s not about you…

Or me.

Only a couple of days ago, I was sitting in the Driver’s Testing centre just off the Lougheed Highway. I hadn’t been there since my own driving test almost five years ago.

This time I was there because Eldest Weasel was taking her theory test, to see if she was ready for her L plates so she could start learning to drive*. As I sat there, I realised that a lot of the experiences here in Canada have become less about me and Mrs Dim – our new jobs, buying and maintaining the house, struggling with various bots of red tape and so on – and more about the Weasels. They’re doing all the important things that kids do, making and losing friends, finding their way in school, changing up to bigger schools, choosing their life’s directions, trying to balance the things they love with the things they have to do.

Laurel in the garden Oct 99

It’s nothing revolutionary, this realisation. It’s just something that has grown from the first day I left Eldest Weasel at playgroup, a tiny figure alone in a vast ocean of carpet, surrounded by distant shores of toys and an archipelago of playgroup leaders. It doesn’t mean you stop being the star of your own story and have to settle for a bit part. Doesn’t mean your job is finished. It just means that there will be times when you need to remember, it’s not about you.

She hasn't changed a bit.

She hasn’t changed a bit.

 

*She passed.

Fifth Anniversary : Looking forward and back

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of our arrival in Canada. It seems funny to celebrate during the day, since we spent most of that day traveling, only emerging from the airport when it was already dark. In past years we have returned to the restaurant where we had our first meal out (Milestones on English Bay), we’ve had meals with friends, and we’ve completely missed the evening a couple of times too.

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Three Weasels arrive at Vancouver airport, March 9th 2009

This year the busy pace of life has meant our celebration meal is going to be postponed until Spring Break, a week away. I’ve found that, rather than looking back on our five years here, we all seem to be looking forward. Eldest Weasel is starting Grade 11, and making decisions about courses that will help her on to her plans for employment. Middle Weasel begins High School in September and is aiming high with the courses she’s planning to take. Tiny Weasel is struggling to overcome her focus issues (which I’ve tried to help her with, but I keep wandering off to do something else.)

Modern-day Weasels enjoying life in Canada with Mrs Dim and a minion

Modern-day Weasels enjoying life in Canada with Mrs Dim and a minion

Mrs Dim is enjoying her work, feeling positive about the direction it’s going, and I’ve found working at the library is the job I’ve been looking for all this time. We’re all looking ahead and enjoying where we are now.

The irony is, that while we’re doing this, we’re also sorting through cupboards and boxes in the house and trying to organise, which means scanning in photos and converting old VHS tapes to digital files. This has meant looking back in a big way, seeing pictures and film of family and friends, some of whom are long gone, and some of whom have simply slipped out of touch.

In this screenshot from family video, Gran Nichol and Gran Trasler chat at Eldest Weasel's Christening party.

In this screenshot from family video, Gran Nichol and Gran Trasler chat at Eldest Weasel’s Christening party.

Looking back is fun, and it’s important to preserve these memories and pass on the stories that go with them, so the people we have loved and lost are not forgotten. But looking back doesn’t prepare you for what’s on the way, so we’ll be watching the road ahead this year, so we don’t get thrown by unexpected bends.

The story of our emigration and first year in Vancouver is still on sale for the bargain price of $1.99 all through this month. You can find it at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca or Amazon.co.uk .

Sexism – Opening the can of worms

Some time ago, I was asked to be in a magazine article about men taking on the role of Mum (Mom, to you North Americans). Because Mrs Dim had a proper job, no, a CAREER, and I was just playing at being a writer, I was labelled a Househusband and asked my opinions on all sorts of things. Oh, and they wanted some photographs: Would I mind just putting on this apron and holding a duster…?

The picture was really nice. It was of Eldest Weasel sitting next to me at the piano, neither of us in an apron. I heard the photographer sulked for three whole days, but really, I wasn’t going to put up with that. So I have strong views on sexism and equality.

Obviously, not the picture I was talking about....

I used to get irked, as a neophyte writer, when I saw competitions that were restricted to female writers, like the Orange Prize for fiction. There are none, that I know of, that are restricted to men. The reason for this is the perception that men dominate the writing industry, and they don’t need any help to succeed. Since I found my niche writing plays, got published and began to earn some money, my bitterness has faded somewhat (In the early days I even considered entering competitions disguised as Damina, my most common typing error, but it hasn’t happened…yet.) But this week my good friend and Star Script Reader Lucy V Hay posted notice of a women only Screenwriting competition: http://networkedblogs.com/79hge and I dropped a snide little note on her Facebook page, demanding the end to sexist writing competitions. That’s lead to a fairly long string of comment and counter-comment and I wondered if the blogosphere has anything to add. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • There is no doubt that men are the majority in screenwriting success. More films written by men get made, more succeed at the box office, and women screenwriters seem limited to cuddly rom coms like Norah Ephron writes (Which aren’t bad in themselves: I’m a big fan of “Sleepless in Seattle” and am irrationally attached to ‘Music and Lyrics”, but this is not the be-all and end-all of female writing.)

 

  • Faced with a dearth of decent scripts by female writers, the incomparable Zahra has asked for women to submit scripts. Only women. Plot lead, not character lead. This is not going to be “Eat, Pray, Love” on a shoestring, folks.

 

  • Lucy encourages her friends on Facebook to stretch themselves and come up with something suitable. If your window onto the world of screenwriting was Lucy’s Facebook page, you’d believe that it’s a fifty-fifty split between men and women. Lucy herself is no slouch behind the keyboard, having written and produced “Slash” which is NOT a Romcom.

 

  • I point out that excluding men just because they’re men is sexist.

 

  • Lucy asks if it would be considered racist to hold a competition for black screenwriters (who are also under-represented). I have to say “yes.” Isn’t it? Excluding white writers because they’re white isn’t “better” than excluding black writers. You’re discriminating on grounds of skin colour, and that’s racism.

The problem comes when you say “Ok, we won’t use positive discrimination, smartarse, so how ARE we going to get more women screenwriters?” I don’t know the answer to that one. I’m tempted to say “It doesn’t matter”, partly because I know that’ll wind people up, but also partly because I think then you get the really passionate ones rising to the top DESPITE the prejudice. Yes, they have to be 100% BETTER than the male opposition, but that leads to better films and the men having to raise their game. In an industry accused of dumbing down and looking for the lowest common denominator (Michael Bay, I’m looking at YOU), I’m all for raising the bar. Kathryn Bigelow made ‘The Hurt Locker” and that was pretty good. A lot of people started saying “Hey women can direct, can’t they? Why aren’t there more women Directors?” I don’t think anyone held the door open for Kathryn, she didn’t make “The Hurt Locker” (Or her previous films, let’s not forget those) on a “Give her a leg up, she’s only a woman” programme. Oh boy, I’m going to be in SOOOO much trouble for that one.

I’m a regular reader of Scriptshadow where I learn a lot about writing scripts and reading them, and one of the things I have learned from there is that GOOD scripts are hard to find, even from established writers. It shouldn’t matter the sex, height, hair colour or favourite muppet of any writer, as long as their scripts are good. I can’t believe that the first thing readers in studios check is the gender of the writer. What’s more likely the problem (and this is something that Zahra mentions) is that the execswho greenlight the various projects are looking at returns and betting on a particular demographic, which determines which types of movies get made, and those are, for whatever reason, not the ones usually written by women.

These days we’re told a lot that the internet is a great leveller. It can raise public awareness and the wrath of the many against what used to be impregnable corporations. It allows the little guy to produce his own web series and distribute it, bypassing the big studios and riding the word of mouth wave to financial success (or at least, infamy). Can the internet beat the masculo-centric viewpoint of the movie studios, or are they right in their assessment of the movie markets? Sure, I like films where things blow up, but I haven’t been to see ‘The Expendables” yet, and I won’t go until I’ve seen ‘Toy Story 3″. Probably not even then. The two screenplays I’ve written that I’m happiest with are character pieces where nothing blows up. I grew up with “Star Wars” and have a deep abiding passion for Sci-Fi but I have NEVER written anything with spaceships in. In eighty-odd plays, only three could be considered to have any Sci-Fi connection. One is a Star Trek spoof sketch (“Strange New Worlds”). One is a time-travel comedy (“Fight the future”) , and the other is a deep thought play about a 1950’s “Flash Gordon”-style film cast, stuck when their leading man is injured in a car wreck (“Waiting for Twist Stiffly”). I don’t believe I write like a man, or like a woman, or like a small, furry creature from Alpha Centuri. I write like me, and if I entered a competition for screenwriting, I’d enter it as me, not as a man.

I believe that good female writers should have as much success as good male writers. If women only screenwriting competitions will get us there, then ok, I’ll back off and cheer ’em on. But if you have a better idea, I’d love to hear about it.

Almost an anniversary

The Tiny Weasels on Arrival Day

The Tiny Weasels Pose, reluctantly, in Vancouver airport

There are still four more days until we reach the one year point, but I’m aware that time is flying at the moment and we’ve already booked a restaurant for that evening – the first place we ate in, as it happens, a lovely place called Milestones on English Bay. It’s part of a chain of eateries, but each one is quite distinct, and this one was our favourite.

I’ve been thinking, on and off, about what I feel about living in Canada. There are still moments of amazement, when the fact that we live so far from family come home to us. There are still days when I worry about driving on the wrong side of the road. Come to think of it, there are still days when I get in the car and wonder where the steering wheel is…

Were there any things I thought I would never get used to? Seeing mountains. When I arrive for work, if the day is clear, I can see mountains on almost every part of the horizon. The reason I can’t see mountains behind me where I park is because the skytrain track loops around the store there, and that’s an amazing view in it’s own right. When I was a kid I used to read “2000ad” and the futuristic city of Mega City One had raised roads that curled and swooped through the cityscape. That’s what I think of when I see the Skytrain.

I still convert currency in my head. Most of the times it’s to reassure myself. I look at new books on sale and think “$30! My God!” and then think, “No, wait, that’s about eighteen quid…Fair enough.” I was surprised when I converted the price of our new house though. Surprised, then ashamed. I will not speak of it.

Some things still strike me as odd though. In the UK I made lasagne, using mince, pasta sheets and two sauces. The red sauce I made from scratch, the white I got out of a jar. Over here they don’t seem to have those jars. I can get pretty much any type of pasta sauce I want, except that white sauce. Last week I made the white sauce from scratch too, and it was brilliant, but it does mean more washing up.

Laundry is great here. In the UK, we didn’t have a tumble drier. Well, we had one once,but we were too eco-conscious to use it much. And it broke down. Over here there was already a huge washer and drier lurking down in the laundry area of the basement. No guilt attached, they’re already here, use ’em! Did you know that when you wash socks and dry them in a tumble drier, they come out soft? Actually soft! My socks used to retain the shape of the radiator….

Hmm. That’s something I haven’t got the hang of. There are vents in the floor of this house that should produce heat when it’s cold. They’re supposed to be controlled by the tiny LCD screen on the wall over there *Dim points*. Mostly I don’t touch it, because I don’t understand it, but on occasion I stare at it in frustration. It can get quite cold here. Then I have another cup of coffee, because I CAN work the coffee machine, which is something else I love about here. The instant coffee is dreadful, but I’ve got the hang of setting the machine before I walk the weasels to school and when I get home, there’s a jug of fresh coffee waiting for me. And it stays hot for two hours! Coffee is a big deal over here. I used to see people carrying take out coffee cups on their way to school and wonder where they had picked them up. Later I realised they might have gone out for coffee and come back to do the school run. I still get surprised to see people walking into the store where I work carrying Starbucks cups. Mind you, I only learned the other day that pets are allowed. Who takes their dog to go shopping for home improvement materials? Well, quite a few people, as it turns out.

I’ve nearly got used to hearing Eldest Weasel’s Canadian accent when she talks to her friends, because it upsets her if we wince. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing Tiniest Weasel gliding around on ice skates. She’s only just turned six! All three weasels have proved themselves adept at the winter sports, taking to ice skating, skiing and sledging like they were born to it.

It’s funny, reaching March and starting to recognise some of the things we saw fresh when we arrived. There’s a regular promotion in Tim Horton’s (a coffee shop chain), where you roll up the rim of your coffee cup to see if you’ve won a prize. That’s just come round again. It’s tax time here too, with many reminders going out for folks to get advice, download free software and so on. I’m in negotiation with the Inland Revenue, since in the midst of the excitement of moving I missed my last self-assessment. Yes, I owe the Inland Revenue a fine (if I’ve made a profit on writing in 08/09) but it’s now in the hands of the accountant we’ve finally sorted. He has a lot to cope with, what with royalties going into the UK bank account, Mrs Dim’s Military Pension, and both sets of Canadian wages being paid over here….

But one whole year. That’s pretty immense, any way you slice it. We arrived here in the middle of the night, relieved to get through Immigration – and it seems stupid now, but we had no “plan B”. If Immigration had turned us around (as they could have) we had no idea what we would have done next. No house, no jobs, no school for the weasels… When I think about it like that, it all seems much more of a gamble than we ever thought. I don’t know how Mrs Dim was looking at it, but I was focussing on one thing at a time. If you asked me five hours before we left for the flght what my biggest worry was, and I would have told you it was packing everything we needed into the nine suitcases we had. At the airport it was whether we’d catch the flight, and then whether the weasels would behave on the flight. Then it was getting through Immigration, finding a taxi, getting into the accommodation we had booked. Even when we were all in The Rosellen Suites and had our cases, I was worried about what we would eat for breakfast.

And now? Well, the house was really the last thing on our list. We came to Canada to improve our lives, to give the weasels more opportunities. We came to find some space, somewhere with some wilderness left. We have jobs, the weasels have a school, we have a dog, we have a house that we couldn’t have afforded in the UK. We are, I would say, settled. Now we’re looking forward to the holiday, to the move, to the visitors that will begin to arrive days fter we move into the New Wonkey House and will continue to stream in all through the long (hopefully hot) summer. Though the first year is coming to a close , I’ll continue to blog because the adventure isn’t over.

 The adventure doesn’t end.

Post Apocolympic….

Oh, Canada!

Well, come on, it IS our national sport....

Yesterday was big deal for Canadians. It was the big rematch of the Winter Games, the Gold Medal Hockey tussle between the US and Canada. It seemed to be the only topic of conversation for a lot of people. I caught the beginning of the game before I had to leave for work, and the Canadians were ahead by two goals to one when I left. I made it into work to find the TV on in the Break Room and folks glued to it. I had to be down on the shop floor, so I wandered away. Somewhere there was a radio piping commentary of the match into the shop, but Hockey Commentary is a mystery to me, since the game moves so fast and I didn’t know which players were on which team (shocking, I know, but give me a chance, we’ve only been here a year!) Still, co-workers were always passing by and happy to give news of the progress of the game.
“The Americans equalised, just seconds to go!” Big groan from everyone nearby. Then a few minutes after that the tannoy squawked into life:
“What did I tell you, Andy? Canada WIN! 3-2” Cheers from all around the store, customers and workers alike. Almost immediately the place began to fill up. The place had been almost deserted during play, but now the game was done people flocked in. Almost all of them were grinning. The first few were eager either to tell me the result of the match, or find it out from me. We had folks wearing flags, with maple leaf face paint, Canada jackets, T-shirts, hats… One lady said she’d been in CostCo when the match was won and the place went mad. I couldn’t work out why CostCo in particular, but then I remembered they have a huge display of big-screen TVs. Where better to watch the match?
I was sorry to miss the closing ceremony, but got home to find Mrs Dim had recorded it for me. I had been surprised by how brilliant the opening ceremony had been, and regretted not recording that, so I’m looking forward to watching this one later.
People are starting to wonder what we’re all going to do now the Olympics have happened. Are we going to go into a post-apocolympic slump? But that’s not really fair. In a few days, on March 12th we get the Paralympics, and if you thought the struggle of the athletes in the regular games was inspiring, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I shall be watching the opening ceremony (and recording it) because Eldest Weasel is one of the schoolchildren who’ll be singing with Nikki Yanovsky, and I spent a good deal of today wrestling with the ticketing system to try and get a ticket for Mrs Dim to attend in person. No joy so far, but I think it’s churlish to complain about something like that when the events themselves will feature people who have overcome far more. I will not be defeated by beaureacracy…though the spelling may give me pause.

So Week Two of Work has begun, and it’s going well. The times are fitting in nicely with Educating Weasels and Mrs Dim’s schedule, and I’m getting enough writing done to feel like I’m not writing to support my new career in retail. (Oh, my new play! It’s going SO WELL. Of course, I’ve had to halve the length and revise my grand plans, but it’s GOING SO WELL! Don’t tell anyone, though. It’s easily startled.) I still don’t have my schedule for the week after next, so I don’t know if my shifts will line up with my elephants and allow me to go on holiday. Now we’re into March time is moving even faster. There’s only a handful of days before Spring Break, only a few more to the holiday and once we’re back from that it’s packing and moving. Tomorrow I’ll pile into the redirection business again. Seems weird, trying to remember what it’s like to be unpacking boxes – this house has been sorted for a while now. We even stopped changing the pictures around, so maybe we got those right at last. Must be time to move.