Tag Archives: snow

Outrage of an angel

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It was kind of a crazy coincidence that I saw her at all. Daytime tv is something of a mystery to me most of the time, but the night before I had taken a hard tumble at a softball game and my ankle was swollen and angry. The Doc had said to keep it elevated and use cold packs from time to time, and I had told my boss (who happened to be waiting for his turn to bat) that I wouldn’t be in the next day.

I’d made a comfortable nest on my couch with drinks and snacks within reach, but that meant I wasn’t in a hurry to get up when the dvd I’d been watching came to an end. I switched off the dvd player and the tv leapt back into life with some moronic mid-morning talk show.

The hostess was a plasticated Barbie Doll who had to keep saying “That’s sad” or “That’s so funny” because her botoxed features couldn’t form the relevant expressions. She rounded off her chat with a comedienne who was promoting her latest movie and turned to the camera. She lowered her tone to indicate this was a serious segment.

“We’ve all experienced them.” She said, her painted eyes solemn and unmoving. “Those moments of desperation and despair when we feel we simply CANNOT go on. Those are the times when we cry out to a higher power for help, and sometimes…”

The camera cut to the audience, entranced and a little fearful, then back to the host.

“Sometimes… those prayers are answered in a truly physical way!”

I snorted and began to root around under the debris of chip packets and candy wrappers to find the tv remote so I could change channels.

“For our next guest, her moment of despair came during a dark and snowy winter’s night on the I-99. Her car had died, and she and her baby daughter had no phone with them. They were miles from the nearest house, and neither of them had clothing that would keep out the bitter cold.”

Now, I drive the I-99 every day. I would have been driving it that day too, if not for my ankle. The truth is that you’re never more than a mile from a house the whole length of the road, but I did remember it getting pretty snowy last winter. I stopped searching for the remote and watched the host introduce her guest. The slight blonde woman looked nervous, in sharp contrast to the comedienne who had been on earlier. The host established that the baby girl was safe at home that day, and then invited the mother to explain the course of events as they unfolded in the snow.

“The car was toast.” said the woman, “The engine shut off and there was smoke coming out under the front there. Casey and I were warm enough inside, but without the engine running I knew it would get cold pretty fast. I put the emergency flashers on and the other cars were just driving past me.”

“No one stopped?” asked the host, trying to twist face into a mask of concern.

“No one stopped. And I had no phone because it had run out of charge. I was feeling pretty desperate.”

The host nodded sympathetically.

“That must have been so scary. And what happened next?”

“Yeah,” I asked the tv, “What happened next? Did you die of exposure?”

The woman had taken a moment to compose herself, but her eyes were glittering when she looked up again.

“I just looked out the windscreen and I saw this figure walking towards me. They didn’t seem bothered by the wind or the snow and they were carrying something.”

“Were you scared?” asked the host.

“I don’t think so.” said the woman, “I mean, I had been scared, but I think I started to calm down almost as soon as I saw him coming.”

The camera cut to the audience again, some of them smiling, some nodding encouragement. Back to the host.

“Just seeing him brought you a feeling of calm, of security?”

The woman was nodding herself.

“And he just came straight up to the front of my truck and waved at me to pop the hood. I don’t know what he did, but in no time at all he slammed the hood down and I could start the engine again!”

The host leaned forward again.

“You said the mysterious figure seemed to be carrying something. Was it a toolbox? A bag of wrenches?”

The woman shook her head.

“No it was something smaller, like a flask or a bottle.”

The host turned to face the audience.

“So he fixed a dead engine with no tools. He appeared just when you needed help, even though you didn’t call anyone. And when he had fixed the truck? What happened then?”

The woman shrugged.

“I was just so relieved, I started crying. With the engine going again I made sure Casey was safe in her car seat, and I put my seat belt back on too. Then I looked out of the windscreen again, and he was gone.”

“He disappeared?” the host whispered.

“Like he’d never been there. Except my truck was running and Casey and I were home safe ten minutes later.”

The host probably said something, but I missed it. There was a hollow roaring in my ears, and I was struggling to close my mouth. It had been hanging open for the last five minutes, from the moment I recognised the woman’s story. While I struggled to get control of my head, the host set up the line that finished me off.

“So, tell us, do you know who the mysterious stranger was who helped you that night?”

The woman nodded and faced the audience for the first time.

“I believe I do. I think he was an angel. He answered my prayers, and he saved my life and the life of my baby!”

This bizarre pronouncement was met with whoops and cheers and a storm of applause. It was also met with rustling and curses as I finally unearthed the remote and snapped off the tv. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. Some of them were complimentary too. But I’ve never been called an angel.

I’d been driving home slowly, cursing the snow that was making a regular journey into a slow motion epic, when I passed a truck in the inside lane, flashers on and steam still erupting from under the hood. I didn’t need all the time I spent working on my uncle’s old truck to know that the radiator had blown its cap. I had a big water bottle on the passenger side, relic of a rained off softball game. There wasn’t space on the shoulder until I’d crested the hill and the truck was out of sight. I parked up and grabbed the bottle of water, then pushed out into the night.

It was cold, and the wind pushed the snow right into my face and down the back of my neck. It took at least five minutes to reach the truck, and I waved at the woman to pop the hood without wasting time going to her window to talk to her. I mean, I knew what was wrong, knew I could help, so why waste time yakking? She’d probably feel more threatened by a stranger approaching her window anyway. Besides, I was already half-frozen, so I wanted to get this over with.

The hood was still hot to the touch from the gout of boiling water that had hit it, but the radiator cap hadn’t fallen out of the engine compartment. Huddling in under the hood kept the worst of the wind and snow at bay, and I was able to absorb some of the heat streaming off the engine. I dumped the contents of the bottle into the radiator, and the fact that there was only a minimal hiss told me that things had cooled off sufficiently. With a couple of minutes to get the whole bottle in and re-seat the cap, I figured the engine would be good to go. I slammed the hood and made twisting motions with my wrist. She got the idea and the engine started up. The water I’d put in should hold long enough to get her wherever she was going, and if she had any sense she’d get the damn truck checked over by a mechanic ASAP. Now the cold was getting to me again, so I didn’t hang around for tea and medals, just ran back over the hill to the warm sanctuary of my car. I was home inside ten minutes too.

Having a duff ankle meant I couldn’t stomp around my living room, kicking the furniture, but that was certainly what I wanted to do. I picked up the phone, determined to call the studios, get through to the stupid host and tell the truth about what happened that night, but I stopped, and not just because I didn’t know the number.

What did it matter? Well, to me, it shouldn’t matter at all. Had I not seen the stupid show, I would have gone on my merry way, neither knowing nor caring that someone viewed my amateur mechanic moment as heavenly intervention. Did it matter to that woman? Since I’d shut off the program, I couldn’t be sure. What I hoped was that this experience had encouraged her to do a basic car maintenance course, to prepare better for inclement weather, maybe even just check the damn weather forecast once in a while. But I think what was making me angry was that she probably wouldn’t. My miraculous appearance was confirmation that the helpless have a divine protector, and they never need to take care of themselves. Well, I would have been sorry to hear that little miss meek there had frozen to death in her truck that night, but her kid… For god’s sake, she had her kid with her. Casey ought to grow up knowing her parent can stand up for her, not expect them to stand by and hope for rescue.

In the end, I put the phone down. Call me a cynic, but I had more than a little suspicion that if I had got through to the host herself, she would have assured me that, yes, I was the one who helped, but my decision to stop and help was prompted by another angel, one I couldn’t see. And little miss meek would go on believing that the universe will care for her regardless.

I limped into the kitchen. I needed a cold pack for my ankle, and you know what? No one was going to appear mysteriously and bring it through to me. I sat back down, the cold seeping into my ankle and bringing a measure of calm with the reduction in pain. Maybe I would just print up some cards for the next time I rescue a damsel in distress:

“This aid has been brought to you by an entirely earthly entity, unbidden by any ethereal figures, visible or invisible.”

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As the first snow falls…

The youngest weasels examine Canadian snow for the first time.

All this last week, Eldest Weasel has been checking the weather forecast every morning. On my days in work, I’ve been watching happy shoppers struggle out with armfuls of de-icer, sand, snow shovels and Christmas lights. And at least one Barbeque, but hey, it was a bargain, and it’s a healthy way to cook…

I get nervous when the forecast talks about snow. Judging by all the de-icer and snow shovels, so do a lot of other folks around here. I’ve had little experience with serious snow as an adult. I remember my parents having to cope with terrible winter weather when we lived in Sunderland, but the only dangerous snow driving I did in the UK was when the car spun out on a corner on some black ice. Since we were only doing about ten miles an hour, it was a stately revolution that ended with us facing the wrong way on an empty road. A little slower than those Tea-cup rides for toddlers at fairgrounds. We just sat there for a second, said “Huh.” and drove on.

The year we arrived here in Canada they were just recovering from an unusual amount of snow – it doesn’t normally fall on Downtown and the suburbs, you understand, just on the mountains. Vancouverites weren’t sure how you went about clearing your drive without throwing the snow onto your neighbours’ drive. They certainly weren’t sure about driving in snow. Gary, a supervisor at work, gave me this sage advice:

“When it snows and you’re waiting at a red light, don’t pull away when that light goes green. Count to ten, and I bet you there’ll be someone come sliding right through the intersection…”

Last year there was no major snowfall, but we did have a couple of white days, and on one of those I was driving the kids down a steep hill that also turned a corner. On the bend I felt the wheels lose traction, and in a very male reaction I snapped off the stereo, yelled at the kids to be quiet and got a death grip on the wheel. We were fine, and the snow melted the next day, but I can’t help remembering that I wasn’t cool and calm under pressure, just very, very scared.

If there IS the big snowfall this year, I may just hand in my notice, let Mrs Dim drive the bigger and heavier car to work and walk the kids to school every day. Frostbite may be preferable to car accident.

Here's today's forecast....DOOM!

Ok, I got a job….Now what?

Me, with a real Olympic torch

A real Olympic torch, a real author....

So, that went well. Interview number three, that is. I actually got to feel like a genuine, caring parent, because I made sure Moose got walked before the school run and drove the Weasels to school so I could read to Tiniest Weasel in “Parent Reading Time”. Having rushed through “The Cat in the Hat” (I love the classics) I leapt back in the car and made it to the prospective employment zone in time to meet the Store Manager.

Now, as a point of policy (and not to bore people beyond belief) I’m not going to write about the people or the place where I work unless A: They give me explicit permission to do so or B: It becomes clear that no one there knows or cares about this blog. Since B seems to be the prevailing attitude of the entire world, you may get to hear about it all anyway. But not today.

One of the things I love about being in Canada is the National Pride. Folks love being Canadian. You see it in the advertisements, the fact that the McDonalds arches have a Maple Leaf in the middle, and you can’t miss it right now anywhere in BC. Vancouver is hosting the Winter Olympic games and you can’t move for people in Canada tops, hats, scarves or Olympic mittens. The cars are all festooned with snapping Canada flags, and flags drape the houses, fill the windows, are in every aisle of your favourite Home Improvement Retailer…

It so happens that a couple of our favourite television programmes are on a channel called CTV, and they just happen to be the channel that is screening the principal Olympic coverage. Naturally, their adverts have been saturated with Olympic imagery in the last few weeks, but it’s not just “Watch CTV for the Olympics”, it’s almost all “Support Team Canada” and “Go Canada Go!”. They did a brilliant series of introductions to Canadian Olympians, which made me think – how many members of the British Olympic team could you name? The only one I could really remember was the snotty fourteen year old kid in the posh diving competition*, who blew it at the last minute. What was his name? Exactly. But now we hear about different Canadian Olympians every day. they’re in the papers, on posters in the bus stops, everywhere. I watched the theme song to the Winter Games “I believe”, sung by Nikki Yanovsky and found it very moving. I think I’ve mentioned before, Canadian Pride is a very interesting and non-threatening thing. It’s not about being better than everyone else, not about putting anyone down because they’re NOT Canadian, it’s celebrating the fact that WE ARE Canadian, eh? There are some dreadful commercials by the food suppliers President’s Choice, saying how they supplied some of the food the Canadian Olympians have eaten, and it ends with this “So if they win gold, we’ll take a little of the credit…But not much. After all, we ARE Canadian.”

So tonight, I won’t be celebrating getting a job. Yes,  I’m pleased, it’s a relief and the start of a new phase of life (again!). I’ve noticed how much more I’ve got done in the last few days when I thought I was losing all the time I’ve had at my disposal since we arrived, and I hope I can maintain that momentum when the pace really does pick up. But tonight we’re gathering together as a family and watching the opening ceremony, with popcorn, hot dogs and probably ice cream too. It feels like there’s a great big party here in our adopted hometown and whether there’s any snow up those mountains or not, the world is looking at Vancouver and it would be churlish not to smile and wave. Well, it would be un-Canadian.

*I realise that this may not be the correct name for the event.

10 Things You Won’t Be Expecting From Vancouver (when you come for the Olympics)

The buzz is building in Vancouver and Whistler with less than a fortnight to go before the Olympic Winter Games 2010.  Ever since we arrived, I have been wondering how the visitors from the UK will see my new home city.  Will they be disappointed?  Will they think the friendliness too phoney?  Here’s the 10 things I think you ought to know before you board the plane…

1              It’s ugly. OK, not Downtown, which is full of achingly beautiful soaring skyscrapers and historical buildings, or the sweeping majesty of Canada Place, built to reflect the sails of the thousands of ships that sailed into port here. But outside the beating heart of Downtown, you’ll find roads lined with urban sprawl, strip malls, big boxy shops and warehouses. The key is to lift your eyes, now and then, and glimpse the mountains that line the horizon wherever you go.

2              People really are that nice. You may think this is some sort of effort laid on for the Olympics, but you have to remember these people are Canadians. If they see you looking lost or worried, they’ll ask you if you need help. Total strangers are happy to help you with the complexities of travel on the SkyTrain. Let them – this isn’t the Tube.

3              It’s really this clean all the time. I’m sure there are people who’ve been asked to tidy up especially for the Olympics, but it won’t need a concerted effort to make the place look smart, because generally speaking the city is a clean place. People put their trash in the garbage, to use the local terminology.  And if you put your hand on a piece on gum on the SkyTrain, I’ll bet one of the visitors put it there.

4              No matter what you might have heard, pot is still illegal in British Columbia. You won’t find it being handed out for free on the streets. Smoke it in public, or try to buy or sell it and you WILL be arrested.  OK, you MIGHT be arrested… if the officer doesn’t have anything better to do.

5              You can only buy alcohol in a Liquor Store. It can be annoying, if you’re doing your weekly food shopping and then have to go to an entirely different shop to buy a bottle of wine and some beer, but make the effort. BC wines are worth trying, and the Granville Island beers are terrific. Just don’t try drinking any of them in a public place.  The cop that can’t be bothered to arrest you for smoking pot might suddenly get all conscientious and arrest you for public drinking instead.  Then bust you for the pot you have in your pocket.

6              The Outdoors is more important than the Indoors. Sure, people like their houses to be nice, and they spend plenty of time and money in The Home Depot (the world’s largest Home Improvement Retailer) but they call it “Super, Natural British Columbia” for a reason. That might explain the ugliness in point 1, because everyone’s too busy skiing, cycling, walking the miles of trails and watching the wildlife to worry about town planning and the state of their front yard.  

7              People like being Canadian – if you’re here for the Olympics, you may be impressed by the support for Team Canada, but the odds are those flags are up all year round.  All those special clothes in red and white, with Canada on the front?  We all had them already.  Even our deckchairs have maple leaves on them.  If it stands still long enough, someone will put a maple leaf on it. It’s not a “We’re better than you” kind of thing, everyone’s just so happy to be Canadian, they want the world to know.

8              When we say “multicultural society” we really mean it. Canadians come in all skin tones, sizes and accents, so don’t make assumptions based on the way someone talks. You’ll know they’re Canadian – there’ll be a maple leaf on something they’re wearing if you look hard enough. It’s best not to bring your assumptions at all – that beardie weirdie guy strolling along the pavement towards you wearing scruffy jeans, sneakers and a hoodie may not be homeless; he could be a businessman, a father, or a college graduate. Casual is the ONLY way to dress over here.  So, dress how you like and no one will complain (this guarantee does not cover your spouse or children).

9              Food. This may be North America, but don’t believe that you are condemned to a choice between a famous burger chain or a famous fried chicken franchise. If you understood point 8 about the multicultural society, then you’ll understand there’s a whole world of food to choose from, usually on the same street.  It’s all great, all fresh, usually reasonably priced, and the restaurant staff are just thrilled to meet you.

10           There’s no snow. OK, this may not be a huge surprise, since I hear the news has mentioned it a couple of times. But really, Vancouver is not an icy wasteland populated by lumberjacks and Mounties. We’ve got a temperate climate not unlike that of the UK, with a stunning range of cultural pioneers, pushing the boundaries of art, theatre, film and music for more than one hundred years.  So you are more likely to get rained on than snowed in.  Do what the Vancouverites do; wear a light fleece and a tee shirt, put up with the damp and never carry an umbrella.

And the one thing you should be expecting – it’s a spectacular, beautiful city.  Try this link for a great piece of music and a taste of what’s to come.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xMz2SnSWS4