Show pony shutdown

Time to saddle up! Be warned, it’s a rambling piece this week, detours and tangents aplenty as we take an armchair slow ride to nowhere in particular. That being said, with no topic or destination in mind, how will we know there’s been a detour? Anyway, I’m allowed to be off topic and tangential – squirrel – I’m not a president. Just saying…

High noon, Kneehill County

I got an email from a friend yesterday morning, describing how he’s coping with lockdown in London. Some brief background? Ok. My buddy is a young man, only a year older than me. We met over 30 years ago, when I started my first proper job, working for a government department in central London. I can’t say exactly where, or name the department, all very hush hush. Regular readers know I can be trusted with the truth. Hank (not his real name, but one he wishes was) still works for a government department, and he’s currently plotting, I mean working, from his small apartment in North London. He’s fine, the evidence being he’s taken to dressing up in C&W clothing, complete with Stetson, and is listening to “Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels” by Whitey Morgan and the 78s. (Good cover there of a great song – what do you think?) Cowboy duds and country music – that’s normal for North London these days, isn’t it? He’s doing this as preparation for a (now postponed) road trip we were due to take this summer. I might have dodged a bullet there…

High plains drifting

Sticking with the Western theme, Scout and I were moseying down the middle of 10th Street at high noon yesterday. As with all good, and not so good, Westerns, townsfolk scurried indoors as we passed, shooing their children ahead of them and peering out through the gap in the curtains. Showdown! Hairy and mean looking varmints (squirrels) moved from tree to tree, trying to get the high ground and a clear view of the sheriff (Scout) and her good looking and trustworthy young deputy (me, of course – how could you even ask?!) We faced them down, made it out of there.

The sheriff, tracking

‘Scuse me while I take a moment, spit my chewin’ baccy into the ol’ tin at my feet. Well sh*t, now I gone done made a mess on my boots. Shee-it. New old timey story? Ok. Okey dokey. You bet. I pardnered up with a law-abiding school master from Red Deer a few years back. He was principal of a Junior High School that had even more than the usual share of middle years miscreants, rebels, and wannabe outlaws. Education badlands, allegedly, but in truth, not at all bad, these were spirited and lively young people. Sheriff Duane was excellent at his job, corralling and educatin’ his young steers with great good humour. He was never overly fond of a meeting, preferring to be in the field teaching, rather than pushing darn papers. He’d always start a meeting with “Let’s get this dog and pony show on the road!” This young buck never quite understood what that meant, but I do think of Sheriff Duane every time I drink a Last Best Show Pony pale ale. Yup, all that just so I could use this photograph:

No dog, all pony. Cheers, Duane!

Well, I think that’ll ‘bout do it for now. I gotta get me a glass of something to sip slow and steady as I sit on my rocking chair, watch the sun set, dog at my feet, with Whitey Morgan and his boys crooning quietly in back. So long!

Goodness, what is going on? Where did all that come from? You’re doing something similar, yes? Or is it just me? Is this what happens when an old PlaidCamper is in a long term shut down. Or decline? Neural pathways rewiring themselves in new and not so interesting ways, and make believe takes over. It’s not all make believe. I am actually growing (or trying to grow) a fine “sad cowboy” moustache, for when Hank and I finally take that Western road trip. We’ll look (and sound, haha) completely authentic. You have been warned, small town bars of Alberta, Montana and Wyoming. That fast moving cloud of dust on the outskirts? Two thirsty show pony buckaroos riding into town…

Thanks for reading, I hope you’re well, safe, sane enough, and ready to enjoy your weekend!

PS I’ve just finished listening to “Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels” for the second time. It might (or might not) be a great way to plan a road trip, but it is definitely a fun old school country album. You’ll be growing your own sad cowboy moustache, or drawing one on. My thanks to Hank, the North London urban cowboy, for the recommendation.

“Oh no, elephants!”

I was out with Scout earlier this week, tramping the neighbourhood streets, enjoying the nonappearance of spring, and laughing at the squirrels laughing at us. We came across (another) patch of ice, frozen snowmelt, a perfect mini-hockey rink spread over the sidewalk, and another opportunity for me to reenact and explain to Scout how Iginla and Crosby combined to score the gold medal winning goal at the 2010 Olympics. Given the number of icy patches out there, various hockey moves happen quite a bit. To mix things up, I’ll sometimes charge the net, and Scout also appreciates my ability to score on the wraparound. I’ll admit that Scout’s stick handling is the best…

Wednesday, no spring

The picture of sporting excellence I’ve painted in your mind is, obviously, quite something to see, so now it’s going to hurt me (and you) to come clean, tell the truth. Ready?

We came across (another) patch of ice, and I muttered to Scout “Oh no, elephants!” She did what she always does when she has no idea what I’m going on about, wagged her tail and looked expectantly at my coat pocket that has the extra kibble. She’s a well fed dog.

Scout, lots of spring!

“Oh, no, elephants!What are you going on about, PlaidCamper?

Good question. Let’s take a time travel trip, back to the distant, distant past, to an era when young PlaidCampers roamed the earth, wearing NHS spectacles and terrorizing the neighbourhood when playing out on bikes for hours at a time.

We would build ramps so we could perform death defying leaps across canyons filled with (toy) trucks, pedalling furiously to gather up enough speed so when we hit the ramp it would fall apart before any chance of lift off. Looking back, it’s strange none of that group of friends and family ever became engineers or involved in construction projects.

Anyway, back to the elephants. I think we came to the conclusion that jumping over toys wasn’t sufficiently dangerous, that we somehow lacked motivation, the necessary element of danger. The solution? We didn’t need to leap over toys, what was needed was for the smallest of us to lie down in the canyon. It was at this point someone said “element of danger” and it became, because we were young and silly, the elephant of danger, a kind of shorthand for when we were doing things we shouldn’t. Not that that ever happened. Riding down Langley Hill, a steep, busy and pot holed road, a speeding stream of (poorly) self maintained bikes, wobbling madly in an attempt to keep up with the fastest kid, the guy with a speedometer, shouting out “32mph!” No elephant of danger there. How about climbing up onto the garage roof, leaping from garage to garage, knowing the construction was little more than balsa wood and tar paper? Yup, one of us fell through the roof, stuck at the waist and shouting for help to get free. It’s hard to help when you’re practically peeing yourself laughing, and looking around hoping there were no adults ready to give us what for.

Tall can, tall tales (The truth? This one is excellent – you can believe that…)

Yes, the elephant of danger. There are other stories, but if I told them, I’m quite certain there’d be a knock on the door, and the long arm of the law would finally catch up. There are untold reasons behind why I keep moving on…

Back to the present day. I’d forgotten all about the elephants of danger until confronted by the ice sheet earlier this week. Did I really reenact the Iginla to Crosby Olympic golden goal? The truth? The long forgotten elephants phrase popped into my head as I flailed wildly, skating and slipping to reach the other side and the safety of drier pavement, as if being chased by the Hanson brothers. Less Olympian, and more Slap Shot. It’s probably the glasses…

Yesterday, signs of spring?

Yes, that’s why the squirrels were laughing. As for spring and safer sidewalks, rumour and the Weather Network has it that we are due a warm, sunny and dry spell the next few days, which is great news, as I’m not as young as I was, and certainly far more cautious around elephants.

Thanks for reading, stay safe, and have a wonderful weekend! Must go, I can hear a knock at the door…

Social distancing

Or, in my case, being something of an introvert, anti-social distancing. Silver linings…

Silver linings

Clearly there is plenty to be concerned about presently, what with Covid-19 and the toilet roll fights in supermarkets. They cut those scenes from “Mad Max” didn’t they? I imagine John Woo or Sam Peckinpah could have had a slow motion field day with scraps and shreds of toilet paper floating through fight scenes of suburban scrappers going toe to toe over the last packet of spaghetti. Pasta pugilists…

Back to the social distancing. I don’t mind if that’s the way it has to be. Avoid large crowds and social gatherings? Oh, alright. Drive thru virus testing, then a quick stop at the drive thru growler refill station. Doesn’t sound too bad.

Another growler? No!

Oh gosh, I just sneezed. I’ll keep this brief, as I suddenly feel the need to google the early onset symptoms. All photographs this week are from Florencia once again, and if you’ve got to be socially distant, this seems as good a place as any!

Anti-social distancing? If I must.

Flippancy aside, please be well, look after yourselves, family, friends and neighbours, and remember pasta shouldn’t be overcooked and is best enjoyed with a glass of red wine. Or two.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Escape Plan

Oh no, is this going to be a review of the terrible Stallone/Schwarzenegger movie from a couple of years back? Nope, although as we are talking about it, don’t tell anyone, I actually quite enjoyed it, a movie guilty pleasure in a throwback to the 80s sort of way. Let’s keep that to ourselves…

Two of our younger visitors this summer, early teens both, expressed how much they love western Canada, and one is planning to come back in her gap year – or gap life, as she’d have it – to stay for longer. The other lives in Canmore, has a busy life, but actually fancied the idea of a little place to retreat to. I thought of him earlier, when we hit the water one morning and paddled past this floating delight:IMG_20180731_095644

He was into the idea of cabins, and of going fishing, and I think this floating shed would be ideal! It wasn’t here before this summer, but I do remember seeing a very similar building drifting about in the channel just outside the outer harbour last autumn after a heavy storm. Has some enterprising soul salvaged and restored it? I hope it is the same shed, and I hope it is used for fishing.

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It’s a palace!

I’m still a bit hooked on the idea of having a little boat (you already do, it is your kayak – Mrs. PC) and moored a short distance from the dream floating cabin is this little beauty:IMG_20180731_100345

I enjoy bobbing about in between the boats and buildings, it seems to keep us young at heart. I like that young people aren’t totally devoted to electronic activities, and when they unplug and look up, they are captivated by outdoor pursuits and beautiful locations. There is still hope for the future…fullsizeoutput_645

Keeping it brief this week, as I’m off to raid the piggy bank, see if there’s enough for a floating fishing platform. (Nope, there’s not – Mrs. PC)fullsizeoutput_64a

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Alberta in widescreen

This week is written and filmed in low definition PlaidCamperScope, and I did all my own stunts. Not too sure where it is heading, rather weak on plot, but there is a happy ending.

With the ongoing grey and snowy skies, I thought I’d post photographs taken on a brighter winter day a short while ago here in Alberta. As I type this, the snow is falling once again – that’s fine by me – but it seems like we haven’t had too many of my favourite Alberta winter days, where it is about -10C and sunny. On a day like that, you can ski or hike or snowshoe for hours, admiring the sparkling air without feeling the chill. Maybe by the weekend?

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We were back at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, on a still day with lots of sunshine, and just before the next round of snow. Chinook winds had eaten a fair amount of the ground snow, but there were still deep pockets in the ditches and hollows, and plenty of ice to catch us unawares.

We enjoyed the widescreen views to distant mountains, and the close ups of red berries and golden grasses poking through the snow. Scout enjoyed peeing on everything she decided she wouldn’t eat. Very discerning…

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Parts of the park are in use as a working ranch, and I love the cinematic nature of the buildings, fences and tracks. If I had a low budget indie movie to make, one where mumbling Albertans play out their hardbitten dramas in a partially tamed yet still beautiful wilderness, I’d shoot it somewhere like Glenbow Ranch PP.

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A grizzled, hardbitten yet optimistic semi-retired teacher, with the looks, but not the politics, of an older Clint Eastwood (squint and use lots of soft focus and imagination), fights heroically and stoically to convince Albertans of all stripes to diversify the economy beyond oil and gas and think about a future that doesn’t need fossil fuels. Met with disbelief, ridiculed for being too liberal and a jeep-driving hypocrite vegetarian, the laconic educator is run out of town and goes for a long walk in a provincial park, trying to think of a good ending, and wondering how well an electric car would work in a Canadian winter…

Sadly, most of my movie ideas barely fill the back of a postage stamp, and the scripts are rather brief – but they would be pretty to look at if they got made. Perhaps I should start small and very low budget – maybe I could direct a postcard?

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My mind does tend to wander when I’m wandering in lovely locations, and I daydream about movies and stories, ones I’ve seen, and the ones still to be told. Living out west, or anywhere scenically dramatic, will do that to you I suppose. I hope future movie location scouts will still have outdoor locations worth scouting for. Post-apocalyptic dramas seem to be all the thing just now, but let’s hope they won’t be making these as documentaries in the future. I know there are “kitchen sink” dramas as well, but wouldn’t you rather see forests, lakes, rivers, natural deserts, mountains and oceans, both onscreen and for real? It’s not often I find myself thinking “I wish I could make a movie about this” when I’m doing the dishes, or “I hope this comes to pass” when a rerun of Mad Max is on, but maybe that’s just me?

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Looking south-west on the Grand Valley Road
On our drive home, this road warrior took the scenic route, meaning any road that didn’t get us back into the city too soon. Grand Valley Road lived up to the name, and I had to pull over and take a couple of pictures looking west as I drove the wrong way back on the 567.

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Hey, Mad Eastwood, Calgary is the other way…
I do love widescreen Alberta, but it is hard for me to capture it accurately in a photo. Still, these aren’t too bad for a cameraphone, a bit grainy – think 1970s 70mm film stock (I love the look of movies made then) – but they are ready for any of us to project a story onto.

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Feelin’ lucky, road punk?
Cut! And that’s a wrap. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend full of new outdoor tales and cinematic adventures!

The happy ending? Oh, ok, here she is. Upstaged by a canine co-star. Flounces off to his trailer…

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“Just the one photo of me this week?” “Yep. Get your own blog!”
 

 

A murderously early spring? (Is it really winter?)

A strange blog post title – what’s going on? Best answer these questions, PlaidCamper.

I thought I’d write this a few months early, as winter appears to have come and gone, and Calgary is gripped by an early spring. Temperatures hitting 12C (!) the next couple of days, and last time I checked the 14 day forecast, the seasonal daytime high of 0C won’t be happening until late December. If this keeps up, expect a photograph of a daffodil next week…

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Taken this time last year

Calgary has spring, and I’ve had man flu – very disappointing to have a winter affliction when it isn’t even winter outside. Doesn’t seem fair. Luckily, I’d never complain about the weather, and likewise, I’d never complain about feeling under the weather. Nope, I may be gripped by man flu, or worse, but you won’t hear a peep. Perhaps a sniff, sneeze, cough, and a small whimper, but that’s about all.

Having been confined to my sick bed (or sofa), I thought I’d recommend a couple of movies where winter does make an appearance. It’s the only snow we’ve seen for a while.

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Snow!

Let’s start with Wind River (dir. Taylor Sheridan, VVS 2017), one of the few decent movies  for grown ups (they let me in) released since the summer, worth your time if you enjoy a slow burn story, arresting scenery, and great performances. Sheridan wrote this, and he wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water, also good movies. If you’ve seen the others, you’ll know Sheridan enjoys a stand off. The characters he creates aren’t always the most immediately accessible or likeable, but you’ll care about them when the stand off occurs.

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More snow!

In Wind River, we start with death on a reservation, followed by death in the past, then more death on a reservation, and finishing up with a bit more death high above a Wyoming reservation. It isn’t the most cheerful of movies, although there are glimmers of hope in the troubled lives of key characters. The story touches on family grief, notions of justice, wasted lives, greed over resource extraction, racial tension, friendship and duplicity. Fortunately, there is also a sprinkling of deadpan humour. And lots and lots of snow. All this in less than two hours, and it is a taut little mystery.

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Snow in the city! A happy memory…

Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are convincing in their roles, Renner as a hunter, Olsen as a rookie FBI agent. We can thank Sheridan as writer for avoiding what could have been a horribly cliched relationship between these two. The smaller roles are well cast and well acted, and the snowy mountain landscapes are beautiful. When the mystery of what happened to the original victim is revealed in a long flashback, it adds to the drama of what happens next. Great storytelling.

If all the gloomy death and despair of Wind River isn’t for you, then let me recommend a different movie. Be warned, it also features death, but there is far more fun to be had in Murder on the Orient Express (dir. Kenneth Branagh, 20th Century Fox 2017), if you are ok with watching a retelling of a story told countless times before.

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Train glamour (and snow)

I wasn’t too sure about seeing this one. I’d seen a trailer, and it was a touch off-putting. That moustache! The hammy-sounding Brit accents (I have one of those) and ‘eavy Belgian prrro-nun-cee-ation. Hmm – cliche and scenery-chewing alert!

Well, it was a blast! It’s hard to complain about a wonderfully familiar cast of good actors clearly enjoying themselves. Branagh is confident marshalling his players, giving each just enough space to shine.

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I like the snow in this one

The train is rolling through striking mountain scenery when a disaster strikes! It is stuck on a huge trestle bridge suspended over a deep, deep gorge after an avalanche blocks the track, derailing the steam engine. There is lots and lots of snow. There is a murder! Poirot has to solve the case before the avalanche is cleared, the engine restored, and the train is able to continue.

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Mist, not steam (and sn- ok, I’ll stop now)

In what is essentially a one set movie after the murder occurs, the delights are in the encounters Branagh’s Poirot has with character after character. The movie isn’t derailed and the story doesn’t run out of steam, even if you know what happens. Branagh himself gives a distinctive performance as Poirot, humanizing him behind the huge whiskers and sharp detective intellect.

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The Prairie Express

This movie is good to look at! As well as the colourful period costumes, the train’s interiors are glorious, all cut glass, wooden sheen, crisp tablecloths and gleaming silverware. This is a throwback movie, old-fashioned yet revelling in subverting an age that wasn’t as golden or glamorous as it appears. A fun film, if a story about murder is allowed to be fun.

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I hope it is winter where you are!

There you have it, a couple of deeply different movies to enjoy on a dark winter (fake spring?) evening if you are feeling sorry for yourself with a bit of a cold. Thank goodness I was able to get a winter fix, even if it took a murder or two and some CGI…

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Monstrous!

It’s time for something scary. What follows is terrifying and true. True-ish. It isn’t quite Hallowe’en, but near enough, so I thought I’d share an irrational fear of mine. That could be quite a long list, but no worries, I’ve chosen just the one. It’s not easy to confront a fear, but I think this post could be therapeutic.

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How is this scary, PlaidCamper?

That’s right! I don’t enjoy going in the water! Or to be more precise, I don’t like what comes out of the sea. Now, I’ve watched Jaws many times, and love the movie – but not the sequels, they are scary for all the wrong reasons – yet I don’t have a fear of sharks. I’m not afraid of sea lions, sea otters are beyond cute, whales are wonderful, and seals are just fine too. So what is the problem? It’s the tangling terror and sliminess of seaweed, the near-invisible wobbliness of jellyfish. Sea slugs? Eek! Don’t even get me started on the large staring eyes of a squid. I could go on, and I probably will…

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The stuff of nightmares

For me, a lot of underwater creatures are too alien, and not in a friendly E.T. way. It’s like they’re from another world, clearly because they’re almost from another world. A waterworld. (Kevin Costner’s gills were scary, weren’t they?) I do understand that many people love the other-worldly appearance of sea creatures, but it is a world too far for me. I like to be on the water but not in it.

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A beautiful water world

Mrs. PC knows I have issues with some forms of under-the-sea life. She encouraged me to visit the Ucluelet Aquarium with her. The aquarium is very well regarded by people who know about these sort of things. She went without me the first time (I was very busy that morning, with something very busy and important that needed my undivided attention) to see if it would be ok for me to go there. She came back very impressed, said I’d like it. Friends visited the aquarium (I was busy that morning, too) and came back very impressed, and couldn’t believe I’d not been there – they said I’d like it. I was beginning to suspect a plot, some sort of intervention or shock therapy treatment, but maybe that’s how fear gnaws at you, makes you paranoid. My mother visited the aquarium (yup, busy) and came back very impressed. Apparently, I’d like it.

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The Froth! My movie treatment is scarier than The Fog, and I don’t understand why Hollywood hasn’t called me back

I caved. I visited the aquarium, and was very impressed. A catch and release aquarium full of exotic looking sea monsters – I mean creatures. The young marine biologists working there are notably enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their marine charges. Some of the specimens are housed in touch tanks (no chance) and all are displayed quite brilliantly. On my visit, small children darted here and there (rather like the small fish in some tanks) going from tank to tank, clearly excited about each exhibit. The adults seemed pretty thrilled too, but I was beginning to struggle. I lasted about twenty minutes, and then had to leave, sweaty of palm, light of head, and needing the cool air. It was the octopus that did it, clambering and tentacling (that’s a word, now) menacingly along the glass towards me. Even now, I shudder. Mrs. PC is talking about a seasonal aquarium membership, and I’m lining up a rewards card for the nearby coffee shop.

I love monster movies, and a particular favourite is John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. The special effects were very special for this nerdy young PlaidCamper back in the day. All those spidery legs and oozing intestinal items. Gross and cool when you’re a teen. The thing is, haha, whenever I see twisted piles of bull kelp washed up on the shore, I can’t help but think of The Thing. No, going back to the aquarium won’t help…

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The Thing? Look, if it scared Kurt Russell, then it’s ok to be afraid…

I don’t know where the problem started. Are the issues rooted in childhood? I do remember not enjoying rock-pooling with my grandfather on Sheringham beach when I was very young. Yes, what an ungrateful young PlaidCamper. And I hated taking the short cut through “smelly alley” in Reading, preferring the long way round rather than having to inhale the aromas coming from several fishmongers. Then there was the time I was really, really thirsty at the beach, probably after several hours of rock-pooling fun. I was so thirsty, I gulped a couple of huge – huge! – mouthfuls of clear water from a lovely looking pool (I didn’t know it was salt water until I threw up mere seconds later – experiential learning…) Oh, and I have a memory of one of my brothers eating a tadpole. That could mess with your mind, couldn’t it?

No doubt the complicated causes of my sea terrors are beyond the scope of science and modern medicine to explain. I like to think so! As if I’d exaggerate a slight dislike for the way seaweed can get tangled in your legs. A fear of sea monsters? Me? C’mon! Actually, sea monsters would be cool, because they’re not real, unlike seaweed and squid…I’m not going back to the aquarium.

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Facing my fears

Let’s leave it there, as I’m starting to feel slightly lightheaded. If Hallowe’en is your thing, then do enjoy it. I’ll be cowering indoors – what if one of the local children comes knocking, and they’re dressed as The Little Mermaid?

Thanks for reading, feel free to share an irrational/slightly made up fear for Hallowe’en, and have a wonderful weekend!