“Evil Dead: The Musical” is Bloody Outrageous

Five young college students park their car on a lonely road and venture deep into the woods to spend their vacation in an abandoned cabin. The boys are expecting a weekend of hanky-panky and the nerdy little sister has plans to read and bake. Their car is an unreliable piece of junk, they’re technically breaking into the cabin since they didn’t actually rent it, and they didn’t tell anyone where they were going. Surely nothing can possibly go wrong, except everything you might expect from an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods (accessible only by a single, easily destroyed, footbridge) a creepy cellar full of creepy voices, and an ancient book written in blood.

So begins the camp and gore-fest that is Down Stage Right ProductionsEvil Dead: The Musical, a blood-squirting, chain-sawing song-and-dance extravaganza that has its tongue firmly in cheek and its demon-possessed sister locked in the basement.

Scott Walters and Meghan Anderssen('s head). Photo: Graham Ockley

Scott Walters and Meghan Anderssen(‘s head). Photo: Graham Ockley

For an exaggerated and ridiculous show like Evil Dead to be cheeky and entertaining rather than silly and embarrassing, two things need to happen. First, the cast needs to be strong enough to carry their audience through outrageous plot points and musical numbers like “What the F*ck Was That?” and “”All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons”. Second, everyone involved needs to completely understand what kind of show they’re in. Performers who aren’t talented or don’t try because it’s supposed to be “funny” rely on the jokes in the script without actually doing the work required to transmit those jokes to the audience. Alternatively, an actor (or director) taking themselves too seriously would deflate every scene and pull the audience down with them. Luckily, this production of Evil Dead has none of those problems. Every cast member is an excellent singer with impeccable comedic timing, and every cast member knows how to work with an audience to ensure we’re the ones having the most fun (not that the performers aren’t having fun as well).

Simply put, Evil Dead: The Musical is ridiculously fun. What began as a cult classic film series has moved onto the stage and gained a devoted fan-base (some of whom are willing to attend the show in costume and pay extra to sit in the “splatter zone”). The play involves several nudges and winks to the audience, and the audience itself is evolving some traditions that make watching the show similar in feel to cult productions like Rocky Horror Picture Show, however, unlike Rocky Horror, you don’t need to be in on the traditions to get the joke. Since Evil Dead pays homage to horror movie tropes familiar to anyone who spent their youth watching teen slasher flicks, and actually has a plot that makes (some) sense, I believe Evil Dead to be more enjoyable and less alienating to the average unfamiliar-with-the-show audience member. Young love, bad puns, dancing demons, shotguns–in a show that consistently makes fun of itself, what’s not to like?

Evil Dead: The Musical plays at the Norman Rothstein Theatre until November 1. Tickets can be purchased online through DSR Production’s website.

Disclosure: I attended Friday night’s performance of Evil Dead: The Musical courtesy of DSR Productions.

 

 

 

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Fighting Chance presents “Carrie the musical”

Carrie the musical presented by Fighting Chance Productions at the Jericho Arts Centre, now until October 25.

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Poster: Elie Berkowitz

As the tragic consequences of high school bullying continue to dominate headlines in both Canada and the U.S., the story of Carrie, the protagonist of Stephen King’s 1974 novel of the same name, seems all too current. Abused at home by her fanatically religious mother, the peculiar Carrie White finds no compassion at school, only ridicule. This could be the story of many tortured young girls across the continent, with one exception: most teenagers can’t unleash one of pop culture’s most infamous prom scenes with their minds.

When it comes to musicals, especially those adapted from well-known films or books, it would be insulting to the audience to pretend they don’t know what will happen, and to rest on the strength of the plot alone. The challenge of any theatre company producing a show like Carrie the musical is to force us to see the story with fresh eyes, while still paying homage to the original. Though I haven’t read Carrie or seen the 1976 film adaptation, the images conjured up by Stephen King and film director Brian De Palma have become so iconic that I was familiar with the major plot points before I even walked into the Jericho on Friday. Audience members entering the playing space were immediately greeted by a floor-to-ceiling white set, blank except for the word “Carrie” scrawled over and over in black crayon, a nod, I felt, to the influence this name now has on our cultural imagination.

On the whole, Fighting Chance has mounted a success (this is also the first Canadian regional production of Carrie the musical). The production is sympathetic not only to the lonely Carrie but also to her classmates at school, who may take part in her bullying but are, in some ways, subject to many of the same pressures Carrie feels and are trying to protect themselves. There are even shreds of pity to be had for villainous Teen Bitch Chris Hargensen (architect of the pig’s blood plot) and oppressive, morbidly religious Margaret White. The chorus of Chamberlain High students is strong and the teenaged characters manage to evoke feelings of excitement and nostalgia for the last days of high school, even as we know the “night [they'll] never forget” will end in carnage.

By far the most powerful scenes in this production are those between Ranae Miller (Carrie White) and Sabrina Prada (Margaret White). Miller and White are incredibly strong performers and their duets reveal much about the warped complexities of their relationship, rife with abuse, fear, and yes, a terrible amount of love. It is in these mother-daughter scenes that much of the show’s later horror is established and maintained–their first duet, “And Eve Was Weak”, in which Mrs. White physically punishes Carrie for getting her period, is especially chilling. Carrie’s innocent desire to blossom into womanhood and her mother’s need for absolute moral control balance each scene on a knife’s edge and these roles could not have been better cast.

On the technical side, I appreciated Fighting Chance’s use of a live band (it just makes a show so much more cohesive and immediate) and director/set designer Ryan Mooney’s use of colour in the production. The white floor and walls, coupled with costuming details like Carrie’s mother’s bleached white night gown, provide a blank canvas energetically imbued with the blood we know is coming. And Carrie just wouldn’t be Carrie without the blood.

Performances of Carrie the musical will run at the Jericho Arts Centre until October 25. Tickets can be purchased online through Tickets Tonight.

Disclosure: My tickets to see Friday’s performance were provided by Fighting Chance Productions.

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I Don’t Like van Gogh’s Sunflowers (and other cultural confessions)

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_127I don’t like Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. I don’t. I think they look puffy and pregnant and mildewy and sick–and all kinds of wrong, like furry alien appendages poking out of vases that couldn’t possibly be large enough to hold them upright. The paintings are a rotten-artichoke coloured assault on my eyeballs and I just don’t like them. So there.

I like to think I’m about as cultured as any other middle-class North American with a university education, who grew up with creative and left-leaning parents and an abundance of white privilege. As a child, I didn’t have “fine art” all over the walls and we weren’t at the philharmonic or the opera every week Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_128but my young life did include some rare and exciting trips to the ballet, theatre, museums, galleries, etc. and the rest of the time I had access to a huge amount of recorded music (both in my parents’ collections and on CBC Radio), prints and posters, good films, music lessons, SO many books of course, and assistance in pursuing post-secondary study. All this is to say that I had more than enough opportunity to become familiar with and learn to appreciate the Western Canon of art and culture as well as important contemporary artistic, literary, and cultural figures and objects.

But sometimes, I just DON’T. Appreciate them, I mean. And sometimes, instead, I appreciate absolute total crap. I’m a traitor to my learned middle-class compatriots, perhaps, but that’s just how I feel about some things. For example:

DANTE’S INFERNO

I understand that Dante’s ideas of the punishments of hell really infiltrated the Western imagination (a lot of what people imagine hell to be like actually comes from Dante, not the Bible) but otherwise, come on! Most of Inferno rattles off the names of political and artistic figures that Dante was familiar with (often personally) and which he had the audacity, or the pettiness, to place in his fictional hell (some of the people he mentions weren’t even dead yet when he wrote about their divine punishments). There are some interesting things going on in this text but for the most part, I feel like there are more enjoyable books to be read.

Mona_LisaLEONARDO DA VINCI

A genius, certainly, but not always my cup of tea (with the notable exception of Lady with an Ermine and MAYBE The Last Supper). His depictions of the Christ child are creepy monstrosities, and most of his women look like clean-shaven men with dresses and no eyelashes. And the Mona Lisa? I’m pretty sure she’s smiling so mysteriously because she’s actually just Leonardo da Vinci in a wig. Given da Vinci’s incredible talent there’s really no excuse for not getting women right (and he could, as his drawing of a female head, “La Scapigliata” shows, so I’m not sure why he didn’t).

MICHELANGELO’S CREATION OF ADAM

La-Creazione-dellUomo-di-Michelangelo-Cappella-SistinaDon’t get me wrong–Michelangelo was another genius of the Italian Renaissance. His statue of David is absolutely breathtaking. But the famous “Bearded Man in the Sky touches finger of Naked Man Lounging on a Hillside”? No. Adam’s head looks tiny compared to his body. Nitpicking aside, I’m just not moved by the sight of all these corpulently-muscled naked males lounging around in pretentiously-affected poses. In a frozen scene, as in performance, the sight of what could be an energetic line broken by languor, weakness, or a simple inability to follow through and complete the image is absolutely maddening. God is reaching down and TOUCHING you, Adam! The least you can do is look excited about it and carry that through-line of energy into your hand and out that index finger that is touching GOD. Instead, Michelangelo’s Adam listlessly proffers his hand like a past-her-prime Elizabeth Taylor getting a manicure. Eugh. Could you look any less thrilled to be here, Adam? Is there something more important that you were doing before you were CALLED INTO BEING?

THOMAS MORE’S UTOPIA

Um…it’s not a nice place. Just read the book. It’s not a place most of us would ever want to live in and I’m not sure what More’s point was when he conceived it. Some things, like food and medicine for all, sound great. Other things, like a life sentence of enforced celibacy for having premarital sex, seem arbitrary and cruel and add little to the Utopian concept except to reveal More’s Catholic bias (a bias he seems to really try to set aside in other parts of the text but which certainly comes out here).

GERTRUDE STEIN

I know many people far more intelligent than me have confirmed her brilliance, so I’ll have to take their word for it, but I spent two semesters studying Stein’s work (and performing it) and I just couldn’t get there. Most of it (the exception being the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas which is totally conceited and self-praising but still very good) just seems like nonsensical garbage to me. And whenever an academic or a poet or another smart kind of person tells me that they see something in the texts, that Stein had some kind of goal or purpose in her work, I think they’re lying. If she had wanted us to know what she was talking about her readers wouldn’t have had to hypothesize about it for a hundred years. The fact that no one has ever actually been able to tell me that they actually KNOW what any of her work was about (even in a general sense) is enough for me. Gertrude, you lived a very interesting life and your support of the artists around you was incredibly important but good god, woman. Did you have to write Four Saints in Three Acts? Did you? Because I had to READ it, and I can never have those hours of my life back.

J. D. SALINGER’S THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

I’ve already written a little bit about why I found both Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby a bit irritating, but really, this book just made me sad and impatient. Get it together, rich boy! If I have to read Salinger, I’d rather read Franny and Zooey even though in many ways it is equally frustrating.

THE GRADUATE

What is there to like about this film? Were you all on drugs? See point above about being sad and impatient while watching directionless rich boys failing to get their poop in a pile.

LED ZEPPELIN

It’s not that I don’t like Led Zeppelin, I’m sure I actually do. But if you played me their most famous song, one I’ve probably definitely heard so many times, and said, “Whose song is this?” I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I’m sorry. I’d have no goddamn clue.

MAYA ANGELOU

This makes me feel like a monster because it’s MAYA ANGELOU for goodness sakes–a courageous, inspiring woman of colour whose incredible career in literature and the arts expressed the realities of an incredible, and not always easy, life. But whenever I read her poems (or her line of greeting cards), my response was always kind of, “M’h”. Which says more about me than about Angelou I think. What kind of cynical bum doesn’t like to be inspired? Me, apparently.

MARGARET ATWOOD’S PENELOPIAD

People apparently liked this book SO MUCH they turned it into a play (which I haven’t seen, because I was iffy on the book). I just felt like I could sense Atwood on every page, winking at the reader (or perhaps herself) and saying, “Tee hee. How clever I am!”. I don’t know. Maybe I should give this one another go.

THE ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING FILM THE ARTIST

I wanted to like this film. I really really did. Jean Dujardin is a charming actor and the film was full of old-school whimsy but like most of the feature-length films from the actual silent movie era, it was just too damn long. It wasn’t a very complicated story. It didn’t need to take quite that long to tell it. All the good will I had when I began the film evaporated pretty quickly watching the confused and despairing Dujardin emoting for the umpteenth time.

I know I’m not as talented as any of these artists or writers or musicians or filmmakers and that nothing I will ever make will be as important as even the least of their works. I know it’s easy to be a critic, and I know I shouldn’t indulge in trashing things I have not taken enough time to truly know anything about. But sometimes, I get tired of trying to be educated, and it is an immense pleasure to get some of the bitterness out of my system.

And it’s not that I automatically reject great work either. I love Vivaldi and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky ballets and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”. I love Greek tragedies and Shakespeare (sometimes) and Alice Munro and the Beatles and Leonard Cohen and the paintings of Botticelli and also Marc Chagall. And I do try to learn to love, or at least like, the more difficult works for what they can teach me, and how they can inspire me. All is not lost for my liberal arts education. As for poor maligned van Gogh, while his sunflowers are gloomy to me, his Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum most certainly is not. Has painted light ever looked so warm?

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Happy Thanksgiving, and Good Riddance to Columbus Day!

1378159-colu5As much as I can’t believe it’s nearly mid-October, it cannot be denied that Canadian Thanksgiving is nearly upon is. For our neighbours south of the border, this means preparing to take Monday off work in celebration of Columbus Day.

Or not: yesterday I came across this little internet tidbit informing me that the city of Seattle, Washington, recently voted to do away with Columbus Day and start celebrating the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.

I immediately thought three things:

  1. I didn’t know that cities could declare their own holidays, or re-designate existing ones.
  2. What a great idea!
  3. I wonder if we should do the same with a holiday in Canada?

Regarding Thought #1, I would love to be able to tell you whether it’s possible for Canadian cities to declare or re-designate holidays, but feel like the process of looking this up would be, frankly, too boring. So I won’t.

About Thought #2: I think it’s pretty obvious to most people by now that European explorers like Christopher Columbus did not “discover” anything. There had been people (i.e. full-on societies) living in both North and South America for thousands of years before these swashbuckling yahoos showed up and ruined their lives. Celebrating Christopher Columbus or any other European explorer for thinking they’ve “discovered” some place just because neither they nor anyone they knew personally had been there (despite being already populated) is almost as stupid as giving ME a holiday for “discovering” your house, robbing your family, and inviting my asshole friends to move in.

And let’s not mince words: Christopher Columbus was a TOTAL asshole. If you want to know why without having to do any boring research, enjoy this Columbus Day informational graphic courtesy of The Oatmeal.

In light of his self-righteous and greed-induced robbery, rape, mutilation, murder, and enslavement of Indigenous people in the Americas, it makes absolute and total sense NOT to celebrate this colossal shit and instead to turf Columbus Day in favour of a day that both acknowledges the historical (and ongoing) wrongs perpetrated against Indigenous people and celebrates their rich culture and heritage. So good for you for re-designating this holiday, Seattle. You rock.

And now for Canada (Thought #3, if you’re keeping count). Our upcoming secular holiday is Thanksgiving, a holiday that seems to be all about having the warm fuzzies and counting your blessings (and eating a lot of food) as autumn sets in. Sounds good to me. Remembrance Day is about the past and present sacrifices of the men and women serving in Canada’s military. All right. Family Day is about spending a day with your family. No problems with that. Generally speaking, our Christianity-based holidays are more traditional than religious, and our secular holidays are innocuous at worst and excellent times to recognize the best in ourselves and others at best.

indexExcept Victoria Day. What the heck is that about? A celebration of the birthday of Queen Victoria, a British monarch who already has two Canadian provincial capitals named after her (Regina and Victoria) and never set foot in this country. Compared to a murderous lout like Columbus she seems harmless enough, but the Victorian era was no walk in the park. Victorian society was incredibly sexually repressive, and the conditions under which Britain’s poor lived and worked were nothing short of appalling (not that this is all necessarily Victoria’s fault, but as the head of state it’s not NOT her fault either). From what I can gather, Queen Victoria seemed pretty intelligent, really loved her husband, had lots of kids, and lived a long time. And that’s great and all….but not really “get a national holiday named after you” great.

Besides,  it was during her reign that conditions in Western Canada continued to get worse for First Nations and Métis people. The Canadian Government (of which, remember, she was the head of state) was behaving like assholes. Land in the prairies (some of which was already being farmed by French Catholic and Métis farmers like Louis Riel) was being parceled out to English settlers and resistance to this (the most notable of which was the North West Rebellion) was violently stamped out. Promises to teach Cree tribes to farm in return for land and to protect them from hunger while they learned to change their way of life were ignored. In British Columbia (whose name, according to Wikipedia, was actually chosen by good ol’ Queen Vic), the Canadian government didn’t really bother with treaties at all and simply took control over the whole schmeer in 1871. Canadian history is really not my forte, but it seems that life for First Nations People in Canada didn’t seem to improve a whole lot after Confederation, despite the song and dance about how wonderful the establishment of the country was for everyone else.

Of course, I’m not saying all of this is Queen Victoria’s fault per se, but as major events that occurred in Canada during her reign, none of this is worth celebrating. What IS worth celebrating is the tenacity and courage of First Nations people throughout this oppressive history, and the unique cultures that have remained alive despite racist, violent, and systemic attempts to stamp themt out.

I know there have already been attempts to re-name and re-designate Victoria Day, but so far it doesn’t seem like much has happened. Why not? Why continue to celebrate a legacy of violence and repression? Why not celebrate the fact that we get to live in an amazing and beautiful country and didn’t even have to fight a war for the privilege? Makes sense to me. (By the way, the argument that “It’s always been called Victoria Day” holds absolutely NO water since most people my age call the holiday “May Long” or “May 2-4″ anyways.)

Anyways, things to think about on your hopefully happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

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Butt Kapinski – collectively-created Film Noir at its finest, and most vulgar

I was recently complaining to a theatrical friend of mine that of all the arts events and shows that have claimed to be immersive and interactive with their audiences, very few that I have seen truly were. That is, until I met Butt Kapinski, private eye and film noir enthusiast (performed by creator Deanna Fleysher in the Cultch’s VanCity Culture Lab). Butt Kapinski wants to make a film noir, and Butt Kapinski wants us to help him.

Deanna Fleysher as the unflappable Butt Kapinski

Deanna Fleysher as the unflappable Butt Kapinski

Obtaining and enlisting our good humour from the get-go, Fleysher’s creation, the lisping but likeable private investigator Butt Kapinski, manages to charm, cajole, and occasionally chastise his audience into creating an entire 60-minute film noir world, with its grisly murders, seedy locales, dangerous characters, and atmospheric music. As befits an old-school private “dick”, Fleysher is dressed in slacks, with suspenders and a tie, and a long trench coat with her very own streetlamp/desk lamp rising out of the back of her collar to dangle over her head. I raised my eyebrows a little when Butt Kapinski first emerged from the shadows and I saw this odd contraption, but I soon realized that this lamp is genius, immediately creating mood and bringing our focus to whichever hapless audience members are needed for the next scene. Over the course of the evening, I played spurting blood, a filthy john, and Hobo John (who was a different kind of filthy John, I guess).

[Note: Much as I love being part of the action, I did not ask to be Hobo John. I was sitting in my seat enjoying the show when Fleysher shone her light on my section, telling us that Butt Kapinski was down by the railroad tracks, where all the hobos hang out (us). "And there," she said, climbing into to risers to stand over me, "we find the dirtiest, the most pathetic, the saddest old hobo of them all: Hobo John. What train are you waiting for, Hobo John?" I couldn't answer because I was laughing so hard. "Yeah, well that train's never gonna come," Fleysher/Kapinski said, "So cry, Hobo John. Cry your filthy tears." (at this point my face was in my hands and I was shaking), "You didn't always used to be this way, Hobo John," she said, and I shook my head no. "You used to be someone, didn't ya? You used to be something special. What did you used to be, Hobo John?" and I was so nervous under that lamp I said the first thing that popped into my head, which for some reason was, "A ballerina!". "A ballerina," Fleysher/Kapinski sneered contemptuously, "that's quite a change, from a ballerina to a big gross man." and with that my time was done, and Fleysher's light swung to a new victim/performer/audience member, and a new part of the story.]

Fleysher is a master at getting the audience on her side, and into her world. The ushers warned us as we walked in that there were no “safe seats”, and because of that’s true, I think no one was really put upon or singled out more than anyone else. However, this show is definitely not for everyone. If you do not want to play along with whatever strange, awkward, or potentially totally vulgar thing Fleysher/Kapinski is doing, this is not the show for you. Though Fleysher is an incredible improviser and can work with anything the audience members throw at her, Butt Kapinski himself really doesn’t put up with anyone being too cool or too shy or too offended to participate, so if you REALLY don’t like this sort of thing you might be better off giving this one a pass.

But if you did give it a pass, that would really be too bad. It’s been a long time since I have had so much fun at the theatre. Fleysher truly includes her audience in her work and this show genuinely cannot function without them. The Culture Lab is an intimate space and Fleysher has a unique gift for stealthily dissolving the divides of silence and civility that usually separate audience members from performers, and from each other. She is a artist who has clearly studied audiences. She knows how we react, she knows what makes us uncomfortable, and she knows how far she can go (or rather, how to get us in the palm of her hand early on so that she can go as far as she likes). The intensity and adaptability of Fleysher’s focus in the face of an ever-changing crowd of unique individuals is nothing short of miraculous (in an obscene, hilarious kind of way).

If I have one criticism of the show, it’s that I didn’t need the ending to be what it was. TC (who was with me) didn’t seem to mind it, so it might just be one of those intangible things where I see a particular part of a great show and think to myself, “Huh. Was that bit necessary?” and simply choose to write that bit off as Not For Me. Maybe it was how raunchy Fleysher got by the end; I’m not sure.

And my god, Butt Kapinski IS filthy. But small criticisms aside, it is so funny and so FUN and so unique in its ability to absorb its audience into the world it’s creating that I consider it a rare gem amongst my theatrical experiences.

Butt Kapinski runs until October 11 in the VanCity Culture Lab at the Cultch. Tickets can be purchased online from the the Cultch Vancouver.

Disclosure: TC and I were able to see the opening night performance of this show by invitation of the publicist for Butt Kapinski.

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People’s Climate March Vancouver: I came, I marched, I blogged

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First we gathered at CBC Plaza

If you’ve at all been paying attention to the news lately you probably know that approximately 400 000 people marched through the streets of New York last Sunday to demand that the world and its leaders (125 of whom were meeting this week for a UN summit on climate change) to take meaningful action against climate change. What you may not have known was that this historical event (the largest climate march in history) partnered with marches in more than 130 cities all across the globe, including here in Vancouver. Though I’d received a phone call from the lovely people at leadnow.ca inviting me to take part in the upcoming march, I was feeling overwhelmed by various urgent and not-so-urgent obligations and wasn’t sure I was actually going to attend until I came across an opinion piece by Dr. Lynne Quarmby in the Vancouver Sun that morning (the piece was actually from the previous Friday; I just didn’t see it until Sunday morning). And that settled it. If you’ve ever read my blog, you’ll know that there are a lot of issues I care about. To name a few that I’ve written about at least once: I care about women’s rights and gender equality. I care about marriage equality and the rights of LGBT people. I care about the integrity of our democratic institutions. I care about the arts.

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After some speeches, we’re on the move!

Until recently, if you’d asked me if the environment was a top priority of mine I would have said no. Not because I didn’t care about the environment, but because defending it seemed impossible, especially in the face of my own complicity in the causes of climate change (I sure do love using electricity, driving cars, and buying cheap products about whose production I know nothing). I thought, “Why does this have to be my fight? Can’t it be David Suzuki’s fight? I mean, I recycle, don’t I?”. Even though I always knew I was against, for example, the proposed Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline, my reasons at first had more to do with not wanting diluted bitumen sloshing around in my backyard than about the planet as a whole.

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Gorgeous sign art by a talented marcher.

But then I realized that the crisis we are facing is so much bigger than my own backyard. It’s not just that we need to find a less controversial and more democratic way to review and approve energy projects, it’s that the oil actually needs to stay in the ground. It’s not just that Canadian ports have no business shipping the U.S.’s coal overseas (we don’t–we really shouldn’t be helping U.S. companies skirt around new American environmental regulations), it’s that the coal needs to stay in the ground. It’s not just the thousands of jobs in agriculture, aquaculture, and the tourism industry that will be lost if a pipeline leaks  or a tanker spills, it’s the thousands of human lives that have already been lost due to extreme weather events caused by climate change over the past few years. Our selfish actions, and our indifferent attitudes, are killing people.

And you know what else? We’re killing ourselves too. Do you think a drought, or a hurricane, or a flood, or an ice storm, gives a crap that you live in Canada, or work really hard at your job, or are rich, or are devout? Nope. Not at all. We’ve messed with a balance that is pretty important to our survival and now this imbalance is messing with us. We can stop it. But we need to act now. We need to stop being defeatist and thinking there’s nothing we can do. And we need to demand that our politicians stop selling the ground we stand on out from under us.

So that is why I marched. That’s why I chanted and cheered and, once or twice, cried a few tears because hope is so heartbreaking, especially hope in the face of such powerful and insidious forces.

There is no room for dismissing me or my fellow marchers around the world as radicals or foreign agents or whatever the hell Joe Oliver and Stephen Harper and Ezra Levant would have you believe. We are regular people from all walks of life who have read the writing on the wall and know that something needs to be done.

It’s not even about our children’s future anymore. It’s about ours. You don’t need to be an environmentalist or a leftist or a Democrat or a hippie to know that you can’t eat money, or drink investments, or live in a city that’s under water or buried in snow. Common sense (and the consensus of the scientific community) tells us that you can’t essentially burn down your house and still live in it.

There are a lot of things I want to achieve and fight for in my life, but none of that will matter if this fight is not won. I’m trying to save my own home. What’s so radical about that? As my favourite sign from Sunday’s march read, “There is no ‘Planet B'”.

Think about it.

P.S. Maclean’s did a great interview with Naomi Klein that is well worth a read.

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The Diamonds and the Jar

jelly-jar1Once upon a time there was a jar with clear sides and a lid. The jar was mostly full of air but at the bottom of the jar there was a tiny heap of earth sitting in a shallow pool of water. Living on the tiny heap of earth were tiny plants. When they were warmed by the light which shone through the glass the water in their leaves rose into the air and up under the lid of the jar. At night the jar was cool and the water fell as rain. As the tiny plants died they left their nutrients in the tiny heap of earth so that other tiny plants could grow. In this way, the jar, though small, was perfect.

Living amongst the tiny plants on the tiny heap of earth were tiny tiny people. They were so small that for them, the tiny heap of earth was a world and the tiny plants were a forest that stretched as far as they could see. They ate the fruits that grew on the tiny plants and lived in their boughs, and breathed in the air that the plants breathed out. When the tiny people died their bodies left nutrients in the tiny heap of earth so that other plants could grow, and other tiny people benefit. In this way, the people, though small, were perfect. This is not to say that there was no toil, or grief, but that there was balance.

It was quite by accident that someone found the diamonds. Most of them were buried deep within the heap of earth but some had made their way to the surface over time and lay glittering in the light, scattered here and there, small as berries. The tiny people who found these diamonds had never seen anything like them before but since everything else the earth gave up was good, like the plants, they believed the diamonds were good too. As they would with a new fruit, they touched one of the diamonds to see if it would sting their skin. It did not. They smelled the diamond, to see if it was rotting or acrid. It was not. They licked the black diamond, to see if their throats closed or their bellies revolted at the taste. They did not. One of the tiny people, the bravest or perhaps the most curious, put the diamond in their mouth, and swallowed it.

It was in this way that the people who lived in the jar discovered the wonders of the diamonds. When you had eaten one of these diamonds, you were stronger, and faster. Distances that would have taken days to walk were a very small matter for a person who had eaten a diamond. “Miraculous!” the people said, “the diamonds are gifts of energy from the earth!” And they were.

Life became easier for the people in the jar. The extra energy they received from the ground meant they could spend less time on toil, and more time in leisure. They could think about, and create, things that were beautiful, not only things that were necessary. They could visit family who had married into other tribes or moved into other villages because the trip was now a matter of hours, rather than a matter of days. Children who had grown up after the discovery of the diamonds did not know a world without them–they imagined this world would be a hard, inefficient, and ignorant place.

Of course, like anything that comes from the ground and is eaten, a single diamond could provide energy for an hour or two, no more. And when the miracle of the diamond had passed, a hunger for another would begin.

Not that the people needed to eat diamonds all the time. “Of course not,” they would say to each other, “that would be silly.” They ate the diamonds only to hasten their various labours, and when they needed to travel. Diamonds were not needed during times of leisure, only times of work. And yet there were those who occasionally ate them for fun, because they loved the speed of their movements, loved the freedom and strength and grace these diamonds seemed to give them. And of course, people often ate diamonds to travel even short trips, because it was faster that way, and would save time.

In fact, it seemed that once people began to save time by eating diamonds, they realized how precious time truly was. Their predecessors had plodded through life, taking for granted that another minute would follow this one, another day would follow that. “How backwards,” the people thought now, “how erroneous, to waste time as our grandparents did! Let us always give time its due, and value efficiency in ourselves and others.”

Efficiency meant diamonds were required, but that was alright, because they were so small, and scattered in so many low places on the heap of earth (now that the people knew what to look for), and there were so many of them. But even the sands in the desert are not innumerable if you begin removing them grain by grain. Eventually there were only a few places where diamonds could be found and the people, unable to imagine a life without their gifts, began to fight over them, and to panic.

Fortunately, or so it seemed, the most clever and enterprising of the tiny people realized that like the plants that grew from roots buried deep beneath the earth, the diamonds on the surface were just fragments of the treasure to be found by digging. And so the people dug. They cut down their tiny trees and built tiny machines to harvest the tiny piece of earth on which they lived. Many of the plants were cleared away to make room for holes, and left to rot in piles. Leisure was unheard of now–diamonds must be mined, diamonds to improve the lives of the people! What did they care that the pace and scale of the work required the consumption of even more diamonds? Efficiency demanded fast work, fast work required energy, and energy required diamonds. It made perfect sense, and yet–

There were some people in the jar, strange people, but maybe wise people, whose eyes could see farther than others’, and whose memories were longer. “We used to have more trees,” they said, “we used to have better air. Can’t you tell?” But the people busy digging ignored them. “Plants grow,” they said, “and air is all around us. There is no shortage.”

But the wise people were not so sure. Once they began looking they could not stop, and the more their eyes saw the more their eyes filled with tears. It wasn’t only that the trees and plants were being depleted–made into machinery or cleared away. There was something about the diamonds themselves, something that happened when the people ate them. The air they exhaled was different from other air, harsher, heavier. People were used to coughing after eating a diamond, and called the condition “diamond lung”, but considered it only an annoyance. The wise people were not so sure. The air in villages where many people lived became thicker, heavy with their crystalline exhalations, and the weakest of the people were often ill, and sent to spend time in the forest. Somehow the plants helped.

The wise people saw this, and were worried. Eating the diamonds dirtied the air, and plants cleaned it. But people were killing the plants to mine more diamonds, and eating what they mined so that they could continue mining diamonds. “You must stop,” said the wise people, “you must let go of the gift of the diamonds.”

But it was hard to let go. People wanted to see their loved ones in distant places. People wanted to work quickly, to have time for more beautiful, pleasurable, and elevated things. They knew, of course, that the diamonds were not like the plants–they did not grow and they were running out. And yet this only increased the people’s  hunger; finding diamonds beneath the earth became imperative. “If there aren’t many left,” the people reasoned, “then it is better that we have all of them so that we can be sure we will have all we need.”

The wise people shook their heads. “Stop,” they said, “the air is being poisoned! If we stop now, we may still have a chance. The plants could grow back, the air could clear.” And a few of the braver, wiser people said, “We live in a jar, with a very tight lid. When the clean air is gone, there will be no more.”

The people were incredulous. “A JAR?!” they cried, “I have never heard anything more ridiculous! The earth is huge! The sky is immense! How can any sensible person believe that we live in a jar? We are powerful! We are important! We master the earth, we don’t live in a jar.” The ones who had suggested this were called heretics, lunatics, dangers to the good of the people. They were shunned and went into the forests by themselves, as far away as one diamond could take them, then built simple little houses, and never ate diamonds again. “A jar!” sneered the people, watching the wise ones leave, “Unbelievable!”

Nevertheless, it was true. The people were so tiny that only those gifted few could see the glass that encased their whole world. They did not know that their sky was a lid shut tight. They ate the diamonds, and dug for them, and ate them, and dug for them, all the while poisoning the air and destroying the plants that could have cleared it. They did not stop. They did not stop for a long time. They did not stop until their children woke up blind, their eyes unable to see through the crystalline fog that surrounded them. They did not stop until breathing was so difficult that the even sleep was laborious. They did not stop until the air was so thick that light could not filter through, and the remaining plants shed their leaves, and dropped their fruits, and died.

It was then that the people discovered that you cannot eat efficiency, and time cannot be saved. The faster you chase it, the more it runs out, like air in a jar whose lid is closed tight. They renounced the diamonds, cursed them, cast them in a pit and buried them, but it was too late. The small amount of time they had left was just enough to eat the last of the fruits, and to breathe the last of the air. No one, not even the ones who had been wise, could save themselves, because their world was a jar whose lid was closed tight, and there was no other.

(Good gracious, people, can’t we please try to save our jar? We still have time, but not much.)

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(Metaphorical) Masks, Monsters, and Music: Take Your Pick at the Fringe

The Vancouver Fringe Festival is upon us again and this year I have been fortunate not to see my usual one show (or none), but to have seen three! Which is pretty big for me. Each show offered something completely different and depending on what you are looking for I am certain at least one of the following three is worth getting up off your couch for. (Remember, art is something that makes our community special, and the intimate, innovative art that you find at the Fringe can’t exist without your patronage.)

And so, in the order in which I saw them, I would like to tell you about the three Fringe shows I saw this year:

Show #1: The Masks of Oscar Wilde, by Shaul Ezer with C.E. Gatchalian

Company: MatchMaker Productions in association with the frank theatre company, Vancouver

In this experiment with what the playwright calls a “lecture-in-play”, two performers (characters A and B, played by Sean Harris Oliver and Tamara McCarthy respectively) tell the story of the celebrated career and devastating fall from grace of the renowned Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde. While Harris Oliver and McCarthy each have several parts to play, the “masks” in the title are metaphorical, referring to the different facets of this extraordinary man, including those parts of himself he stove to keep hidden. (Though Oscar Wilde was married with two children, he sought the company of young men, fell in love with the young Lord Alfred Douglas, and was subsequently convicted of homosexuality and sentenced to two years hard labour. After having once been the toast of the London theatre scene, he died destitute in France at age 46.)

MoOW puppet bannerI quite enjoy lectures about interesting things and so I am predisposed to enjoying a play like this. That said, more captivating than the lecture pieces absolutely are the tellings of Wilde’s children’s story “The Happy Prince”, and the actors’ merciless performance of a scene from one of Wilde’s three infamous trials.

As I left the theatre, an audience member behind me said, “Well that was a good little play”, and while he was right, I can’t help wishing it could have been a great little play. I believe that audiences can get on board with a form like a “lecture-in-play”, especially about a subject whose work and life almost speaks for itself. Granted, I was there on opening night when nerves and expectations run high, but I did feel there were moments in the performance, and in the text itself, that felt a little forced or pitched, as if the artists involved did not quite trust that their subject and his work were enough to enthrall us, without little embellishments like hamming up a scene from the already-hilarious The Importance of Being Earnest, or throwing in contemporary references now and again. Based on the reactions of the audience members seated around me, we were entertained, and the energy of the show could, I feel, be contained just a bit to leave the audience some space to meet the artists half way as they learn about this brilliant and tragic figure.

One thing I thought was new and different about this production was the presence of an ASL interpreter, and the ways in which the actors acknowledged her imbedded presence on the stage. If you are hearing impaired or would like to visit the theatre with a companion who has a hearing impairment and uses sign language, you may wish to inquire with the companies to see which nights this interpretation will be available.

You may like this show if: you like to learn, you are interested in Oscar Wilde or Victorian attitudes towards homosexuality, you want to see a relentless Victorian-era lawyer corner and skewer his witness, or you want to see enacted the sad and beautiful story of love and sacrifice that is “The Happy Prince” (it really is very sweet).

You may not like this show if: you have difficulty keeping up with a lot of text/information coming at you very quickly, or if you are looking for something a little more active.

Tickets for the remaining performances of The Masks of Oscar Wilde can be purchased online here.

Disclosure: I was invited by one of my friends to review this show courtesy of the frank theatre company. The content is my reviews is my own.

Show #2: Aiden Flynn Lost His Brother So He Makes Another, created by Morgan Murray and Nathan Howe, score by Derek Desroches and Nathan Howe

Company: Theatre Howl, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

10087746When lonely Prairie boy Aiden Flynn’s little brother is stillborn, he decides to make a new playmate for himself. His creation is a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, loving, loyal, and surprisingly cute while at the same time disturbing and grotesque. This sparse but beautiful story is told entirely without speech.

The bleak colourlessness of the set and of the shadow puppet scenes immediately places the audience somewhere recognizable (if you’ve ever been on the Prairies when the sky is grey), somewhere that looks like home but feels empty. The loneliness of the young Aiden is palpable, and his ingenuity admirable. We understand his good intentions, but from the first breath his “little brother” takes we are sad, because we know that what Aiden has done is monstrous, and we start to recognize, perhaps, the selfishness involved in creating a being that cannot be included in your family or community. Given this conflict, the conclusion is as beautiful as it possibly could have been.

You may like this show if: You like physical theatre, innovative storytelling, simple stories, or are interested in the slightly creepy.

You may not like this show if: You really prefer spoken text, or dialogue, and are not the kind of person who is comfortable watching silence.

Tickets for the remaining performances of Aiden Flynn Lost His Brother So He Makes Another can be purchased online here.

Disclosure: Nothing this time, I chose this show based on its description on the Fringe website and just really liked it.

Show #3: The Chariot Cities by Harrison Mooney, music by Bryan Binnema

Company: The Chariot Collective (ad-hoc group of artists, based in Vancouver)

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 7.44.04 PMAfter folk-musician Wendy Brownlee meets the irreverent but charismatic musician Jack Stackhouse backstage at a late-night talk show, she is warned by the host not to marry him. She falls in love anyways and the family the couple create with their two children (who grow up to be musicians in their own right) is a family deeply scarred by Jack’s infidelity, drug use, and selfishness, and by their mother’s baffling and painful capacity to forgive him. Told over a period of 22 years, The Chariot Cities is a story of the ties that bind families together–not only ties of love and blood but also ties of hurts and resentments and of course, of music.

The story itself is painful enough in its ways, but it is through the songs that we get a sense of how keenly these hurts are felt, and how impossible they are to escape. Bryan Binnema’s music is excellent throughout but the piece that really stands out for me is the one belonging to the family’s daughter, Beata. Performed by actress Shantini Klaasen (vocals and piano), the song “You Let Me Down” is a suffering young woman’s heartbreaking cry for her father, exquisitely performed (I also felt the lyrics in this piece were the most sophisticated of the play).

I do wish this play was a little longer, a little more fleshed out to bring to the surface more vividly some of the undercurrents of messed-up relationships that run throughout the show, but one can always hope for a remount. Besides, there is something to be said for not sharing everything, and perhaps the play is better for it.

You may like this show if: You like music, and are interested in the dynamics of musical families such as the Wainwrights.

You may not like this show if: You don’t like folk music, or the interspersion of song and scene onstage. This is also not a play for children.

Tickets for the remaining performances of The Chariot Cities can be purchased online here.

Disclosure: A friend of mine is involved in the show and I was able to see this performance through her comp. I was not asked for a review.

I hope I have encouraged you to attend at least one performance at the Fringe Festival this year. There is really so much more that I didn’t see so haven’t mentioned but it is worth exploring. Remember that you will need to buy a $5 Fringe Membership in addition to the tickets for the shows you are seeing (you only need to buy the membership once and then you present it with your tickets when you attend each show). Happy Fringing!

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Stop whining about the teachers, start shouting about your government

Disclaimer: I am not a teacher and I am not married to a teacher. I do not have children currently and have absolutely no stake in the outcome of this labour dispute, financial or otherwise. Though I was a member of a CUPE union for several years, I am no longer in a unionized position. I am, however, the daughter of teachers (in Saskatchewan) and am incredibly passionate about this issue.

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Like many people in BC, I am sick and tired of the teachers’ strike. I’m sick of the anxiety underlying every news story, especially as the first day of school has come and gone and public schools in BC remain closed. I am sick of parents needing to worry about how to pay for childcare/time taken off from work. I am sick of the idea that kids are missing out on their right to education. I am sick of the mudslinging, and the politicking, and the animosity, and the general bad pissy vibes hovering in the air, dividing friend groups and workplaces and social media and turning usually cordial conversations into rants.

But you know what I’m also really sick and tired of? Ignorant people blaming the province’s teachers. Whether or not  you agree with everything the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has asked for at the bargaining table, blaming teachers for labour disputes deliberately provoked by the BC government is completely misguided (note that when chief government negotiator Paul Straszak was asked in court whether the BC government’s objective prior to disputes in 2011 was to “increase the pressure on teachers to have them go out on a full-scale strike”, Straszak answered “Yes. I’ll say that’s correct.”, and no contradictory government testimony was offered in court).

I know a lot of people are anti-union by default, and I know from experience that it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince people who are anti-union to shift their position (though I personally think that’s nuts–if you enjoyed your Labour Day weekend, or even the fact that you get weekends at all, you have the labour movement to thank for it). I also acknowledge that it must be difficult and frustrating to miss work or have to pay for childcare or watch your child’s potential squandered because a union and the government can’t get it together.

But before you believe the government spin, or jump to anti-union rhetoric, or bad-mouth teachers in general because of that time you had a bad teacher in high school, there are some things you need to know about this dispute:

  1. The BC Liberals broke the law. Twice. In 2002, Bill 28 removed teachers’ right to negotiate class size and composition as part of the collective bargaining process. This legislation was not part of a negotiated new settlement with the BCTF. This was the government essentially ripping up a contract and deciding they would not honour parts of it anymore. After a lengthy court battle, the B.C. Supreme Court agreed that the BC government had acted in bad faith, and had violated teachers’ constitutional rights. Bill 28 was therefore unlawful and the BC government was given a year to rectify the situation. Their response was Bill 22, an essentially identical piece of legislation which was again struck down by the B.C Supreme Court. Instead of saying sorry, what the BC government is now asking the BCTF to do is simply ignore that this has happened, and sign a contract based on the other stuff (wages, benefits, etc.) while they launch an appeal. Let me put it to you this way: if YOU signed a contract that stipulated the conditions under which you’d work, and then one day your boss said, “Nah, I don’t wanna give you that stuff anymore”, would you want to keep working for them without a clear and binding commitment that the conditions and compensations you fought for would be honoured? Probably not.
  2. Teachers are highly-trained professionals with an incredibly precious resource in their care (the province’s children) and they should be paid that way. I am so bloody sick and tired of people saying, “If the teachers don’t like it, they can just quit!”. Would you really want that? If all of the teachers quit and went to work for, say, private schools, who would teach your kids? You? Do you have at least five years of post-secondary training, including training specific to education? Do you attend conventions and professional development sessions several times a year to keep up to date with advances in educational techniques and philosophies? Do you enjoy the idea of having everyone in the province know about it when you are having a dispute with your employer, or having to do without pay for weeks or months to defend the rights of other people’s children? No? Then button it. Quit your own job if you think it’s so easy to do.
  3. That said, it’s not all about the money. Yes, teachers should be paid fairly (it’s worth noting that their demands regarding wages basically keep up with inflation, and besides, the BCTF and government negotiators aren’t really that far apart on this issue), but class size and composition are a vital linchpin of this dispute and the government currently refuses to allow this issue to be a binding part of a new collective agreement. Class size and composition is all about the students. When classrooms contain 30+ students and unmanageable ratios of students with special learning or language needs, as they have since 2002, teachers simply can’t pay enough attention to all of their students. Struggling students fall through the cracks. Good students miss out on opportunities to be great students. And average students are unable to maximize their potential and discover where they truly shine. Teachers work with their students day in, day out, and have for years. Teachers know how many students of various needs they can reasonably teach. Any piece of legislation that thinks it knows better robs your children of their right to their teacher’s time and attention, and robs them of their potential for a better future.
  4. The BC government currently funds PRIVATE education to the tune of just under $300 million per year. That’s right. The same government that swears up and down that they cannot afford to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling and reintroduce class size and composition to teachers’ collective agreements gives YOUR tax dollars to private schools so that their well-to-do students don’t have to share a classroom with your non-rich kids. Why on earth do private schools need to receive up to 50% of their operating budget from public funds? I have no idea though many are now saying the BC Liberals admire the U.S. “voucher system” and are hoping to bring the system to BC (which it frankly terrifying–there’s a reason the United States isn’t known for its great public schools). I’m not sure about this voucher system plan (I hope it’s just paranoia), but I do get the strong feeling that if Premier Christy Clark truly believed the public education system could adequately teach kids on the pittance her government wants to give it, she wouldn’t send her own son to a private school. It seems to me that the Premier believes what’s good enough for your kids is not good enough for hers. And is that attitude good enough for you?

[Update on point #4: It has been (likely rightly) suggested to me by readers that the point above may be misleading, especially the statistic that up to 50% of the a private school's operating budget comes from public funds. This refers to up to 50% of what a public school in the same area would receive for their operating budget, according to government policy on Grants to Independent Schools. This is obviously a much smaller amount than I may seem to have been implying, and yes, I am aware that $300 million is actually not a large percentage of total education funding in the province. Even so, $300 million is still $300 million and I believe that any education funds that come from the public purse belong in public schools where EVERYONE is welcome, not only people who can either pay tuition or are part of a certain religion or speak a certain language. I apologize if the above point was misleading; that was not my intention. ]

In addition to the above points, I am also annoyed by the claim that teachers somehow “have it easy”. After working with educators (primarily public school educators) for most of my post-degree career, I feel there are some things you may not know about teachers that you should:

  • Most new BC teachers spend years on Teacher On Call (TOC) lists before landing longer-term or permanent contracts. They don’t leave their teacher education programs and start making some kind of mythical big bucks. They wake up every morning hoping they get a call telling them they have work that day. They won’t know what school or even necessarily what district that work will be in. Most of them have huge student loans to pay off and no steady source of income to pay them off with. In short, despite their education and qualifications, they are no better off than any other young person when they leave university, and are occasionally worse off since a lot of teacher education grads are older and may have young families already.
  • Teacher certification costs money. To enter the profession, new teachers must pay $245 to be certified. They must also pay a yearly fee of $80 in order to keep their certification valid (NB: these fees are entirely separate from the dues teachers pay to the BCTF). These fees must be paid whether they actually have a job or not. In the past, these fees went to the BC College of Teachers, but the BC government dissolved the BCCT a few years ago and brought in the Teacher Regulation Branch of the Ministry of Education to regulate and certify members of the profession. This means that these fees go to the government. Which means that these very same teachers who are on strike actually pay a yearly fee to their employer so they can continue to be teachers. Do you pay your employer for the privilege of being able to work for them?
  • Most teachers, especially elementary teachers, spend hundreds of dollars of their own money to make their classrooms inviting and engaging places for your children. At the end of June, many teachers decided to remove their personal belongings from their classrooms, including the classroom supplies they had paid for. The impact is startling.
  • Teachers aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. Is every teacher a great one? Nope. But neither is every doctor, and doctors make a lot more money than teachers and have a lot more respect. Almost everyone I know has a tale of being misdiagnosed by a doctor, or of being shunted through the healthcare system like piece of trash, or being prescribed the wrong meds, but people seem to understand that the system is the problem, not the doctors themselves. You don’t see internet commentors virtually shouting about how doctors who point out flaws in the healthcare system should just quit already. Teachers have been working within a flawed system for years (in addition to taking years of net zero wage increases) which means that sometimes they aren’t good at their job, even when they really want to be. Besides, people in government aren’t always good at their jobs, but that didn’t stop Christy Clark from giving her top aides raises of up to 18% (these raises were pulled back one week later after backlash from the province, which just goes to show that well-directed outrage sometimes can make a difference).
  • Teachers worry about your children. They do. They are upset when bad things happen to their students, they wrack their brains trying to find ways to reach struggling or disengaged students, they are furious when the system fails a student. They hated having to short-change your kids for the past 12 years. They are trying to make it right and are going without their own wages to do so.

Again, I know I might not convince you, and if you still want to be angry at BC’s teachers it is your right. But I hope you are also angry at the BC government. Because you really, REALLY, should be–this is, after all, a government that was proven TWICE in court to have violated teachers’ constitutional rights. What makes you think they won’t come after yours someday?

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , | 159 Comments

Our Giant Walk (Giant’s Causeway to Carrick-a-Rede)

Bird_CliffsWhenever you travel, there are always things you planned to do, things you hadn’t planned to do but ended up doing, things you didn’t plan to do but should have, and things you planned to do but sadly couldn’t. There are things you planned to do that you shouldn’t have bothered with. There are things you didn’t plan to do that were amazing. And then there are the things you planned to do, absolutely HAD to do, so you did them, and they were as awesome as you’d hoped.

One of the things I wanted, absolutely HAD, to do on our honeymoon was walk the Causeway Coastway in Northern Ireland, between the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Amazingly enough, the one day we’d set aside for doing this was sunny (which for Northern Ireland is nothing short of miraculous) and all in all, TC estimates we walked upwards of 25 km that day.

Believe it or not, the walking was the easy part. In order to give us as much walking time as possible, I decided that we should stay someplace quite near one of the two attractions we were walking between. The community I settled on was Bushmills, an adorable bunting-filled town a couple of miles from the coast and the Giant’s Causeway (also home to the Bushmills Distillery, a plus for TC). We booked a room for two nights at Finn MacCool’s Guest House on the main drag (I describe their awesome friendliness at the end of this post), and then just sort of forgot about it.

Until we realized that there is no rail line to Bushmills, and no line between Galway and Coleraine (the nearest train station to Bushmills), or even Galway and Belfast. We had to book a train from Galway to Dublin Heuston (opposite side of Ireland), catch a tram to Dublin Connolly, take the train to Belfast, and hope we could buy a ticket for Coleraine there before the next train left. Once in Coleraine, we would ask about the next bus through Bushmills and do our best to be on it.

Though we stayed up later planning on our last night in Galway and had to wake up earlier than I would have liked the next morning (some cries of “But we’re on our honeymoon! We’re supposed to be RELAXING!” may have been uttered), our crazy, multi-train + bus travel plan actually went off without a hitch. We JUST missed a Bushmills-bound bus in Coleraine, but the next one was only 25 minutes later which gave us time to regroup and eat a sausage roll.

Once in Bushmills we needed maps and bus schedules (helpfully provided at the guest house which is good because the websites for such things were somewhat hard to use), and we needed to figure out where to start, how to get there, and how the hell to do this big long walk anyways. We discovered that part of the cliff-top walking path had been blocked by a landslide and that we would need to detour between Dunseverick and Portbraddan (luckily, the walking map we had, issued by WalkNI, was really more of a booklet with smaller maps of each section we were going to walk and descriptions of where to turn, etc., including for the detour section. It’s worth noting that their published literature was more useful than their website. Huh). We also checked the high tide times for White Park Bay to make sure that stretch of coast would be accessible when we wanted to reach it (it was). TC made the call that we would walk from Bushmills to the Giant’s Causeway and go towards Carrick-a-Rede, as opposed to busing to Carrick-a-Rede in the morning and not getting to start our journey until likely past noon.

So that is what we did. At the suggestion of the lovely Tracy at Finn MacCool’s, we walked to the Causeway by way of the old Bushmills Railway (there’s a good path along the tracks) and from the end of the railway went past the spendy visitor’s centre and down the long and winding road to the Giant’s Causeway. Which is really effing cool. We could have spent a good hour climbing all over those hexagonal rock stacks and taking photos but we had a long day of walking ahead of us and we wanted to get going.

There was a bit of panic and swearing and furious fast-walking (mine) when we realized that the Shepherd’s Steps path, which connects the Giant’s Causeway to the Coastway above, was closed, and that we would need to do a couple kilometres of uphill backtracking to get back to the clifftop. We weren’t sure how to join up with the rest of the walk and I was getting a bit weepy at the prospect of potentially missing out the ONE THING that I had REALLY wanted to do (and the thing I had put the most planning and effort into). Luckily, I remembered that the walking guide mentioned that you don’t need to go down to the Causeway to do the Causeway Coastway, which meant that obviously the path should be accessible from above, and it was. Glory be.

Of all our experiences on our honeymoon, this was by far my favourite. After that little bit of morning adversity, the sun shone warmly on our faces and the sea was blue as a jewel. Topped by farmers’ fields (with the occasional sheep or cows), the cliffs were sometimes sheer, sometimes craggy, folding into islets and inlets that were breathtaking at every turn. It was important to remember to look behind us every once in a while so we would not miss the equally impressive views unfolding at our backs. Very little (almost none) of what we saw that day would have been visible from the motorway. No sirree. This kind of North Irish beauty is reserved for those on foot.

And so we walked. And walked. And ate bananas. And walked ever so much more.

Eventually our feet and knees and hips did begin to get tired and sore (especially when we had to detour onto asphalt roadways, ouch) but once past Dunseverick (where the last bus stop is before the rope bridge) we really had no choice but to continue on to Carrick-a-Rede and to be honest, it would have taken a lot to make me to give up my goal of walking from the Causeway to the bridge.

And so it was that we reached the car park at Carrick-a-Rede just before 5 p.m., feet like hot lead and joints like old wicker chairs. We could have caught the bus back to Bushmills right then and there, especially when a little signpost pointed towards the rope bridge, still a kilometre away. We thought, is it worth it just to see a rope bridge? And then we thought, we’ve come this far.

So we went to the booth and paid our admission and walked the kilometre and stood in the line and walked across the bridge and looked around the little island (and at Scotland, about as far away across the sea as Vancouver Island looks from Vancouver) and stood in the line again and walked back across the bridge and back along that kilometre of path to the car park and had a scone with jam and cream (well, I did) and at 6:10 in the evening caught our bus back to Bushmills. And all that, TC estimates, was more than 25 km of walking. We did it!

Tips and thoughts and other things if you want to do the same walk we did:

  • The walk between the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede bridge is just a section of the much longer Causeway Coastway. You don’t necessarily have to begin or end where we did (or travel in the same direction), but you should make sure you know where you can catch a bus, etc. at the end of your day or if you need to abandon your walk early. We kept a bus schedule with us along with our maps. People who walk the whole Coastway do it over three days or so and stay in accommodation along the way.
  • Dressing in layers is strongly recommended. It’s generally cool and cloudy in (Northern) Ireland, even in the summer, but we found the weather changed hour by hour during our trip, sometimes minute by minute. You definitely need a shell that can keep out the rain, preferably one that has a hood. I started our walk wearing five layers on top, at some point was down to two layers, and ended the day at four. Layers are the bomb.
  • We were SO tempted to just hop the fences and scramble across the land-slide blocked trails. We chose not to for our own safety of course, but also the safety of anyone below. How terrible would it be if you hurt someone (or damaged the beautiful natural landscape) below you just because you couldn’t be bothered to take a little detour?
  • If you are staying in Bushmills and don’t have a bunch of money for the fancy Bushmills Inn, I heartily recommend Finn MacCool’s Public House and Guest Inn. The rooms are fairly spartan but they were clean and warm (or as warm as it gets in such damp climes) and I can’t praise the hospitality enough. Though Finn MacCool’s has a pub and does breakfast, they have no restaurant of their own so they let us bring our take-out into the pub, gave us plates and cutlery and napkins, and cleared up after us as if we’d bought the food there. TC got to try a 16-year-old Bushmills single malt on the house and after we checked out on our last day, Tracy let us leave our bags behind the bar and continue to hang out in the pub and watch TV and use the wifi for a few hours while we waited for our bus. We’d bought strawberries for lunch and she gave us a bowl of whipped cream for them (I assume they had it for Irish coffees). We didn’t want to take up a table for nothing so I bought and soda and TC had a cup of tea but when we rose to leave Tracy just waved us off and wished us well. Thank you Tracy!
  • The Giant’s Causeway is amazing (and free, as long as you don’t go into the Visitors’ Centre), but the Carrick-a-Rede bridge is a little underwhelming, especially as you have to wait in line for a lot longer than it takes to actually cross the bridge. If you aren’t going to do the long walk we did the trail from the car park does have some nice views but honestly, we saw better!
  • The websites for Northern Irish transit and transportation are not as good as those in Ireland or North America. It’s best to organize travel in Northern Ireland ahead of time and find up-to-date hard copy published material if you can. On the flip side, people are so nice there we had help and suggestions at every turn.
  • White Park Bay (and the 2km of beach pathway on it) is not accessible during high tide. You should definitely check high tide times before going out; we found them on a surfing website.
  • The train between Belfast and Coleraine is not very fast. There is a bus that goes from Belfast right to the Causeway via Bushmills but only once a day. We used it to get back to Belfast and it is much faster.
  • Bathrooms on the walking path are few and far between (I believe Ballintoy Harbour maybe had one, and there’s one at Carrick-a-Rede). The cliff path is mostly wide open, with fields on one side and a sheer drop on the other. The Emerald Isles are not known for having an abundance of trees and the low bushes along the trail were so thick and prickly they were a definite no-go for bathroom cover. There were some taller grasses along the cliff edge, but I didn’t fancy falling to my death with my pants around my ankles. You might just have to make sure no one’s coming along the path and go for it, which is more or less what I did.

And on that note, happy trails.

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