From the people who brought you “Boaty McBoatface”…

…comes Brexit! Another prime example of why sometimes referenda are NOT a good idea. I am a big fan of the late great Sir Terry Pratchett, who wrote that the mind of a mob is equivalent to the IQ of its stupidest member, divided by the number of people in the mob. This is all fine – democracy in action no less! – when you are voting online to name an arctic explorer  boat. I LOVE Boaty McBoatface and I love that that was the name the good people of Britain chose. I mean, why not? It’s not like the fate of the whole country depends on it. Wait, what?

The Leave vote actually won. It’s a week later and I am STILL incredulous. And angry.  (in fact, I was asked to look angry and pose in front of the cafe for the local paper’s piece on Brexit here) I know I can sit here in Canada smugly watching it all crumble, safe in the knowledge that it doesn’t really affect me here – we made our escape in time, but it DOES affect my friends and family and everyone I know over there. And it’s really scary!

So, in my opinion, the referendum should never have happened in the first place. Nothing this important with so many far-reaching and unpredictable consequences should be decided on without a very deep understanding of the issue, which, lets face it, very few people have. For all it’s benefits, the EU remains a faceless, impenetrable behemoth of bureaucracy and I’m sure not even the people who work there fully understand how it all works. The fate of Britain’s place in it definitely should not have been decided as a result of a popularity contest between old Etonians, or as a result of lowest-common-denominator scare tactics in the tabloids.

Let’s backtrack a bit. Buttock-headed posh boy David Cameron panicked about losing votes to the further-right wing UKIP party before the last general election. In order to appease the swivel-eyed loons of Nigel Farage’s party, he said if his Conservatives were reelected in 2015 then he would hold a referendum on whether or not Britain should leave the EU. To his credit, he campaigned to remain in the European Union, unfortunately, even members of his own party wanted to leave.    More significantly however, it shoudl have been clear even then that there was no actual plan to leave. Cameron promised to hold the referendum, he never promised to uphold the results of it. To make the referendum legally binding, he would have had to pass it through Parliament beforehand – the commons and the lords would have had to debate it and agree to implement the results of the referendum before it was held. He didn’t do this.

I genuinely believe no one in cabinet or in the higher eschelons of power actually expected the Leave vote to win. Sure, it would be close and there would be ample excuse for UKIPers to embarrass themselves with incoherent rants on Question Time in the run up.  But common sense would inevitably prevail, Remain would win but democracy would have been seen to be exercised and that should have been an end to it. Even better, there would still be a sizeable minority of people who still wanted to leave, and they could have been represented by Boris Johnson, who was quite obviously lining himself up for the PM’s job.

But BoJo, Gove and Farage actually won – and they seem as incredulous as I am about that. They’ve even admitted that most of their Leave campaign promises were blatant lies. And now it’s obvious that they don’t know what the hell to do next. Meanwhile, all the vile racist lice have come out of the proverbial woodwork at the call of frog-faced Farage, race-hate crimes are up all over the country, Sterling has nose-dived against the dollar (both the US and Canadian), whole regions like Wales, Cornwall and the North East suddenly realise that they quite liked getting all their development funding and subsidies, and now expect the government to reemburse them for those losses, oh and Nicola Sturgeon is (rightfully) calling for another Scottish independence vote that will no doubt actually break up the UK. Simple splendid news, eh Boris?

So, Cameron resigned – before invoking Article 50 which actually commits us to leaving the EU. *slow claps* Well  done you utter twonk, well played. This means, whoever takes over is faced with the concept of trying to negotiate their way through the total omnishambles that is the “exit strategy” AND getting Parliament to pass the invoking of Article 50, OR seemingly ignoring the democratic will of the people and not leaving the EU (which may be sensible but it is political suicide), OR, giving up and calling a general election – when neither party have any semblance of a plan nor any plausible platforms to run on. Did I mention the Labour opposition party have basically imploded? There is no functional opposition to the Etonian oiks…..

So, what should happen next? *Someone* needs to take charge – no idea who that should be though because they are all as bad as each other. How about Tim Farron for sake of argument? Let Parliament or the Lords quash the referendum in as dignified a manner as possible and lets pretend this whole sorry mess never happened! A lot of the Leave votes were protesting against the faceless, unaccountable and undemocratic forces that be in Brussels, so it’s fitting that the decision to remain should be made by our own faceless unaccountable and undemocratic house of Lords. Keep it British!

 

 

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Holy frijoles, three months since my last post? Oo eck, better get typing.

This is a bittersweet post because I have lots of things to be cheerful about and one big thing that is making me miserable. Let’s dwell on the positive for now!

Here is the positive:

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We bought a house!

I even mentioned it as a remote possibility in my last post – the permanent residency approval meant we were finally eligible for a mortgage. We had actually seen the house up for sale at Christmas when The Parents were here (for they are the sort who casually look up house prices “just to check”) but at the time we assumed it was all in the realm of fantasy. By the end of March, with residency approved, we discovered that not only was the house still on the market, it had also been reduced by $20,000. After consultations about help with the deposit with my wonderful and very generous parents, we put in an offer for another $10k less, and incredibly it was accepted the same day! The house was empty anyway and of course we had no property of our own to sell, so the sale went through very quickly and we actually completed and took possession within 3 weeks of putting the offer in! Naturally though, (and seemingly just because this involved me) there were quite a few last-minute bureaucratic tangles to deal with, and physically moving our stuff with two kids was an absolute nightmare. Theia has learned to crawl, and is close to walking now too. She got in Every Single Box as we packed. Ugh. Exhausting. But, we are in!

The house is blue and seemingly bigger on this inside, therefore, it is a Tardis house. There is more than enough room for The Parents to visit and stay long term, and we could even lock them comfortably in the attic if needs be. There are plenty of odd and unusual features like a full bathroom with claw-footed bath inexplicably plumbed into the unfinished basement to keep me amused. But best of all, it is only 3 blocks away from where we used to be, and so we are still in Cathedral (the bestest neighbourhood in town!)

It is my favourite time of year again, Cathedral Village Arts Festival time! This year Miranda did not go to bed before 9.30pm on any night of the week. We fitted in parading and picnicking and painting a cardboard version of our house on the Monday (the library took a very literal interpretation of this year’s theme, “paint the town”!), then saw some children’s theatre. Tuesday was a drunken poetry slam where I rhymed and ranted about daughters of feminists, we won sci-fi books at Wednesday’s Towel Day costume contest (I dressed as Slarty Bartfast, complete with beard), Thursday was a clown show and Miranda is now in love with all things Clown which is a little scary, and Friday was the 25th arts festival anniversary special show, featuring Taiko drumming and lifesized rapping Grandma puppets (and plenty more that we missed because of Bedtime). I dared to actually take a day off from the cafe on Saturday because I assumed all my regular customers would be at the Cathedral street fair. I think I was right. It was PACKED as usual, but actually more pleasant because it wasn’t so uncomfortably hot as last year. I had volunteered with Miri’s daycare helping out on their facepainting stall, and we had half-hour waits and line ups all day. Then it rained and I got utterly drenched. We saw some bands in the evening, had beers, much silliness ensued. Good times.

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We ran into my friend Barbara, this year’s chair of the festival several times during the week and she kept saying that it was nice to see us at so many events. Another friend commented that I seemed to know so many people there and always knew what was going on when. I don’t think of these things as unusual. I love having such a huge festival on my doorstep and it would be a shame not to make the most of it. And I know a lot of people here because they are a very friendly, welcoming lot and I do my best to get to know the neighbours – (not something I felt I’d ever want or be able to do in Darlington!). We have legitimized it by buying a piece of it, but this city and particularly this neighbourhood rapidly became our home and we are very, very happy to be here!

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The underwhelming email

Three days ago, Carl received a very nondescript business email, that could so easily have been overlooked. Just “re: Application #——“, the sort of thing that you would assume was spam if it hadn’t come into his official work inbox.
It was from Canadian Citizenship and Immigration:

“The processing of your application is complete. You must complete the following steps within 30 days in order for our office to issue your Confirmation of Permanent Residence and, if applicable, permanent residence visa.”

Not, “Congratulations and welcome to Canada!” Not even, “your application has been approved”. Just, ‘send us some passport photos’, that’s it. Kind of an anticlimax…
But hey, who needs a fanfare when this has been so long coming?! We are legit!! This needs celebrating, no matter what the method of communication. One month shy of 4 years in this country, and we have finally got approval to stay put. No more bureaucratic nightmares or trips to ‘flagpole’ at the border, no more expiring Health cards, no more being tied to exploitative employers. And in my case, no more “Click here to access start up funds for your new business! Wait, your SIN starts with a 9? Sod off then!”

Seriously happy about this!! We did it! Finally!!! As this blog hopefully demonstrates, it has been a long, slow, complicated, expensive and at times, very stressful and frustrating process. But so completely worth it!!

Permanent residency means that we can finally begin to actually live adult lives here. Not that I haven’t been ‘living’ here already, I feel more alive here than I ever did during the previous decade in Darlington. But everything so far has been, by definition, temporary. We survived one work permit to the next. We rent. We only use debit cards. My phone is still Pay as You Go. We bought a cheap secondhand car off Kijiji. My business partner has to own the majority share of the business that has taken over my whole life just because he’s local. If we left tomorrow, within 30 days there would probably be no official records of us having been here.

It’s a sad truth that the most significant part of “being permanent” is less the supposed security, and far more the ability to borrow money. When your paperwork says that you are supposed to leave the country in a few months time, no one is going to give you long term credit. No business loans. No bank overdrafts, no two-year phone contracts, and no mortgages.  With our new status and PR cards, we can do Grown Up things like, well, take on huge debt. Hypothetically, we are talking about buying a house here (it’s blue and pretty!) , but in the short term, I think I’ll start with upgrading my antique phone. Baby steps…

But enough financial angst! We got approved! Bring on the Prairie beer, tickets to the Pats game, toques, poutine and maple doughnuts!!! Eh??!

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The significance of yellow boots

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

I don’t often give my dreams much thought, other than when helpful friends point out the screamingly obvious – teeth falling out dreams meaning insecurity and so on. (Thanks Andie!) However, I think recurring patterns and one very vivid recent dream have some poignancy. The other night I dreamt about riding a motorbike. I did used to ride, but never got my full license. In the dream, I knew it had been a long time but that I could ride if I tried hard. Except for some reason, I was chasing something down a hill on a huge yellow motorcycle, whilst wearing my yellow Doc Marten boots but I was sat on the bike the wrong way. My feet could just reach the pedal, but I couldn’t really see where I was going. Yet, I was swerving around successfully and just about navigating, but I did not feel at all safe. Someone else passed me on a bike also wearing yellow boots and I knew I could catch them up if only I could turn round and see the road, but I couldn’t. And I still didn’t know what it was I was supposed to be chasing.

An odd metaphor for my present situation, I believe. I know I can make this business work, I have done so before, but I am out of practice, and there are various factors outside of my control. I have to go on despite not being able to see where it is all headed, and I am also consciously aware of competition – the folks who are sat on the bike the right way round! A quick google reveals that yellow is the colour of intellectual design and of awareness and identity. Make of this what you will, dear reader.

dr-seuss-life-picture-quote

 

 

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Saskatchewan stereotypes

I am in a wide open space…. There is a great deal of snow-covered nothing out here. Carl is driving us back, 300km of dead straight roads stretching out ahead of us and not another car in sight. Its almost eery. They even put rumble strips running up to the few junctions to wake you up in case you’re using cruise control and forget to turn!

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There are many jokes and stereotypes about Saskatchewan, most of which I have ignored because they don’t really apply to Regina.
“In Saskatchewan, time stands still” (no daylight saving time)
“In Saskatchewan,  you can see your dog running away for two days”
There’s also plenty of Corner Gas references that I can’t comment on having never seen it, and then there are the less kind comments about marrying your cousin and so on….
In comparison to the UK equivalent, Regina is a small town, barely a blip on the map and certainly not a “city” in the more generally understood sense of the word. To my mind, a place is not a city unless you can walk for more than half an hour without running in to someone you know. After nearly 4 years here, i am pretty much guaranteed to see a familiar face as soon as i leave the house. This is not just because the population is tiny but also because everyone is so friendly. But outside Regina, in rural Saskatchewan the likelihood of running into anyone,  whether you know them or not, is distinctly remote.

The Parents are here for Christmas, and this year we decided to go adventuring and booked a log cabin in the woods near Greenwater Lake, which is about 3 hours north west. It was gorgeous! Much more snow than in Regina, and Proper Trees! I didn’t realise I missed trees, but it was oddly pleasing to wake up surrounded by them again.  We were the only people in the campsite, and got to play around in the snow,  take Miranda toboganning and march across the frozen lake completely undisturbed. No phone signal and no wifi either – actually quite lovely, At night it was pitch black and utterly silent, to the point where Miri woke up st 1am wanting her bedside light on because she was scared of the dark. She’s not used to it!

Of course,  this also meant that there was no food. We’d read online that there was a cafe in the provincial park, and so hadn’t brought much with us. It being Christmas week and the park being empty apart from us, of course the café was closed, and so we had to venture out to “nearby” Porcupine Plain (25km away) as soon as Carl started looking hungrily at the squirrels. There were only two places that did food in Porcupine Plain, and both were just about to close at 8pm when we finally arrived. The first was WEIRD. Funny little cafe with chunky white diner mugs, and a group of old men who just stared at us without saying anything when we went in. There seemed to be no one behind the counter and no one interested in serving us, and also nothing that looked like food, just the diner mugs full of stewed coffee. So we turned around and walked out again, and still the men didn’t say anything.  Next door (literally), was much more friendly, and despite us arriving two minutes before closing time (sorry!) we were soon presented with enormous burgers and small mountains of chips. Yum. As we left, I read the community notice board: a house for sale for $45,000 complete with its own well on site(ie: no running water), a poster for the Christmas Eve service at the church, and an ad for “Firearms training”…

On route, we’d stopped in Wadena, and encountered our first Coffee Row. I’d vaguely heard about this little ritual: small cafes in tiny communities where people gather with their coffees on one long table to chat and discuss the world all day, every day. It may sound simple enough, but it is a very distinct cultural phenomenon in small town Saskatchewan. From what we heard it was mainly about what was on TV last night and the weather, but my parents rather reluctantly got into conversation with the old man next to them, who was not only fiercely proud of being Canadian, but also a devoted Christian. After makinng sure we understood the true meaning of Christmas, he fortunately turned back to his friend before he really noticed he was addressing a bunch of liberal godless cynics!

Those cafe experiences were glimpses of Real Saskatchewan for me: remote but friendly, conservative but well-meaning,  flat and cold, but beautiful and certainly a very very long way removed from the grey, miserable mass of humanity in Britain where we were last Christmas!

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Cloak of Invisibility

It is December, and right up until last week, I was still cycling to the cafe. This is unheard of!
People are betting on the likelihood of a “brown” Christmas, which amuses me greatly since I remember how hard we used to wish each year for a white one in Darlington. The last no-snow Christnas that anyone in Regina can remember was 1998. So odds are we should be good…
The bunnies are all confused though. There are giant Jackrabbits (technically, hares, I think!) that live downtown, and a couple of them have taken up residence in the car park behind the cafe. We named them Wayne and Waynetta Wabbit and I even have a seasonal Christmas coffee on the menu called “confused jackrabbit” in their honour. They are confused because they have gone white already. Each year, they grow their winter coat, changing them from grubby grey-brown bunnies that match the general downtown concrete, into pristine white bunnies camouflaged against the snow. Except this year, they are white already but there is no snow hide in, and they look very, very out of place.

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I want to stick out like a snow bunny.
I mentioned I am still cycling: Theia can now sit up well enough that she can ride in the forward-facing kid seat on the front of the Taga bike, so after another conversion effort (20 seconds to convert it? My arse! More like 20 minutes. With swearing.) – we are happily pedalling about on what has to be one of the most eyecatching vehicles in Regina, avoiding the seasonal idiots who have forgotten how to drive in ice. The advantage of the Taga bike is that I can pretend it’s Mainly Stroller and ride on the sidewalks with it and thus not risk Death by Idiot-in-SUV quite so frequently.  Unfortunately in Regina most sidewalks are in worse condition than the roads, and having 3 wheels means hitting every slope, hole, chip of broken glass, lump or inexplicably unpaved patch City Hall wish to challenge me with. So, sometimes the road is a better option, but there,  I am small, and low and slow and vulnerable, and because I lack a petrol engine, I mysteriously become invisible. This is a car-obsessed land, and unless you have one, you are a nobody, despite freakish hybrid kid-transportation devices.

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I am having similar issues with the cafe. Not that people are running us over, but just that we seem to be equally invisible because no one gets out of their cars. We thought our spot on 11th would be pretty good because there is a lot of passing traffic headed downtown. We have a bright purple 26ft sign over the equally massive window, chalkboard outside and over the summer, even a little patio table out the front. Yet people drive straight past; I’d like to say they are concentrating on the road but often or not, it’s their phones… And then, 8 months after opening, we get the surprised, “oh, are you new?” questions along with “I didn’t know you were here!”. Yes, this is partially our lack of marketing budget, but also because so few traverse downtown on foot or by bike. Peoples! This winter is incredibly mild! Get out of your cars and take advantage of it!

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The Wascana Tea Party

I may not have written since Theia was born, but that does not mean we haven’t been up to much. In fact, at 10 weeks old, she has been getting political:

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Since my last post, the country has changed, or at least we all hope it has. We experienced our first federal election! The build-up to it was (by Canadian standards) exceptionally long, and it was certainly expensive. But well worth it in that the deeply unpleasant cyborg tyrant, Stephen Harper was finally ousted after 10 years.
I have rapidly been learning Canadian politics from the relative comfort of my safe little left-of-centre middle class bubble. I even read Harper’s biography, and that was worryingly negative given it was written by a more right-wing sympathiser. I always thought that, ignoring a lot of dismal social policies, Harper had at least handled the economy well in comparison with most of Europe after the 2008 global banking crisis. Unlike the UK, Canada did not have any collapsed banks or major industries to bail out. It also recovered from the recession quicker than anywhere else. But then, I learned that we are now in another recession – in part of course a consequence of falling oil prices. And oh boy does Harper like oil. He probably dunks his Timbits in it. As I see it, the only way Harper managed to balance the budget was to cut the funding to all that was good in the world, namely women’s groups, First Nations services, environmental research, health care and support for war veterans, immigration and refugee services, CBC and Canada Post. On top of that, he’s also muzzled scientists and prevented any one publishing research that is in any way inconvenient to Tory policies – in other words, any thing related to climate change and how damaging the oil industry is. His environmental record is appalling. The government’s relationship with First Nations leaders is disfunctional at best. He’s an Islamaphobe and somehow managed to turn one woman wearing a Niqab into an election issue (although that did give rise to the wonderful tumblr account, Niqabs of Canada) and I even read about the PMO apparently vetting refugee applications from Syrians and giving priority to non-muslim applicants. I sincerely hope that’s not true. And he’s royally ballsed up the temporary foreign worker program (as I’ve documented on here!). Oh yeah and there’s the C51 anti-terrorist/license to spy on people bill and the un-Fair Elections act. And all the senate scandals. All in all, not a very nice guy.
Theia and I have already been on an Anti-Harper protest, we went to go sing “Harperman”. A pissed-off  government scientist (researching migratory birds?) wrote the song and put it up on Youtube, then got fired for it. So last month, groups all over the country staged a mass Harperman singalong, Regina included:
Harperman singalong in Regina

Anyway, we sat up to watch the election last night. We couldn’t vote, of course. We’ve been living here for 3 years, paying taxes for three years, we’re 3 years into the inordinately long permanent residency application, I started a business here and employ Canadians, I gave birth to a Canadian(!) But nooooo. No vote for us.(flippancy aside, I am not that surprised really…) I got talking to another expat on Twitter, and we decided that in the spirit of 18th century Bostonians, we would form the Wascana Tea Party. I got my tea bags ready to chuck in the lake:

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No taxation without representation!

Even without our votes (ahem!), Harper was ousted. Unfortunately the NDP, who I would probably have voted for, also got pretty badly defeated. That leaves us with a Liberal Prime Minister called Justin. Justin. He’s young and charismatic and made out to be the saviour of the old liberal party, snd he fills me with fear because I just see a better-looking Tony Blair. Please don’t be a Tony Blair, Mr. Trudeau. I admit, I don’t know much about the Liberal’s actual policies yet, but, well, Harper’s benchmark was set pretty damn low, so they MUST be an improvement,  right? And as the internet has already pointed out, Trudeau is showing how in touch he is with the millenial generation – by moving bank in to his parents’ house…

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October 21, 2015 · 12:22 am