Category: Canada

I took the bus for a month in Regina…

6.30am and CBC Radio Saskatchewan awakens me with the ‘news’ (at this point, it’s not new -) that there is yet another Extreme Cold Warning and the temperature outside is in the -30s with windchills in the -40s. Joy! Just what I needed. This morning feels more brutal than most because we are abruptly forced back into our unpleasant routines after a week off for the school holiday and Family Day. No one wants to get up today.

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The next piece on the radio is the good news that Regina Transit are finally considering running a bus route to the airport. FINALLY! Thank you Councillor Stevens… And then, the ‘In Your Shoes’ segment, where they apparently sent an intrepid journalist to travel by bus for a day to, and I quote, ‘find out why more people don’t’.

I’m sorry, Mr. Bryan Eneas, but you are not in my shoes.

Predictably, he’s late for work, misses bus connections and discovers that taking the bus takes more than twice the time that driving does. Then, halfway through the day, he gives up because he doesn’t want his kid freezing to death waiting half an hour for a bus in the extreme cold. I am certainly not going to condemn him for that – no one should be out for that length of time when it is so dangerously cold, particularly not a child when you have other options. But, and this is a big BUT: he had other options. He got his wife to come pick them up. In a car.

It’s now 7.30 and we are all up and dressed and all somewhere near fully conscious. Breakfast has been forced into small mouths, and we are about to start the battle of getting one beastling in one direction to school, the other in the opposite direction to daycare, husband downtown to work by 8am, and myself 5km away to work by 8.30am, and all of us kitted out in enough clothing to survive the journeys without frostbite.

Beastling-the-younger’s latest phobia (always Serious and Dramatic, never lasting more than a couple of weeks) is her utter disgust and discomfort of having her socks wrinkle up around her toes. Apparently, this morning’s sock endeavour was Unacceptable For Happiness, and she screeches in horror when I try to get her snow boot on. For the next three and a half minutes, she is inconsolable, pathetically tugging at the offending sock and sobbing her heart out. I remove the sock, replace it straighter, and immediately peace returns.

7.36am: Husband and beastling the younger leave the house. If another Sock Incident can be avoided when she has to remove all the snow gear two blocks later at daycare, husband should make it to work on time on foot.

This leaves me with Beastling-the-Elder, who has decided that her snow pants are far too Uncool and she would rather get cold than wear them over her favourite leggings. I am a great believer in picking my battles, and this is not a battle I choose to get into. She can get cold. The school is two blocks away. Still, signing school agendas, finding a lost mitt, and trying to get a brush through her hair all take time, and I start getting into Manic Mum Mode to get her out the door. 7.47am.

Together we power walk to the end of the block and I kiss her goodbye, leaving her to walk another block and cross Elphinstone on her own to get to school. Just as we part, I see my bus, the number 7 pass the end of our block. It stops opposite me and I frantically jaywalk to get to it before it pulls away from the bus stop. I don’t quite make it. As it pulls out, I run and manage to knock on the back window. Fortunately it stops and I jump on. “Try not to bang on the bus, eh?” says the driver. I apologise, and she smiles. Hardly the first time anyone has done that, I imagine. I glance at my phone. 7.49am. The bus should have passed at 7.51am.

The driver is the same woman who runs that route most mornings. She is one of the mighty few who are genuinely chipper and cheery in the very early morning. She tells everyone to have a good day! And ‘make good choices!’ as they leave the bus, along with ‘see you tomorrow!’ She knows we are all regular commuters. She knows some of us by name, particularly the kids. As we near the Cornwall Centre, she yells “We’re about 5 minutes early, so plenty of time for coffee!”.

Sadly, 5 minutes early translates into a fifteen minute wait for me, as my connection is still running to schedule. Fortunately, the downtown bus stops are heated. Slightly. There is a tall lanky teenager at the bus shelter with me. Thin runners instead of boots, no gloves and only a hoodie on over a t-shirt. He is shaking with cold. Unlike Beastling-the-Elder, I don’t think that outfit is a fashion choice. That might be all he has. He’s only there for a few more minutes though, until his bus arrives.  My number 15 bus pulls in, and I am transported right to the door of my workplace. 8.20am. My colleagues eventually park their cars and troop in, 15, 20 minutes late. “The snow’s too bad” and “My car wouldn’t start!” they say.

4.50pm, and I am fully suited and booted for the few minutes of minus-ridiculous outside on my way to the bus stop. I have to sneak out early, but hey, I also arrived ten minutes early. There is a Number 12 bus at precisely 5pm, but the stop is a ten minute walk away. If I work until 5, I have to stand around until 5.20pm and won’t be able to pick up Beastling-the-Elder from her after school club until nearly 6pm, which is a very, very long day for an eight year old. Usually, if I am lucky, I can get off this bus downtown, and transfer on to a Number 9 and get home before 5.30. Today though I am not so lucky. As I stare helplessly at the GPS powered Transit Live app, I can see the little purple digital Number 9 leave the downtown stop before the bus I am on arrives. I swear under my breath, but I know that if I stay on this same bus, it will eventually dump me somewhere at least close to the school, it will just take longer to do so. I sit tight.

The Number 12 goes along Sask Drive at rush hour. I press the bell as we get in to Cathedral and the bus halts next to a random pole on the edge of the busy road. The door opens and I am faced with a snow bank that reaches to my thighs. I make a jump for it, and my deep boot prints show that I am the first person to have used this “bus stop” perhaps in days.

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Even if there was a sidewalk here I’d struggle to climb over to it anyway.
I have decent boots, I’m tall and fairly fit and healthy. Also, I didn’t have the beastlings with me at this point. Still, getting off the road and trudging up to the end of the block through that took a lot of effort. Got a kid in a stroller? Mobility difficulties? No money for snow boots? You’re screwed, basically.

It is little wonder then that for anyone with a choice, taking the bus is not something they’d choose. To be clear, I do have some options. I don’t (can’t) drive, but my husband can. He chooses to walk, even in winter, because it seems so wasteful to drive less than a mile to work. If I ever get completely stuck on these buses, he could come and rescue me in a car. Or, more likely, I can scrounge a ride off friends from work. (Something I try to avoid because I have little intention of ever returning the favour.) However, last summer when my husband was unemployed and money was frighteningly tight, the car was the first thing to go – we ‘de-plated’ it until we could afford to run it again. I cycled to work every day instead.

The CBC article accurately concluded that taking the bus is not quick, efficient, comfortable or even that reliable, and concludes that this is why most people don’t use Regina transit. But this is missing the point: the reporter treated the experience as a special outing, and when things got tough, he quit. Because he could. He utterly failed to experience Regina transit from the point of view of people in this city who have no choice but to use it. Yes, it is very grim sometimes, but IT EXISTS. Taking the bus IS a valid option. It takes patience and planning, but it allows very low income people, teenagers, PwDs,  to get around the city safely, if not particularly quickly.

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Regina Transit – and accompanying infrastructure like the means to clear snow banks from bus stops, heated shelters and so on – needs drastic improvement. But if you improve it so that even the most vulnerable of users can get around on it, that will also make it a more attractive option for everyone else. Then, maybe, just maybe, other people will be persuaded to leave their cars behind too. There is nothing to lose!

30 days of biking – and another 500km

It’s April, which brings me to 6 years in Regina, 5 years of doing #30daysofbiking. Well actually, I think I’m now up to 80 days of biking in 2018 now. But anyway, you get the general idea!

Here’s this year’s adventures in photo form:

Dramatic change from one end of the month to the other! I’ve certainly been snowed on during April’s biking adventures before, but I don’t think it’s ever been this cold before.

Today I pedalled into work on the longer route around the lake – a luxury I can now afford because I didn’t have to drop Theia off then rush through traffic just to get in on time. Because… Carl is home!!! WOOHOOOO!!!!

Despite asking repeatedly to be allowed to work from home, the response from the Prince Albert job was always “we don’t have a work-from-home-policy”. Erm, well, you could make one? It’s 2018 and even Prince Albert has the Interwebs now. There is nothing he was doing up there that couldn’t be done remotely, sitting in his underpants on the computer at home. But no… so, finally, he decided the 800km drive on remote highways at 4am, the unfurnished apartment and the whole week away from the kids wasn’t worth it and he quit. Their loss, our gain!

He’s got some GIS freelance work lined up which will keep us going, and hopefully one job will lead to the next etc. Check out eclipsegeospatial.com – now accepting new clients!

It’s sunny and he’s home, and all is cheerful. And he’s decided he wants to get his bike out again too!  So, we found a good way to get us both out pedalling again.

30th April was Rohan Day – that is, the day my brother Rohan died, 20 years ago now. He had a very rare form of cancer that was only diagnosed when it was too late. He was 12.
This year Carl and I are riding the the The Great Cycle Challenge Canada in Rohan’s memory, to raise money for kids’ cancer research and support. We’re aiming for 500km in 30 days. Please sponsor us if you can! Thank you.

https://greatcyclechallenge.ca/Teams/TeamTownsend

Prince Albert

For years, friends back in the UK made constant “Regina” jokes (“snigger snigger”) – they loved the “University of Regina” and that my friend is a Regina Professor, and then when I started Wheelie Good Coffee on the Farmers’ market, I got “How do you become a Regina Farmer?” and so on. I feel that they would have as much fun with Prince Albert (as the towns called Climax and Intercourse in Saskatchewan are not subtle enough). I really hope there are loads of piercing studios up there.

Prince Albert first appeared on our radar when the Parents treated us to a camping trip up there in June. We wimped out of actually tenting, Mum and Dad citing their Old Agedness and ‘knackety knees’, but we hired a little cabin up at Waskesui lake in Prince Albert National Park. It was utterly glorious!

We swam in the lake, toasted marshmallows (as is a requirement), hiked – well, stumbled – through the forest (proper trees!!), rode wonderful Quadracycles and even saw bears (of the non-threatening, handsome type). It was a fantastic place for the kids, and not even that many mosquitos.

To get to the national park, we had to drive for nearly six hours (made longer of course by kid-and-granny cup of tea breaks). We drove through Prince Albert city on route too, and apart from the usual array of gas stations and the Timmies and Subway visible from the highway, there was little to see. Little did we know at the time that we would suddenly need to know far more about the place than that!

Carl applied for a job in Prince Albert a while back – out of total desperation, as he has been out of work for four months now. One job advertised in Regina just disappeared in all the stupid budget cuts,  one never responded to the application, and another took a full 2 months to even interview anybody.  His hope with the Prince Albert job was that they would let him work remotely, or at least, not require him to be physically present 40 hours a week. Besides, he figured he needed the interview practice. Meanwhile, my own job hunt is entirely hopeless. I have now applied for 45 jobs, and gotten just 5 interviews and no offers. This means that 40 companies (most with HR departments) just didn’t even bother to respond. It’s incredibly frustrating and every application makes me less inclined to ever want to work for someone else anyway.

The Prince Albert company got back to Carl remarkably quickly, however, and invited him to interview before they even closed it for applications. He made the effort and drove all the way up the for the interview. He talked for nearly 2 hours, and came back, exhausted, saying it was pretty positive.  Two days later, he got called for an interview at somewhere in downtown Regina, which also seemed to go well. That was the company that took two months to get around to interviewing for the position though.

Then, Prince Albert called, and offered him the job! On an amazing salary, a definite step up from what he was doing before, and even offered relocation costs. There lies the downside. He is going to be in charge of a new team, and so they need him to actually  be there.

We do not want to move again. We may have stayed in the same few blocks, but including emigration, we have actually moved 5 times in 5 years. And now we have a mortgage to contend with as well. Every single person we know in this whole country is in Regina. Miranda is in school here now. My Wheelie Good Coffee, which is the ONLY thing that has allowed us to actually eat in the last few months, (no exaggeration) is based here. We even have a brand new kitchen! All of us moving to PA is just not an option.

We stalled the company for as long as possible, still hoping to hear back from something I applied for and Carl’s other interview, either of which would have allowed us to stay here comfortably. Yet again, I was rejected, and we are STILL waiting for the results of Carl’s job, 3 weeks after his interview. So, at risk of losing the offer altogether, Carl accepted the PA job. The plan is, he will rent a small apartment up there for the week, and just come home at weekends. It will be very, very hard (especially since Miranda is home on summer holidays at the moment), but at least it solves the immediate financial crisis – there is no point in turning down an opportunity like that in favour of staying in a city that we can’t actually afford to live in anyway.

Hopefully, he will really enjoy the job – it does sound good. Hopefully, we can find a nice apartment for him and make it an adventure. Hopefully, it won’t be forever – they can let him transistion into remote working, or he will find something else in Regina first. Hopefully, me continuing to stay home with the kids will enable me to keep writing and find a publisher for the book and make my fortune… (yeah, right). Hopefully, Theia will reach her 2nd birthday and suddenly decide to sleep through the night without needing Daddy to wobble her to sleep all the time.

Hopefully.

A Short One for 1st July

I am always a little uneasy about Canada Day. Any public displays of overt patriotism – anywhere – do not sit well with me; I’m a World-Without-Borders type of hippy. This year, with all the contrived emphasis on construction of “Canada 150”, the butt-clenching discomfort is worse than usual. Canada isn’t 150 years old. It’s been 150 years since various factions organised themselves into a nation state. If that really had been an end to the preceding colonialism, cultural genocide and abject racism, then it would be worth celebrating. However, it seems more like Canada has spent 150 years ignoring all that (at best). So, what exactly are we celebrating?

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When we told friends that Carl had lost his job, everyone, and I do mean everyone‘s first reaction was “If you need anything, just ask”.

Our local church holds pancake breakfasts to raise funds for Syrian refugees, and even ran adverts for “Camp Trash and Filth: Queer City Cinema” outside its door.

Yesterday we spent a happy afternoon with 4 out of 6 of the neighbour’s kids helping us pick all the cherries off our tree and swapping jam recipes.

I had a really successful day on the Farmers’ Market on Saturday, plenty of comments along the lines of “I love your accent!”, and sealing my reputation as “that weird British woman who brings Caffeine”. (A description I wholeheartedly endorse.)

A proactive couple down the street applied for a permit and organised a Canada day block party last week – everyone brought food and drinks to share, we had a fire in the middle of the potholes, and the kids all camped in each other’s houses without a care in the world. And we actually met and chatted with our neighbours properly. This is a first, for us.

Last week, I got a call from the owner of the Junction, a cool and quirky salon and art studio, inviting me to bring my coffee cart there and discuss “co-lab” projects because she wants me to join in as part of the Junction community. It was so lovely to be asked!

Today it is 32 degrees Celsius and we have slopped on the sunscreen and are heading to the splash park, just one of many elaborate, wonderful and free facilities that the city provides for kids.

 

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Canada Day at the Legislature Building

 

For all these things, and many more, I am proud and grateful to call Canada our home.

R Streets R Stories

You can thank Sheri for that title – we used it as a hashtag for the Cathedral Village Arts Festival this year, and as an abbreviation of our theme, Our Streets Are Stories.

I always look forward to the CVAF anyway, but this year was extra special because I got Involved again and volunteered as the communications coordinator for the festival. This involved the usual social media effort, manning the Twitter and Instagram feeds while managing to keep myself as far removed from Facebook as possible. My alter ego on there suddenly became alarmingly popular though! This was a thinly disguised excuse to have an official reason to go out every night of the week and pack in as much festivalling as possible. I was creating valuable live coverage, honest! I even got an all access pass! (to a free festival).

I also had to help write press releases and schedule interviews with local media. Sheri (the chairperson) and other members of the planning committee were shunted off to TV and live radio interviews, frequently at horrendous times of the early morning. I did one myself too, at 6.45am on a Tuesday on community radio, practically guaranteeing me an audience of bus drivers and unfortunate Tim Hortons workers.

All these efforts paid off though, and the turn out was HUGE, despite the weather not being as exceptional as last year.  One key message we tried to emphasise in our media briefings was that the festival is #AllWeekLong. So many people still seem to think the festival is just the Street Fair on the last Saturday, when there are arts, dance, theatre, literature, music and film events on every evening for the whole week. Here’s a small sample…

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My parents arrived the first evening of festival week! A great way to start their summer holiday and I made sure to drag them to as many events as we could. They both even wrote and read poems at the poetry slam just 24 hours after their arrival! Poems had to be on the theme of ‘our streets are stories’ again. Here is my effort:

Cathedral Stories are worthy of glory
My poetry usually is not
While trying to avoid complication
I went for literal interpretation
The point of which I forgot.

It’s easier to start with a question, she says
How about, ‘What’s the word on the street?’
SLOW
or sometimes
‘No Parking’

At this time of year
Stranger signs start to appear
One popped up today
A stencil, sprayed, just outside Safeway
“It’s Good To Be Alive” the street seems to say.

Our cathedral story truly began
Five years ago
Returning from another poetry slam
Or was it just burgers in here?
Memories fade, the details unclear
But walking home we were
Small girl complaining
It had started raining
Small girl stops, plastic jacket undone
Not caring, while I start quietly swearing

She sits on the curb
In a puddle, plants her feet
And starts reading her book
In the middle of the street.

 

 

 

 

A new season.

I sound so clichéd saying this is my favourite time of year…

If you say “pumpkin spice latte” into a mirror 3 times, a white girl in yoga pants appears and tells you all the things she loves about fall.

Regina is looking stunningly beautiful with the sun out and the leaves falling – Instagram-worthy, I’m sure. The mosquitos have returned to whatever realm of evil from whence they came, I don’t have to argue with Theia about the wearing of the dreaded sun hat, and Miranda has started full time school!

I had the summer “off” – that is, the cafe is now safe in the hands of Sheri and whereas I am still involved, it no longer takes up every waking moment. However, with no school and no routine, the past few months were actually busier than ‘normal’! I had to find something that would amuse both the small beastlings every day, and that proved difficult given that everything had to be organised around Theia’s nap times, and Miri’s tendancy to turn the TV on every second she’s in the house. Nevertheless, we packed a lot in to the school holiday; it felt like we managed a million different playdates but we still didn’t actually contact half of her classmates despite promises of meeting up over the summer. Carl and I took the kids camping for the first time in our enormous tent down to Buffalo Pound – Miranda had a fantastic time and enjoyed even the most uncomfortable parts (it was me having the tantrum when we parked in the middle of a swarm of mosquitos, she was fine!)

She also mastered her bicycle which was a Momentous Achievement (especially since it meant that I didn’t have to try and pedal with both of them!). We had library trips and park trips and swimming and museum outings and so on. I started (finally!) doing the market with the Wheelie Good Coffee again and Miri has pedaled alongside me all the way to the plaza. I am so proud!

But the days are getting shorter and cooler, the trees are already gold, and during the day it is just Theia and I. A vague routine has been established (barring cafe-related emergencies) and I now manage to go for long walks or bike rides in the vain hope of getting her to sleep. It has been perfect Stomping weather recently! Crisp, clear and colourful.

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Last week was the official Grand Launch of the cafe in its new form, and it coincided with the Downtown Business Improvement District’s ‘Park(ing)’ day. Park(ing) days are now a nationwide thing, where we were encouraged to reclaim the parking space outside the cafe and turn it into some sort of Park. We actually reversed it, covered the step outside the cafe in flowers and bikes (and my Wheelie cart) and had that as a park, and then filled the parking space with armchairs and bookshelves and lamps and made a ‘reading room’ outside:


The day was a massive success for the cafe, and hopefully for the Downtown BID as well. I sat in an armchair in the middle of 11th Ave with my coffee, Theia snoozed in the sun, and I stared at the big shiny office block that I escaped 18 months ago. I am hopelessly broke right now and dreading the Job Hunt, but I have no regrets about quitting that job whatsoever!

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