Thursday, 28 May 2015

The fridge and the fury

Can I place all the decisions in my life in a row, leading up to this very moment?  Perhaps I shouldn't have told the university recruiter that computer science "sounds a bit like hard work. What's theology?"  Maybe I could have played rugby for Wales if I wasn't so rubbish at rugby.  Perhaps if I'd had fewer tequilas before meeting Snow White I'd still be allowed in Disneyland.

I found myself pondering all this as I cleaned our fridge, in preparation for our fast-approaching move to DC.  There's something about scraping six-month-old honey dijon dressing off a plastic shelf that invites introspection.

The question wasn't whether the fridge needed cleaning, or whether I was the person to do it.  I certainly wasn't going to suggest that my highly-skilled and paid wife should.  ("Doesn't the fridge clean itself," she would ask, "like the dirty washing I leave in the corner of the bedroom?"  Before adding "why have a dog and bark yourself?" to make sure I understood.)

There was only one thing to do: go to see Mad Max: Fury Road.

Going to the cinema alone is a singular pleasure.  You don't have to worry about what the friends you're with think about the film, or whether they might walk out mid-way through (Spiderman 2).  The only downside is wondering what's up with the weirdos sharing the cinema with you on a workday afternoon.  Don't these people have jobs to go to?

Mad Max: Fury Road features Max Rockatansky who, as you may know, is a lone wanderer of post-apocalyptic Australia; portraying him catapulted Mel Gibson to stardom.  This time he's played by British actor Tom Hardy, but he remains the haunted, broken man whose only instinct is survival in a world he can neither understand nor overcome.  I can relate to him.

As you may also know, this installment of Max's saga sees him racing from death with a group of beautiful concubines, alternately fighting and assisting Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) as they fling themselves across a wasteland towards an uncertain destiny.  One of the criticisms is that Max is a bit-player in his own uber-feminist movie, forced to follow a beautiful, volatile, and lethally capable woman to wherever her destiny might lead.  It's true - it was like watching my life unfold on screen.

Happily the film was jaw-droppingly amazing but, disappointingly, outside the cinema it was a drizzly Vancouver day rather than the parched outback where all I needed was a vehicle and a gun to make my own law.  Oh well, maybe that'll be Hannah's next placement after DC.  I consoled myself knowing that, should the apocalypse arrive, no one will have a cleaner fridge to hide in than me.

Welcome to my life Max.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Last exit from Vancouver

Given our impending exile to the USA, our final European clients of Davies Travel International (Canada Division) have waved goodbye.  It's even more disastrous than usual - with the addition of Aunty Emily, Pete had three entertainers to cater to his every whim.  Mummy and Daddy on their own just don't cut the mustard.

So Pete is going through the time-honoured toddler tradition of checking to see if the boundaries have shifted during the visit.  "Grandma let me do this," he seems to be saying as he charges about and generally makes mischief.  To be fair, going cold turkey from endless chocolate and cute-animal-Youtube-videos would probably have the same effect on me.
Down on the beach - English Bay, naturally.
Science World, with the kind of abominations that unchecked experimentation can result in!
So many fascinating and intriguing experiments.  But look!  A touchscreen!
Inside a tree.
We should get one of these installed at home in Frome.
The national sport. 

A final wander around Stanley Park.

And just enough time for yet more Peppa Pig before going to the airport.

Monday, 4 May 2015

HMCS Ojibwa

Somewhere in the mists of time, otherwise known as the 1960s, my Dad built submarines.  So good was Britain at making subs and warships that the Canadians, Australians, and Kiwis all paid us to build them for their navies.  The Americans liked to build their own but insisted on having British naval architects on staff to make sure they got it right.  The Chileans bought our ships second-hand, and took a couple of submarines too.

One Canadian submarine that Dad was Constructor-in-Charge for was HMCS Ojibwa, built in Chatham, Kent, and launched in 1965.  In 1998, after many years of renowned service, she was decommissioned and left floating empty in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  A few years ago an enterprising military museum asked the Canadian Department of Defense for some old tanks to display and were told "we're fresh out of tanks, but we've got this submarine..."  So they decided to save her, towed her several hundred miles, and now she's a museum on the banks of Lake Erie.  The torpedo tubes point towards Cleveland so the Americans complained and insisted on "deweaponization" by removing/welding various things.  Now she can't be used when Canada finally declares war on the USA.

Dad and I got on a plane to Toronto and went to visit, and a massive submarine sitting in a small Canadian village is quite a thing to see as you drive across the flat plains of Ontario.  The thing is huge, and they'll soon construct a naval museum beside her but for now she's a monolith open for tours by a group of voluntary ex-submariners.  The whole endeavour is a family passion-project of Ian, Kathy and Melissa Raven, who run the nearby Elgin Military Museum.

I'd emailed them in advance to see what could be arranged to make Dad's visit as fun as possible, but when we arrived you'd have thought the Queen Mother had turned up!  The whole event was a two-day affair - on day one Dad was grilled for all his knowledge and reminiscences about the boat, and day two we spent on the sub herself, everyone wanting to shake hands with Dad and hear every story again.  I've always lived in the shadow of my father, but I've never been so completely in the dark as this.

Dad was happy to corroborate several tall tales.  Back in the 60s the Canadians had demanded 24-hour coffee as standard on their subs, which was a new and foreign idea to the Brits who had to find room to install the necessary machine.  British submariners only drink tea and rum.  The electrician who rewired the boat to be a museum questioned Dad in depth for a good hour on the layout and workings of the wiring.  A red maple leaf and number that had been painted on the tower when it left Chatham dockyard was covered over when some genius finally worked out that the Russians were identifying the sub from it.

There was one unsolved mystery surrounding a Hoover twin-tub washing machine that Dad swears was installed, at the Canadians' request, when the boat sailed.  It doesn't seem to be there now.  He says he remembers because he went on to build boats for the Aussies, who when asked about their own requirements said they were happy to wash their laundry in a bucket.  As a present from the dockyard the Canadians got a silver cigarette case for the officers' wardroom.  The Australians got copper dispensers for gin and whisky.

The whole visit was a massive success, and Dad, like the engineer he is, did not shed a single tear out of nostalgia but was inordinately impressed that the handiwork of the dockyard has stood up so well after 50 years.  Perhaps the Americans are right to be worried about all the old submariners jumping on board, rolling Ojibwa back down into Lake Erie, and terrorising the Ohio coast.

Is that a submarine in your village or are you just pleased to see me?

Dad checks the welding to see if it's still sound after half a century.

A dent?  Yes, after Ojibwa retired the Canadian navy decided to test the impact of underwater explosives on her, for "research purposes".  Quite unfair, but she survived.

Chief electrician Bill has lots of questions.

Permission to come aboard.

The most important locker on the boat.

In between the engines.

Dad explains...

...and then take the helm under battle stations!

Going below.

Battery tank #2.  No batteries anymore, but the insulation coating and the wooden flooring is genuine, original British craftsmanship.  Everything in this picture could be described as "well preserved".

The captain's cabin.  Luxurious.


The original ship's crest from her commissioning.  Apparently some sailors in western Canada "found" it and returned it.  No questions were asked.

Looking into the forward torpedo room.  Roomy.

"So - hypothetically - how would we re-weaponise this...?"

Dad and his first love.

Checking the propulsion.

Normally, if you have this view, you should turn around and start swimming as fast as you can.

Some of our hosts and Dad - electrician Bill, Ian, and Melissa.

Dad and (another) Bill, an ex-submariner, swapping one of several hundred stories throughout the afternoon.

Next time we'll bring the youngest generation.  It may be too late for me, but maybe Pete Jr. can bring honour back to the family as a naval architect!