Summer at Parksville

Once again this summer we took the trek up island to enjoy our time share unit at Pacific Shores Nature Resort near Parksville. But  this year, instead of  taking the Island Highway and  joining the perpetual rush of traffic racing over the Malahat with a monster truck trying to kiss our rear bumper, we took the alternative route, the Mill Bay ferry. It’s an amazing difference. In contrast to the often harrowing  Malahat ordeal, the Mill Bay option is a relaxing and scenic forty-five minute ferry ride across the Saanich Inlet.  There’s no reservations on the MV Klitsa, our ride across the inlet, and so we arrived at the Brentwood Bay  terminal forty-five minutes early. We stopped at Brentwood Bay Thrifty’s to buy our tickets – at a substantial discount. Thrifty’s at Broadmead and at Mill Bay also sell tickets.

Mill Bay terminal - MV Klitsa arriving

Seahorse Cafe Brentwood Bay

Seahorse Cafe, Brentwood Bay

At the Brentwood ferry terminal, we got out to stretch our legs. The delicious aroma of bacon and coffee beckoned from The Seahorse restaurant. It’s right on the pier just steps away from the ferry ramp. We were soon enjoying Level Ground Trading  coffee and fresh pastries. Level Ground is a local company and their coffee is excellent.  If you have extra time, the Seahorse also rents kayaks.

 

 

The MV Klitsa is one of the smaller ferries in the BC Ferries fleet,  taking  about 30 vehicles on the forty minute ride.  There are a dozen or so walk-on passengers and a few cyclists as well. I’ve taken this route by bicycle a few years ago. It sure beats the Malahat. The ferry workers are friendly pair, chatting it up with  the passengers.  It’s a sunny day, and the crossing provides beautiful views. As we pass scenic Senanus Island,  I recall the many SCUBA dives I’ve made in the inlet. The marine life is considerably diminished from what it was years ago, development and over fishing taking their tolls. There’s a proposal for an LNG terminal in the inlet, but it’s  meeting stiff opposition. Fortunately, Senanus Island is part of the Tsartlip First Nation territory. An ancient burial ground, it’s considered sacred and will remain undeveloped.

Senanus Island. View from the MV Klitsa

Senanus Island. View from the MV Klitsa

Enjoying the view

 

We arrived at Mill Bay feeling relaxed and unharried. We joined the Island Highway rat race – but only as far as the town of Chemainus. Time for lunch and to enjoy the murals.  Chemainus bills itself as ‘the village of murals’. They’re on walls everywhere, reflecting the history of the area. We discovered the Utopia Bakery Café, a block off the main street. It offers fresh breads, cakes, and pasteries and serves breakfast and lunch.  Prices very reasonable. I had a bowl of delicious cream of mushroom soup. It was meal in itself. It’s always a good sign when locals show up, and several came for lunch while we were enjoying ours. When tourism drops off during the winter months, locals are the mainstay so the food has to be good and reasonably priced. The Utopia scores high on both counts. The Utopia has a unique three dimensional  mural that depicts a  First Nations scene before the arrival of European traders and colonists.

3 Dimensional mural at the Utopia Cafe

3 Dimensional mural at the Utopia Cafe

Goodies at the Utopia

Goodies at the Utopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch and a  leisurely stroll down Chemainus’  picturesque main street, we continued our trip to Parksville. Instead of taking  Highway 1, the ‘new’ island highway, we took  1A, the original island highway. This route hugs the coast and offers stunning ocean views. Highway 1a joins highway 1  just before Ladysmith.

Next Post: Pacific Shores nature Resort and the Parksville area.

The White Limousine is now available in e-book format at KOBO ( http://www.kobo.com ).

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Bagpipes – an offensive weapon?

While an occasional few don’t fully appreciate the musical qualities of the bagpipes, I was amazed to discover that the bagpipes are the only musical instrument to have been considered a weapon of war.

April 16, 1746 was a watershed date in Scottish history. At the Battle of Culloden, seven thousand Jacobites armed with swords and daggers faced the muskets and cannons of the King of England’s  eight thousand man Hanoverian  army. On that day, one thousand Scots and three hundred Hanoverians died on Drummossie Moor.

culloden-illustration-460

With the defeat of the Highland Army, the English proclaimed the Act of Proscription, which forbade wearing Tartan, speaking Gaelic, and playing bagpipes. Punishment could include lashes with the cat of nine tails and then imprisonment or worse, death.” http://www.canadaatwar.ca/forums/showthread.php?t=729

James Reid was among the many arrested. His lawyer argued that Reid had carried no weapon into battle  – only his pipes,but the judge disagreed, ruling that “a Highland regiment never marched without a piper, and therefore Reid’s bagpipes were an instrument of war.” Reid was hanged drawn and quartered.”http://www.citylab.com/design/2012/04/war-bagpipes-wiping-single-instrument-urban-map/1754/

But attempts to silence the pipes didn’t end with Culloden.The following are summarized from John Metcalfe’s April 13, 2012 article in CityLab. (http://www.citylab.com)

1999: An Edinburgh man launched a Campaign Against Bagpipes. Clive Hibberts and his friends police the city’s famed Royal Mile, picketing pipers.  The campaign ultimately fails. (His other campaign against kilts dies, too.)

2007: Ciaran Murtagh and Andrew Jones start the second Campaign Against Bagpipe, arguing: “They all sound the same. These tunes that bagpipers profess to play all sound equally bad. Where is the talent in that? Isn’t it time to make Scotland a quieter place?”  This campaign seems to have failed, too.

2008: In Oxford, piper Heath Richardson is banned from busking  after four hundred of the area’s shop owners signed a petition calling for his exile.

2008: Edinburgh’s ‘Bloody Bagpipe Crackdown’ Any bagpiper  blowing on the Royal Mile is threatened with arrest, and  buskers are forced to sign “acceptable behaviour contracts” Piper Shaun Cartwright, was arrested for causing “distress” to bystanders.

2011: Edinburgh passes another law forbidding business from playing bagpipe music from their sidewalk speakers.

2011: In New Zealand, Rugby World Cup officials declare the bagpipe unwelcome at future games. The instrument joins a list of banned items that includes flares and air horns. Sports broadcaster Miles Davis goes on record to say he’s behind the prohibition, because bagpipes sound like “a hyena caught in a gin trap” and are “as bad as the vuvuzela.”

2012, Vancouver, British Columbia.  The latest salvo in the War Against Bagpipes landed in Vancouver where the municipal code prohibited busking with drums or bagpipes. The city’s engineering department claimed pipers were interfering with its work.But on April 12, 2012 Mayor Gregor Robertson threw out the anti-pipe ordinance. “The clans won’t stand for it!”‬ he said.

 

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Heavy Lifting -Scottish Style

Highland Games 56 pound weight throwAye, The 2016 Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival  was a braw celebration. The skirl of the pipes from a dozen or more bands mingled with the grunts, groans and yells of the ‘heavy events’ athletes. These days, the heavy events are in the spirit of sportsmanship but their origins date back centuries to the Scottish highlands. When they weren’t  fighting a neighboring clan, or joining forces to fight the English, the crafty highlanders devised imaginative ways to challenge each other. The modern iterations are the ‘heavy events’. It used to be that the heavy events were just for the lads – but nae mair! Modern lassies, proving themselves just as daft as the lads, take their turns, too.

Heavy events include shot-putting a big rock, in highland games jargon imaginatively enough called ‘the stone’. Then there’s the weight throw. Kilts fly high as competitors twirl  at dizzying speed and then launch the implement. It soars high in the air, bruising the ground with a thud and leaving a small crater. Not an event appreciated on manicured lawns.

The ‘hammer’ doesn’t actually look much like one. It’s an iron ball attached to long shaft.  Competitors wear shoes with long knives protruding from the toes. They dig these into the ground to keep their feet in place and use their arms and torso to rotate the hammer several times before letting go. A chiropractor is on hand for spinal re-alignments.

The ‘weight-over-bar’ event is a one-handed effort. The thrower assumes a crouched position, legs apart, and swings the weight back and forth to build momentum and then heaves it upward and backwards to clear a crossbar. It’s a risky venture if the competitor doesn’t angle it just right – and it comes down on his – or her head.

Heavy events are among the most popular draws at highland festivals, and ‘throwing the caber’ is the most popular. The caber toss an improbable looking endeavor where  competitors hoist and balance a large pole, run with it and then try to ‘tun it over’- flipping it end over end. Another uniquely Scottish invention.

Heaving an empty beer keg down the field is usually the final event – the full keg saved for aprez- games camaraderie.

Yes, I write fiction, but improbable as these events seem, I’m really not making them up. Click on the u-tube link for a video of the ‘heavy events’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28QFio97Nnk

Next post – Bagpipes – a weapon of war.

Crime fiction meets reality

RCMP Dive recovery team

A friend, similarly inclined to pen nefarious fictional crime plots, e-mailed me about a RCMP open house. Always striving to make scenes realistic, it was an opportunity not to be missed. As a former diver, I was drawn to the recovery dive team. Their  display showcased state of the art diving gear, and a command van complete with a compressor for refilling air tanks. Working in pairs, the divers wear helmets fitted with cameras linked to surface monitors, providing extra eyes  on search areas that often have poor visibility. In my soon to be released book, The Douglas Document – Betrayal, a police dive team recovers a body from the Inner Harbor in Victoria.

At 33,000 pounds, the Tactical Armored Vehicle (TAV) is used for hostage and armed standoff situations. It makes a Hummer look small. The TAV houses eight Tactical Team (TAC) members in a compartment that rivals a bank vault security. The friendly TAC team member on hand to answer questions, advised that just the arrival of the TAV at a scene often results in a quick resolution. Yeah, that would do it for me. When the eight guys in the back of the TAV come out, it’s a big problem for whoever is unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end. In my second Douglas Document book – Retribution – there is a hostage situation, but no TAV or TAC team – just Scott Rockland,  my stalwart detective, his crippled partner, Liz Bailey, and an RCMP Sergeant.TAV RCMP

 

 

 

The police dogs and their trainers were amazing. To the dogs, it’s all play – fun and games. Police dogs are German Shepherd specially bred for police work. The first  was a young dog in training. The second was a three year old animal with that classic police dog look – sleek and powerful. The ability of the dogs to focus in the midst of multiple distraction is truly amazing. Police dogs don’t appear in any of my stories yet – but it could happen.

police dog

Nice puppy!

Forensic identification is always of interest to me. There was a finger print display, and an exercise at matching. The RCMP member explained crime scene examination and techniques for collecting evidence and taking foot imprints. DNA evidence figures prominently in crime investigation – guilt or innocence may depend on a single hair. Items carefully collected at crime scenes are sent to the RCMP forensic laboratory for analysis.

If you have thoughts or information about crime scene investigation, stories you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

Homemade Soup

I like soup – all kinds of soup, but especially the thick, hearty home-made soups like Mom used to make.  I had a hankering for some the other day. From my childhood days, I envisioned an old favorite – vegetable beef barley. I could almost smell the delicious, steamy aroma flooding the kitchen. My wife didn’t exactly share my vision, as I proceeded to assemble the ingredients.

“That soup is for fall or winter – not spring,” she said, but my mind was made up. I checked out a few recipes, and found that it was really quite basic – if you don’t make your own stock. In my childhood, I remember the pot boiling away all day, with beef bones and various magic ingredients (which I now know were herbs and spices)  that Mom would add at various times during the cooking process. I was feeling experimental – and willing to compromise.

An hour and a half later, the pot was filled with a thick, aromatic broth. It wasn’t as good as I remember Mom’s – but then again, memories, especially old, emotion tempered memories, have no equal. The acid test came when my wife took her first tentative, sip- and gave a smile of approval. It really is a very good soup – and filling. Here’s the recipe in case you’re inclined to give it a try.

Ingredients

One (1) cup each of chopped onion, celery and carrots.

Half a pound or so of stewing beef cut into one inch cubes (you don’t have to measure them unless you’re so inclined).

Two 900ml. containers of beef broth. I used salt free.

One 796 ml. can of diced tomatoes – or fresh.

One cup pot barley.

Two tbsp. extra virgin olive oil.

Pepper and salt to taste.

Directions

In a dutch oven or large pot, cook the onion, celery an carrot in the olive oil for six minutes, stirring frequently. Add the meat, and continue cooking until the meat is cooked through (seven or eight more minutes).

Add the tomatoes, including liquid, and mix in. Add the beef bullion and bring to a low boil. Add pepper (if desired) and add the barley. Cover, cook at a rolling boil for an hour. For thinner soup, add more bullion or water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

If you have comments about this recipe – or have other favourites, I’d love to hear from you.

If you’re looking for a good read while your soup percolates, The White Limousine is now available as an e-book on Kobo. (www.kobobooks.com/‎)

Start Writing your Bestseller!

This inspirational post shows that it’s never too early – or too late to start writing!

Nicholas C. Rossis

I came across this inspirational infograph by Essaymama on Shannon A. Thompson’s blog. We get to see where our favorite writers started, and how long it took them before they found success in the form of a bestseller.

Some authors started out as young as 13 and others as late as 65. Virginia Woolf started writing at 27 years, but only become popular at 43. Haruki Murakami was a bar manager till 29 years, and Charles Bukovski a postman ’till his 40s. The moral here is clear: it’s never too late to start writing your bestseller. Just don’t give up!

Oh, yeah. And it’s obvious why everyone hates E.L. James 😀

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

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