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Happy New Year

January 17, 2018

Somewhat belated, I grant, but this is the first post of 2018. For those of you who have been complaining about the lack of posts, a reminder that daily posts were never promised ad infinitum. My last six-week run, under the category of SFSS Challenge, like previous six-week runs, was just that: a challenge.

Could I go for six weeks without playing a single game of SFSS (stupid fucking spider solitaire), a game which seemed to have taken over my brain and my life? The answer to the question turned out to be yes. I have not played a game of SFSS since the end of October. I did get scrambled a bit by Scrabble and I did backtrack with Backgammon, but no SFSS. Pat on the back for me.

So, where were we? Short break while I check to see. Ah, yes, I’d just put up the Christmas tree and was waxing lyrical about the thrill of actually being warm in my house during the day.

Three weeks later. There’s a fire burning in the woodstove as I write and I am once again (as I have been for the past three weeks) warm. I could get used to this. Except of course I shouldn’t, because god knows when I will ever be able to afford this much firewood again. Still, it’s pretty sweet right now.

My mate Tony arrived from London on December 22nd to spend Christmas and New Year’s here. Because I have a street address, to which he has been sending Christmas cards, he had pictured me living in a town (or village) on the island, so was quite surprised to end up in my house surrounded by trees.

He got the full island experience while he was here, including the rainfall that suddenly turned into heavy snow, blanketing the island completely within an hour. (We were visiting some friends of mine at the time and even the short drive home gave me flashbacks to my car accident the previous Boxing Day.) And inevitably, with a snowfall that heavy, a tree came down later, knocking the power out until the next day. Instead of the dinner I’d been planning, it was bacon and French toast cooked on the woodstove. The full island experience. And he thoroughly enjoyed it all.

This was the first Christmas I’ve had at home with someone else since Mike’s death in 2011. And it was great. All the key ingredients: Alistair Sim on Christmas Eve, Eggs Benny and Buck’s Fizz for breakfast on Christmas Day, good dinner, good wine, good conversation, games of Scrabble and Backgammon and, of course, a Bond film (Skyfall) on Boxing Day. Perfection. I hope he comes back every Christmas.

He certainly wants to come back, although, not surprisingly, says he would like to do so in the summer. Fair enough. But let’s not forget Christmas, eh?

Every day Tony was here was a treat, but there was an extra treat at the end: two days in Vancouver before he flew back to London. We’d found and booked a suite hotel near Stanley Park, just off Denman Street and a great little boozer, the Blind Sparrow. A pint in there after arrival, then a stroll down to English Bay, checking out restaurants (an astonishing number of which were Japanese) as we went. The winner, we decided on the way back, was Amici Miei, which looked like – and indeed was – a lovely Italian restaurant. Back to the pub after dinner, where the waitress remembered what we’d been drinking, making us feel as if we’d found a Vancouver local.

At the end of the second day we worked out that we’d walked at least ten miles. Down Robson Street to the art gallery, where we stopped for a cappuccino in the café.  Down Burrard Street so I could show Tony Vancouver’s art deco jewel, the Marine Building.

marine building

I’d never stepped inside the building before, but this time we did. And was I glad we did.


Holy moly! Deco-licious!

Further down Burrard Street to see Canada Place. (Don’t ask me. Tony wanted to see it.) Then over to Gastown, so Tony could see the famous steam clock, which every 45 minutes blows off steam to the tune of Big Ben’s boings. Tony was getting peckish by then and I was hoping I had the ideal spot for lunch. I was 99% sure it couldn’t possibly have closed and I was right. Across the street from the steam clock, there it was – the Water Street Café.


After an absolutely fabulous lunch (good to see standards haven’t dropped), it was time to hike back into the downtown area to show Tony Vancouver’s rather impressive (architecturally and in other ways) central library.

vancouver library

Then a wander down to Yaletown, which Tony also wanted to see.


We stopped at the new, luxurious Opus Hotel ($500 a night) for a cup of tea and to rest our feet. Before setting off again, I went to the ladies, then Tony to the gents, where he saw something disturbing. (No, there wasn’t a glory hole. Get your mind out of the gutter.) There was a screen above the urinals showing the bar area. When he returned he asked if there had been a similar screen in the ladies. No, there had not been. Clearly women don’t need to keep an eye on their date while they were out of the room, whereas men do. Urgh.

Time to finally use our Translink day pass to hop on the Skytrain and head over to my old ’hood, Commercial Drive. There was time for a bit of a wander before we had to meet my mate Peter (who’d kindly put Tony up his first night) at Chong Qing for dinner, but not a huge amount of time. Happily a number 20 bus arrived just as we came out of the station, so we hopped on it as far as Adanac (Canada spelt backwards – I kid you not) Street.

I shall spare your blushes by not telling you what I bought myself as a belated Christmas present to me in Womyn’s Ware. After my purchase, I led Tony to the corner of Victoria Drive and Parker Street to see the home I’d shared with my friend Rowan before I met Mike.

parker front 2

Unfortunately, it no longer looks like it did in this photo taken several years ago. The beautiful old heritage house was being completely gutted to turn it into several “heritage living” (gag me) condos. Never go back. No, really. The Peg was gone. Urban Empire, following Patricia’s untimely death, was gone. So many places I loved no longer there, replaced with trendy boutiques and restaurants and designer living shops. Grr.

At least the house in which Mike and I lived is still there.

cotton house

Not that it looked this good when we lived in it. (Anyone remember the pebble dash and turquoise trim?)

More importantly, Continental Coffee is still there.

PNG2907N CommercialD3M.jpg

I know there are friends who read this blog who go back with me to my Greenpeace days, when this coffee shop, of all the coffee shops on the Drive, was our favourite, when Anita and her sons and eventually her grandson ran it, when we knew them and they knew us. The lads have long since ceased to work there. Anita has long since retired, although she does turn up on the weekends to catch up with old neighbourhood friends. (I was sorry I missed her, but did leave a note. Hope the super trendy guy behind the counter remembered to give it to her.) But their As We Drink It blend is still the best coffee ever. There was no way I was going to visit Vancouver without picking up a pound.

Bless Tony, who it turns out is not overly partial to Chinese food, for agreeing to dinner at Chong Qing. More best evers – fried dumplings, hot and sour soup, Szechuan green beans, et cetera, et cetera. God, I use to love living so close to this restaurant. God, I used to love it when it was Mike’s turn to cook and he suggested Chong Qing takeaway instead. God, it was delicious that night. (And it was also delicious when I stir fried the leftovers back on Gabriola.)

Back to the West End after dinner and back to the Blind Sparrow for a nightcap or two. Once again we (and our preferred beer) were remembered. Which earned an even better tip.

On Thursday Tony needed to head out to the airport around 2:30pm and I needed to head off to Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry. We had a nice amble around Stanley Park in the morning. Then a wander up Robson Street to find somewhere for our last lunch together. The Cactus Club was winning. That was before Tony spotted an old New York Checker cab parked on the street around the corner. He wanted to get a photo of it, so we turned down the road.

joe fortes cab

It was only when I spotted “Eat at Joe’s” painted on it that I realised the cab was parked outside the famous Joe Fortes restaurant. Famous, but never before patronised by yours truly. We went in to have a look at the menu. Tony was sold. Far better than Cactus Club.


And who, you might ask, was Joe Fortes? I confess I didn’t know until I read the back of the menu. I knew he was a famous old time Vancouverite. After all, in addition to this restaurant, the public library on Denman Street is named after him.

I did not know that he was a Trinidadian who turned up in Vancouver in 1885 at age 22, worked as a hotel porter and in his spare time taught children to swim in English Bay and actied as an unpaid lifeguard until 1900 when the city hired him as its first official lifeguard.

Joe Fortes in English Bay

According to Wikipedia, “When Joe Fortes died on February 4, 1922, Vancouver held a record-breaking funeral procession for him. Mourners crowded into Holy Rosary Cathedral to bid farewell to a brave, kind and modest friend. Mounted police in dress uniform led the way to Mountain View Cemetery followed by the mayor and city councillors, as well as the police commission, the school board and the park board. A flat stone marks his grave, simply inscribed: JOE.” Blimey.

And I now know this because a 1940s Checker cab did its job of drawing Tony and me into the restaurant.

Okay, folks, I’m done. I’ve been at this since 10:30 this morning and it’s now nearly 6:30pm. (All right, I did stop in the middle to read two plays, but it’s going to take a while to get this post loaded and I’m getting hungry.)

Happy New Year.

From → Black dog diary

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