Monday, 27 April 2009

On how I spent my last vacation and weekend

Before I was born, my father made a couple of living room chairs. They consisted of four main pieces of plywood, two additional pieces of wood, plus padding and cloth. They were very much 1960's inspired pieces of furniture, down to the colour scheme which was dominated by bright red and blue. Over the years, they were pushed aside by more formal pieces of living room furniture. As I had a soft spot for them, I latched on to one of them, eventually taking it to Montreal with me. However, the years and users had not been particularly kind to it. The upholstery was grungy and the paint chipped. After much delay, I finally got around to restoring the chair.

I began by finding a reasonable material, which was dominated by a dull red and a yellow-gold colour. Using the material, I selected a yellow ochre coloured paint that went with the material, my walls in Montreal, and my understanding of the function of the chair. You see, I have long seen the chair as a particularly inviting one. And not just for one. In my mind, I see it inviting more than one person at a time. I can just see one adult with a child or two sitting in it snuggling, or reading, etc. In the process of deciding the colour scheme of the chair, I began to appreciate the colour scheme that my father had chosen all those years ago as it was evidently calculated to make the chair appear warm and inviting. I can only hope that my scheme will work equally well.

During my week off in early April, I painted it with my father's advice. Last weekend, yesterday in fact, my father and I finished it. Feeling rather smug, I insisted that it be put in the living room for the time being, if for no other reason than I can show it off during the family reunion/collective April birthday party that will be taking place next weekend. (For some reason, there is a significant number of family members whose birthdays are in April. As my family is a large one, this is used as an excuse for an annual party.)
Here are two members of my family born in April, one of which is sitting in the chair in question. Unfortunately, the photograph doesn't show off the colour scheme very well, especially the paint colour.
This photo is a bit better at showing the chair, however Adèle Désirée's face is blurry. Ideally speaking, my niece should be on my dad's lap!!! That is the function of the chair!!! ;-)

I like to joke that I have restored an Elizabethan chair. After all, it was made during the reign of Queen Elisabeth.

Friday, 24 April 2009

On biking authority figures

Twice today I have been asked biking related questions. The first was at work when a colleague asked whether I knew of a better way to approach Côte Saint-Luc from the East than Van Horne/Fleet streets. Unfortunately, I couldn't provide her with a good answer as there doesn't seem to be a better way. I did provide her with some background ideas. When I got home, I found that someone had left a comment on my last post about where one got milk crates in Montreal. I put the answer in a comment as there wasn't a return e-mail address.

From this, it would seem that I am becoming something of an authority on biking. It's nice to be needed.

I had supper with a (non-biking) colleague from work in the Plateau this evening. On my way back, I rode for a distance on Sherbrooke street behind a line of no less than seven bicycle police. My guess was that they were on a jaunt to learn about how to police effectively from a bicycle. There was another civilian cyclist in front of me (who didn't really know how to bike in the city). I don't know if there was any more cyclists behind me, but in front of McGill, the last cop turned around and said that we could pass them. I think both the other civilian and I had been leery about passing the cops. They were, after all, biking authority figures.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

On the new milk crate

I spent part of this morning preparing the new milk crate for installation. Not that this is strictly necessary, but it is easier to apply reflective tape and other things to the crate while comfortably sitting on the sofa than when the crate has already been attached to the bicycle. Last spring, I went on something of a buying spree of reflective tape from various sources, mostly Canadian Tire. Consequently, I had an ample supply of it on hand. In addition, I had a pair of stick-on plastic reflectors and a large moose sticker that I believe I picked up in Newfoundland last summer.
Here is the rear view, note the moose sticker.

In addition, the helmet I bought last summer came with a sticker that I did bother to apply to it. It was floating around my desk, so in a fit of whimsy, I applied it to one side of the crate!
The Specialized sticker will make it go much faster!

I have since attached the crate to the back of the Castafiore with 8 or 10 of my largest zip ties. If I may digress, a year or more ago, in order to get a zip-tie of a suitable length and width, I bought a container of 1200 zip ties. It was more than I strictly needed at the time but I hardly regret the purchase as the price wasn't extravagant and it left me with an amply supply of the things. I found many uses for them. Incidentally, the breaking strength of the size I used is 40 lbs, so the crate can now be considered to be very firmly secured in place.

Nonetheless, I should make a mental note to check them for signs of brittleness every year or so on account of UV related degradation. Curse you, thinning ozone layer!

Friday, 17 April 2009

On fan service

At Margo's request, here is a fan service account of Désirée's first birthday party. As previously mentioned in this blog, I bought a rocking moose from Ikea for my niece. The night before her birthday, I assembled it for my bit of pleasure. I give you my work:
The morning of her birthday, I assembled a single child bike trailer from MEC. This was something that Dominique had asked for from the parents. For reasons that are essentially irrelevant, I was asked to do the honours of assembly. This I happily did. I rather enjoy putting kits together.

Having had wind of this present, I had inspiration to buy additional quick release hitches for said trailer at MEC. There are now sufficient hitches for Mummy, Big Sister, Granny (Already Installed By Yours Truly or AIBYT) and Papy (AIBYT) to be able to share the task of hauling Désirée around by bike. There is an additional hitch left over for guests, likely to include yours truly.

The party itself was a relatively subdued affair, with Désirée's Mummy, Daddy, big sister Eowyn, uncle Daniel, Granny Susan, Grandpa Hugh, her maternal Grandmother Monique and step-Grandfather Serge. It was the first time I had met the latter two, so it was quite an interesting evening, with quite a number of photo ops such as the one below.
Among the topics of discussion was Philip and Dominique's upcoming (July 11) wedding. They are, very sensibly, trying to keep it a low key affair of only about twenty invited guests to be held at Robin Hill (the family summer house for those less intimate). About a month or two ago, I had been at a party where my father was saying how some of his siblings wanted to attend. I subsequently told Dominique that she should ignore him and only invite those persons whom she and Philip wanted to invite. I then jokingly undermined my own advice and stated that I would like to be among the select few!!! ;-) Dominique accepted my advice and assured me that I had always been among the few.

Getting back to the party, Dominique's stepfather recounted how he had been the one to officiate one of his sons wedding. Apparently in Quebec there is some process or other that you can apply to be the person who administers the vows at a given wedding even if you are "lay person". (By a "lay person", I mean someone who has no qualifications such as being a priest, justice of the peace, etc.) The suggestion was made that Philip and Dominique might want to that. There was even the vague idea tossed around that I might be the person in question. In a much later (viz the next day) conversation between my father and myself, I admitted that I had no problem with the concept of a lay officiator but that I didn't feel that I wanted to be the one as I don't see myself as having the moral authority to do so.
As can be expected, the Grandmothers were in full doting* mode.

Incidentally, the date of Philip and Dominique's wedding was moved up from August on the news of Margaret's pregnancy. Furthermore, we found out recently that it will be a boy. Thus, in the event every thing goes well, I will have a nephew to uncle!

There are a few more photos in my photo site under "More gratuitous baby shots".

* In the process of writing this entry, I looked up the verb "dote" in my Concise Oxford Dictionary. I was somewhat disappointed to see that the official usage of word is to "be foolishly or excessively fond of" which isn't quite the meaning I intend. I will have to find a superior, less potentially pejorative word to describe their affection.

On thieves and milk crates

I was dismayed to come down my outside steps this morning and see that in the night some s.o.b. had stolen the milk crate from the back of the Castafiore. He (or she) had undone the rear straps that held it to the rack before likely getting frustrated and cut the front straps, leaving the latter behind. I was very annoyed on a number of levels. First off, I will have to replace not only the crate but also the straps. However these things are replaceable.

Secondly and more importantly, it decreases my confidence in the neighbourhood, something that I had previously held quite high for such a relatively scruffy area of town. I have been leaving my bike out at night off and on since I moved here in the fall of 1998. When I moved into my condo in 2003, I began leaving the bike out most of the time owing to the lack of an convenient place to store it inside. I have never had a problem because of it, aside from the odd bit of rubbish thrown into the crate. I have even been known to leave it unlocked in fits of absent mindedness! I hope I will be able to convince myself to not let the s.o.b. change my ways.

My ride to and from work today felt odd owing the presence of my backpack on my back. I was somewhat surprised at just how sweaty my back got. This reinforces my position on the merits of the milk crate for backpack technique of cycle-commuting. The ease of use is remarkable.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't have a suitable milk crate available. Consequently, I ventured into Chez Claude et Claudette, the corner store in search of a replacement. I had the luck to fall on a cashier that has been around a good deal therefore he knew that wasn't some total nut job. Once we established what I wanted, he deferred the question to the Korean owner who was in the back office. After, a bit of discussion and my firm assertion that I was prepared to pay the $8 deposit on the crate, he went into the back cooler where the "extra" milk is store and found a suitable one.

As I am lacking suitable straps for the time being, I am going to attach this crate with zip ties. I am also tempted to use my cable lock to secure the crate to the Castafiore. On the other hand, I would rather not given in to fear and loathing.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

On vans and trains

I had a rather unnerving experience on the way to work today. As I was waiting for the light to change at the corner of Cavendish and Côte Saint-Luc road, there was a loud bang. I looked up to see that a van had run into a tree on the other side of Côte Saint-Luc road. I went over to the van and saw that the driver seemed a bit out of it, if for no other reason than he had just run into a tree and had an airbag go off in his face.

I opened the door, and was surprised by the odd smell of an exploded airbag. I tried to see if there was anything I could do. The older man seemed a bit confused and was holding his arms up. He wasn't very coherent, and I wondered if he'd had a stroke. I told him to be calm in my best "calm" voice. The van was leaking fluid, so I reached over to switch off the ignition as I had once heard somewhere that that is the thing to do. I looked around and there was a man from the City of Montreal housing department calling in the accident on his cellphone. As driver wasn't really responding to my words, I tried French and got a much clearer response. He said he'd had a "malaise". He was also concerned because he was supposed to pick up his grandkids at the building we were in front of. Not quite knowing what else to do, I moved to see if I could spot mother of said grandkids. In hindsight, I think it would have been better if I had simply stayed with him and kept myself beside him as a more constant presence, reassuring him that at worst the kids would simply be late for school. However, I do remember being very concerned that Mummy be informed when I was in the accident with Daddy and Alice. I heard the guy from the City of Montreal say that the leak was only coolant, although I think there was motor oil as well. A woman suggested that I undo his seat belt, which I did.

The police arrived quite quickly, followed by an ambulance and Côte Saint-Luc Emergency Medical Services (EMS). At some point the daughter of the man emerged from the building and was somewhat distraught at the sight of the van. By this time, the paramedics were dealing with the driver, and it was suggested to the daughter that she deal with her kids at that point. I left my name and number with a policewoman at the scene and made my way to work with a damn good excuse for being a few minutes late.

Looking back there were only a couple of things I did wrong. The first was as previously mentioned, not staying with the driver. The second was not checking or asking if there was another passenger in the van. At least, I think those are the only things I did wrong.

When I mentioned the incident at work, I was a bit startled when my Argentian co-worker said "Wasn't I so good to have stopped." Isn't that what we are supposed to do for are fellow human beings?

As I mentionned in my previous post, part of the reason I am looking forwards to the New Brunswick trip is the pleasure of taking a sleeper train there and back. In order to build anticipation, I have been researching various aspects of the train trip. From the ViaRail website, I found the menu of the trip. I won't give you the link as it wasn't very inspiring! Breakfast will be passable, but supper will be something I will bring with me. ;-)

I also discovered that the train will be made up of the new "Rennaissance" cars. Looking up these cars on the web, I was rather amused to find their origin. Apparently, they were originally designed and built to be part of the "Nightstar" train service. This would have been a nighttime counterpart to the Eurostar trains, i.e. the Channel Tunnel passenger trains. At some point during the production of the cars, the project was abandonned and the cars were stored for a number of years in various stages of completion. Eventually, ViaRail bought them at a considerable discount before revamping them for Canadian service conditions. I thought this rather ironic as the only other time I have travelled in a sleeping car was in the United Kingdom in 1990.