30 Jan 2015

Radio silence... and a slightly more personal post

It’s been a while since I posted an update and, well, there is little reason other than I haven’t had many opportunities to get out on the bike.

Ok, it was a crazy Christmas at work with a huge number of events I was helping to organise, photographing or just providing a helping hand. I prefer to keep my work life completely separate from my blog, but I will say it involves communications design in a healthcare setting.

How I was feeling by the time Christmas was over...

Last week I got word that my 93 year old grandmother had fallen seriously ill with pneumonia and was rushed to hospital—the doctors believed there was little chance she would survive more than a couple days. Unfortunately she lives halfway around the world near Vancouver BC and, while I speak with her regularly on the phone, I don’t often get to see her.

Within 24 hours I was at her bedside and had a chance to visit her three times. I was only away for four days, after which I promptly came down sick as a dog with a nasty, bastard cold, exactly 48 hours after my flight home (which so happens to be the incubation period of the cold virus).

Me with my grandmother—strong enough to prove the doctors wrong!

There was a silver lining, however. Four days after I saw her, she pulled through against the odds and is now back at home. And although it was a short visit, I did get a chance to visit with friends I rarely get to see.

I need to vent a bit, so back to Vancouver. I lived there for many years before London and it has, of course, changed a lot since I left more than a decade ago.

The flight over was actually a pleasure. I had three seats to myself and could lie down almost like being in bed for much of the flight. The flight crew were literally the best I can ever remember—friendly, efficient and professional, and genuinely happy to supply all the drinks and snacks I wanted during the flight. Well done Air Canada—credit where it’s due.

Sleeper seats at economy prices

I arrived on a rainy Friday afternoon and took the train to downtown Vancouver to collect my hire car before driving to my parent’s home just outside the city.

Yaletown in the late afternoon, 45 minutes after the plane landed—the train from the airport is efficient

I prefer not to drive after being awake for 20 hours, especially swapping from right hand drive to left hand drive, but timeliness was essential. It turned out I had to drive in the worst rainstorm in recent memory—it was raining so hard I couldn’t see the lines on the road. Thankfully I made it without incident and after a short visit with my parents I went straight to bed.

The next morning I was up early due to the jet lag and decided to have a drive around. I found myself somewhat disappointed that nearly all my connections from the past were either gone or changed—places I used to visit with my friends, cornerstones of my previous life there.

Jet lag kicked in

One coffee shop in particular was still there so I thought I would pop my head in and see if the same people owned the place. Once inside, there were only two customers (it was once busting at the seams each day) and a woman at the counter. The conversation went like this:

Me: “Hello, I’m visiting from abroad and used to come here all the time years ago—I was wondering if the ------s still own the shop?”

Woman: “I don’t know who that is.”

Me: “Oh right? They were the people who opened the shop in the mid-90s. I did the logo for them back then.”

Woman: “We aren’t looking for anyone to change the logo.”

Me: “I have no interest in changing the logo, I only mentioned it. Is the owner here?”

Woman: “Yes.”

Me: “May I speak to the owner?”

Woman: “No.”

Me (with disbelief): “Sorry? Why not?”

Woman: “The owner is my husband.”

Me: “Right? Why can’t I speak to him?”

Woman: “You’re not speaking to the owner.”

Me: “Right. It’s slightly disappointing that you’re being so obstructive. And for what? I’m simply trying to reconnect with people I knew years ago. But you’re going out of your way to be abrasive—it’s no surprise the place is empty.”

I turned and walked out while she looked at me like I’d done a shit in my hat. Needless to say this was the start of a downward spiral of realisation that this was no longer ‘home’. I visited a few other old haunts and, while everyone else I spoke to was much more amicable and helpful, everyone had moved on to new things.

I had no expectation that things would be the same as they were more than 10 years ago, but I also didn’t expect there to be absolutely no connections left.

Family reunion, sadly not under the best circumstances

I managed to catch up for dinner with my friend Christina, one of my closest friends from my past. I also had coffee with friends who drove out to see me. Getting back together for those few hours made things feel like old times again.

Admittedly I was emotionally compromised due to the circumstances of my visit, but adding to the gloom was the non-stop rain.

Non-stop rain

I left my parent’s house in the late afternoon the day before I was due to fly back to London so I could stay in downtown Vancouver my friend Jason and not have to rush the next day to catch my flight. Along the way I met up with my cousin and his fiancé for a quick coffee. I returned the car, which was conveniently about 4 blocks from my friend’s building, and walked over.

With my very longtime friend Jason—we’re wearing the whole 40s thing!
Jason lives on a fairly high floor right in the city centre, and the panoramic views of the city were amazing. After ordering in dinner we managed to get out for a couple pints with my friend Tristan.

The next morning I woke up early again and took a couple of time-lapses of the sunrise.

Looking like a garden gnome thanks to the soft Vancouver water causing beard madness!

After breakfast we went for a walk around the city. Despite the low winter sun, it was warmer than expected at a balmy 12°C.

Looks cold... wasn’t at all.

I repacked my suitcase and started making my way to the airport, with one last stop along the way to meet up with my friend Nick.

With my friend Nick—one of the good ones

I was feeling in much better spirits about the trip by the time I’d got back to the airport, and was sad I had to go home so quickly. My grandmother was defying the doctors and on the mend with the fluid slowly leaving her lungs, I had the opportunity to catch up briefly with family and friends, and after my initial disappointments I had started to embrace the progressions in the places at which I spent so much time during my younger years. The coldness I experienced on my arrival was replaced by the warmth of spending time with friends and family.

Vancouver Airport ranks among the most beautiful airports in the world, with artwork throughout and sections mimicking the rainforests along the west coast. Security was efficient with no fuss.

One of rainforest-inspired gardens in Vancouver Airport

The flight home was just as good, again with three seats on which to lie down and I managed to catch a few winks of sleep. I was also lucky to see the arctic sunrise from 11,000m.

High enough to see the curvature of the earth

I managed to get a time-lapse of the start of the final descent with a loop over Oxfordshire.

Due to congestion at Heathrow the pilot did a loop over London making for some incredible views.

Before Google Earth, this was the only way to see London like this
The landing at Heathrow was flawless, and the flight crew were happy for me to film it (take note EasyJet).

In the days which followed I learned that my grandmother was discharged home as she felt it was better for her recovery. She is not fully recovered by any means, but is making progress. As she lives alone, a carer visits her daily and my family have been checking up on her regularly. Fingers crossed she has a little while longer with us all.