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Brown Feathers, Says “Cluck”

I hear them quite often when I’m out on my morning walk. The neighbourhood chickens. You REALLY hear them when they’re laying their eggs; that loud, repetitive squawk.

For a number of years now, the city of Victoria has allowed people to have up to 15 backyard chickens. There are different bylaws in Esquimalt, Saanich and Oak Bay, but for most people, 3 or 4 hens is plenty. Each bird lays one egg a day, so unless you’re selling them, 15 eggs a day would be more than a mouthful.

Roosters are not allowed in most regions for obvious reasons. They would just cause a peck of trouble.

Many people are drawn to those lovely, fresh eggs every day. They buy or build chicken coops and sometimes even create chicken runs so that the hens can get a little exercise. Animal Control encourages people to keep their chickens in the coop until at least 7am, since they can be as noisy as roosters. And apparently raccoons and mink love chicken as much as I do, so the coop gives some protection against predators.

It turns out that you can actually rent hens too. Who-da thunk it? They come complete with a chicken coop, and you can rent them for up to 5 or 6 months. You can even adopt them if you decide you enjoy having chickens around.

Of course, it’s inevitable that a hen will escape every now and then.

One day on my walk a couple of years ago, I came across a piece of paper tacked to a utility post, as you can see here. It made me laugh. Especially the last line: “VERY sneaky!” I kept my eyes out, but never caught sight of the foxy fowl. Hopefully she realized there was better food back at the coop and she eventually flew home.

Right. Chickens don’t fly.

But a couple of weeks back, I noticed a chicken poking around on someone’s front lawn. She was a good size and didn’t look too worse for wear, so she was likely a more recent escapee. The street we were on is relatively quiet, and she seemed savvy enough to stay to the side and just peck around on the ground. I took a picture of her and then, just like that, she disappeared.

A few days ago as I was walking down the same street, I saw a young couple shoo shooing something as a truck came slowly up the road. You guessed it. Probably the same chicken. Brown feathers, says “cluck”.

The couple and I stood on opposite sides of the street and chatted about her as the bird strutted over to them. Definitely a people hen. They seemed to enjoy her attention, and I couldn’t help myself. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” We all laughed.

Eventually, we carried on our separate ways and the chicken got back to her lawn pecking.

I kept thinking about her as I continued my walk. Did she have a fight with one of the other hens? Was she really just a drifter at heart? Maybe she simply found a hole in the coop and decided to make her escape, ready for a new experience.

I mean, I don’t blame her. In fact, I really can relate. I feel that same need to get out, to get away, to have an adventure somewhere different for a change. It’s been so long.

Just like the chicken, we’ve all been feeling pretty cooped up for awhile, haven’t we?

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Cycling – One Driver’s View

“Never argue with a bus!” my Dad used to laugh. He was a bus driver in downtown Vancouver for more than 40 years, and he’d pretty much seen it all.

Other vehicles were always trying to outrun or outmaneuver his bus, sometimes to their peril. They weren’t thinking about the fact that a bus is a heck of a lot bigger and heavier, and that a small vehicle would not fare well if the two were to come into contact. All they could think about was getting ahead of the bus.

I was reminded of that the other day when I was in my car right behind a cyclist at a stop light. The cyclist didn’t gesture his intentions, but when the light turned green, he immediately fumbled his way out into the intersection and turned left in front of an oncoming car. All that cyclist was thinking about was beating the car.

Fortunately, the car driver saw what was happening just in time and hit the brakes. And honked.

In the last couple of years, especially since COVID-19 has come into play, there have been a lot more people out there cycling. It’s one of the few things a person can do these days that’s enjoyable and healthy. Unless you make a sudden left turn in front of an oncoming car, that is.

Cycling stores are literally running out of bikes because of the high demand. More and more bike lanes are being built, creating corridors into the downtown Victoria area.

Now, a lot of drivers will roll their eyes at the news of yet another bike lane. But I think they’re a good thing.

A few years ago, my husband and I were in Copenhagen in Denmark and I marveled at how co-operative and respectful cyclists and drivers were with each other. Pretty much every main road in Copenhagen has a bicycle lane with its own signs and signals. Drivers and cyclists alike know the rules and, for the most part, stick to them. Except for children, you don’t see too many people with bicycle helmets. Far fewer 2-wheel-versus-4-wheel incidents, I’d guess.

Cycling has been a big thing in Denmark since the 1880s, and these days, 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike. But it’s also a small country, and mostly flat. Victoria and Vancouver Island don’t have that advantage.

Back in the 1990s, like many families, we had a big van. For the most part I was used to its berth, but passing a cyclist was another matter. One day, long before cycle lanes had come to town, I had to pass a cyclist on a busy street. I got past him okay, and then came up to a red light.

Well, I guess he didn’t like how close I’d come to him when I passed. Or maybe it was something else. But he pulled his bike up along the sidewalk to the right of me as I sat at the light, came around to the front, and spat on the hood of the van. Have a good day.

To this day I still get nervous when I drive up behind a cyclist on a road with no bike lane. Especially on a certain stretch of Bay Street that is particularly narrow. I want to give them lots of room, but if the road is busy, that’s not easy to do. And then there’s the collection of cars coming up behind me to contend with. Sometimes they get impatient waiting for me to make up my mind and lean on the horn. Gimme a break.

Let’s face it; there are good and bad drivers, and the same goes for cyclists. But the reason we have rules for the road is so that nobody gets hurt in the process. And I’m going to need all of you drivers out there to pay attention and do your best.

Because, you see, I’m planning on getting myself a bike one of these days. Maybe a nice e-bike to give me some help up those hills. Because I’m old.

So I’ll need you all to be prepared for that stupid left turn I’m bound to make right in front of you.

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A Game Of Tag

Sometimes when I’m out on my daily walk, I find hopscotch boxes or messages drawn in chalk on the sidewalk that make me smile. In the first few weeks and months of COVID-19, there were a lot of messages, especially positive and encouraging ones. Sometimes you’d even find goofy Dad jokes. It was graffiti of the best kind.

Graffiti has been around for thousands of years, discovered on the walls of caves, in ancient Egypt and Greece and the Roman Empire. Most of it was in the form of etched inscriptions or figure drawings. In fact, the word “graffiti” comes from the Italian word “graffiato” which means “scratched”. The things you learn, eh?

Although it was also found in abandoned buildings and bombed out areas in Europe during World War II, what we think of as graffiti today was mostly born out of popular culture and the political movements of the 1960’s and 70’s.

It is not necessarily the same as street art, but the word “graffiti” is often used for both. These days, graffiti is usually word-based, where as street art is image-based. There have been wars between some street artists and graffiti artists for years, especially because street art has been accepted and even invited in certain sections of cities and towns. In most places, however, graffiti and street art are both still illegal. Some of you will recognize the name Banksy, a very famous, British-based street artist whose real identity remains unconfirmed. If you’ve never seen his documentary “Exit Through The Gift Shop”, I highly recommend it.

In and around my neighbourhood, graffiti of the not-so-great kind seems to have become more abundant lately. Tagging, which is more of a way of marking territory, is especially noticeable.

I really don’t like it. I mean, I get it. Freedom of expression and all that. But to me, it’s just plain ugly.

Tags show up on walls, street signs, utility boxes, on buses, fences and pretty much any blank surface outdoors. The tags themselves mean nothing to most of us, only to the small community of people who do it. And the illegality of it doesn’t seem to phase the taggers.

Spray paint has been their medium of choice for many years because of its portability and permanence. It is a pain in the butt to clean because it’s mainly oil-based, so painting over the graffiti is often the only way to clean it up. I’ve seen the same wall of one corner store graffitied and tagged, then painted over and repaired time and time again. It has become some sort of “game of tag”. As soon as the mess is cleaned, they’re at it again.

At one time, Canada Post boxes were one of the blank surfaces constantly targeted by taggers. But you may have noticed in the last few years that mailboxes are now plastered with a jumble of postal codes on all sides, meant to make tagging less visible. Not only that, but the postal codes are actually on an adhesive, which can be peeled off and replaced if it gets too messy. Very clever!

Utility boxes have also been a tagger temptation. But the City of Victoria has started “wrapping” these blank boxes with photos and other scenes to discourage graffiti. Box wraps have also made an appearance in the Burnside/Gorge area, with the Burnside Gorge Community Centre┬áinviting members of the public to come up with designs for utility boxes there. I’m sure this idea will soon become commonplace in most communities.

A “wrapped” utility box in the Oaklands neighbourhood of Victoria. (Irene Jackson)

Not only are the box wraps nicer than graffiti, they are also interesting. The photo on the utility box above is the 2800 Block of Scott Street here in Victoria, circa 1947, with its brand new wartime homes. A lot of those old homes are still standing!

A neighbourhood mural in the works (Irene Jackson)

In my neighbourhood, the wall of one small block of retail stores is now painted with a colourful mural depicting “What Makes A Community”. A group of neighbours started painting it last summer and it is now complete. So far, the taggers have left it alone.

And so it seems that one way to beat them at their own game is to simply be a step ahead of them.

Nothing is going to completely stop taggers from defacing property. In a perfect world, they would have a place where they can legally make their mark, and stay away from everything else. But I think taggers are far more rebellious than that.

Maybe we can convince them to try chalk?

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Hot Pot Politics

I don’t think I could handle being a politician. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of us couldn’t handle it. And wouldn’t want to.

All you have to do is peruse the “letters to the editor” page in any paper, or scroll through Twitter and news feeds, and you immediately see why. Many people despise politicians, and no matter what mayors or premiers or prime ministers try to do, somebody’s going to be in a rage.

These days, that vitriol seems even more intense. Some of it, I’m sure, is because we are living through an exceptionally stressful time and leaders of any sort are an easy target for that pent up frustration.

Some of it, though, is because these days it seems we have been given permission to be hateful.

Those of us who live here in Victoria, the provincial capital, are pretty close to the political action when it fires up. Many of my students and friends over the years have been government employees in one capacity or another, so I’ve heard lots of stories, good and bad, about the people who run our government.

I became involved in a campaign many years ago when someone talked me into volunteering for a political party during a provincial election. I was pretty young and naïve, and I thought it would be kind of exciting. Well, it certainly was an eye opener.

One of my first jobs was canvassing, which meant going to a designated area within the riding and knocking on every door in the neighbourhood. A lot of volunteers didn’t like canvassing, for reasons I was about to find out. But I was game.

To be fair, many people whose doorbells I rang were polite and took the leaflet I handed them with a smile. But there were others who called me every name in the book, some even slamming the door in my face. It was humiliating. And here I was, thinking I was doing something positive and helpful.

I was supposed to canvass the whole area three times during the course of the campaign, but I think I probably only managed one cycle. That was enough for me.

I also worked the telephones at campaign headquarters. One day, our candidate walked in to meet with all of the office workers and volunteers. He made the time to come up and sit by my desk, chit chat a little, and thank me for volunteering. I immediately liked him and was suddenly filled with that sense of purpose I’d been seeking. Our little chat was the best thing about the whole campaign for me.

Years later, that candidate became the Premier of B.C.

There are many good people out there who truly want to make a difference in their community, province or country. They work hard and they put in long hours, often against all odds, to effect change. They are the ones who are passionate about their work, who try to reach across the aisle and find compromise. They’re the ones who will sit down at the desk of a lowly campaign worker and sincerely thank them for their efforts.

But as sincere and as passionate as these people might be, even if they succeed at getting something done, sometimes they just can’t win. Somebody’s always going to be seething.

Maybe we should consider being a little kinder to them. We can certainly disagree, but don’t make it personal.

Oh, I know there are the bad apples too: those with a sense of entitlement who care more about themselves and their rise to the top than they do their constituents. But that will always be true, in any career.

What I really hope for is that there will be enough younger people interested in fulfilling those important rolls in the future, because we really do need them. Experience is one thing. A fresh, new outlook is another. And hopefully, they’ll have a thicker skin than I did when they go out on their first round of canvassing.

The only constituents I have to deal with these days are the members of my household. We disagree on a lot of things sometimes, but when it comes to Sunday dinner, this is an autocracy. I hold all the power.

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The Company Christmas Party

Remember company Christmas parties? Ah, yes. Good times, good times.

My first work Christmas party was when I was employed at the Vancouver Public Library many years ago. I was pretty excited about it until I realized that it was not really a party at all. It was a tea. Well, they had cookies.

But tea.

A couple of years later, I realized where the REAL party was at the library every year. It was in the bindery department. The bindery was where books were repaired, fumigated, prepped for life on a library shelf, or anything else that books might need. The bindery was not a public place, which made it the perfect spot for a staff Christmas party. This is where the laughter sprung and the liquor flowed. Sshhhhh!!!

If you were lucky and worked on what was always a half day shift on Christmas Eve, you would take your break and spend it in the bindery. Needless to say, we took a lot of breaks. Some of us were soused by noon.

For lots of people, staff or company Christmas parties are a highlight of the year. For others, well, maybe not so much. The first Christmas party I attended with my husband at his new job was nothing like the library.

Instead of tea, there was plenty of wine and beer and whatever you wanted to drink. Instead of cookies, it was a full buffet dinner complete with amazing desserts. And they had PRIZES! Not just company prizes, but union prizes and staff association prizes. You could win a TV. I was dumbstruck.

They also had speeches. Lots of speeches. Well, many of those I could have lived without.

At that first company Christmas party, I noticed that as soon as the dinner was over with and the first few beats of canned music began, the “old” people left. The rest of us took to the dance floor all the rest of the night.

Now, almost 40 years later, we’re the “old” people. I refuse to leave right after dinner, however. I’ll dance as late into the night as my hips will let me. Just as long as we don’t have to dance to the music those damn kids want to play…

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about the company Christmas party. Here are my observations:

OUTFITS: It’s okay to wear the same thing two years in a row. It really is, ladies. I fretted and fussed so many times over the years, worrying that somebody was going to recognize the same dress from the year before. Truth is, nobody cares. They’re far more worried about how THEY look. I’m not sure the males care at all. Lucky them.

THE BAR: Get to it early. Don’t say hello to anyone, get to the bar immediately upon arriving. Just in case they run out of booze. It could happen.

MC’s: I know, I know. You’re trying to be funny, witty, amazing. And many times you are. But when you see the first head nodding off to sleep, it’s over. Get to the food part.

THE FOOD PART: At my husband’s company party, it’s usually the luck of the draw which table gets to the buffet first. But one year, the MC’s placed questions on pieces of paper on each table, and the first table to answer correctly got to go up. Okay, so that’s fine, but don’t leave the questions to those young whippersnappers. I don’t know what “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation” is. Do you? Just ask me the capital of Denmark!

THE SPEECHES PART: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

THE MUSIC PART: Over the years we had both live bands and canned music. There are great things about each of them, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing like a live band. I’m a musician, so of course I’ll say that. At any rate, there’s an energy and an aliveness that you just can’t get from canned music, although we’ve had some pretty good DJ’s over the years too.

There’s one year I remember well when it came to the music. Because of certain circumstances, we had neither a band or a DJ. One of the employees took her iPod and downloaded all of our requests, pairing the iPod up to the speaker system that was already in place. That was one of the best years we had because it was so spontaneous, and just about everyone got a song they wanted!

I’ve been to Christmas parties at hotels like the Empress and the Laurel Point, parties at restaurants, clubs, and at golf courses. Every one of them was so much fun. Sigh. But I’m thinking that the company Christmas party of 2021 is going to surpass them all, because we’ll appreciate being able to be together so much more. Let’s hope we’re able to.

Oh, by the way, an “element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation”, is a “meme”. I’m old…how was I supposed to know that word?

And Copenhagen. The capital of Denmark is Copenhagen.

Merry Christmas everyone!