Getting started

Don't expect words of wisdom or earth shattering revelations, just my thoughts and observations about living in Ottawa, being a public servant and trying to live life every day to its fullest

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Planes, Trains and Automobiles - Time for another rant (I know - already!) This one is about VIA Rail, the Canadian monopoly that rules the tracks in Canada with crappy service and delays. But first - this is called Planes, Trains and Automobiles, because in the space of 24hours I will have used all of these and I know that the trains I take tomorrow morning in the UK will be fantastic, unlike what we are stuck with here.

As a tree-hugger, when possible, the train is the best way to travel. It is greener than a plane and some types of car, and is also less stressful and quite civilized. Driving to Toronto is boring and can drain you (4hours on a straight highway- usually after a day at work - tires and bores me). Pearson is to be avoided at all costs and as soon as the snow starts, the Island Airport is not that reliable ... so train it is. But there is only one option: VIA; ug!

My sister is throwing herself a birthday party in December and I decided that since I have to head to Oshawa (East-end of Toronto) flying is not an option and I didn't feel like driving, so I opted for the train. I waited for two months to purchase a ticket for the second weekend in December, hoping there would be a deal, but everyone I spoke to said that chance of one so close to the holiday-season was slim-to-none. So last week, I bit the bullet and purchased an economy return. Less than 48 hours later VIA had a 60% seat-sale for my route ... so much so that for the price of my no-frills, rock-bottom ticket, I could have traveled VIA1 (I love VIA1). And can VIA do anything ... nope! Sure, the people I spoke to at both ticket sales and customer "service" sounded sorry, but they just read the rules didn't double check to see if there was anything the could do. I was told that they "don't make the rules ... there is nothing you can do, and no way to make a more formal complaint". So here is my complaint:

VIA; your customer service sucks, and the only reason people continue to travel with you is because we have NO CHOICE. You are the only rail provider along the Windsor - Quebec City corridor.

Competition! Seriously - that is what we need here in Canada in some of the core services, especially in the transportation industry. Public buses in most Canadian cities have a single operator, the service often sucks and the buses are not cheap. In Hong Kong we had numerous different companies offering public bus services, many of the popular routes had several companies serving them and because of this, buses were regular and cheap. Here there is one service provider and they can do what they want, including a six week strike in the middle of winter stranding an entire city. Sure the say that costs are going up and ridership is going down, but perhaps we should look at why ridership is declining and fix this problem - wondering if it has something to do with the general experience of taking the bus. Trains are similar - the UK has many different providers running on the same tracks and they have neat incentives for people to choose one company over another.

When traveling along the Windsor - Quebec City corridor, choosing between a plane, train or an automobile is not a fair comparison as they all have significant differences and uses (I might need my car when in Toronto, or be heading to the East-end, I might be in a rush or need the time to review documents. What we need are choices so that no matter what I choose I am not stuck with one service provider. We need companies using the same rail lines and offering real service.

Lets home that in a few short hours Air Canada doesn't disappoint on the service delivery front as well. I have to say - I am not hopeful!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

WINTER! - I know, you are thinking ... it isn't even November yet! But to survive (and thrive) in winter, you need to plan early and get excited about the possibilities - and living in the National Capital Region there are so many possibilities.

Last week I met up with the group I spent time snowboarding with last winter. It was the first time we had all been together since April, and it was great seeing them. Our meeting last year was serendipitous; we all carve, which is an obscure sub-category of traditional snowboarding (and I believe the original incarnation of the sport). There are only a handful of us in the NCR and five of us ended up on the same slope one night! Four of us became a pose with regular week-night expeditions and some fantastic road-trips. The winter flew past and we spent a lot of time outside embracing the best (and worst) of the hills. As we left the bar on Thursday we saw the first snowflakes of the season and took it as a good omen - one that tells of a winter full of fun and friends.

A few other past-times that I love during the long dark winters in and around Ottawa:
  • WINTERLUDE: Geeky clean family fun. I am not usually one to embrace any activities where there are likely to be children, but Winterlude is one of the few I am willing to make an exception for. The ice-carvings, the great tasting menu's across the city, and everyone just being outside no matter how cold it is.
  • SKATING (especially on the canal): Again with the geeky fun, but also exhilarating. To be outside crossing the city on ice-skates, stopping for a hot chocolate or beaver-tail, while the rest of the world sleeps.
  • SNOWSHOEING: Weekends can be crazy on the hills, and so spending a nice day out in the woods away from the busy canal or ski-hills is wonderful. My favorite memories of snowshoeing was after a heavy snowfall with trees heavy under snow and the sun glinting off the ice in little brooks. It was cold but clear and crisp.
  • BAKING: Sure, I bake in the summer - but it takes on a life of its own during the winter, breads, cookies, beasts, breads. Nothing beats a pizza made from scratch at home - including home made dough. The house is warmer and smells so great!
  • MY FIRE PLACE: It isn't a practical fireplace since it seems to suck warmth out of my house, but there is something about sitting in front of a roaring fire after work, alone with a book and a mug of hot chocolate, or with friends, wine and great conversation.
The ski and snowboard show this weekend made it clear - it is time to put away the bike and deck furniture and find my mitts. It is time to turn on the heat and dig out the sweaters and locate my winter boots. It is time to plan a few road trips south of taller mountains that already have snow and it is time to remember how to live. November and winter can be long, gray and nasty until you find a way to really live them. 

So here are to seasons to be experienced and embraced. Winter is almost here - bring it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Taboo - A friend recently sent me the opening lines from a Desperate Housewives episode: "It was a long time since Bri was a little girl, but she could still remember everything she had ever been told about sex:  her grandma informed her that it was a woman's burden, her minister warned her that it was a sin, her teacher taught her that it was unhealthy.  Yes, everyone told Bri that her sexual urges were dangerous, but no one ever taught her how to get rid of them"

She followed it with the comment "Interesting encapsulation of what we teach girls." So today I am going to talk about sex!

First I am going to ask if people still teach this to girls today - and I suppose they must as I have friends who will not talk about it, and still feel shameful for wanting (or even enjoying) it. Sure Sex in the City taught people that discussing female orgasms is fine and that satisfying a man is not satisfaction in itself. But still there seems to be an undertone that only women like Samantha, and all the steriotypes she embodies, can go about brazingly demanding it.

Why would anyone want to get rid of sexual urges? It seems wrong to deny something that is so natural - heck, most organisms do it all the time without shame. It seems the messaging is to try and stop people having sex too early, but maybe instead of spreading lies about sex, what really needs to be taught is the truth.

The truth about sex is that it is great ... when you do it with the right person for the right reasons (and sometimes that is just to scratch an itch). But the real truth about sex is that there are rights, responsibilities and consequences. People need to know what the consequences are ... the REAL ones ... before they embark on this magical journey. The truth is that some of the consequences are down right scary and involve disease, unwanted pregnancies, emotional and even physical devastation. This is what people need to be told ... not to scare them away from it, but to ensure they enter into it with eyes wide open and are in a position to make decisions.

When I was 18 and starting University, many of my friends had never had a sex-education class in their life (Catholic school system). What little information they had was so wrong that I knew better before puberty - and consequently, they didn't always make the best decisions because they had no one to ask and were so ashamed. Beyond basic health and safety, my female friends didn't know what to expect or that they deserved a respectful partner in bed.

People tend to follow and embrace what gives them pleasure - and lets face it, what is there not to enjoy. The younger you are, the harder it is to demonstrate self control and not experiment with something that everyone else seems to be doing and which is in the media all the time. But what these children don't know is what their rights are and what happens after.

Now - I am off for chocolate!