Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Vancouver (October 2010-April 2011)

After the long trip to Canada we stayed a few days in the hi hostel and then a few weeks in the cheap and maybe slightly nasty CN backpackers hostel, before moving into one of the only two houses left on Hornby Street (always a matter of curiosity for people passing by). Crammed into three other rooms were our eight housemates, with Michelle- the boss living in the sitting room. There were always people coming and going, we had housemates from Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany, Spain and Chile.

At the end of November, and after more than thirty-five applications, I got my job as Skyride (cablecar) operator at Grouse Mountain. Two of our then housemates were already working there. In the base ops department I worked with an international crowd of lovely people from England, Australia, Canada, South Africa and with Canadians masquerading as South Africans. As we say the job 'had it's ups and downs', lots of them, about 28 a day on a slow day, but during the Christmas holidays it could have been about fifty. I had to do this speech about what was happening on the mountain (e.g. theatre in the sky, snowshoeing, skating pond, santa's workshop), inform people about the weather conditions, which runs were open, make them aware of the alpine responsibility code and exclusion of liability, tell them about the view and warn them about the two towers coming up and that they should 'steady' themselves. On the way down the speech was shorter. Either way the passengers never tended to listen, or complained that they'd heard it all before. In windy conditions we would have to slow the 'tram' down so that we didn't hit the towers, and in particularly windy weather stop running or switch to the other tram.

The commute to work was a long one, but thanks to the enormous Vancouver Public Library I got through plenty of books on environmental issues. When I could be bothered to go back to work on my day off I could enjoy free skiing and lessons. Progress was slow but I got a bit better at it, and eventually got off just doing the green run 'the cut'. I also went up the Eye of the Wind wind turbine (1.5MW, meant to supply 25% of the mountain's energy consumption), saw the grizzly bears, stroked santa's reindeer, saw the films in the theatre in the sky and went on the extremely short sleighride. The winter lasted a long time and it was still snowing when I left, about 650cm had accumulated in total on the peak.

The work itself was quite repetitive, doing the same speech day after day, and only seeing my colleagues wave from tower 1 every 15 minutes. Member's of the public occasionally engaged in the same old conversation about whether I was from Australia or New Zealand, and wondered if I liked it in Vancouver. My badge with 'Fiona, Zurich, Switzerland' on it just confused them even more. In the morning we'd bring down the crazy hikers who would run up the closed Grouse grind and talk to each other about how long it took today, health drinks, singing and nursing homes. Some of them would hike the icy ascent multiple times a day and others with their infants on their backs. The elderly regulars would come up for their daily ski in the mornings and it was always nice to see them, I was their favourite skyride operator (although maybe they told the other operators the same thing). During the day we'd get all the noisy school kids and I couldn't hear myself speak, although sometimes the teachers would tell them to be quiet. On Wednesday night there would be winter social nights in 'Altitudes bistro' and it would always be a late finish, transporting the last few drunken staff down into the early hours of the morning. At the weekends there would be weddings with late finishes and on New Years we weren't done till 3.00a.m., celebrating the New Year with 'Happy New Year- stepping on'. Some weddings brought welcome change to the monotony, such as the time when a guest smuggled a massive candle from the candelabra in the chalet into the skyride under his jacket. And all the time there would be the rest of the skiers and snowboarders, shouting Marco Polo into the tram (this is apparently a Canadian game that you play in the dark) or asking questions which you'd already answered in the speech they weren't listening too.

My office had one of the finest views in the city and a very international clientèle. On my last night deciphering their English was pretty challenging, but the lady who dropped her 'cell phone' on the ski slopes did get it back... There is a lot more to say about the job, and despite the repetition I might even miss it. Although I definitely wont be missing the commute or the strange sleep patterns that I had to adopt.

Meanwhile Jenny was doing a script supervising course, a few days of PA work in the film industry and then lots of voluntary script supervising on short films and student films. When she wasn't doing that she was meant to be cataloguing photos for the Nature Picture Library back in Bristol. During my last few months in Vancouver we rarely saw each other. Some nights she'd just about be crawling into bed when I was getting up for the morning shift at 5.10 a.m.

When we did have some free time together we'd go on some Vancouver explorations to see the third largest tree in B.C. in Lynn Canyon, lighthouse park, walks along the coast, numerous visits to Stanley Park to observe the raccoons, birds and starfish, and cycle trips. With others I went on other walks and a canoe trip to Deep Cove, just a short way from Vancouver- beautiful and very peaceful. Along with fellow inmates- Monica (Spanish), Susann and Klara (German) I rented a car (so this isn't a very green option, but it's just pretty hard to get to certain places in Canada without one!) during my last week in Vancouver and took a circular trip to Lilooet, BC via waterfalls and Whistler, and back along the Fraser River, through the warmest valley in Canada (although it wasn't particularly warm in spring/winter) and to Harrison Hot Springs' hot and sulphorus smelling spring. By the time we'd finished Monica, who is fed up with Vancouver, might even have started to appreciate Canada.

On Easter day we prepared an Easter breakfast for the Hornby Street crew with dyed eggs, Zopf and hot cross buns. Jenny and I then went to visit the script supervisor (who gave the course she went on) and her husband who were very interesting people. This was a pleasant surprise for me as (rather stupidly) I didn't think someone in the film industry would be that interesting. She fed us a pancake lunch, drove us round the sights of White Rock, took us for a walk along the beach, showed us her allotment, got her husband to take us on a walk to see eagles and a hummingbird and fed us again. The area around White Rock, which is pretty close to the US border has changed a lot in the time that Deborah has been living there, from farmland to modern suburbia and the Wallmarts that come with it.

Because I really want to see more of Canada than Vancouver I planned a great escape to volunteer for two months at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Churchill, Manitoba, and after that to WWOOF my way back to Vancouver. On the 26th of April I was packing while the Vancouver Canucks hockey team were playing a game to get into the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All of a sudden there were cheers all around me and I looked out my window to see the lights being flicked on off in the apartments opposite me and people jumping around. The atmosphere outside was electric and Jimmy, Susann and I went outside to explore. Everyone outside was elated, complete strangers were hi-5ing and hugging one another in the street, car horns were beeping and the whole of Granville street was swarming with people, with most of it closed to traffic. At times it was good to live downtown in the middle of everything. It certainly was a good send-off party, although perhaps Vancouver seemed a bit too keen to get rid of me.

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