Thursday, 27 April 2006

A Million Little Pieces of Fried Bread:

A Memoir

Part I

I don't know whether or not you know Suzanne? If you do, I'll bet that you consider yourself lucky. And so you should. If you are as lucky as I am, however, and have the privilege of being loved by her, it wouldn't be overstating the facts to say that you and I are well and truly blessed. My birthday has recently passed, you see, and I would like to take this opportunity to describe in some detail the day that Suzanne arranged for me. I do so not in an attempt to bore you stiff, and I apologise if I do, but rather to thank her for what she did and to let her know how much it meant to me. For those of you that also remembered and cared enough to pass on felicitations, to you I extend a hearty 'thank-you' as well. For the last few years, you see, for whatever reasons, my birthday has been celebrated with a minimum of fanfare. Unlike those who demand the world stand still for their Special Day, I am satisfied by nothing more than a nice meal and the gift of a shiny trinket or two. Suzanne and I have a running joke that I'm 70-something on the inside anyway, so not unsurprisingly, I generally don't get too excited about the day. On the 20th itself, we went out for that nice meal and had a lovely time, but unlike in years past, Suzanne revealed that she had something special planned for the coming Saturday. Something special, I thought? On Saturday, I mused? I knew that my sister was going to be in town, so that put an interesting spin on what we might get up to. But when Suzanne told me that Andrea had decided to skip out altogether after being apprised of the plan, I really started to get curious. Andrea loves to celebrate anything really, most especially the birthday of her very favourite brother. What could Suzanne have arranged that would make Andrea choose not to come? How nerdy was this thing going to get? On Friday night I slept the sleep of a Child on Christmas Eve, and woke up on Saturday really looking forward to something.

Suzanne was thankful that the weather was clement, indicating that at least a portion of our itinerary involved the outdoors. To start the day, I was told, we were to breakfast out, so we piled in the car and headed west. The location was a secret of course, that was the surprise, so I knew it wouldn't be Denny's, and was thankful. As we approached Arbutus street, it suddenly came to me that we must be returning to a particular pub (so rare in Vancouver) where we once ate a good late morning breakfast. I think I may have even snapped my fingers and said, 'I know where we're going'. But Suzanne just smiled and drove straight on at the expected left turn, soon into streets I had never seen. We traveled for some time in unfamilar neighbourhoods, and I had given up guessing where to, when we finally alighted in front of an unassuming storefront. An old black board with white letters reading simply 'The Diner' hung over the window, serving only to deepen the mystery. The interior was obscured to us by white lace curtains, and only a string of faded Union Jacks across the doorway hinted at what lay beyond. We fed the meter and ducked under the flags across the threshold. If you recall, I mentioned earlier that the weather was clement, and indeed, as it often does on a Spring morning, the sun shone brightly. As such, when we entered The Diner, and I closed the door behind me, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dimmer light. Soon images began to take shape, but I almost couldn't trust what I was seeing to be true. It appeared that every available surface was festooned with novelty souvenirs depicting images of either a bulldog, a bobby, or a Beefeater. On three walls hung every England-themed knick-knack imaginable, from an old black cab's license plate to Brighton Pier tea-towels, from a set of Princess Diana collector plates to more than a dozen London street signs. Pinned to any available space were hundreds of postcards illustrating holidays from as far afield as Land's End and Northumberland. In the window sill, hidden to us a moment earlier by the lace curtains, sat a five-foot long working, lighted model of the Tower of London. The place was outrageous and I loved it deeply, instantly. Suzanne had found it on the Internet somewhere, and had never been inside, but it was as if she had drawn up blueprints from my imagination and built the thing from scratch. When I spotted the proprietor, a white-haired septegenarian calling out to us in cockney singsong, I nearly started crying.

She seated us in the 'Royal Family' booth, and offered tea or coffee while we perused the menu. I quickly chose The Traditional Breakfast, as did Suzanne, and we were given 15 year old copies of This England to pass the time while Reg, pictured on the wall taking refuge in Aldwych Underground Station during the Blitz, got to work with the deep-fryer. Our meal, as interpreted by The Diner, was to consist of eggs, sausage, bacon, fried tomatoes, fried potato, and something new to me, fried bread. Now, I've had 'traditional' English breakfasts in my time, and I will measure my Romantic appreciation of the thing against that of anyone, but I don't claim to be an expert in what they should or should not include. The 'British Bulldog' breakfast at The Artful Dodger (right) for instance, came with a pint of lager for authenticity's sake. At the Cheshire Cheese Inn (below) in Kerrisdale, to give another example, the claim to tradition is argued by the inclusion of black pudding. But from now on, however, it is my personal belief that all breakfasts claiming to be traditional, or English or otherwise, must, as a matter of course, come with fried bread. If you haven't had it, know first that unlike French Toast, it is not merely bread fried in a pan. Oh, no. Imagine a slice of toast that has been dipped in oil, then lightly drizzled with a little oil, then put to cook for a while in the fish fryer. Finished off with a light coating of more oil, fried bread causes unbelievable flavour explosions with every bite. It's so good that henceforth, when presented with regular, un-fried toast, like the poet, I will be sad for I know what might have been.

Somehow the bread elevated the other items on the plate to new heights of taste. Reg was clearly one of the Great Fryers of old, and as such, the breakfast he gave us that day will stand out in my mind as one of the best. Other people came in and were seated and ate and left, but we lingered in that place, a beaming smile never off my face for more than a moment. Suzanne snickered indulgently as I gazed around me at the assemblage of British kitsch. I must have thanked her a hundred times for bringing me there, for it was Good.

And maybe I was drunk on the quart of delicious chip oil coursing through me, or perhaps I was pining for Anglia, but after wisely choosing to let out some slack on my belt, I was overwhelmed by the powerful love I felt for Suzanne. When she then revealed the plan for the rest of the day, however, I knew that what I was feeling was more than just food induced ardour. As a prelude, using the Internet as her weapon, she had somehow hunted down the breakfast place of my dreams and gave it to me as a gift. She now reached into her purse and pulled out another hard-won trophy; this time a folded piece of paper. I opened it and saw that it was a streetmap of Vancouver. On this map were marked eight points and according to the handwritten legend, each point represented a used book store. Fully 6 of them I had never visited nor even heard of. Like a hunter-Queen presenting her King with the pelts of strange beasts, Suzanne now took the map and laid it before me. She then said the words that even now cause my heart to leap in my chest, 'We're going to go around to these bookstores today on a Wodehouse Quest'.

TO BE CONTINUED in Part II - Looking For Books.

Saturday, 15 April 2006

From the age of about 14 or 15 I've wanted a scooter. I freely admit that the seed was planted after watching Quadrophenia, and even though Jimmy rode a Lambretta, I came to consider myself a Vespa man. Piaggio has been making the 'new' Vespas for a while now, but they never really appealed to me, and while I'm sure they're very competent machines, the styling left me cold. Then in 2004 Vespa introduced a limited edition PX150 that replicated the 1977 model, but with the updated mechanics of the modern machines. After a few trips into the dealership just looking, I knew it had to happen. I took the required motorcylce courses, and this May will mark the one year anniversary of our relationship. There were only two days that I didn't ride to work over this past winter, which might explain why the clutch cable rusted through and snapped twice, but with 9 horsepower and a top speed of 85, when I'm riding with my best girl on the back....well, the 15 year wait was worth it. We took the camera down to Suzanne's work yesterday to make a little video of us riding around town. It's kind of a big one though, so press play then pause it to let it load up before pressing play again or it'll stop and start all over the place.

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

I have something to admit. On Sunday I wrote about how Chris and Suzanne blew the wicked video that I was planning to make of their excellent skiing. Actually, I kind of embellished their inability to follow my instructions for comic effect; the truth is that I didn't give them any direction, and they were blameless. Here's a little video that illustrates how it can be when everyone is on the same page...

Sunday, 9 April 2006

Suzanne, Chris and I had a great day on the ski hill at Blackcomb today. The visibility was POOR for much of it, which was a drag, but that mountain is awesome. There is just so much you can ski on out there. Suzanne and I like to stick to the greens, so we pretty much spent the whole afternoon on this really long run called Easiest Route. Chris was a trooper, amusing himself by popping off little cliffs on the sides. It's a beautiful place and outrageously expensive; my apr├ęs-ski Caffrey's was $7.10. But oh so soothing....after 6 hours up and down the hill that pint was one of the best. In this video, I have skiied down a little further than Chris and Suzanne with the intention of capturing their excellent form. They really are excellent skiers, but not so much when it comes to taking direction. After I signalled their start you can actually hear them chatting and laughing. I got flustered and forgot to press the record button when they finally did go, but you should have seen it....they were awesome.

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

So last night Chris Yates and I went to the Pacific International Auto Show, or 'car show', as we call it, and had an excellent time. It's the second year Chris and I have gone together, and it's become a fun little tradition. We flit from car to car lamenting unnecessary plastic cladding (Ford GT) or baffling front fascia choices (Subaru Tribeca), pausing only to eat overpriced stadium 'food'. We have a natural ability to recognise who's turn it is to sit in the driver's seat and who's turn it is to navigate. We agree that the Escalade is as ridiculous a vehicle as ever has been made, and while he stayed strong, I couldn't resist getting in. The Hummer H2, however, surprised us both very much. I smirked as I stepped up into the beast, but it really does feel cool in that cabin. It reminded me of the one time I was in a big rig. For opulence, we rated the Infinity MSomething, or Something35 (they all look very similar to me from the outside) the very highest. I got in and immediately felt like a car thief in my hooded sweater and jean jacket. It's calf leather was buttery in texture and colour, and seemed to be on every surface. The burled wood stretched in all directions. Every knob and dial was discreetly rimmed in chrome. Beautiful. But the all-around winner was the Dodge Magnum. Acres of space on the inside, a HEMI, and it looks like a Hot Rod. Okay, wait, the most beautiful car there was the CLS 55 AMG. We stood in line to sit in it, which was fine, but from the outside? From the back? Talk about your vorsprung durch technik. Considering all of the nice cars we checked out, however, it's funny that my personal highlight would be a Honda. They somehow snuck in some of their two wheeled offerings, and while I passed on trying out the Jazz, I did have a go up on the Goldwing. This motorcycle is unbelievably huge, is equipped with an airbag, costs $30,000 and has a Reverse gear. It has more buttons on it's dash than all of my home entertainment equipment and the keyboard on my computer. What a crazy machine. I probably won't be in Vancouver for next year's show, so thanks for the memories PIAS, or 'cs', and keep on keeping on.