Wandering Heathrow

Did I mention that we’re going to Oslo? It’s a trip that started with “hey, we should spend Thanksgiving in Iceland with my parents!” that evolved, once Iceland’s 4-week service dog quarantine became evident, into an alterative Nordic adventure. So my parents book YYZ-PHL-MAN-OSL and we booked YHZ-YOW-LHR-OSL.

And it’s LHR where I type to you today, as our afternoon layover draws to a close.

Best decision we made was to get a day room here at the Thistle Hotel near Terminal 5. It was only 45 pounds ($90 CDN at today’s rate) for 8 hours, and although it’s a tiny, plain room, it has a bed and a shower and free, fast wifi. It’s also strikingly close to Terminal 5, from which we depart in a few hours.

Plan A for this afternoon was that Catherine would nap and relax here in the hotel while Oliver and I repeated our 2010 movie-going adventure, with plans to go to the same Cineworld Feltham to see The Martian.

This plan got scuttled when a series of three cab drivers either flat-out refused to take Ethan in their cabs, or wanted an extortionate price – $60 each way – to take us the 20 minutes to the cinema.

So we fell back on Plan B, which was to wander around the neighbourhood.

You would think that the area around a Heathrow Airport hotel would be a stark wasteland of concrete. And there is certainly some of that. But, it turns out, there’s also lots that’s more interesting.

In a wander of a few hours around the hotel we encountered a bridge constructed in 1834 bearing the crest of King William IV, the Heathrow Special Needs Farm (filled with all manner of horses, sheep, goats, and donkeys), Waterside (the world headquarters of British Airways), relaxed in the sun at the Peggy Bedford Biodiversity Site, and had lunch at The White Horse Pub. At the pub we learned that at a British pub there is no table service (after waiting for table service for 15 minutes I Googled “how to order at a British pub” and helpfully found a guide that sent me to the bar to order).

Now we’re off to Oslo.



Heathrow Special Needs Farm


It's Raining Quilts

The annual Quilt Show is happening inside St. Paul’s Anglican Church in downtown Charlottetown. Catherine is one of the organizers, and our 2000 VW Jetta is the platform for the “car quilt” that’s out on the lawn (the presence of our car there prompted City Police to phone me last night, concerned that I know that my car was on the lawn of the church).

The artistry and technique of the quilts, rugs, hangings and other fiber pieces in the show is stellar; it’s the best $5 you’ll spend this week. And you get to see the inside of St. Paul’s too.

Car Quilt

Quilts in Church

The Year of Open Data

It has been the year of talking about open data.

It all started back in February when I was invited to present to a meeting of ARMA Prince Edward Island, a comity of public servants working in “recorded information management.” This was a “hands-on” workshop (blog | slides), and I used my work with electricity data as the jumping off point for a tour of open data technical concepts from a records management perspective.

Attending that session was Mike Fagan, Queen’s Printer for Prince Edward Island, and subsequently Mike invited me to speak to the Queen’s Printers Association of Canada at their national meeting here in Charlottetown in June (blog | slides).

For my presentation to Queen’s Printers, I reshaped my presentation to focus on open data “from a user’s perspective.” My goal was to communicate something about what it’s like to be a longtime consumer of open data, with the hopes that I could take the open data conversation beyond the realm of “you need to do this because it’s right” and, by showing concrete examples of how open data can lead to citizen engagement, show public servants how open data can improve public policy making. I shaped the talk around 7 “open data principles” based on my own experiences.

As chance would have it, my talk to Queen’s Printers was ready to go when I received a call from Gary McLeod, Chief Electoral Office of Prince Edward Island wondering if I might present on much the same topic to Chief Electoral Officers of Canada at their annual meeting, to be held in Charlottetown in July.

I further-refined my talk for Chief Electoral Officers (blog | slides), distilling my “open data principles” from 7 down to 5:

  1. You have no idea (at all) what open data might be used for.
  2. PDFs are where data goes to die.
  3. Sometimes “open” can simply mean following rules of design.
  4. Open data is a conversation.
  5. Sometimes your users will create open data for you.

With a new government in place here in Prince Edward Island, and open data a part of the election campaign platform, in one form or another, of all the parties, I suggested that my presentation might find a receptive audience within the public service, and this led to a presentation to deputy ministers in late August (slides), a presentation that engendered 30 minutes of engaging discussion afterwards. That session was, I believe, as useful for me as for deputies, as I learned a lot about how, from a high-level policy perspective, the challenges and opportunities of open data are regarded.

Attending that session was Wendy MacDonald, Clerk Assistant to Executive Council. Last week I ran into Wendy on Upper Prince Street while we were out walking our respective dogs, and our street corner conversation led to a suggestion that there might be a wider audience for my presentation in the broader public service. And so this Wednesday I’ll present to a group of public servants over the lunch hour as part of a regular series of lunchtime sessions that are held for those working in policy and planning.

And before that, I’m presented to a “civilian” group tomorrow evening, the Open Data Book Club, a special interest group of the PEI Developers. While I am presenting the same material as I’ve presented to public servants, this is an audience of eager open data consumers, and so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to engage with them about what I’ve learned from the public service, and to help point the way forward from here. This session is free and open to the public; you can RSVP here. It will be held at the Charlottetown Yacht Club starting at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 22, 2015.

You should go and see Evangeline

Fraser McCallum, personable communications manager at the Confederation Centre of the Arts (and Charlottetown’s foremost cardigan-wearer) flagged me down on the street earlier this week.

“Would you be interested in tickets to a preview of Evangeline?” he asked.

Evangeline being the second-coming of the Ted Dykstra-created grand dérangement musical, launched originally in 2013 and back at the Centre this fall for a revivified production.

Fraser was brave in making this offer, no doubt aware that I have a conflictual relationship with my bedmates here at The Guild, Anne and Gilbert, whose carrying on I am subjected to delighted by several times a week during theatre season.

I love Anne and Gilbert like siblings. And yet often wish they were dead. Such is life in as closely packed a family as ours.

I am not, in other words, a universally well-regarded appreciator of musical theatre.

And yet Fraser was confident (or foolhardy) enough to invite me to voluntarily inflict musical theatre upon myself.

Which is how I found myself sitting beside Catherine in Row J of the main stage at the Confederation Centre on Wednesday night waiting for the lights to dim and the rousing choruses to begin.

Going in, there was a roughly equal chance that I’d either hate it with the very core of my being or that I’d irrationally fall in love with it.

Spoiler: I irrationally fell in love with it.


This has been a season of grand dérangement for us: in May we accidentally happened upon Grand Pré, Nova Scotia while on a weekend trip and learned, through Parks Canada’s excellent interpretation, the story of the Acadian expulsion. And, what’s more, got to experience the stunning landscape of the area and come to understand more about why it might once have been regarded as a paradise on earth.

Grand Pré

Evangeline is a story that starts in Grand Pré and follows history through the expulsion, and eventual return, knitting everything together against the canvas of the thwarted love of Evangeline and Gabriel.

And it is epic.

Both as a story, and as a production.

The performances are epic. The music is epic. The costumes are epic.

The staging – whirling roundabouts and raising sails and wharfs that turn into huts that turn into mountains – is epic too.

But things didn’t start off well for me.

While I understand the necessity of speaking in distilled essences rather than finely drawn characters, the “here are the happy people of Acadie in their happy fiddle-playing idyll” was too much of a caricature for my taste, and didn’t sufficiently establish why Acadie was such a unique place with a long history. As so much of the drama of the tale depends on this, I wished that this part of the story had been stronger.

But things improved from that misstep, and by intermission, with the Acadians expelled and Evangeline and Gabriel pulled apart, I was left eagerly wondering what would happen next.

There were, in other words, no thoughts of escape during intermission.

The second act is where the real heart of Evangeline lies. In some ways it seems like an entirely different musical, and could almost exist as a self-contained piece.

The set is more inventively used, the music is more finely woven into the plot, the trekking back and forth across the eastern United States, which could have been plodding and dull, was, through imaginative staging, thrilling.

I unreservedly loved the second act, from opening until the rousing close.

And yet, it was musical theatre. What was happening to me?

What I realized, halfway through the first act, is that to enjoy musical theatre at all requires a suspension of the sense of its core absurdity, that being the notion that it’s a completely normal thing for song to break out at the drop of a hat.

It also helped to realize that what in a documentary about the grand dérangement could be communicated through narration must be telegraphed through other means in a musical, and so getting comfortable with the musical theatre tropes that are used for this, and relaxing into them, was a great help as well.

Which is also, perhaps, why my comfort with the second act was much greater than with the first: I was putting on a new set of clothes, and I needed to get used to them.

All epic, rousing, consuming, dramatic panorama aside, there’s another very good reason to love Evangeline, and that is because it’s an engaging musical about Canada, and a work of art that, perhaps for the first time in a generation, sees the Confederation Centre theatrically living up to its mandate to “celebrate the origins and evolution of Canada as a nation.”

Evangeline runs until October 10 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts (tickets); it also runs October 31 to November 22 at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre (tickets).

You really should go and see it.


The 3000 km Walk to School

Oliver started grade 9 at Birchwood this week, his last year at intermediate school, and the 9th year we’ve been walking up Prince Street together every morning.  As with last year, Ethan’s not quite ready to start school yet (soon; very soon!), but he still walks to school with us every morning.

Nine years, 180 days a year, 2 km there and back every morning: that’s 3,240 km of walking. Our morning walk is the most important time we spend together every single day; I wouldn’t trade those kilometers for anything.

Grade Nine, 2015

Oliver (and Ethan), on the first day of Grade 9

Grade Eight, 2014

First Day of Grade Eight

Grade Seven, 2013

First Day of Grade 7

Grade Six, 2012

First Day of Grade 6

Grade Five, 2011

First Day of Grade 5

Grade One, 2007

The King of Prince Street