… to Vancouver

Within two minutes of leaving our undamaged hire car on Granville Street, we picked up some groceries from (what I imagined to be) a store typifying the Vancouver vibe. Fresh fruit and vegetables, artisan coffee and a commitment to LGBT rights. The Grizzly Claw coffee was roasted by Kicking Horse. “From the heart of the mountains, a strong spirit roars … headed for a mug near you.” Now that’s Johnny’s kinda coffee..

We had rented a condo in Yaletown for the week and Ryan came round immediately, to show us around a city that he has plainly fallen in love with. We headed to Kitsilano for a rendezvous with his other love, Cheryl, then ate sushi and bought a shower stool.

On our first morning we headed downhill (always the preferred option in a wheelchair) towards the False Creek waterfront, to catch a SeaBus across to Granville Island Market. With the tide at low ebb, the ramp down to the pontoon was steep, and I would not have been able to get back up it on my own. However, 1) Juanita is a sturdy lass and 2) By the time we returned, as if by magic, the tide had come in a bit. How does that even happen?

20180808_103753There are two types of SeaBus catamarans; one for grown-ups and a second, larger craft with a ramp. Both chug around the harbour to what I am sure is a plan, and I loved the tendency for the skippers to chuck existing passengers off their boats, if new ones better suited their particular route. “There’ll be another one along in a minute folks!” Once aboard, it was a treat to view the downtown area on either side of the creek, as we mingled with kayaks, paddleboards and the odd gin-palace.

One more note on the ramps. Passengers to Granville Island and some other landings can use a series of shallower slopes that are much easier to negotiate. One of these is dedicated to former BC lieutenant-governor David Lam who, I was told, championed many access improvements to Vancouver’s complicated public transport network.

20180904_110745Granville Island hosts a number of public markets selling fantastic varieties of food, arts & crafts. We spent several hours sniffing around, at one point trying to eat an ice-cream as it melted onto my wrist and shorts, and listening to the buskers. I also bought, I can now reveal, this ceramic bird for Juanita’s birthday. Oh, and some maple-leaf ear studs acquired earlier, while in panic mode.

Ryan’s partner Cheryl is something of a whizz at ‘hahkey’ and we spent an evening watching her play an off-season match, at an eight-rink complex in Burnaby. Outside the NHL the opportunities for fighting are few-and-far between, so we were better able to appreciate her undoubted skill. She contributed one goal and two assists.

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¬°Fiesta Juanita!

On Juanita’s actual birthday the sky was cloudy (and somewhat smoky) and the wind strong enough for our whale-watching trip to be cancelled. So we consumed the traditional Healey Birthday Breakfast in the apartment and a picnic lunch in Stanley Park. Dinner was taken as planned, at the Seasons restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Park to the south of the city. Even with the reduced viz, the views over the city were dramatic and the meal was memorable. Close by the restaurant is the Bloedel Conservatory, a mini-Eden Project dome stuffed with exotic plants and free-flying birds. The big parrots like to perch under their own umbrellas.

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Lunch at Chamber

And we met up with Gordon, my old friend from No.179 Royal Navy flying training course. We went through the mill together for over a year, first at survival school and subsequently on Bulldog aeroplanes, then Gazelle and Sea King helicopters. Gordon progressed to become a fairly heavy-duty instructor on Sea Kings, before settling in British Columbia. He now trains crews with one of the biggest helicopter operators in the world.

Gordon and Lupita gave us lunch in Yaletown and had us round to their place in Burnaby for some excellent barbeque. My first-ever tot of Johnny Walker Blue Label may have been a mistake but getting up the steps to the front door, with Linda and Ryan to the rear, lifting my feet in turn to my command, required a level of coordination that would have been unlikely if attempted while sober. Gordy has yet to take that particular course.

It’s a cliche to vow to revisit the site of a memorable holiday, but in our case we have little choice. I can’t see Ryan returning to his tiny flat in Liphook any time soon. And we still have that whale-watching trip to do.

… the Wasp

Andy Wasp

Me before …

We had better refer to this as work-in-progress; I haven’t yet managed to get into the cockpit of a Wasp, let alone ride it. But here I am, in my gilded youth, mounted and ready to spring into action in defence of — damn, forgot my aircrew knife..

I flew the Wasp for two deployments aboard HMS Endurance, the British Navy’s Antarctic Patrol Ship. We were away from October to May, 1979-80 and 80-81, mostly supporting the British Antarctic Survey’s work in the Peninsula. We also flew David Attenborough and his team as they filmed Life in the Ice sequences for the BBC ‘s well-loved Living Planet series. Penguins, so many penguins.

I loved flying the Wasp although it was a pretty impractical beast; single engine, limited payload, fly doors-off daylight hours only and always within sight of mother. It was soon replaced by the twin-engine Lynx.

A decade or so ago I found “my” Wasp in a corner of the excellent Fleet Air Arm Museum at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. I took about 10 minutes to haul my sorry ass into the comfy right-hand seat but I got there. While surveying the strictly analogue cockpit my son Adam, then about 10 so we’re talking around 2000, clambered into the left seat, had a quick look round and promptly jettisoned his door. Maintaining my compusure, I explained how I had managed to fly the thing in a most challenging environment for two years without putting a scratch on it, and then he …

But you know what’s coming. “But Dad, it says ‘PULL HERE’!”. He’s a doctor of engineering now.

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… and after

So anyhow, now I see another airframe has been restored to flying condition and is doing the summer round of air displays. I met pilot Terry Martin and he showed me around — its markings are Endurance flight! It even has the penguin device painted on the rear doors.

It’s in beautiful nick. Our helicopters also sported red noses and tails to improve our visibility against the ice glare. The year after I left, the lads had to camouflage them, like this, for the Falklands conflict. They continued to fly doors off but now at night, in winter conditions, under radio and radar silence and fitted with anti-ship missiles instead of survey equipment. I’m glad I wasn’t tested in that arena.