CBC British Columbia
Bob's Blog


bc-twins-nixon-100627.jpgInterviewing people can be a tough job.  Some folks are shy or they have something to hide.  You have to coax them to tell their story, or ambush them with a hidden camera to confront them with their misdeeds.  Others lead lives that on the surface seem unremarkable but as one prods with a question here, an observation there, out come the most amazing stories. 

But then there are the Robbins sisters, the easiest and best interview subjects I have ever encountered.  All I had to do was put a minimum number of questions to them and watch them go.  Their responses, to me, were amazing - both what I heard and what I saw.   After watching this piece, I think you will agree that they are very remarkabe people.  Sisters, Sisters icon_video.gif

No Chance?

bc-lotto-nixon-100625.jpgLike you, I am very, very disappointed that I did not win 50 million dollars over the weekend.  Yes, guilty as charged, I am one of those suckers who plunks down hard - well not so hard - earned money in the hopes of becoming filthy, stinking rich.  Believe me I would wallow in it.  I ignore all those who point out the odds are stacked against me even as I accept their truth that a win is almost impossible. 

But then, all kinds are of things are almost impossible - which is good in many cases.  Other things that are possible, far more possible than cashing in a jackpot ticket, still strike me as impossible because I am incompetent in most human endeavours.  I sensed a problem with exploring or even mentioning what those other things are because, superstitious fellow that I am, that seemed to reduce my hopes of winning the lottery even more.  After all, what are the chances of a reporter doing a story about long odds actually going on to be the one who beats them?  In my case, not good.  Long Shots icon_video.gif

Garden Work

bc-garden-nixon-100623.jpg    The G20 events that included mass arrests of demonstrators in Toronto brought out a criticism against the media that has become a commonplace these days.  It centres around the idea that the demonstrators know the media will be there, so they stage events that are designed to upstage the main event - and the media plays into their hands, giving them a platform that they could not otherwise obtain.  It's a good debate - about the role of demonstrators, media, police, public discourse of serious issues - and I am not going to provide the last word here. 

    But my thoughts travelled along a similar line last week as I went off to cover the creation of a community garden, seemingly worlds away from the big matters being played out in Toronto.   Except in this case, the cost of the garden, and all the equipment to make it, was borne by Fiskars, a Wisconsin based maker of rakes and shovels and such, along with Canadian Tire, which sells the stuff.  Now sure, the event would go ahead whether I was there to cover it or not.  But a skeptic might suggest the whole point of this fine example of corporate citizenship was, ultimately, to get such coverage and give people a good impression of the principals involved, so that when it comes time to buy a new pruner they would head down to Canadian Tire for one made by Fiskars.  Is that a bad thing or, like the demonstrators in Toronto, just the way things work in a media savvy world?  I'm also not going to provide the last word on that debate here.  But at least, in this case, a community garden got built.  Community Garden icon_video.gif

Big Wall Art

bc-graffiti-nixon-100622.jpgYou probably have seen the various ways cities try to deal with graffitti art.  Much of it is viewed, quite rightly, as an annoyance, a defacement of public and private property.  So Vancouver and other cities spend alot of money hiring people to pressure wash it away or paint over it with some neutral colour.   Utilities have adopted the habit of covering their unsightly public boxes with more pleasing plastic photo wraps of green shrubbery.  It dissaudes some of the taggers, though not all. 

But then there's an interesting approach that views spray can art as real art, that can be used to beautify the city.  Who are the artists you hire for that?  The same people the city used to hate for spray painting their works all over town - before those artists discovered that tagging doesn't pay, but spray cans cost five bucks each, wholesale.  Two very accomplished artists are now making Vancouver's largest mural right across from the Beatty Street armoury.  It's worth watching them work, but be quick, because they sure are.  If you want to learn more, head to their website.  Does anyone know if there's a school where they teach this stuff?  Spray Can Mural icon_video.gif

Summer Solstice

bc-summer-nixon-100621.jpgIs it summer already?  Don't you feel slightly cheated that this glorious season has arrived with almost no warning?  Spring was decidedly spring-like and during those 92 days between March 21 and June 21 temperatures rose above 20 degrees on just five days.  Last year, amid much fretting about global warming, we hit 20 degrees on 18 of the first 21 days of June alone.  Friends, we have reason to feel miffed.

But nature makes little adjustments to whatever the weather throws at it.  Fish gotta swim, plants gotta grow and U-pick berry fanatics still gotta head to their Strawberry Fields icon_video.gif

Seeing Sweets

bc-cake-nixon-100620.jpgI know anything is possible in this world and nothing should surprise us.  But I am still somewhat shocked when one of the biggest retailers of computers in the city is a drug store.  For no good reason this offends my sense of the way retail commerce should be conducted.  It harkens back to a time when flower shops sold flowers, hardware stores sold hardware, and drug stores sold drugs, 'notions' and candy.  My past has damaged me psychologically, made me unfit to appreciate the new realities of commerce. 

The only way to fight against this flaw is to confront it head on.  That's why, for years, I have promised myself that I would one day make a story about a shop that could be considered the embodiment of the new business mentality.  The charm of the people who run this store has finally cured me. Cakes and Glasses icon_video.gif

Scandinavian Fathers

bc-scandinavian-nixon-100619.jpgIt can be said that finding stories where no obvious story exists is something of a challenge.  This tale is an example of this.  The idea was to find a story which informed people that the coming Sunday would be Father's Day.  As the majority of adult males are also fathers, this subject heading was sufficiently broad to allow almost any story that included men or women talking about Fatherhood. 

But that's the problem.  Sometimes the range of options is so broad that finding an interesting one that seems terribly difficult.  Do I head to the beach, a construction site, a stockbroker's office to find my fathers?  I was paralyzed by the possibilities until Christer, a son of Sweden and my camera operator, reminded me that the annual Midsummer Festival at the Scandinavian Centre also fell on Father's Day.  "Let's go!" I shouted with great zest and glee and the rest is video.  Midsummer Festival icon_video.gif

The "Master"

bc-tugboat-nixon-100616.jpgI may be wrong but I believe no one ever demonstrated against the decision to put the Bluenose on Canada's dime.  No offence to the beaver, the loon, the wapiti and the rest, but the dime is my favourite coin, because a wooden sailing ship is a miracle.  Take some lengths of lumber and saw, plane, steambend and spoke-shave them into a craft that can safely cross the seas. 

Not many wooden boats are made anymore, but those that survive can trace their roots back to the ancients who saw in tree trunks a means to transform their world.  I suspect it's this communion with the past that inspires such devotion among the wooden boat folk in B.C.   They display a mild sort of reverence for watery workhorses like the steam powered "Master".  The skill that went into building that tug decades ago got displayed recently when she went into dry-dock for repairs.  It was worth a peek.  Steam Tug icon_video.gif

Bicycle Delivery

bc-bicycle-nixon-100614.jpgFor decades, we've seen bicycle couriers scramble about downtown streets, weaving in and out of traffic as they speed from office to office.  Though some might suggest (to put it mildly) that they put themselves and others in danger - few could quarrel with the proposition that theirs is the fastest delivery method availble to their customers. 

As Vancouver becomes more of a bike friendly city, it is inevitable that someone takes the bicycle courier model and extends it to products other than architects drawings and legal contracts.   But Martin Gunst also has drawn on other elements of the 'sustainable city' concept as he attempts to create his business.  If you want to know more head to his website after you see the video.   Pedal Purveyor icon_video.gif 

A Day at the Pool

bc-lifeguard-nixon-100613.jpgAs a kid, nothing outraged me more than having to prove to a lifeguard that I really could swim.  Sure they were just making sure I was not going to drown, but I saw it as a power play against me.  I was a little kid and this adult refused to believe me when I told them the truth - that I was a good swimmer.  I felt their true agenda was simply to torture me psychologically, make me feel weak and small. 

Watching this universal lifeguard/child drama play out again recently made me think that maybe I was not all that far off the mark.  Maybe in my day, lifeguards really were out to get me.  Because the way Gail the Lifeguard treats kids these days is quite different.  She gets them to think they're doing her a favour by demonstrating their swimming skills.  That could be one reason why she is a Lifeguard Champ icon_video.gif

Summer is Here

bc-summer-nixon-100611.jpgI am intrigued by these phenomena known as sunshine and cloud.  It has been so cloudly this spring that many people seem to have got out of the habit of going outside, even though the temperatures are - if not hot - at least seasonable.  The moment the sun pops through the clouds though, we all head outdoors.  Even when the temperatures are the same, a sunny 17 degrees seems much hotter than a cloudy 17.  I should ask Claire Martin why this is, but because it has been so cloudy recently, I fear I would start shouting at her.  I know she's only the messenger, like me, but I can't rid myself of the notion that it's all her fault.  Volleyball Net icon_video.gif

Marathon Man

bc-tobacco-nixon-100608.jpgWhenever anyone protested against tobacco companies in B.C., and there have been quite a few such events over the years, chances are a guy named Errol Povah was there.  He always dressed as the Grim Reaper, holding a sign encouraging children to smoke because "our business is death".  Given how Canada, the provinces and city halls, have placed more and more restrictions on where people can smoke, cigarette advertising and sponsorship, one could argue that Povah's attempt to equate cigarette manufacturers as purveyors of death has made some small impact on the war against tobacco.   

But he wants more and now at the age of 57 Povah has embarked on his latest challenge - a cross country marathon to drum up anger against 'Big Tobacco'.  In a way he is paying homage to the efforts of three fellow British Columbians who decades ago captivated the nation with their own feats of cross-country endurance in the name of noble causes.  But Povah's journey is just journey, and has not garnered much attention.  Watch this and if you are interested in learning more about his campaign, here's a link to his website.  If all goes well, he'll finish his walk/run at the end of September. Anti-Tobacco Campaign icon_video.gif 

Sky Attack!

bc-crow-nixon-100607.jpgYears ago, an owl living in Stanley Park began to attack a few joggers running along the trails.  It would wait until they ran by then swoop down and latch onto their heads before flying off.  The bird was quite particular about its targets, choosing mostly women, almost all of whom had pony tails.  Experts decided the bird mistook that for a squirrel's tail.  Probably, the owl soon learned to distinguish between the two and the attacks ended as suddenly as they began. 

Switch now to Surrey and 77-year old Pearl Schweitzer, who has got a problem even worse than that faced by the joggers.  Unlike them, she cannot run away from her attacker.  The Bird icon_video.gif

Secret Garden

bc-garden-nixon-100606.jpgSome fabulous teacher I had in Grade four or five decided to read to us immediately after every morning bell, rightly assuming that we probably were not quite ready to tackle arithmetic so early.  When she got to Frances Hodgson Burnett's wonderful novel "The Secret Garden", not many kids ever arrived late.  We all got there bright and early to hear the latest adventures of Mary and Colin in their glorious garden world.  This idea of earthly perfection, a profusion of delightful plants and flowers hidden away from life's troubles intoxicated me then and stays with me today. 

When I heard a real Secret Garden exists in Delta, I knew I had to track it down and do a story about the remarkable man who created it.  I was not disappointed.  Our bargain forbade me from publicizing exactly where it's located - and I am abiding by that agreement.  But he did tell me that if you want to know where it is, you might start by calling Delta City Hall.  They own it after all.  Hidden Gem icon_video.gif 

Photo Contest

bc-hope-nixon-100601.jpgOne backstory of the annual Hope in Shadows photography contest concerns a little incentive people get to participate.  For eight years, the Pivot Legal Society has sponsored this event - handing out a few hundred throw away cameras to people in the downtown eastside and asking them to take pictures of their community.  When they hand in the cameras after three days and used up all the film (I was surprised they still make film throwaways), each competitor gets five bucks.  Many people confess that's what drew them to the photo contest in the first place.  In a place where many people are constantly broke, five bucks is five bucks and their pictures might win a prize for more money.  

So everyone comes out a winner and, in the process, some great photos get taken.   And for one fellow, the contest helped him reunite with his family.  Family Reunion icon_video.gif

Weather Woes

bc-rain-nixon-100531.jpgI put myself through college by painting houses way back in the days when a kid could earn enough money in the summer to afford both university and housing.  I learned a couple of painting jokes, such as what do you say to a client who sees paint drips on their window panes?  No extra charge. 

I also knew about getting rained out.  West coast painters get used to days when they can't work.  It's part of the job and this year has seen more than its share of those.  But I did not realize that the rain actually keeps people from thinking about painting their houses in the first place.  And some people actually do not mind when the rain interrupts a job.  Strange but true.  Wet Paint icon_video.gif