Small Spaces

November 28, 2014

For more than a decade, I have written short  fictions about people living in small spaces:  a couple who live on their balcony; a street person who makes a home in a doorway, for example.  My stories, and plans for more, are filled with the ingenuity required to live in such tight spots.  But nothing I had fantasized about prepared me for the real-life inventiveness of Gary Chang in Hong Kong as told in this fascinating piece from the New York Times.

Chang has managed to cram 24 different floor plans into his tiny 344 square foot apartment.


Using shifting wall units suspended from steel tracks bolted into the ceiling, the apartment becomes all manner of spaces — kitchen, library, laundry room, dressing room, a lounge with a hammock, an enclosed dining area and a wet bar.


In the last two decades, he has renovated four times, on progressively bigger budgets as his company, Edge Design Institute, has grown. His latest effort, which took a year and cost just over $218,000, he calls the “Domestic Transformer.”

Incredible ingenuity.  I couldn’t possibly live in it, but I appreciate the design skills that have brought it about.


First published:  January 2009


Buy Nothing Day 2014

November 28, 2014

Buy Nothing Day 2013

To Sleep, Perchance To Nap And Sleep Again

November 27, 2014

buddha sleepsI have always had sleeping schedules that were out of the ordinary (assuming that a single period of 6-9 hours sleep at night is considered “ordinary”).  Since retiring five years ago, and thus not having to meet any kind of official schedule, I have expanded the oddity of my sleep.

My basic sleep pattern these days is to go to bed around 11pm and wake about 3am; return to bed about 5am and sleep until 7 or 8am; then have a two hour nap in the afternoon, usually from about 3-5pm. That gets me about eight hours of segmented sleep each day. None of my sleep or wake times is mediated by alarm clock or other device; it is all natural.

During that middle-of-the-night waking period, I often seem to get a lot of basic work done — collating, filing, researching, scheduling — that I tend not to do in the daylight. That organizational work allows me to get straight into action-oriented stuff first thing in the morning.  Sometimes, I just spend the night time playing backgammon or watching sports. In those cases the great benefit of having been up is simply the tactile pleasure of getting back into a warm cozy bed and snuggling down again.

I assumed that my sleep pattern was unusual. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to discover today there is something called the Polyphasic Society that promotes multiple periods of sleep each day.  According to their definition, I seem to be practising Dual Core Sleep.

I can sleep a lot better now knowing that I have a whole Society behind me.

P.D. James R.I.P.

November 27, 2014


It is with sadness that I hear of the death of the geat British novelist P.D. James at the grand old age of 94. In my review of Serial Detectives earlier this year, I noted that, once I had discovered James’ work, I had devoured them whole.

I regret that in the obituaries today she is invariably called a “mystery” novelist.  While it is true that her earliest works are classic and rather simple Agatha Christie country-house-murder style books, and her primary protagonist is a policeman, that was the least of it.  Like the very best of her kind (Laurence Gough, Michael Dibdin), James grew into her craft and transcended the genre to become simply a great novelist.  “A Taste For Death” (1986) and “Devices and Desires” (1989) were probably the tipping points in that evolution, at least for me.

P.D. James overcame very difficult personal and family crises in her early life to become the Baroness James of Holland Park and a formidable literary power.  A fine life.

Tree at Garry Point

November 27, 2014

tree at garry point small

Lame Turkey

November 27, 2014

I just don’t get the fuss about turkey as a celebratory meal.  Back in the days of the early settlers, I can quite understand the appeal of eating the largest bird in the yard. But not these days, surely.

Turkey is such a flat plain boring and generally dry chew that it really serves as nothing more than a platter for all the sauces and gravies we pour on top to hide the flat boring taste.

Why not celebrate instead with a fine pork loin, roasted and rested to perfection, glazed with preserves?  Or a fillet or two of baked cod with nothing fancier than melted butter. Or a toad-in-the-hole with rosemary sprigs and onion gravy. One of the myriad of curries, maybe, or a pasta, rich or lean. Or treat yourself to the best dim sum in town at Western Lake.

Anything but turkey!

Homeless Shelter in Grandview

November 26, 2014

Last night I attended the City’s public meeting on a new winter homeless shelter being opened in a week or so on East Pender Street.  On a very rainy night, about 40 local residents came out to the Wise Hall to learn about the shelter.

Brenda Prosken, CoV’s General Manager of Community Services, gave an informative presentation on the history of efforts in the city to deal with street homelessness and how winter shelters fit into the continuum of housing.


The shelter will be run by Rain City (who run some other highly controversial shelters, including in Mount Pleasant). There will be 40 beds, reservable, and will be open 24 hours a day — this is an excellent and much needed change from the system that used to force the homeless out of shelters each morning to fend for themselves until the shelter opened again at night.  Three meals a day will be provided, along with laundry services, and the homeless will be allowed to bring inside their pets and their carts of possessions.  Rain City will work with CoV and outside agencies to provide drug and alcohol harm reduction services.

After the presentation, we had small group discussions with City and Rain City staff.  My table included several residents who live around Woodland Park — close to the shelter — and I was interested to learn the issues that plague that Park.  It is, I learn, a daily hangout for alcohol and drug users, and the Park is gravely contaminated with needles and other unpleasant debris from their lifestyles.  There was concern that having a shelter so close would exacerbate those problems.

The RainCity folks suggested that, because of the 24/7 openness, the low-barrier entry, and their hopes to ensure local homeless get into the shelter, they hoped the new place might actually reduce some of these negative activities. They noted that their programs were designed to give priority to sheltered homeless in the search for more permanent supportive housing.

I am a strong supporter of the shelter concept.  I recognize that some homeless do not want to go into shelters, and that’s their right, so far as I am concerned; but others do want the help.

My only problem with this particular shelter is that they are to use a vacant building owned by Epic Developments, a building that is scheduled to be demolished for market housing next spring.  The taxpayers of Vancouver are therefore paying what I am sure is a handsome lease, giving an additional profit to a business for a building that would have been left empty.  I guess it is too much to expect a greed-driven developer to simply allow the use for a dollar a year?  Now that would be genuine public service.