How Many Gold Medals Did Captain America Get?

A while ago I wrote a blog post that pondered the question whether my son would view himself as British, Canadian, or American.

During the Olympics I got my answer. My wife and I started pointing out the British, Canadian and American flags when they appeared on-screen. My son, whose favorite sports seemed to be swimming and diving (I put this down to his recent engagement in weekend swimming lessons), soon picked up the national branding.

When the British flag was shown – and I say with enormous pride that it was often shown on the top of a flag pole – my son would point at the screen and say “Dada, Dada, your country Dada. Moma! It Dad country! Dada from Eng-er-land!”

A couple of things here. First, my son hasn’t worked out the difference between England and Britain yet – but then, he’s not the only one, is he? Second, “Eng-er-land” is not a speech impediment or the result of a 3-year-old trying to master the language. It is in fact the result of a summer watching his Dad, watching Eng-er-laaand play at Euro 2012 – together with way too many renditions of Fat Les’ Vindaloo.

Go on, give it a listen and then try to get it out of your head for the rest of the day.

Back to the Olympics and my son’s first stumbling steps into working out his national identity. The boy got very excited every time he saw the maple-leaf sporting red and white rectangle. “DAAADDDAAAAA! My country Dada! It Canada Dada! Dada it my country!” There’s my answer, my son is Canadian. Bless him.

It was almost upsetting for his mom and me that every time there was an actual final or a medal contest, my son’s rhetoric would go something like this: “Moma, there your country! Dada there your country! Where my country?”

“Your country will be in the next race son.” We would assure him time after time, giving the fake hope that parents do despite the knowledge that it will never happen. Sod’s law he was at his swimming lesson when the women’s trampoline competition was on. (Canada won its only gold medal in this event for those that don’t know. And, yes trampoline is an Olympics event if you missed that too. I know, I know.)

The proud nation of Captain America

Captain America is a fictional character, a super hero who appears in Marvel Comics. The boy got a Captain America action figure for his last birthday. You think I’ve wondered off topic don’t you? You’re thinking: I thought he was talking about the Olympics and his son discovering his national identity. I can see why you’d think that… hang on, I’m about to tie it all in…

So, in a way that only a 3-year-old’s mind works, whenever the Stars and Stripes was hoisted, we’d hear the following ring out: “MOOOMMMAAAAAA! It your country Moma! It Captain America!”

It is far too cute to correct. So for the time being, my son is going around telling people: “My country Canada. Dada from Eng-er-land and Moma from Captain America.”

Olympic Pride

Like many around the world, I have been taking in the Olympics in recent days. There is an added interest for us expats this time around, with London as the host city. I have to confess to a swelling of pride as I took in the opening ceremony – a swelling that worked its way right up to my throat and was so uncomfortable that it brought a tear to my eye.

A Britain I know was presented in an excellent opening ceremony.
Photography by Matt Lancashire, via Wikipedia.org

The first Olympics I can remember watching is Los Angeles 1984, and every two years since I’ve tuned in to the opening ceremony (I also make sure to take in the winter version). I have always enjoyed the grandeur and pomposity of the show and the parade of nations. But I can’t really recall any of those ceremonies. Opening ceremonies don’t stick in your mind like Daley Thompson pole vaulting, or Linford Christie winning the 100 metres, or Sir Steve Redgrave taking Gold again.

I think this one will stay with me though. The reason is that the narrative was recognizable. It conjured images and sounds of British history and culture that I am very familiar with. From working men in an industrial setting to the comedy of Mr. Bean. From the Eastenders theme tune to the Arctic Monkeys and Hey Jude. James Bond, the NHS, Chelsea Pensioners, Shakespeare, Chariots of Fire, Cricket and Her Majesty herself. I thought the World Wide Web was an American thing, but no, that was born in Britain too.

Yes, watching the opening ceremony gave a real sense of pride. It will live with me for a long time.  Good job Danny Boyle.

The BBC has a pretty good photo gallery of the opening ceremony, here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-19020830

My Take On The England Riots

150-year-old furniture store on fire in London. Photo source: BBC News (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14526432)

The rioting in England was appalling.

I watched the video of the young man, who had had his jaw broken, being pulled from the ground by helpful youths – only to calmly unzip his backpack and help themselves to the contents. I saw the furniture shop that had stood through two World Wars burn to the ground. And I heard the young people who spoke about looting as if it was a game – no thought given to the consequences of their actions. Although deeply disturbing, it was compelling viewing and listening.

As if people losing their homes, their possessions, their memories and their livelihoods were not enough, people – innocent people – died. Tragic. And unnecessary. A French colleague shook my hand, looked at me in empathy, and said “sorry for what’s happening in England”. I felt deeply ashamed.

What was almost as distasteful was the media pulling all sorts of ‘experts’ out of the wilderness to tell us why it had happened. One psychologist on Canadian radio seemed to suggest that the riots were the result of the excess of one parent families without father figures. Other, more direct reasoning included anger over government cuts, police incompetence, the shooting of a teenager by authorities, the economy, etc. etc.

The fact is, it was a few bad apples leading an army of brain-dead and easily manipulated kids into committing awful crime. It has nothing to do with any of the above. Neither does it have anything to do with these kids being poor – they were running around in Adidas hoodies and Nike shoes while texting on iPhones and Blackberry’s. The poor youth of England have never been so wealthy.

I was once a disaffected youth myself. Many of the family and friends I grew up with too. My parents (one a part-time domestic help… that’s a cleaner to you and me, and one on disability after working for over 40 years in a manual job) could not afford to buy me designer labels. I never went abroad; in fact we rarely took a vacation. When we did, it was bed and breakfast in Blackpool for a few days. Neither I, nor any of the friends that surrounded me ever left our council houses to embark upon a riotous frenzy that would terrorize our neighbours and local hard working people. Number of windows broken, zero; number of shops looted, zero; number of buildings burned down, zero; number of people killed, zero. Instead I grew my hair into a god-awful mess, and wore ripped jeans – my rebellion.

I don’t say this to take the ‘holier than thou’ high ground, or to paint the nostalgic picture of a better past. In fact, I grew up in an era of football violence. That had as much to do with football as these latest riots had to do with poverty, politics, the economy, a shooting, or any of the other excuses offered… including the abundance of one parent families. These were mindless kids being led by thugs for their own entertainment and gain.

I now hear that some in the UK are saying that the sentences handed down to these thugs are too harsh. Nonesense. The amount of damage these imbeciles have caused to property, to people, to the country and it’s perception abroad, will affect for years to come. Throw the book at them. And, if they’re under 16, throw the book at their parents too. (I can imagine that if I had ever been involved in criminality of this kind as a young man, the only thought that would have scared me more than prison would have been my mom finding out).

In stark contrast I read that virtually no-one has been charged two months after the Vancouver riots. I’ll take the British approach to dealing with rioters, please.

The Desire To Blog

August 20, 2011 5 comments

So, I haven’t posted in a while. The Montreal summer, house hunting, a job that has required my focus, allergies… there have been many reasons I haven’t dipped my virtual pen in my virtual ink pot. Really though, all excuses.

I was speaking with a colleague last week and somehow – I don’t remember how – we got to talking about being ‘detail oriented’. I had mentioned something along the lines of how I have to check certain things because some people are just not detail oriented. “It’s a matter of desire” he said. “People are as detail oriented as they want to be.” It rang true for me, being one of those non-detail-oriented people in a former life.

Blogs are a matter of desire too. When all said and done, if I’d had the desire to actually write a blog post over the summer, I would have, regardless of parenting duties, late nights at work, or marching around open houses on the weekends. It’s not as if nothing has happened, or I’ve had nothing to say either:

– The rioting in England. I sat and watched, and shook my head at that. I’ll put my thoughts in the next post.

– A hot, hot, hot summer in Montreal. As hot as I remember in my 11 summers here. What a pity I’ve spent most of it…

– House hunting in Montreal’s West Island. And, without any luck.

– And, I believe we had a Royal visit in Canada too… when they came to Montreal, I donned my England football jersey, got in the car… and left town for the weekend.

Has my blog posting desire returned? Well, only time will tell, right?

A Gruesome Kid’s Song

Alouette. I sung it as a child. I’m sure you did too. It’s a familiar and catchy little tune; Alouette, gentille Alouette… All these years though, and I’ve never actually known what I’ve been singing about. In fact, I confess, I always thought it was Alouette, jonty Alouette. I had no clue what ‘jonty’ meant. But then I didn’t know what an Alouette was either.

Then, many years later, I found myself on an intensive French language course. I really disliked that course. 6 months of studying a language I find so difficult – it would have helped to have supportive teachers, instead of ones that made you feel 3 inches tall when you couldn’t remember a verb. As testimony to the quality of the course, I offer the fact that, despite progressing to – and passing – level 3 (which they term ‘intermediate’), I still didn’t know how to say “sorry, I can’t speak French”, in French! I digress. Back to the Alouette song…

As part of this course, we sung. Yes, I felt a little embarrassed, but a least I was in the corner at the back, so I could sing quietly and not be noticed. One of these songs, of course, was Alouette. We attacked it with gusto. A song that we could all handle. The words were there on the song sheet, so we read, we sung. We didn’t understand.

After a few renditions, it was time to actually discover what the words meant.

HORRIFIED.

An Alouette, or Lark, taking a last ruffle of its feathers before a French kid plucks them.

For those still in the dark, the song is about plucking a bird (an Alouette is a bird. Actually, it’s French for Lark. I know that now). Each verse details the progressive mutilation of this innocent little creature. Depending upon the version, you pluck the feathers on it’s head, then the wings, and and the back, even the poor little bugger’s beak gets tugged out! And no mention of the bird being deceased before the commencement of this torture either. Disturbing.

Naturally, I did what all self-respecting, sane, relatively new parents would do. I found a version on YouTube, and played it to my 10 month old son. He loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Wanted me to replay it over and over. It rivaled Beyonce’s Single Ladies as his all time favourite (what is it with that Beyonce video mesmerizing babies?).

My son’s favourite version of Alouette:

Of course, the French are not the only ones to impose songs and rhymes of dubious content on the next generation. It got me thinking of a few other little ditties we used to sing. It’s no wonder we all grew up to need therapy:

– Rock-a-bye, baby in the treetop… When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall, And down will come baby, Cradle and all – what kind of whack-job would hang a baby in a treetop? Especially on a windy day.

Humpty Dumpty, a giant EGG with arms and legs fell off a wall and smashed his head into pieces. (“Daddy, what have you been smoking?”) The King’s Men, couldn’t save him, and presumably with that level of head trauma, the paramedics wouldn’t have fared any better.

Jack and Jill fell down the hill. Jack broke his crown. No word on whether he’s going to survive, or on Jill’s condition.

– Oh, and in other news London Bridge is falling down.

It’s worse than the six o’clock news.

Any more unsettling kids tunes spring to mind?

The Comforting Sound of British Sitcoms

Birds of a Feather

Do you ever find old British sitcoms on Canadian TV, and leave them on despite the fact you think they’re crud and you never used to watch them in the UK? I do.

I’m currently writing this with Birds of a Feather going on in the background. A bad 1990’s sitcom about two working class women living in a posh suburb off the back of their imprisoned husband’s loot. I never watched it in the UK, but I find it somehow soothing to have it’s familiarity playing away as the backdrop to a cold Canadian evening. Next up is One Foot in the Grave, which, in my humble opinion is much better.

Keeping Up Appearances is another that gets left on, despite me never having watched it 20 years ago in Britain, and in spite of the fact I don’t like it at all. Coronation Street on a Sunday morning has become a ritual in our house (I know, it’s not a sitcom, but it may as well be). I never actually watch it, it’s just on. When in Britain, it gets switched off.

It must be the security that familiarity brings. I long for the day that Del Boy, Rodders and Grandad (or Uncle) turn up on my Canadian TV screen. Now there will be a Britcom that will get my full attention.

Weather? You Don’t Have Weather!

It’s recognized as a great British pass-time; talking about the weather. And, it’s true. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with my mother in the last 10 years where she hasn’t mentioned the weather.  The Brits just love talking about it. Or should that be complaining about it?

The irony is, in general the Brits don’t have any weather. Ok, they have ‘weather’, but not ‘weather’. Not the kind of weather we have over here in Canada. We have seasons in Canada. In spring it rains, the sun shines and it gets hot in summer, the fall* is a little chilly but we’re treated to the beautiful foliage. And in winter, well it snows. A lot. And it’s cold. Very, very cold.

England in winter, and autumn, and spring, and most of the summer

In the UK it’s usually mostly a grey and wet spring, followed by a largely cloudy summer with showers, a gloomy autumn with some downpours, and a miserable wet and cold winter. Barring a day or two of sun in July or August, and the annual few days’ national shut down due to an inch and a half of white stuff, it’s pretty standard fare. Of course, I understand that this is some justification for the complaints, but it’s hardly riveting conversation is it?

“Bit wet and chilly today, innit Bob?”

“Yup, mind you not as wet and chilly as yesterday, Bill”

“Ye’r right there. What’s it supposed to be like tomorrow Bob?”

“Gonna be gray Bill. With a bit of rain. And chilly.”

“Tut, tut. Bloody weather.”

“Yeah, bloody weather, tut, tut.”

Conversations like this have been going on for centuries across the British Isles. There are probably thousands of conversations like this taking place right now.

I genuinely admire the Canadian resilience in the face of extreme weather. “A bit chilly” to them is -10°C, with a -20°C wind chill. They’ll also wear shorts at the first sign of sunshine on grass, regardless of the temperature, and they’ll be sitting outside on terraces milking the last glimmer of sunshine until the last leaves fall.

Now that’s weather, and how to deal with it.

*Fall is Autumn in North Americanish  (for the Brits without North American experience)

The Royal Wedding

April 28, 2011 2 comments

The Monarchy is a polarizing institution on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’ve never been a royalist. The idea of a group of well-to-do people being idolized and lauded through the good fortune of birth never quite sat well with me. It could be my working class roots. It’s pretty difficult to sit there in your council house, wondering if your Dad’s ever going to get off disability, and wishing you had the money to go on a school trip, while ‘your’ Royal Familyare off swanning around all parts of the globe, playing polo, and talking all posh. It definitely always felt like a ‘them and us’ situation. And they seemed to do alright out of our tax dollars… I mean, pounds.

I have mellowed over the years. I think there are a number of reasons for this: I’m now definitely in the middle classes – money is less of an issue; I’ve met some of those well-to-do, posh speaking folk, and a lot of them are actually ok; and I’ve seen the impact the British Monarchy has on the rest of the world.

I’m still not a royalist, but I appreciate the history, and I do feel a little sense of pride when I see the whole world obsessed with my country of birth and it’s traditions.

Hmmm... classy. Image source: http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/

It has been truly fascinating to see the American and Canadian media covering the pending wedding of our future King Billy and Queen Kate. What other event could possibly stir so much interest, and throw so much attention on the UK? British tin tray, key ring, and mug manufacturers must be boosting their retirement funds as well.

And, then there is the realization that these people are human beings. I simply cannot imagine having to go through this very personal process under the glare of the whole world. I get tetchy when people look over my shoulder at lunch time and ask me what I’m eating. As for Wills – he seems ok really, not a bad apple.

So, I wish them well. I hope the world enjoys the show. But there is no way on Earth that I’m getting up at 4am to see it.

Will My Son Label Himself Canadian, British or American?

April 17, 2011 5 comments

A recent comment on  my blog got me thinking. The comment, from my friend Maria, questioned what pieces of the accents of his English dad, American mom, and Quebec home he would pick up. It got me thinking about his ‘identity’.

I am a dual citizen – British by birth, Canadian by naturalization. Kerri – my much better half  – is American. My son was born in Pointe-Claire, Quebec in 2009. He is Canadian.

I never got round to applying for my Canadian passport, so I travel on a UK one. Kerri holds an American passport, and my boy has a Canadian one. This seems particularly confusing and disturbing for US customs officials. And, I find myself wondering if Evan (that’s my son) will grow up confused about his national identity.

When you ask Canadians about their nationality, many tend to answer by describing their heritage. I had a conversation with two Canadian colleagues recently on this subject. One is of Indian heritage, but was born and has lived her entire life in Montreal, the other has Iranian ancestry, and has been in Montreal since her formative years. They felt that when someone asked where they were from, they were actually enquiring about their lineage. That’s why, when asked, they tell people of their heritage.

Does it matter that people who were born and raised in this vast country answer ‘Scotland‘, or ‘Morocco’, or ‘Italy’ to the question ‘where are you from’? Does it dilute Canadian national identity? Or add to the eclectic melting pot we live in?

I’ve reminded myself of someone I met very early in my Canadian adventure. He was a barman (go figure – I met a barman in my first days in Canada. No idea how that happened). He was a big guy. I’d put him at 6 foot 3 inches. And wide too – strong, muscular. He was wearing a tartan skirt. Or as the Scots like to call it, a kilt. His chest was adorned with a blue t-shirt with the cross of St. Andrew blazoned across the front, and the word ‘Scotland’ in old-fashioned, intricate looking lettering. I got talking to him.

“You’re Scottish?” I asked.

“I’m Scottish and English” he replied.

“Uh?”

“My Mum…”, he emphasized the ‘U’ in mum, “…is Scottish, and mi Dad is English. From Caaaarlisle.” He explained. The emphasis on the ‘U’, the use of ‘mi dad’, and the drawled out aaarrrr in Carlisle, adding what he thought was authenticity to his claim. It was somewhat contradicted by his obvious Canadian accent.

“Oh great!”, I said. “When was the last time you were back?”

“Never been. I’d love to go.”

Is this my son’s future?

The Secret Weapon That is the British Accent

April 12, 2011 2 comments

I grew up in a place called Walsall. It’s just north of Birmingham. In a region called the Black Country. We speak funny there.

Although the UK is a place of diverse accents, I think that the Birmingham or Black Country accents are the most maligned. (Footnote: people from the Black Country will have you believe that their accent is distinct from Brummie. They – we – can get quite offended at the suggestion they sound similar. The uneducated would not recognize the difference). As both Birmingham and the Black Country reside in the same county, I’ll lump both accents together here and refer to them in general terms as the ‘West Midlands‘ accent.

It’s a drawling accent, spoken with emphasis on the vowels. And, because it’s riddled with dialect, it’s not easily understood by those from outside the area. To give you an idea, Ozzie Ozbourne is probably one of the clearer conversationalists to have emerged from the region. In the UK, if you want to portray a character as a little ‘slow’, you attach a West Midlands accent to them. For Canada, think Newfie. For the US, think deep south. It’s the accent of national ridicule. I was always conscious of this.

This could have resulted in an element of paranoia, and a lack of confidence. I always felt that I was at a disadvantage in the UK just because of my accent.

I have to say at this point that I love accents. They add colour to language. And, I particularly like the the one I grew up using. As I have become older and moved away, first to Derby (“Ey up mi duck”), then Sheffield (“Where’s tha bin”?), and finally Montreal (er…”Go Habs Go!”…?), my accent has evened out a little. But, it’s still obviously different from most I am surrounded by.

I have, on occasion been mistaken for Australian, South African, a New Zealander, Irish, and perish the thought, Scottish. Usually though, I get credited with being what I am – an English man, with a distinctly English accent. And, contrary to the perceived inhibition I felt in my homeland, I have found my exaggerated vowels and missed consonants to be quite advantageous in North America.

In North America, when I speak, it is an immediate conversation starter; “Where is that accent from?”, “I have family in the UK”, “Are you Scottish?” (shudder). It also buys some credibility. I have been told on more than one occasion that I can say anything and make it sound plausible. But the biggest advantage my accent has provided on this side of the pond? Well, I’m not particularly good looking, and I’m certainly not a wealthy man. But the mother of my child is a very attractive American. 😉

One of the many advantages of having a British accent in North America

‘Soccer’ Versus ‘Football’

As we all know, the clue is in the name. It’s FOOTball for a reason; because you kick the ball with your foot. It appears pretty obvious. It seems like there is no argument – case closed.

Of course, here in Canada – and the other country in North America – they just won’t have it. Apparently, over here football is something that is played predominantly with the HANDS. I have explained this irony on many occasions to my North American friends and colleagues. When I do, they give me that stare, you know the one: “I never thought of that. That kinda makes sense.” But then, in a flash, the logic is lost and still, they won’t accept it.

Football

A ball, being kicked by a foot

Some Brits get quite agitated at the whole ‘soccer’ thing. In all truth, I don’t care that much. I call it soccer now myself. When in Rome… or Montreal. I get ‘crucified’ for it on visits to the motherland.

But, where did this random term ‘soccer’ come from? How did these North Americans come up with that? I did some research – they didn’t.

Legend has it that the term soccer can be traced back to a Charles Wreford-Brown, an Oxford University student who preferred ‘brekkers’ to ‘breakfast’ and ‘rugger’ to ‘rugby’. He shortened ‘Association Football’ to ‘soccer’ (derived from ‘association’), and it stuck.

So, if you’re a Brit who cringes when some North American spouts out the word soccer in reference to the beautiful game, remember – it‘s our own fault.

Categories: Sports Tags: ,

Hockey Hooliganism

The ‘Habs’ are the Montreal Canadiens. To be fair to the Habs, they are pretty much universally recognized as the lifeblood of ice hockey. Montreal is hockey mad, unlike any other city on Earth. And, Habs fans are acknowledged as being some of the most passionate and knowledgeable of all. And, just like British football fans, they can get a little feisty. It has been known for violence to erupt on the streets of Montreal after a big game from time to time.

Having experienced both big football occasions in the UK, and important hockey games in Canada, I am of the opinion that the level of intensity at football exceeds that of hockey by some way. And, (I say this with no particular pride) hockey ‘hooliganism’ is not at parity with even the much reduced British version of recent times.

I have an old school friend in England who has visited me on this side of the Atlantic on a few occasions.We’ll call him Adam, because, well, that’s his name. On his first visit, I sold him on going to a hockey game. I told him he would see a lot of goals, and a few fights. Exciting stuff. In those days the Bell Centre was called the Molson Centre. If you sat in the cheap seats, right at the back (where locating the puck is impossible), you would see a giant Habs shirt hanging from the scoreboard in front of your section. The shirt would be adorned with a player’s name and number. If your guy scored, everyone in the section got a free beer. I have no idea if they still do this, but it was the pitch that sealed the deal for Adam. We were off to watch the Habs play the Florida Panthers.

I haven’t seen enough hockey to be able to claim this with any authority, but it was possibly the dullest game of hockey ever played. Florida won 1-0. There was one half-hearted scuffle. It seemed to go on forever. Adam looked at me as if it was my fault.

A couple of years later, Adam returned. The Toronto Maple Leafs were in town. For the uneducated (Brits), this is like Liverpool vs Man. Utd. Probably the most significant rivalry in hockey. I suggested we take in the game. I got a look. We ended up in a bar instead.

Habs vs. Leafs. Image Source: http://www.entertainment.ezinemark.com

The game was on the big screen. We ate, we drank, we chatted. The game was intense. All the things I said that hockey was: heated, passionate, fast, action packed. And we could see the puck. There were goals, lots of them (I think the Habs won 4-3, but don’t quote me on that). There were fights – blood was drawn. The patrons in the bar were obviously excited. It drew us in. Very enjoyable.

We left the bar a considerable time later, and walked along St. Catherine Street (the main thoroughfare in downtown Montreal). There were not many people around. It was late, it was March, it was cold. We ambled along behind a small group of young men draped in Habs shirts. Across the almost deserted street, a similar group of 4 or 5 came into focus. They were wearing blue and white. Leafs fans.

You could see the agitation, an increase in excitement, as each group spotted the other. Nudging and pointing ensued as the two groups slowly followed a trajectory that would see them pass.

Adam, being English, had experienced situations like this before. Rival supporters, after the big game, and no doubt a few alcoholic beverages, coming face to face in the city centre. It was bound to get ugly. At times like this adrenalin kicks in, your senses go into overdrive, the blood rushes through your veins. It’s the danger. Anything could happen, and you’re right there.

The two groups were now almost parallel to each other, on opposite sides of the street – separated only by a few yards of tarmac.

Pretty much as bad as it gets. Image source: unknown

The Leafs fans started first: “You Suck!” was the cry – repeated several times by each of the individuals in blue and white as they pointed across the street. Well, you have to understand, that is quite the insult in Canada. The Habs fans had no choice. They volleyed back with “You Suck!” in an equally animated fashion.

The two groups passed and continued in opposite directions.

Adam stood in silence. He looked back over his shoulder at a disappearing rabble of blue and white as they walked down the street. And then back at the red group, who were likewise going on their way. “That’s it?”, my friend enquired. “Yup. That’s it”, I replied with a chuckle.

British Apathy?

March 26, 2011 2 comments

Have you ever noticed that whenever you get Italian or Chinese migrants coming together, a community evolves? You get a China Town or a Little Italy. We have both here in Montreal. They’re usually small hives of activity brimming with cultural trinkets, cafes and restaurants, shops and places of worship.

Chinatown Montreal

The China Town gate in Montreal

But what happens when the Brits become ex-pats? Well, they usually seek out a British pub, to drink a British pint, watch British sport, and moan to other Brits about… well, Britain.

Other than that, we seem a pretty apathetic bunch. Not exactly over-enthusiastic about coming together to support each other’s causes are we? Don’t get me wrong, to call all British ex-pats apathetic would be a broad and unfair generalization, but barring important sporting occasions, we don’t seem to quite unite as other nationalities resident in this foreign land seem to.

Maybe it’s a security thing. Maybe we don’t HAVE to stick together to get on and be successful in Canada. In the majority of of the country, we can get along just fine in our mother tongue, and our Canuck cousins are not all that dissimilar, culturally speaking. Hell, we even have our Queen on their money. We shouldn’t exactly feel insecure should we?

I can’t help feeling that we’re just a little bit lazy when supporting each other.

During a conversation a couple of years ago, one, not so young English fellow (name withheld because I can’t remember it) told me that he moved over here to “get away from that lot”, and questioned why he would seek out in Canada the very people he was trying to get away from in the UK. You could question his choice of immigration destination if the objective was to avoid his compatriots, I suppose.

So why do we not see the same sense of ex-pat community among the Brits as we appear to with other nationalities here in Canada? Is it apathy? Is it that we don’t feel the need for that type of security? Do we just not like each other very much? Or, have I got it completely wrong, and we’re as connected as any other community? I would love to hear other Brit perspectives.

Happy Red Nose Day!

I wrote about Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day a couple of weeks ago. But, today is the day, so I thought I’d share one of my favourite clips from Red Nose Days of recent years.

You can donate here.

Happy Red Nose Day!

The Changing Face of My St. Paddy’s Day

March 17, 2011 1 comment

Montreal's St. Patrick's Day Parade. Image source: CTV

The location: St. Catherine Street, Montreal. The event: the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s a Montreal institution.

Many in Montreal would have you believe it’s the longest-running St. Patrick’s Day Parade in North America (the first one was in 1824 apparently), although some folks in NYC might dispute that. Regardless, the 187th Montreal Paddy’s Day Parade will go ahead on March 20, 2011. And Montrealers just love it.

I’ve seen various attendance estimates – anything from 300,000 to 500,000 line the streets to watch the parade every year, depending on which article you read. Exactly how they count is beyond my comprehension. Let’s just say a lot of people show up.

They wear tacky Irish themed hats, paint their faces green, and pretend they’re from the Emerald Isle for the day. The irony that St. Patrick was born in Britain (England or Scotland depending on which legend you subscribe to), that the colour originally associated with him was blue, and that his name was probably not Patrick at all, is undoubtedly lost on most. Still, why let facts spoil a good party?

For many, the Paddy’s Day Parade signals the end of winter, but you can still be standing in snow, freezing your arse off watching it. For others it’s a day of too much green beer.

I used to partake in the green beer fest. But, alas, time has caught up with me. The pubs are just too busy for me now. Too many people, standing on too little floor space, drinking far too much beer that they had to wait too long to be served. Somehow this was fun in 2002, but now, it’s not for me. I have work the next day. Yes, I think I am old.

But, I will be there on Parade day. As always. This time I will be with my young boy. We will clap our hands as the marching bands pass, wave at people dancing on floats, and point at inflatable objects. We’ll have a blast – and be home for nap time.

The Worst Month Ever

This is not a post about personal challenges, or drama. It is quite literally about the worst month in the year.

The calendar year comprises 12 months. Most have something about them that makes them tolerable – even enjoyable to live through. But one – well, one I really struggle with. It has no redeeming characteristics at all. And, we are in it.

June in Montreal brings the summer. It’s festival time in July. October offers those striking fall colours, and Halloween. December has the first real snow, and the holidays. The month of January boasts the most important day of the year (my birthday). And, February is mercifully short. Thank you for that February.

But March? What does March contribute?

I’ll tell you what: it contributes slush, grey and black snow, and the smell of de-frosting garbage and dog poop. And, it’s still minus freeze-yer-bits-off-degrees. There is nothing good about March.

By this time of the year I’m done with winter. Really done with it.

We kid ourselves that March is the end of the winter. But, as Montrealers were reminded yesterday, we all know that we have a few more heavy snow falls to come, and we know our ears and noses remain subject to frost bite.

March is cruel. It teases you with the odd day of sunshine, and balmy temperatures around freezing, before bringing on a snow storm and -19C the very next day. March, you’re not funny.

**** you March. **** you.

Swearing Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen

Ma'am

It was a strange day when I had to swear allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. It was a day at the back-end of 2005 (or one of the first few days in 2006. I can’t remember, but my Citizenship Certificate says 2006/01 on it). The location: a hotel in downtown Montreal (The Sheraton, I think – but don’t quote me on that either). And the reason? To become Canadian.

Now, doesn’t it strike you as a little odd that I didn’t have to say as much as “old Betty’s alright by me” to be British, but I did have to promise my loyalty and devotion to her to become Canadian? Yup, it does to me as well.

The actual oath of citizenship goes like this:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

I raised my right hand… or maybe it was the left one, and swore allegiance to the Queen. Shortly after, I half-mumbled, half lip-synced my own illegible lyrics to the tune of O Canada! And, I was in.

Standard procedure I suppose, but I still find it a little difficult to get my head around.

Maybe Canada should have one citizenship process for the Brits that skips this irrelevance, and one for the rest who obviously can’t be trusted not to commit treason without swearing an oath. Just a thought.

Red Nose Day – March 18, 2011

February 27, 2011 1 comment

For the last 25 years Comic Relief has been raising money to combat poverty in the UK and around the World.

Chrissie Hynde, Cher and Neneh Cherry get some nose action in 1995. Image source: http://www.comicrelief.com

In 1988, the organization launched its first Red Nose Day. I’m old enough to remember it. They’ve been doing it every other year, ever since. It’s a telethon with a twist. It’s funny. That’s the twist. Brits will know all about it. Basically, a bunch of British comedians come together for a few hours on TV, make people laugh, and raise money for charidee mate. They even rope in some major celebrities from the worlds of film, music, politics and sport. You can see some clips – including a guest appearance from Johnny Depp, here.

On Red Nose Day, people are encouraged to wear… (can you guess?)… a red nose. Of course you’re supposed to buy the official plastic ones, but I confess to making my own with a ping-pong ball, a pair of scissors, and some red paint courtesy of my Airfix modelling kit that first year. We were poor. It hurt – scraped my nose. And everyone at school made fun of me. I bought an official one in 1989.

Red Nose wearing antics ensue on this special day. Across the UK, people can be found sitting in a bath of cold baked beans, or participating in an egg and spoon race dressed as clowns. All to raise money for the cause. I once wore a skirt for the day. But, back to Comic Relief.

The England football team sport red noses in 2009. Image source: http://www.comicrelief.com

If you are a student, you can take part in a Comic Relief event right here in Montreal this year. McGill University’s British Appreciation Society (BAS) is hosting its first Comic Relief Pub Quiz at Gerts’, McGill’s student bar, on Saturday, March 5. Students only unfortunately. To find out more, click here.

For the rest of us, we can cut out the fun bit, and donate directly right here.

Happy Red Nose Day!

The Last Day Walk

February 18, 2011 6 comments

Skyscraper view from Place du Canada

Yesterday was my last day at my current place of work. For the last 10 months or so I have traveled to my office in the heart of downtown Montreal every day.

The thing I will miss most (apart from the extremely rewarding work and wonderful people, obviously), is the walk I take to and from the train station. The train journey itself is nothing special, and I have many gripes about the train service that I’m sure will become evident in future posts. But, after half an hour on the train, I have a 10-15 minute walk to the office. Days of -30 C with wind chill excepted, I have loved that walk.

When I get off the train at Lucien-L’Allier, I am immediately thrust into an area adjacent to the Bell Centre that celebrates the centenary of the Montreal Canadiens (in 2009). In the morning, I join hundreds of others as we jostle into the city through this area, which is adorned with statues, plaques, and engraved paving bricks.

The view from the corner of Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montreal and Rue Peel. Place du Canada is in the foreground, the Sun Life building to the left, and Place Ville-Marie juts out from behind the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde.

Then I turn right and pass the beautiful Windsor Station building. I know nothing about architecture, but it looks gothic in its style, to me. The St George’s Anglican Church comes up next on the left, and beyond it Place du Canada. From here, at the corner of  Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montreal and Rue Peel, I can see the tall buildings of the Marriott Château Champlain and 1000 de La Gauchetière to the right, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel pokes out from behind the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde in front of me. And the Sun Life Building is to the left. Other skyscrapers, including  Place Ville-Marie jut out from behind this sky scape. It is one of my favourite views in Montreal.

In the evenings, as I take the return journey, I get a front-on view of the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, dressed in strategic lighting. And, as I pass all the aforementioned buildings in reverse, they too are lit to good effect.

I have rarely taken this route without appreciating its beauty. But, just to make sure I don’t forget, I was compelled to take a camera with me on my last day of work.

The Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde. 1000 de La Gauchetière is peaking out behind.

Multi-national Mash-up

February 16, 2011 11 comments

When I got my first job after University, it was in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. It’s a lovely place. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I worked at one of the town’s largest employers – a glass works. There had been a glass works on that same site since 1751. I will resist the temptation to suggest that many of the folks I worked with had probably been there since the opening day. But, there was a history of generations of families earning their living there. I worked with people whose Dad had worked there, and their Dad too.

Basically put, the majority of the workforce were local – from Rotherham, Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster. As a native of the Black Country, I was definitely the ‘exotic’ one. This type of local community was one that I was familiar with. Most of the folks I went to school with were from within a couple of miles radius. I suspect that things may have changed a little since I left the UK, but in my day, when you entered a community, you usually found yourself with locals.

Canada is made of immigrants. And they emanate from all corners of the globe. Montreal is a melting pot of diverse nationalities and cultures. In my first job in Canada, I remember working with 1st generation Canadians with Italian, Indian, Greek and Israeli heritage. Added to that, bona fide, just-off-the-boat immigrants from Sri Lanka, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, Lebanon and myself from England, and it was an extremely multi-cultural environment. I’m not talking about folks scattered throughout the company. These were not people I’d bump into every now and then – these were my closest working colleagues, sitting within yards of me every day.

Typical Canadians... kinda

At the moment, I work directly with two Iranians, a Japanese, a Filipino (spelled correctly, I checked), an Armenian, an Italian, a Venezuelan, and a couple of Canadians… not to mention the South Korean and the Frenchman I occasionally engage with, and the recently departed German.

I suspect that the UK is becoming more diverse too. When I speak to my old friends back home, they talk about the people from eastern Europe currently living their lives in the cities and towns of Britain. On my last visit, I was served coffee by a Czech, I was waited on by a Pole, and an Albanian cleaned my table. Three different venues between breakfast and lunch. And, they all seemed pretty Indian in Shimla Pinks (I recommend this Indian restaurant if you’re in Birmingham – and they’re not paying me to say that).

The Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: November 2010, seems to support the theory of a changing demographic in the UK. The report, published by the UK Office for National Statistics, shows Poland as one of the top suppliers of immigrants for the year up to March 2010, joining more traditional immigrant providers such as India, Pakistan and Ireland.

Source: Office for National Statistics, Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: November 201

I’m not sure that the Brits are as comfortable with this type of diversity as the Canadians are, yet.

UK. Great Britain. British Isles. England. What’s the Difference?

February 13, 2011 3 comments

This is a question I have been asked more than once. It’s a complex subject. These are concepts that even the British struggle with, never mind Canadians and the rest of the World. People are further confused by the insistence of the Scottish in particular refusing to acknowledge they’re British and correcting anyone terming them as such.

As I researched the subject (yes, I did have to research this subject) it became clear that it was even more complicated than I first thought. I had written 7 paragraphs (about 500 words), and I was confusing myself. Then, up popped a tweet. The Difference Between The United Kingdom, Great Britain and England.

The tweet had a link to a video, which fully explained the differences and relationships between the UK, Great Britain, the British Isles, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Not only that, it also did a pretty good job at outlining all the commonwealth countries, crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories. I could have used that tweet a couple of weeks ago – before I started writing!

So, I highlighted my 7 paragraphs, pressed the delete key, and posted the link here instead. Click on the image to see the full explanation. It’s a good 5 minute watch, if you can keep up with it.

After watching this, you do have some sympathy for non-Brits feeling a little perplexed.

The Difference Between the UK, Great Britain and England - courtesy of Grey's Blog

Yorkshire Puddin’

February 6, 2011 10 comments

Egg, milk, flour. Mix it up. Pour it in a baking tray of some kind (one of those shallow ones with a bunch of little cylinders punched out to hold your mix). Stick it in a pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes at 375°F. Voila – Yorkshire Puddin’. If the English can cook it, anyone can. Can’t they?

Now, let’s pretend you’re an American, and pretty handy in the kitchen. Your man loves your food. It’s his birthday. You want to do something ‘nice’ for him. He’s English… proper English, from England, accent, loves football, bad teeth – the works. He often talks about Yorkshire Puddin’. In fact, he goes all misty-eyed when he recounts his favourite Yorkshire Puddin’ experiences. What better? You’re a good cook. How hard can it be?

What a Yorkshire Pudding should look like

What a Yorkshire Pudding should look like

So, you jump on the interweb thingy, Yahoogle “Yorkshire Puddin’ Recipes”, and as if by magic, you’re on your way to creating a masterpiece which will not only make your man a very happy year older, but it will also feed you both.

A word of caution here: if you are an American (or any other nationality for that matter), and you are trying to make a Yorkshire Puddin’ without having actually seen one before… (you know where I’m going with this don’t you?)… make sure the online recipe includes a picture of what it’s supposed to look like.

Fast forward a few hours. Your man arrives home after a hard day of drinking coffee and browsing the web at ‘work’. You greet him with a hug and a smile that looks like you’ve borrowed Jim Carey’s mouth for the day. Your excitement is obvious – and why shouldn’t you be excited? Your man is gonna LOVE this.

“What is it?” he enquires with a puzzled look. As you deflate faster than a whoopee cushion under a Sumo wrestler, you reply: “it… it’s… a… a…Yorkshire Puddin’… I made it for your birthday.” A moment of silence is pierced with a roar of laughter. Birds launch themselves from tree branches, rodents scramble underground, forest animals scatter.

My wife has since seen, and tasted Yorkshire Puddin’. I think she understands my mirth now. She hasn’t tried to make this fine British delicacy since. Five years later, I am finally allowed to share this:

Kerri's Yorkshire Pudding

Please share your Yorkshire Pudding disasters to help my wife feel better.

 

The First Post

February 3, 2011 7 comments

Welcome. Bienvenue.

This blog is for Brits living in Canada, Brits considering moving to Canada, Brits visiting Canada, Canadians with British heritage, Canadians with an interest in British culture, people who have watched Coronation Street, lovers of Fish and Chips, men, women, and anyone I’ve missed out. Including Americans. Yes, even Americans are welcome here.

Although using the British – Canadian experience as a backdrop, this is a place for humour, commentary, discussion and opinion on a whole bunch of topics. If I think something is worth reading, I’ll publish it – even if associations with the UK or Canada are tenuous, or non-existent. Hopefully it will be interesting, and occasionally, maybe, amusing.

My motivations for writing the blog are numerous. I’d love this to entertain and engage fellow ex-pats, or pending immigrants. I hope, through my posts, those who have lived through similar experiences will find some familiar stories, thoughts, and feelings to nod their heads to. Or will have some contradictory anecdotes to share. And, maybe, those that are considering the move will learn a little more about the types of adventures they are about to embark upon, from a very personal perspective.

Personally, the blog is an opportunity to experiment in fields I work in, and have an interest in, namely; writing, marketing, communications, and social media. Comments, critiques, opinion and advice on how I’m utilizing these disciplines within the blog are welcome.

Looking up at a Mountain

A metaphor for the feeling I had before penning my first blog post

I have been thinking about starting this blog for a long time. I have run out of excuses to support my delay lately. As someone whose job involves a lot of writing, I have been asked by colleagues and clients if I write anything else (aside from the press releases, brochure content, web copy etc. that pay the bills). Of course, I have always had to reply in the negative.

The final nudge that prompted me to get this thing off the ground came from an unlikely source. An old friend back in the UK, who I had barely spoken to in 15 years, sent me a message through Facebook. She asked me what Canada was really like, as she and her husband were considering emigrating. I was half-way through a one sentence reply directing her to my blog, when it dawned on me that I hadn’t actually created it yet. It was my final confirmation that I should. So here it is.

Tell me what you think about Brits, Canadians, their quirks, food and weather – and anything else that comes to mind. And, tell me what you want me to write about. Post your comments – I’ll leave anything that is not abusive up there, whether it’s positive or negative.

I hope you find something here to interest, educate, or amuse you. If you enjoy what you read, please leave a comment, share it through whichever social media you use, or tell your friends.

Phew, first post done! (The first one is the hardest… right?)

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