Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A new day, a new hope, a great decision

or the first time in my life I watched live coverage of the US Presidential election. It started slowly, McCain was ahead 8 votes to 3 for a long time, then, slowly the eastern states started to project their results. From 8pm EST to 11pm EST I was glued to the CNN election center website, waiting for updates of the most important election in a generation. Slowly but surely the eastern states were voting for Obama, the southern states were voting for McCain (no surprise) and as the evening drew on the western states voted for Obama and took Barack Obama over the top by an enormous amount.

Landslide would be the best way to describe this election. At this minute the results for all 3 elections run yesterday are;

Presidential Election Result - Barack Obama 338 votes, John McCain 163 votes.
Senatorial Election Result - Democrats 56 senators, Republicans 40 senators.
House of Representatives Result - Democrats 251 reps, Republicans 173 reps.

Put simply, the Democrats overwhelmingly control the US government. They have a mandate from the American people to change their country. The American people have made their voices heard after 8 years of Bushite Republican rule and they are saying "Enough is enough".

Kata and I rejoiced when we knew it was over (projected), we rejoiced for the American people and for the rest of the world who held their breath hoping (and many praying) for a Democratic victory.

The choice of Barack Obama shows the world that the American nation has finally grown up, the Majority have decided that a fresh, young, vital and yes "black" man should lead their nation forward out of one of the worst periods in World history outside of a World War. They chose an eloquent, highly educated man who brings great hope to a nation desperate for a bright future.

We still have more than 2 months to wait for the Obama presidency to start (thanks to the absurdity of the Presidential electoral system) but there's nothing that the Bush presidency can do to ruin the world any further thanks to the massive shift to the Democrats in both houses of Congress.

The question now is, will the Democratic congress push for Impeachment of George W Bush and his presidency, for crimes against humanity, for that's what his Presidency committed. I highly doubt it, as I don't believe that the American people want to air laundry that dirty in the global public eye, so let's just hope that the soon to be ex President George W Bush skulks off the world stage and hides for the rest of his life, ashamed for that his presidency did. I doubt it, but it would be fitting.

Finally, thank you America, thank you for voting for the only candidate who brought hope and sanity to a beleaguered world. Thank you so much.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

US Presidential Election 2008

Not being a US citizen I can't affect this election directly, however as a World citizen the result will affect me greatly.

I'm a very liberal person, with that in mind the last 8 years of Republican presidential rule in the USA has been a terrible period. I disliked George W Bush from the outset. He stole the presidency (FACT) and he lead the world into a hideous war (at least the aftermath). More recently his party's policies led the US banking system into ruin and with them the rest of the world (almost) into banking ruin too.

So today is the election, there are 2 candidates (worth talking about), Barack Obama and John McCain.

You can guess who I want to win (Obama) and I feel this way for many reasons;

1) He's a fresh face to run the USA, it almost feels like the 60s when J.F. Kennedy won the presidency, a fresh face for a new challenge (the cold war in full swing)

2) He's not a Republican (personal preference of course)

3) He's not an old white guy

4) Sarah Palin isn't his running mate (what the hell were the GOP thinking?)

So now we have to wait (as of now 8:22pm EST Obama is leading) and see if the American people care about their futures or want the same old tragedy to continue.

I hope, for their sake and the sake of the rest of the world that they choose wisely (and by that I mean Obama).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Canadian Thanksgiving

So its been almost 2 weeks since my last past and that's not a good thing, but its been pretty busy since I came back from my trip to the UK (post to come eventually), we spent a few days being a couple again and then we took a trip to Ottawa for Canadian Thanksgiving.

This was my 2nd Canadian Thanksgiving, last year some 30 or so friends from the Keith and the Girl and Team Drunk Ottawa communities made their way to Ottawa to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving and to have an excuse for drunken revelry. Last year I drove in Canada for the first time, took 6 other people with me (Kata and 5 friends, 2 from the USA) and after 13 hours in one direction and 11 hours in the other direction, we had accomplished a Thanksgiving to remember (for mostly good reasons).

This year Kata and I packed our belongings and our dog Blackie into our rental car and made our way to Ottawa on Saturday. The drive out took approx. 8 hours (we left around 9 and arrived just after 5) and was relatively uneventful. We were staying at a pet friendly hotel in downtown Ottawa (the Comfort Inn just off junction 115 of the 417 highway) and settled in for a couple of hours before we headed out for an evening with our friends at the Heart and Crown pub. The year before we had gone to the same pub and taken up 3 large tables, this year we all fit on one large table and we had a great time with our friends catching up and enjoying the food (really good for pub grub). We hung out for close to 4 hours and then headed back to our hotel to rest up for the next day.

The next morning we awoke relatively early and joined the other residents of the hotel for our complimentary continental breakfast (always a good thing). The selection was decent, mostly baked goods (bagel, english muffin, muffin, waffles, bread) some cereals, fruit, coffee, tea, etc. After breakfast we headed out to visit Kata's uncle George and her parents who were in Ottawa to have thanksgiving with her uncle. We only visited for an hour as her parents had a lot planned to do that day (the day before they had visited a tractor museum, Kata's step-dad is a tractor "nut" who has his own show tractor and plowing tractor which he competes in plowing matches with) so we headed back to our hotel to relax a while before heading out to a friend's house for the thanksgiving meal.

We picked up a couple of our friends from the Ottawa Jail Hostel (a number of our friends had stayed there the year before also) and we headed out on the 417 highway into the wilds of the Ottawa countryside. The drive was around 30 minutes and we ended up at our friend's house where we were to have our Thanksgiving meal. It was a pot luck and people were bringing all kinds of food (mostly desert). We brought a Tofurky with us (for the vegetarians amongst us) and our gracious hosts (the McDonalds, Dr Bri and Juanita) took care of the turkey and most of the fixings, vegetarian stuffing, potatoes, all manner of vegetables and other delicious, if not vegetarian, savoury foods (a beef roast was also brought by one of our friends (Mr Rhi)).

All manner of deserts were laid out after the main course, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheese cake, an apple pie (can't remember the exact type but it was delicious), blueberry muffins (from scratch), McCain frozen cake (a Canadian classic) and peanut butter pie (one of our friend's speciality pies, thanks as always Rickeh). I'm sure there were some other deserts but my mind has been clouded by the sugar overload (wink).

After all the wonderful food we all relaxed, talked and made merry. After an hour or so, a chorus of "happy birthday" began, I was bemused, no one had told me it was someones birthday, then it dawned on me my friends were singing for me, my birthday isn't until the 20th, but coincidentally thanksgiving was the 1st anniversary of my living in Canada, so they had sprung a double surprise on me. Our friend Amy had arranged with my darling Kata and our friend Rhi to get me a cake, with purple icing (one of my favourite colours of late) and celebrate my time in Canada so far. It was really adorable, the cake had "happy birthday dev" on it (my nickname of course) and they had a "1" candle for me to blow out. The candle managed to blow itself out thanks to the breeze from the aircon (or from the open window) and then I cut the cake whilst Kata took pictures. Everyone was already stuffed so not much cake was eaten (I took a slice) but the thought and execution totally counted.

The evening continued with a viewing of the previous week's Family Guy (I dream of Jesus) and later a game of Scene It on Xbox 360 (my team came 3rd the first game and 2nd (after leading for much of the game) in the 2nd game). By the time we were finished playing things were winding down, people were starting to get tired so we headed back to the city, dropping off a couple of friends at their respective hotels and then returned to our hotel to take care of Blackie and head to sleep ourselves.

The final day, Thanksgiving day itself, we had breakfast again, packed up and checked out of our hotel. We then headed over to Rhi's apartment where we planned to leave Blackie for a few hours as we were heading out to the Elgin Street Diner for our 2nd annual Thanksgiving farewell brunch. Many of our friends had the Poutine, for which the diner is most famous and after the repast we said our farewells and headed back to collect Blackie.

The drive home was relatively uneventful, although traffic was quite dense in a number of places (near Oshawa and Cobourg and some near Milton). Despite the traffic, the drive home took around 9 and a half hours and we rolled into our apartment's parking lot around 11pm, tired but glad to be home after another great Thanksgiving weekend.

p.s. here's a link to pictures Kata took over the Thanksgiving weekend

Friday, October 3, 2008

Going "Home" part 1

Foreword: This is late, very late, but whatever, I'm gonna post it now and part 2 later once I get it all written.

Well I went back to the UK for a week as I said in my last "filler" post and a number of things happened; I spent time with my mother, I spent most of 24 hours travelling, I slept on a couch for 6 days and I managed to turn half my back into a mess of pain.

I guess a little explanation is needed, so here we go; I needed to cross the Atlantic for a couple of reasons, for one my visitor's visa was about to expire (although to be honest Canada isn't that worried so long as you're not trying to work or claim for anything), and I still had to tell my mother the plans that Kata and I had with regards to marriage and our future.

I booked my flights with about 6 days warning, which caused no little amount of anguish to my darling Kata (and to me naturally) and I sorted out my other travel requirements (Airbus to Toronto airport and back) and then spent my last few days before travelling with Kata trying not to think about 7 days away from her and our life.

The day of my trip came on Wednesday 24th September and after a last afternoon of passion and affection, I left our apartment and started my trek to London, England. The first leg of the trip is always pretty easy, get into the airbus and wait for 100 to 120 minutes for the driver to head along the 401 highway to YYZ (Toronto Pearson).

This journey there were 3 other passengers and another driver being taken to Pearson to pickup a vehicle. The driver and one of the passengers were both of American origin, although the driver also has Canadian citizenship and in very little time talk turned to politics. Frustration at the American banks which were collapsing with alarming frequency, disgust at the banks' directors who were bring given "golden parachute" payments from the banks despite their clear ineptitude, anger at the politicians who had allowed such things to befall the nation due to lack of regulation and wonder at whom would be capable, if any, to restore the nation and more so the world's finances back to a steady ship as opposed to the sinking ravaged hulk that we were being shown every day.

Debate did run over the presidential candidates and their running mates; concern over the very notion that the GOP candidate would win and very real concern that if somehow he did win, he could very well die before the end of his term and leave his woefully inadequate running mate in charge of the world's most powerful democracy. The consensus however was that Obama would win the election but not if voters were complacent "every vote counts" was certainly mentioned, although as I've mentioned previously, truly every vote doesn't really count, or at least doesn't count for as much thanks to the vagueries (british spelling) of the electoral college system used in the presidential election (swing vote is a fantasy movie, not based in reality in the slightest, although I must admit I've not seen the movie for fear or wishing ill on Kevin Costner, nah not really, it just looks terrible).

So in any case, after listening for a while to the conversation I sat back and relaxed listening to music on my Creative Zen media player and I drifted off for a while. When we arrived at the airport I was the first to leave the bus since terminal 3 is first on the drop off route (International travel is for the most part handled by terminal 3 of Pearson). I headed in, picked up my ticket (as I'd booked less than 2 weeks before travel I had to get my ticket at the travel desk) and then I checked in for my flight. I took a short wander around the shopping area, not that there's a huge amount of it in terminal 3, and then I headed for security. Now at the risk of being misunderstood, the following is without prejudice or overstating, every time I've travelled out of Toronto, and I've done it 4 times now, I've noted that the vast majority of the security staff and store workers on the departure side of the terminal are of Indian descent (India the Asian country as opposed to the native American peoples), mostly 1st generation immigrants. The Tim Hortons (a bastion of Canadian coffee shops) is entirely operated by Indians (I assume the franchise is owned by an Indian family and they have brought relatives to Canada to work with/for them), the other food emporia and stores also have a high percentage of Indian staff. Its kinda weird but I take it as part of the rich Canadian culture of immigration which enriches the nation (I for one know that immigration is a positive activity after all I'm technically an immigrant about to emigrate once more).

One thing I suck at is waiting for things to happen, in this case I get pretty bored and antsy waiting for the flight to board and ultimately take off. My frame of mind is that until I get on the plane and the doors close I'm still responsible for what happens. After the doors close, its out of my hands and things are down to the flight crew, only then do I relax, or at least try to relax.

Anyway, as I was saying, because of the way things are these days, you have to wait around for 2 to 3 hours before your flight takes off and of course you need to keep entertained, fortunately I'm used to trying to keep myself entertained and I always take way too much stuff with me, so I settled down, stuck a DVD into my portable DVD player and started watching. I only managed 20 minutes before boarding started. Since I had asked for a seat near the back and on the aisle (leg room and proximity to the emergency exit in case of disaster) I was in the first major group to be boarded. I reached my seat (28D) and got myself set for the journey ahead, magazine, creative zen, bottle of water, hoodie, then I waited to see if I would be lucky enough to get an empty row or at least a seat between me and 28F (the other aisle seat on the central section of the airbus A310). Unfortunately the entire row and in fact the entire aircraft filled up and the passenger to my immediate right (28E) was an above average width adult male (less wide than me but still wider than say Kate Moss).

I have never been able to sleep properly on a plane. Trans-Atlantic flights are moderately long, 7 to 8 hours, and west to east are "best" done over night so that you can sleep on the flight and be fresh in the morning when you land. Unfortunately for me that doesn't work, the planes are uncomfortable and busy. I'm a big man and although I fit relatively well into the seats, my shoulder width means I get bumped almost constantly when people walk past me. The length of my legs mean I have to leave one leg in the aisle if I want to improve my comfort level, which again causes problems. Also thanks to my shoulder width my head is mode forward than most in the seat, which means for comfort reasons I need to have a pillow behind my head for any length of flight.

OK moaning aside, the flight was pretty normal, the movies were meh (Indiana Jones 4 which sucked and Vantage Point which I'd seen with Kata in the Cinema. Although I did watch Indiana Jones 4 to see how badly they had destroyed the Indiana Jones franchise. To my mind the recent South Park episode said it better than I ever can), the food was fine (it was President's Choice Indian food) and after 8 hours of passing out for 20 minutes every hour or so, we were finally landing at Gatwick airport. I made my way from the airport to Fulham Broadway underground station where I met my mother and we made our way to Hendon where she lives.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Off to the UK for a week

I'm flying off to the UK today, for a week, visiting my mum for the first time in over a year.

I don't want to go but I kinda have to, I'm adamant this is the last time I'm doing it before Kata and I get married.

The last week or so has been pretty crappy, both of us dreading today's arrival, but here it is. I'm waiting for the first part of my journey to begin, air bus to Toronto Pearson airport, from there its a direct flight to London Gatwick airport and from there a couple of train journeys until I get to my mum's place.

By the time I get there I'll most likely be utterly exhausted and utterly depressed, I was last time I went back to the UK and left Kata behind, though that time it was for 2 weeks.

Anyway, just a short post to say what's happening and once I'm back I'll try and get back into writing regular posts.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Filler 3

I've been ill the last few days, so has Kata, not that its a good excuse, but I've not been in the right frame of mind to blog, although I have been in the right frame of mind to play Spore (which is a time sink and a half).

I have a few things on my mind, going back to the UK for a short period, looking for work, having to most likely get married sooner than we both considered...

So I'm gonna try and get back on the blog horse, but no promises.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I'm trying to find a job, really I am. Its hard though when you're trying to find work in another country. Well it is when you go from the EU to anywhere else. The EU has an open borders and open work policy (for the most part) within the original EU countries (about 12). If you are from one of those countries you can move around amongst them, live and work there, no problems, no questions asked. Its a nice system but its one I never had to take advantage of.

I'm in Canada now and the situation is this, I want to live here, most likely for the rest of my life, I want to work here, pay my taxes to this nation and partake in all it offers whilst taking back as little as necessary (the way the government want it).

I have skills, I have a diploma in Stained Glass Production Techniques (a level 2 skilled job on the NOC list) and I speak English fluently (naturally) and I have basic French (from high school). I've never been in trouble with the Police in any country, I don't do drugs, I don't smoke, I drink responsibly and infrequently and I'm healthy.

I've absolutely fallen in love with this country and its people and all I want is the chance to give of myself to this nation. If I'd decided on this and thought about it properly I'd have applied for some kind of work visa or the skilled worker immigration, but I didn't, I was thinking only about how much I loved my new life with my darling Kata and what the future would hold.

I've applied to a number of glass companies in Ontario now, waiting to hear from most of them with regards to any interest (one did reply saying they don't do anything with stained glass, although my skill cover everything they are looking for to fill the job). I think the real reason they weren't interested is they don't want to go through the hassle of proving that the job they are trying to fill couldn't be done by a Canadian worker.

Its a bit of a catch 22 for an employer, I'm looking for someone to work for me, I can't find anyone easily and there's a foreigner wanting to do the job, but technically in Canada somewhere there's someone who can do the job. I know that's probably not the way it goes, but still, it make my side of things harder.

There is one relatively simple way for us (Kata and I) to fix things, get married. We had planned to marry next year, in June of 2009, but it looks like we may well have to bring that forward, which causes problems with getting people to come for the festivities etc, but we'll see.

So if you believe in crossing your fingers or some other superstition (prayer, stinky socks etc), do them for me getting a job some time really soon, thanks (I won't though, I'm not superstitious).

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I'll start by giving and outline of my political viewpoint, how it has changed and where current leanings are.

When I was young (before voting age) I didn't care about politics, most people don't I feel. Politics and political policy are hard to grasp when you are young, you don't really care who's in charge as it never really affects you directly.

If the ruling party changes income tax, you don't get a % of your allowance taken off or added on in line with taxation (maybe parents should in order to prepare their children for the real world more).

The only time that politics actually affected me directly before voting age was when the teachers went on strike because the government weren't going to meed their pay demands, which gave us time off school, something we liked when we were young but something we dreaded as we reached exam age and a strike in the wrong place could ruin your future, or at least put a dent in your exam results.

When I started university I still wasn't of voting age, although not for long. University (or college) is a starting point for many a political career, or just a first foray into the tangled web that is politics. On the first week at university no fewer than 5 political groups were trying to persuade the fresh new faces to join their political group. If I remember correctly (it was almost 18 years ago now) the Conservatives, Labour Party, Scottish National Party, the SDP, Socialist Worker Party (oxymoron), the Communists and possibly the Green Party. I even think the Official Monster Raving Loony Party were there too, but I'm probably making that up for comic effect.

As you can imagine being thrown into this kind of political mire at a young(ish) age can do one of 2 things, turn you on or turn you off to politics. In my case it kinda turned me off and left me feeling that it didn't make much of a difference to me who was in charge as long as they left me alone. These were the days when the Westminster Parliament still ruled the entire UK without question, devolved power to the Home Nations didn't come to fruition until the mid 1990s when New Labour swept to power after the fall of John Major's government.

I did flirt with Nationalism for a while, being brought up Scottish, you tend to feel that the English shouldn't be allowed to run your life (as they pretty much did until the Scottish Parliament was reinstalled) and that independence from the United Kingdom wasn't a bad idea. I also flirted with Conservatism for a brief and lamentable period, although no more than to vote for them in 1 general election and later rue that I had ever done something so silly.

So let's push forward to today. There isn't really a political party for me, I'm Liberal in my political leanings, but at the same time I'm environmentally concerned and I tend to like government to keep out of much of my business, but I also don't think the "free market" should be allowed to have its own way either. So basically, I'm a Liberal, Libertarian, Socialist Green, and of course I'm an atheist, so nope, no one political party for me.

Now I don't find that this attitude has caused me any problems, I can find my way through life with these attitudes without having to subscribe to any one party. Sure I have to hope that my fellow citizens don't mess things up by voting a radical party into power, which for the most part they don't, but sometimes even the centrist parties (as most of them have become) can have some idiotic policies that they wish to push.

Therein lies the problem, no matter how I feel, my 1 vote carries no weight, not even in a proportional representation system will my single vote carry any sway, at least not in a realistic government, one with more than 2 parties you can vote for (I'll come back to this point later). In a PR system even if the 2 main parties are 1 vote apart, that 1 vote will make no difference as they will both still receive the same amount of seats in the parliament and an inevitable coalition government will be formed (see the Israeli Knesset for proof, only once in all its years did they almost have a majority party in power).

Let me return to my comment on a realist government. In most of the democratic world, the members of parliament and the political parties of the country are numerous, they usually number more than 5 parties, of which 3 are relatively powerful and the rest are lesser parties with often very specific agendas. The main exception is in the USA where basically 2 parties rule the country, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Now technically speaking if the elections were held using PR, then every single vote would count without a doubt, especially in the Presidential election, but the system is a complete mess. In the USA they use the Electoral College system, which is an extremely poor way to elect the single most powerful person in the country, but hey, they think it works, so whatever...

The Presidential election is almost upon us, as is the Canadian general election. I know I should care about who will rule over Canada, but to be perfectly honest, the Canadian Premiere is far less important than the next President of the USA even in Canada. I guess one day I'll pay attention to the political situation here, but not yet.

With regards to the US Presidential choices, I find it hard not to choose one candidate that I'd wish with all my being to become President, no surprises for guessing that its Barak Obama. I'll give you a few reasons; 1, he's young and seems to be highly principled and highly motivated to try and change the USA for better, both domestically and Globally, 2, he's not George Bush (the single worst President in living memory for US foreign relations and domestic prosperity) 3, he's not 71 years old unlike John McCain, 4. his Vice Presidential nominee isn't some nut job from Alaska, and finally 5, he's a really well educated and intelligent man who genuinely appears to give a damn about someone other than himself (unlike Bush and McCain).

I am currently living in hope that the American people as a whole won't make another hideous mistake and that they elect Barak Obama to the Presidency, because I've no idea what will happen to the world if they elect a Republican demagogue like McCain after 8 years of the demagogue buffoon George W Bush.

Here's hoping come January 20th (stupid date to swear in a President) its Barak Obama and Joe Biden who are on the dais and not John McCain and Sarah Palin....

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Filler 2

I'm going to post tonight. but I wanted to make a comment.

I know I said I was going to try and post every day, but sometimes you just aren't feeling creative, or your head is in the wrong place or something along those lines.

You may have noticed I've kept my blog "clean" which isn't a chore, but its different to the way I speak in daily life to some extent. I'm a swearer, a good old fashioned swearer of the old school, mostly for emphasis, rarely for conflict. I bring this up as if my mind is in the wrong place I'll spend too much time editing my expletives and get frustrated at my lack of progress in the subject matter.

I also don't want to blog fade or repeat myself on a weekly basis, unless I find a topic that can be made into a weekly issue, but until then, I'm trying to stay fresh and be relevant, or at least as relevant as I can be.

Thanks for your patience and I'll be back later to talk about something or other.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cycling in London Ontario

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I got a junker bike to use as a runaround in London, so in the last few days I've been using it and starting to build up my cycle fitness again.

So the basics, its a mountain bike, was a front suspension but the suspension is seized solid, which is fine as my last bike in the UK was a full rigid mountain bike. It has 21 gears (7 on the wheel and 3 on the pedals) but I'm the kind of cyclist who never uses the pedal cogs other than the largest (my legs are a testament to the power I put into my cycling). I also generally never go lower than the 3rd gear on the wheel and will cruise on 4th or 5th gear (about 42 to 24 for 3rd and 42 to 18 for 5th).

Back in the UK I used to ride to college 3 or 4 days a week, each day would be around 24 miles round trip, the journey mostly took me through town and city streets and some small part was on a cycle path along the river Clyde. The trip would take me about 1 hour each way, depending on weather conditions and traffic (some days its pretty ridiculous). Many of my friends said I was stupid to do it and some days I had to agree with them (gale force winds, driving rain, blown and shredded tyre, abandoning bike over night and walking 1/2 mile carrying both wheels) but I enjoyed the cycle, loved the exercise and saw the benefit it made in my health.

The last time I cycled any great amount was in February of 2008 when I was back in the UK for a couple of weeks. I haven't owned a car for a long time (more than 4 years) and the bike was my every day vehicle. If I needed something from the store I'd hop on my bike and head out.

As I mentioned previously, I've "had" a bike in Canada since November last year, but due to laziness and the winter that came along, I never sorted out the 10 speed racing bike. When the opportunity of a cheap bike to run around town on came about (see previous post) I jumped on the chance. For the first few days I used the bike just to pop down to the local Valu-mart or the post office, rides of not more than 2km, however on Friday we needed more things than I could easily get at Valu-mart (Tofurkey for one) and I decided to take a ride out to the Masonville mall area of the city.

I mapped the route on Google (although I already knew it from the bus rides and the car drives we've taken out there) more to see how far it was than to actually get directions. The route works out to 4.8km each way, so I got my gear on (so far its just riding gloves here) and filled up my water bottle.

The day was warm, around 26C, there was almost no breeze and the sun was blazing, as it seems to do all summer over here. The bike is far from perfect for me, the saddle is a little too low, the frame is a standard 18" (back in the UK I rode a 21" with the saddle way up) and back in the UK I had bike shoes with clip pedals.

The ride to Masonville is relatively uneventful, there are a few hills and train tracks to cross but nothing major. I set off and managed to arrive at the train crossing just as an East to West CN cargo train was rolling through the city as they appear to do many times a day. I was waiting for a good 5 minutes as the massive freight train rolled by but once it cleared I set off once again.

I remembered just in time that I had to stop off at the Post Office to send off a package and took a short break there while I dealt with things. Heading back out I got myself back onto the road so that I could head back out on my journey. The first hill came along pretty quickly and while its not a hard hill, it took me by surprise a little and it taxed me for the first time in a while. As I mentioned earlier I never drop below 3rd gear even when climbing (unless its a monster climb) and I had to work pretty hard, the low saddle position making me have to use more energy than I normally would. The hill drops off after a short while and the road levels off for a km or so, but then there's more climbing, its gentle and relatively easy, but its pretty constant.

By no account was the ride hard, but the weather and the return to cycling was making me dehydrate quicker than normal. By the time I reached my destination I'd already gone through 2/3 of my water. I took care of my shopping and headed back out onto the road for the mostly downhill return home.

On the way home a couple of college kids in a car did what stupid kids do in cars to cyclists all over, they shouted as they passed, to which I returned a couple of expletives (as usual). The only other issue I had was to deal with the "right turn on a red light" issue whereby instead of hugging the side of the road as in the UK, I had to keep out of turning lanes and avoid cars going round me to turn.

In general the drivers were more well behaved than UK drivers and the cycle, although tiring, was really good fun and a nice introduction to local riding.

Saturday morning I had to pop to the pharmacy to get some anti-biotics for Kata (she has an infected piercing) so I took my bike to save time and get some more saddle time in. After the pharmacy I headed down to the Tim Horton's near Kata's work to get her a Timmies breakfast (she started work at 7am) and then meet her for her lunch break. After lunch I headed back home again, another few km under my belt.

Sunday morning, Kata was craving a McGridle breakfast, so I took my bike again and headed for the nearest McDonald's, which is in the heart of downtown's most ghetto crossing, Dundas and Richmond. As I waited to enter the establishment, 5 ghetto "gangstas" were leaving, I held the door for them and waited for them to leave, no thanks were rendered, but I didn't expect any. This branch of McDonald's has a walk up window, just so you know, but I had no intention of using it, hence why I walked in. Once I had my order I headed back out to make my way to Kata's work and she had her breakfast/lunch. While we were talking I was thinking I had nothing to do that afternoon and I wanted to take a cycle, this time I thought I'd head out the other side of the city and make my way to the White Oaks area and the White Oaks mall.

The ride to White Oaks is further, about 6.4km and there's far more climbing involved, riding along Wellington Road, from around Grand Ave almost to Bradley Ave where the mall starts, its a steady climb, harder than the climb to Masonville and much longer, the temperature was in the mid 20s again and the sun was blazing, so once again my water wasn't lasting. I kept going, because I rarely give up and I made it to White Oaks before long and headed into the mall for a wander around.

I didn't do much more than wander, although I did visit the WalMart to use the bathroom, then I wandered around again until I was bored and headed out. I decided to visit Canadian Tire for the first time and was quite impressed by the place, I didn't buy anything and headed out again.

My water was almost empty and I decided to stop on the way back home at the A&P supermarket to pick up some water, or in this case, a can of Arizona Iced Tea (honey and ginseng flavour). I picked up a couple of other things and headed back out again, refreshed and raring to go. The rest of the ride home was uneventful and I got back, hot and sweaty, but certainly happy.

I'm planning a lot more cycles around the city now. There are a bunch of cycle paths through the parks along the Thames which I'm considering taking (although the mosquitoes and black fly may make them less enjoyable), but I am planning a big cycle around the outskirts of the city, which should be around a 35km circuit, something that I'll build up to in a couple of weeks I'm pretty sure.

So I'm finally back on my bike, building up my bike fitness and enjoying myself in the nice weather. I best make the most of it before the snows come again.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Sorry, been busy/tired/passed out the last few days and also I lacked inspiration for a new post, but I'll get something done tomorrow, 31st August.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Let me start with another preface; In my About me post, I mentioned that I was born in Israel and brought up in Scotland, with that in mind, I was born Jewish (circumcised ritually and had a bar mitzvah) and brought up in a multicultural but most Christian society (the UK).

As I've said, I was born into a Judeo-Christian world (at least my part of it) and of course I learned about the culture of the Abrahamic religions.

Judaism thinks of itself as the first monotheistic religion, but that's not the case, the first was Atenism which was a short lived religious experiment in Pharonic Egypt which until that point and 20 years after, was a pantheistic religious nation. That's not to say that Judaism isn't old, it IS the oldest continuous monotheistic religion and its less than 100 years younger than Atenism. With a globally estimated population of 13.2 million, 41% of whom live in Israel, it is the smallest of the Abrahamic religions.

Christianity is the younger cousin of Judaism, based in part on the Old Testament of Judaism and the New Testament which purport to relay the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene "son of god" (you can tell what I think about this "story" already). It is also the largest of the Abrahamic religions with between 1.5 and 2.1 billion followers.

With this background in my life I had first hand knowledge of almost all the Abrahamic religions and my knowledge of the 3rd was provided to me by the religious education teachings of the Scottish education system (one of the best in the world).

Islam is the final of the Abrahamic religions and it bases itself on the Old and New testaments, but also adds the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Despite being the newest of the Abrahamic religions it fast became the 2nd largest of them with between 1 and 1.8 billion followers, close behind Christianity and at current rates, fast to overtake it as the biggest.

"With age comes wisdom", someone said that, though I don't know who, however its not always true. All of the Abrahamic religions have gone through schisms. The greatest of the schisming religions is Christianity, not even 200 years into the religion and already 4 schisms, not really surprising when you realise that the religion itself was formed after the purported death of Christ and long after the original disciples were already themselves dead.

These early schisms notwithstanding the Roman Catholic church is the oldest of the Christian factions and the Papacy has held the majority of Christian power for many centuries. It wasn't until the rise of Martin Luther in the 16th century that people began to turn with force against Papal power. The reasoning simple, that the Bible is the only infallible source of religious authority, not some human given absolute power over the lives of men. This lead to the formation of Protestantism which itself has split into many factions.

Islam and Judaism have also suffered schisms, in the case of Islams, there are the Sunni and Shia factions and in the case of Judaism, there are the Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist factions.

With all these splits in mind, its hard to agree that "with age comes wisdom" in the case of Abrahamic religions, if anything with ages comes conflict and animosity.

The other big religions of the world, in particular Hinduism and Buddhism are no better. It appears that no matter the religion, someone, usually a powerful religions leader, decides that he knows better than those who came before him. It may be true but it really ruins the idea that religion is an all knowing and infallible set of rules by which to live your life.

I don't think I have to mention that many global wars have been fought over religious beliefs and very little else. The crusades in the middle ages were fought over control of Jerusalem and the Holy land. Put simply, the papacy wanted the Holy land back from the Muslims who had taken control of the region in the 7th century. The Pope, held by the belief that he held absolute power on earth, sent thousands of christian crusaders to the holy land to slaughter the heretic Muslim.

Religious persecution has long been a part of religion, in particular Jews have been a major target for religious persecution culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust in World War Two.

I have to give Islam some credit as they allow Christians and Muslims who live under Islamic rule protection as Dhimmis originally only for People of the Book but later extended to any religion that Islam encountered in its spread across the globe. However the rise of fundamentalist Islamic groups around the world has clearly made this protection seem less realistic.

In my opinion, which I am finally getting to, there is but one path to follow in life, Atheism. I came to the conclusion there was no "God" a long time ago, long before I reached bar mitzvah, in fact I don't remember a time in my life when I did believe in an all powerful being who ruled over us all (I even worked out there was no Santa when I was barely 6).

Atheism "apparently" comes in a few flavours, but I'm of the explicit strong atheistic variety, which puts me in line with Richard Dawkins and many other scholarly thinkers. Its a simple "religion" to follow. There is no God, this is the one life you get, be the best human you can be while you're around and to borrow from the Golden Rule "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Simple huh? I like to think so...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vehicle Culture

Many people wish to make the car (automobile) the scapegoat for all our problems; global climate change, air pollution, accidental death, traffic congestion, almost anything you can think of people like to blame the car.

I would like to put forward a different point of view, its not the car that's the problem, its the vehicle culture that humanity developed.

The earliest transport "vehicles" were drawn sleds, dragged along the ground by oxen, but they were and still are inefficient unless you can drag them along snow/ice. Around 7000 years ago man invented the wheel and man began to domesticate the horse around 6500 years ago. When these two items were combined man was able to move large quantities of assorted stuff longer distances in less time than anyone could on foot or by sled over land. The world was becoming "smaller", goods and people were being moved further and faster than ever before. It wasn't until the development of these technologies and seagoing vessels, that kingdoms and later empires developed.

With the development of wheeled vehicles came the development of paved roads, after all a horse can ride comfortably across open land, but a cart rides more easily over a paved road. The first roads were cobble stone or wood and they were very expensive to produce with regards to man hours needed.

The Persians were amongst the first to produce an extensive road network around 500BC, but it was the Romans who took this to a new level, they built roads over their entire Empire, Europe, Africa and even to the borders of Asia. These roads were the arteries of trade, diplomacy and war.

Fast forward to the present day and we are still using the same methods for moving goods, diplomacy and war around with the addition of trains and air craft. The car is only one of the vehicles that we are dependent upon. Cars, trucks, trains, ships, planes, they are all vehicles that have changed our world and changed our lives. We need them to keep the lives that we are accustomed to flowing.

Our culture is inextricably tied to vehicles of all forms, the people who want us to stop using them are living in a fantasy land. The option is for us to find and develop new fuel sources that will not destroy the environment we live in and that we should maintain.

With that in mind, 1st generation biofuels, those produced by using food crops, are not the solution. They take away from human food supplies and are not sustainable if we intend to feed all of humanity while still running our vehicles. The hope is that the 2nd and even 3rd generation of bio fuels will fill our needs, they will be made from "waste" organic matter i.e. cellulose, others will be produced directly from algae.

While we wait for this to happen, lets make some changes, try and use your vehicles less, or if you are buying a new vehicle, get one that's more fuel efficient. When you drive, drive more economically, be less aggressive, drive more smoothly and make sure your tyre pressures are correct (yes its true, it makes a huge difference). Try and walk more, or cycle (if you can), take public transport if possible (depending on where you live naturally), it all makes a difference.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Body Modifications

Preface; I have a piercing and two tattoos, my fiancee Kata has lots of piercings and tattoos.

Back in the UK people with tattoos generally were of a certain type, mostly the "working" class. At least that's the perception for most of them. Some of the people with tattoos are of the extreme sports type, so they have their tattoos as a form of uniform. In any case tattoos in the UK for the majority of people are looked down upon as a low class thing to have done to your body. Its a strange attitude but that's the way it is.

Piercings are another matter. They have become very common all over the western world, ears. lips, noses, eyebrows, navels especially, then there's the ones you can't see...

I got my tattoos for my own reasons, not to be cool, but for significant reasons. My wolf tattoo is a tribute to my father (I designed it myself) and my KATG tattoo is a tribute to the podcast that I love and led me to meet my darling Kata, she has a similar tattoo (we designed them together). The fact that they are unique makes them more important to me and I've not regretted having them in any way. With that in mind I don't know why anyone would get a tattoo that they don't design themselves, or why you would ever regret a tattoo that you put on yourself.

Now I understand that some people do things without thinking, you know, when drunk, or just being a reactionary idiot, but honestly if you're going to do anything to your body that you can't reverse easily and you're not 100% certain you want it for the rest of your life, DON'T DO IT.

Body modification is an interesting issue. Its a practice that's been around as long as human culture, but its only become popular (again) in the western world in the last 50 to 100 years.

The most obvious form is ear piercing, nothing unusual there, but there are extreme forms of ear modification, not only piercing every part of the ear but also shaping the ear to some other form, from lobe stretching to take larger items e.g. huge hollow plugs to amputating parts of the ear to shape them into elfin/vulcan forms. Why? I've no idea, some people are just, well, crazy...

Tattooing which I've already covered is a form of body mod, a very ancient form that's been around for thousands of years, although in recent decades. Many people will go through the process of covering their entire body in tattoos (something that is very common among the criminal underclasses of Japan).

The list of body mods are huge and growing, one of the more recent is scarification, the process where scaring is made purposefully on the skin by removal of tissue to produce a desired image. Now I say its new, but only in the western world really, its a practice that's been around for many generations in African culture and other parts of the world.

I had a point when I started this post and I guess I'll get to it around now. In the UK I could see people with certain forms of body mod, mostly tattoos and piercings, not much more than that. When I came to Canada I started to notice a greater range and variety of body mods on show in the "wild" so to speak. Rarely a day goes by when I don't see someone with big plugs in their lobes, or multiple facial piercings (a seeming favourite is two lower labial facial piercings on either side of the chin), people with tattoos are extremely common, from all facets of society.

Granted there are a large number of tattoo and piercing parlors in London (15 by Google's count of tattoo businesses in London Ontario) which suggests that there's a market for them. The question I ask myself is, are they a factor of the society's acceptance of what was an underground art form, or are they driving the market by their existence?

I'm of the opinion that people make their own choices in life and that its hard to force someone to do something they are against, however its clear that peer pressure can be a strong driving force in many people's lives.

What I'm getting at is if you are going to carry out any form of body modification upon yourself, think of the long term ramifications before you take any action. Most importantly, DO NOT piece the ears of a child that isn't even out of nappies (diapers) as they don't for one second have the ability to know what the hell you have done, nor why you did it, you vain idiot (I have seen it with my own eyes and wished the child could be taken to a safer life).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Road trips

Kata's work schedule conspired to give her 6 consecutive days off so we decided to hire a car for a couple of days. Rather than take a weekend hire (something we've often done) we decided to take the car from Wednesday to Friday and take a couple of road trips.

On Wednesday we decided to head out East and ultimately take a trip to Ikea in Burlington, I've been to Ikea in Scotland, but Kata had never been before. Ikea only have 11 stores in the whole of Canada, 4 in Ontario and the closest to us is in Burlington, more than 140km away. Now you may think this is a long way to travel just to look at and buy inexpensive Swedish designed goods, but in Canada 140km isn't much in the way of travel, its a factor of scale in this massive country.

Our first stop on the way to Ikea was a yarn store in Burlington called Spun, a cute little place in a "strip mall" situated next door to a sewing machine store and a "bar and grill", pretty typical for a strip mall. Kata was looking for some yarn for a project and when we take trips she likes to visit yarn stores. We spent about 10 minutes in the store and Kata bought the yarn she needed, as well as some yarn she didn't but really wanted.

The next stop on our trip to Ikea was Booster Juice, a smoothie company we'd discovered on a trip we made to the Toronto Zoo. Kata had directions for the entire trip printed out for us (thank you Google maps) and we were travelling along the same street that Spun was on and we spotted a Licks burger restaurant. We were both hungry and we had eaten Lick's Nature Burgers before that we'd bought from the store (the nature burger line is Lick's vegetarian burger, for which they are famous), but I'd never eaten at a proper Lick's restaurant so I pulled in and we headed in. We ordered nature burgers, nature coney fries (fries with vegetarian chili and cheese) and cherry cokes. The food was freshly prepared, the burgers topped to our specification (something I love about Harvey's and Lick's) and we tucked in happily.

We finished our food and headed onto the road once more. The Booster Juice (for we weren't going to give up on our smoothies) was about 5km away and on the way to the Ikea (Kata had planned wisely). The Booster Juice was also in a strip mall. It shared part of a health club's building and was next door to a "glow in the dark" mini golf. We both ordered the Mango Hurricane, mine with a protein booster and Kata's with a fusion booster (thus the name Booster Juice I guess). With smoothies in hand, we headed off to Ikea, another 5km away.

Ikea was pretty much the same as the Ikea I'd experienced in the UK, lots of nice, not overly expensive, relatively stylish products on display to purchase either as is or in flat pack boxes. We bought some candles, candle dishes (to burn the candles on), a pizza cutter (we didn't have one), a cast iron skillet, a messenger bag, some chocolate and lingonberry jelly, none of which was particularly expensive and most of which was pretty good quality. Kata enjoyed herself and admitted that we could have spent hundreds of dollars in there if we had a house to put stuff in.

We left Burlington around 5 and headed back for London along the 400 series highway, the traffic wasn't too bad and we headed to the Wal*Mart in the White Oaks area of London as we needed a couple of things, stuff for my bike and food for Blackie. The Wal*Mart was really busy and finding parking was a chore, but we took care of what we needed and headed home.

For Thursday we planned a day trip to Port Stanley on Lake Erie to visit another great lake (I've been to 3 now, Ontario, Huron and Erie) and on the way we planned to visit St. Thomas, Sparta and ultimately Port Stanley. The weather was fantastic, around 28C, clear skies, a gentle cool breeze and we headed out around 11am. We had planned our trip away from any highway, so we knew we'd be travelling past lots of farms and we knew we'd pass at least a couple of roadside farm stalls.

Not long out of London we happened upon a farm store selling fresh fruit and corn and we bought 14 of the most amazingly fresh and huge corn, we would have bought more but I managed not to bring any cash with me (apart from $7 in change) so we didn't get to buy anything else, but it all looked spectacular. We headed back on the road and passed km after km of farm land, either covered in soy (first pic), corn (second pic) or hay. Its quite a sight and it makes me happy to see how productive the land is around here. There are orchards and vineyards, all manner of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs & spices grown in Ontario, granted nothing that needs tropical climes, although there are a huge number of hot houses around the country too.

After a short while, we arrived in St Thomas, its not far from London, only 26km by Google directions avoiding the 401 highway. We started to look for Parkspin (another yarn store) which was closing down (the reason to go there, a little bargain hunting), but there was an Iron Horse event on in the town which blocked the street we were trying to drive down, we had to take a few detours to get to our destination, who'd have thought such a small town would have a one way system? We went in, didn't find much that we were interested in until we found a button bin where a bag, a decent sized bag, of buttons were $1+tax. Kata saw some cute plastic buttons that she wanted to get and we dug in hunting them out. After maybe 15 minutes we had collected what turned out to be over 1400 buttons, quite a haul. We paid and petted the shop owner's dog and headed off on the next leg of our trip to Sparta.

Our first destination was planned to be Sparta Candles' store in Sparta. We reached the cute, tiny town after about 30 mins of driving through the countryside. We reached the point where our directions told us to take a left turn and drive 1km. I noticed a store called "Anything Used" and thought "that looks nice, maybe we'll stop in for a look later". So we continued to drive along this small road in Sparta (it's the Sparta Line), and we went past the 1km mark with no sign of what we assumed would be a well signposted store/house, we did see a sign for a lavender farm (Lavender Blue) but we decided to keep driving since the day was so lovely. As we continued to drive we saw many pretty houses and many trees covered in what looked like webs (see the pic), we were so amazed by this we had to slow down and take some photographs. We continued driving and we decided there was no way we were going to find the candle store on that road, but we decided to stop at the Lavender farm and check it out, we were so glad we had.

The Lavender farm, at least the part we could see, was an area of lavender bushes, hoards of butterflies and other insects, crickets chirping loudly, a pretty farm house with a patio and the pathway leading to the store. The store inside is minimal, but nicely presented, all the products are on display and the proprietor had samples of her lavender honey and lavender jelly for customers to sample, along with other samples to test of the cosmetic products. We bought some soaps, some lavender jelly and some lavender chocolate. I asked about the trees with the webs on and we were told that it was caused by the tent caterpillar on birch trees. We also asked about Sparta Country Candles and we were told that it was back the way we came 3km (about what we'd travelled) in the Anything Used store (well that fixed the prospect of us stopping in for a look around).

We headed back into "town" and stopped to visit Anything Used, its a typical gift store with all kinds of garden nick knacks, candles (naturally), books, fudge and all manner of other things. There were another 6 rooms of items upstairs (we only looked through 4 rooms downstairs) but we'd seen and found as much as we wanted to buy in the store (a candle and a resin frog for Kata's mother), so we paid up and headed out to visit another store in the Sparta area called Winter Wheat which Kata's mother had suggested we visit (one of her favourites in that area).

Winter Wheat was only 2 km down the Quaker Road from "downtown" Sparta and is set off the road in a shady wooded area. The building looks like an old farm house, there's also a little tea house, the residence of the owners and a goat house in the clearing. The store sells all manner of "folksy" items, furniture, prints, garden ornaments and all manner of other cutesy stuff. The store offers free tea, coffee and cookies (with a donation to charity greatly appreciated) and Kata bought a few cards to use on her pen pal letters. As I was waiting for her to finish paying, I noticed a hanging bird feeder out the window and to my surprise, some humming birds were flitting in and out feeding from the feeder. It was my first time seeing them in the flesh, a wondrous sight. We tried to get a picture or 2 of the birds, but people were milling around and they didn't return to our field of view before we left.

From Winter Wheat its 15km to Port Stanley, so we headed off and made our way there. One of the primary reasons for going to Port Stanley was to visit the beach there and for me to get a look at another Great Lake (my first visit to a Great Lake was to Lake Huron at Grand Bend in the Spring, the weather was warm but the lake was cold and the town itself wasn't open for the influx of guests that flock there in the summer. We walked on the beach, dipped our feet in the freezing water and headed on our way). Getting to the beach required a little "off our map" navigation but we got to the parking area (free unlike Grand Bend) and we parked close to the beach and headed out for the shore.

The weather was idyllic, air temperature around 28C, the sand a lovely golden colour by the parking lot, I was so excited, I took my sandals off (de rigeur for summer in Canada) and walked to the shore bare foot. The sand was hot, almost too hot, but it was wonderful to feel it under my feet. As we neared the shore we saw multiple life guard stations (not like Baywatch, the tower type that 2 guards sit on under a parasol) and on the back of the one nearest us was information on the weather, lake temperature, sun UV index and other factors I didn't bother reading. The lake was 20C and the sun was "fry you in minutes" strong, at least for North Americans and Northern Europeans, there were hundreds of people at the beach despite it being a Thursday afternoon and many were sun bathing or playing with their kids and generally having a great time. We walked down the shore for 10 or 15 minutes, we paddled in the water (cold compared to the sand but warm), we took some picture, did some cute stuff (drew a heart in the sand with our feet) and then decided to head off to Starthroy to spend some time with Kata's mother and step father. We got lost a little leaving Port Stanley, but we worked things out and headed off cross country (again avoiding the 400 series highway) for Strathroy.

We drove for about 24km on paved roads and then we reached the area around Muncey. A sign stated the paved road would end and we entered into the reservation of Oneida. It was all rough track for about 3km and at one point a collie dog was laying in the road and chased at us as we drove past (we were both pretty shook up worrying that we could have hit the dog had it not pulled out of the chase). We passed out of the reservation and back onto paved roads through Muncey, it was my first time in a Native reservation and Kata told me that it was one of the places that Mixed Martial Arts fights take place in Ontario as the Ontario athletic commission won't sanction MMA fights (the reservations being sovereign territory). I've since learned that the area around Muncey has 3 reservations (Chippewas of the Thames, Munsee-Delaware and Oneida).

We made our way to Strathroy and we went to Kata's parent's house and we learned that her parents had a BBQ to go to that evening (they have a very busy social calendar) so we stayed until it was time for them to leave and we left them 6 corn to enjoy, then headed home to London.

It was a wonderful day out, the best I've had so far in Canada, the weather was wonderful, the people were adorable, the drive was fun and everything went smoothly (more or less).

p.s. If you want to see more pics from the Thursday trip, here's Kata's flickr set.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Local Business

The idea of buying locally was once the only option and by that I don't just mean the store that you bought your groceries from. All products were once only locally produced or they were imported at great cost by land or water.

Europe is a perfect example. From the earliest days of European civilisation people of different regions would trade between neighbouring tribes for whatever they couldn't find easily in their daily lives (or they'd fight with them and take the stuff they needed). As the technology improved, as people started to travel farther and as nations formed, trade increased over the known world. By the height of the Roman Empire goods were being traded from all over Europe, Africa and Asia, it is even hinted (although not proven) that trade from the Americas took place also (the Egyptian Pharaohs were purported to have acquired some cocaine which is only found in South America).

When mass transportation started to take hold in the world, for the most part the Steam Engine powered trains of the Industrial Revolution (something that Great Britain gave to the world) were the method of taking goods cross country in days rather than weeks. The steam ship made inter-continental trade quicker also, allowing goods from the colonies of the European nations to reach the home lands sooner. This process of "shrinking the world" reached its peak with the advent of the air plane which allows goods and people naturally to cross the globe in hours rather than weeks (as compared to ship travel).

Now don't think I'm just going to rail against the modern globalised world, it would be pointless to do so as the benefits to humanity are too great and the power of the massive corporations which take advantage of the modern methods of transporting goods are far too strong for one man to fight alone. Also I like a bargain as much as the next person, the rise of China as a global manufacturing power has made life much cheaper and easier for us in the rich western world. Realistically though, without the quick, comfortable (mostly) and reliable transportation system that is the Jet airliner, there's almost no way I'd be alive today, let alone in the country I am today with the woman I'm in love with.

So where am I going with this? Well here's the deal. Its better, for the most part, to try and support local business. By that I mean local companies owned by local people, not specifically Mom and Pop stores, but the stores that do their best to take care of your needs with local produce (where possible) and local people (if possible).

Am I saying don't shop at a supermarket, or a franchise store? No. But if you do, try and be a responsible consumer. Look to see where the goods you buy are from. Do you really need those limes from Mexico? How about those dwarf beans from Kenya (not that rare in the UK)? Do you have to have that ebony table?

Packaging is almost as important. Plastic is a great material, but its made from petroleum and that's becoming an increasingly rare resource. Can you buy the same item in a glass container or can you re-use your containers? Do you need those plastic bags they pack your groceries in (you might if you have a pet like we do)? Its all about recycling, reducing and reusing (a slogan from back home).

Recycle, it makes you feel good and it makes work for people. Reduce, use less stuff (pretty simple), by stuff I mean anything that you don't NEED to use, do you need all that food that goes to waste, those new clothes that aren't replacing anything old, that new car that you don't need as your old car is still in great condition. Reuse, don't throw that plastic container away, clean it and use it for your leftovers, or to store nails, how about those glass jars, you can store lots of things in those, old newspapers can make great fire lighters, those trousers with stains or rips below the knee could be turned into shorts, or pillows, or sails (OK I'm reaching there but cloth is pretty good for reusing).

I'm not asking or demanding that people change their lives entirely, that's unrealistic and rather fascistic. I'd rather that people make little changes that they hardly notice that add up over the world's population into massive gains.

I'll just add as a post script that it amazes me just how many still serviceable items people in this city and for that part this culture (Western capitalist culture) people with throw out rather than repair, sell or donate. Oh and with that in mind, I bought a junker bike that a local person had put together from bikes that people had dumped around the neighbourhood. It only cost me $30 but its perfectly serviceable and will do me fine for a decent amount of time.

Monday, August 18, 2008


This post is going to be very London centric (the Ontario London of course), but I'll try and make it more global, at least where possible.

As I've mentioned before London Ontario is nicknamed the Forest City and a tree is the London city logo. There's a good reason for this, London is covered in trees. I'm not exaggerating, there are a crazy number of trees, almost every street is lined with trees. In the older parts of the city they are massive ancient trees, OK maybe not ancient but a good couple of centuries old.

Its not as if they are the stereotypical pine or spruce trees that I'm sure people imagine are in Canada, there's a wide variety of trees. Lots of maple sure, Canada is blessed with lots of maple trees, from the sugar maple, to red maple (after which the Canadian flag is based) and many others in between.

There are a lot of ornamental trees too, this picture shows an ornamental apple tree, with tiny red apples. I've not tried eating one of the apples, but I have eaten an apple from another ornamental tree with apples that were a little smaller than a cox's orange pippin (it wasn't terrible).

Victoria Park in central London is chock full of trees of many different species, maples, horse chestnut, oak, pine and spruce, I even found a Ginko Biloba tree one day. The problem with the trees in the park are they are old, really old, they are close together and they are suffering from disease and competition from the other trees. Its a shame, but the park services will have to do something about it eventually.

Speaking of disease. This picture is of a tree close to our apartment building (that's it in the background) and you can clearly see that there's a diseased growth on the side of the tree. Its not unusual around the city in the more mature trees. Some of it is down to the age of the plants, some is down to earlier management of the trees that left them unprotected from parasite incursion. This has led to a lot of trees dieing and having to be cut down. There's a city truck that carries around a wood chipper throughout the non snowy season, that takes care of the dangerous trees that need to be cut down. Its a good system but is does show how badly many of the trees are suffering around here.

Here's one last picture. Around London's downtown there are a collection of metal trees painted in gaudy colours and "planted" in areas that are a little less tree covered. Apparently these sculptures caused a real stink when they were commissioned by the London District Business Association. They're not terrible to look at, but honestly, what was the point, its not like London lacks real trees. Still, its art I guess.

I really do like the fact that London is covered in trees, it makes things a lot more pleasant (except when the trees rain or snow on you, or when they hit you with masses of seeds, or the pollen makes you sneeze), they provide much needed shade in the summer and help block out some of the noises of the city (especially in the myriad parks in the city) and they provide a nice home for the local black squirrel population and of course the local birds. They even help to reduce the overall temperature in the city (thanks to transpiration).

Excuse me, I think its time to go out and find a tree to hug, one that's not overly diseased anyway.

Assuming you are so inclined I have a bunch more pictures on my Flickr account.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Its said that the British have an obsession with weather, its true, we do. There's a good reason for it, the British weather is incredibly varied. In Scotland its often said, if you don't like the weather, wait around a while.

When I was growing up, when the summer holiday came round we hoped with all our might for a good summer. A good summer constituted a week or more of good weather where there would be sunshine for at least 5 days in a row and a temperature of around 20C. It didn't happen often, most weeks would have rain showers or whole days of rain. If you were really lucky the temperature might hit 25C.

After the poor summer, the wet and windy autumn would always follow, rain for days at a time, winds growing to 80 or 90mph in gale force storms (relatively common in Scotland), months of this weather would roll by and eventually winter would set in.

In Scotland you'd expect winter to be a cold snowy affair, really low temperatures and ice storms, hah we wish. Winter in Scotland tends to be a let down if you like the cold weather, Christmas time is almost never snowy, which ruins every child's holidays. When it does snow, which some years is almost never, the snow is pretty light and when its heavy enough to settle and accumulate, it barely gets to more than a couple of inches deep. Then the snow might last a few days, a week at most, then it'll rain and bye bye snow.

There's a scientific reason for all this, its called the Gulf Stream in particular the North Atlantic part. This is a current of warm water that flows from North Africa, via the Caribbean region of the Atlantic Ocean, it splits into the North Atlantic Drift and the rest recirculates to Africa. This warm water current has a huge effect on the British Isles raising the winter temperatures by a sizeable amount, e.g. the average low temperature in Moscow for the month of January is -10.5C, in Glasgow its 1C (I use these 2 cities because in latitude they are almost identical, 55 45 N for Moscow and 55 50N for Glasgow). This also effects summer temperatures, in July its 23.4C average for Moscow and 18C for Glasgow. The reason the temperature is lower in summer is thanks to the warm water, more clouds are formed and consequently more rain, that ever present rain.

The Gulf Stream does effect more than the British Isles, it actually keeps most of the western coast of Northern Europe warmer than it should be and if the Gulf Stream was ever to shut down, North Western Europe would descend into a mini ice age, or less dramatically, it would become a hell of a lot colder, more like the rest of Northern Europe in winter, like the Baltic for example.

Also thanks to how far North the British Isles are, we are affected by the Arctic. Especially in winter, Arctic winds come down over Europe dropping the region into a deep freeze, causing chaos in the warmer countries. These rare hard freezes can give us snow but mostly ice and cause problems on the roads.

With this in mind, at least you now understand where I came from in terms of changeable, hard to predict weather that will constantly spoil your day and once in a while play nice and give you a happy surprise.

The weather in Canada was a real surprise to me. My first time over was in July 2007. It wasn't the warmest of summers and the average temperature was around 25C. It hardly rained and there wasn't much in the way of wind either. It was pretty damn idyllic for me, especially compared to the weather I'd left behind in the UK, temperatures barely hitting 20C and rain every other day. I was over for 3 weeks and had a great time and went home with a bit of a tan (compared to the usual). I came back in October and the weather was once again much better than the UK. I'd left rain, cold, wind and storms behind and come to average temperatures in the high teens, shorts and t-shirt weather.

As the months went on, the weather started to cool down, by December the temperature had dropped to -5C or so and there was a hint of snow in the air. My first experience of Canadian snow was on the way to Ottawa for a friend's birthday on December 2nd. We were driving up the 401 to Toronto to pick up a friend and the first of the snow for that winter, in South West Ontario, had started to fall. As we headed out of Toronto the snow kept falling, but it wasn't overly worrying, still quite light, however a couple of hours later, around the time we were nearing Kingston the snow was falling steadily, the roads were becoming covered and the plows were out in force. For the most part on the 401 we managed to avoid the plows and enjoy the fruits of their labour i.e. clear roads, but when we left the 401 to take the 416 that all changed.

The snow was getting deep, very deep by my personal experience. The plows were working extra hard and we were caught behind them a couple of times following at 40km/h for 5km or so at a time until the plows peeled off to head back down the highway to clear the other side. It took us an extra couple of hours on the 416 than usual and we saw 5 or 6 cars abandoned by the side of the highway and even a couple of trucks. One in particular had jackknifed and blocked the other side of the highway causing a tailback for a good 5 km. The OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) had done a good job redirecting traffic though so that they avoided that area of the highway bu I'm sure a few people's days were ruined. We got to Ottawa safely and although the snow was deep it was well tended by the authorities.

On the way home, the snow had started to melt and this caused some problems too, our car's windscreen washer fluid level was low (not that we knew at the time) and for a good 50km as we neared Toronto I was driving with an almost ice covered screen with barely a slit of clear glass to watch the road. We did manage to find some fluid at a service stop but it was the 4th place we'd tried, turns out hundreds of other drivers had suffered the same fate. However by the time we reach Toronto the weather had warmed significantly, enough that it was raining and the snow was cleared from most of the land.

By mid December the snow had returned, a little to start with but still a good amount. This froze after a couple of days, making walking difficult in places where the snow hadn't been cleared properly but I managed not to fall at least. As the winter went on we went through a few fluctuations, for most of December and January there were periods of snow, freeze and thaw, at one point it was even 8 or 9C. Late in January however and through February and March the snow started to hang around, getting deep and freezing hard. It was the most snow I'd experienced for a long period of time and it took a little getting used to. Walking Blackie at -32C (the coldest of the year) was pretty interesting and we both agreed to make it short. Walking at -20C wasn't so bad and his fur, which is crazy warm, kept him pretty happy, although he did manage to tear a claw during one walk which made him pretty sore and grumpy for a week until he gnawed the claw off.

Winter was pretty fantastic for me, I'd not had that kind of winter experience in my life and its something we Brits tend to love.

I'll talk about Summer in a later post as we're still in the middle of my first full summer in Canada, however I'll tell you this, its so much better than the UK summer, hot days, strong sunshine, very little in the way of rain or inclement weather apart from a few storms.