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.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I thought I should probably elaborate on something I mentioned in my first post, vegetarianism.

When I was 17, I reached the conclusion that I didn't want to eat meat any more. Its something that comes to many of us who purport to love animals, or at least believe that animals have a right to a decent quality of life before they are slaughtered for human consumption. It was the late 80s, there was very little care for animals being shown and the quality of factory farmed animal products was dropping rapidly, animals were being pumped full of steroids, being fed animal proteins and being transported and slaughtered in terrible conditions with very little regard for their well being.

So as I was saying, I had not long turned 17, I may even have been 16 at the time, but that makes no difference. I had made my mind up, I was going to stop eating meat, all meat, but not fish. It was in my mind that fish were a wild caught animal, the fishing practices were the same as they'd always been and fish was actually good for human development as opposed to meat which humans really don't need (how naive I was about fish, I'll get back to that later).

I didn't need to do any research for the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle, but I still did. The Internet was still young and hard to get onto, so I resorted to the wikipedia of the last generation, books, in particular encyclopedias. Many millions of people throughout the world live a life-long vegetarian lifestyle, the best example are the Jains originally of India, who never take the life of another creature. Some Buddhists also follow a strict vegetarian diet for the same reason as the Jains, but not all.

The facts are pretty simple, a well balanced vegetarian diet is better for you. It can reduce the number of free radicals that are wandering around your body by virtue of the fact that fruit and vegetables are high in anti-oxidants (that's why they want everyone to eat 5 portions of fruit or veg per day), this also helps reduce the incidence of some cancers (especially those caused by sunlight and direct inhalation of smoke). The diet is higher in fibre (helps to reduce incidence of colorectal cancer), generally lower in saturated fats (unless you eat a lot of milk by-products) and higher in poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats, which are particularly good at lowering LDL cholesterol levels and raising HDL cholesterol levels.

Oh that's enough about the diet being good, because realistically anyone eating a healthy balanced diet will reduce all of those factors, if you only eat meat once a week and you don't char it or smother it in creamy sauces, chances are you're going to be fine and live as long a life as an average vegetarian, so don't think I'm going to preach the lifestyle based on health alone. Actually I won't "preach" the lifestyle at all, but I will give my reasoning later why its a better choice.

So back to my vegetarian experience. When I started in the late 80s it wasn't all roses for vegetarians in west central Scotland, we weren't a new thing, but there were only a small number of us around and most of us were of the younger generation just making our way in the world. I met many vegetarians in University where you tend to meet people of "alternative lifestyles". Its also where I met my first lesbians and homosexuals, at least the kind that were out about it.

In the 80s the practice in Europe of feeding animals with animal derived protein supplements was endemic, mostly due to the difficulty of cultivating soy in the cooler European climate. This animal protein turned out to be a problem in cattle production as it apparently lead to the arrival of B.S.E. into the bovine population. Now B.S.E. is a brain disease not dissimilar to Kuru and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease which causes the brain to form spongy lesions that destroy brain function, mobility and invariably leads to death. This all came to a head in the late 80s when the British (mostly English) cattle farmers were having to deal with a rash of cows that were suffering from severe neurological problems.

It took a while, but by 1989 after the world had banned British beef imports, the British government changed its cattle rearing regulations, their feed was not allowed to contain animal by-products and other draconian restrictions on the processing of meat were introduced. B.S.E. it was found could, if the meat was contaminated with brain matter from infected cattle, cause humans to develop (new) variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

It appears my decision to stop eating meat towards the end of the 80s and the fact that most Scottish meat was produced without the high protein feed, meant that I had reduced my chances of infection.

When people back then asked why I was a vegetarian, B.S.E. was a good reason to give them, but since then as people's memories faded, I fell back to giving them my original reason, conscience and health.

My mother for many years though it was a phase. Its not that I forced her to cook special meals for me or anything like that, I had been taking care of my own food since I decided to turn veggie, but she, being a Jewish mother, was very concerned that I wasn't eating properly and would suffer from malnutrition (something I most certainly have not). She was so concerned she spoke to her doctor about it... Suffice to say even her guilt trips didn't make me change my mind.

After a year or 2 the smell of meat cooking started to repulse me, its worse now than then, the worst tend to be chicken because its a fatty meat and the fat make the smell linger more. Bacon has never made me want to eat meat, its smell also reviles me.

It took me close to 8 years to decide that I didn't want to eat fish (I'm finally back to fish) and it was a 2 part reason; 1. Fishing practices were far from sustainable, in fact they were catching so much fish that the usual prized fish like Cod and Haddock were in short supply, the catch was smaller and the individual fish were smaller too. To make up for the shortfall the more unpopular fish were and still are being caught, things like Pollock, Hake, Coley and others (all of the same family as the Cod but not the same mild flavour). Even more exotic fish are being caught from deeper in the oceans, fish that take many decades to reach maturity. The sea is being pillaged and especially in the temperate, sub arctic and Arctic waters, the fish stocks are crashing, if it continues, there will be no fish left, or at least so few as to require centuries for their numbers to bounce back. Oh and 2. the smell of cooking fish, especially my family's favourite the salmon (farmed naturally, its way cheaper) was making me sick (my mother's absolute favourite fish is the Mackerel and its one of the smelliest fish when cooked).

OK I think the reasons I stopped eating meats have been covered. So time for the conclusion and my "preachy" bit.

I'm not an evangelist for vegetarianism. I believe in people's rights to choose what they want to do with their lives. But if we're going to feed the world, we can't continue the level of meat production that's going on in the world right now, even worse, we can't allow the increase in meat production that's forecast as the Asian population becomes more wealthy and craves the meat their meager monies couldn't buy before.

Meat production is the most wasteful and the most polluting per tonne, even soy beans, which are amongst the most demanding crops need less than a quarter the amount of water per tonne for production than beef cattle do. Its not just the water, the cattle need fodder. In most of the world grasses can only be relied upon seasonally, outwith that the animals need to be fed, mostly with grain, grain that needs transporting to the animals, grain that could be feeding humans. Its ridiculously wasteful.

The way I look at things now is I'm an environmental vegetarian, by not eating meat I'm reducing my environmental footprint. Its one of my little actions which add up to, over the course of my life, a considerable amount. The more of us humans in the 1st world and latterly the rapidly improving 2nd world (Asia in particular) who turn to vegetarianism, the better it will be for all of us, the more people around the world who can be fed, the lower the burden on health providers.

There is one issue I'd like to touch on as a final aside, the idea of in vitro meat production. I think its a good idea. The meat that would be produced would be free of animal suffering, use massively less resources to produce and despite it not being in any way "good" to eat, in the way a steak is "good" to eat, it will still be highly usable in processed foods like burgers, sausages and other meat products. Its a long way off, it may never be accepted, but it may be the only way to provide the meat that people seem to want.

We'll see I guess...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Parasites (the insect kind)

I'll preface this post with my current situation, on Tuesday I went with Kata to a friend's house/business called The Bloomin Bog in the outskirts of London Ontario. Kata is an avid knitter and is part of the Knit London group on Ravelry (I'm a member too, but I'm not a knit knut ;) ) and Tuesday was a yarn dyeing and going away party with a pot luck. One of the members, Jenny is leaving London for Montreal, hopefully not for long, but at least for a year. Anyway approx 12 of us were there, I was the only male, and we were dyeing yarn using Kool Aid and some Jaquard Acid dyes, Kata died 4 skeins of yarn and I assisted ably.

Since it was outdoors and The Bloomin Bog is a water plant nursery with a large number of outdoor ponds, there's a huge amount of insects at any given time, dragonflies, mayflies and unfortunately close to and at dusk, lots and lots of mosquitoes. Well at the time I thought I was doing fine, not really being bitten, but later that night after we got home and I'd passed out (see 2 posts ago), I realised I'd been bitten quite a lot, at least 10 welts were forming on my legs and one on my left arm. I put some cortisone cream onto my bites and went to sleep thinking nothing of the situation.

The next morning my bites had started to react a lot more, the skin was, as you can imagine, very itchy but I managed not to scratch for the most part and used more cortisone cream to take care of most of the itch. As the day wore on though, things got worse, more and more the skin around the bites became inflamed, hot, sore and itchy, by last night no matter what I did the skin was hot and sore. When I took Blackie for a walk, my legs were on fire, the more I walked the more itchy the skin felt, the heat of my own muscle activity working against me.

I had been a real grumpy bastard much of the day thanks to the pain and irritation, but by last night I was pretty fed up and extra grumpy. I put lots more cream on the bites and hoped that I'd be fine over night. No such luck though, I had a hard time sleeping, I woke up around 4:40 with my legs on fire, itchier than I've ever felt and I couldn't take it. I got out of bed and tried using more cream, but nothing, I had been scratching in my sleep, or at least half wakefulness, and my left calf muscle was swollen quite badly around a bite.

Now by this time I was starting to get concerned, but since I'm relatively cool in those situations and I know first aid, I went to the freezer and grabbed out a cooler ice pack, applied it to the site (wrapped in cloth) and held it there for a good 5 minutes to bring the swelling down and reduce the itch and fire in my skin.

The ice pack was only partially working and since both my legs were bad, I went to the kitchen, grabbed a couple of dish cloths and soaked them in cold water and applied them to my skin. Finally some relief. I kept doing this for the next 45 minutes, re-wetting the cloths as my body heat warmed up and dried out the water.

By that time it was approaching 6 and I was really tired, but there was no way I could go back to bed. So I put on my Creative Zen and continued listening to Lewis Black's "Me of Little Faith" audio book (I'll blog about the topic of religion and faith another time, but his book is a good listen and most likely also a good read) and fell asleep for an hour or so. I've carried on using the wet cloth application all day, apart from when I took Blackie out for a walk this morning (another pain filled journey) and its helped a lot, the swelling is gone, much of the irritation has reduced and I'm certainly hoping my body will have taken care of itself by tomorrow.

So, now that I've been through all that, I'll get back to the topic of parasites. The mosquitoes were just doing what they've evolved to do. Suck blood from any handy mammal (bird etc) that's nearby so as to provide itself with the energy and nutrients to reproduce. Its only the females that suck blood, they use a host of chemicals in their saliva to prevent the host from noticing them until they've taken their fill, the saliva contains chemicals that prevent clotting, and increase blood flow. The problem is these chemicals can cause an immune reaction, just as in my case. For some people this can lead to anaphylaxis which is often fatal, thankfully that didn't happen to me.

Fortunately Canada doesn't have much in the way of Mosquito borne diseases although West Nile virus has been confirmed, however its still rare, so I'm probably good... There are other parasites in Canada of course, there are ticks, which often carry Lyme disease, there's the black fly which carries Onchocerciasis but these only live near fast flowing rivers so they're not that common in the city except near the Thames river (I've been bitten by a few black flies. Kata and I visited Harris park a couple of weeks ago and we were harassed by black flies, fortunately I didn't have any reaction to their bites, Kata however had some inflammation).

Well I guess I should get to my point, I've been writing long enough. Parasites suck, literally, but its hard to get rid of them, apart from spraying their habitats with insecticides or introducing predators, there's not a huge amount you can do, certainly not in a massive country like Canada. I'm sure if the level of disease spread by these parasites rises, as is possible due to the increase in global temperature that global climate change predicts, there will be a concerted effort by the government to wipe out these parasites.

Until then I guess I'll have to "suck it up" and take precautions to protect myself, bug spray, citronella candles, that kinda stuff...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Politeness and manners

I was going to post this blog yesterday (the 12th) but as I mentioned in today's other post, I ran out of time and ability not to pass out. In any case here it is...

As you all probably know I was raised in Scotland, part of the United Kingdom and home of all the books on manners from almost all eras. The British pride themselves on their manners and general politeness and for some people the greatest crime is to be rude or impolite.

When I was younger its true that people were friendlier and more courteous to strangers, Scotland still is a very friendly place, but the overall level is dropping. In part I suppose it mat be a break down of the class boundaries, the increase in casual culture, the rise of the Chav/Ned in "popular" culture, or its just an ennui with the norms of our forefathers, or all of the above. In any case its a shame that its happening.

Before I came to Canada I knew that the people were meant to be friendly. The world view of Canada tends to be that its the smaller cousin of the USA where people are generally nicer and don't kill each other as much (travellers from the USA will often pretend to be Canadians abroad). They also think its snowy all year, that polar bears roam widely and there are igloos all over the place (here's a compilation of questions people have asked about Canada).

Anyway I was almost digressing, in my time here in Canada I've found that in general the Canadian people, whatever their creed or colour, are extremely polite (apart from the odd idiot naturally, especially of the ghetto variety), they are genuinely pleased to make your acquaintance (or at least pretend they are much better than most other people I've met).

In the USA when someone tells you to "have a nice day" most of the time you feel like they really wish you'd die on the way home and never bother them again, its almost used as a cudgel of nicety, "HAVE *bash* A NICE *thud* DAY!!!! *smash*, but in Canada, they use it the way its intended, "have a nice day (nice person who didn't ruin my day)". Its really sweet and makes me feel warm inside.

I have always been a friendly and polite person, although with age I'm finding it harder to "suffer fools gladly", but that's just world weariness creeping in. That said I feel more at home here. When I walk the streets, either with or without Blackie, people are more likely to say hello to me as I approach, quick to smile and enquire about your well being. Sure that's not everyone, I'd be lying if I said otherwise, but the majority of people I've met randomly have been really nice. In social situations the people I've met have been generally nicer too.

Most of my experience comes from friends and family of my fiancee Kata, which certainly speaks of her character (friends) and upbringing (family). There is an underlying trend in Canadians though. In the cities, even Toronto, people live a faster pace of life (although apart from Toronto its glacial compared to the UK) but the people are still really nice. In the towns life is even more sedate and seemingly the people are even nicer, although my experience on that part is limited to Ontario and for all I know the people in Manitoba could be horrendous, but from the few Manitobans I've known, they've been nice too.

All in all, I'm saying Canadians are a sweet nation of people.

Ghetto People

Sorry I didn't post yesterday, although I don't think anyone is clamouring for my writings yet, still, it was a busy day, I was up at 5am and didn't get much time to do any writing and passed out around 11pm. So on with the show...

Today I want to talk about Ghetto people, to use a term much used in North America.

A little background from the UK is needed first. The UK has its class groups as I've mentioned before, the upper class (mostly aristocrats and old money families), the middle class (everyone who has a decent education and a decent job) and the lower/working class (those who had poor or little education and work the most menial jobs). The working class have for the most part become middle class as their skills and ability to excel at the jobs most people can't do e.g. electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, gas working, telephony/cable installs/maintenance.

In the UK the "Ghetto people" have a few names, Neds in Scotland (purportedly it was a police term standing for Non Educated Delinquents), in England and Wales its the Chav and in Ireland its spides or skangers (wikipedia is a wonderful resource, page is here). They are, for the most part, anti-social, disrespectful, uneducated, aggressive and often violent, generally racist, basically the kind of people most would prefer to avoid at all costs. Crime is a constant companion, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are used frequently if not constantly. Their clothing tends to be a shell suit with added Burberry items and a large amount of gaudy jewellery that only a Magpie would love, a favourite is the Sovereign Ring but any amount of rubbish in various shapes, sizes and names will suffice, so long as its shiny.

There are people of this ilk all over the world and they are the bane of our cultures.

In North America the ghetto person tends to associate themselves with the Rap culture, almost every one I've seen in Canada is of white European descent, has worn some kind of trouser (pants) pulled way down their hips, with a baseball cap or bandanna on their head, a wife beater shirt, or basketball vest (the team doesn't matter really). They generally talk in an inner city American dialect, pimp walk, wear gaudy jewellery, use alcohol, cigarettes and drugs (frequently if not constantly), are anti-social, disrespectful, etc etc. They are the same wherever you go, just the style of dress changes and the levels of violence.

The violence levels change based on the availability of weapons and the strength of the drugs used. In the UK the violence has increased in recent years, the knife is the favoured weapon as fire arms are hard to come by, in the USA pistols are the favourite weapon, in Canada I'm not sure, despite there being many ghetto people, most of them on crack or meth amphetamine, I've not felt worried by their existence. People in Canada, even the lowest dregs of society appear to be more peaceful. Granted on a regular basis (5 to 10 times a day) I hear police vehicles racing across the city for one reason or other, but in the area I live, its not a particular problem.

On a purely London Ontario note, the highest concentration of Ghetto people on a constant basis can be found at the corners of Dundas and Richmond Streets. The center of the downtown area, where the majority of bus routes cross. They are a rag tag motley crew of all forms of humanity, mostly dirty, mostly stoned/drunk, mostly lost in some way or other. Its a real shame as downtown London used to be a beautiful place, but economic factors moved the middle classes out to the malls in the outskirts and skill do. Its not all gloom and doom though, the city council is trying, slowly, to improve things, sure its mostly cosmetic so far, but make the environment nicer and nicer people might start to go there.

We can hope...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sales tax

Here's something that still riles me, its the way sales tax is handled in Canada and the rest of North America (least I think they do the same in Mexico...)

In the UK, where I grew up, we have something called VAT or Value Added Tax, its the same as sales tax and its applied to any luxury items of groceries and pretty much everything else. So far so the same. In the UK though, its an invisible tax. How so? Well the tax is included into the price of the goods you buy. If something costs £1 that's what you pay, you don't get to the cashier and get hit with paying £1.18 (VAT is 17.5%). The only time you ever have to deal with VAT is at a wholesale store when the people buying there tend to be businesses who can claim VAT against their taxes.

The first time in North America, I didn't bother with prices, I was in New York City for a Keith and the Girl meet up and I was hanging out with friends, getting drunk, having crazy fun and not paying attention to the price of things.

When I came back to North America, I was visiting Canada, staying with Kata, having fun, hanging out, we went to Toronto to hang out with Keith and the Girl friends once again and once again, not bothering about prices.

A few months later, I came back to Canada, this time to stay long term. Then I started to pay attention. You go to the store and you buy something, the tag on the shelf says $2, you get to the cashier and you're asked to hand over $2.26. My mind goes "huh?" OK that's an easy example because my mental arithmetic skills are pretty good, but if you go grocery shopping, you can't just take the price of what you are buying, add it all up and add 13% (in Ontario the sales tax is 8% PST (provincial sales tax) and 5% GST (goods and services tax which goes to the federal government)) because not all goods in a grocery store have PST and GST applied.

Sure I know this isn't really a big deal, but in the UK I used to pride myself on working out exactly what I had to pay before the checkout operator was done ringing up my sale, I'd have the exact change ready for them and give them that little extra surprise to make their day a little less of a drudgery.

Oh and of course when I go into a store like Best Buy or Future Shop to buy something big and pricey, like an iPod, or an Xbox, or a TV, I'd like to just pay the ticket price, not have to remember that whatever I'm buying is actually 13% more expensive, if it says $499, why can't I pay $499? Is it so hard to price items with tax? At least on a province by province or state by state basis, please?

I'm pissing in the wind here, I know it won't change, not so long as each state or province has its own tax values and people are used to the idea of paying more than the ticket price... woe is me, all on my own, maybe...