FREE RANGE

 

I am not sure what this means. I have heard of free range chicken … Perhaps like the word “organic”, open for interpretation.

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DUXFORD AIR SHOW

 

The air show was described as one of the bigger ones in the world. And they have many each year – it definitely didn’t disappoint. All kinds of different airplanes and helicopters, ready to fly.

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This shot gives a sense of the size of the event (this is just one way) … lots of planes on the field.

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Not sure I would be up for a loop in what looks like a 70 year old Corsair  …. (I need a 2X extender on my 70-200mm).

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05 17 2009 Duxford Air Show  (169)

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A lot of these planes are owned by consortiums. Flying enthusiasts who own a ‘share’ of the plane. They all pay for the upkeep and take turns flying it. I remember the announcer specifically mentioning that with this plane.

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A great day out.

IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM: DUXFORD

 

I was sorting through old photos of trips and found the photos from our trip to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. The Imperial War Museum in London is one of my favourite museums in the world, and it would seem that they simply had so much stuff .. and some of it very big, that they needed to build another on huge grounds with MASSIVE hangers. Not quite true, but it seems that way. It is a massive museum dedicated (not exclusively) to the air:

Imperial War Museum Duxford (commonly referred to simply as "Duxford") is a branch of the Imperial War Museum near the village of Duxford in Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom. Britain’s largest aviation museum,[2] Duxford houses the museum’s large exhibits, including nearly 200 aircraft, military vehicles, artillery and minor naval vessels in seven main exhibitions buildings.[3] The site also provides storage space for the museum’s other collections of material such as film, photographs, documents, books and artefacts. The site accommodates a number of British Army regimental museums, including those of the Parachute Regiment (named Airborne Assault) and the Royal Anglican Regiment.

Based on the historic Duxford Aerodrome, the site was originally operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the First World War. During the Second World War Duxford played a prominent role during the Battle of Britain and was later used by United States Army Air Forces fighter units in support of the daylight bombing of Germany. Duxford remained an active RAF airfield until 1961. After the Ministry of Defence declared the site surplus to requirements in 1969 the Imperial War Museum received permission to use part of the site for storage. The entirety of the site was transferred to the museum in February 1976.

We spent hours meandering around the grounds. A few photos follow. Our first encounter, a massive ground to air rocket:

05 17 2009 Duxford Air Show MKII

There were lots of captured German planes like this Messerschmitt. Note the way the propeller is bent from the crash.

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How often do you get to stand below a German rocket? In this case a V-1.

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The tail of a German fighter found in a field by a farmer. It was shot to bits.

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One of the buildings is huge with planes hanging from the roof and jammed in every corner. Bi-planes ….

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Bombers, fighters … a monster A-10.

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And a huge SR-71.

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You then walk over to another building and it is stuffed full of WWII vehicles. That VW is one of the first WWII models I ever built as a kid.

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A tried and true Sherman.

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So many things to look at, filling every nook and cranny. English museums are like nothing else in the world. And then they started the world famous air show …

UK: THE SMALL ISLAND

 

I finally got around to reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island last weekend. It lived up to all of the reviews, and while I only spent two years there, his observations had me laughing out loud and missing the Old Blighty. Even the British like the book:

In an opinion poll organized for World Book Day in 2003, Notes from a Small Island was voted by BBC Radio 4 listeners as the book which best represented England.[1]

A few of his observations that I really enjoyed:

  • ‘It sometimes occurs to me that the British have more heritage than is good for them. In a country where there is so astonishingly much of everything, it is easy to look on it as a kind of inexhaustible resource. Consider the numbers: 445,000 listed buildings, 12,000 medieval churches, 1,500,000 acres of common land, 120,000 miles of footpaths and 600,000 known sites of archaeological interest (98 percent with no legal protection). Do you know that in my Yorkshire village alone there are more seventeenth century buildings than in the whole of North America? And that’s just one obscure hamlet with a population comfortably under 100.’
  • ‘There are certain things that you have to be British or at least older than me, or possibly both, to appreciate: …. Marmite (Note: The first time I tried it, I thought i was like jam – what a shock), really milky tea (MW: Or coffee with milk), allotments (MW: I remember a friend finally getting his allotment, when he explained what it was I was still only able to answer ‘You are going to do what?’), the belief that household wiring is an interesting topic of conversation … erecting windbreaks on a beach (why, pray, are you there if you need a windbreak!).’
  • ‘Call me a perennial Iowa farm boy, but I never fail to be impressed by how densely packed with worthies is this little island. How remarkable it is that in a single village churchyard you find the graves of two men of global stature (George Orwell, H.H. Asquith). We in Iowa would be proud of either of them – indeed we would be proud of Trigger the Wonder Horse of the guy who invented traffic cones.’
  • On titles … and the properties of the heirs of titles:  ‘More extraordinary still in my mind is the thought that nearly 300 years later the duke’s heirs can litter the grounds with miniature trains and bouncing castles, charge admission and enjoy unearned positions of rank and privilege simply because a distant grandsire happened to have a passing talent for winning battles.’ I wondered the same thing once.
  • ‘The Alhambra Theatre, built in 1914 in an excitingly effusive style with minarets and towers, has been sumptuously and skilfully renovated and remains the most wonderful place to see a pantomime. (Something I positively adore, by the way)’     MW: I cannot agree more. Pantomime is a Christmas habit that we have take with us from the UK. Our tickets are in hand for Beauty and the Beast in Toronto. I cannot wait, Scot Thompson is a great headliner.
  • On animals:  ‘There is nothing, apart perhaps from a touching faith in the reliability of weather forecasts and the universal fondness for jokes involving the word ‘bottom’, that makes me feel more like an outside in Britain than the nation’s attitude to animals. Did you know that the Royal Society for the Protection of Children was formed sixty years after the founding of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, and as an offshoot of it? Did you know that in 1994 Britain voted for a European Union directive requiring statutory rest periods for transported animals and against a statutory rest period for factory workers?’
    • MW: On this one I must comment. I think it is an area where North American’s can definitely learn from the UK. Animals are an integral part of society and it is one of those things that I love about the UK. You walk into the Wentworth and they will tackle you to the ground if you are wearing running shoes (trainers) or jeans. Honestly, without a blazer they will also look at you as if you should not be there. But on the fairway, people are openly golfing with their dogs. My neighbour went out with his mates every Sunday morning, and his lab came. In Canada – oh no, the insurance would be too high (plus, no one wants to actually walk!). I also remember sitting in the dining room of a very posh hotel in Normandy, surrounded by people with their dogs in their laps. I thought it was just wonderful.
  • On the weather:  ‘I have a small, tattered clipping that I sometimes carry with me and pull out for purposes of private amusement. It’s a weather forecast from the Western Daily Mail and it says in total: “Outlook: Dry and warm, but cooler with some rain.” There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured perfectly.’
  • On the lakes district and being crowded:  ‘To say that Windermere (MW: The largest natural mere in England. – leave it to the British to complicate the definition of a lake) is popular with boaters is to flirt recklessly with understatement. Some 14,000 powerboats are registered to use the lake…. Windermere may have pride of place among English lakes but for each 12 inches of Windermere’s surface, Lake Superior offers over three-quarters of a square mile of water. There is in Iowa a body of water called Dan Green Slough, which most Iowans have never heard of, and it is bigger than Windermere.’
  • On contrast:  ‘How is is possible, in this wondrous land where the relics of genius and enterprise confront you at every step, where every realm of human possibility has been probed and challenged and generally extended, where many of the very greatest accomplishments of industry,commerce and the arts find their seat, how is possible in such a place that when at length I returned to my hotel and switched on the television it was Cagney and Lacey again?’

I just ordered his travel books on Europe and Australia. Fantastic writer and a fantastic book – it truly does describe what makes the UK one of the most amazing places in the world.

THE BATH ABBEY

While in the UK I blogged about our visit to Stonehenge but left out the rest of the trip, where we landed in city of Bath, Somerset..

Bath (pronounced /ˈbɑːθ/) is a city in the ceremonial county of Somerset in the south west of England. It is situated 97 miles (156 km) west of London and 13 miles (21 km) south-east of Bristol. The population of the city is 83,992.[1] It was granted city status by Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1590,[2] and was made a county borough in 1889 which gave it administrative independence from its county, Somerset. The city became part of Avon when that county was created in 1974. Since 1996, when Avon was abolished, Bath has been the principal centre of the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES).The city was first established as a spa resort with the Latin name, Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”) by the Romans in AD 43 although verbal tradition suggests that Bath was known before then.[3] They built baths and a temple on the surrounding hills of Bath in the valley of the River Avon around hot springs, which are the only ones naturally occurring in the United Kingdom.[4]. Edgar was crowned king of England at Bath Abbey in 973.[5] Much later, it became popular as a spa resort during the Georgian era, which led to a major expansion that left a heritage of exemplary Georgian architecture crafted from Bath Stone.

It was a wonderful stay with the highlight for me being the Bath Abbey, not because it is yet another magnificent church (It is), but because of what is inside.2008 June 15 Bath  _MG_93982008 June 15 Bath  _MG_94252008 June 16 Bath  2008 June 16  _MG_9622

The walls were adorned with flags of military companies that had served Britain in ancient wars, and marble slabs with inscriptions describing the past lives of those who have passed on. This may sound morbid but one of my favourite things to explore in England was the cemeteries. Seeing a monument to someone from the 1600 or 1700’s and a snippet of their life was fascinating for me.

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2008 June 16 Bath  2008 June 16  _MG_9615

The one I remember the most, but did not photograph, was one written by a family as an ode to their loving mother. I do not remember the words, but I remember how it was an apt tribute to a great mom. Here are a few others that I found fascinating. The UK history is so rich and long.

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2008 June 16 Bath  2008 June 16  _MG_9621

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2008 June 16 Bath  2008 June 16  _MG_9613

Imagine living in Bengal, serving the Empire in the 1700s.

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2008 June 16 Bath  2008 June 16  _MG_9604

And last but not least,  this slab was underfoot.

2008 June 16 Bath  2008 June 16  _MG_9624

Lives lived. You can take a visual tour here.

ONTARIO GOLF

 

In my last note on Wentworth and UK golfing I commented on the history of the UK courses versus the grand, sweeping vistas of Ontario golf courses. I left out one thing. Here is Wentworth in March (which is the same for January and February):

2008 03 18 2008 March Wentworth-9

2008 03 18 2008 March Wentworth 

Note my attire. A fleece.

2008 03 18 2008 March Wentworth-6

Here is a super grand Ontario golf course during the same period. From the 1st hole tee. I think I can make it over the water.

01 10 10 Tobagganing_-18 

What a beautiful par 3.

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So UK golf does have one small advantage ….

WENTWORTH

 

I have been catching up on a few things over the last couple days. Part of that is working through unprocessed photos. The below is a photo of an offsite that my old team did in July 2008 at the Wentworth G&CC. We did it in the main ballroom. What an amazing setting, historic paintings and a ceiling that had to be 30′ high. It is the founding home of the Ryder Cup, I remember doing a mgmt meeting in the Ryder Cup room. An amazing course and clubhouse.

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While in Barcelona I met up with a few old colleagues and one mentioned that they had upgraded the course quite a bit (new greens). I found the golf in the UK laced with history, and an ‘experience’, but the courses were not as grand as many of the new, Ontario courses. I did like the way the fairways in the UK bounce and jump, nothing flat there.

That all being said, Wentworth is a very cool place.

WINDSOR LONG WALK

One of the things I have been doing is finally catching up on all those un-edited photo’s from our crazy last couple months in England. One morning while I was in the middle of the transition back to Canada and the boys were at school, we did the Windsor long walk. It was a dreary day, misty and drizzling, but energizing.

Our plan was simple, do the long walk in Windsor Great Park, have a hearty British breakfast and then return via the long walk:

The Long Walk runs south from Windsor Castle for a distance of 3 miles (5km) to the 1829 Copper Horse statue of King George III atop Snow Hill where there are impressive views of the castle. The actual distances of the Long Walk are 800 metres South from the Long Walk Gate near Windsor Castle, intersected by Albert Road, and then a further 2600 metres of surfaced path to the Copper Horse statue. Other equestrian statues in the park include one of the Prince Consort, to the west of the Polo grounds, and one of the present Queen near the Village.

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The deer were everywhere, there must be hundreds if not a couple thousand in the herd. While you could not pet them, they didn’t actually run:

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Makes for a nice walk. Especially when you come out of the mist, and there is Windsor castle. Cool place.

TORONTO ON A MOBILE PHONE

 

I just found this photo on my phone. Taken on a 36 hour house hunting trip in May as I landed in Toronto. My first official ‘return to Canada’ photo. I think it was warm that day …. unlike the rest of this summer.

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But there is hope that Vancouver and England will take their weather back: (via)

A few facts: Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg have been 2 to 4 degrees below average almost day in, day out since the season began. Halifax nearly doubled its average June rainfall. Days with more cloud cover than sun were common nearly all across Canada….

The rest of the summer, August at least, will be very close to average for nearly all of the country. The temperature should be where it ought to be but it is likely that cloudier and rainier days might prevail in the east…
… the weather pattern over North America and the weather we’ve had during the first part of our summer has a lot to do with something called the North Atlantic Oscillation, a pattern uncovered in the 1920’s by Sir Gilbert Walker.

The North Atlantic Oscillation is a variance in the location of a large area of strong and stable high pressure. For the past many weeks it has developed over Greenland and the Labrador Sea.
The emergence of the North Atlantic Oscillation has lead to a block in the usual, steady west to east migration of unsettled low pressure across our continent.

Simply, the cool rainy weather is stopped once it gets to the Great Lakes Basin because it cannot get past the big, stable high pressure over the western Atlantic. Not until the high pressure, that has manifested itself further east, relaxes will there be a change in the pattern.

While science continues to study the underlying reasons for the temperament and frequency of the oscillation, we can report that it is easing and more typical summer weather is returning to eastern Canada.

I was in Vancouver early this week. Amazing to see the sun shining and brown lawns. No rain. No clouds. Beautiful. Fingers crossed that we get our summer back. They have borrowed it for long enough …. (smile)

UNPACKING UPDATE

 
It is now confirmed. Moving and unpacking is more painful than a root canal. It’s a fact.

UNPACKING

 
Well, tomorrow is the beginning of the end. Our stuff starts to arrive. It will take a week or more to get it all unpacked. We are hoping to avoid a summer of Home Depot, paint swatches and house changes. I do not want to become Frank again …. I want my Home Depot days behind me, I have been there way too often in the last month:
 
Frank: I told my wife I wouldn’t drink tonight. Besides, I got a big day tomorrow. You guys have a great time.
College Student: A big day? Doing what?
Frank: Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we’re going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll have enough time.
Almost there.

25 REFLECTIONS ON THE UK (PART 3 OF 3)

 

5. One more on cars. Parking is very funny in the UK. In North America, when you park on the street you must park in the direction of traffic in the appropriate designated area. In the UK, people park on either side of the road (direction is irrelevant) and often anywhere and everywhere. After all, parking wasn’t an issue hundreds of years ago so they really didn’t plan for it.

4. British people LOVE their dogs. We loved that they loved their dogs. Parks are full of dogs running around. The elderly (who seem healthier than North Americans) are always seen walking around with their dogs. Everywhere you go – dogs. On Wentworth, one of the more prestigious courses in the world, dogs are welcome. Our neighbour would golf every weekend with his lab running behind him. Amazing. We North American’s could learn something from the European’s in this regard – seeing a family with their small dog in the restaurant in Normandy was incredibly refreshing. That is a true ‘family’ out for dinner.

3. Everything has a cost and a benefit. I just realized, after 24 amazing months that one of my costs was that I never got to say good-bye to my dog, Bram. Ciao Bram.

2. It is all about people. England is a diverse culture and I am thankful to have worked with and met many amazing people who have a huge impact on my outlook on life and my character. In two years, I owe many people an enormous debt of thanks.

1. Life is about experiences, not things.

25 REFLECTIONS ON THE UK (PART 2 OF 3)

 

15. England is very old. Canada is very young. Two years later, driving by an old church or a pub that was built in the 1400s still amazes me. I could spend hours wandering a cemetery reading the inscriptions, history was made in the UK.

14. Stop signs should be banned in North America – long live the roundabout. North America should learn the lesson.

13. Spoiled food is good. In Canada, things don’t spoil quickly. In the UK they do. As an expat it is initially frustrating as you have to hit the store more often. However, you soon realize that quicker spoiling means less preservatives and definitely less salt. All organic is now the family motto. Oh yah, and I now detest chain store fast food – have been without it for 2 years and don’t miss it.

12. Male fashion is all about the brown shoes with the suit or jeans, and the French cuff shirt. Got it. Understood! But still don’t buy into the whole pink shirt thing. Sorry.

11. Parking in England is an adventure. Like everything else, the people building the homes and roads 1,000 years ago were just not thinking! I had a BMW 5 series estate. Parking with that car meant that every time that I got out of the car two things would happen: there would not be enough room so I would have to get out sideways and no matter how hard I tried, my door always touched the car beside me. The only car that actually had enough room to park was the Mini (which is why there are so many of them in England I suppose).  In the end, the UK has cars, but really isn’t made for cars. The UK was made for horses and walking.

10. The world is flat. Ten years ago, going international would have been a lot harder. Web cams, 1 hour phone calls for $1, email, digital photos and videos, cheap flights, social networking and XBOX LIVE keep you as connected .. as you want to be.

9. A Tom Tom GPS got me all around the UK, Washington, Scotland, Belgium, Paris and through Normandy. I cannot imagine doing this without a GPS. And I will never buy in car SATNAV again. Overpriced, hard to update and generally underperforms – mobile satnav for me please.

8. I have become a very proud Canadian. Canada is a great country, with a rich and varied culture (French, English and everyone else in the world) – with a proud link to Britain.

7. Customer service in the UK is a paradox. The milkman comes to the door 3 times a week (good), you can order groceries on the internet (good), Amazon lets you buy pretty much anything you can think of (books, DVDs, shoes, MP3 drm free downloads to filters for my Jura coffee maker) from one central place and have it delivered in 1 day (awesome). But the ‘convenience’ store on the corner closes at 6, the mall is closed at 6 on a Friday night, the 16 year old checkout boy at the counter sits down while checking me out and watches me pack my own bags, and on many occasions, because they thought we were American – they were downright rude.

6. The world owes the UK an enormous debt for their resolve during WWII. If it were not for this nations ability to hold out while the Americans made up their minds, the Germans would not have been stopped.

25 REFLECTIONS ON THE UK (PART 1 OF 3)

 

A few final reflections ….

25. England has yet to manufacture a cart that goes straight. Shopping cart, luggage cart at the airport, all carts. Every day, hundreds of thousands of UK residents can be seen wrestling their cart down a parking lot – sideways.

24. It does not rain a lot around London. It rains more in Toronto. It is just cloudy. Much better than snow.

23. British humour is exactly like the stereotype. I love it.

22. I was naive about cultural differences. It is always bigger than you expect. Whether a new country, new business, new company …. And the UK and Canada are very different, despite a shared history.

21. Bureaucracy was invented in England. Americans learn that first hand when they try to get their drivers license (which costs them 400GBP, involves driving tests and many failures). But it also works in wonderful ways sometimes …. If you are part of the commonwealth, all you have to do is hand in your old license and they give you a new one. Voila!

20. If you move to England you need to think of a Great Britain Pound as a dollar (great advice from a friend). That means when you see an entrée in a restaurant that is $7 in Canada and £7 for the exact same thing in England (which is $12CDN), you have to stop converting. If you don’t, you will go insane. It is also the reason why I laugh at customs when I come into Canada from Britain and they ask if I have anything to declare from Britain .. I always answer ‘Have you seen the prices of things in England?’

19. I have new respect for English. I have sat through entire conversations unable to understand a word that was being said. The best example being when I sat in a sauna in Scotland and 6 blokes came in and started jabbering on – I understood (maybe) every tenth word. Amazing. Good thing Canadian is the new standard for English – accentless and understandable by everyone.

18. I still can’t call someone ‘mate’. Coming from me it sounds like I am trying too hard to fit in and mentally, it remains a verb – not a noun. I do however say ‘diary’ (calendar), ‘loo’ (bathroom) and a few choice words not meant for print.

17. There are more types of beer in England than there are football teams. But I have converted. I now drink G&T, which always draws a ‘Well, how British of you’. If you can, try Hendricks, and shockingly Scottish!

16. I still don’t get going to the pub after work. I would rather go home to my family. I also don’t understand why Christmas parties are without spouses. Thankfully, that is changing.

 

THE MOVE IS ON

 
Well, the house is knee deep in boxes. Things are disappearing into the great big container. The UK Adventure ends.
 
Thanks to all my UK friends for the well wishes, the world is flat – keeping in touch is never easier!
 
Till we meet again, wishing you continued success,
Michael

TICK TOCK

 
Yesterday was the first day of the end of our UK journey – the movers have arrived. Every day I would come home to this sight, the place where we lived – an old hospital converted into a community. We will miss it.
 
         
 
         
 
On the site is a deconcecrated church where kids can play. Only in England does a beautiful church get converted into a basketball court. I am sure that the big guy is smiling down on the laughter and happiness it brings to the kids.
 
         
 
         
 
          
 
And as with most buildings in England, the church has something to commemorate the price that Britain has paid. I will always admire the British for the part they played in WWI and WWII. We owe them a huge debt of thanks. 
 
          
 
A new adventure begins. 
 

REMEMBER ROSS ELLSMERE, ST DESIR CEMETERY, FRANCE

A few weekends ago our family jumped in the car and headed to Normandy for a long weekend. I will provide additional details on the trip in future entries, as it was one of my favourite trips that we have taken in the last 2 years.

A big part of the trip was the goal of finding one of Narda’s relatives in the war cemetery near the D-Day landings. Veterans Affairs has done an amazing job through the Canada Remembers project of cataloguing where our war dead lay.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery_

I do not have immediate relatives who served in the Canadian forces during WWII as my family mostly moved from Holland in the 50’s. Ross Ellsmere served in the Air Force as a pilot and died a month before D-Day (probably on a bombing run).  He is buried at St. Desir Cemetery, which is found after a long and winding drive through the French countryside. On the road we were lucky to see the small sign pointing down a side road, in the middle of nowhere. I wondered what it would be like.

Situated just out side of the town of Lisieux, famed for the Basilica dedicated to St Therese is one of the smaller British Cemeteries.

At first the  British and Commonwealth War Graves Commission buried the fallen German troops in a field next doo, where they still are. The Cemetery contains the dead from three different battles. Firstly there are four First Would War Burials who were transferred here after then end of WWII. There are men who fell in 1940 during the retreat to the Seine and those who fell in 1944 during the recapture of the area. Recently the local French village has made a walkway of peace between the two cemeteries

In all there are 598 graves here including 16 Canadian, 6 Australian, 1 New Zealand, 5 South African, and 1 American.

When I stepped out of the car I was hit with two feelings. The first is pride, the cemetery is immaculate – pristine and beautiful. The government is taking care of our war heroes in the right way. The second is a sense of magnitude. This is a small cemetery (550), but the rows and rows of graves is humbling, a testament to the price that was paid for our freedom.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (4)

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (17)

The grave of Ross Ellsmere (22) is surrounded by men who died on the same day. It was a bloody day and you are struck by one thing – the age. Very few are older than 22 or 23.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (18)

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (11)

Right beside the cemetery is St. Desir-de-Lisieux, the German cemetery. Unlike the Allied cemetery, there are no words on the graves written from loved ones. There is just name, rank, date. In fact, there are 2 men to each cross and as the picture shows, it is a very big cemetery – 3,735 to be exact.

2009 05 03 St Desir-de-Lisieux German cemetary (5)

2009 05 03 St Desir-de-Lisieux German cemetary (6)

Never forget.

A COMMON LANGUAGE KEEPS US APART

 

Part of my UK journey has been the nuance of language. It caught up with me at a meeting recently where 15 of us were around a table and, to the surprise and joy of my peers, I said:

‘It is like wearing suspenders and a belt’

It was met with funny looks, then laughter. In other words, being overly cautious. When I think of suspenders, I think of this:

File:1Gordon-gekko.jpg

Turns out that in Britain when you say suspenders it means this (sans the lamp shade):

Noted.

MOVING BACK TO CANADA: RANDOM MUSINGS

 
As many, many people now know, we are moving back to Canada. After 8 great years with Microsoft, I have decided to take on a new exciting role with a Canadian company.
 
We have spent 2 years in the UK, and have loved it. As an experience, it has exceeded my expectations on almost every level. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity. It has changed my perspective on so many things.
 
And of course, this has kicked off a whirlwind of activity and a task list the size of my arm. The nice thing is that we will not be going through the house challenge that we went through when we moved to the UK – trying to figure out what should come from our 3,500 square foot home, 200X90 foot yard and huge double garage (and garden shed) to our 2,000 square foot (maybe 1600!) townhouse that costs an insane amount of money each month. In this case packing will be different, the instructions to the movers will be a simple directional point to the house and one phrase ‘pack everything’.
 
I am sitting in the lounge in Toronto after completing a whirlwind house hunt and I have a few reflections:
 
  • I do not miss fast food. I drove down highway 7 in Toronto and passed more fast food restaurants than I have seen in 2 years in the UK. It is kind of sad. Where has the chef gone?
  • North American consumerism is a shocking contrast to England. In England, it is small shops (that seem to open and close at the whim of their proprieters) in quaint little buildings that have been around for hundreds of years. Driving in Toronto it is all new and business malls as far as the eye can see …. It bombards the senses.
  • I did stop for a 7-11 coke slush (or whatever they are called – crushed ice freezie thing). I really enjoyed that. I also had a big breakfast with proper streaky bacon at Wimpeys this morning (after a 7K run and 5K bike in the gym). I enjoyed that too!
  • It is so wide open. Big highways. My goodness – how your perspective changes.
  • No restaurant in Canada will ever seem expensive to me again. After you have paid in euros or the pound, everything in North America seems CHEAP. $45 CDN filet? A bargain!

And last but not least, it will be good to reconnect with so many friends and family. Thanks for all the well wishes. See you soon!

 

NURSE CAVELL

 

I arrived at Waterloo an hour early for a meeting last week. It was a beautiful day out, so I decided to walk to my meeting instead of taking the tube (about 40 minute walk away). While enroute I came across the below statue dedicated to Edith Cavell. I had no idea who she was but was curious. Turns out that ‘humanity’ is the right word for her, although they could add ‘noble’ and many other words:

Nurse Cavell helped hundreds of soldiers from the Allied forces to escape occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands, in violation of German military law. She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harbouring Allied soldiers, not for espionage. She was held in prison for 10 weeks, the last two in solitary confinement [2], and court-martialled. The British Government said they could do nothing to help her – Sir Horace Rowland of the Foreign Office said, "I am afraid that it is likely to go hard with Miss Cavell; I am afraid we are powerless." The sentiment was echoed by Lord Robert Cecil, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. "Any representation by us", he advised, "will do her more harm than good."

The United States, which had not yet joined the war, did not agree. Hugh S. Gibson, First Secretary of the American legation at Brussels, made clear to the German government that executing Cavell would further harm their nation’s already damaged reputation. Later, he wrote:

"We reminded him (Baron von der Lancken) of the burning of Louvain and the sinking of the Lusitania, and told him that this murder would stir all civilized countries with horror and disgust. Count Harrach broke in at this with the rather irrelevant remark that he would rather see Miss Cavell shot than have harm come to one of the humblest German soldiers, and his only regret was that they had not ‘three or four English old women to shoot.’"

Baron von der Lancken stated that Cavell should be pardoned because of her complete honesty, and because she had helped save so many lives, including those of German as well as Allied soldiers. However, the German military acted quickly to execute Cavell so higher authorities would not issue the pardon.[3]

She made no defence, admitting her actions, and was ordered to be executed by firing squad at 6am on 12 October, less than ten hours after sentence was passed.

The night before her execution she told the Anglican chaplain, Reverend H. Stirling Gahan,[4] who had been allowed to see her and to give her Holy Communion, "Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." These words are inscribed on her statue in St Martin’s Place, near Trafalgar Square in London.

IMAG0046

DRIVING IN ENGLAND – SUNNINGHILL

I often tell friends about driving in the UK. It is an amazing country, buildings that are full of history which leads to some interesting challenges. How do you travel down roads that are built for horses, not parking and cars?

The answer is …. like this:

 

GETTING A DRIVERS LICENSE

 

We all have those fond (or not so fond) memories of getting our first drivers licence. Sitting in the car with our white knuckled parent beside us as we moved down the road, inches away from a crash. In today’s society, I would imagine that most of that is gone thanks to the abundance of driving schools.

One of the fringe benefits of being Canadian is that when you come to the UK you simply hand in your old license and they swap it for a UK license. No drivers test. No need to prove that you know how to get around a round-about and that you are not that person who was in the wrong lane for exiting, but tried to exit anyway cutting off 15 people. No need to prove that you have not come out of a driveway and run headlong into traffic the wrong way until you overcame the instinct to drive on the right. No need to prove that you are not the person who completely scraped up the rims on their rental car learning the hard way that UK roads were built for horses, not cars and are therefore rather tight.

Nope. Nothing to prove, they just hand it over. Please note, none of these things happened to me (smile).

But if you are American, different story. Drivers courses. Written tests and the worst penalty: a £400 fee. I guess this is Britain’s way of slowly recouping some of the war debt (The last payment being made in 2007).

But it could be worse. I now say to my American friends ‘at least we are not in China’:

If someone’s intestines are protruding from an open abdominal wound, should you: A. Put them back in place; B. Do nothing; or, C. Cover them with some kind of container and fasten it around the body?

The above is not from a first-year medical school exam, but is one of the 100 questions that both locals and foreigners could find on China’s written driver’s licence exam. (The answer, by the way, is C.)
Test candidates are given a booklet of 800 test questions, 100 of which appear on the actual exam. While the questions dealing with traffic signs are universally understood, others have singularly Chinese characteristics

Take the following example…

"What should a driver do when he needs to spit while driving? A. Spit through the window. B. Spit into a piece of waste paper, then put it into a garbage can. C. Spit on the floor of the vehicle." Answer? B.

Read the full article here.

DAVID THOMPSON: EXPLORED & MAPPED CANADA

 

The picture below was sent to me by a colleague as he walked down the street (thanks!). It is Grey Coat Hospital which is now a specialist language school for women.

canada

image

I do not remember David Thompson from history class, so I looked him up:

David Thompson (April 30, 1770February 10, 1857) born Dafydd ap Thomas,[1] was an English-Canadian fur trader, surveyor, and map-maker, known to some native peoples as "Koo-Koo-Sint" or "the Stargazer". Over his career he mapped over 3.9 million square kilometres of North America and for this has been described as the "greatest land geographer who ever lived."[2]

Thompson was born in Westminster to recent Welsh migrants , David and Ann Thompson. When Thompson was two, his father died and the financial hardship of this occurrence resulted in his and his brother’s placement in the Grey Coat Hospital, a school for the disadvantaged of Westminster. He eventually graduated to the Grey Coat mathematical school and was introduced to basic navigation skills which would form the basis of his future career. In 1784, at the age of fourteen, he entered a seven-year apprenticeship with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He set sail on May 28th of that year, and left England forever.[3]

I cannot even imagine sending my 14 year old son away. Different times.

RHS WISLEY: LET THE BUTTERFLIES GO!

 

I have been remiss on finishing out a number of our recent UK adventure logs. One that came to mind today is our trip on the 18th of January to the Royal Horticultural Society Wisley garden.

I remembered the visit thanks to a friend sharing that Canada is getting pounded by another –15 degree spat of weather. This weekend was 10 and sunny, we played tennis. Which brings me to RHS Wisley which is a lovely garden a short drive away. On a beautiful January day we walked the gardens, drawn to the event of the day – the release of 1,000 butterflies.

In the office, when I shared my weekend, I had several people reply in shock ‘WON’T THE DIE?’. To provide clarity, it was the releasing of the butterflies within the greenhouses.

 2009 01 18 Royal Wisley  _MG_2934

2009 01 18 Royal Wisley  _MG_2944

2009 01 18 Royal Wisley  _MG_2963

2009 01 18 Royal Wisley  _MG_2968

 

2009 01 18 Royal Wisley  _MG_2954

In the end I counted about 20 butterflies. I am sure they were hiding.

I don’t miss the snow and –15. I do miss my garden. A wonderful day. To my Canadian friends, if you can, get down to the Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory, it is amazing.

NHS: NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE

 

I have commented on the British Health Care system before. Quite enlightened. While it is as slow as the Canadian system, it does not have some of the silly rigour that yields no value. For instance, if you go into a hospital here you don’t have to show ID, they just take care of you.

In what I can actually call a genuine surprise, we received a survey on the weekend asking us to comment on our Doctor. Amazing. Our doctor here (who caters to ex-pats) is great, but we do find that the it is not as ‘modern’ and the hierarchical element (i.e. I am the Doctor, don’t question) seems to be alive and well.

Of course, I have yet to meet a truly bad Doctor (smile).

A FEW FACTS ON BRITAIN

 

Over our vacation I did find the time to finish off a book that I had been plugging through vacation to vacation … An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge.

A few enlightening facts:

pg. 412 On the Boer War

Bart Simpson said that there were only three ‘good wars': the American Revolution, World War Two and the Star Wars trilogy. It is not surprising that the Boer War didn’t quite make it on to the list; it is not a conflict that provides moral certainties to those who are searching for a simple struggle between good and evil. One side was led by Britain’s General Kitchener, who used the opportunity to invent the concentration camp; on the other side were the Boers who later came up with apartheid. You feel that Nelson Mandela would have found it hard to take sides.

pg.422  On being bald

Male pattern baldness was no bar to the very top in the way it is in the current age of TV politics, or else we might have had to fight the Second World War without Winston Churchill.

Since the age of television no bald man has been elected Prime Minister, although John Smith would probably have broken the rule had he lived. Defeated contenders include Sir Alex Douglas-Home, Neil Kinnock, William Hague and Michael Howard – Ian Duncan Smith was dumped before he even had a chance to lose.

pg. 426  On women’s rights

Queen Victoria had written of this mad, wicked folly of ‘Women’s rights’ with all its attendant horrors and around 2,000 prominent women signed a women’s ‘Appeal against Women’s Suffrage’ published 1889. It is generally advocated that by focusing her mind on traditionally male pursuits, a woman’s biological ability to bear children might be adversely affected.

Britain was relatively early among Western democracies in granting votes to women: ahead of the United States (1920), France (1944) and Italy (1945). Swiss women didn’t get the vote until the 1970s and as for Saudi Arabia, well, don’t even ask.

pg. 444   On the odd pub hours

Convinced that alcohol consumption was affecting the production of munitions, the government introduced stricter licensing hours. Pubs would only open for a couple of hours at lunchtime and then close earlier at night in the hope that all factor workers handling high explosives might sleep in their beds rather than a gutter. This drastic step was brought in as an emergency measure just for the duration of the First World War. So when peace returned and you came out of the cinema at 11:01pm and fancied a drink and a chat about the film, you were permitted to do so after November 2005.

pg. 466 More women’s rights

Women’s suffrage has also been overwhelmingly accepted almost without debate in a free vote in the House of Commons. … However, just to annoy them, the men decided that women would not get the vote until they were thirty. Otherwise the men would have had to endure the terrible prospect of there being more women voters than men (due to war losses – more than 750K in Britain), and all the laws would have been about remembering to take things up the stairs instead of just walking straight past them.

pg. 464   A nice way to end WWI

In the latter months of 1918 more people around the world would die of an influenza epidemic than had been killed in the entire war. In Britain, 150,000 people died from so-called ‘Spanish Flu’.

pg. 503   What is a Reich?

Just in case you are wondering, the First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire from around 800 to 1806; the Second Reich was the Kaiser’s Empire declared after the Franc-Prussian war in 1871. They decided not to have another Reich after the Third one, the whole ‘Reich’ brand was a bit tainted by then.

pg. 507   I should have had this quote in the French War museum when the boys asked about the Maginot Line

The French had placed an enormous amount of confidence in the impenetrability of the ‘Maginot Line’ … The only tiny criticism that might be raised against it, and maybe this is just being picky, is that it stopped two hundred miles short of the coast. But surely no German army would be so cunning as to go round it; for when did Germany ever invade France via Belgium? Apart from the last time?

An amazing country.

SNOW IN ENGLAND

 

A major snow storm hit the UK yesterday shutting down the greater London area.   A Canadian would have looked at it as a normal winter day, although their lack of snowploughs makes a big difference. It was a beautiful day, the boys actually got 2 days off. I wish I would have had time to play in the snow with them.

 

PS: One interesting side note. In the UK, customer service is a bit of a bi-polar experience. Often really bad, but here and there beyond what I would expect. Online grocers and the milkman are examples. Yes, we have a milkman. Rain or shine, this guys shows up at 5:00 a.m. 3 times a week. On Monday, I opened the door at 6 a.m. and the snow was falling, 7 inches covered the roads and the only tracks were those of the milkman who had driven his open air, rickety milk wagon to deliver our products. Amazing.

MR SURGEON

 

I recently went to a specialist surgeon in the UK and was surprised to hear that he calls himself ‘Mr’, not doctor. As I love the unique aspects of British culture I had to ask why. He explained that it goes back hundreds of years to the period where the barbers were the surgeons. In fact they were called barber-surgeons:

The barber surgeon was one of the most common medical practitioners of medieval Europe – generally charged with looking after soldiers during or after a battle. In this era, surgery was not generally conducted by physicians, but by barbers.

They often took up residence in castles where they also provided medical assistance to the rich and wealthy.


Barber surgeons in the United Kingdom

Formal recognition of their skills (in England at least) goes back to 1540, when the Fellowship of Surgeons (who existed as a distinct profession, but still not "Doctors/Physicians" as we think of them today) merged with the Company of Barbers to form the Company of Barber-Surgeons. However, the trade was gradually put under pressure by the medical profession and in 1745, the surgeons split from the barbers to form the Company of Surgeons. In 1800 a Royal Charter was granted and the Royal College of Surgeons in London came into being (later it was renamed to cover all of England – equivalent Colleges exist for Scotland and Ireland as well as many of the old UK colonies). [1]

The last vestige of barber surgeons’ links with the medical side of their profession is probably the traditional red and white barber’s pole, which is said to represent the blood and bandages associated with their older role. Another link is the UK’s use of the title Mr. rather than Dr. for consultants and registrars in surgery (when awarded an MRCS or FRCS diploma). This dates back to the days when surgeons gained an RCS diploma rather than a University Doctoral Degree. Even though all surgeons now have to gain a basic medical degree and doctorate (as well as undergoing several more years training in surgery), they still retain their link with the past.

So you train for 5 years and become a doctor, thus gaining the title ‘Dr’. You then train for another 5 years and shed the title of ‘Dr’ to go back to ‘Mr’ so that you can remain linked to the days when your profession also cut hair.

Got to love history.

LONDON

 

Samuel Johnson stated, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

Agreed.  Via.

2007-10-21 London Eye 12

This weekend we hit the west end for Stomp. It was a great show, right across from The Mousetrap which has been playing for 56 years and 23,000 performances, which makes Toronto’s run of 30 years look short. What is it with this play?

2008 Nov Lynn & Nick Over  (24)

DVD WITH THAT NEWSPAPER?

 

I am back. Have not had time to sort through all of the 10GB of pictures from Greece yet but working on it.

We arrived back on the weekend and as habit dictates, I went straight for my two weekend newspapers which are the perfect compliment to a fresh brewed coffee. The papers: The Guardian, which my UK peers think is communist, and the Financial Times.

I ended up not reading the FT. It is too depressing. But while picking up the papers, I was struck again by the newspaper market over here. In Canada, when you buy a newspaper you get a newspaper (surprise!) and perhaps an insert such as a TV guide or magazine.

In the UK, many newspapers offer much more including free DVDs, CDs or even electronics (A few weeks ago I saw a free MP3 player with the purchase of the paper). I have gotten a BBC Planet Earth dvds, the best of Simple Red and many others things with my £1.50.

It would appear the same phenomenon exists in Greece. But the economics make me scratch my head ….

2008 Oct 19 Exploring Athens  (6)

MADAME TUSSAUD: NUTTER OR CRAZY COOL?

 

A few weeks ago we had the honour of hitting Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. It was kitschy, tacky and a TON of laughs. A quick review of this woman’s life makes me wonder: nutter, genius or desperate to make a buck?

Tussaud created her first wax figure, of Voltaire, in 1777. Other famous people she modelled at that time include Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin. During the French Revolution she modelled many prominent victims. In her memoirs she claims that she would search through corpses to find the decapitated heads of executed citizens, from which she would make death masks. When Curtius died in 1794, he left his collection of waxworks to Marie. In 1802, she went to London. As a result of the Franco-English war, she was unable to return to France, so she travelled throughout Great Britain and Ireland exhibiting her collection. For a time, it was displayed at the Lyceum Theatre. She established her first permanent exhibition on Baker Street in London in 1835 (on the "Baker Street Bazaar").2008 Madame Tussauds

Whatever the case, it was a lot of fun. A few highlights below.

 

To celebrate the launch of Little Britain USA on HBO, I posed with the guys. Truly one of the best comedy programs on the television today, although not for the faint of heart.

As you can see, the guys were happy to see me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2008 Madame Tussauds (18)

 

Lance, watch your back. Impossible is nothing to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder if Fidel would find the ‘Wet Willey’ funny?

2008 Madame Tussauds (38)

2008 Madame Tussauds (42)

 

Let’s be honest,  some jokes just never get old, right Dick?

Can you guess what I am saying?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another great day in Britain.

LEAVING SCOTLAND

 

The last leg of our Scotland trip saw us heading down to Stirling to visit Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. Of course, the drive was a lot of fun. We passed a tank range, and I just had to stop and take a picture of the tank crossing.

2008 August 18 Tanks!  _MG_1117

2008 August 18 Scotland  Driving (80)

We also randomly stopped off and checked out a meadow. I love the way that the countryside is dotted with hand built, stone walls that are hundreds of years old. In one area in Scotland we drove over this incredibly hilly area and there were hand built stone fences all over which must have taken decades upon decades to build. Unfortunately, it was raining too hard to get a picture. This fence is just as cool …

2008 August 18 Scotland  Driving (37)

A random building beside the road ….

2008 August 17 Scotland  Driving (32)

We started the tourist day at the National Wallace Monument:

The National Wallace Monument (generally known as the Wallace Monument) is a tower standing on the summit of Abbey Craig, a hilltop near Stirling in Scotland. It commemorates William Wallace, the 13th century Scottish hero. [1]

The tower was constructed following a fundraising campaign which accompanied a resurgence of Scottish national identity in the 19th century. In addition to public subscription, it was partially funded by contributions from a number of foreign donors, including Italian national leader Giuseppe Garibaldi. Completed in 1869 to the designs of architect John Thomas Rochead, the monument is a 220 foot sandstone tower, built in the Victorian Gothic style. It stands on the Abbey Craig, a volcanic crag above Cambuskenneth Abbey, from which Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of English king Edward I, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

A performer did a bit on the Battle of Stirling Bridge and provided a very fierce, nationalistic Scottish point of view (go Braveheart!). We then climbed the monument, all 246 steps to the top. Like many places in Europe, climbing to the top of these towers involves squishing past people who are coming down, and the stairs are VERY steep (and small).

   2008 August 17 Scotland  Wallace Monument  (38)   2008 August 17 Scotland  Wallace Monument  (3)   

A view of the monument from Stirling Castle.

2008 August 17 Scotland  Sterling Castle (7)

The countryside from the top.

2008 August 17 Scotland  Wallace Monument  (10)

We then hopped over to Stirling Castle (which we could see from the tower)

2008 August 17 Scotland  Wallace Monument  (6)

Stirling Castle itself was a lot of fun, we love castles where you get to climb on things and run around. The castle itself is quite large and if you look at the above picture (on the right), you see huge areas inside the walls where you can run, and there is nothing like a good run along a castle wall. A little brief:

Stirling Castle, located in Stirling, is one of the largest and most important castles, both historically and architecturally, in Scotland. The Castle sits atop the Castle Hill, a volcanic crag, which forms part of the Stirling Sill geological formation. It is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Its strategic location, guarding the crossing of the River Forth, has made it an important fortification from the earliest times. The Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and is managed by Historic Scotland.

The story of the War Wolf, the largest trebuchet every built is an interesting one.

2008 August 17 Scotland  Sterling Castle (10) 2008 August 17 Scotland  Sterling Castle (18) 

2008 August 17 Scotland  Sterling Castle (23)

2008 August 17 Scotland  Sterling Castle (62)

Many UK castles have a regiment affiliated with them and a museum inside. I love going in these regimental museums, filled with their uniforms, field medals and mementos from wars past. Stirling Castle served as a barracks for the British army until 1964 and there is a museum to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders inside.

 2008 August 17 Scotland  Sterling Castle (40)

Eye witness accounts of what these men went through are everywhere and fascinating. Below is an eye witness event that reads as follows (Korea, 1950):

We captured the hill whilst advancing to the sound of Major Wilson’s Hunting Horn … I was on my back when the soldier stuck his bayonet into my upper chest, I instinctively raised my rifle and shot him and as he fell he withdrew his bayonet from my chest … At that point I passed out.

2008 August 17 Scotland  Sterling Castle (41) 

Amazing place Scotland. We loved it.

THE SCOTTISH NORTH

 

As we headed into the Scottish north we were struck by the beauty of Scotland, ranging from heather covered scrub lands to beautiful pine covered forests (which reminded us of northern Ontario). Our stop for the night was Aviemore which seems like a great place to spend a week with the family enjoying the Cairngorms National Park. Unfortunately for us, it was a stop off before heading to the Loch Ness region and I cannot see us coming back. It would be an amazing place to hike, ski and enjoy the outdoors.

2008 August 15 Aviemore   _MG_0682

The next day we headed up to the Loch Ness region, staying at a hotel near Inverness. At the hotel there was a traditional Scottish wedding going on (kilts and all), which was quite a sight. The region has a plethora of tourist options, travelling a little farther north to watch the dolphins and whales or hitting the traditional tourist spots around Loch Ness.

Our first stop was Urquhart Castle, our favourite castle in the UK so far:

It is not known precisely when the castle was built, but records show the existence of a castle on this site from the early 1200s. The area had been granted to the Durward family in 1229, and they were probably the builders of the castle. It was certainly in existence in 1296, as it was captured by Edward I of England at this time. Sir Robert Lauder of Quarrelwood was Constable of Urquhart Castle in 1329, and his grandson Robert Chisholm succeeded him in 1359. The castle was seized from the Crown in the mid-fifteenth century by the Earl of Ross, but recovered shortly afterwards. In 1509, it was given as a gift to the Grants, whose ownership lasted until 1912. During this period, the MacDonalds captured the castle in 1545, while it was also captured by a Covenanter force in 1644. The castle was then largely destroyed in 1692 by Williamite troops who had been holding the castle against Jacobite forces (Gifford 1992, 217). The intention was to ensure that the castle could not become a Jacobite stronghold, an intention that was fully achieved as the castle was never repaired and remained as a ruin. Subsequent plundering of the stonework for re-use by locals, and natural decay, further reduced the ruins.

2008 August 16 Scotland  Urquhart Castle Loch Ness   (7) 

2008 August 16 Scotland  Urquhart Castle Loch Ness   (9)

2008 August 16 Scotland  Urquhart Castle Loch Ness   (144)

2008 August 16 Scotland  Urquhart Castle Loch Ness   (170)

2008 August 16 Scotland  Urquhart Castle Loch Ness   (87)

2008 August 16 Scotland  Urquhart Castle Loch Ness   (13)

 

A ruined castle means one thing, that you can run up and down the moat. You can climb on the walls. You can climb all over the walls. In other words, it officially becomes our favourite castle in the UK. Spectacular.

While in the carpark, I was waiting for the family and overheard two North American tourists discuss the castle. They were obviously just married and had hats on that said ‘Just married him’ and ‘Just married her’.

They looked down on the castle and took a token picture with the following comment:

‘I hope the tour bus gets going soon. I am ready to go. Quick, take a picture of us’

‘Yah, me too. Seen one castle, seen em all’

I hope we never get like that.

 

 

Our next stop was the Loch Ness Monster Exhibit (think 3D – had to be done) and an exploration of the Inverness region.

2008 August 16 Scotland  Inverness (13)

2008 August 16 Scotland  Inverness (6)

2008 August 16 Scotland  Inverness (17)

 

 

 

I found this sign a good laugh. It was then off to Stirling.

TWO QUICK BRITISH OBSERVATIONS

 

  • In the UK, the TV season is often 6 shows long. Yes – 6. I figured this out when 6 weeks ago I read an article about Spooks 9, a new BBC series and then on the weekend saw an article about the season finale. A stark contrast to the North American season of 20-24 shows. How you can develop a plot in 6 episodes is beyond me. Plus what do you do for the following 46 weeks? Oh yes, reruns.
  • The world is full of different standards. North America drives on the right, the UK on the left. Power systems are different – 110 versus 220 volt. Television is different, NTSC versus PAL. A4 paper versus letter. But come on, binders? Yes, that is right. Our son entered into grade 6 (which is like grade 7 in North America, he moves to different teachers for each class like high school) and so he needs binders for each class. In North America they use the 3 ring binder. In the UK? You have a choice, either the 2 or 4 ring binder. Amazing. Maybe this is some form of unique tariff system which keeps people from importing foreign binders (this could go either way – North America or Europe). Odd.

       

DALWHINNIE

 

Our next stop on the Scotland tour was the Dalwhinne Distillery as we headed into North Scotland, on the outskirts of Speyside – the famed Scotch region. I had to ask, what is the difference between Scotch and Whiskey?

To be called Scotch whisky the spirit must conform to the standards of the Scotch Whisky Order of 1990 (UK),[1] which clarified the Scotch Whisky Act of 1988,[2] and mandates that the spirit:

  1. Must be distilled at a Scottish distillery from water and malted barley, to which only other whole grains may be added, have been processed at that distillery into a mash, converted to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems, and fermented only by the addition of yeast,
  2. Must be distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8%[3] by volume so that it retains the flavour of the raw materials used in its production,
  3. Must be matured in Scotland in oak casks for no less than three years and a day,
  4. Must not contain any added substance other than water and caramel colouring, and
  5. May not be bottled at less than 40% alcohol by volume.

This definition is currently under review and new legislation is expected in the spring of 2008.[4]

Personally, I can’t stand scotch, which is a bit of a travesty as many I know enjoy a great scotch. It goes back to an incident in University which involved a 60 oz. bottle of Crown Royal, 3 days without sleep due to cramming for finals, caffeine tablets and my engineer neighbour who had just graduated. It was not pretty. If I even smell Whiskey I get hit by waves of nausea.

A few interesting tidbits:

  • Turns out that tax is about 75% and if you were to fly to South Africa, you could actually buy their Scotch at about half the price.
  • The Angel’s Share is the amount of Scotch lost due to evaporation during the aging process (Up to 1/3)

2008 August 15 Scotland  Driving (11) 2008 August 15 Scotland   Dalwhinnie Distillery Scotland  (9)

The distillery itself is out in the middle of nowhere. In the town there is this odd little restaurant. Odd because it is a fully organic restaurant during the day (amazing choice of food) and the local disco at night serving up techno DJ mixed enjoyment for the locals (offering buses too and from 3 different towns).

2008 August 15 Scotland   Dalwhinnie Distillery Scotland  (2)

As an aside, while driving through the hinterland of Scotland to get to this place we had the wits scared out of us by a low flying fighter jet which was ducking and weaving along the highway a couple hundred feet up trailing smoke. To me it looked like a Tornado. Cool but VERY loud.

AROUND EDINBURGH

 

Beyond the Fringe, Edinburgh is a vibrant city with a rich history and in only a few days, it is impossible to take it all in. We often jump on the Big Bus as it is a great way to get a feel for the city. These double decker tour buses are manned by a guide talks his way through the city. A few highlights of Edinburgh:

Greyfriars Bobby is a statue was a Skye Terrier who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh, Scotland, after reportedly spending 14 years guarding his owner’s grave, until his own death on 14th January 1872.[1]

Bobby belonged to John Gray, who worked for the Edinburgh City Police as a night watchman, and the two were inseparable for approximately two years.[1] On 15 February 1858, Gray died of tuberculosis. He was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in the Old Town of Edinburgh. Bobby, who survived John Gray by 14 years, is said to have spent the rest of his life sitting on his master’s grave. A more realistic account has it that he spent a great deal of time at Gray’s grave, but that he left regularly for meals at a restaurant beside the graveyard, and may have spent colder winters in nearby houses.

In 1867, when it was pointed out that an ownerless dog should be destroyed, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir William Chambers (who was also a director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), paid for a renewal of Bobby’s licence, making him the responsibility of the city council.

Bobby died in 1872 and could not be buried within the cemetery itself, since it was consecrated ground; instead he was buried just inside the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from John Gray’s grave.

2008 August 13 Scotland  Edinburgh (9)

  • Aptly named The Last Drop, this pub is where people who had committed ghastly crimes (like stealing a pair of boots or being Protestant) were given their last meal and a whisky for the road before being hanged. Read a great review and history here.

2008 August 13 Scotland  Edinburgh (3) 

Just down the street was another pub named after a woman who survived hanging and was allowed to live. I guess they didn’t have this chart to ensure the right drop length.

  • In what can only be called misguided advertising, this statue of George IV makes him look lean, regal, a king. In fact, George IV was short and incredibly fat (5′ 4" with a 50 inch waste weighing 245lbs).  Our guide said that the only reason why his statue is up there is because he actually took the time to visit. The Times had the following comment on his passing:

There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow? … If he ever had a friend — a devoted friend in any rank of life — we protest that the name of him or her never reached us.[57]

2008 August 14 Scotland  FAT George IV

John O’Farrell has the following to say in his book:

George IV’s popularity never really recovered but he made little effort to improve his public image – unless you count his desperate efforts to strap himself inside an enormous fifty-inch corset. He was described by the Duke of Wellington as ‘the worst man I ever fell in with my whole life, the most selfish, the most false, the most ill-natured, the most entirely without one redeeming quality’. And then of course when he died, Wellington eulogized about his many wonderful qualities and everyone nodded in somber agreement.

Funny, Wellington’s statue is just down the way.

2008 August 14 Scotland  Wellington_

  • We passed by Usher Hall which has a funny story. The theatre was funded by Andrew Usher who’s fortune came from the Whisky business. Ironically, he banned the sale of all alcohol within the hall.
  • We had dinner at a restaurant across the street which I thought was a unique place, Gourmet Burger Kitchen. Little did I know that it is a chain. Fantastic place, minimalist decor, amazing food (the blue cheese burger went down great with a local pint).
  • We did head up to Edinburgh castle, which has a rich history (primarily centred around fighting the English):

In 1296, King Edward I of England invaded Scotland, sparking the First War of Scottish Independence. Edinburgh Castle soon came under English control after a brief resistance. A large garrison was installed, 347 strong in 1300. After the death of Edward I in 1307, however, England’s control over Scotland weakened. In the spring of 1314, a surprise night attack led by Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, recaptured the castle. It was a daring plan, involving a party of thirty hand-picked men making a difficult ascent up the north precipice and taking the garrison by surprise. Robert the Bruce immediately ordered the destruction of its defences to prevent re-occupation by the English. Shortly after, Bruce’s army secured victory at the Battle of Bannockburn.

After Bruce’s death, another dispute of the rightful heir to the throne, which had its origins in the Great Cause, broke out, leading to the Second War of Scottish Independence; that eventually caused the castle to again come under English control. Major repairs were carried out, but these proved ineffective against another assault in April 1341, this time led by William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas. Douglas’s party disguised as merchants bringing supplies to the garrison, and managed to drop its loads at the castle gate, preventing their closure. A larger force hidden nearby rushed to join them and the castle was ruthlessly retaken.

2008 August 14 Scotland  Edinburgh Castle  (11)

2008 August 14 Scotland  Edinburgh Castle  (13)

2008 August 13 Scotland  Edinburgh (25)

2008 August 14 Scotland  Edinburgh Castle  (24)

There is so much to see and we missed a lot, most notably Arthur’s seat. The boys saw people at the top and were instantly asking ‘Can we go climb that???’ . Would have been a fun hike. Next time.

2008 August 14 Scotland  Edinburgh (61)

PANTS

 

Random note …. as seen in an Eddie Bauer store window. I think that if my British compatriots saw this they would snicker. Pants is an interesting word over here.

In Britain, pants does not mean trousers. It means undergarment and there is a saying ‘That is pants’ which took me a bit to understand – it means that is bull. Of course, ‘to pants’ someone in Canada means to yank down his trousers.

Such a vibrant word (smile).

IMAG0006

RECESSION BLESSING?

On the weekend Harry Eyres, FT journalist, wrote an interesting article on life in the slow lane and recession implications. While ‘not sounding mean or heartless’ as recessions cause pain to many, he does point out that a recession can be an opportunity.

‘The word ‘recession’ implies drawing back, rather than proceeding ever onwards and upwards. Now we have a chance not just to stay put but to appreciate being where we are.’

In his case it was walking down a lane in Chiltern Hills. As people put the breaks on vacation spending and big trips, it can be seen as a great opportunity. No greater opportunity than in Britain which is rich in culture, low cost historic sites and events.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much there is here, knowing clear well that when we leave, we will have done nothing but scratch the surface of a culture who’s depth is beyond sight.

One could say that Harry is seeing the silver lining. So right, or as my British compatriots say ‘Too right’.

FRINGE EDINBURGH

 

A big highlight of our Scotland trip was Edinburgh. A beautiful town with a rich history with way more to do than we had time, even though we decided to stay an extra day. For us, a big highlight was an unexpected one – The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We did not travel to Edinburgh to enjoy this festival – but many do. Think of it as a smorgasbord of theatre, comedy and musical performance. Performers on the street, people from everywhere and a big book listing performances from all over the world. What was amazing was the children’s selection – events for young kids, pre-teens and teens. So much choice. We settled on the following while wishing for more:

    2008 August 14 Scotland  Our Fringe Experience_

  • Ian Billings Out of His Mind: A children’s stand-up with an entertaining story that the boys loved. Watch a video of him here.
  • A Brief History of Scotland – We Done Loads: A laugh out loud one hour history of Scotland from top to bottom. Entertaining and we actually learned a good deal about Scotland. My only issue is that they claimed that the telephone was invented in Scotland. Sorry lads, check your facts … that would be Canada. 
  • We then went on to see 2 shows run by James Campbell. The first being a true stand-up for kids including a young boy (10ish) who actually stood up and did his routine in front of 80 people, took a lot of guts. The other was his ‘black experimental comedy’ Shut-Up Stupid. I found it odd, but then I am not a deep artsy and probably missed the point (smile).

Below are a few pictures from the centre of the activity, the Royal Mile.

2008 August 14 Scotland  Edinburgh (54) 2008 August 14 Scotland  Edinburgh Castle  (3) 2008 August 14 Scotland  Edinburgh Castle  (4) 2008 August 13 Scotland  Edinburgh (6) 2008 August 13 Scotland  Edinburgh (12)

And that is without hitting the touristy things …. I have to say, if I lived in the UK I would plan to go back to the festival annually. This city is wonderful and the broad choice of entertainment at the Fringe is fantastic.

Wonderful event and a smart city for figuring out how to create an event to attract people beyond the castle and other sites. Of course, this assumes that they will have the ticketing system fixed by then (LOL).

MAKE A JOKE ABOUT THE SHEEP AT YOUR OWN RISK

 

In my last post I made a comment about how there are so many sheep in Scotland – it is not a joke. They are everywhere – and of course there are one or two sheep jokes out there. What I did not know was why there are so many sheep. While taking a tour one of the speakers talked about the Highland Clearances:

In the Highlands and Islands the years following the Jacobite Rebellion lead to considerable social unrest, made worse by a sharp rise in the population putting pressure on the use of the land. This brought about schemes to resettle abroad in North America, or in Australia, but in some cases, especially in Sutherland, emigration came after the people had been forcefully evicted from their homes and had seen their roof-timbers burned down.

This displacement of people to allow the introduction of large numbers of sheep, is a painful but important part of our heritage which deeply affects Scottish life today. The clusters of deserted crofts which litter the Highlands and Islands are an eloquent reminder of treatment of whole townships deprived of their land. The ‘wilderness’ that is the Highlands today is a direct man -made result of these events and the impact can be seen too, in the Scottish cultural influences throughout the world.

Wikipedia makes an interesting point on where many of the Scots went in the Year of the Sheep:

Another wave of mass emigration came in 1792, known as the Year of the Sheep to Scottish Highlanders. The people were accommodated in poor crofts or small farms in coastal areas where farming could not sustain the communities and they were expected to take up fishing. Some were put directly onto emigration ships to Nova Scotia (Antigonish and Pictou counties and later Cape Breton), the Kingston area of Ontario and the Carolinas of the American colonies. There may have been a religious element in these forced removals since a good number of the Highlanders were Roman Catholic. This is reflected by the majority representation of Catholics in areas and towns of Nova Scotia such as Antigonish and Cape Breton. However almost all of the very large movement of Highland settlers to the Cape Fear region of North Carolina were Presbyterian. (This is evidenced even today in the presence and extent of Presbyterian congregations and adherents in the region.)

Fascinating historical context for today’s sheep filled highlands. But then again, some of the terrain is not that hospitable (yes, those little dots are sheep):

2008 August 17 Scotland  Driving (21)   2008 August 17 Scotland  Driving (24)

2008 August 17 Scotland  Driving (19)

One other interesting feature of Scotland is the Loosestrife. You can see it in the picture above by the creek (right) and in the picture below. It is the tall purple plant.

2008 August 17 Scotland  Driving (14) 

I have a funny story about Loosestrife. In my garden in Canada I had a few of these plants. They are quite pretty, growing to about 4 feet with wonderful purple flowers. I had my team over and I was talking about the garden with a friend of mine who, for data protection purposes, I will call Ed.

I called the plant Sweet William and in his oh-so-I-am-very-smart-you-dumb-ass tone he started to laugh and said ‘Dude, that is not Sweet William. That is Loosestrife and it is illegal to have it in your garden. It is killing the wetlands in Ontario by invading and destroying native vegetation’. Manitoba calls it the Pretty Killer.

Turns out that Loosestrife came into Canada in the 1800’s:

Purple Loosestrife is a European plant that was introduced to North America in the 1800’s. For a
time it was sold as an ornamental garden plant until its harmful effects were noticed. Loosestrife
is extremely prolific and can take over the habitat of other natural plants. It thrives in wetlands
and can also destroy essential habitat for wildlife such as ducks.

An interconnected world. I also learned something that day – don’t invite Ed over (smile).

OVER THE WALL – SCOTLAND BOUND

 

We left Harrogate with a simple goal – cross Hadrian’s Wall and head into Scotland. Hadrian’s Wall is quite the piece of work, stretching from ocean to ocean between Scotland and England. From Ancient and Roman Britain:

‘It was begun in AD 122 on the orders of the visiting Emperor Hadrian to keep out the Picts who kept crossing into England and deliberately calling him ‘Adrian’ to wind him up. It took ten years to build because the builders kept leaving at lunchtime to work on another job. To be posted to Hadrian’s Wall was probably the bleakest posting a Roman Soldier had to endure. ‘Join the Army they said. Travel to interesting and exciting places. Stand about on a freezing cold wall waiting to be skewered by a screaming bearded Pict’

There are a host of sites to see, we settled on the Vindolanda settlement as our first stop:

The Roman army appears to have occupied the site of Vindolanda around AD 85, after the Governor, Agricola, had brought the northern tribes to bay at the battle of Mons Graupius. The Romans called the place ‘Vindolanda’, as many documents and an inscription confirm, perhaps because they were turning into Latin an existing native name, thought to mean ‘white lawns’ or something similar. The fort guarded the central section of the vital east to west supply route, known now as the Stanegate, and when the Wall was built some 40 year later, Vindolanda took its place between Housesteads and Great Chesters as a Wall fort. The early forts were built in timber, and required replacement every seven to eight years, even if there was no change in garrison, and the fifth such fort was constructed early in Hadrian’s reign.

It was a very interesting site where you explore the ruins and in the museum see the different finds from the site (they are still excavating). The most interesting part being the tablets, which have been identified as some of the most important finds in Britain. You can view the most interesting tablets here. A sample, a letter from a man to the Governor seeking mercy:

.. he beat (?) me all the more … goods … or pour them down the drain (?). As befits an honest man (?) I implore your majesty not to allow me, an innocent man, to have been beaten with rods and, my lord, inasmuch as (?) I was unable to complain to the prefect because he was detained by ill-health I have complained in vain (?) to the beneficiarius and the rest (?) of the centurions of his (?) unit. Accordingly (?) I implore your mercifulness not to allow me, a man from overseas and an innocent one, about whose good faith you may inquire, to have been bloodied by rods as if I had committed some crime."

Seems like this Roman leader subscribed to the old adage ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves’. He would have loved Terry Tate.

On the advice of the woman at admission, we skipped the other sites and went to Steel Rigg to walk a bit of the wall. After a day of rain, it was kind enough to let up and we marched up the very steep hill. Whenever I see structures like this I cannot help but think of the effort that went into building them. This wall ranged in width from 10-20 feet, in height from 10-20 feet high and stretched 117km. If you look at the below pictures, you will get a taste of the terrain. Far from level and midges everywhere.

2008 August 12 Scotland  Steel Rigg Hadrians Wall (6)

A steep climb.

2008 August 12 Scotland  Steel Rigg Hadrians Wall (16)

The wall is on the ridge (although dramatically smaller than it’s original height).

2008 August 12 Scotland  Steel Rigg Hadrians Wall (8)

Many hours later we climbed in the car and crossed into Scotland. I knew when we had crossed over thanks to one simple observation (there was no sign), there were sheep EVERYWHERE. I do mean everywhere.

2008 August 12 Scotland  Driving (7) 

As we drove to Edinburgh I saw a sign ‘Scenic route to Edinburgh’ and I took a chance and pulled off the motorway. While it took an extra half hour, I was glad we did it. The landscape was breathtaking. It reminded me of Northern Ontario or the foothills of Alberta.

And then we arrived in Edinburgh.

ON THE WAY TO SCOTLAND

 

The first stop on our Scotland trip was well short of Scotland. We hit the world wide headquarters of a game the boys have come to really enjoy, Warhammer. We entered into this hobby through a good friend. His family came to the UK (and toured Scotland), dropping by on their way North. While chatting he let slip that they were going to Warhammer World and after a bit of prodding he explained that he and his boys love doing this together. The boys like the 40K version:

Warhammer 40,000 (informally known as Warhammer 40K, WH40K, W40K or just 40K) is a science fantasy game produced by Games Workshop. The game depicts combat between the armies of the fictional universe of the 41st millennium (principally designed by Rick Priestly) using 28 mm scale (approximately 1:65) miniature figurines that represent futuristic soldiers, creatures and vehicles of war. Lines of these miniatures are produced by Games Workshop[1] and Forge World,[2] and are available at their high street and online stores.[3][4] There are currently twelve rival factions to choose from. The ethos is summed up by the game’s subtitle slogan: "In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, There is Only War."

The business is an interesting one. Their company stores (Games Workshops) are set up to support the hobby where their enthusiast employees teach the kids how to assemble/paint the models, and how to play the game. They actively hold clubs, gaming days and other events to grow the hobby and the business. They have the ‘getting started’ process mastered.

What I like about it is that when I was a kid I built models (mostly WWII), but when they were done that was it. What do you do with them? Nothing. In this hobby you build them, then prime the models and then you can either play the game (quite involved – I marvel at kids ability to retain the nuances of each weapon and statistic so quickly) or do some detail painting. When you look at these models, some of them are unbelievable.

2008 August 11 Scotland  Warhammer World  (8) 

So off we went, to this monster building with 30 game tables where they would lend you an army to play a game on their ubercool gaming tables with unique landscapes. They also have a table where you can take lessons on building and painting and of course, they will also gladly sell you all kinds of things (smile). A cool hobby.

2008 August 11 Scotland  Warhammer World  (23)

2008 August 11 Scotland  Warhammer World  (24)

When we finally dragged ourselves out of Warhammer World we headed into Nottingham to see their castle which was a bit disappointing. While the Robin Hood shrubbery was interesting (insert Python clip, bring me a shrubbery!), there was not much else to see except for the war monuments.

2008 August 11 Scotland  Nottingham  (4)

The first was a monument to the soldiers in WWI.

2008 August 11 Scotland  Nottingham_

The second was fascinating, it was a monument to the soldiers in the Afghan campaign (1830s), which I knew nothing of:

The First Anglo–Afghan War lasted from 1839 to 1842. It was one of the first major conflicts during The Great Game, the 19th century competition for power and influence in Central Asia between Great Britain and Russia, and also marked one of the major losses of the British after the consolidation of India by the British East India Company. From the British point of view, the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838–42) (often called "Auckland’s Folly") was an unmitigated disaster.

I was struck by the below. There is one panel of men killed in battle and two panels of men who died from disease. It must have been miserable.

2008 August 11 Scotland  Nottingham  (6)

We then headed to our hotel for the night in Harrogate. As we entered the Old Swan, I noticed the below brass marker:

2008 August 11 Scotland  Harrogate (5)

I had no idea what that meant until I read about it here:

On 8 December 1926, while living in Sunningdale in Berkshire, Agatha disappeared for eleven days, causing great interest in the press. Her car was found near a lake in Newland’s Corner, Surrey.

She was eventually found at the Harrogate Hydro hotel[6], staying under the name of Teresa Neele. Her husband had recently admitted to having an affair with a Nancy Neele. Her natural propensity for depression, exacerbated by her mother’s death and her husband’s infidelity, may have been what caused her nervous breakdown. She could not recount any information as to her disappearance due to amnesia. Opinions are still divided as to whether this was a publicity stunt. Other suggestions, largely speculation, suggest she was trying to make people believe her husband had killed her in order to get him back for his infidelity.[7] Public sentiment at the time was negative, with many feeling that an alleged publicity stunt had cost the taxpayers a substantial amount of money.

A few more pictures. The Old Swan, very pretty.

2008 August 11 Scotland  Harrogate

As we walked to dinner I noticed this shop .. look at the opening date (1860). Now closing …

2008 August 11 Scotland  Harrogate (3)

And we had yet to hit Scotland ….

SCOTLAND

 

We are back from a journey through Scotland, what an amazing place and amazing people! As we drove through the northern regions I was often reminded of Northern Ontario while at other times the foothills of Alberta. Beautiful country and although I was warned often about the weather, it was quite nice. It only rained on one day, which happened to be the day that we were out for a hike. Murphy’s law.

I am now busy processing the trip and the many pictures. I happened on the live Photosynth site on the weekend while sorting and fixing pictures. WOW. What an insanely cool piece of photo technology, it is a good thing I did not know that it was going live before we left or I would have taken a LOT more pictures!

I did a few synths to try it out.  Urquhart Castle, Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge. Because I did not take enough pictures, they did not come out ‘synthy’ enough but interesting test.

Very cool for the photographer and I can see how I will shoot our next outing. Add a few more ‘wide’ photos to bring together a scene. Fantastic stuff. BTW, it is a small download.

2008 August 12 Scotland  Steel Rigg Hadrians Wall (27) 

 Hadrian’s Wall. Cool. More on it later …

A DRIVING TRIP

 

We are planning our very first explore Britain driving trip. As part of that ‘first time ever’ experience, we decided to do a lot of planning to eliminate as much ad hoc decision making as possible (which never goes well). We were also inspired by a friend who was over. His wife had a binder for all their plans.

We never have a binder.

So last week I spent hours working out our plan using AutoRoute 2007. I have never used this product before but will admit it is amazing stuff. It helped us estimate time between destinations, plan each day including length of stay at each site and get a great general feel for the trip within the boundaries of each travel day.

Looking forward to shooting my new lens and tracking the trip with the GPS.

So we are off. Which means ADIOUS. No blogging till the last week of August.

2008 May 06 29_

POLO

 

This weekend was truly glorious in the old blighty – 28 degrees, sunny and beautiful. A perfect weekend to catch our first polo match.

I will admit, I knew nothing about polo as we drove to Coworth Park to watch the match. However, after a few minutes it became quite clear that it is a rather simple game – put the ball in the goal, change horses frequently and stay on.

A polo game has periods of play, known as chukkas (also chukkers). This term originated in 1898 and is derived from Hindi chakkar from Sanskrit chakra "circle, wheel" (compare chakka). Depending on the rules of the particular tournament or league, a game may have 4, 6 or 8 chukkas; 6 chukkas are most common.[1] Usually, each chukka is 7 minutes long, but some games are played in shorter chukkas. Between chukkas, the players switch to fresh ponies. In less competitive polo leagues, players may play only two ponies, alternating between them. For more competitive leagues, and in United States intercollegiate polo, each pony is played in at most two chukkas.

Along the side of the field are horses – waiting for their turn. These were pro teams so I was told that they would switch horses 5 or 6 times.

 2008 July 26 Coworth Park Polo  _MG_0154 

The lad in the green hat was famous (did not catch his name) and wore the green as a family tradition. The announcer mentioned that his dad had been an international polo star. What I found interesting was the man to man (or horse to horse) coverage during play. Note the below how both riders are looking the other way while the horses fly down the field.

 2008 July 26 Coworth Park Polo  _MG_0189

The horses would often cluster and one had to wonder how many injuries happened as they came together as a group at breakneck speed. One can understand why the sport was used to train calvary horses in the old days.

 2008 July 26 Coworth Park Polo  _MG_0215

2008 July 26 Coworth Park Polo  _MG_0244

This fellow is the captain of the Australian team, who lost to England the next day in the big polo event of the year, the Cartier Cup. His team won on Saturday.

 2008 July 26 Coworth Park Polo  _MG_0224

The referee missed this one as the fellow in black hooked the fellow ahead of him by the arm.

2008 July 26 Coworth Park Polo  _MG_0240 

And of course, no event is complete without a glass of PIMMS on a beautiful sunny day. Brilliant.

2008 July 26 Coworth Park Polo  _MG_0145-2

THE WETTEST DAY OF THE YEAR

 

As we donned our rain gear and headed out of the Wentworth clubhouse and into the rain this morning one of my golf partners remarked that today was to be ‘one of the wettest days of the year’.

That is alright I said, golf is meant to be played in the rain. What are we? Mice or men? I would live to regret that. In my life, I have never, ever, been as wet as I was today.

The rain just kept coming. It would let up into a light downpour (only becoming a light sprinkle once) then when you would see a little light it would hammer you again. The odd thing being that it was not windy, so a couple of us were actually starting to get quite hot in our rain gear – even though we were getting wet. And rain it did and it did not stop when we crossed 9, or 14 or when we walked off the course many hours later. In fact, it is still raining and it is 9:30pm.

But the funny thing is, it was a fun round. Perhaps it was because it was not to cold or because we were playing match play which ended in a tie on 18. Perhaps it was because it was funny to watch one of us lose a ball in 2 feet of water in a bunker or attempt to putt through a literal river on the green. Perhaps it was because it was fun to watch a ball go into the cup and disappear as the cup overflowed with water. Who knows.

This picture shows you just how hard it was raining. Man did it rain! It rained like that all day.

IMAGE_017

For your enjoyment, a cup that overfloweth.

IMAGE_025

On one hole (I think it was 10) there was this beautiful four foot high berm covered in flowers that ran right across (at an angle) one fairway. I whacked a 5 wood and it bounced up and what looked like over. My companions were convinced it went over. I laughed and bet that it got stuck right on the top with all my luck.

I was right.

IMAGE_012

The grimace is because I lost my footing as I swung pulling the wedge and almost hitting one of the other guys on the other side of the green. Footing is not a sure thing in driving rain.

IMAGE_013 

I am now finally dry. A good day. And of course … tomorrow will be a nice day, in the office.

image

LOOKING BACK: A YEAR IN THE UK

 

It has now, officially, been a year since our family moved to the UK, how the time flies by! This weekend I was cleaning up photos and reflecting on the last year with the following conclusions:

 

  • On risk:  I have often said that nothing worthwhile doing is every easy. The move to the UK was risky for many reasons; Would the family like it? Would I be successful in a new work culture? Would I enjoy living here? How would the boys integrate into a new school? In the end, as I said to a friend recently, life is about taking chances. Sometimes it pays off and ends exactly how you wanted to end, sometimes it goes awry and you learn a lesson or two, but in the end there is always some type of pay off. In this case, there were lessons learned and many successes, so the risk was absolutely worth it.
  • Experiences:  Life is all about experiences and memories. Prior to coming to the UK I was a luddite, opposed to change. Sitting in Canada we had a good life – good friends, family close by, great golf club, great ski club and a home with a great yard where we spent many happy hours lounging by the pool. But I had never really been anywhere, some US travel, trips to the Caribbean and a trip to the UK and Germany on business a decade ago. This year has taught me that there is a marvelous world out there with so much to see, experience, learn about and enjoy. I will never be the same. The last year has changed me beyond measure, I have the bug.
  • On family:  When you are in a new situation, it either brings you together or sends you farther apart. As we reflect on the experiences of the year, one thing is clear; our family has transformed into an International family and the experience has brought us even closer together. Life is all about the stories, we have many exciting family stories to tell.
  • On the UK:  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to start our International travels here. The people of Britain are wonderful people with a history that is thousands of years old, a country pride that is deserved and a sense of humour that I truly enjoy. Britain is one of the greatest countries in the world and after a year, we have only scratched the surface.
  • On business:  In the end, what has been reaffirmed for me this year is that success is all about people. Regardless of the country I am in, if there are good people to work with, then success is within reach. Sometimes it may take a bit longer than you wish, there will be risks taken that payoff, there will be risks that you take that will fail and turn into learning experiences, but as long as you have good people, you will get there. I work with great people, success is there.

To summarize, as my boys said to Narda the other day ‘This has been the best year of our lives’. I cannot agree more.

 2008 June 15 Bath  _MG_9425

LOOKING BACK: A YEAR IN THE UK

 

It has now, officially, been a year since our family moved to the UK, how the time flies by! This weekend I was cleaning up photos and reflecting on the last year with the following conclusions:

  • On risk:  I have often said that nothing worthwhile doing is every easy. The move to the UK was risky for many reasons; Would the family like it? Would I be successful in a new work culture? Would I enjoy living here? How would the boys integrate into a new school? In the end, as I said to a friend recently, life is about taking chances. Sometimes it pays off and ends exactly how you wanted to end, sometimes it goes awry and you learn a lesson or two, but in the end there is always some type of pay off. In this case, there were lessons learned and many successes, so the risk was absolutely worth it.
  • Experiences:  Life is all about experiences and memories. Prior to coming to the UK I was a luddite, opposed to change. Sitting in Canada we had a good life – good friends, family close by, great golf club, great ski club and a home with a great yard where we spent many happy hours lounging by the pool. But I had never really been anywhere, some US travel, trips to the Caribbean and a trip to the UK and Germany on business a decade ago. This year has taught me that there is a marvelous world out there with so much to see, experience, learn about and enjoy. I will never be the same. The last year has changed me beyond measure, I have the bug.
  • On family:  When you are in a new situation, it either brings you together or sends you farther apart. As we reflect on the experiences of the year, one thing is clear; our family has transformed into an International family and the experience has brought us even closer together. Life is all about the stories, we have many exciting family stories to tell.
  • On the UK:  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to start our International travels here. The people of Britain are wonderful people with a history that is thousands of years old, a country pride that is deserved and a sense of humour that I truly enjoy. Britain is one of the greatest countries in the world and after a year, we have only scratched the surface.
  • On business:  In the end, what has been reaffirmed for me this year is that success is all about people. Regardless of the country I am in, if there are good people to work with, then success is within reach. Sometimes it may take a bit longer than you wish, there will be risks taken that payoff, there will be risks that you take that will fail and turn into learning experiences, but as long as you have good people, you will get there. I work with great people, success is there.

To summarize, as my boys said to Narda the other day ‘This has been the best year of our lives’. I cannot agree more.

 2008 June 15 Bath  _MG_9425

MY BAG

 

My hip bag on the lawn in Bath. It has seen a few sights this year and yes, I am a proud Canadian.

2008 June 15 Bath  _MG_9452

STONEHENGE

 

On Father’s Day our family headed out to Bath for the weekend with a stop at Stonehenge on the way, a distinctly more enjoyable destination than Baconhenge.

What first strikes you about Stonehenge is that it is in the middle of nowhere. You come over a hill and there it is, at the intersection of two highways on top of a hill.

Stonehenge Trip View

The next thing I noticed was how cheap people were lined along the 6′ high fence and taking photos either through the fence or over the fence. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I travelled all that way to see Stonehenge, I would pay the fee to go in.

On the right of Stonehenge is the parking and this huge field full of sheep. As you can see by the above, we spent some time in the field walking around near the sheep. But, no matter how hard we tried, they would not let us pet them (smile).

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The place itself is pretty amazing. Like the Pyramids, it took a huge amount of effort to get the stones in place, especially the second stage of building stones:

The second and most dramatic stage of Stonehenge started around 2150 BC. Some 82 bluestones from the Preseli mountains, in south-west Wales were transported to the site. It is thought these stones, some weighing 4 tonnes each were dragged on rollers and sledges to the headwaters on Milford Haven and then loaded onto rafts. They were carried by water along the south coast of Wales and up the rivers Avon and Frome, before being dragged overland again to near Warminster in Wiltshire. The final stage of the journey was mainly by water, down the river Wylye to Salisbury, then the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury.

This astonishing journey covers nearly 240 miles. Once at the site, these stones were set up in the centre to form an incomplete double circle. ( During the same period the original entrance of the circular earthwork was widened and a pair of Heel Stones were erected. Also the nearer part of the Avenue was built, aligned with the midsummer sunrise.)

The use is up for debate, but obviously it has some form of religious or practical use (i.e. marking the seasons). John O’Farrell has a good summary of Stonehenge:

No one quite knows why it was built, but it seems sensible to presume that some ancient ceremony took place there every year, hopefully slightly more meaningful than today’s annual beating up of New Age travellers by the local riot police ….

We know that they followed the movement of the stars and the planets, the presumption being that they worshipped the sun, which as religions go seems a bit ‘first base’, but then it was a long time ago. It is a temple of a civilization about which we know very little and so tend to presume was very simplistic. But they must have had a fairly advanced social structure; in addition to a good number of labourers or slaves they would have needed managers, engineers, surveyors and designers. Basically they must have had a middle class. How Stonehenge managed to get planning permission with all those objections from the ‘Friends of Salisbury Plain’ is just another one of its ancient mysteries.

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Each stone is slotted so that the horizontal pieces fit in ‘tongue and groove’, which is why they have stayed in place over the last 3500 years. It is also important to note that as much as another 1/3 of the rock lies in the ground as they dug them in to erect the stones and keep them standing upright. Amazing.

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The below is a ‘pre-retaliation shot (smile).

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And of course, it is always great when the sun is shining. Next, off to Bath.

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