Oh Canada!

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We’ve just passed our two year anniversary since moving to Canada and I still can’t quite get my head around it. For two reasons:

Firstly, that we are lucky enough to live here; with a spectacular mountain vista surrounding us, pretty provincial ski resorts and lovely pine-forested beaches within an hour’s drive, and the glorious little seaside town of White Rock, two miles down the road.

And secondly, that it really feels like home already, and more so than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. The weird bit is trying to reconcile these two feelings, because they seem to be mutually exclusive. How can I feel at home, if it all still seems so new and magical at the same time?

It used to irritate my mother that I had no affinity with the place we called home in England, and where I spent most of my young life growing up. We lived in a pleasant, affluent UK seaside town, I enjoyed my school years and I had some lovely friends. But I always looked forward to eventually leaving, even though I didn’t know where I wanted to go.

Nomad

As a child we’d moved overseas on a few occasions, but during the 80s few people recognised the long-term effect this can have on a child’s sense of belonging. And besides I wasn’t unhappy, and I loved living in the US and Sweden – it was coming home that I dreaded and life seemed crashingly dull in comparison.

It was only when we moved to the Netherlands in 2008 and I started reading books and literature for expats and Third Culture Kids that I began to make sense of the way I had felt all my life. And despite loathing Deliverance – the small Dutch village we lived in prior to Canada – I still had no desire to return to England, I just wanted to find a ‘forever’ place far far away.

Looking back I think I have always been a closet Canadian, I just didn’t realise it. So many of my favourite people and things are Canadian:

The scenery - I adore big sky country. Can’t get enough of it. Rolling English countryside and the pan-flat polder-sodden bogs of Westfriesland just didn’t do it for me.

Vancouver – Is there a more stunning ‘new’ city on earth? Framed by the magnificent North Shore mountains and in spite of the crappy weather I still think it knocks spots off Sydney, its nearest rival.

Trucks - Seriously, I always wanted one. But in the UK people assume you must be achav, or tarmac driveways for a living if you own one… I love our shiny red truck, it’s like driving a Tonka Toy.

Music - Some of my faves include Nelly Furtado, Nickelback, Barenaked Ladies and Bryan Adams (yup, I liked THAT song, even after 19 weeks at No. 1), none of whom I realised were Canadians until I lived here (shame on me!).

Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling - Absolutely no explanation should be necessary here.

Terry Fox - has there ever been a more inspirational human being? Every September his poignant story is remembered at schools across Canada. And how come no one’s heard of him outside of Canada?

Canada is like the US - but without the tackiness and the crazy gun laws.

BUT THERE’S ALWAYS ONE…

Canadian Immigration Department – now this is the one thing that gets a robust two-fingered salute (UK equivalent of flicking the bird). May I strongly declare that their blatant incompetence and endless delays rival even the most blundering UK bureaucracy (and takes some beating). I expected more from a department run by Canadians who seem to efficiently run the country in every other way. That two years on, we are still waiting for our PR cards, is bloody annoying and despite submitting perfect paperwork before every deadline, there is still no end in sight.

But when one door closes another one opens and while my plans to start a business were thwarted for the above reason (because I’m not yet a permanent resident), I’ve gone back to writing and reviewing books, one of which was published on Dubai-basedExpatWoman.com this week.

Written for anyone who’s lived abroad and at times struggled to overcome the difficulties of starting a new life in a foreign country, then this one’s for you: THE EMOTIONALLY RESILIENT EXPAT.

My new neighbour – Wile E. Coyote

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In Canada it’s every predator for himself. Clearly these two were after the same cat.

 

 

 

Vicious garden critters

After almost two years of living in BC, I am still getting to grips with the hardcore wildlife in this country.

I’m fairly well-travelled (having lived in the UK and US, Sweden, the Netherlands, and trips around Africa, Australia, Asia, India etc.), so one would think I’d be quite relaxed about suburban wildlife.

BUT NOT HERE.

Let me explain:

I live in a leafy outpost of the Lower Mainland and my garden backs onto what is known as Elgin Creek: a pretty ravine situated about 50 feet from the periphery of my back garden.

Except that where I come from, I’m used to the odd spaniel-sized fox, peaceful little muntjac deers, and squirrels.

My friend, Tanya, did warn me when we moved to our new house a year ago that coyotes – or ‘cod-ode-ees‘ – (as my No. 4 calls them), are fairly active in these here parts, but I have to confess that I thought Tanya might have been scaremongering her lily-livered Brit friend. But oh, she wasn’t…

Two weeks ago on a Monday morning at 6.08am (because that’s when I sat bolt upright in bed), I was woken by an almighty animalistic ruckus that sounded like it was going on in my garden. It was like something from a particularly graphic wildlife documentary and lasted for well over a minute – although it felt like much longer. It was horrific listening to some poor mammal being possibly eviscerated. Which of course it probably was.

Bloodcurdling

What started off as a few frenetic high-pitched barks, culminated in a chorus of frenzied yowls, growls and howls, as a whole pack of them gruesomely dispatched ‘something’ – just out of sight in the forest. ‘Disturbing‘, doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Now I know the coyotes were not actually in my garden (because I checked to make sure they weren’t munching on Donald), and if they’d been in the ravine behind our house the noise would have echoed (which it didn’t), which tells me they were going about their murderous rampage in the bushes about 30 yards away from where I was sleeping.

And what no one tells you as a new resident to these shores (although tales of bears strolling around Whistler, and coyotes killing cats abound), is that some of these creatures are the size of a mangy Alsatian, which we discovered for ourselves a few months ago.

Sitting down to dinner one evening in March, we noticed a BIG scrawny dog sniffing around our lawn, and being unfamiliar with the local wildlife, it took a few seconds before it dawned on us that this was our resident alpha coyote.

Crazy flapping man

After quickly checking to make sure Donald was safely tucked away, Rob decided to scare him off by opening the door and making a lot of noise while doing his Big Bird impression (arms flapping, you get the picture). But the ‘dog’ wasn’t intimidated. Quite the opposite in fact. It stopped and stared at him before nonchalantly turning around slowly and sauntering off into the bushes.

Since then I’ve actually heard firsthand stories (i.e. that I can verify since they came from source!) from two friends, one who lost their elderly cat, and the other a little Shih Tzu dog to coyotes.

And while attacks on humans are rare, small children are a potential appetizer, and in this case, a meaty-looking man who smelled of the KFC he’d been scoffing:

Coyote attacks man who smells like fried chicken… 

 

 

 

OKTOBERFEST! In July…

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Kiddie hell

It’s that time of year again and I’m wondering how I’m going to reach September with my sanity intact. I hate the summer holidays. I really do. It’s twelve days in, and already I’m sick to death of the constant company of my children.

Despite there being four of them very close in age (i.e. readymade playmates), perfect summer weather, a 1 acre garden full of things to play with, a paddling pool and sprinkler, bicycles, a closet full of art and craft stuff, and not to mention bedrooms full of toys and books, why oh why do they have to spend the morning rolling around play-fighting (which inevitably escalates into full-blown violence within 10 minutes) – on my new sofa?

And it’s not just the fighting, it’s the constant mess that would only be avoided if I literally followed them around picking up after them, ALL DAY. And is it really so difficult to remember to flush the toilet and turn the light off afterwards? ARGHHHHH…..

Jesus, if only we could experience motherhood during the summer vacation – before we join the ranks. I seriously wonder how many of us would still do it?!

Beer festival

But if I sound particularly grumpy today, it’s  because I am. I’m really really tired and still struggling to overcome the excesses of a very busy weekend. Busy, because we threw a beer festival-themed party for Rob’s 43rd birthday on Saturday night, and I’m still paying the price of a very late night, too much ale, and a selection of jelly shooters…

We always used to have an annual summer party right up until we left the UK at the end of 2008, and now that we’ve really settled here in BC, we felt it was time to resurrect what had always been a popular tradition. So, indulging our inner-Austrians (Rob’s ancestral heritage), and donning the costumes we rarely find an excuse to wear, we ordered a keg of Okanagan Bavarian lager and invited some chums over.

I’m not entirely sure when it ended, although I made it until about 2am – which at my age, and with four children to greet me at the crack of dawn, is not too shabby. I believe some other hardcore guests finally rolled home after 3, and after nobly ensuring that the keg didn’t get returned with anything in it. But I think everyone enjoyed themselves, and if there was any doubt, my good friend Kelly (who hails from Calgary) sent me this email today:

“So days later and I am still forehead-slapping myself for getting so bombed! What. A. Party. 

You are officially adopted rednecks! Points for :

-The barrel bbq creation
-Jello Shooters
-Beer Keg
-Using a blowtorch to light the fire
-Owning a blowtorch
-Having a guest fall into the bushes after demonstrating a male, towel-drying (insert forehead slapping here)
-Drunk dancing
-Crazy Latinos
-Owning a yard of ale container
-Using said container
-Sneaking off to pass out

Thanks again for hosting a great party. God, I hope I haven’t destroyed my invite to future ones lol!  xx

Well, if that isn’t gratitude, I don’t know what is…

And just in case you’ve ever wondered how to make a good jelly shooter, here’s one of my very own recipes:

Mojito jelly shooters

Ingredients:

Plastic shot glasses from Dollarama

One can of canola oil cooking spray (to lubricate the shooter glasses)

Lime jelly

One lime

A few mint leaves

One teaspoon of sugar

Bottle of Bacardi, or 250ml to be precise

Method:

Crush the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar with a teaspoon of sugar and a little bit of hot water until it’s ground up into a smooth paste

Grate the rind and juice the lime

Make the jelly mixture using boiling water, stirring until the powder’s dissolved

Cool the jelly mixture by standing the bowl in a sink of cold water (or the alcohol might evaporate)

Add about 180-200 mls of Bacardi to the mint paste, lime juice and rind and make up to 250ml with a little cold water if necessary (or more Bacardi if you’re really hardcore).

Pour Bacardi swill into the jelly mixture and chill in the fridge for about 4 hours.

Happy New Year!

New beginnings

Well, it’s been a while folks, and the last few months have flown by.

November saw me briefly returning to the Motherland to see family and friends, and to collect a pretty blue biscuit tin containing the last of the ashes from my poor old dad.

In true Spencer O’Rourke style, he’s ended up scattered here there and everywhere (at last count, it was the TT course in the Isle of Man, two different places in Ireland, Hatfield in the UK, and eventually somewhere in Canada).

I’m not sure where I’m going to put him yet but a couple of places spring to mind, and I might even do both. I would share, however I understand it’s not entirely legal to just go dispersing cremated relatives wherever you want, but suffice to say it will be somewhere peaceful and picturesque.

In life, my dad was a modern day Caine who spent much of his adult life just walking the earth (albeit designing cars and without the spiritual outlook and Kung Fu skills… but you catch my drift?), so it feels appropriate not to confine Grasshopper to one place in the afterlife.

Old chums

But that was two months ago, and now it’s January, and after a hectic family Christmas and a wonderful visit from old Brit friends, 2013 feels like it’s going to be a good one.

17 months after we moved here, living in Canada still feels like we’ve arrived in the Promised Land. I actually can’t think of a time of year here that I don’t enjoy (except Black Friday in Walmart, which is hell on earth). And this month is going to herald our inaugural trip to the ski slopes, en famille!

I’ve decked out the children with the appropriate attire, and after much nagging, the old man finally took himself off to Ripcurl and invested in a bright and trendy outfit that will ensure he never gets lost in a blizzard.

We are now very much a family with all the gear, and no idea!

Actually that’s not strictly true since I can ski and have done sporadically since I was a child, but Rob hasn’t put on a pair of skis in 30 odd years so it’ll be particularly interesting to see how his 42 year old carcass holds up on the slopes…

Bad news

But if one thing does cheese me off about Canada, it’s the boring news coverage and restrictive access to online newspapers.

As an online news junkie I now find myself in limbo-land with regards to current affairs, feeling very much stuck half way between English and Canadian newspapers.

While no longer interested in much of the daily news in the UK, at least stories are written in an engaging (often tongue-in-cheek) style that makes you want to read more – even if it is complete dross about the latest p*rn star Charlie Sheen’s been seen snogging in Mexico.

But I just can’t get excited about the content and layout of the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail.

Case in point, the lead story in today’s Sun was about Canada losing to Russia in the World Junior Hockey Championships.

I mean, really? I know Canadians pride themselves on being hockey-mad, but shouldn’t the massive earthquake in Alaska that sparked tsunami warnings along a lengthy part of the BC coastline today, come before a story about a bunch of feisty young men who chase a little back dot around the ice before frequently stopping to punch each other?!

As a Brit I clearly don’t quite get it yet, but just sayin…

Amateur film critic

But it has meant that I’ve started spending a bit less time in front of the computer, and more time catching up on some good movies, now that I’ve finally worked out how Netflix works using the Wii.

So I’ll finish with some recommendations (and a few self-indulgent opinions):

Smokin’ Aces – Uber violent but very stylish gangster flick, with some big names. Not for kids, and don’t eat while you watch it, it’ll put you off your dinner.

Dear John – Romantic tosh with the lovely Channing Tatum. Forget what it’s about, just watch it to oggle the eye candy before he became Magic Mike.

Hunger Games – I thought this was going to be about something else entirely but it’s Running Man vs Lord of the Flies – for kids? Good. But I’m not entirely sure it’s suitable for children…

The Notebook - How on earth did I only hear about this film recently? A fantastic romp (literally) about star-crossed lovers. Bittersweet and fabulous, with the swoonsome Ryan Gosling.

 

 

Miss Piggy

Big ‘n’ Chunky Sweet 16

Cuddly

This, ladies and gentleman, is what can happen to your carcass if you work in a chocolate factory.

Or, if you suddenly give up a childhood full of sport, to enjoy a Bacchanalian youth on the English Riviera (a.k.a. Southend-on-sea).

Worryingly, this is what could happen to me (again), now that all my children are in full-time education, if I don’t start pounding the streets more often.

I won’t blame my children if I get fat of course, but for the first time in 9 years, five whole hours during the day actually belongs to ME; and this means learning how to eat properly again during daylight hours.

Lunchtime, for almost a decade has been relegated to eating small quantities of something simple, scoffed on the hoof, while being constantly interrupted and summoned by midget drill sergeants with stereo calls for more drinks, or a shouted demand to wipe a bum.

Yucky

I mean seriously, is there any better way to ensure you don’t gorge yourself on peanut butter sandwiches, than peering at a child’s deposits in the bottom of a toilet bowl?

It’s as though my children instinctively knew that they could help me to stay slim.

With Halloween around the corner and the knowledge that in just over 3 weeks, the house will be filled with candy again for at least another 6 months, I’ve taken a pre-emptive stance and increased my exercise regime.

This means going to the gym and running four times a week, and thanks to a hill-running workout with the Peninsula Runners on Tuesday night – which was surely designed for mountain goats (?) – my butt cheeks have been singing to me for two days now.

But with Saturday looming, and the need to slip into my favourite leopard print trousers for a party, I’m determined to spend all of tomorrow resisting the box of Tim Horton donuts that Rob brought home from work today…

Other than that it’s been a lovely week. Beautiful weather, some gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains, and pretty industrious now that I actually have time to work during the day.

Blundering abroad

And this week heralds the publication of Forced to Fly, a collection of stories by expat women about their foreign humiliations, one of which is written by yours truly!

An anthology that’s previously found its way into corporate goodie bags for relocating employees, Forced to Fly is a humorous introduction to the inevitable cultural gaffes and embarrassing incidents that most of us face when living abroad.

Empty nest

First day at school

 

Indian Summer

I’ve decided that September is my favorite month in BC.

I love the deep cornflower blue sky and the breathtaking mountain vistas over Mount Baker and the North Shore. I absolutely adore the gorgeous Canadian maples that are beginning to turn red; and I love the crisp clear autumn mornings that turn into warm sunny days.

But more than anything, I love it when the children return to school after nine exhausting, relentless, and utterly mind-frazzling weeks of school summer vacation.

And this September is particularly momentous for yours truly, because all four children are now at school!

I have dreamed of this day for years, and seeing backpacked number four trot off excitedly on his first day was a wonderful feeling. Because not only was my happy and confident little man thrilled to be starting school, but after nearly 10 years of breeding, nurturing and slaving, I really felt like I was due some time off.

Back in 2003 at the start of our intensive breeding program, I thought my life was mapped out for the next fifty years:

1)   Grow peppers in England

2)   Have four kids and continue working

3)   Employ a nanny to help out

Then real life intervened halfway through the final pregnancy with number four, the grand plan changed, and we had to follow the pepper-growing jobs overseas, and without our much-loved nanny.

Throw into the mix: a complete absence of grandparental support; substituting my professional life for fulltime motherhood and houswifedom; and then moving to a third country in as many years, and I’m sure you can imagine how desperately I was looking forward to some peace, quiet and solitude for a few hours a day.

And now that I have it, it is as sweet as I imagined. Indeed I am writing this blog IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY! Surrounded by nothing more than the tranquil, calming sound of running water in the nearby creek and birds tweeting merrily in the garden.

It would be almost completely perfect, if it weren’t for bloody Donald the Jack Russell tip-tapping manically around the wooden floors…

But seeing as it could be at least another seven years until we can have Donald stuffed and wall-mounted, then I guess we’re finally going to have to learn to get along.

Houses of Pain

Sgt O’Neill: the day after he’s moved house; just as his wife tells him she’s going back to work tomorrow, leaving him in charge of their four young children, and unpacked boxes.

 

Moving hell

Moving house is one of the most stressful, exhausting, time-consuming, and totally un-fun activities, that consenting adults can indulge in.

FACT.

But in our case, it feels like a fetish we’ve become almost powerless to resist.

Last week we moved for the sixth time, into our seventh house, in three countries, spanning two continents. In five years.

The latest move was conducted with four children aged between three to eight years old, without a grandparent in sight, and with only the wonderful help of some really super new Canadian (and one Brit) chums to help us with the heavier items.

We actually had quite a few generous offers to palm off the kids during said move, but having done this so many times, we’re now a) sad experts, and b) it’s actually easier to just keep them around rather than have to drop off and collect them while trying to lug boxes around, and conduct errands.

Anyway, I’m now absolutely shattered and feeling REALLY bad-tempered and very unsociable (and a bit fat), and desperately trying to hang onto some thread of my sanity that is usually only salvaged after a jolly good run.

Except that I haven’t had time to run for a whole week – which is not good for my frazzled marbles.

Rob (husband), took off three days for the whole house move (generous or what?!), then went back to peaceful, ordered work, abandoning me to the company of our four demanding children, whining Donald (the family Jack Russell); sh*tloads of boxes, and a feeling akin to that of Sgt. O’Neill in Platoon, who looks on in abject desperation as Charlie Sheen is airlifted out of Vietnam….

Running on empty

Note to South Surrey residents. If you see a deranged woman (in a dark pink running top) – with loads of young children cheering her on from the bank as though she’s winning the Olympic 10K – just running round and around South Surrey Athletic Track, on any given morning; then it’s probably me.

It’s also worth mentioning that my husband and I have had some of our finest arguments in the last few days and there’s been an ungodly amount of swearing going on – enough to make a seasoned sailor blush.

And just to top off a very unpleasant week, I managed to embarrass myself in the bank on Friday, when a very nice lady came up to me and quietly whispered in my ear that the zip on the back of my skirt was undone.

Doesn’t sound too bad you might think. Except this particular skirt is prone to unzipping itself unless I secure a little button at the top (which I generally always do), and without it, anyone standing behind me must have got an eyeful of thonged bum cleavage. Classy.

But thankfully it’s not just me, and a few days later at the beach, Rob stood up to drop his shorts, only to reveal a not-very-flattering pair of boxer shorts as it dawned on him (and anyone else who might have seen him), that he’d forgotten to put his swimming trunks on underneath…

Humiliations aside, we’re now moved, fairly unpacked, and normality is beginning to return, and with it, the feeling of longing for the school holidays to end sooner than the 28 days, 14 hours and 39 minutes that have yet to pass.

Rob sent me a link the other day that pretty much summed up what (I assume) many stay-at-home parents probably feel – even if they don’t say it out loud, with this advert from a few years ago:

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”

 

Give me strength…

Our house: week two of the summer vacation.

 

…to cope with School Holidays

It’s that time of year again and I’ve been hunting for my box of horse sedatives. Anything to numb the stress, tedium and mental exhaustion of being surrounded by squabbling children all day, every day.

Is it just my children I wonder, who are equipped with an inexhaustible capacity for requests, demands, daft questions and flashes of inter-sibling violence, or are they all like that? As this is my first and last litter of children, and my only stab at motherhood, I have no idea if mine are any worse than other people’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children more than anything. But nine weeks of school vacation is enough to test the most dedicated earth mother, and it was only after we began breeding, that I discovered that I most definitely do not fall into this category.

Rather naively, I just assumed that a mother’s love would also somehow magically spawn the capacity to enjoy the constant company of one’s own children for weeks and weeks and weeks on end…

Downtrodden

To give you an example of how feeble-minded I have become in two short weeks of school holiday, last week I found myself inexplicably sucked into one of those ridiculous discussions that only children can have.

We have a little friend of nearly three who we were due to meet at the park, and on the way there, No. 2 (who’s seven) wanted to know, “can Everett run faster than a chihuahua?”

Now I should have used some kind of diversionary tactic to avoid getting involved in this kind of dopey conversation, but stupidly I replied, that it was unlikely that Everett (even though he is bigger), could outrun a speedy little chihuahua.

What felt like an eternity later – and after all four passengers in the back of the car had vigorously put in their two cents worth – I was declared resoundingly wrong by a majority of four to one, and it was only at this point that I came to my senses and swiftly changed the subject to something a little less contentious. Like what to have for dinner that evening.

God, what I crave more than anything at the moment is to be locked up in a quiet and peaceful padded cell, all by myself, but instead (just to spice things up a bit) we’re moving house again in two weeks… Although this time thankfully, just up the road.

This will be our 7th house in five years (and three countries) so I’m quite good at moving these days (as everyone keeps complimenting me), but it’s still a huge logistical pain in the ass trying to pack boxes with at least 2 out of 4 of my four-strong sabotage squad under foot and trying to ‘help’ me.

Not only that, but because I’m so good at the whole process, my husband has decided he will only be taking three days off work; the day before the move, the day of the move, and the day after. And in that time, he is of the opinion that we can start, and finish packing up the whole house (he hasn’t noticed the Packing Fairy who’s been quietly emptying cupboards and drawers, and cleaning everything for the last two weeks).

Now I don’t want to sound like I’m ungrateful for his assistance or anything, but is it me???

First Anniversary

But it could always be worse, and we could still be living in the boondocks of North Holland as we were almost a year ago. Yes, our first anniversary of moving to Canada is looming large and I cannot believe we’ve been here for that long. Despite all my whinging, it’s been the best year I can remember in a very long time, and even 12 months on, it still often feels like we’re on holiday.

With some lovely new friends and some ancient English friends living close by, and with so much to do summer or winter, there’s little to get homesick about, even as the Motherland is about to host the 2012 Olympics, which is splashed across the British media constantly at the moment. Fingers crossed that Dave, Nick, Boris et al will have sorted out the security debacle, London traffic congestion, Heathrow delays, tube strikes and the British weather in time for the opening ceremony!

But my favourite Olympic story to emerge so far, was the article about a streaker (a beloved, and not unusual British pastime that generally results from too much sun – and alcohol – at English sporting events) who disrupted the 53rd leg of the Olympic torch relay in Henley-on-Thames last week:

Naked man carrying a fake Olympic torch outwits police 

 

A Botox Party? YEAH BABY!

The result of too much wine at a botox party…

End of the rainy season..?

Well, I think spring has finally sprung in White Rock.

The birds are now chirping merrily in the mornings, the trees have sprouted their annual lush green mist and it’s getting a bit warmer. But it’s ONLY JUST stopped raining!

I’m used to drizzle. Hell, I’m English – I don’t mind it all, but not forever and ever. Honestly, I’m deadly serious, is this proper spring now? Please put me out of my misery. Anyone… ANYONE…?

I still love Canada ten months on, but the rose-tinted glasses can sometimes get a bit scratched and blurry I have to admit. Continual monsoon aside, a few things that started off as quirky and amusing have now begun to get on my nerves.

The first thing is the Canadian obsession with driving, and their unspoken refusal to walk anywhere unless they’re specifically going for a leg-stretcher in the woods (and is it law that everyone must hike in lululemon spandex?).

I’m not moralizing about the environmental aspect (our big shiny red truck is my pride and joy), it’s the fact that no one would dream of strolling to the shops or walking to the beach unless they were shot full of crack, dressed in grubby rags and pushing a garbage-laden shopping cart.

Need a quick caffeine fix from Tim Horton’s 200 metres down the road? Then why not jump into a gas-guzzling Dodge Ram truck (the meaty 3500 model) and add a whopping-great carbon footprint to the cost of a bucket-sized French Vanilla Cappuccino Supreme (which is quite delicious by the way)?

Courteous Canadians

But that’s not the worst bit, and firstly I’d just like to establish that Canadians, in my opinion, are possibly THE most polite, friendly and outwardly pleasant race of people I’ve ever come across. The British have nothing on them when it comes to modern good manners and general courtesy to the people around them, that is, until you put a Canadian behind the wheel of a car…

All of a sudden, these well-mannered North Americans – that most of the time remind us foreigners why they are SOOO much nicer than their brash neighbours across the border – vanish, and in comes a speeding lunatic with a penchant for horn-honking and psychotic tailgating.

Despite being no stranger to a spot of road rage in just about every European country I’ve ever driven in, I must confess to a feeling a little bit intimidated every day when I set off on the school run.

But ho hum. I’m getting the hang of it slowly and gradually learning to resist my compulsion to let someone in before me (just to be polite), and more embarrassingly, I’ve stopped winding down the window and loudly shouting out a sarcastic ‘THANK YOU!’ every time I stop for some old cretin as they shuffle across the road without acknowledging my courtesy.

So that’s not bad for nearly a whole year in a new country and considering I hated Deliverance (the rural Dutch village we lived in before BC) on the first day we arrived, we’re doing okay.

And I’ve made some lovely new friends who have just invited me to my first Botox Party!

Pillow face

A BOTOX PARTY?! Seriously! No one does these in England or Holland so I can’t wait to see what it’s all about. Obviously the title speaks for itself, but thanks to my virginal state when it comes to cosmetic fillers, I’m just going to go and spectate on this occasion, but I am very excited.

It’s not that I’ve got anything against cosmetic surgery, as everyone who knows me knows I’d love a good boob job to restore my rack to its former Vegas Showgirl glory (if only…), but on this occasion I’m going to be sensible and resist the urge to quaff too much wine, lest I throw caution to the wind and end up looking like the Bride of Wildenstein.

But before I pen off to continue my weekly battle on the domestic frontline, a couple of interesting links I stumbled across recently:

Firstly a subject that affects any expat, but not the English these days it would seem.

Too happy to be homesick

And finally, something the North Americans do better than any other continent on earth. Junk Food!

The weirdest most fattening foods.

There can be only one

The wonderfully unique Baldwin Spencer O’Rourke 1947 – 2012

Grief

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II once said that: ‘Grief, is the price we pay for love.’

I’d never really thought about the words carefully, but this poignant and beautiful quote popped into my head a few days ago when my father died, thousands of miles away in the Isle of Man.

His death wasn’t unexpected because he’d been unwell for some time but the end came swiftly and despite the inevitability, it’s impossible to completely prepare for the death of someone you have loved.

The sense of gut-wrenching sadness in the last few days has at times, been overwhelming.

My father and I had been estranged for some years, but we’d made peace in the last few weeks and thanks to my lovely sister and my wonderful aunty and uncle, he went to his maker knowing that he was deeply loved.

And although his passing brought him the release that he had long-craved, his departure has left a chasm that can never be filled.

Growing up amidst the bogs of Shinrone, County Offaly, he was an Irishman to the very core. He could be wonderful and yet impossible all at the same time and few who knew him would ever disagree.

Fearless nature

Clever, gregarious and enormous fun, he could be stubbornly unforgiving and possessed an explosive temper that only failed to intimidate the people who knew him well. Others were not so fortunate, and in the face of a perceived injustice, he could send other bold and confident mortals scuttling off in a daze with his fearless nature and hilarious put-downs.

This intimidating combination was only matched by the speed at which his fury could disperse as if nothing had happened, and it made him the stuff of legends. Everyone who ever called him a friend has a favourite story, or three.

As a youngster growing up in rural Ireland and then emigrating to London with his family in the post-war years, his early life hadn’t been easy.

With his broad Irish accent, bumpkin ways, and state-issued voucher boots, he and his brothers were bullied mercilessly in the unforgiving playgrounds of North London and I remember him saying there was a time when he rarely went home without a black eye and holes in his trousers.

It toughened him up considerably and as a teenager and young adult, he and his brothers were well known for being able to look after themselves.

Characteristically, my father channeled this aggression into educating himself and after starting out as a sheet metal worker, he eventually became a design engineer and found himself in demand by car firms in the US and all over Europe.

Marvelous career

It was this roving lifestyle that sowed the seeds of the expat in me, and it was of course thanks to his marvelous career that he was able to send my sister and I to good schools and give us the opportunities he never had for himself.

He was also the only person I’ve ever known who actually liked the taste of gooseberries.

This is but a snippet of the fantastic character he was, but perhaps his greatest legacy was the choice he made at the end of his life to leave his cancer-ridden body to medical science.

A few weeks ago, he accepted a last meeting with a priest where he respectfully listened to what he had to say, but the combination of being a ‘man of science’ and his life-long career as a wayward and lapsed Catholic, my father felt the world of medicine a far more worthy beneficiary of his flesh and bones.

As soon as he died, my heartbroken sister faithfully fulfilled his final wishes and arranged for his body to be donated to the study of Molecular Science at Leeds University in the UK.

The Pope wouldn’t have been at all impressed…

Unconventional, proud, and tenacious to the very end, it was exactly what he had wanted.