Rockin’ Vancouver

It’s quiet and rather cold here in Auckland today, so I thought I’d take this chance to talk about the final leg of my journey to New Zealand. I only spent a few days in Vancouver, staying in an extremely bare-bones hostel on the outskirts near the train station, but what I saw of the city left me somewhat stunned that such a place actually exists in the world. Vancouver, from a visual standpoint at least, was amazing.

Mountains Gandalf!

I don’t believe there are many cities in the world that can offer such impressive visuals. A highly developed, modern looking CBD surrounded by pristine water on three sides with a huge range of mountains running along the horizon as far as the eye can see in either direction. A city that was clean and varied, that had electric buses rather than streetcars and so don’t suck in every way imaginable, that has various other districts than the CBD that are equally as wide and diverse and dammit we didn’t have enough time again!

The one negative I can draw on the city is that a lot of it smelt of piss. That is quite the negative. Canada really needs to do something about its hobo problem.

Anyway, the first day we got there was of course at the end of our three days of ball numbing, mind destroying hell. Oddly enough even though we’d barely slept at all during this time period the sheer excitement and invigoration of not being trapped in a steel cage of terror anymore meant that we were feeling surprisingly active, and so we set off straight into the city after dropping off our bags at the hostel.

As is becoming our standard pattern upon being greeted with a new city we basically just picked a direction and walked. Within five minutes we found ourselves in the heart of the CBD, huge tower blocks in all directions, but unlike Toronto’s rather drab 60’s decor Vancouver positively gleamed. I can only assume they either had utterly different architectural ideas or Vancouver is just a newer city or something, but if you were to argue aesthetics between the two Vancouver would win hands down. The city also represented our first set of ‘hills’ since we’d left England, Ontario largely being utterly flat until you go far to the north, and we were reminded of how utterly unfit we were as we trudged up the main thoroughfare.

“We’re going to need a bigger car.”

We found ourselves in Stanley Park, which is basically a case of “City, more city, more city SUDDENLY JUNGLE!” It speaks volumes of the Canadians appreciation of the environment that Vancouver seemed to be almost built around the nature. I’m not foolish enough to think they didn’t knock anything down, apparently Vancouver’s entire area used to be some sort of tropical rainforest, but they’ve held onto the aesthetics of keeping y’know, trees and stuff actually there. Unlike a lot of England’s urban areas, which until recently seem to have been designed on the “If it’s green, kill it” philosophy of development planning.

We got lost in the park. It’s a thing you do.

The next day we were there I heard on the grapevine that there was due to be a huge fireworks display in the city as part of a series of firework ‘competitions’ actually done by other countries. I find the fact that I keep getting fireworks displays wherever I go some sort of grand Canadian apology, as if they are trying to say to me “We know Rob Fords a dick, but hey we really do know how to party!” So after exploring a never-ending wave of enormous and expensive looking houses and shopping districts across from the CBD we set up camp and watched the fireworks.

Holy. Motherlovin’. Shite.

I’ve seen quite a few fireworks displays. I was even in London on Millennium Eve, and that was pretty special. But nothing, nothing, compares to this. I guess it was a combination of things. The atmosphere was electric, we were surrounded by people. The whole ‘fireworks over the Ocean’ thing was cool, and all the different boats out there added to it. There was even some sort of novelty Viking Longboat out there, because even the Nords need to get their firework freak-on apparently. There was also music accompanying it being played back over at the edge of the City, which was loud enough we could even hear it where we were.

Also we kept noticing a little device that was hovering around the fireworks then landing down periodically on a small jetty behind us. Turned out it was a home-made Remote Controlled Drone, like the ones the military use, but this one was being used to catch awesome aerial shots of the city. For some reason they haven’t uploaded them yet, but the Pandora Benevolent Society are worth a look anyway just for all the wacky shit they’re up to.

Then the next day the city was covered in the deep booming slams of epically loud music that echoed a thousand times across the skyscrapers because the Gay Pride Parade was in town. I have fantastic timing in all things I do. We desperately needed to get to a net cafe since our shitfest of a hostel didn’t have a printer and we needed to get our boarding passes sorted for the flight (you can’t print them until three days in advance before you nag) but of course it was a bank holiday weekend wasn’t it, meaning most things were closed between that and the parade! Dammit Canada unify your statutory holidays already! Also net cafes don’t seem to be a popular thing in Vancouver because we could only find two, and one of them the internet wasn’t working. This seems to me to be a pretty major fault for a net cafe, but who am I to judge.

So Vancouver. City of wonder, City of Mountains, City of Intermittent Hobo Piss. If I were to arbitrarily rank the three Canadian cities I’ve visited I’d have to say that Montreal had class, Toronto had energy, but Vancouver…Vancouver had it all. If I were to suddenly become a millionaire, I’d retire to Vancouver. You’d pretty much have to be a millionaire too because Damn those natives pay through the nose for their fantastic city.

The Trans-Canada Journey, Part 3

This is the final part of the tale to my Trans-Canada journey, so if you’ve made it this far – congratulations! Now you too can follow my sage advice to NEVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THIS FOR AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.

Now, read on…

Having probably only gotten a couple of hours of broken sleep at best my brain struggled to deal with the rapidly changing time zones. The hours were sleeting past at this point and whilst my brain was in Toronto my body was about two time-zone hours west of that, rapidly moving further away from my precious circadian rhythms. I’m not normally that badly affected by time zone shifts, I say this with the wonderful certainty of someone who’s barely experienced them of course, but quite probably due to the sleep deprivation issues this time it really started to add to the layer of befuddled confusion that made up most of my concious state by this point.

Eventually we pulled into Regina sometime in the morning, as usual nowhere near the town but at least there was some food. Some precious, greasy, fried breakfast food.

Mmm, tastes like clogged arteries.

Have you ever eaten a fry up after two days on the road and about five hours sleep whilst in a constant amount of nagging pain from the waist down? No? Well if you ever do find yourself in that situation don’t eat the fucking fry-up! My stomach had more bounce than a bungy fanatic. As we piled back onto the coach, now for no good reason re-arranged yet again to place the noisy smoking drug addicts back onto our now crowded bus, I spent most of the next three hours trying to think very placid thoughts and hold my stomach in place so that I didn’t get to see my breakfast in re-wind.

Yet again the coach departed late for no obvious reason, meaning that even though the three hours-behind had been nullified by the long wait in Winnipeg were were yet again running an hour or so behind schedule. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that most of the coach drivers we had been given were, with occasional exception, complete and total asshats. I believe the phrase we are searching for here is ‘jobsworth’, a wonderful turn of phrase I picked up off an old boss of mine. These people are veritable kings of their own little castle. I don’t doubt that most of them hate their job, and even more likely the pay sucks. So how do we deal with a job we hate that doesn’t even pay worth a damn? We take it out on as many people as we can of course!

I imagine this is what they see at each intersection.

Apart from constantly threatening to leave anyone behind if they were even fractionally late back to the bus – in defiance of the amount of times they’d just stand around whittering to each other whilst we’re all waiting to go – the particular driver on our stretch between Regina and Calgary seemed to take great offence at people even breathing loudly. Now I admit I found the guys behind me to be a bit of a pain in the ass but I’m not entirely sure why the driver felt the need to threaten the entire coach with expulsion if the noise level wasn’t dropped to below that of a buzzing gnat, like we’re all obnoxious school kids going on a field trip or something, but I think it is clear by this point that Greyhound (and possibly all coach operators going by past experience) really, really need to work on training their drivers on that whole ‘customer relations’ thing. Hint – if you don’t like dealing with people, don’t take jobs where all you do all day is interact with other people! Just a thought.

We stopped in one of the few nice towns we saw on our journey, Medicine Hat (wtf?), which was blissfully uneventful. We did happen to see the worlds largest teepee, which was about as interesting as it sounds. It was just a few large metal poles with some fake fabric on it. Ehhhh. The scenery around here was quite pleasant though, all slightly undulating green prairie as far as you could see, which for some reason made me think of Norfolk.

We pulled into the edge of Calgary, which from a distance looked like quite a large city but as usual we didn’t get to look at any of it, and were told that we only had about twenty minutes to make our connecting coach to Vancouver so get to it soldier!

Move yo’ ass before ‘dis driver loses his shit wit’ you!

So we ran, and we got to the (big) queue and…we waited.

and waited.

and waited.

Around this point I was seriously tempted to just scream out “FUCK YOU GREYHOUND!” and go find out where Calgary airport was, except I couldn’t do that because money. Dammit.

About two hours later we were piled onto the tiniest, most cramped, uncomfortable shitfest of a coach I have ever seen. And I’ve ridden on coaches in Devon. This was by far and away the worst vehicle on four wheels ever designed to take more than a small family over long distances I had ever seen and now I was going to be trapped on it for the last sixteen hours of our journey.

EVERYTHING I FEARED HAS COME TRUE!

I couldn’t even fit in my chair at all with the people in front reclined into my face, who I couldn’t really complain to because they were only reclining to get away from the seats in front. However it had apparently been designed for midgets or something because neither me or Dan could comfortably even put our heads on our seats headrest without splaying ourselves out at weird angles and desperately jamming our skulls backwards.

Literally the only comfort that could be found during this physical hell was that we were now going through probably the most picturesque part of our journey – the Rocky Mountains. I can’t even begin to describe how epic they were even whilst trapped within our portable Hell vehicle. For one thing they were massive, looming over the road on both sides. Covered in trees even at the most absurd of inclines, and largely bereft of snow since hey – summer! We began our journey through the Rockies at Dusk, so we go to see the sun set over their edge which was cool.

What wasn’t cool was that our driver, who was clearly some sort of draft-in due to us being so late and overcrowded back at Calgary, was absolutely desperate to get to the finish line. Now I admit so was I but I preferred to get there via the road and not via simply throwing ourselves off the side of the fucking mountain but I’m not entirely sure he had the same idea. Sleep was basically impossible anyway but the sheer amount of G-Force and pants-soiling terror involved in this guy slalom-ing us down the side of the fucking ROCKY MOUNTAINS at a speed I don’t even want to think about did not assist in this. There have been few things more terrifying that I have experienced in my life than careening around some bend where on one side there was a mind-numbingly long drop, and on the other side was a huge articulated lorry roaring past close enough to kiss.

Obviously we eventually passed out the other side where he suddenly pulled into the absurdly named town of Kamloops at 3am, hopped off the coach and disappeared. Literally. Not a word to anyone on the coach just stopped – off – gone. Eventually realisation filtered back up the coach with those who apparently had balls of steel and had managed to sleep groggily started moving about. We fell off the bus into the cold of the Rocky Mountain air and had to wait, as one final ‘fuck you!’ from Greyhound, until yet another replacement driver came and we could finally get a move on.

Eventually he did. The rest of the trip was blissfully uneventful.

Finally. FINALLY. Vancouver.

WHERE AM I? WHEN AM I? WHO AM I?!

But that is a tale for another day.

 

The Trans-Canada Journey, Part 2

I’m actually in Auckland now, since it’s taken me a while to get into a position where I can actually write down the next stage of this journey. However I want to finish talking about Canada before I get onto what I’m up to now I’m in New Zealand, so you’re going to have to  hold on for now.

Also note my highly imaginative renaming of my site. Can you tell what I did yet?

My last post finished in Sudbury. I wish that my journey had finished there as well but unfortunately there was about three thousand miles of Canada left before we would actually be able to stop moving. A theme of the various stops that we had to make was that the places we were stopped in were either extremely unremarkable, or we were just  nowhere near the actual centre of the places we were in. A case in point would be Thunder Bay which is either just a thin stretch of warehouse units or I was nowhere near the actual bloody town.

In a spectacular moment of utter stupidity whilst we were out foraging for some food in the brief twenty-minute hiatus we had in Thunder Bay I managed leave my passport on the counter in some fast-food restaurant and I only noticed this fact about five minutes before we were due to set off again. Cue frantic running across a busy road and madly dashing about inside the restaurant barking at people if they’d seen plastic folder left anywhere.

I briefly managed to put this guy to shame.

Otherwise the journey continued in extremely slow fashion in a relatively uneventful manner. We passed through a whole bunch more of unremarkable Canadian towns and villages and eventually the rugged beauty of Ontario gave way to the wide stretches of the prairies that make up the bulk of the interior of Canada. It is worth noting though that it took almost the entirety of the first day to actually get out of Ontario. This is partly because Ontario is absolutely massive (The UK would fit within Ontario eight times alone) but also because the roads weave, wind, duck and dive and largely do a whole bunch of geographical gymnastics that seemed rather out of place after the rigid lines of Toronto.

Sometime towards the end of day two we finally arrived at Winnipeg, capital of Manitoba and the first major city we were due to pass through on our way to Vancouver. Yet again my plans were foiled. We had a six hour layover here and even with our massive delays when leaving Toronto we were still looking at around four or so hours to wait for our new coach. However rather than being in the city the Greyhound station was – surprise! – not in the bloody city. It was in fact at the airport, nowhere near the city, but then that didn’t really matter too much because the fleeting glimpse we got of Winnipeg was unremarkable. Maybe it was the drizzly rain and dreary skies. Maybe it was the fact that I was in no small amount of pain from buggered muscles and cramped legs. Maybe it was because I was so damned tired after nearly two days on a fecking coach. Whatever it was I really didn’t care about whether or not I got to see Winnipeg in the end.

What was annoying though was that in all of Winnipeg airport all we could find to eat at was a bloody Tim Hortons. Now I’m a fan of Tims and I’m already missing it but God dammit I wanted some proper food! Not a lasagne in a pot! Oh well.

Whilst we were waiting for our next coach just about every machine in the waiting area broke down, which was weird. One by one they all busted and then ten minutes later after a ‘This machine is out of service’ label had been placed on them some overweight kid waddled up to them and jammed some coins into them anyway, because apparently he couldn’t read or something, and then lost his shit about losing his money. There was one brief moment of ‘faith restored in humanity’ when I watched some guy win an Angry Bird stuffed toy in one of those grabber arcade machine things and then promptly give it to some unrelated little girl who’d been playing nearby and walk off. A rare moment of class.

As a side-note the coach had airport-security level stuff going on, bag searches and everything, which was rather intimidating. I suspect this was in response to the Incident of the crazy Japanese guy who decapitated a guy with a sword. Yeah.

The trip out of Winnipeg towards Calgary was, at least at the beginning, a fair bit more enjoyable. We were split across two coaches this time and most of the noisy drug addicts went on the other one meaning that not only was our coach a damned site quieter but it was also half-empty and that we could spread out a bit and for the first time in two days. We both took separate chairs and I managed to make good use of this extra space during the night to get absolutely no fucking sleep at all. Again.

This is a good representation of my mental state by this point.

The prairies outside of Winnipeg had an eerie feel to them at night-time though so I didn’t mind too much. The sky was empty of clouds but there was a fiercely bright full moon casting a weird hue over everything. I saw my first ever shooting star whilst idly gazing out over the vast expanses, which was kinda cool. In the far distance there would periodically be weird looking flashing lights – presumably radio towers or something – and also the ominous red lights attached to electricity pylons that reminded me of Dear Esther of all things.

That’s enough for Part 2. I’ll finish this off with Part 3 in a few days time, then I can talk about Vancouver, my departure from Canada and my first thoughts on Auckland. So at least I have plenty to talk about for a while!

The Trans-Canada Journey, Part 1

I have done it. I don’t know how, but I’ve actually done it. 72 hours, give or take, of continuous coach journey all the way from Toronto to Vancouver. I’m sat here now in the crapped out, run-down Hostel Dan booked us into (more on that later) trying to fight off my incredible tiredness so that I don’t completely screw my sleeping pattern over so I thought this would be as good a time as any to try and assemble my thoughts and break down how the journey went.

Basically how it went was fucking terribly.

Surprise!

So come with me on this recent walk down memory-lane and revel in my continued ability to walk from one catastrophe to another.

It started just like any other day – a day of standing and swearing loudly to anyone nearby who would listen to my enraged cursing at the TTC – Toronto’s Transport Commission – failed to deliver me a streetcar within the ‘every five minutes’ category that they are supposed to. Not even within ten minutes. Or fifteen. Twenty? Nope. Twenty-five? Nah. Thirty? Eeeeeeh, alright then.

When it finally rocked up into place it was of course packed with people, and there’s nothing I like more than having to stand there holding a load of heavy bags for a half-hour streetcar journey whilst being rammed up against a bunch of other people. The icing on this particularly irritating cake was that the bus seemed to be full of screeching school-kids (which confuses the Hell out of me because I’m sure that the schools are off for summer now) who felt it necessary to hum in horribly out of tune fashion the invincibility theme from Super Mario Bros.

Upon finally arriving at the coach station we take our position, well over an hour in advance, and feel secure in the knowledge that we should be able to bag ourselves decent seats. Besides all that, how many other crazy bastards can there be out there who’d choose to do this kind of trip?

It. Was. FULL. Full! Full of people! So one of our main coping strategies of ‘spread out a bit’ had already gone down in lard-ass immigrant flames as everyone from Homer’s Indian cousins to the Hispanic Family decided that today of all days would be a really good day to go spend seventy-two-fucking-hours on a coach. But hey, at least it had power or Wi-Fi or something right to help pass the time with…?

So by this point I’m already angry. It’s an old coach. It’s cramped. It’s noisy. For no reason that was ever accurately explained we were also over an hour late departing, though I suspect it likely had something to do with the Jumbo Indians and the twenty (TWENTY!!) bags they brought with them. And then the old Hispanic lady reclines her seat straight into my knees and refuses to even acknowledge me as I ask, initially quite politely, for her to pull her seat back up at least a bit. So I lost my shit with her.

Those who know me will know that whilst I am prone to occasionally going off the deep end, it’s normally done in private and/or at people I know because at least I know that 8 times out of 10 I’ll get away with almost anything I say. So for me to reach critical mass before the trip has even started and start swearing away at this mad old bat says something for my frame of mind at this early point. However I quickly realised, much to my increased irritation, that she didn’t speak a word of English (Though I’m pretty sure she must have gotten my intent clear enough just from my colourful array of hand gestures) so Dan took the bullet for me and swapped seats.

Annnnnyway we set off and were both glad to be free of Toronto’s horrific humidity and horrific transport system. I liked the place but damn, its negatives hung like Acme-Weights during my temper when we pulled out. Beyond the racial stereotypes on the coach there was a guy who seemed to be the new Bob Geldof, a large bunch of what back in the UK would be called Chavs but here are just called ‘assholes’ who kept shrieking and whooping and drinking and smoking weed so that was great and also a bunch of tattoo’d thugs who seemed determined to start a fight with anyone who so much as sneezed at them. So we had the basic demographics sorted out nicely.

With no power there was no way I could pass the time using my laptop like I’d hoped to, plus it turned out that there was so little room even with a non-reclined seat in front of me that I could barely open the screen anyway. Mercifully I own a Kindle and right now I’d like to tell you that they are the best invention ever. With an entry price at a lowly $100 and a battery that lasts almost a month I cannot recommend one of these fantastic devices enough. If it were not for a Kindle and a large number of Terry Pratchett novels that I’ve been re-reading (having not read most of them since I was a kid) I think I would literally have lost my mind if I had not had the wonders of the Discworld to distract me.

Legend.

Of course there were wonders outside the coach window don’t get me wrong. Most of Ontario’s scenery is extremely impressive with most of the road having been blasted out of the rock and creating some quite dynamic vista’s that reminded me of some of the roads around Stockholm. Throw in a variety of greenery and intermittent views of Lakes Michigan and Superior and there was definitely some stuff to be looking at.  The thing is though, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful exactly…but after several hours of it your eyes start to go blurry. It’s just so hard to maintain constant interest in that sort of thing, for me at least. Dan didn’t even have the Kindle yet somehow managed to find enough constant amusement in the scenery that he staved off madness but I needed Pratchett for that.

We eventually reached Sudbury which was our first major stop on the long road out of Ontario. As you can tell this is going to be a bloody long story as I’ve only just gotten out of Toronto as far as the narrative is concerned, so I’m going to break this up into a small series that I’ll work on uploading over the next couple of weeks. Hey, at least this way I can guarantee some content!

 

Oh Montreal!

I’ve used this prep time to tinker with the blog a bit. No grand upgrade, just a lick of paint and personalization. You will also find that the pictures that cycle on my banner at the top are actually MY pictures now, so that’s kinda cool, plus I added an email subscription button on the right back on the front page if it takes your fancy. If you sign up to it you’ll get fired an email alert each time I post! Anyway, the below post is one of the ‘canned posts’ I’d written a while back but was sitting on for the new-blog-that-didn’t-happen. Enjoy!

I’m so, so tired. And so, so hot. Whoever said Canada was a cold country was an evil lying douchebag who conspired to make me spend horrific amounts of money on cold weather gear that I’ve barely bloody used!

False Advertising!

The combination of ball-searingly hot temperatures and enough humidity to go swimming in has turned north america into one of the circles of Hell, which is just great of course. This is apparently to do with the Jet Stream shifting and dropping all of North America’s rain on the UK, which would be funny if I was anywhere other than here or there right now. So it was with some trepidation I entertained going to Montreal for the long weekend as the thought of being hemmed into a hostel and boiled alive to the smell of five other guys testicle sweat wasn’t exactly something that was enticing me into action. I am still haunted by those first few days staying at the Canadiana Hostel in Toronto when we first arrived here, with an AC unit that sounded like a Harrier Jet in hover mode that kept being turned off by whoever was sleeping next to it and thus pan frying us all in our own juices.

When we arrived and the hostel turned out to be this quaint little heavily customised thing situated above a holiday tat shop and a Poutinery in Old Montreal I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. It had such a…sketchbook quality to it. Every surface seemed to have been written on by someone and what hadn’t been written on had posters or a chalkboard giving tourist ideas or whatever. The room wasn’t took crowded and the AC didn’t make my skull vibrate so that was good too. Old Montreal itself was fantastic. I can’t think of the last time I just stood somewhere and felt so utterly overwhelmed but so utterly surrounded by awesome at the same time. Toronto’s first impressions didn’t even come close to this. Everywhere I looked there was fantastic architecture, little stalls selling all sorts of various wares, about ten thousand people at any given moment and a big ‘Fuck You Frenchies!’ statue of Nelson right in the middle of it all.

I can genuinely not think of a single reason for this statue to exist here other than to piss of all French people, everywhere. It’s glorious.

I don’t really know where to start with Montreal to be quite honest. It was just so vast and so utterly fantastic. We were only there for three days and with all the energy in the world there was only so much we could do in such a limited amount of time. We got there at something horrid like 2am and were extremely surprised to see so many people walking around the area even that late. It would seem that Montreal definitely subscribes to the European ideal of ‘drink at a leisurely pace for as long as you like’, as opposed to when the UK tried to adopt it and it became ‘BINGE BINGE BINGE BINGE FUCKIN’ BINGE YA WEE SCROTE GET IT ALL DOWN YER NECK COME ON NOW YOU SLAGS BINGE BINGE BINGE”…you get the idea. The ambience was just like Toronto in the sense that we felt quite happy to walk around the city at any time of night and we felt utterly safe, as apparently did all the families that were around the city late at night. The thought of being out late even in the well-lit parts of London gives me pause, let alone somewhere like Maidstone or (lol) Dartford, so it’s always refreshing to find somewhere like that.

the next day we checked out the French-Canadian idea of Notre Dame which was the gaudiest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. I mean I’m not a religious man at all, but it strikes me that when you’re building huge elaborate golden shrines to Jesus et al it feels like you’ve missed the point somewhere guys.

I get that it looks good but something about this just creeps me out.

We were also treated to literally the most cringe inducing approach to acting that I’ve had to endure since the sex education videos I watched back in Junior School. Some sort of highly pretentious, and I think history re-writing, ‘re-enactment’ of the key moments of the founding and construction of the church. It was the bit at the end where they really embraced multiculturalism and called all religions bar their own inferior that I bet went down really well with some of the blatantly muslim tourists in the audience. Anyway, religious awkwardness aside we walked across a tremendous amount of the city. Early on in our trek Dan suddenly realised we were right next to Mount Royale – guess what the cities named after, go on, guess – so of course we had to go straight up it. This would have been a cracking idea if I had brought any sun tan lotion with me at all but that would have required some kind of forethought. A very hot, skin-burning, sweaty walk later and we finally made it to the top.

now THIS is a view.

In the evening we had no idea what to do. We did go to a nice if expensive Italian restaurant that claimed to have hosted Charles Dickens when he was thrashing out A Tale of Two Cities which could be bollocks but I like to believe it’s true. However after the eating we were again stumped. Now if you’re inclined to even the slightest bit of party-animal-ness then Montreal would be fantastic for you, because it has more clubs than you can possibly get through in a month. Or even two. But we aren’t, since we’re 27 going on 67, and so the prospect of merely having a quiet pint was dashed by the sheer volume of people in town. In fact, there really was a massive number of people in town. All of whom were walking in the same direction. I guessed it was for some sort of fireworks display since everyone was homing in on the river and indeed it was a fireworks display. A proper one. That went on for nearly half an hour. Hear that Toronto? That’s the sound of Montreal laughing at you.

The next day we then decided that what we really needed to get ourselves going was a heart attack. Following a lead from one of the chalk boards in the hostel we were summarily indulged.

Mmm, delicious Carbs…

After inexplicable surviving our encounter with the Quebecois dish of choice we decided to keep walking through some of the outskirts of the city to go and check out the nearby Botanical Gardens and Biodome. It’s a funny thing to say that here I am, voluntarily going off to see a bunch of plants. If you had told me just ten years ago that I would have been doing that I’d have told you to pull the other one ‘cos it’s got bells on. It’ll be a cold day in Hell before I give up listening to Metal though. Anyway hanging over all the buildings in the peculiarly named Angus region of Montreal (I mean seriously, Angus? An entire district called Angus? Do they have a Scottish fetish or something?) was what we initially mistakenly believed to be the Biodome but was in fact rather topically the Montreal Olympic Stadium from the 1976 Olympics.

All you people back in the UK who are hating on the massive branding and commercialisation of the London Olympics? Look no further than this bizarre building as the reason why. The ’76 were a massive financial disaster for the City racking up such a massive debt that Quebec only finished paying it off in 2006. This led the Americans to push for mass branding and private interest to try and prop up a tournament that was rapidly losing any ability to pull interest from nations to host, and so in 1984 when the LA Olympics were hosted they were heavily funded by 7-elven and McDonalds. Thus history was made, precedent was set, and none of you mugs can eat chips within spitting distance of Stratford. All because of Montreal. Good job guys! So we checked out the Gardens, which were pretty cool, and the biodome, which was pretty underwhelming, and then trudged back into town. Where we again didn’t have any idea what to do. We didn’t even know where we were going to eat.

We are CLASSY Motherfuckers.

In our defense every other restaurant was crammed whilst this was half empty because who seriously is going to eat Fish & Chips in the culinary capital of Canada, and it’s not like we’ve had fish and chips in the last year! So it turns out we were going to eat Fish & Chips in the culinary capital of Canada because we suck. Anyway Dan at least had some absurd Maple battered Haddock which sounded fucking bizarre to me but he insists it was nice. Why the Quebecois in particular feel the need to put Maple on everything I really don’t know, but why they aren’t all the size of blimps just seems to be unfair. The evening yielded to yet another lemming moment and yet another crowd by the river. I felt that it couldn’t possibly have been MORE fireworks, not after the half hour display the day before surely? That would be CR-

God Dammit Toronto!

Turns out it was Canada Day. I’d kind of forgotten. Might explain why there was so many people in town, hurp durp.

And then the next day happened, and then we went home.

And I have to ask you this. Yes you, you who goes to Malaga or Ibiza or whatever every year. You who goes on nothing but Cruise ships. You who goes abroad yet surrounds yourself with English people, English food, English shops, English…attitudes to the point that all you might as well do is just wait for a decent weekend and fuck off down Camber Sands. I ask you – What the fuck are you doing? There’s a whole damned world out there and I’ve only seen a part of it, but Montreal has got to be the best example of all that’s fantastic out there. And its not full of English people, English Food, English shops. It requires that you actually move around a bit to full appreciate it, so you can’t just sit in a cabin and watch the same bit of sea whirl by every time you dare to glance away from your English dinner. It’s a fantastic, colourful, vibrant, wonderful, buzzing, ecstatic city that I wish I had more time to explore and fully intend to go back to at some point in the future. It’s everything a holiday should be about, and if you only ever do one proper holiday where you break away from the rote English way of doing things do yourselves a favour and go to Montreal. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Epic Fail

I finally got around to trying to sort out that new blog I’ve been tossing ideas around for the last few weeks. Something that will evoke a more general sense of travel and discussion, something that can accommodate my occasional tendency to review the latest game or film I’ve seen, something that doesn’t have Canada in the name when I’m not in Canada any more.

So I laid down some dollars, not an insignificant number of them either, fired up a new blog and got cracking!

This guy ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Then after a few hours of playing around I realised that not only have I just blown a big chunk of cash on upgrades that I didn’t really need but sounded good at the time, but I also discovered whilst playing around with the WordPress settings that I can simply rename this damned blog to something else without having to make a new one!

I’m trying to get a refund out of WordPress now and their customer service seems pretty good and they offer a 30 day return, so here’s hoping! Otherwise, well, see above.

On the flipside I’ve got a whole bunch of articles I’d been working on that I was going to upload to the new blog rather than post here which now, hah, I can. So at least that should cover some updates for a while and perhaps even allow for some regularity. Probably not though.

Anyway! I am literally under a week away from leaving Toronto. It’s kind of a bitter-sweet feeling. I’ve had a fantastic time here for the most part, the only real exception being the horrible summer weather, but on the other hand I feel like I’m done here. Does that sound ungrateful? I suppose I could happily spend plenty more days here – it’s not like I’d have much to be getting on with if I went home right now! – but I feel like we’ve covered everything pretty well. I’m pretty certain I’ve seen more of Toronto than most Torontonians now. From the Islands to the Zoo, Concert Hall to Expo Hall, The Beaches to Roncesvalles…this is a city I’ve seen more of than I have of London I’m pretty sure. Beyond that I saw the other London, I’ve seen Niagara Falls – which I suspect even with Oz and New Zealand ahead of me will be a challenge to beat – I’ve seen Kirkland Lake and Northern Ontario and I’ve even seen Montreal.

Montreal was especially awesome, and I’ll go into that in more detail when I load up one of those pre made articles, but my point is that I feel like I can leave Canada with my head held high. We’ve still got that massive three-day coach trip across Canada to…look…forward to…?

Hmmm…

And four days in Vancouver which I think safely sits on somewhat firmer ground in the surety stakes. I would have liked to do more, fuck I would have liked to actually spend two years in this country like we had originally planned, but beyond my extreme pleasure of even making it to New Zealand after all the uncertainty earlier on in the year the fact that I don’t entirely feel like I’ve wasted my time here helps quite a lot.

Obviously I haven’t been Captain Active as I’ve had to hold down a regular job to make sure I didn’t experience any sort of financial collapse. My job at Atlas has actually gone pretty well for me as I’ve managed to actually ‘Make’ money – a rare and unusual experience for me to be sure. As such I’ve actually managed to recoup the high opening costs of this trip, meaning I get to go to New Zealand with more than a few pennies. This also helps stave off the panic attacks, which is nice. I remember when I interviewed for my job with SIG I came out with the line “I don’t get stressed easily”, a lie so massive in it’s magnitude that it actually caused several planets elsewhere in the Universe to detonate purely out of surprise. The fact that my biggest worry now is trying not to have a panic attack whilst I’m on the plane is actually comforting in a weird, not-all-that-comforting-now-I-think-about-it kind of way.

…Fuck.

That aside though I think I’ve done the best I could with the time and resources available and I don’t really have any regrets beyond the whole two year thing. The fact that this is beginning to realistically look like it could go for the ‘Five Year Plan’ like we’d optimistically suggested back when we started this thing only serves to make this all the more awesome.

Work in Progress

Just a small note to say that I’m in the process of building my new website/blog which should have rather more going on than this one, and allow for a wider breadth of content. It will also have regular updates although of course, seeing is believing. Anyway, should have it sorted soon.

Moviegasm

As you may have noticed before, I rather enjoy movies. It’s been something I’ve always indulged in probably as a result of the fact that both parents often took me to the movies, sometimes resulting in me seeing the same film twice which was actually less awesome than it sounds. Especially when that film was the Super Mario Bros movie.

To this day I am still trying to scrub my brain of the memory.

It is also a passion that Dan follows as well, perhaps with somewhat more zest than myself. Whilst I do enjoy a wide breadth of cinematic loveliness, I admit that my favorite end of the spectrum is somewhat in the…flashy region. Where I might, say, get Dan to watch The Expendables, he will get me to watch Citizen Kane. I’ll grab The Thing, and he’ll come back with a Streetcar Named Desire. A case in point, we both went to see the Avengers when it came out in Canada the other week. I thought it was fantastically enjoyable, cheesy superhero nonsense with some great fizz and spectacle, he thought it was vapid tripe with transparent characters and a large turd where the plot should have been.

He’s probably right too.

But that’s not the point because

LOOK AT THE SIZE OF MY FUCKING HAMMER RAAAARRRRRRR!!!

But of course it’s not all like that. I actually enjoyed Citizen Kane and Streetcar, much to my surprise, and he’s enjoyed…uh…well, probably nothing I’ve got him to watch. But I’m sure I enjoyed trying to make him enjoy it. Hum.

It was with childlike glee we trotted about Toronto during our first couple of weeks here. We discovered the Revue Cinema, a not-for-profit screen which we conveniently then wound up living just around the corner from, and saw Jurassic Park. Then we found the Underground Cinema in Downtown and saw Aliens and Clockwork Orange. Now, Jurassic Park we both did see (whilst being very young mind) when it came out. But Clockwork Orange predates our very existance by a number of years, and we were both the massive age of One when Aliens came out which may have been a touch young for at least every scene in the film. Though it would be interesting to study the effects on a child who see’s such a film at such a young age…

Anyway, I digress. It is with great joy that I discovered a film festival of sorts taking place both at our local Revue Cinema and another on the other side of town, Fox Theater, that will involve the showing of some of the biggest cinematic classics ever. I take particular joy in this because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this happen back in the UK, and it just serves to be another reminder of how fantastic a place Toronto can be. I mean, I guess there are probably cinemas in London that do this sort of thing. But in the places I’ve lived and visited that had cinemas in close proximity (Dartford, Maidstone, Lancaster, Ilfracombe to name but a few) I’ve never known them to ever show anything other than the big releases of RIGHT NOW and nothing else. Hell even then it wasn’t always guaranteed. I had it in my mind to go see Hot Tub Time Machine when that came out, and Four Lions, and neither of those were even shown at my local ENORMOUS Odeon cinema.

I can’t link this picture for some reason, so just check out this link for a second. I literally don’t know where to stop with what films I want to see on that list. Frankly, if you can’t find at least four films there that you wouldn’t want to see given the opportunity then I’m afraid you just don’t belong as a member of the Human Race anymore.

LEAVE, NOW, AND NEVER COME BACK!

So at least I know what I’ll be doing at the back end of June. I can’t say as I imagined “seeing a lot of old movies” would be one of the highlights of my trip to Canada, but hey, I’ll take what I can get!

Oh, also, I’m going to be setting up a new blog when this Canadian leg is over. Partly because having a Travel Blog called ‘Raiding Canada’ when I’m no longer in Canada would be a bit weird, but also because I’m looking to setup something a bit more…professional. Plans are afoot. Anyway I’m taking suggestions on a name right now so if you have an idea drop it in the comments box!

Fresh Developments

So I think my Nan’s Birthday post has sat here quite long enough. Events have been slow to come, but a few things have occurred now that warrant speaking of. Chief among them is that (almost) all the details of ‘Operation: New Zealand!’ have finally been ironed out. And Holy Shit, this is gonna be a long, long journey. Let me talk you through it.

You, yes you! Pay attention!

So owing to the fact that I finish working for Atlas Machinery on July 27th, that gives me a few days before I have to be out of this place or pay another months rent, so there’s an outside chance that we might head to New York for a few days. But that’s undecided.

What is decided is that on July 31st we are going to set off on the longest motherfucking coach journey you ever motherfucking did see.

Over the course of our three day journey, we will be taking in somewhere in the region of, and I’m really not joking, around 80-100 different stops across the entire length of Canada. Those of you with a mind to use Google Maps, a few of these locations include such wonderfully named places as Wawa, Thunder Bay, Winnepeg, Moosomin, Indian Head (wtf?), Calgary, Banff and Chilliwack to name just a tiny, tiny few. I am hoping, nay praying, that the coach I am on has some sort of power source – it has been suggested to me that it might, may even have wi-fi in fact – because otherwise I’m going to go out of my freaking mind.

Remember this?

I am however loaded up with more games, films, TV shows and books than I could possibly get through inside of a decade, so I should have plenty to keep myself occupied…so long as there’s that power supply. I mean sure, there will be plenty of shiny shiny Canadian countryside, some of which I’m assured is Very Nice To Look At. Well, apart from the prairies which have been described to me by several people by now as “Endless fucking nothing in every direction”. That…might get a little boring. Although, the way they describe Calgary to me as this huge City nestled at the bottom of the Rocky Mountains on the edge of the plains, I can’t help but picture it as Minas Tirith.

Identical, of course!

I would at least be able to cry “Mountains Gandalf!” when we pass through the Rockies, but since we’ll be doing them during the night-time all I’ll get to do is shake my fist impotently at the window whilst I watch mountainous shapes whizz by vaguely in the distance.

So anyway, assuming me and Dan haven’t cannibalized each other during the journey, we’ll be spending four days in Vancouver to recover/explore the city. This doesn’t quite compare to the entire year we had planned on spending there originally, but I’ll take what I can get. This entire coach trip/stay in Vancouver is largely aimed at trying to compensate for the massive amount of Canada we’ll be missing as a result of our trip here being shorter than intended, and also poorer than intended meaning we’ve barely gotten out of Toronto the entire time we’ve been here.

Anywho, after that we’ve got a 27 hour flight to Auckland because obviously what I want to be doing is spending more time in transit, especially on a form of transit I enjoy so much.

I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING.

Our flight initially takes us from Vancouver to Los Angeles, City of Angels, Land of City Planned Racial Segregation and whoops, did I say that last bit out loud? It’s kind of an anticlimax to be spending literally 3 hours in LA, considering our Grand Plan involved us spending a few days there and flying to NZ direct from there rather than Vancouver. Plus I have some friends that live there it would have been nice to visit. It’s a city that I’ve oddly studied quite a lot, be it in History, Geography or Sociology so it would have been nice to look around a bit, even if it is a bit shit by all accounts. But noooo, I get to see the wonders of LAX (reportedly one of the worst airports in America) and that’s it.

So assuming I escape LAX it’s then a nice long flight to Fiji, which again would be cool if I were spending anything more than a fraction of time there, and then on from there to finally arrive in Auckland.

I will probably be doing this for at least five minutes upon arrival.

Then it’s off to the hostel in Auckland and from there…who knows. In fact I’m meant to be working on my CV for New Zealand right now rather than writing this blog post, so maybe I’d better do that instead…

So my Nan is turning 80…

and I’m not going to be there.

I mean, alright. Obviously I knew about this in advance. The logistics and cost of getting from Toronto to Ilfracombe are more than a touch prohibitive after all. So it’s not like it’s a surprise or anything. But it’s still annoying. You see, my mother’s side of the family is really rather small. Now I guess anything will feel small when you have a family like the Hayward Clan, with such huge and meandering pathways to being related to someone that I feel like I’m part of the Khan lineage, whereas my Nan’s family only numbers a few small groups dotted across England (and Germany!) none of whom speak to each other very much.

What I’m getting at is when my Nan’s 80th rocks up what should be a really big family deal is actually going to be a small affair with her and my grandad/mum/stepdad/brother/sister. That’s it. And that’s kinda sad. I should caveat this with the fact that as I understand it, she couldn’t give a damn if she was turning 80 or 180, it’s all the same to her. But it’s not the same to me, and that’s where the problem lies.

I also find it hard to wrap my brain around the concept of someone being eighty. I mean, think about it for a moment if you will: eighty. All the stuff that’s happened in the last eighty years. So I thought, partly as a tribute to my Nan and partly because I feel that this info needs to be written down somewhere before there’s no-one else around to say it, I would outline to you just what eighty years really means – in Nan years. A little ‘This Is Your Life’ thing, but with more swearing. Possibly.

Internet, Attend!

So where do we begin this little sojourn down bad-memory lane? Well it’s worth bearing in mind that most of this diatribe is going to be made up of a variety of anecdotes both her and my Grandad have shared with me over the years, with a little sprinkling of hopeful accuracy provided by my mother on some key details. What I’m saying here is don’t expect an air-tight account guys, because this thing’s leakier than a sexed up war dossier.

So my Nan was born on 15th April, 1932 somewhere vaguely in the area of Dartford. You can tell that 1932 is a long time ago simply by the fact that she would often describe Dartford as “quite nice back then”, which if you ever saw it now you would wonder if this was in fact the same Dartford, or some grand fantasy Dartford crafted out of the hopeful whims of a deranged maniac.

Demons and pixies would also possibly would feature.

It’s worth considering that it had to have been a nice place at some point, because she didn’t leave the damned town for the next sixty-seven freakin’ years. Just let that settle in your mind for a moment. Those of you who know of present-Dartford, please try not to vomit. We’re being nice here.

My Nan, Betty Ludlow, was born to Edward and Daisy Ludlow who alas had passed away long before I was born so I never got to meet. She never spoke of them all that much, but I always remember the black and white picture of them that she would keep on a cupboard in the dining room. She had two sisters, Jess and Ann, and two brothers, Vic and Bill. Apparently Vic was literally born on Friday 13th, which coloured my Nan’s entire concept of superstition when he was smacked in the head with a cricket ball when he was quite young and paralyzed. Don’t screw with the Fates, kids.

I honestly don’t know much about her very young childhood beyond some vague anecdotes about helping her mum around the house a lot and her dad having something to do with the construction of what has become one of the busiest roadways in England (the A2/M2 roadway that links London with the Port of Dover), built vaguely along the lines of the famous Roman Road Watling Street. The thing that gets in the way of her childhood stories I suspect is a little event that started in September 1939 which we may know as “World War 2”.

I knew I forgot something.

Now there are many number of war stories, funnily enough. Though I imagine it wasn’t all that funny at the time. Her education was severely disrupted when the war initially broke out, before being shattered completely. The problem being that the freakin’ Blitz was happening right over her head. She used to say that when the old V2 rockets came over – or Doodlebugs as she knew them – and the ‘buzzing’ ceased everyone would just have to stop and run for cover. There was a shelter in her garden that her dad used to command her into on a frequent basis (“GET DOWN THAT SHELTER!” was apparently his wartime catch-phrase) and she lost some friends to the bombing.

Dartford was actually a major target for the Germans due to the presence of a munitions factory on what was then the outskirts of the town, a factory that her dad actually worked at. And since they had located the factory next to a series of lakes they also lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree whenever the moon was out, so the Lakes had to be camouflaged and as a result the factory was never hit. Dartford was though, a whole heck of a lot.

When the Americans eventually deigned to intervene, finally realizing that a full Nazi Europe might not be the best thing for them, their route to Dover for the Normandy landings took them through Dartford. My Nan tells me that as the procession passed through the town, the tanks and jeeps and so on went right by her house (or near her house). So her mother made a load of cakes, sandwiches and so on and sent her down to hand them out to the troops, which I just think is a wonderfully British image. Army trundling by probably to certain death? Here, have some cakes and tea to make it all better!

I will use literally any excuse I can to wheel this picture out.

Also at some point she was shipped away from the London area when the bombing got too fierce along with thousands of other children, Chronicles Of Narnia Style, except she didn’t find a magical wardrobe to take her to a far-away land. Whatever she did find she won’t talk about, so whatever it was it probably wasn’t all that nice.

Anyway, that’s enough about the war. Obviously we won, which was good, but England was in pieces, which was bad. Rationing was still in full effect, and as far as I’m aware Nan was never really able to return to her education and so wound up going out to work at a very young age. I think she was around fifteen or sixteen when she got her first job at Burroughs, one of the UK’s earliest Pharmaceutical companies. Burroughs eventually became the Wellcome Trust, which is now the UK’s largest non-government source of biomedical research. She put that little fluffy bit of cotton into pill bottles for hours, and hours and hours.

Oh and that phamaceutical company? Wellcome sold it off to their biggest rivals, Glaxo plc. who went on to be GlaxoSmithKline, the fourth largest supplier Pharmaceuticals on the PlanetRemember, eighty years.

So anyway, at some point she met my Grandad, Alan Coombs, at a dance somewhere in Dartford I think. Because with my Nan if you’re not sure, Dartford is probably as good a guess as any. He was doing compulsory national service in the Royal Air Force at the time, based out of Newquay in Cornwall with his own set of stories I may well impart when his 80th rocks up next year, and around the time she progressed to the finance office at Wellcome they got married sometime in 1954. As an interesting sidenote her sister Ann then later married my Grandad’s brother Stan, because there’s nothing like keeping it in the family.

Then there was a lot of moving around and things get hazy. Unfortunately I’d love to tell you this was the point when she moved out of Dartford, but those with a concept of maths will realize that this must be a way off yet. Somewhere down the line she wound up living on Temple Hill in Dartford, which is like saying you lived in 1980s Harlem, New York. What I’m getting at is this was not a good place to be.

She spoke of ‘dodgy Irish families’ that would run riot over the estate and general decrepitude rife across the area. Funnily enough when I found myself living on the exact same estate may years later, I can’t say as it had changed all that much. Although you could swap the ‘dodgy Irish families’ out with ‘everyone’s bloody dodgy’.

Anyway it was whilst she was here that she had her first child, Chris, on 14th July 1957, followed a few years later by my mother Ann on 14th May 1963. At this point I realize I can now never say to my mum that I forgot her birthday because I just wrote it down on my own frakkin’ blog, so…shit. Moving on!

Granddad had a pretty good job working for a big manufacturer in the middle of Dartford called Halls that used to make those huge industrial fridges/freezers that long-haul cargo ships and the like would use. Between that and my Nan’s fluctuating but constant employment (at some point she wound up working as a cleaner at the Downs Secondary School, which became the Leigh City Technology College when I was a kid and is now called something else entirely, but I’m not sure when) the family was fairly well off compared to many in post-war Britain. She tells me that their house was one of the first on the street to have a Television, and just like that episode of Doctor Who (which occasionally isn’t batshit crazy when it’s deciding what did and didn’t happen in the past) everyone would crowd into her house whenever there was a big event, be it the World Cup or the Queen’s Coronation or whatever.

Because of the state of a lot of the post-war buildings in Dartford the council was gradually having to either repair them, or say “soddit”, relocate the residents and blow it all up and start again. If only they’d done that with the entire town. They chose option B when it came to my Nan’s house and they moved to the newly begun Fleet Estate development right on the edge of town to deal with the overflow of Dartford’s rapidly expanding population as it became prime commuter belt land, sometime around 1965. Then she worked as a cleaner at Livingstone Hospital for a bit. I can’t figure out why she moved around to so many different jobs but that’s what I get for not asking the right questions I guess.

Then they moved to Gore Road in 1966, and it will be forever to my annoyance that I don’t have any decent pictures of this place. I have one, which I refuse to display because it was taken after my grandparents moved out and those that moved in destroyed everything that was good about it and HATERAGEBLARGHBLARGH.

At last, a legitimate use for this image!

It was around this point that England was finally picking itself up and dusting itself off fully after the War. London expanded, and expanded, and expanded, and Dartford found itself to be a surprisingly desirable location. For some reason. My Grandparents remained at Gore Road for thirty-five or so years, and in their time there they watched schools be built (my mother being in some of the first intake in what would become my school several years later), the largest NHS-funded hospital go up right in front of them, one of Europe’s largest shopping centers was built just down the road, and one of the worlds largest orbital roads was built literally five minutes away (Which I used to play chicken on the grass verge of. Because hey, why the hell not?). Also down the road, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards met at Dartford train station after having grown up and gone to school together in the town and formed a little known band called the Rolling Stones, one of the most popular and influential rock bands in the world.

As a recap, lets go back over this. When my Nan was first born, the British Empire was still a major force to be reckoned with and Dartford was a small town nestled away somewhere between the border of London and Kent. By the time we reach around the date of say, my birth, The Empire has almost completely fallen and Dartford has gone from tiny town to huge, sprawling blight upon the English landscape. So my Grandparents not only watched as the world and technology in general went bananas after the Second World War, but they also seemed to be in the middle of some pretty big events in English history just by a quirk of Geography. Dartfordian Geography. If that isn’t a sign that Fate has a sense of Irony, I don’t know what is.

To conclude, at some point Chris moved out and [REDACTED] and then my mum moved out after having met my dad and bought a tiny house that [REDACTED]. Then I happened and Nan had to quit another job at a home for helping the elderly to help with looking after me since dad was at sea with the Merchant Navy 90% of the time and then we might as well hit the fast-forward button because most of you should be familiar with the events of the last twenty-seven years or so. Nan did finally escape Dartford and moved to her/our frequent Holiday destination of Devon, where she and my mother et al now live. Regardless of what they all say now it’s an infinitely nicer place to be than bloody Dartford, but then a mouldy armpit is probably a nicer place to be than Dartford.

Here are some people desperately trying to get away. They will never succeed.

So this is the end of my vague little History lesson. I’d like to just pull back from the speech for a moment and get any of you who’ve made it this far to stop and think for a moment. What has happened during your life? I don’t mean personally, because spreading personal issues across the internet is what Facebook is for. I mean in a broad, historical sense. We all have different things we latch on to I guess. I for one would sum it up by saying how I’ve watched the computers I’ve spent far too much of my free time on turn from this

into this

since technology has been the fulcrum upon which my life has turned. What would yours be? Step back a Generation, and perhaps you could put it into terms of cars. Around when my mum was born, Formula 1 racing cars would have looked something like this.

Now, of course, they look like bloody space ships.

And this is still just a fraction of the time I’m talking about here. Think of all the technological marvels, and terrors, that have come into creation and faded into obscurity over the last eighty years. All the corner stones of recent History; the Second World War, the Space Race, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean War, the Falkland War, the collapse of the British Empire, the rise of Globalization, the Thatcher Years, the eradication of Smallpox, the collapse of the Soviet Union, 9/11…damn I’ve just bounced backwards and forwards across that timespan and these arn’t even a fraction of the important events that have happened over the last eighty years.

And my Nan has been around to see them all. Mostly whilst being sat in Dartford. Well, I guess no-one is perfect. She’s lived her own quiet, relatively uneventful life and given birth to an arse of a son and a brilliant mother, so one out of two isn’t bad. She was also, and I haven’t really mentioned this up to this point, a huge factor in my early years. Due to one thing or another I spent quite a lot of time living with her and I went to school down the road from where she lived. You can blame her somewhat for my ‘posh’ accent – she’s always felt it was important for me to speak ‘properly’ and even now chastises me for certain things – and quite probably some of my other quirks and foibles too. And whilst again for one reason or another we drifted apart a bit as I grew up, my Nan has always and will always occupy a special place in my heart. She is a remarkable, if understated, lady who has seen and been through a lot and is still running around as if she were thirty years younger, and my life is all the better for her input.

I guess what I’ve been trying to say for the last three thousand words or so is, Happy 80th Birthday Nan!