Things we could adopt from Canada…and get up and go!

At least you know what’s in your pork sausage before you make/buy/eat it!

A list of things we Brits could learn from Canada:

1. Politeness

2. Traffic stopping to let pedestrians cross the road

3. Newspapers only half as wide as UK full size ones…means you can read the paper on the train/bus/tube without poking your fellow passengers in the ribs, eyes or anywhere else!

4. Turning right at traffic lights when red and no other traffic is coming from the left…ok in UK the directions would be reversed but still makes sense to me.

5. Bus drivers who wait for passengers running for the bus!

And Australians could learn…

When you go into a restaurant and ask for a table for one not to turn the patron away but ask if they’d like a newspaper to read whilst they wait for their food! Now, that’s customer service!

Quirky Canada

1. When I speak to anyone I have to repeat myself as they’re expecting a Canadian accent to emerge but the Queen’s English takes them aback. Perhaps I should have left the Royal Family behind!

2. You’re not allowed to wear skates or use your skateboard whilst on a bus or train/underground…clearly people have tried hence it’s banned but I wouldn’t think of doing it in the first place.

3. Lacrosse is the national sport not ice hockey!

And now the serious bit…Canada is a young nation some 150 years old. It has come a long way in that time and has a positive future ahead of it. It has get up and go whereas in some nations it has got up and left if it was ever there in the first place!

One striking thing about Canada is its positive approach and acceptance of multiculturalism although there are political parties and the odd politician taking the populist approach as it seems to be the trend around the world and clearly in the neighbourhood! Canada doesn’t ask where you’re from, it asks what you can offer and what you can do to progress the nation. That means its not open house but it takes the best available and moves forward. Most people who live in Toronto were not born in Canada and the overall approach seems to work.

Yes there are lessons from the past which Canada openly accepts – only yesterday the PM apologised for maltreatment and mis-trials of First Nation chiefs over 150 years ago – but it’s a nation which looks forward.

In doing so it’s mindful of its neighbour to the south and the erratic path she seems to be taking but nothing lasts forever but as long as the change is not too engrained in its psyche then there’s hope. One does despair of asking the neighbour for a cup of sugar when on the one hand it openly accepts its gun culture and the danger to schools and refuses to change the law but within a day passed a law banning stowing dogs in overhead lockers on planes! Priorities seem to get muddled so often or is it me?

But this is about Canada. One thing that strikes is the sheer amount of space…vast swathes of it, mostly uninhabited but where it is life goes on. For example, whilst the rest of the world has had the winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, the far north of Canada (and its probably still dark for most of the time have been holding the winter Arctic Games which included sledge jumping (how many you can jump over consecutively from a standing start), arm and leg wrestling (take one of each, entwine each with that of your opponent and make them lose their grip) or headband stretching (take a large leather band, put it round the back of your head – your opponent does the same- and the winner is the one who keeps the band on the longest whilst stretching it). And that’s normal behaviour!

One thing this trip has taught me is the sheer cold…bitterly cold, bone numbing cold, so you wrap up well and as soon as you go indoors anywhere you need to take your outer clothing off or you’ll roast…a fag if ever there was one but the option of freezing to death is not to be overlooked!

So once you’ve got your get up and go, it’s expected to carry on! Every time it snows you are legally required to clear your drive and path, and if you’re neighbour can’t do theirs for whatever reason, then you’re expected to volunteer – not wait for the council to turn up and do it!

And road traffic accidents – since public transport is relatively poor and often disjointed everyone travels everywhere by car. Greater Toronto and its 10m people have some 11 different transport authorities to deal with and, of course, they don’t always talk to each other but when it works it works well. So with cars by the mile, there’ll be accidents but no road closures for hours and hours, the vehicles are simply shifted to the roadside and the rest just drive on by! To do otherwise would be chaos!

And no, it’s not perfect as a nation. There’s the usual array of crime, social issues, accidents, fires etc but where is perfect? And it has similar problems to other countries – an article on the front page of the Toronto Sun newspaper highlighted the issues over education funding or rather the lack of and its complicated formulas so it could have been lifted straight from the UK but would it make the front page of a British paper?

And it’s not perfect in working out to play the lottery here – highly complex and I began to lose the will to live as I read the instructions – but I did work out that a ticket for the big prize costs C$40 (approx £25)!

Nonetheless it’s a great place with plenty of space so if you’ve not discovered it yet, do so – you’ll be welcomed!

So if you’ve lost your get up and go get up and go!

Test cricket – spiralling downwards through ineptitude or self-destruction?

The last few days should have seen the trundling along of two tests in the quiet unassuming way that this form of the game takes. New Zealand hosting England at the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer and Australia trying to get on even cricketing terms in South Africa…but no!

We’ve seen the self-destruction of both England in cricketing terms and Australia in moral terms – both in their own way adding to the death spiral that test cricket seems have gotten itself into or perhaps tossed into by the unending rise of T20 cricket as millennials crave for ever increasing instant gratification and excitement.

One can understand the governing boards increasing desire to promote the instant stuff as millennials now outnumber the baby boomers of the 50s and 60s in sheer numbers as well as increasing economic power but who doesn’t appreciate a fine vintage or tradition going back centuries. I dare say the old fogeys of the time railed against one day cricket in the 60s and 70s and definitely against the ideas of one K Packer.

But I digress…England’s performance was shambolic as everyone has admitted but perhaps the damage was done weeks or months ago? I’ve blogged long and often during the Ashes series first hand that the preparation for that was appalling (above his pay-grade sayeth the vice captain at the infamous Boycott interview in Sydney) and the same has been true in NZ. Admittedly England would do and have done the same against touring sides; so as others have said its time for administrators to stand up and remove the bias towards home sides in tests.

Admittedly I haven’t seen the England innings in full being in a non-cricketing nation at the moment but I’ve seen it documented in a tweet (it fits in less than 140 characters!) and a video of the wickets falling. Footwork seemed to be lacking as did the ability to pick up line and length. More practice in the middle would have helped but what is even more worrying is the lack of gumption and determination to stick around. As I’ve said before ‘oh my Boycott and Tavare of long ago’. The grace with which NZ behaved as a team when clearly superior was commendable.

Some have said that a mix of T20 and ODIs have not helped preparation for the longer game but teams nowadays have so few players in two let alone all the formats of the game. A 14 a side game is just devaluing the currency too.

So…what’s the answer? How about playing more proper challenging cricket? How about a proper tour of NZ and elsewhere and just not adding a few games in NZ on at the end of an Ashes tour? How about giving the opposition some respect and not just crumbs from the table? And, oh, how about playing with some gumption and determination? One begins to wonder if it’s easier to get in the England team than get out of it? Yes, each team needs its star players and its up and coming promising youngsters but some in this side have either overstayed their welcome or, more worryingly perhaps, there’s not the talent knocking doors down – or are the selectors too cosy?

Apathy either real or deep seated is one nail in the coffin but clear cheating is inexcusable. Ok you get the occasional hot head who thinks they’re being clever in ball or bat tampering/manipulation – quicks have done both in the past (younger readers should check up on one DK Lillee) but when the captain and who knows else agreed the plan in advance it is just beyond words!

Enough has been and will be written in the heat of the incident in SA and later when cool heads are applied. We have seen ‘cheating’ before and it will no doubt be tried again and may even succeed on occasion and will blend into the annals of the game but there are bigger questions…how did they think they would get away with it? Why do they think they are above everyone else? Why do it when you’re one of the best batting and bowling line ups in world cricket at the moment? This ‘win at all cost’ mentality should never have developed because it will always come back to bite you!

There was an undercurrent in Australia during the Ashes tour that the Australian public regard their cricketers as arrogant, aloof and have lost touch with their true fan base…but the hold cricket has in the Australian psyche negates this and they turned up in reasonable numbers – if only to revel in friendly Pommie bashing. The job of Australian cricket captain is the second most high profile position in the land and hence the hue and cry from down under and across social media.

Professional sportsmen must live in some kind of parallel universe if they think in this digitally advanced day and age that they wouldn’t be seen and spotted? There may not be many spectators at tests but there are cameras aplenty so how? Why did they need to resort to such tactics…ok the series so far has been fraught, fractious and fierce and that’s what test cricket and all cricket should be but it stops as soon as you cross the boundary rope. You play hard, but you play fair, with respect for the opposition and above all for the game…or has society across the globe just lost all respect for everything and anything? And it’s just not in sport…

And it’s no wonder that crowds are not turning up to watch test cricket…the poor preparation, the ineptitude of too many players, the whiff of cheating (who knows whether what you’re watching and paying for is a genuine contest?), the demands on personal time in an ever increasingly frantic world, the craving for instance gratification (I can’t wait five days to see who wins, and then there may not even be a result? Give me a break I’m off elsewhere).

Even though pricing may make it cheap (and still they don’t come along) or expensive (test ticket prices in UK…but we turn out for the ‘occasion’ ), test cricket is in a death spiral at the moment and we’ve probably seen it before over the last 140 years or so, so let’s hope that wise heads can prevail, keep the game alive, even on life support (as the County Championship has been for years), and the corner turned.

Perhaps if it trundled along less, became inspiring to cricket followers, was not devalued as a product to buy or participate in, and less wrapped in the cloth of political ambition in some areas then, just perhaps it may recover. Let’s hope so and let the game speak for itself.

Offbeat Toronto…what the tourist doesn’t particularly look for!

A travel blog full of photos of the more offbeat areas of Toronto. Whilst I would like to claim all the research and facts behind each picture or story; however, I recommend a walking tour of Toronto from – I was the only person on this tour (off season and cold) but enjoyable and informative nonetheless.

This is my seventh visit to Canada and my fourth to Toronto but have learnt more about Toronto on this visit than all others put together!

So, in no particular order:

The ROM…Royal Ontario Musuem

An eclectic mix of exhibits more akin to the V&A in London than any other specific type of museum.

This unprepossessing spot is the junction of Yonge and Bloor Streets but is the geometric centre of Toronto from where all distances are measured, to the north it’s uptown, to the south Downtown, to the west all roads have west in the title, to the east…you can work it out!

Now…here’s a challenge! Medicinal marijuana has been legal in Canada for a little while but sales of recreational marijuana become legal later this year. Rather than allow free market forces to take effect (as elsewhere in Canada) Ontario has decided to regulate sales on the same basis as alcohol (you can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets etc), you need to go to the LCBO. So in Ontario the government spent C$ 650,000 on researching a name for the new regulated outlets and came up with OCS – Ontario Cannabis Store! Perhaps most of the cash was spent sampling the product.

At the moment outlets like the above are allowed and from the directory at the entrance offer a range of products. Everyone is now trying to get on the bandwagon of new marijuana tourism opportunities. However, how does the tourist use it? Smoking in hotels and on the streets/public places is not allowed and taking supplies of proscribed substances into another country is not an option. So, thinking outside the box is taking off here in more ways than one!

Your chosen career is in tax accounting or tax law, and your boss says to you today “I want you to stand in the street outside wearing a maple leaf costume and waving to passersby” I think it’s time to rethink your career choices!

There is a strong prosperous and influential LGBT community in Toronto – the local MP usually ends up with a significant cabinet post in the national government in Ottawa.

This is Yonge Street claimed by Canadians as the longest street in the world at over 1600km ending somewhere in Manitoba but in fact it ends 80km north as it has to divert around a freeway and comes to an end before it does. To quote Michael Caine not a lot of people know that….and why would they (or even care!)

This is Maple Leaf Gardens – the original home of the local/world famous ice hockey team. The ground and first floors are now a supermarket festooned with hockey memorabilia whereas the top three storeys house an ice hockey rink and seating for thousands to watch the local university teams. Incidentally Toronto has three universities catering for 170,000 students and countless other academic and vocational organisations supporting another 200,000 students at any one time.

The last owner of the Maple Leafs before they moved to their current location decided that the Gardens holding 12,000 spectators was not enough so all the seats were ripped out and 16,000 smaller ones installed instead. The problem was that no one could sit comfortably in the seats but they turned up nonetheless to support the team and berate the owner who says in his comfortable bunker away from the fans.

Currently each Maple Leaf game is always sold out, to become a season ticket holder you need to go on the waiting list (20 years and counting) and pay C$ 10,000 deposit (non-refundable) and wait. Unlike the MCC you can bequeath your position on the waiting list in your will!

Turn the corner and you bump into a green oasis in the middle of the city – a park exclusively for dogs, a Kew Gardens lookalike full of colour and greenery (and warmth!). The Allan Gardens.

The people of Toronto were

asked when the government wanted to redevelop Yonge/Dundas Square whether they wanted a green calming space in the city centre or something resembling Time Square New York…and this is the outcome (seemingly more gaudy than the architects intended!).

Not just any old shopping mall but the Eaton Centre – Toronto’s no 1 tour attraction, 350,000 people pass through every day, even Christmas Day. It has more visitors than Las Vegas every year. But it’s connected to the rest of Downtown but the PATH – a 30km underground system of connected malls, offices, food courts which mean you can keep inside in the winter. The PATH system is so large it houses five subway stations!

Originated by TD Bank in the 1970s when building their skyscrapers and decided not to use the basement for staff car parking but to rent it out to retailers…the rest is history and profits!

And when you want to cover in a walkway between two 50 storey skyscrapers, you get a Spanish world famous architect to do it for you.

And when you’re not allowed to build a taller skyscraper you cover the windows in gold film at C$72 a window, or if you’re HMQueen you have a suite at the Fairmont Royal York on standby for your next visit (the fact she hasn’t been for over 20 years is immaterial!).

Toronto – a lot to see off the beaten tourist track but you need to know how to look!

For the pythonistas…

An exhibit at the ROM (Royal Ontario Musuem) today…was wondering why the People’s Front of Judea or the Judean People’s Front or the People’s Judean Front of Judea had their uniforms on display? Anyway….splitters!Have been in Canada for two weeks now and not a lumberjack in sight!Perhaps I need to visit the forests of British Columbia?

Maple syrup farming, omelettes in burgers, ice-wine and colonic-style irrigation for the nose! An eclectic mix!

Photos of how to “farm” maple syrup. It takes 40 buckets of sap to make one bucket of maple syrup…and that’s when the trees first ‘wake up’…later it becomes 70:1 – hence the cost!

And a local ‘delicacy’ is an omelette burger – yes, an acquired taste together but ok apart! Have also tried ice-wine from the Niagara region; it’s made from grapes picked when the temperature is minus 10C and made in the same way as ‘normal’ wine. Clearly designed as a dessert wine with a hint of jam as a texture, could be good in a steamed pudding with cream?

And Before the irrigation, the photos…

Tap for sap when it’s cool during the day but freezing overnight…makes the sap rise. If it’s below freezing all the time, no sap!

And it was below freezing today…hence the frozen sap!

And some First Nation techniques still used today!

And a teepee to keep warm in as well as boil the sap!

Seemingly you can buy an irrigation system for your nose and nasal passages which works on the same principle as colonic irrigation except that this system has one hose going in and one coming out. How you decide that you need one or discover that your life is incomplete without this is beyond me and mind-boggling!

Canada – Contrasts, similarities and a job vacancy…should I apply?

For those of us who struggle to understand human nature, try and get you head round this…here in Canada the latest fitness craze is axe-throwing (yes, wood cutting choppers); you can easily buy a gun (but not quite as easily as the neighbours to the South can) but you can’t raise chickens or have them lay eggs in your backyard without contravening several laws!

And when it comes to elections…for a party leader here in Ontario, there are 193,000 registered members in the party but only 64,000 registered to vote in the time given of one week. Most candidates except one disagreed with the time frame, but it was allowed to go ahead. The one who lost the run off in the election then decided they didn’t accept the result and also now disagreed with the one week time frame they and only they agreed to some time ago!

Eventually they conceded but one wonders where good grace and statesman-like behaviour gone – it’s not in the UK and USA and seemingly not here in Canada. Perhaps I should go looking for it? Someone has mislaid it! Rings a bell?

And in the UK the chief cricket selector for the England team has resigned…I’m available to take over…after all how difficult can the job be? Watch cricket day after day, identify the best England players, have a selection meeting, phone or email the chosen 12, encouragement to those who missed out, go and watch every test wherever it’s played, change the team as necessary and repeat until someone tells you to stop and get paid too! Reckon I should apply!

Anyway, some more photos for my travel followers of ice carvings by a sandy beach with deck chairs but the temperature is below freezing?

Toronto in the cold…but the locals say it’s warm!

A pure travelblog…of Toronto at the cold end of winter

But first my Michael Portillo bit (with apologies to non-UK readers)…

The grandeur that is Union Station Toronto symbolically dominating the city centre. Built in Art Deco style of 1920s glory, partnered perfectly with the dominion building next door and the dripping opulence and sheer dominance of Fairmont Royal York hotels…fit for the rich and famous royalty and Michael Portillo and his TV crew. Had to pop in to try and raise the tone!

Air Canada Centre next caught my eye/lens

Harbour front deserted in the cold of winter, but interestingly the ice rink is a boating lake in the summer, and needs no artificial help to keep it frozen!

Unusual shot of the CN Tower

You can learn to skate in the fountains outside City Hall and irrespective of your age you can have a Zimmer frame to help you!

And finally…in Canadian red coat and trainers…perhaps I need to see Mr Portillo’s tailor! And yes it was snowing, windy and cold but no need to worry, the buses, subway and traffic all coped!

Things have moved on…but common sense seems to have gone out of the window.

Have moved on to new experiences after a few weeks back in the UK not helped by crashing (twice) at a taster session at the London Olympic velodrome- reckon have cracked a rib and sprained shoulder ligaments but slowly recovering. Given as a present since I’m impossible to buy for, it seems that my offspring are keen on getting their hands on their inheritance sooner rather than later…but am spending it as fast as I can to reduce their inheritance tax bill when it comes! So have taken myself off to Canada for three weeks and spending time with rellies in Toronto.

It seems that my blog followers are keen to learn of my experiences but as there’s 100% less cricket on this trip than to Oz, the main interest will centre on the photographic rather than any erudition about Canadian cricket!

First impression is that it’s cold! Minus 2 at lunch today and bitterly cold, but to look outside it looks like a grey overcast cool Spring day in the UK but it’s not! This is my seventh visit to Canada over the past 20 years or so and only the second in the cold…but as Britain comes to a grinding halt with a bit of snow and cold weather, the whole country here just carries on regardless!

Seems that there are jobsworths the world over…the local ones here insisted that last September the heating in several apartment blocks was switched on because that’s what the clause in the by-law says. The clause was added when permission was granted to build the block in the first place. The fact that it was 30 degrees C outside last September on the date the heating had to be switched on…and the elderly started to suffer heat strokes and worse with the heating on in hot weather seemed to be beyond rational common sense.

So…public meetings are now being held to gauge opinion as to whether the bylaws should be changed. On the surface it seems overkill and bureaucracy gone mad but there is a wider point at issue – the provision of heating in these blocks is regarded as a vital and essential service and hence regulated (when it gets cold here, it gets cold) but the provision of air conditioning is not an essential service, just nice to have…whereas the residents want both to be regarded as essential. Just goes to show how attitudes, expectations and requirements have changed…all underlined by a lack of common sense at the start.

Turning to cricket…there’s been disagreement between players in the test series between Australia and SA if you haven’t been following it and unpleasantness all round, all feeding on itself across social media. Just goes to show how attitudes, expectations and manners have changed…all underlined by a lack of common sense at the start.

I promise more photos and less philosophising in the next blog!