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18 Jan

Folks, I don’t want to alarm you but there’s a crisis brewing.

There’s been an amber warning for snow in England since yesterday afternoon and London has been hit with what people are calling “Snowmaggedon”.

I don’t know if you’ve heard the reports yet:

More than 3,000 schools have been closed in England and Wales as a band of heavy snow affects most of the UK – BBC News

Some stretches of motorways were closed and many A-roads impassable. There were dozens of accidents, many involving lorries that had jack-knifed in the icy conditions. Hundreds of motorists attempted to get out only to get stuck and abandon their vehicles, causing further chaos. The Guardian

 People are awash with chatter of being stuck in offices, stranded on transportation or unable to drive.

I have recorded evidence of Snowmaggedon  below but I must warn you these images are highly disturbing and urge you not to panic at the sights of these streets of London covered by so much snow.

With that warning, I say to you, go forth – albeit cautiously – and look at the pictures.

And remember, the City of London may need you, and you may have to step up in this time of crisis.





E-mails sweeter with kisses?

30 Jan

A British friend recently remarked that my text messages are so stark and blunt because I never end them with a kiss (or “x” in the text messaging world).

She’s absolutely right. Though I don’t have any objections to people signing off with a “x” when they speak to me, the custom of signing off texts, e-mails, and to some extent Facebook messages to your friends and family in this way is still something that I can’t wrap my head around.

Signing off with a kiss in Canada would probably only be used in e-mails to your Grandmother, a best friend (only between girls), or a text message to a potential new partner (aka. Dear Michael, I had a great time on our date last night x). Even a potential partner situation might be overstepping the mark.

After my friend made the comment, I googled signing off with a x and discovered loads of fellow foreigners flabbergasted by the British use of “x”.

“I am just curious about something I have noticed British friends doing,” said one girl on a Lonely Planet travel forum. “In e-mails they often sign off with x’s and here in the US, this type of thing is reserved for just partners and parents. It’s a pretty personal and affectionate thing to do that we don’t do for friends usually”.

Advice came to the girl in the form of people telling her to basically put an “x” into every message to everyone, no matter whom she is e-mailing.

Another Brit told her she uses them for everything or she actually feels rude. But then when she was in Indonesia and her friends there were asking her why she always uses them.

I’m curious how such a personal expression of warmth became so accepted and encouraged by all, but I couldn’t find much on the history.

If you can enlighten me, please do because otherwise I’m sticking with signing off with my name.


A Pronunciation Lesson for Lunch

6 Sep

It’s lunch time and we’re going to press tomorrow, so I figure I don’t have a lot of time. I shoot over to the café across the street and ask for some pasta.

“Which sauce?” asks the burly man, who looks like he’s been dishing out pasta for some twenty years.

“Tomato,” I answer in my Canadian accent (təˈmeɪtoʊ).



“Oh…you mean tomato (təˈmɑːtoʊ).

Of course, I think. I should be used to the British arrogance by now. This man knew what I was saying all along. He was just re-emphasising that I am in his country and thus should pronounce tomato his way.

I sigh (a typical response from me on such occasions).

I think back to those days when I first came to this country when I was around every corner I was met by evidence of a language barrier—yes, there is a language barrier and no, I had not expected it either.

I remember one time when I was looking for a Wi-Fi connection so I could settle down with my MacBook and hunt for jobs. I must have asked the café waitress three times if there was Wi-Fi before she turned to her co-worker with, “You answer her. I have no idea what she’s saying”.

There were other times where I asked for the washroom and people would pretend they didn’t know what I was saying until I said “loo” or “toilets” (which no matter how many times you tell me it’s not crass, I still can’t say).

When I asked my cousins why people didn’t understand me when I said washroom, they just smiled.

“It’s not that they don’t understand you,” they said. “They will just pretend not to”.

I like to think these days I have a better handle on slang and how best to avoid stan

ding out with my Canadian pronunciations, but it is times like these (when I refuse to say təˈmɑːtoʊ because it sounds pretentious to my ears) that I’m reminded of how maddening the Brits and their British English can be.

Back to the Future

15 Aug

You must do the things you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt

Today marks one year since I boarded the plane to England. I thought about some cheesy post related to all the things I love here, or an ode to family and friends who’ve made my adjustment easier (both old and new). But in the end, I settled for an honest account of 14 August, 2010, the day I boarded an Air Transat plane in Toronto.

That day my Dad drove me to Pearson. My mind was on two things: I) Do everything possible to distract said father from the fact I am leaving, so he does not get emotional and II) Do everything possible to distract self from fact I am leaving Canada so I do not get emotional or reveal to father that I am scared shitless as he will try to convince me to stay.

Thus, I valiantly (slight exaggeration) battled every surge of emotion with talk of world events—don’t ask me what was going on in the news at the time, as I don’t remember—or logistics about my temporary place of residence (thanks Coen family).

I thought I did quite well to suppress emotions, throughout a two hour strained drive and a tasteless airport meal, but as I neared the security line I saw my father’s eyes well up.

Shit, I thought, as my heart suddenly began to thump in my chest, what am I doing? I wanted to yell at my Dad that this was a whim, an instinct that I stupidly followed. How could he let me do this? My heart thundered louder. I wanted to turn back and run. But I didn’t say anything. I squeezed my Dad goodbye and burst through the barrier onto the other side, where I could be alone with my fears, leaving a teary eyed father in my wake.

Eleven months later, my father would tell me how he couldn’t remember where he parked the car after he’d dropped me off and ended up wandering around the parking lot. He’d also told me he thought he’d held it together pretty well. I had to laugh.

Once through the barriers, I read all the letters and cards my friends had written me before leaving. Some I’d read before. Others, I had not. Honestly, though, Oscar, Esther, Colleen, Meghann, and everyone else who wrote to me, those letters were (and still are) precious to me, as they reminded me that I had friends and family who would support me in my adventures no matter what – whether England turned out to be a failure or success. For that, I owe a lot to you. For those that wrote to me while I was in England (Kaja and Shanice) it meant just as much.

What I remember is boarding that plane one year ago anxious, frightened, and excited for what awaited me. What I also remember is knowing, in my gut, that this was the right decision for me. A year later, I’m still here, and I don’t regret that terrifying journey for a minute.

Arson and looting and smashing! Oh my!

9 Aug

For the last three days, talk has centred around the London riots. I first heard of them Sunday morning when I learned that at 8:00pm on Saturday the violence began with bottles being thrown at patrol cars, vehicles set alight and looting in Tottenham area (northeast).

The situation has escalated and spread as close to me as Camden (12 minutes by tube) and throughout Croydon, Walthamstow, and Dalston to name a few. On Monday and today I received numerous calls, emails and messages from friends and family asking to be reassured of my safety. I’m OK.

The atmosphere here is not one of a threatened community, but of people who are annoyed by these trouble-making youths and an inability of the police and the government to squelch the violence – though some are more sympathetic to police. Today the increasingly disliked PM David Cameron called for a suspension of Blackberry messenger (so far my BBM has not been suspended).

The Blackberry Blog had been hacked this morning; hackers’ message eloquently read: “You Will _NOT_ assist the UK Police because if u do innocent members of the public who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and owned a blackberry will get charged for no reason at all.”

Though the riots have not personally touched me, they have hit close to home, affecting people I know or the area I work.

One friend who lives in Brick lane couldn’t get home last night because parts of Shoreditch were shut down due to the riots.

Another, who works close two blocks from me, was sent home at 1pm – due to potential rioting in Hatton Garden (the road full of jewellery shops) – to her flat in Wimbledon where more rioting was rumoured to occur tonight.

My boss did a run to the nearby Waitrose and came back saying he thought the grocery store was being advised to close early.

And my housemate tells me there are rumours circulating that looters will hit my high street tonight.

Angry Londoners are utilising social media to express their anger, joining Facebook groups like “I’m a Londoner…I want my city back”, calling the rioters “dicks” in their status, or posting outrageous footage.

At the park near my work, a girl rides in on her bicycle telling her sister they have to get home.

“Mum says they’re smashing up cars and stuff, so we’ve got to get back,” she says, making a fist and smashing it into her opposite palm.

On the train home, two female colleagues chatter about the ongoings. One expresses girlish delight that her flat was on TV last night because rioters looted the shops below.

“Oh, that’s what you texted me last night,” laughs the other.

Still, as they say their goodbyes, they end with “stay safe” (a greeting that has become standard in the last couple days) and the woman whose flat was on TV is left holding her book, staring off into space.

Coffee, Sushi and Chat

26 Jul

I’m in a bit of a mushy mood today – probably because of the realisation I booked my ticket home a week ago combined with the family phone rounds yesterday evening – and thus I would like to list for you all the things I’ve missed the most, and can’t wait to do, following hitting that tarmac at Pearson Airport. Please don’t mistake my mushy mood for homesickness, but an ingrained love associated with home that can never be severed. (I did warn you that this post was going to be mushy, so I take no blame if you just threw up your lunch at that last statement).

Okay, here we go:

  1. Gorge on cheap sushi. And, I do mean gorge. Asian food (or, Oriental, as it is not so politically correctly referred to here) is meagre at best in terms of quality, and about five times the price of what I’m used to in Canada. Hence, I plan to re-hook myself up to the sushi intravenous during my two-week stay.
  2. Order a mountain of pancakes for dinner –yes, dinner. For some reason English people find the idea of breakfast for dinner simply abominable. Their loss!
  3. Sit in Chapters and read on those uncomfortable fake wood box benches. How I’ve missed sitting in bookshops surrounded by fellow cheap book lovers.
  4. Take a stroll through one of Toronto’s lovely parks and try to spot the needles junkies have abandoned.
  5. Dip my toes in the polluted Lake Ontario. (I may hold off on this one since it will be December when I visit).
  6. Have a snowball fight! I’m looking forward to going somewhere in December where they don’t think one centimetre of snow is a big deal, or have never heard of ‘snow tires’.
  7. Sit in coffee shops for hours, just chatting with old friends. In London, I suppose you can substitute pubs for coffee shops, but I just don’t have those people who know me in the same way here. Also, it would be nice to sit and chat without worrying about your inhibitions being lowered.
  8. Endure an inane conversation with the boy barista at Bulldog for the sake of an amazing coffee. Seriously, kind of hoping that kid is long gone by now.
  9. Hijack friends’ couches. Okay, this one is not so much what I’m looking forward to, as a warning to you all. I’m coming for you!
  10. Go shopping! My money will be worth 1.6 times as much! YAY!

Small child meets communicative alien

20 Jul

I’m at a family barbecue. So, to the backdrop of delicious char boiled meat, I think about the fact that next month will mark a year in England. I’m starting to really fit in here, I think.

As I’m having this deeply introspective thought, a small boy (I guess around four or five) taps me on the shoulder with a miniature Ford Focus.

“Very cool car,” I say.
He gives it to me and walks away.

Once out of his sigh, I place the car on a table, so I can have full use of my hands during a conversation (you know, should dramatic gesturing be required).

Later, he returns to my side asking where the car has gone. I point to it, but he doesn’t look away.

“Do you want to see the whole collection he says?”

By this point I feel that we’ve struck up a friendship and so I graciously accept, and excuse myself from a conversation. He leads me down the hall where I encounter a truly admirable collection of jeeps and sedans and (well, I don’t know cars that well).

I, of course, agree the collection is quite good.

And, just as I am in self-congratulatory mode about how well I get along with children this brown eyed boy looks up at me. He tilts his head to the right. “What language are you speaking?”

Oh, right.