"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese

Author John Corby also writes as "Bulldogge" for the British Canadian newspaper.

A Farthingsworth of Tall Tales from Blighty's Fameless Blog
Newsflash from New York (no, not that one!) |  Are the British better drivers? |  The Story of the Telephone Kiosk |  Drinking Nelson's Blood |  Screaming Jelly Babies |  Flying to the UK is very dangerous! |  Brits to drive on the right |  Who hung the monkey? |  Upper class virgins |  Double, double trouble |  What a Lovely Morning for a War

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Britain Finally Adopts the Euro!

The British have always been proud of the Pound. The dust had only just settled following the 1971 change from LSD (Pounds, Shillings and Pence) to the new decimal currency when pressure was piled on Whitehall to adopt the Euro. The Irish - eager to discard their own Pound to create a clear distinction between themselves and the Brits - jumped on the Euro immediately. The British public rebelled. While the rest of Europe coalesced around a single common currency, the Island nation stood steadfast in defence of its Pound.

A newsflash landed on Blighty's Blog's news desk this morning from our correspondent Mr Ya Hoo with the shocking news that Britain has finally relented and the Euro is today the official currency of Great Britain.

The Bank of England will continue to issue Euro paper money printed with the word "Pound" but, since the British Pound is now trading at par with the Euro, the old pound notes and the new "Europound" notes will be freely inter-changeable.

With contributions from Blighty's Blog financial editor Mr £. S. Poof.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

British Man Beats Up Santa Claus

Irate tourists who cashed their government gyro cheques to pay hefty admission charges to a new Christmas theme park in Hampshire, England have been swindled by an unscrupulous theme park operator.

The owner of "Lapland" on the south coast was caught masquerading as Santa Claus (of course, Canadians would have immediately detected the fraud. Santa lives at the North Pole which makes him a Canadian - well the magnetic north pole is indisputably part of Canada anyway eh?).

Once inside Lapland, visitors found the theme park to be little more than a collection of miserable huts. A much vaunted "tunnel of light" turned out to be nothing more than a string of old Christmas lights hung from a row of trees.

When "Santa" was found enjoying a sly smoke out the back of his grotto he was jumped on by a disgruntled park visitor and given a knuckle sandwich.

The owner of Lapland, it turns out, is a convicted tax fraudster.

Story filed by Blighty's Blog Tourism Editor, Jim N. E. Cricket

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Global Warming Ends in Britain

Reports reaching Blighty's Blog from the United Queendom today reveal a severe Arctic blast hitting northern parts. With temperatures falling to near freezing and snowfall accumulating up to 20cm, Britain is expected to grind to a slippery halt as massive school and road closures pound the country.

Britain's snowplow crew has been called out and asked to limit tea breaks to as little as 30 minutes in an effort to keep the country moving. Overnight reports from our Manchester bureau chief Corey Street tell of thousands of stranded motorists. Britain's snowplow will be working overtime in an attempt to clear the nation's highways. Corey reports the crew may be plowing as late as 7:00 each evening although their contract allows for a 60 minute paid meal break at 5:00pm.

Motorists are urged to push their stranded vehicles clear of the highway because under health and safety executive rules the snow plowman's union does not permit snow plows to drive around stranded vehicles.

The met office in London has put out a warning to motorists throughout Britain to stay off the roads except for essential journeys because temperatures could plummet to near freezing on higher ground.

Expat Canadians living in Britain have found shelter inside Spar grocery stores where Tim Horton's donut store outlets have been opening. Interviewed for Blighty's Blog, none of the expats have reported finding anywhere to buy a decent snow shovel, snow blower or snow tires for their cars.

The unusually harsh British winter is expected to last well into the early part of February when the garden centres re-open with early season sales of fresh daffodils and crocuses.

Staff writer.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Don't forget your mobile!

At first glance I thought this was a very sensible sign. It is posted near the entrance to an abandoned lead mine in the English Peak District.

I had just been down the mine. It is now a tourist attraction. For a few quid the operators will take you a couple of hundred feet below the ground and give you a long boat ride through a low, dark, dank and narrow passageway to a natural cave way below the surface of the beautiful English Peak District in Derbyshire's Pennines.

The area is popular with tourists and hikers. Of course it is only reasonable to warn the hikers that if they stray from the trail they may receive an unexpected opportunity to take a shortcut to the deepest reaches of the mine, bypassing the booth at which other tourists pay their admission fee.

If you will be visiting the Winnats Pass in Derbyshire and find yourself suddenly at the bottom of an abandoned mineshaft, please call 01623 646333. Oh, by the way, don't forget to take your mobile.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Literate Dogs Welcome

It was a perfect summer's day in England. Perfect in the sense that it hadn't rained for almost an hour.

I stood on the shore of Lake Windermere in the English Lake District marvelling at the peace and serenity of this most beautiful corner of my birthland.

On the odd occasion when the Sun peered out from behind the angry dark clouds in the sky, yellow rays of sunlight glinted off the surface of the water as it rippled gently in the light summer breeze.

Suddenly out of nowhere, an RAF Eurofighter jet roared down the lake then lifted its nose, lit it's afterburners and in an attempt to drill a six inch hole through my skull, made the second loudest noise I have ever experienced (see footnote) then disappeared over the horizon as quickly as it had arrived.

Assuming that World War III had just been declared and that we would all be dead by teatime I decided to grab a spot of lunch.

As I left the hostelry in which I had enjoyed an excellent sampling of the local food and beer I saw this amusing sign. I wonder how they were able to determine whether dogs were entering the premises under false pretences?

Footnote: The number one loudest noise I have ever experienced was self-inflicted. I parked my car at the end of a runway at Toronto's Pearson airport and wound down the window while Concorde was taking off directly overhead. I regained my hearing three days later.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Supermarket Endorses British Products

A major Canadian supermarket chain has this week strongly endorsed British food products writes Blighty's Blog business correspondent Don River. But beneath the announcement, writes Don, there lurks a sinister agenda.

In a surprise announcement this week, one of Canada's largest corporate supermarket chains has identified British food as "wickedly good". The chain has invested thousands of dollars promoting imported British food as part of its Christmas marketing campaign. However, the Blighty's Blog investigative team of reporters has uncovered unsettling facts surrounding the announcement.

The products are advertised as "Imported from Scotland" but, as Don River's investigations have revealed, the products in fact come from Scotland, Ontario - a small community in south-western Ontario's Brant County. "The first clue that lead to the discovery" writes Don "was the Canadian packaging". The original manufacturer in "Scotland" could not be identified from the package, but as exclusively revealed to Blighty's Blog, the products are in fact made by a Mrs Eilean Donan who was born in Toronto, but whose grandfather emigrated from Aberdeen in 1934.

Editorial note: Don River has updated his story. The products do , in fact, come from Scotland, UK. The error arose as a result of a lunchtime meeting with Don's informant - a Mr Johnny Walker. Blighty's Blog apologizes to the giant corporate supermarket for the misinformation. but upholds its story about the dubious origins of the product manufacturer and the anonymous single malt whisky distillery. Ed.

The investigation was spurred by another item on the product label: "made with single malt whisky". When questioned by a Blighty's Blog reporter, Mrs Donan was unable to identify which distillery the whisky came from. As our team later uncovered, there is not a single whisky distillery anywhere in Scotland, Ontario!

Blighty's Tuck Store president, John Corby, was reached and gave these comments:
"Well I certainly welcome this ringing endorsement of our products from such a powerful industry player" he said "and I strongly applaud Don River for uncovering the hidden big corporate agenda. I have faith in the Canadian public's ability to discern the advantages of supporting small, honest businesses like ourselves."

Blighty's Tuck Store (www.blightys.com) carries products from Scotland, UK whose original manufacturer is clearly identified. Some of these products are made with single malt whisky from a distillery that is also clearly identified.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Another Silly British Sign

As Blighty's blog readers may already be aware, I collect silly signs. And the best silly signs are to be found in the home of the English language - Great Britain.

This sign is one of my absolute favourites. I found it outside a jewellery shop in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. It would seem to indicate that the shop's proprietor operates some kind of extortion racket.

"Deposits will be taken", not "deposits may be left" against any item. Apparently customers are not offered any option - deposits WILL be taken. "And can be paid off in instalments". What? The deposits can be paid off in instalments? What kind of scam is this?

If your future travels to England include a visit to Chesterfield, take great care - it's a very dangerous place. Even the parish church has a crooked spire - no kidding!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Definitive British Visitor's Guide to Canada

by our southern correspondent Don Woad

There are two official languages called "French" and "English". Neither bears more than a passing resemblance to the original European versions.

... it's bloody big and, for most of the year, it's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

As the unofficial British Consular Office in Orangeville, Ontario Blighty's Tuck Store is often called upon to offer advice on many subject matters relating to life in Canada for expatriate Britons. Today, for the benefit of new settlers and visitors from the British Isles, we are going to start with a brief outline of the country itself and how to communicate here. In the second part of the series, our northern correspondent, Clifton Hill, will write about a part of Canada few Canadians even know exists - the Arctic.

Canada's Official Languages
First, the languages. There are two official languages called "French" and "English". Neither bears more than a passing resemblance to the original European versions. Canadian English is loosely linked to the Queen's English but there are several important differences with which British settlers and visitors should acquaint themselves prior to any visit to the coldest part of the Commonwealth.

There are 52 letters in the Canadian English alphabet. Two of them are "d's", none of them are "t's" and 26 of them are "r's". It is unacceptable to enunciate the letter "t" in Canada. In order to encumber rapid diction and thereby facilitate multi-cultural inter-communication, the letter "r" at the end of a word is repeated many times until one's breath is exhausted (e.g. "whateverrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr").

British settlers may also be confused by a modern system of vowel substitution prevalent in Canada. You will have learned the five basic, distinctively individual Queen's English vowel sounds early in your schooldays. You will, therefore, inevitably find it confusing to discover that in Canada the five vowels have been condensed to one single generic, guttural vowel that is difficult to document but sounds similar to "uh".

The Geography of Canada

Let us now progress to a lesson in Canadian geography. First, it's bloody big and, for most of the year, it's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. It is generally referred to as the "Great White North" - you will quickly learn why. There is only one paved road; it's called the "Trans-Canada" and it winds all the way along the American border from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Canadians live all along the Trans-Canada in places they call "cities" even though very few of these "cities" actually have a cathedral. Here are some of the major cities along the Trans-Canada:

Halifax: A completely fraudulent impersonation of the original in Yorkshire, England. An attempt was made to destroy this imposter by an enormous explosion early in the 20th Century. Tragically, the attempt resulted in mass casualties but the city itself survived. Beware, it is now heavily defended by the Canadian Armed Forces.

Kaybeck Siddy: The redcoats decisively beat the French here, but despite this the French still govern Canada: "Quoi?" It is almost illegal to speak any kind of English whatsoever in Kaybeck Siddy. It is certainly illegal to use written English; you will be imprisoned by the Kaybeck Language Police for attempting to do so.

Montreal: A real city: it has two cathedrals - just like Liverpool. It used to be the biggest and best city in Canada but when the French took over, the English all moved out. Note that the name of this city is the only Canadian word in which the letter "t" is pronounced - to distinguish real Canadians from the French who pronounce the city's name "Monray-al"

Uhdwuh - Canada's capital. Nothing important happens here partly because it remains frozen for most of the year. About every four years Canadians select a hostage from their local community to be sent there. They never hear from the hostage again and seem to be unsure about the purpose of the tradition. They suspect the hostages are treated well because there is often fierce competition to be selected.

Dronnuh (also pronounced "Dorondo" by prententious Canadians) - where anglo-MonTrealerrrrrrrrrrrs fled when the French took control. This is the city from which Canada is really governed. Canadians generally believe that fat rich men with large satchels of money meet at the corner of King and Bay Streets to buy bits of Canada from each other.

Winterpeg (enough said - stay away)

Calgary ("yee-haw" - stay away)

Vancouver - a balmy settlement on the Pacific coast. A large, prime piece of real estate overlooking "English Bay" is called "The British Properties". Go there.

The Weather in Canada
Very simply: brass monkey weather with lots of snow nine months of the year. Stinking hot, humid and entirely populated with man-eating insects during the rest of the year.

Phrases to use while in Canada:
1. Howuh you d'day - a colloquial, rhetorical greeting. Try to sound disinterested while using this phrase to preserve its rhetorical nature. A friendly intonation may incur the response "nod do bad; yerself?" The subsequent interlocutory exchange may exhaust your ability to communicate in the Great White North.

2. Yuh rilly eh? - a generic response to any statement that serves to indicate to your interlocutor that you are [a] still alive and [b] passably sober. Use this phrase liberally; it will preserve your apparent social skills when you have absolutely no idea what a Canadian is trying to convey to you in his strange and bizarre dialect.

That's about it really. You can live for days using just these two phrases.

One final word. Stay away from the local beer - just like the whole damned place it is insufferably cold. Some settlers have described it as like "having an accident with a knife while in a canoe" (bloody close to water).

In the next part: "... and it gets even colder ..."

Friday, October 17, 2008

British Silly Signs

Some people are blessed with the ability to write a coherent phrase or sentence. The rest, it seems, write signs. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the home of the English language - the United Queendom.

It gives me great pleasure to read the works of signwriters. The daily stress of living simply melts away as I fold over and guffaw at their blunders.

Alright, some signs are genuinely inspiring. I'll share some of those another time. Others inspire nothing but bewilderment. The best ones abuse the rules of grammar or reveal the confused state of mind of their authors. Today's example was discovered during a recent visit to the rainy home shores of the Angles, Saxons and Celts.

"Dead Slow Hoot" it proclaimed. We can all guess what the author intended, but the word "hoot" is so unusual in Canada that I added the sign to my growing collection. The wicked pedia defines "hoot" as the cry of an owl. I can drive slowly, but I am afraid my owl impersonation is not very good.

Apparently "hoot" is also sometimes used as a slang word for cocaine. Perhaps the sign should have said "drive with speed".

Thursday, October 16, 2008

CCTV Surveillance

I wasn't impressed. I had been on TV before. Prior to being swept out of the corporate world by yet another downsizing I had received an invitation to be interviewed live on a Toronto TV station.

I was quite excited - and a little apprehensive. Then they asked me to perch my buttocks on the uncomfortable corner of a desk in front of a camera that also served as a monitor. I could see what was being broadcast in the monitor in front of me. I gritted my teeth, ignoring the pain in my rear end and focussed on the interviewer's questions. The real star of the show was the interviewer who was actually in another room. We never saw each other except on the screens in front of us.

Now, visiting my native Britain, and with the urge to answer the call of nature, I was faced with another opportunity to appear on TV. But why, I thought, would the British public be interested in my visit to the closet of convenience when Canadians had been regaled with tales of my achievements in the corporate business world?

I looked at the sign again. Where I had read "the entrants to these toilets are under CCTV surveillance" the sign actually said something quite different. It was actually the toilet entrance that the British public were interested in seeing. So I thought there must be a grammatical error in the sign.

Then I remembered the collective nouns which the British embrace so dearly. For example, when referring to the English national football team they say "England ARE doing well" (rarely actually) instead of "England IS doing well". So then "entrance" must be one of their collective nouns ...

... continued on page 94.

The British Telephone Kiosk

They are big, red and everywhere; at least in the UK anyway. The uniquely British telephone kiosk is one of the fondest reminders of everything British.

They were introduced in 1924 based on a design produced by an English architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

British phone kiosks were painted red to attract the attention of vandals who would routinely break the windows and render the telecommunications equipment inside totally inoperable.

The kiosks were constructed of cast iron so that even when the vandals had completed their handiwork the structure itself would remain intact for tourists to admire.

The doors are notoriously difficult to open. This feature ensures that fit young vandals are able to gain access, but after they have finished modifying the equipment inside, old ladies will be unable to enter. This seems to make sense because the elderly ladies would be unable to make a telephone call with the broken equipment anyway.

But why did Sir Giles design such a monstrous piece of street architecture in the first place? The commonly held belief is that the primary design imperative was for a structure that would shelter the British public from the incessant rain that falls on the United Queendom throughout the year.

Perhaps the popularity of mobile phones has reduced the need for many of Britain's telephone kiosks. Thousands have been refurbished and shipped to North America where they stand like a beacon outside restaurants to attract a whole new set of vandals. A refurbished British telephone kiosk can be purchased for around a couple of thousand bucks or you can buy a six inch high replica at Blighty's for significantly less.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Sneak Peak at the British!

Ever wonder what's going on over there? You know, in Britain. What are the British up to? Where are they going? What are they doing?

Don't you wish you could take a sneak peak at your old home town? Wouldn't it be nice to see the city you grew up in again - without zooming across the Atlantic Ocean?

Well now you have a couple of options. Thanks to the great folks at Google you can download their free software called "Google Earth" and - in a virtual sense - fly to the UK and drive down the streets you know and love. Based mainly on high resolution satellite images, Google Earth uses cunning computer technology to give you a living, 3 dimensional picture of anywhere on Earth. With a flick of the mouse you can drive down The Mall and arrive at the gates of Buckingham Palace in London, or cruise down Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

Do you want to know whether your old high school is still standing? Check it out on Google Earth! Would you like to visit the Coronation Street set at Granada TV Studios in Manchester? Type it into Google Earth's search box and fly there!

Better set aside a few hours to play with it though, Google Earth can be highly addictive. Before you know it you'll have visited every place you went to when you were younger and every place you meant to go see but never got around to it.

But wait! There's another choice too. The grand old Auntie Beeb, the BBC, maintains a collection of webcams around England. You can check out live cameras in cities, in rural locations, on beaches, famous landmarks and even British wildlife - all on live cameras connected to the Internet. Visit the BBC's webcam site at: www.bbc.co.uk/england/webcams and prepare for some nostalgia.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Earl Grey's Secrets Revealed

Star Trek fans will remember that starship Captain Jean-Luc Picard - the Frenchman with the strangely British accent - was a devotee of Earl Grey tea. But what is Earl Grey tea and who was Earl Grey?

Traditionally, Earl Grey tea is black tea flavoured with oil of Bergamot. If you read my post of a few days ago you will understand that the term "black tea" does not refer to tea made without milk. Black tea is a preparation of tea leaves made by oxidising the leaves (a process called "fermentation"). Black teas are the most common variety although green teas (made by drying tea leaves without fermentation) are gaining in relative popularity.

Oil of Bergamot is made by extracting the natural aromatic oils from the peel of Bergamot Oranges which originate from Italy. Incidentally, the same oils form the basis of Eau de Cologne.

The tea's name comes from its original patron, the 2nd Earl Grey, Prime Minister of Britain from 1830 until 1834. There are fanciful legends surrounding how the Earl was introduced to Bergamot Oil flavoured tea but the truth is lost in history. What is known is that the Earl held the tea in high regard and instructed his tea merchants - Twinings - to come up with a formulation of their own.

Earl Grey tea has been continuously popular from the 19th all the way through to the 23rd Century in tearooms from England to the furthest reaches of outer space.

Postscript: Blightys online tea shop at: www.blightys.com/TeaShop.html is now open. At Blighty's Tuck Store we have 20 feet of shelf space dedicated to imported British teas and every one of them is now available to online shoppers. Stop by today and grab a great cuppa.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Are the British Better Drivers?

Following my theme of "why do the British drive on the left", I have another theory to put to the test. Are British drivers more skillful than Canadian drivers?

Why should they be? Why should the citizens of one country possess better driving skills than the citizens of any other country? I sat down in my thinking chair with a drop of Nelson's Blood (see yesterday's post) and came up with an answer.

But first, what do I mean by British drivers are better than Canadian drivers? British drivers never have to face the wrath of a February blizzard, or learn the art of braking on a sheet of ice after a freezing rain storm.

OK, this isn't based on any scientific or industry expert study, just my own eyeball observations centred on just two things: observance of traffic signals and the ability to negotiate bends in the road.

First, let's admit it, Canadian drivers run red lights routinely. At every light change, at every intersection in the Greater Toronto Area, a vehicle - and quite often more than one - runs a red light. Secondly, Canadian drivers seem to regard the left hand side of the road and the shoulder as legitimate extensions of their driving lane whenever they encounter even the mildest bend in the road.

In July this year I drove over 2000 miles in Britain and I only saw maybe two cars run a red light. I also witnessed tens of thousands of cars drive skilfully within the confines of the very narrow, winding lanes on British roads.

So why don't British drivers run as many red lights as Canadian drivers? Because there are tens of thousands of traffic cameras watching them almost everywhere they go!

And why do British drivers demonstrate consistently better use of the steering wheel than Canadians, despite their very narrow, winding roads? Canadians have a shoulder at the side of the road (on which plows pile the winter snows), the British do not. In Britain, any excursion over the edge of the road will likely result in a seriously injurious off-road experience. So why might British drivers be better? They don't have any choice, God help them!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Royal Navy Legend

In October 1805 Royal Navy sailors drank the blood of the dead hero Horatio Lord Nelson - or so the legend goes.

Shocked? Well, there is a little more to the story and no disrespect is intended to members of the Senior Service.

As we all know, Nelson was a brilliant Admiral and by virtue of his outstanding abilities and superior tactics, he overcame a superior enemy force of Spanish and French ships at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Standing on the deck of his flagship HMS Victory, savouring the certainty of victory in the battle, Nelson was struck down by an enemy sniper and died of his wounds.

It was a long way back from Cape Trafalgar to the nearest port in England and burial at sea was not an option for a national hero. Instead, his crew placed his body inside a barrel of rum to preserve it during the long voyage home.

When HMS Victory made dock in England, Nelson's pickled body was removed and received a state funeral. Only then was it discovered that the sailors had bored a hole in the bottom of the barrel and slowly drained the rum along with a drop or two of Nelson's blood.

To this day, Royal Navy sailors know rum as "Nelson's Blood".

Monday, September 29, 2008

Give Your Boss a Goose Today

Happy Michaelmas Day. Today is the 29th day of September. I hope you remembered to buy a nice fat goose over the weekend. Michaelmas Day (the correct way to pronounce it sounds like "Mickelmas") is traditionally the day on which a landowner's tenants would present him with a goose - and pay their rent.

Legend has it that if you eat goose on Michaelmas Day you will never lack money all year. I suppose if your tenants all line up to pay their rents and each one presents you with a goose then you will definitely be sitting pretty.

Michaelmas Day is named after the Archangel Michael, one of whose tasks is to protect us from the evils of darkness. Since Michaelmas Day comes just a week after the Autumn Equinox, the shorter nights are becoming more noticeable now and Michael is probably tightening his bootstraps for another long season of hard work.

Today is one of the four "Quarter Days" in the old British calendar year on which contracts would begin and end and on which servants would be hired. The others are Lady Day (March 25th), Midsummer Day (June 24th) and Christmas Day (December 25th).

Although now less important there are still some notable key events occuring on Quarter Days. Perhaps the most significant is the start of the British tax year on April 6th. April 6th is a Quarter Day under the old Julian calendar and is often referred to as "Old Lady Day". I am sure that some confused senior citizens would be less than flattered to be associated with the collection of taxes.

Perhaps the Canada Revenue Service would look kindly upon you if you drive down to your local tax office and present them with a goose along with your tax return next April. Just tell them it's an old British Quarter Day tradition, but better omit to tell them the bit about never lacking money all year - plead poverty.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

2000 Pints of Lager (and a Packet of Crisps?)

2000 pints of lager were delivered to Windsor Castle this week. The draymen must have wondered what the Royal Family were planning; a wild Windsor party perhaps? Surely a nice cup of tea would have been a more appropriate beverage for the royals, but no, the address on the delivery note definitely said "the Windsor Castle".

Castle staff raised the portcullis and lowered the drawbridge over the moat while halberd bearing royal staff read the delivery note. Shaking their heads they turned the lorry around and refused the delivery. It transpired that the lager was intended for a pub in the nearby town of Maidenhead. The pub, called "the Windsor Castle", was planning to host a large number of lager louts during the International soccer game between England and Crotia.

By the way, England won the soccer game by a score of 4-1. That result was also thought to be a mistake by many people.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Golliwogs - An American Tradition?

I was always a little suspicious of gollies when I was a child. They just didn't look British, but those big eyes, great big smile and wide open arms made them look trustworthy enough.

My childhood suspicions proved to be justified. Beloved by children in the UK for over a hundred years they may be, but true Brits they are not. The golliwog was nurtured in Britain but it actually has an American heritage.

The British golliwog doll was originally based on a a character in a book written by an American woman who emigrated to Britain while still a child.

The famous Robertson's Gollies seen on jam jars in the UK weren't even a truly British icon. One of the company's principals saw children playing with golliwog dolls in the United States and transferred the idea to his company's products (with huge success) in the UK. Enamel "Golly" badges could be earned by collecting labels from Robertson's jam jars. The company finally dropped Robertson's Golly badges in 2001 following much controversy stimulated by the political correctness movement.

Golliwogs are difficult to find in Britain now due to the prevailing politically correct atmosphere there. Fortunately, they are still made for export and can be found at Blighty's where we don't attach any deep significance to the imagery associated with them beyond knowing that children love them.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Screaming Jelly Babies

When I was a nipper the custom among youngsters was to bite the heads off Jelly Babies before eating the rest of their bodies. Bizarre yes, but tame compared to some of the other antics we got up to in those days.

In more modern days even greater indignities are perpetrated on these poor innocents. I witnessed one such example while visiting the United Queendom this summer. It is called "Screaming Jelly Babies". The demonstration is often performed by school science teachers to stimulate interest in science among students. It involves melting a certain chemical in a test tube (I won't disclose the chemical involved to prevent accusations of participation in the cruelty). A Jelly Baby is then mercilessly dropped into the test tube. The Jelly Baby immediately bursts into colourful flames and makes a screaming sound as it is consumed by the fire.

But what are Jelly Babies and where do they come from? Their history goes back to the end of the First World War when they were first marketed as "Peace Babies". After the Second World War the idea of peace seemed abstract and the product was re-launched as Jelly Babies.

Prior to 1989 all Jelly Babies were the same shape; the only variation being their individual colours. Around 1989 Jelly Babies were given different shapes and their own names. We now have "Brilliant Strawberry", "Lemon Bubbles", "Boofuls Lime", "Big Heart Blackcurrant", "Bumper Orange" and "Baby Bonny Raspberry".

Now when somebody performs an indignity on a Jelly Baby the victim has an identity!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Don't Say You're English

There is a poem making its way around the Internet recently lamenting the erosion of English identity. "English" is no longer accepted as a nationality by the British government. One must now be "British". The following verse was brought into the store and presented to me by a senior gentleman of English heritage this morning.

Goodbye to my England, so long my old friend
Your days are numbered, being brought to an end
To be Scottish, Irish or Welsh that's fine
But don't say you're English, that's way out of line.

The French and the Germans may call themselves such
As may Norwegians, the Swedes and the Dutch
You can say you are Russian or maybe a Dane
But don't say you're English ever again.

At Broadcasting House the word is taboo
In Brussels it's scrapped, in Parliament too
Even schools are affected, staff do as they're told
They must not teach children about England of old.

Writers like Shakespeare, Milton and Shaw
Do the pupils not learn about them anymore?
How about Agincourt, Hastings, Arnhem or Mons
When England lost hosts of her very brave sons?

We are not Europeans, how can we be?
Europe is miles away over the sea.
We're the English from England, let's all be proud
Stand up and be counted - shout it out loud.

Let's tell our government and Brussels too
We're proud of our heritage and the Red, White and Blue
Fly the flag of St George or the Union Jack
Let the world know - we want our England back!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is Flying to the UK Dangerous?

Flying to the UK could be hazardous to your health! I know, there are lots of statistics suggesting that flying is safer than crossing the road. Strangely, flying to the UK from Europe is perfectly safe, but flying to the UK from North America poses a very real threat to your long term health.

The reason for this strange phenomenon is to be found in the science of astrophysics. I won't bore you with the science in this post; I'll just keep it simple. The galaxy in which our Sun and the Earth are located is a dangerous source of cosmic rays. These are the highly dangerous form of radiation that would quickly kill astronauts if they were not adequately protected. The Earth's magnetic field shields us from cosmic rays to some extent, but it doesn't do so evenly all over the planet.

The safest place on Earth is at the equator where the Earth's magnetic field lies parallel to the Earth's surface repelling the rays quite effectively. But, at the north and south magnetic poles the Earth's magnetic field runs perpendicular to the surface, drawing the cosmic rays down towards the ground.

Planes flying between Canada and the UK take a polar route flying very close to the region where cosmic rays are concentrated down towards the Earth's surface. Cosmic radiation is naturally higher at greater altitudes so flyers incur the double jeopardy of altitude and latitude leading to increased radiation exposure.

But don't worry; you will only spend a couple of hours in the high cosmic radiation zone - unless you are a member of a flight crew and work the transatlantic route regularly.

Footnote: Regular readers know that not everything they read on this blog is to be taken literally; I do like to have a little mischievous fun from time to time. However, today's science bulletin is not one of those occasions. It is taken from a very serious scientific book that I have read recently. Send me a comment (using the link at the bottom of the post) if you would like to be sent the reference details.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Brits to drive on the right?

There is a significant update to this blog's previous story, Why do the British drive on the left? In a surprise announcement from Downing Street this afternoon a dramatic new proposal left the British people shaking their heads.

It rather seems as though British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is becoming increasingly desperate to hold onto the reins of power in the UK. Now he is trying to curry favour with French President Nicolas Sarkozy by putting forward proposals in a study paper that would create a harmonization of traffic flows between the UK mainland and the rest of Europe. Put simply it means that the PM intends to force British motorists to drive on the right hand side of the road like the rest of the EU.

The Downing Street proposal calls for a phased approach in which by 2012, the year of the London Olympics, Britain's 22 million cars will be driving on the right hand side of her roads instead of the left. The move is touted to be an appeasement to the millions of foreign visitors who will be in the nation's capital for the Olympic Games. If passed by parliament the plan is also expected to put European leaders' support behind Mr Brown in his bid for a successful re-election of his ruling Labour Party.

If the switchover is successful the government proposes to implement a second phase of the plan in which all trucks and buses will then join the cars on the right hand side of Britain's roads by the end of the following year.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Tarts of Bakewell

If a recent newspaper report is accurate we may soon witness an end to sales of the popular "Bakewell Tart" at Blighty's Tuck Store.

It seems that the bakers of Bakewell in Derbyshire are seeking a European injunction to protect their brand. If they are successful (as were the bakers of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire recently) we may have to re-christen our tarts. Bakewell's bakers want the EU to regulate the use of the name "Bakewell" so that only Bakewell bakers can use it to describe their eponymous product.

Their argument goes something along the lines of "Bakewell bakers bake Bakewell Tarts well but other bakers bake them not so well as well so Bakewell bakers should be the only bakers to sell Bakewell Tarts."

I sampled the tarts of Bakewell in Bakewell, let me see - well it must have been in July on my way, well-dressed, to a well-dressing near Bakewell. They were certainly baked well but they cost an awful lot more than the fine, fresh little tarts to be had at Blighty's Tuck Store every thursday morning.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Who Hung the Monkey?

One of the most bizarre British legends comes from the north east of England. It is a tale of fear, misunderstanding and, for the people of Hartlepool, perhaps their only claim to fame - or shame - depending on how you interpret the story.

During the Napoleonic wars a French ship foundered just off the coast of England near Hartlepool. The citizens of England were naturally very apprehensive about the possibility of a French invasion and watched the shipwreck very intently. A sole survivor was washed ashore; not a French sailor, but the ship's mascot - a monkey. The ship's crew had proudly dressed their mascot in a sailor's uniform.

The local townsfolk seized the monkey and taking it for a French spy, sentenced the unfortunate creature to summary execution by hanging. To this day, people from Hartlepool are often greeted with the derisory greeting: "who hung the monkey?".

Critics of the legend believe it to be untrue. Since Hartlepool is a seaport, they argue, the residents would have met many foreign sailors - including Frenchmen - and would know the difference between a Frenchman and a monkey.

I believe the story may be true but the explanation is less derogatory to the people of Hartlepool than the traditional interpretation. The Napoleonic wars had resulted in mass recruitment to the armies of Great Britain. Many thousands of British soldiers had fallen in European battles in the quest to curb Napoleon's ambition for conquest. Hatred for the French would have been at a level comparable to the hatred for Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

It is quite plausible that the people of Hartlepool knew exactly what they had found on the beach that fateful day and hanged the monkey as a symbol of all the resentment and hatred for the enemy.

So, if you are from Hartlepool, hold your head up high when somebody grins and asks you "who hung the monkey", then tell them why.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

British Titles & Honours

Isn't the UK a wonderful country? You can be born a lowly serf without two brass farthings to rub together, learn to play a guitar, and by the time you are ready to retire you get an invitation to Buckingham Palace to receive a gong from the Queen. After that it's easy street for you; invitations to open village fetes, a seat on the board of major corporations; serfs bowing to you in the street. Blimey, the toffs have it good!

The UK has one of the most extensive systems of titles and honours in the World, but what do all those titles and honours actually mean? "Lord Muck", as we say in London, is right at the bottom of the aristocratic totem pole. As one of the holders of that title I'll walk you through the aristocratic hierarchy of the British Isles.

At the top is Her Majesty The Queen. She is the only person in the Commonwealth who can be addressed as "Her Majesty" and has sole authority to bestow titles and honours on her subjects (although governments often select the candidates or, in the case of Canada, forbid their citizens to hold foreign titles).

Next in the pecking order come members of the Royal Family who hold the title of "His/Her Royal Highness".

Next in line are the peers. There are five ranks of the peerage:
1. Dukes
2. Marquesses
3. Earls
4. Viscounts
5. Barons
All except Dukes can be referred to as "Lord". All are members of the British House of Lords and were hereditary until 1958 . Since 1958 there are also Life Peers with the rank of baron. Persons called "Lord" or "Lady"+first and last name have courtesy titles meaning they are sons or daughters of a peer.

Below the peerage are two classes of knights entitled to be addressed as "Sir"+first name:
1. Baronets - a hereditary title
2. Knights - a non-hereditary title
Wives of knights may be addressed as "Lady"+surname

Orders of Chivalry
1. Order of the Garter (K.G.)
2. O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) has 5 grades:
i. Knights Grand Cross (G.B.E.) carries title "Sir"
ii. Knights Commander (K.B.E.) carries title "Sir". Female holders are called "Dame" (D.B.E.)
iii. Commanders (C.B.E)
iv. Officers (O.B.E.)
v. Members (M.B.E.)

Orders of the Bath (G.C.B. etc) similarly has five grades
Order of St Michael (G.C.M.G etc) similarly has five grades
Royal Victorian Order (G.C.V.O. etc) similarly has five grades
Order of Merit (O.M.)
Order of the Companions of Honour (C.H.)

Down among the weasels, stoats and ferrets comes "Lord Muck" - like owners of shops in the Commonwealth flogging British stuff. Is it too late for me to learn to play the guitar?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Visit to Aidensfield

There was a break in the rain for part of my recent visit to the UK. I took advantage of it to drive over the North Yorkshire Moors and through the beautiful little moorland village of Goathland. This picturesque village sits on top of the moors a few miles from Whitby. It is a very small village but it attracts a huge number of visitors every year. Several busloads of tourists were strolling through the place while I was there. Of course, Goathland is the filming location for the enormously popular TV show "Heartbeat".

I enjoyed lunch in the Goathland Hotel (aka the "Aidensfield Arms") and spent a few pounds in the souvenir shop inside "Scripps Garage". The village and the buildings in which the TV show is filmed look just like you see them on TV. If you are travelling to the UK this summer and your travels take you to Yorkshire, then put "Aidensfield" on your itinerary. You can reach Goathland by road, or even better take a ride on a steam train with the North Yorkshire Moors railway. Trains out of Whitby station stop at Goathland.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The United Queendom?

I often sit in the store, munching on my Walkers Cheese & Onion crisps, or gnawing on a bar of delicious imported, British-made Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate ("chocolate flavoured candy" to the loonies at the Canadian Fool Inspection Agency) while musing philosophically about various matters.

Some time ago, as I popped another mouth-watering Marks & Spencer Custard Cream biscuit (buy one get one free while stocks last at Blighty's) in my mouth, I wondered why the United Kingdom is not called the "United Queendom". After all, our head of state has been a queen, not a king, for the last 55 years.

We British have always been driven by tradition. We don't take lightly to change. And so it is with the name of our native country. The United Kingdom was so named in the year 1707 when the throne of Scotland was merged with the throne of England.

The thrones of England and Scotland had actually been held by a single monarch since 1603 when James I (James VI of Scotland) ascended the English throne following the death of Elizabeth I. Nonetheless, the two kingdoms were separate until the Act of Union in 1707.

So, there you have it. Kings and Queens don't usually last longer than about 60 years, but the "United Kingdom" has been in existence for over 300 years.

My little barb directed at the Canada Food Inspection Agency was based on the fact that Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate AND Canada were both invented in England. The chocolate came first! Nonetheless, the CFIA does not allow British made chocolate to be called "chocolate" in Canada!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Driving in Britain

A Canadian friend of mine, who should have known better, incurred the wrath of a British lorry driver during our recent trip to the UK. It seems that Canadians driving in Britain have to learn to adapt to a lot more than just driving on the wrong side of the road.

My erring friend (we'll call her "Bonnie" - not her real name) was in the lead vehicle of the convoy of rented cars in which our group was travelling. She was navigating our route with the aid of a "sat nav". In Britain, GPS devices are usually called "sat nav" (satellite navigation).

As we reached each roundabout on our route she would extend her arm from the car window and indicate which exit we should take by holding up the appropriate number of fingers. You can probably guess where this story is leading.

Somewhere, on a major route in the heart of England the voice on the sat nav called for the second exit at the next roundabout. Bonnie dutifully wound down the window, stretched out her arm and signalled the second exit with her fingers.

A lorry had managed to get in the middle of the convoy, directly behind Bonnie's car. Upon seeing Bonnie's signal, the lorry driver moved his vehicle to within inches of Bonnie's rear bumper, leaned on his horn to attract her attention and returned her "2nd exit" signal with great vigour.

An explanation for non-Brits:
- A "lorry" is a British transport truck also known as an "HGV" (Heavy Goods Vehicle). Lorry drivers are not reknowned for their patience, courtesy and consideration for other road users.
- Gestures involving the display of extended fingers are always dangerous. In Britain gesturing with the forefinger and second finger is considered particularly offensive.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Security Alert!

Another ripping yarn from John's adventures in the Land of Hope and Glory this summer. Actually this episode of the story happened before I had even left Canada. A few blog posts ago I told the story of the Cadbury Chocolate Spread (a good buy at Blighty's for only $6.99 for a stonking big pot) that had been confiscated from a Blighty's customer by UK security officials. So, you would think that the subject would be at the front of my mind as I began my own travels. Apparently not.

As my carry-on bag passed through the X-ray machine at Pearson Airport in Toronto prior to departure I observed one of the eagle-eyed officials gesture towards it. "Oh my gawd" I thought, "what have I been and gone and done wrong now?" (I often entertain private thoughts in my native Cockney, even though I rarely speak that way anymore).

My carry-on passed along the conveyor to a second official who inquired "is this your bag sir?". "Yes, that's mine" I replied. "Do you mind if I take a look inside?" he continued. He then proceeded to rifle through my collection of toiletries, emergency underwear, compact thermonuclear detonators and portable electronics, then laid his hand on a large bottle of maple syrup intended as a loving gift for my aging, infirm mother in Blighty. I had thoughtlessly thrown it into my carry-on bag in the vain expectation that its passage to the UK would be safer than in my checked baggage.

The official was most apologetic but, nonetheless, my dear old mum's maple syrup was destined for the incinerator.

She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed cudgelled me in the earhole for my error, then cudgelled me again for good measure. Then we noticed a souvenir store only steps away from the point of my misadventure. We entered the store to purchase a replacement gift for my dear old mum, and - bloomin' 'eck - what did we see? Right there on the shelf - a bottle of maple syrup that was identical to the one that had just been confiscated from me!

There are two conclusions to draw from this tale:
1. For security reasons you may not take any liquid or gel greater than 100ml on board an aircraft - UNLESS you purchased it from the duty-free shop inside the airport.
2. If you want to interfere with the operation of an aircraft, tamper with bottles of maple syrup sold from duty free shops inside Toronto airport. Oh, and Al Qaeda owes my old mum a big bottle of the stuff!

Do you feel safer knowing that the Canadian government is taking such good care of us during our travels?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Keep Left - and Squeeze

Have you travelled from Canada to the UK recently? I just returned from a 3-week trip to the UK myself. It's my duty, as proprietor of Orangeville's British consular office to check that all is well in the Queen's homeland from time to time.

And yes, thanks for asking, the weather was terrible. A typical July in Britain - bloomin' cold and wet!

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I rented a car to travel around Britain. A nice Vauxhall Vectra - comfy but way too big for Britain's narrow, winding byways. We drove over 2000 miles and remembered to stay on the wrong side of the road for most of the trip.

But, why did Britons originally decide to drive on the left hand side of the road? That's an interesting question with an intriguing answer. Britain, as we all know, is an ancient land that has attracted many foreign visitors. Over the centuries Britain has been visited by thousands of vacationing Viking, Norman and Roman armies. Owing to the bad behaviour of these foreign chaps they were intercepted by British knights carrying broadswords. Traditionally, swordsmen wielded their weapons with their right arms. Therefore, in order to engage their opponents they would need to pass to their left.

I could also tell you that British roads were built so narrow because they only needed to be wide enough for two horsemen to pass each other. That would be just too implausible if, like us, you had negotiated the tiny B-road we found while travelling just outside Bristol. It wasn't wide enough for two horses to pass each other and yet, somehow, we got that Vauxhall Vectra to squeeze between the roadside hedges.

Actually Britain's roads were pioneered by the Romans who built them just wide enough for an invading war chariot. So, the next time you drive over 'ome, thank the Italians for the state of Britain's roads!

I'll be posting more news from our UK trip over the next few days - including why I made the wrong choice of airline for my flight from Toronto to the UK.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Where's Elton?

Those of us who live in close proximity to Blighty's have an illustrious and famous part-time neighbour. He is an Englishman too. His new Canadian home (one of his many residences around the World) has just been completed alongside highway 10 in Caledon just outside Orangeville. Last week we received a report that security was very visible around the fortified entrances to Elton John's hillside mansion - evidence that the main man himself may be in town. I checked his concert schedule, and he is indeed going to be performing in Canada and the United States during the next few weeks. We have a red carpet ready and waiting here at Blighty's; I am sure he will need some British nosh during his visit. If you are reading this Elton, there's a welcome waiting for you here old mate!

Oooh, it's gonna be a long, long time 'til touchdown brings me round again to find ...