"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

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!