"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, July 29, 2009

The 100 Most Popular Britons of All Time

To wrap up our "6 Britons to Throw a Gong at" series, here is a list of what the British people considered to be the most popular Britons of all time. The list comes from Wikipedia but its original source was the BBC.

The poll, it should be stressed, was very unscientific with few rules, so the results should be read with tongue firmly in cheek. In fact some of the names listed also appear in the "100 Worst Britons poll".
  1. Winston Churchill, (1874-1965), Prime Minister (1940-1945, 1951–1955)
  2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, (1806–1859), engineer, creator of Great Western Railway and other significant works
  3. Diana, Princess of Wales (1961–1997), first wife of HRH Charles, Prince of Wales (1981–1996) and mother of Princes William and Harry of Wales
  4. Charles Darwin (1809–1882), naturalist, originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of On the Origin of Species, regarded by many as one of the greatest figures in the history of science
  5. William Shakespeare (1564–1616), English poet and playwright, thought of by many as the greatest of all writers in the English language
  6. Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist, regarded by many as one of the greatest figures in the history of science
  7. Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603), monarch, (reigned 1558–1603)
  8. John Lennon (1940–1980), musician with The Beatles, philanthropist, peace activist, artist
  9. Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758–1805), naval commander
  10. Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), Lord Protector
  11. Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874–1922), polar explorer
  12. Captain James Cook (1728–1779), explorer
  13. Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (1857–1941), founder of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides
  14. Alfred the Great (849?–899), King of Wessex, (reigned 871–899)
  15. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), military commander, statesman and Prime Minister 1828–1830 and 1834
  16. Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (*3) (born 1925), Prime Minister (1979–1990)
  17. Michael Crawford (born 1942), actor and singer
  18. Queen Victoria (1819–1901), monarch (reigned 1837–1901)
  19. Sir Paul McCartney (born 1942), musician with The Beatles, philanthropist, activist
  20. Sir Alexander Fleming (1881–1955), biologist and pharmacologist, discoverer of penicillin
  21. Alan Turing (1912–1954), pioneer of computing
  22. Michael Faraday (1791–1867), scientist
  23. Owain Glyndŵr (1359–1416), Prince of Wales
  24. HM Queen Elizabeth II (*10) (born 1926), reigning monarch (1952–present)
  25. Professor Stephen Hawking (born 1942), theoretical physicist
  26. William Tyndale (1494–1536), English translator of the Bible
  27. Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928), suffragette
  28. William Wilberforce (1759–1833), humanitarian
  29. David Bowie (born 1947), musician
  30. Guy Fawkes (1570–1606), English revolutionary.
  31. Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire (1917–1992), aviator and charity organiser
  32. Eric Morecambe (1926–1984), comedian
  33. David Beckham (*91) (born 1975), footballer
  34. Thomas Paine (1737–1809), political philosopher
  35. Boudica (died c.60), leader of Celtic resistance to the Roman Empire
  36. Sir Steve Redgrave (born 1962), Olympic rower
  37. Saint Thomas More (1478–1535), English saint, lawyer and politician
  38. William Blake (1757–1827), author/poet, painter and printer
  39. John Harrison (1693–1776), clock designer
  40. King Henry VIII of England (1491–1547), monarch (reigned 1509–1547)
  41. Charles Dickens (1812–1870), author
  42. Sir Frank Whittle (1907–1996), jet engine inventor
  43. John Peel (1939–2004), broadcaster
  44. John Logie Baird (1888–1946), television pioneer
  45. Aneurin Bevan (1897–1960), Labour politician who oversaw the formation of the National Health Service
  46. Boy George (born 1961), musician with Culture Club
  47. Sir Douglas Bader (1910–1982), aviator and charity campaigner
  48. Sir William Wallace (c.1270–1305), Guardian of Scotland
  49. Sir Francis Drake (c.1540–1596), English naval commander
  50. John Wesley (1703–1791), founder of Methodism
  51. King Arthur, legendary Celtic monarch
  52. Florence Nightingale (1820–1910), nurse and charity campaigner
  53. T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) (1888–1935), Arabist and soldier
  54. Robert Falcon Scott (1868–1912), polar explorer
  55. Enoch Powell (1912–1998), politician
  56. Sir Cliff Richard (*29) (born 1940), musician
  57. Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922), telephone pioneer, placed 9th in the Canadian version
  58. Freddie Mercury (1946–1991), musician with Queen
  59. Dame Julie Andrews (born 1935), actress and singer
  60. Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934), composer
  61. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900–2002), Queen consort
  62. George Harrison (1943–2001), musician with The Beatles
  63. Sir David Attenborough (born 1926), broadcaster
  64. James Connolly (1868–1916), the Scottish born leader of the Irish 1916 rising
  65. George Stephenson (1781–1848), railway pioneer
  66. Sir Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977), comic actor and film director
  67. Tony Blair (*1) (born 1953), Prime Minister (1997–2007)
  68. William Caxton (c.1415~1422–c.1492), English printer
  69. Bobby Moore (1941–1993), footballer and Captain of England 1966 World Cup winning team
  70. Jane Austen (1775–1817), author
  71. William Booth (1829–1912), founder of Salvation Army
  72. King Henry V of England (1387–1422), monarch (reigned 1413–1422)
  73. Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), occultist, writer, and social provocateur; founder of Thelema
  74. Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), King of Scots
  75. Bob Geldof (born 1951), Irish musician, philanthropist
  76. The Unknown Warrior, soldier of the Great War
  77. Robbie Williams (*17) (born 1974), musician and former member of Take That
  78. Edward Jenner (1749–1823), pioneer of vaccination
  79. David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George (1863–1945), Prime Minister (1916–1922)
  80. Charles Babbage (1791–1871), mathematician and pioneer of computing
  81. Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343–1400), English author
  82. King Richard III of England (1452–1485), monarch (reigned 1483–1485)
  83. J.K. Rowling (born 1965), author
  84. James Watt (1736–1819), developer of the steam engine
  85. Sir Richard Branson (*86) (born 1950), businessman and adventurer
  86. Bono (born 1960), Irish musician - Singer for Rock Band U2, philanthropist
  87. John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) (born 1956), musician
  88. Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887–1976), military commander
  89. Donald Campbell (1921–1967), water speed world record challenger
  90. King Henry II of England (1133–1189), monarch (reigned 1154–1189)
  91. James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), physicist
  92. J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973), author and philologist
  93. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552–1618), English explorer
  94. King Edward I of England (1239–1307), monarch (reigned 1272–1307)
  95. Sir Barnes Wallis (1887–1979), aviation technology pioneer
  96. Richard Burton (1925–1984), actor 1
  97. Tony Benn (born 1925), politician, formerly the 2nd Viscount Stangate
  98. David Livingstone (1813–1873), missionary and explorer
  99. Sir Tim Berners-Lee (born 1955), Internet pioneer and inventor of the World Wide Web
  100. Marie Stopes (1880–1958), promoter of birth control

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

6 Brits to Throw a Gong at: #6 Boudica

In British slang the word "gong" means a medal. It originated in the military but now enjoys widespread use. When Blighty's Blog throws a gong at somebody it means we admire his or her achievements.

Win a $5 Gift Voucher
Is there somebody you think we should throw a gong at? Send us your suggestion, with your reasons, using the "comments" link below this post. If we agree we'll send you a gift voucher redeemable by mail order or in person at Blighty's Tuck Store. Our only stipulation is that the person you suggest must be a prominent and well-known personality in Britain.

When we look back over time there are many notable women worthy of receiving our gong. Women have featured prominently among the influential characters who have changed the course of British history.

The Iron Lady
In recent times the "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher stamped her personality with indelible permanence on Britain. But Mrs Thatcher was a controversial character. Despite her notable achievements some Britons choose to remember her with something less than total reverence.

Bad Attitude
So looking further back into the history books we find one woman whose outstanding contributions to British history remain unmatched to this day. She too was controversial; in the sense that Roman invaders found her attitude quite unacceptable.

Boudica by Name
Until quite recently she was called Boadicea. It is now recognized that the name "Boadicea" was a mistranslation into modern English. She is now more correctly referred to as "Boudica".

Boudica was the Queen of the Iceni tribes in what is now Norfolk, England. Along with her husband the King she ruled a region that was peacefully cooperating with the Roman invaders. Peacefully, that is, until her husband died.

Her husband's will passed the throne to Boudica but the Romans had other ideas. Boudica was flogged, her daughters raped and her territory lost its independence.

Warrior Queen
The rest of the story of the warrior queen is legendary. Boudica was an intelligent, powerful woman who took the defence of Britain literally into her own hands. No page in the history book of England has ever stood out so clearly in honour of a British woman.

Friday, July 24, 2009

6 Brits to Throw a Gong at: #5 Harry Webb

In British slang the word "gong" means a medal. It originated in the military but now enjoys widespread use. When Blighty's Blog throws a gong at somebody it means we admire his or her achievements.

Win a $5 Gift Voucher
Is there somebody you think we should throw a gong at? Send us your suggestion, with your reasons, using the "comments" link below this post. If we agree we'll send you a gift voucher redeemable by mail order or in person at Blighty's Tuck Store. Our only stipulation is that the person you suggest must be a prominent and well-known personality in Britain.

We threw a gong at Billy Butlin a few days ago and confessed that he wasn't even born a Brit. Well today we are throwing a gong at another famous foreign born Brit. Everyone has heard of Harry Webb. He has thrilled his fans as an entertainer for six decades.

Born in India
Harry Webb is, of course, better known by his professional name: Cliff Richard. Cliff was born to Anglo-Indian parents in Lucknow, India in 1940. The family moved to Britain following Indian independence from Britain in 1948.

Cliff became the proud owner of a guitar at age 16 and quickly developed an interest in "skiffle" music. He formed a band a year later and within a couple of years he was a hit recording artist.

Cliff the Christian
We all know the story of his career from then on. Cliff's music career changed from rock to softer pop tunes when he became a Christian. His Christianity influenced his music for some time until he was able to reconcile his beliefs with the harder image of rock music again.

The First Knight of Rock
Cliff Richard received a knighthood from the Queen in 1995. He was the first rock music entertainer to receive that honour.

Off the Air
Despite his success he has never been particularly popular with the media in Britain. Radio stations are reluctant to air his songs. He has even been forced to release songs under a pseudonym to get his music on the air. Some songs released this way became big hits with the record buying public.

Bachelor Boy
Back in the 1960s Cliff released a hit single called "Bachelor Boy". Despite contemplating marriage several times throughout his life Cliff has remained a bachelor. He now lives in private seclusion with a male partner but has refused to respond to questions about his sexuality.

English Elvis
Blighty's Blog cares only about the tremendous impact Harry Webb has made on the world of entertainment. The "English Elvis" has refused to adopt the "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll" lifestyle of so many of his contemporaries. Instead he has given us over half a century of great music.

"Congratulations" Sir Cliff and thank you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

6 Brits to Throw a Gong at: #4 Wendy Richard

In British slang the word "gong" means a medal. It originated in the military but now enjoys widespread use. When Blighty's Blog throws a gong at somebody it means we admire his or her achievements.

Win a $5 Gift Voucher
Is there somebody you think we should throw a gong at? Send us your suggestion, with your reasons, using the "comments" link below this post. If we agree we'll send you a gift voucher redeemable by mail order or in person at Blighty's Tuck Store. Our only stipulation is that the person you suggest must be a prominent and well-known personality in Britain.

The Teesside Cockney
Wendy Emerton (Richard's birth name) is famous to fans of British theatre and TV as a cockney. In fact she spent most of her life in and around London, but she was born in Middlesbrough in the northeast of England.

Wendy played the role of a working class girl throughout her career but she was born into a middle-class family. Her parents were publicans and, after moving to the London area when she was very young, Wendy grew up in pubs.

Tough Childhood
Her father was a freemason. He took his own life when Wendy was only 11 years old. She suffered the trauma of finding his body. Further tragedy followed when her mother died of cancer.

Wendy left the private school at which she had been enrolled by her parents when she was only 15 and sought a career in entertainment. She enrolled at a prestigious theatrical school in London, paying the school fees herself from the proceeds of a job.

5th Floor Men's Wear
Those who remember Wendy's most famous role as "Miss Brahms" in the TV show "Are You Being Served" may be interested to hear that the job Wendy took was in the fashion department at Fortnum and Mason.

Come Outside
But Wendy's career started long before "Are You Being Served". She recorded a hit single, with singer Mike Sarne, called "Come Outside" in 1962. She also featured in a scene in the Beatles movie "Help!" but the scene was cut before the movie was released.

An Iron Lady
Following "Are You Being Served" Wendy devoted several years to the British soap opera "EastEnders". The show's writers produced a script in which her character, Pauline Fowler, strongly denounces former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The scene was never recorded. Wendy Richard was an ardent Conservative and a very strong supporter of Mrs Thatcher. She simply refused to act the scene.

Wendy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 but pulled through and was declared cancer free. However, the disease returned and she succumbed in February 2009 at a Harley Street clinic where she was being treated.

Gong But Not Forgotten
Wendy Richard was married four times and received an MBE (Member of the British Empire) gong from the Queen in 2000. She is awarded another gong, posthumously, by Blighty's Blog for her fortitude in the face of a difficult childhood, for her strength in fighting three bouts of cancer and for the pleasure she brought to millions through her talent on-screen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

6 Brits to Throw a Gong at: #3 George Best

In British slang the word "gong" means a medal. It originated in the military but now enjoys widespread use. When Blighty's Blog throws a gong at somebody it means we admire his or her achievements.

Win a $5 Gift Voucher
Is there somebody you think we should throw a gong at? Send us your suggestion, with your reasons, using the "comments" link below this post. If we agree we'll send you a gift voucher redeemable by mail order or in person at Blighty's Tuck Store. Our only stipulation is that the person you suggest must be a prominent and well-known personality in Britain.

A Shoe or a Gong?

There are some Brits that leave me wondering. Should I throw a gong at them, or should I throw a shoe at them? Blighty's Blog has picked a list of Brits to throw a shoe at; we'll be dealing with those miscreants in a later series of posts.

The Shoe! No, the Gong!
But George Best? My first inclination is to throw a shoe at him. He prematurely robbed the world of a unique soccer talent that delighted millions. At the same time he deserves a gong for bringing that talent to us in the first place.

The Best Ever
There are many who say that George Best was the greatest soccer player who ever lived - or ever will live. Most of those people are from Northern Ireland, or they are Manchester United fans. This Englishman will stand alongside them and say "me too".

[For the record I am a Crystal Palace fan; go ahead and scoff if you like but believe it or not there are two of us in Canada].

Magnet Man
Who else is there to compare with this man? Pele? Ronaldo? Johnny Byrne (Crystal Palace 1960-62)? George had the gift of magnetism in his feet. The ball would seem to stick to him as if by magic. Using his magical magnetism he would twist and turn his way past defenders and find the net.

Fast Cars, Women and Booze
George was also a magnet for pretty girls. He collected Miss Worlds. He is quoted as having said: "I spent most of my money on fast cars, women and booze ... and I squandered the rest". His lavish lifestyle was his demise.

The finest talent the world has ever seen faded due to his incurable alcoholism. George Best passed away 25th November 2005 of a liver infection related to his drinking.

Blighty's Blog would like to literally throw a gong at him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

6 Brits to Throw a Gong at: #2 Billy Butlin

The Canadian Connection
Billy Butlin? Yes, Billy of Butlins Holiday Camps; he who brought pleasure to many thousands of British people. But he wasn't British. In fact our Billy was born in South Africa and lived in Toronto for a few years. Billy Butlin even served in the Canadian military.

Sir William Heygate Edmund Colborne Butlin was born in South Africa in 1899 and passed away in England in June 1980.

The Great Escape

He is best remembered as the founder of Butlins Holiday Camps. These somewhat infamous holiday resorts appealed to thousands of people who sought an all-inclusive vacation in a resort that catered to their every need.

The Redcoats Are Coming
Perhaps the clearest memory many Butlin customers have is of the famous "Redcoats". The Redcoats were the camp entertainers. Several Redcoats (e.g. Des O'Connor, Charlie Drake, Dave Allen, Moira Anderson) went on to become famous entertainers.

Have You Got a Girl in There?
Butlins also acquired a slightly tawdry reputation among young people. The comedian Jasper Carrot used a sketch in which a young man smuggles a female guest into his cabin. There is a sudden loud knock at the door from a Redcoat who shouts:

"Have you got a girl in there?"
"Er no, no sir" the young man stutters nervously.

"Hang on a minute we'll get you one" replies the Redcoat.

The Legend Lives On
"Billy" became "Sir William" when he was knighted by the Queen in 1964 and retired in 1968. Butlins Holiday Camps were sold in 1972. Some of the camps remain open under new ownership and with a different identity but the legend lives on.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

6 Brits to Throw a Gong at: #1 Sir Richard Branson

In British slang the word "gong" means a medal. It originated in the military but now enjoys widespread use. When Blighty's Blog throws a gong at somebody it means we admire his or her achievements.

Win a $5 Gift Voucher
Is there somebody you think we should throw a gong at? Send us your suggestion, with your reasons, using the "comments" link below this post. If we agree we'll send you a gift voucher redeemable by mail order or in person at Blighty's Tuck Store. Our only stipulation is that the person you suggest must be a prominent and well-known personality in Britain.

The Virgin King
Some call him "the Virgin King". Indeed, Sir Richard Branson is the head of The Virgin Group, a vast corporate empire encompassing everything from music to space travel.

You Will Go to Prison Young Man
Richard Branson was born in the south of England in 1950 and distinguished himself as an unusual character from an early age. The headmaster at his school told him he would either go to prison or become a millionaire. Branson went on to become a billionaire.

His anti-establishment style is reflected in his outlandish publicity stunts and non-conformist business practices. Branson has set world speed records for crossing the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean and has made several death-defying attempts to circle the globe in a hot-air balloon.

Arise Sir Richard
Branson received his knighthood from the Queen in 1999 following a business career that had already been in progress for nearly 30 years. Starting with a mail order record business in 1970, Branson went on to open the Virgin Records store in London in 1971. A year later he owned a chain of 14 stores and had opened a recording studio.

Branson ploughs the profits from his successful business ventures into new businesses, makes snap business decisions and willingly accepts new ideas from his own employees.

He maintains a casual, easygoing personality and is famous for humble acts like personally serving drinks to passengers on his aircraft.

Spaced Out
The Virgin Group has held interests in everything from cosmetics to telecommunications to airlines. Now the Virgin Group includes an out-of-this-world subsidiary known as Virgin Galactic. Branson's space company plans to offer short trips into space for fee-paying customers. Virginauts will travel in the company's own spacecraft.

Virgin spacecraft comprise a mothership called "White Knight" that will carry the spacecraft high into the atmosphere and a spacecraft module called SpaceShipTwo that will separate from the mothership high above the ground and fly up into space.

On June 19th this year Branson announced: "Virgin Galactic's mothership is on its way to the groundbreaking Spaceport America, world's first spaceport." To the ever higher reaching Branson, the sky is definitely not the limit.

Take This Gong
As a result of his numerous high profile life-risking stunts, his down-to-earth respect for his employees and customers, his spectacular success in business and the reputation he has earned for himself, the thousands of people he employs and for Britain, Blighty's Blog has no hesitation in throwing a gong at Sir Richard Branson.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #10. British Roads

If they built southern Ontario's Highway 401 in Britain there wouldn't be much country left either side of the road. For readers living outside the Greater Toronto Area I should describe Highway 401. Also known as the "MacDonald-Cartier Freeway" it runs from the Windsor-Detroit border in the west, right across southern Ontario and on up to the Quebec border not far from Montreal.

Praise the Lord
As the 401 crosses the Toronto area it is between 16 and 20 lanes wide. It is actually two highways in one. The "express lanes" (ok Toronto commuters, stop laughing) form the core of the highway while the "collector lanes" feed traffic from intersections onto the main highway. There are cameras all the way along the highway so that people outside Toronto can look at all the motionless cars in rush hour (there 24 rush hours each day in Toronto) online and praise the Lord they don't have to drive there.

High Class Congestion

Traffic is so congested that another highway runs across Toronto parallel to Highway 401. It is a toll road called Highway 407. It has a higher class of congestion because people pay a lot of money to sit in traffic line-ups on the 407.

Watch for Gators
Roads in southern Ontario were built in a grid pattern designed by an Englishman (Governor John Simcoe). Outside the cities (whose roads are also built on a grid pattern) roads run roughly east-west and north-south. Ontario is divided into square lots of land each 200 acres in size. If you miss a turn in Ontario simply go around the block. I tried that idea while on vacation in Florida once and ended up in an alligator swamp.

Stuck in the Mud

British roads were built quite differently. When a road was needed to go from the village of Nether Wallop to its neighbouring community of Little Smackbottom it was built in a direct line. Roads are not straight but they do take a fairly direct route between two places. If you miss your turn do not even think about driving round the block; you will end up in Lost Waytown and it will be dark by then ... and the map won't show the "B" road that crosses the ford over the River Stuck-in-the-Mud that is closed for roadworks anyway.

Squeeze Please
British roads are not very wide. While on vacation in the soutwest of England last year we found a "B road" that was so narrow the hedges on both sides of the road were scraping against the sides of our car. We considered ourselves lucky that we hadn't chosen the "white road" instead. On British motoring maps, "A roads" are major routes, "B roads" are smaller local roads. "A roads" and "B roads" are given a number (eg: B2009) while unnumbered "white roads" are even narrower local roads.

Dizzy, I'm So Dizzy
The very best idea British road builders ever had was the roundabout. Visitors to Britain would not always agree with me on that. However, compare that to the Ontario road system which is a never-ending system of stop signs. The day you fail to come to a full and complete stop there will be a policeman waiting at the intersection who will be very pleased to make your acquaintance. When you approach a roundabout you merely have to yield to traffic already on the roundabout.

Roundabouts, or traffic circles as they are known here, are beginning to appear in some communities in Ontario. Construction of roundabouts is strongly opposed by the billionaires who own the factory making stop signs.

The problem with roundabouts is they cost more to build than stop signs. British road builders have found a way around that problem. Instead of the traditional half acre of land covered in inaccessible grass, they now build mini-roundabouts that are nothing more than a small round bump in the middle of an intersection. You can drive right over it if you wish. But then mysterious complexes of intersecting and adjacent concrete bumps started to appear.

It is rumoured that these new mini-roundabout complexes were inspired by the complex systems of crop circles that pop up overnight in British farm fields. It may be true; they make just about as much sense.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #9. The European Community

Britain has a split personality. On the one hand it is a member-of-sorts of the European Community. On the other hand, Britain is the parent country of the British Commonwealth.

Money Can't Buy Me Love

The standard currency in the EC is the Euro. The French gave up on their francs, the Spanish gave up on their pesetas, the Italians gave up on their lire and the Germans gave up on their marks, but Britain has chosen to retain the pound sterling instead.

Euro coins have the same image on the "common side". The obverse (back) side of Euro coins, on the other hand, varies from country to country. Each member state can choose to mint coins with national symbols on the obverse.

Not surprisingly, none of the EC countries have chosen to place an image of the British Queen on their coins. Meanwhile Canada, Australia and other British Commonwealth countries have chosen to mint the Queen's image on the obverse side of their coins. Her Majesty appreciates our loyalty but her government in Whitehall cocks a snoot at us.

Welcome Home!

When British-born Canadians, travelling on a Canadian passport, arrive in our native country we are required to line-up with non-citizens. Those of us who became Canadian citizens did not relinquish our British citizenship and our passports indicate our place of birth.

Couldn't British immigration officials take a moment to read our Canadian passports and let us through with EC passport holders? Even the Americans - despite recent tightening of cross-border documentation requirements - seem less reluctant to allow us entry into their country.

Meanwhile, EC passport holders (including Brits) are fast-tracked into Britain in a separate queue. Frenchmen, Italians, Greeks, Spaniards and all the other nationalities who are, at best, indifferent to the Queen can walk straight into Britain with only a cursory examination of their documentation by immigration officials.

No Passport Required
Of course there was once a time when the French held an English king in high reverence. The King of England was an immigrant from an EC country. He arrived in England exactly nine centuries before England last won the World Cup. His name was William and he didn't show any kind of passport at all when he stepped off the boat at Hastings in Sussex.

Britain has been at war, at some point in history, with almost every other member of the EC. When Canada was last called on to defend its borders, in 1812, the British Army was here in force to defend us. And when Britain has been at war, Canadian troops have fought alongside the British - not against them.

Tiny Blur
The head of the British Commonwealth is the Queen. Along with other Commonwealth countries, Canada recognizes the Queen as it's head of state. The European Community has a president as its head. The present incumbent of that office is Jose Manuel Barroso. It is rumoured that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be a candidate for the job when Mr Barroso leaves office.

What a dichotomy there would be in the United Queendom if that ever came to pass. To whom would the British pledge their loyalty; Her Majesty the Queen or the man the satirical British magazine Private Eye calls "Tiny Blur?"

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #8. Mountains

Chambers dictionary defines a mountain as "a very high, steep hill, often one of bare rock". The prestigious Oxford English Dictionary also provides a definition but I don't know what it is because the OED will only reveal its definition on payment of a fee. Greedy bar stewards.

Britain is a Very Mountainous Region
So, relying on Chambers' definition alone we can conclude that Britain is a very mountainous region. Mountains in Britain may not exceed 4409 feet high but there are lots of them. By contrast, Canada's highest mountain is Mount Logan in the Yukon Territory at 19,524 feet high. Of course higher doesn't always mean better - unless you are a competitive mountaineer.

Walk Up Mountains
In an earlier post, 10 Things I Miss Most About Britain: #9. The British Countryside, we wrote that to climb Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis, you would have to scale 2000 feet high sheer cliff faces - or walk up the easy ascent trail on the other side of the mountain. There aren't many mountains in Canada on which you can walk to the summit, but we'll talk about a couple of exceptions in a minute.

The Towering Peaks of ... Saskatchewan?

We don't usually associate the province of Saskatchewan with mountains. Saskatchewan is usually thought of as being dead flat - as in pancake. But a peak in the Cypress Hills near the Alberta border exceeds the height of Ben Nevis by over 400 feet.

Mighty Mount Chinguacousy
Here in Ontario mountains are rarer than Stanley Cups at the Air Canada Centre. Ski reports on the radio in winter often refer to a little known peak in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). Those who are familiar with the mountain snicker when they hear its mention. When the City of Brampton, near Toronto, created a small artificial lake in a park near the city centre they piled the excavated soil up beside the lake. The pile of dirt became a ski hill officially christened "Mount Chinguacousy".

2000 Feet Vertical Drop
A towering peak in the City of Toronto rises to a height of over 2000 feet above sea level with a sheer vertical drop into Lake Ontario. It is a very challenging climb on the man-made stairs that lead all the way to the top. Those who aren't fit enough to make the climb can use the high speed elevators instead. Ok already, it's not exactly a mountain but the CN Tower is a very high, steep tower made of bare concrete - it almost fits the dictionary definition.

Sea to Sky
But Canada's real mountains are out west in Alberta and British Columbia. There are more peaks over ten thousand feet than you can shake a hockey stick at. There is a magnificent road in British Columbia that I have driven several times. The name of the road captures the beauty of that mountainous province. It will become internationally famous in 2010 when the Vancouver Winter Olympic athletes travel on the "Sea to Sky Highway".

Blue Louise
My favourite place in Canada is in Alberta. If you stand outside the spectacular green-roofed CP hotel on the shore of Lake Louise in June, the lake water will be an iridescent blue. The colour is caused by a suspension of rock dust deposited in the lake by the glacier that winds its way down from the sky at the far end of the lake. Above the lake soar three mountain peaks each over ten thousand feet high. I had to leave Britain to experience that magical scene.

10 Reasons I Left Britain #7. Prices

Say It Ain't So
Despite the rumours, it is just not true that absolutely everything in the United Queendom costs more than it does in Canada. No, it isn't true at all. Honestly. The price of a cup of tea in a cafe I know in the Greater Manchester area is much less than the price of a cup of steeped tea in Canada's favourite donut chain. But just about everything else really does cost more over 'ome.

Familiar Prices

I have been back to the Anglian Archipelago many times since I left there nearly 30 years ago. For several years in a row I stayed here in Canada until, one year, family obligations took me across the giant puddle again. A familiar high street sign beckoned this hungry traveller. As I entered the doors of the Burger King restaurant my eyes looked up at the menu board and everything looked comfortable and familiar. The prices looked just about the same as Canadian prices.

And then I remembered that the prices were in British pounds and were actually about double what I would expect to pay in the land of the ice and snow. When the time came to visit a petrol station, the same realization occured once more.

Pound and Dollar at Par?

It doesn't take a highly qualified economist to determine that the spending power of the pound in Britain is almost identical to the spending power of the dollar in Canada. After this awful realization dawned on me I ceased doing a mental conversion into Canadian dollars before making a purchase in Britain. Instead, I now have a travel budget in which Canadian dollars are directly substituted with British pounds.

Supply & Demand
So why does everything cost so much in Britain? Britain is a very small country with a comprehensive and efficient transportation network. The climate is mild. The population is double that of Canada, so the law of supply and demand used by economists should result in much lower prices.

It could be argued that our economy is influenced by the economy of the Excited States and that we are really in a trading area of nearly 300 million people - five times the population of the Queen's little islands. But then we have to remember that Britain is a member of the European Community which has a population approaching 500 million people.

Bricks & Mortar
My wife and I sold our nice little English three bedroom semi-detached home before we left for Canada at the tail end of 1981. The property boom in the Land of Hope and Glory has escalated prices so much that I doubt we could now afford to buy that home back.

So why are prices so high in Britain? Darned if I can explain it.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #6: Public Conveniences

Long before I left Blighty for good I went to the Excited States from London Heathrow, landing in Washington Dulles. It was my first trip to **America!!!**. The captain announced that it was time to buckle up as we were approaching the Washington area. I was excited. Heathrow is a great big airport with planes coming and going from every point on Earth. **America!!!**, I thought, would be even grander!

Dulles Aerodrome in America
As the British Airways speedbird circled Dulles waiting for its turn to land, I looked down in disappointment. Dulles is one of the dullest aerodromes in America. It seemed so small and quiet compared to Heathrow. But it had been eight hours of cramped discomfort sitting in a steerage class seat in the big seven hundred and forty seven and I was knackered. Call me naive if you like. I saw a sign I had never seen before. It read "Rest Rooms".

Park Your Bum?
It sounded like a good proposition to me. A place for weary travellers to park their bums and get some relief for those swollen feet. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that "rest room" is an American euphemism for what the British call a "public toilet". But, as later experience would reveal, Americans are masters of euphemism. My favourite is the New England "Package Store". New England "packages" come in glass bottles that should not be consumed while driving.

Convenient Direction
Visit any British town and you will find signposts indicating the location of the nearest "public convenience". What a relief these porcelain palaces provide. After a visit to a public house to rent several pints of the local brewer's art, it is so refreshing to find a "convenience" at which one can recycle most of the fluid.

Spend A Penny
The British have their very own euphemism: "to spend a penny" means to relieve oneself of a full bladder. The term derives from an attempt by some local authorities to improve the quality of their public conveniences by requiring stall entrants to insert a penny in a slot to open the door. The penny was an "old penny". Prior to 1971 "old pennies" were large, heavy copper coins. Nowadays, inflation and currency decimalization have dramatically increased the cost of "spending a penny".

But spending a penny without spending a penny resulted in some pretty grungy street dungeons. Step into one if you dare.

Friday, July 03, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #5. The English Language

The headline in the newspaper read "England Are Ready To Win". Being an Englishman by birth I thought to myself: "I are very pleased to hear that". I was being sarcastic - to myself. I can't remember whether I used English collective nouns while I lived over there but I am certain that I don't now.

When Hell Freezes Over
To the English the word "England" can be singular or plural. England IS a country and England ARE a team. In the latter case the word "England" implies eleven highly paid young men wearing football boots. Outside Britain a team is a unit unless its name explicitly refers to a plural entity (e.g. the Toronto Make-Beliefs). We might say "Canada IS going to win gold at the World Hockey Championships". In Britain they would say "England ARE going to win the World Cup (of soccer)". [Ok gents, that was a very bad example indeed. We are all perfectly aware that England ARE going to win the World Cup right after Hell freezes over which will never happen anyway due to Global Warming].

Enough Already!
When I first arrived in Canada I had to make a huge adjustment. It wasn't just that I had a very clear English accent. Canadian idioms are so very different. I attended a class put on by my employer. The instructor had written on the chalkboard (blackboard) "Welcome already". I had never seen the word "already" used in this context. Answers.com has three definitions for the word "already":

  1. By this or a specified time: The children were already asleep when we got home.
  2. So soon: Are you quitting already?
  3. Informal. Used as an intensive: Be quiet already. Enough already.

The third definition is entirely alien to British English.

Three Guesses

I was similarly confused by the term "second guess". Actually, many Canadians misuse this term. It has two interpretations (from answers.com):
  1. To criticize or correct after an outcome is known.
    1. To outguess.
    2. To predict or anticipate: “She can second-guess indictments” (Scott Turow).

As an Englishman I thought it meant I had a second chance at guessing what the speaker was thinking. I wondered if he would give me a third guess. "Second guess" is also used in Britain now, but mainly by TV presenters who have been to America. They think it is a super-cool way of saying "guess".

Thirty Two and a Half
I also had to re-learn the English alphabet. As a Physics undergraduate in England I earned a language credit in Russian. Russian is a wonderful language that is so easy to understand. But the Russian alphabet is comprised of thirty two and a half letters. I was confused. I was even more confused when I came to Canada and learned that Canadian English has only 25 letters. The missing one is "D". No, not that "D", I mean the "D" that comes between "S" and "U".

And that reminds me of another quirk of Canadian English - excessive use of "quotation marks". Well, when it all gets too much for you, take a time-out and remember that England are nice to visit.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #4. Coffee

Have you ever tried to get a good cup of coffee in Britain? I tried. I ordered a coffee at a cafe in the north of England during a visit there last year. I was served instant coffee made with milk. It was indescribably horrible. There is a chain of coffee shops throughout Britain that serve reasonable coffee but at unreasonable prices. I call them the Costatoomuch chain. One of the things that is sure to get me back on the big aeroplane is the thought of plentiful good coffee back in Canada.

A Glimmer of Hope
Canadians are familiar with the common, everyday sight of empty Tim Horton's coffee cups parked on store shelves, left in shopping carts, strewn about the streets and - even (albeit only occasionally) filling garbage cans. We all enjoy a cup of the old hockey legend's java but many among us are a little creative when it comes to discarding his famous paper cups. Perhaps it is a new art form, or a way of labelling every inch of this country as "Canadian Eh!"

Sparring for Good Coffee
Now the puck has been shot across the wide blue line to Britain. Tim Horton's donut shops are opening up inside selected Spar grocery stores throughout Britain and Ireland. The legend of the late great Maple Leaf "ice hockey" player may be lost on the British but they are chugging down his coffee at £1.29 a cup.

"Is This A Canadian Pub?"
Are you excited? I was excited when I found a Molson pub in London a few years ago. I prefer brown English beer to anything made by Molson, but the novelty of drinking Canadian beer in England tempted me. I asked the barmaid "is this a Canadian pub"; "yes" she replied as I handed her a $5 bill. Moments later she returned and spat "you're in England now". My pint of Molson Export was remarkably unlike the Molson Export available in Canada. I suspect British Tim Horton's coffee is similarly unlike its Canadian version.

Hold Your Nose and Think of Hamilton
So when you are visiting the British Isles this summer, be sure to grab a coffee eh, at every opportunity and decorate our old home and native land with Timmy's cups just like here in Canada. And when an empty Tim Horton's cup blows across the car park outside your local Spar store, look west - way west - and think of the place where it all started; in a little donut shop in the beautiful and picturesque city of Hamilton, Ontario.