"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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to Get Online While Visiting the UK

So you are planning a visit to the UK but you desperately need to stay in touch with your email while you are away. At home, checking on your latest messages is a trivial and routine matter, but once you are overseas things get a little more complicated.

This was the problem I had to deal with when I took a two week long personal break in my former home and native land earlier this year.

Leaving the Laptop Behind
Here in Canada I access my email on my laptop. But my laptop wasn't coming along for the trip. I like to be notified of incoming messages even when I am walking the dog (Trunkles - the dog with the blog) so I also have a smartphone on which I can read messages anywhere within range of a cell tower, 24 hours per day.

My cellphone provider's roaming charges make it prohibitively expensive to use my smartphone overseas, but there is a simple trick that I used to access my email through my smartphone for free. We'll get to that in a moment.

No Drive-by Logins
I found several pubs and restaurants offering "free WiFi". Simple, I thought. Just get within range of their signal and then world-wide-wam-bam-thank-you-man. But it was not so easy. I bought breakfast at one restaurant dangling the free WiFi carrot to boost trade. Sure, the WiFi was free but I had to ask my server for an access code before I could get online.

So Long Ted
So what was the simple trick that got me online for free using my Canadian smartphone? My phone has built-in WiFi and can connect to the Internet without using the cellphone network. I simply removed the SIM card from my phone to prevent it automatically roaming through a UK mobile phone network and thereby denied Rogers Wireless the ability to empty my bank account.

But what can you do if you don't own a smartphone? Most people use phones that can access the Internet but many phones do not have WiFi. There is still a way to put a dent in the cellphone billionnaires' pocket book.

Removing the Shackles
Cellphone network providers usually lock their phones to their own network. They tell us that this is because they subsidize the cost of the phones while tying you into a long term contract. However, you can unlock most phones for a small fee. Despite what your cellphone provider might tell you, this is not illegal. A simple Google search will reveal lots of companies who can do this for you.

A Quid a Day
Once in the UK you can simply go into a mobile phone store and buy a UK SIM card. UK mobile network Orange will sell you a whole day's unlimited Internet access for just £1.

Renting Time
Squinting at a tiny cellphone screen isn't good for the eyes. It also makes it difficult and/or expensive to view email attachments. So an alternative is to use a public Internet access computer, buy time online using a credit card and surf.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tales From the Trip: #11 A Famous Pair of Wellies

Last of the Summer Wine
Our travels in the United Queendom this year took us to the small Yorkshire town of Holmfirth to seek out the filming locations for the iconic British comedy TV show "Last of the Summer Wine".

The show is filmed in and around the town and the area is rich with scenes from the show. In later posts we will share information on how to make an overnight stay in Nora Batty's house and where to find Sid's Cafe.

Bill Owen, Member of the British Empire
But, in this post, we'll talk about British actor Bill Owen MBE. Bill played the role of "Compo" in the show. When he died in 1999, his real life son Tom Owen joined Summer Wine in his place.

We wanted to find where Bill was buried and pay our respects. With some determination, some white knuckle driving and some really splendid assistance from a local funeral director, we succeeded.
Park At Your Peril
Bill Owen is buried in St John's Church graveyard in the village of Upperthong just outside Holmfirth. The church is on a very narrow, steep hill. You can park a car at the side of the road outside only if you have a small vehicle, a very good parking brake and park with the passenger side of the vehicle right up against the stone wall.

Bill Owen's grave is on a steep slope behind the church. You can identify it immediately by the pair of Compo's wellies standing beside the grave.

Hair Raising Ride
And when you leave, you will have a hair-raising ride down one of England's steepest, narrowest hills, winding between parked cars on both sides of the road, meeting cars struggling to make it up the hill and passing you with a fraction of an inch to spare.

It was all worth it. Thanks for all those years of great entertainment Bill. Rest in peace.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tales From the Trip: #11 Double Double Trouble

When a Canadian walks into a donut shop and orders a "double double" he generally expects to get a cup of coffee with double cream and double sugar. When I walked into a fish & chip shop in Northumberland and ordered "fish & chips twice" I might have inadvertently ordered more than I expected.

Fish & Chips Twice
"Fish & chips twice", as I recall from living in the United Queendom twenty eight years ago, was a way of saying "could I have two orders of fish and chips please". I wanted one order for myself and another for senior management (She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed).

Ski School
To my astonishment, what I received was two very large pieces of cod and a mound of chips so big that Canadians would call it a ski hill. Twice. Yes, that's one small school of fish and a ski hill for me and the same again for my wife.

It was a very good meal too. But do the people of Northumberland usually eat such huge meals or did I miss some nuance of the local dialect and order a double-double fish & chips?

A Double Blow for Mary
SWMBO and I toured several cathedrals during our visit to the Land of Hope and Glory. Peterborough Cathedral is one of the smaller cathedrals, but a very interesting building all the same. We came across the former burial place of Mary Queen of Scots.

Following her execution at Fotheringay Castle in 1587, Mary was interred in Peterborough Cathedral. She was exhumed when her son James I came to the throne and re-buried in Westminster Abbey near her sister Elizabeth I who had signed her death warrant.

A sign in the cathedral simply noted that Mary died on the second blow of the executioner's axe. "Ouch" I thought and wanted to know more. I had always thought that royal beheadings were neat, clean deaths. Not so, it seems.

Sorry, I Missed
The headsman's first blow caught Mary on the back of the head. His second blow severed her head from her body but for one strand of sinew that he cut by sawing at it with the axe blade. How horrible.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tales From the Trip: #10 Bad Beer

Blighty's Blog recently spent a fortnight in the United Queendom. We came back with some great "tales from the trip". Here's another one.

We British love our beer. Even those of us who no longer live in the Land of Hope and Glory still love our beer.

Ice Cold Tubes of Slop
Forget about Bavarian purity laws and Aussie slop whose only claim to fame is how cold it can be made without actually freezing.

The Beer That Made Milwaukee Flameless
American beer is used for putting out brewery fires in Canada which is a terrible shame because, if there is any justice in the world, most Canadian breweries should actually be left to burn.

It's Alive!
What makes British beer the best in the world? It is alive! Literally. British real ale is delivered with live yeast in the barrel. The big Brit breweries tried to convert us to pasteurized, pressurized keg beer but their malevolence was defeated by one of the fundamental rules of physics: "to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction".

Throw it in the River
The reaction to keg beer was a massive public uprising in favour of traditional ale. Blighty's Blog travelled to Peterborough, England this summer and saw what the people there do with beer that doesn't measure up to their standards. As our picture shows, they simply toss it into the river.

Time Gentlemen Please
So why then are British pubs closing at the rate of 40 per month? Some blame the ban on smoking, others point to supermarket aisles bulging with cheap booze. I blame people like the friends I stayed with while in England. The poor pubs just couldn't keep up with their appetite for English ale. God bless them.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ignatieff Congratulates England

Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff congratulates the England soccer team on qualifying for the World Cup competition in South Africa next year? Does anybody else see the resemblance?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tales From the Trip: #9 Seven Feet Under the Sea

Blighty's Blog recently spent a fortnight in the United Queendom. We came back with some great "tales from the trip". Here's another one.
It was a strange experience. I was standing seven feet below the sea without getting wet. Sure, the ground beneath my feet was damp but, as I looked around, I could see that I was definitely on terra firma.

The Lowest Point in England
I was in Holme Fen near Peterborough, England. Holme Fen is the lowest point in England at more than seven feet below sea level. The picture above shows one of the Holme Fen posts. They are used to measure the depth of the land below sea level as the fens are drained.

All Dried Up
The whole area used to be covered by England's second largest lake called Whittlesey Mere. But the lake was drained dry in the middle of the nineteenth century and the peat began to erode as it dried out. There are date markers on one of the posts showing the height of the land at various points in history.

On the Level
The top of the original post was level with the ground one hundred and fifty years ago, but erosion of the peat has dropped the land to its present level.

Dykes Everywhere
The terrain in the English fens is quite unique and unlike any other part of England. Vegetation is thick and rich due to the peat base and ample water supply. Thousands of dykes carry water away from the fields and they all have names. One of them is called "Pig Dyke"; nobody knows why. This was definitely the lowest point of my trip!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Driving on the Left - All Change!

I had to check my calendar this morning. I was feeling groggier than usual after the long weekend and I thought maybe it was April 1st. BBC World News was announcing that the nation of Samoa had just switched to driving on the left hand side of the road.

Just over a year ago Blighty's Blog reported that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was planning to switch British drivers over to the right hand side of the road in time for the London Olympics in 2012 (read "Brits to Drive on the Right?").

Dry British Humour
That post was written in dry British humour style. So dry, in fact, that the hard copy pinned to the back wall of the store has misled many customers. Some come up to the cash desk shaking their heads in disbelief at how far off the beaten track Britain's unpopular PM has slid.

That post was, of course, a spoof. It told of a 2-phase transition in which cars would do the switchover first as a trial. Later, if the transition was successful, trucks and buses would also switchover to the right.

Three Cups of Coffee Later
So, when I heard the BBC reporter telling viewers of a smooth transition in Samoa I was a complete skeptic. Three cups of coffee later I checked the BBC News website to dispel my skepticism. Yes, it is true. At 0600 today, sirens sounded and all the drivers in Samoa crossed over to the other side of the road.

Stone Cold Sober
A two day holiday preceded the switch and alcohol sales were suspended to ensure that everybody was stone cold sober. Complaints poured in about the driver's side door being on the wrong side of the vehicle but no accidents were reported.

Yes, Blighty's Blog has a reputation for being written with tongue-in-cheek and should often be read that way, but this story is (to the best of our knowledge) completely true. The BBC News link "Samoa Switches to Driving on the Left" may not work for ever, but while it does you can read the story for yourself.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tales From the Trip: #8 A Day at the Races

Blighty's Blog recently spent a fortnight in the United Queendom. We came back with some great "tales from the trip". Here's another one.
I was handed this itinerary for a day out at York races while I was in the UK. The identity of "the pub" has been removed to protect the innocent (that's me actually. These blog posts are cross-posted to Blighty's Facebook page and the landlord of "the pub" is a Blighty's Facebook fan).

As you can see, the itinerary is fairly "liquid". But, whose itinerary is it? None other than the police in a Manchester suburb! I understand that the coach driver was teetotal.
08:30 Meet at the pub
08:35 A Pint
09:00 Breakfast with a pint
09:30 Have a bet with Keith, and a pint
10:00 Try the quiz, with a pint
10:30 On the coach
11:30 Stop for a couple of pints
12:30 On the coach to York
13:00 Enter the racecourse
Enjoy the races and have a few pints
18:00 Back on coach after last race
Back to the pub for a curry and a few pints

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tales From the Trip: #7 Everything's Tickety Boo

Blighty's Blog recently spent a fortnight in the United Queendom. We came back with some great "tales from the trip". Here's another one.

Up The Great North Road
Our journey up to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (see last post) took us along the "Great North Road" (more on that road in a future post). We didn't want to waste any time because, as you will understand if you did read the last post, the time of the tide waits for no man.

Mighty Castles, Beautiful Beaches
On the return trip to the Sunderland area we took the coastal road. The road along the Northumberland coast passes many castles and beautiful beaches. Along the way we made a short stop in the small town of Seahouses. This small town, during a one hour visit, provided Blighty's Blog with enough material for a whole series of blog posts.

How Are You Today?
We enjoyed a fish and chip supper (there's a blog post on that meal coming up) and then, on the walk back to our car, came across the fascinating vehicle pictured above. I have been fond of using the phrase "tickety-boo" for a long time. When some folk say "how are you today" they don't really expect an answer. So an appropriate response is "tickety-boo" which I used to believe was meaningless.

Tikai Babu
But when I researched the phrase, using the excellent resources of phrases.org.uk, I discovered that, in all likelihood, "tickety-boo" really does mean something.

According to a contributor to that site who uses the cryptic identity of "TheFallen" , t
he Hindi phrase transliterated as "tikai babu" means "everything's fine, sir".Which is exactly how I felt after eating an extraordinarily generous portion of fish & chips.