Mount Baker from BC

Mount Baker from BC
MOUNT BAKER from BC. Photograph courtesy of Mr Rob Hemmings of Baldock

August 19, 2013

Oh Canada!


We've just passed our two year anniversary since moving to Canada and I still can't quite get my head around it. For two reasons:
Firstly, that we are lucky enough to live here; with a spectacular mountain vista surrounding us, pretty provincial ski resorts and lovely pine-forested beaches within an hour's drive, and the glorious little seaside town of White Rock, two miles down the road.
And secondly, that it really feels like home already, and more so than anywhere else I've ever lived. The weird bit is trying to reconcile these two feelings, because they seem to be mutually exclusive. How can I feel at home, if it all still seems so new and magical at the same time?
It used to irritate my mother that I had no affinity with the place we called home in England, and where I spent most of my young life growing up. It was a pleasant, affluent UK seaside town, I enjoyed my school years and I had some lovely friends. But I always looked forward to eventually leaving, even though I didn't know where I wanted to go.


As I child we'd moved overseas on a few occasions, but during the 80s few people recognised the long-term effect this can have on a child's sense of belonging. And besides I wasn't unhappy, and I loved living in the US and Sweden - it was coming home that I dreaded and life seemed crashingly dull in comparison.
It was only when we moved to the Netherlands in 2008 and I started reading books and literature for expats and Third Culture Kids that I began to make sense of the way I had felt all my life. And despite loathing Deliverance - the small Dutch village we lived in prior to Canada - I still had no desire to return to England, I just wanted to find a 'forever' place far far away.
Looking back I think I have always been a closet Canadian, I just didn't realise it. So many of my favourite people and things are Canadian:
The scenery - I adore big sky country. Can't get enough of it. Rolling English countryside and the pan-flat polder-sodden bogs of Westfriesland just didn't do it for me.
Vancouver - Is there a more stunning 'new' city on earth? Framed by the magnificent North Shore mountains and in spite of the crappy weather I still think it knocks spots off Sydney, its nearest rival.
Trucks - Seriously, I always wanted one. But in the UK people assume you must be a chav, or tarmac driveways for a living if you own one... I love our shiny red truck, it's like driving a Tonka Toy.
Music - Some of my faves include Nelly Furtado, Nickelback, Barenaked Ladies and Bryan Adams (yup, I even liked THAT song, even after 19 weeks at No. 1), none of whom I realised were Canadians until I lived here (shame on me!).
Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling - Absolutely no explanation should be necessary here.
Terry Fox - has there ever been a more inspirational human being? Every September his poignant story is remembered at schools across Canada. And how come no one's heard of him outside of Canada?
Canada is like the US - but without the tackiness and the crazy gun laws.


Canadian Immigration Department - now this is the one thing that gets a two-fingered salute (UK equivalent of flicking the bird). May I strongly declare that their blatant incompetence and endless delays rival even the most blundering UK bureaucracy (and I've known a few). I expected more from a department run by Canadians who seem to efficiently run the country in every other way. That two years on, we are still waiting for our PR cards, is bloody annoying and despite submitting perfect paperwork before every deadline, there is still no end in sight.
But when one door closes another one opens and while my plans to start a business were thwarted for the above reason (because I'm not yet a permanent resident), I've gone back to writing and reviewing books, one of which was published on Dubai-based this week.
Written for anyone who's lived abroad and at times struggled to overcome the difficulties of starting a new life in a foreign country, then this one's for you: THE EMOTIONALLY RESILIENT EXPAT.

July 26, 2013

My new neighbour - Wile E. Coyote

In Canada it's every predator for himself. Clearly these two were after the same cat.

Vicious garden critters

After almost two years of living in BC, I am still getting to grips with the hardcore wildlife in this country.
I'm fairly well-travelled (having lived in the UK and US, Sweden, the Netherlands, and trips around Africa, Australia, Asia, India etc.), so one would think I'd be quite relaxed about suburban wildlife.
Let me explain:
I live in a leafy outpost of the Lower Mainland and my garden backs onto what is known as Elgin Creek: a pretty ravine situated about 50 feet from the periphery of my back garden.
Except that where I come from, I'm used to the odd spaniel-sized fox, peaceful little muntjac deers, and squirrels.
My friend, Tanya, did warn me when we moved to our new house a year ago that coyotes - or 'cod-ode-ees' - (as my No. 4 calls them), are fairly active in these here parts, but I have to confess that I thought Tanya might have been scaremongering her lily-livered Brit friend. But oh, she wasn't...
Two weeks ago on a Monday morning at 6.08am (because that's when I sat bolt upright in bed), I was woken by an almighty animalistic ruckus that sounded like it was going on in my garden. It was like something from a particularly graphic wildlife documentary and lasted for well over a minute - although it felt like much longer. It was horrific listening to some poor mammal being possibly eviscerated. Which of course it probably was.


What started off as a few frenetic high-pitched barks, culminated in a chorus of frenzied yowls, growls and howls, as a whole pack of them gruesomely dispatched 'something' - just out of sight in the forest. 'Disturbing', doesn't even begin to describe it.
Now I know the coyotes were not actually in my garden (because I checked to make sure they weren't munching on Donald), and if they'd been in the ravine behind our house the noise would have echoed (which it didn't), which tells me they were going about their murderous rampage in the bushes about 30 yards away from where I was sleeping.
And what no one tells you as a new resident to these shores (although tales of bears strolling around Whistler, and coyotes killing cats abound), is that some of these creatures are the size of a mangy Alsatian, which we discovered for ourselves a few months ago.
Sitting down to dinner one evening in March, we noticed a BIG scrawny dog sniffing around our lawn, and being unfamiliar with the local wildlife, it took a few seconds before it dawned on us that this was our resident alpha coyote.

Crazy flapping man

After quickly checking to make sure Donald was safely tucked away, Rob decided to scare him off by opening the door and making a lot of noise while doing his Big Bird impression (arms flapping, you get the picture). But the 'dog' wasn't intimidated. Quite the opposite in fact. It stopped and stared at him before nonchalantly turning around slowly and sauntering off into the bushes.
Since then I've actually heard firsthand stories (i.e. that I can verify since they came from source!) from two friends, one who lost their elderly cat, and the other a little Shih Tzu dog to coyotes.
And while attacks on humans are rare, small children are a potential appetizer, and in this case, a meaty-looking man who smelled of the KFC he'd been scoffing:

July 10, 2013


Kiddie hell

It's that time of year again and I'm wondering how I'm going to reach September with my sanity intact. I hate the summer holidays. I really do. It's twelve days in, and already I'm sick to death of the constant company of my children.
Despite there being four of them very close in age (i.e. readymade playmates), perfect summer weather, a 1 acre garden full of things to play with, a paddling pool and sprinkler, bicycles, a closet full of art and craft stuff, and not to mention bedrooms full of toys and books, why oh why do they have to spend the morning rolling around play-fighting (which inevitably escalates into full-blown violence within 10 minutes) - on my new sofa?
And it's not just the fighting, it's the constant mess that would only be avoided if I literally followed them around picking up after them, ALL DAY. And is it really so difficult to remember to flush the toilet and turn the light off afterwards? ARGHHHHH.....
Jesus, if only we could experience motherhood during the summer vacation - before we join the ranks. I seriously wonder how many of us would still do it?!

Beer festival

But if I sound particularly grumpy today, it's  because I am. I'm really really tired and still struggling to overcome the excesses of a very busy weekend. Busy, because we threw a beer festival-themed party for Rob's 43rd birthday on Saturday night, and I'm still paying the price of a very late night, too much ale, and a selection of jelly shooters...
We always used to have an annual summer party right up until we left the UK at the end of 2008, and now that we've really settled here in BC, we felt it was time to resurrect what had always been a popular tradition. So, indulging our inner-Austrians (Rob's ancestral heritage), and donning the costumes we rarely find an excuse to wear, we ordered a keg of Okanagan Bavarian lager and invited some chums over.
I'm not entirely sure when it ended, although I made it until about 2am - which at my age, and with four children to greet me at the crack of dawn, is not too shabby. I believe some other hardcore guests finally rolled home after 3, and after nobly ensuring that the keg didn't get returned with anything in it. But I think everyone enjoyed themselves, and if there was any doubt, my good friend Kelly (who hails from Calgary) sent me this email today:
Well, if that isn't gratitude, I don't know what is...
And just in case you've ever wondered how to make a good jelly shooter, here's one of my very own recipes:

Mojito jelly shooters

Plastic shot glasses from Dollarama
One can of canola oil cooking spray (to lubricate the shooter glasses)
Lime jelly
One lime
A few mint leaves
One teaspoon of sugar
Bottle of Bacardi, or 250ml to be precise
Crush the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar with a teaspoon of sugar and a little bit of hot water until it's ground up into a smooth paste
Grate the rind and juice the lime
Make the jelly mixture using boiling water, stirring until the powder's dissolved
Cool the jelly mixture by standing the bowl in a sink of cold water (or the alcohol might evaporate)
Add about 180-200 mls of Bacardi to the mint paste, lime juice and rind and make up to 250ml with a little cold water if necessary (or more Bacardi if you're really hardcore).
Pour Bacardi swill into the jelly mixture and chill in the fridge for about 4 hours.

January 6, 2013

Happy New Year!

New beginnings

Well, it’s been a while folks, and the last few months have flown by.
November saw me briefly returning to the Motherland to see family and friends, and to collect a pretty blue biscuit tin containing the last of the ashes from my poor old dad.
In true Spencer O’Rourke style, he’s ended up scattered here there and everywhere (at last count, it was the TT course in the Isle of Man, two different places in Ireland, Hatfield in the UK, and eventually somewhere in Canada).
I’m not sure where I’m going to put him yet but a couple of places spring to mind, and I might even do both. I would share, however I understand it’s not entirely legal to just go dispersing cremated relatives wherever you want, but suffice to say it will be somewhere peaceful and picturesque.
In life, my dad was a modern day Caine who spent much of his adult life just walking the earth (albeit designing cars and without the spiritual outlook and Kung Fu skills… but you catch my drift?), so it feels appropriate not to confine Grasshopper to one place in the afterlife.
Old chums

But that was two months ago, and now it’s January, and after a hectic family Christmas and a wonderful visit from old Brit friends, 2013 feels like it’s going to be a good one.
17 months after we moved here, living in Canada still feels like we’ve arrived in the Promised Land. I actually can’t think of a time of year here that I don’t enjoy (except Black Friday in Walmart, which is hell on earth). And this month is going to herald our inaugural trip to the ski slopes, en famille!
I’ve decked out the children with the appropriate attire, and after much nagging, the old man finally took himself off to Ripcurl and invested in a bright and trendy outfit that will ensure he never gets lost in a blizzard.
We are now very much a family with all the gear, and no idea!
Actually that’s not strictly true since I can ski and have done sporadically since I was a child, but Rob hasn’t put on a pair of skis in 30 odd years so it’ll be particularly interesting to see how his 42 year old carcass holds up on the slopes…
Bad news

But if one thing does cheese me off about Canada, it’s the boring news coverage and restrictive access to online newspapers.
As an online news junkie I now find myself in limbo-land with regards to current affairs, feeling very much stuck half way between English and Canadian newspapers.
While no longer interested in much of the daily news in the UK, at least stories are written in an engaging (often tongue-in-cheek) style that makes you want to read more – even if it is complete dross about the latest p*rn star Charlie Sheen’s been seen snogging in Mexico.
But I just can’t get excited about the content and layout of the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail.
Case in point, the lead story in today’s Sun was about Canada losing to Russia in the World Junior Hockey Championships.
I mean, really? I know Canadians pride themselves on being hockey-mad, but shouldn’t the massive earthquake in Alaska that sparked tsunami warnings along a lengthy part of the BC coastline today, come before a story about a bunch of feisty young men who chase a little back dot around the ice before frequently stopping to punch each other?!
As a Brit I clearly don’t quite get it yet, but just sayin…
Amateur film critic
But it has meant that I’ve started spending a bit less time in front of the computer, and more time catching up on some good movies, now that I’ve finally worked out how Netflix works using the Wii.
So I’ll finish with some recommendations (and a few self-indulgent opinions):
Smokin' Aces – Uber violent but very stylish gangster flick, with some big names. Not for kids, and don’t eat while you watch it, it’ll put you off your dinner.
Dear John – Romantic tosh with the lovely Channing Tatum. Forget what it’s about, just watch it to oggle the eye candy before he became Magic Mike.
Hunger Games – I thought this was going to be about something else entirely but it’s Running Man vs Lord of the Flies – for kids? Good. But I'm not entirely sure it's suitable for children...
The Notebook - How on earth did I only hear about this film recently? A fantastic romp (literally) about star-crossed lovers. Bittersweet and fabulous, with the swoon-some Ryan Gosling.

October 4, 2012

Miss Piggy

Big 'n' Chunky Sweet 16


This, ladies and gentleman, is what can happen to your carcass if you work in a chocolate factory.

Or, if you suddenly give up a childhood full of sport, to enjoy a Bacchanalian youth on the English Riviera (a.k.a. Southend-on-sea).

Worryingly, this is what could happen to me (again), now that all my children are in full-time education, if I don't start pounding the streets more often.

I won't blame my children if I get fat of course, but for the first time in 9 years, five whole hours during the day actually belongs to ME; and this means learning how to eat properly again during daylight hours.

Lunchtime, for almost a decade has been relegated to eating small quantities of something simple, scoffed on the hoof, while being constantly interrupted and summoned by midget drill sergeants with stereo calls for more drinks, or a shouted demand to wipe a bum.


I mean seriously, is there any better way to ensure you don’t gorge yourself on peanut butter sandwiches, than peering at a child’s deposits in the bottom of a toilet bowl?

It’s as though my children instinctively knew that they could help me to stay slim.

With Halloween around the corner and the knowledge that in just over 3 weeks, the house will be filled with candy again for at least another 6 months, I've taken a pre-emptive stance and increased my exercise regime.

This means going to the gym and running four times a week, and thanks to a hill-running workout with the Peninsula Runners on Tuesday night – which was surely designed for mountain goats (?) – my butt cheeks have been singing to me for two days now.

But with Saturday looming, and the need to slip into my favourite leopard print trousers for a party, I’m determined to spend all of tomorrow resisting the box of Tim Horton donuts that Rob brought home from work today…

Other than that it’s been a lovely week. Beautiful weather, some gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains, and pretty industrious now that I actually have time to work during the day.

Blundering abroad

And this week heralds the publication of Forced to Fly, a collection of stories by expat women about their foreign humiliations, one of which is written by yours truly!

An anthology that's previously found its way into corporate goodie bags for relocating employees, Forced to Fly is a humorous introduction to the inevitable cultural gaffes and embarrassing incidents that most of us face when living abroad.