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First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

Hi Folks,

Please bear with me on my first foray into blog writing! My aim will be to share with you my experiences of upping sticks after 50+ years in the UK, and launching ourselves into a new life in Hamilton, Ontario, sans family, who have been wonderfully supportive of our possibly slightly unhinged idea to have ‘an adventure’. Hopefully, as I get the hang of this, it may even become more sophisticated.

To begin…

We left Manchester last Saturday, after saying fond au revoirs to all our friends and family in the North West (and beyond). Ahead of us, a day of travelling to first Dublin, then onto Toronto, with 4 hours in between. R had thoughtfully put in a bid to upgrade to business class (successfully) and so we had use of the lounges and fast track boarding. Once on board we were delighted to find our seats were multi positional, had massage options, and we were plied with champagne and food throughout. R partook of a bit of shuteye, whilst I revelled in the film selection (managed to watch three). Immigration went smoothly, then onto Customs Declaration. This was like watching an episode of Border Force: it was impossible not to watch as officers rifled through belongings, lifting paper parcels and other dubious items out to be prodded and inspected for legality. Luckily we were waved through untouched.

Since touching down our week has been a whirlwind of bureaucracy: swapping UK for Canada licences, buying cars, fathoming out insurance, banks etc. On the plus side, the level of personal service we have received has been heartening, with everyone welcoming us to Canada and offering assistance outside of their remit to help us settle in. Long may it last! Soon we will be taking possession of our rental property, so I will leave it there for now, until we can show you round a little more.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

The Windy City

 

We headed to Chicago for a weekend break, blissfully unaware that this would be the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Despite certain reservations, although the city was incredibly busy everyone we met over our two days there was good humoured and pleasant.

Our first impression on dismounting the ‘L’ ( elevated) train (made iconic to those of you who, like me, were avid viewers of ER) was clear skies and some amazing skyscrapers set around the river. The river itself is spanned by 45 movable bridges and on Saturday, true to form, the river had the traditional dose of dye added to it, turning it a fluorescent green. This was watched by thousands of leprechauns and faeries amongst others lining the bridges through the downtown area.

 

 

Our first night was spent in a fantastic jazz club called Winter’s Jazz watching the Chris Madsen Quartet, drinking cocktails. The following day, after exploring the city on foot we saw ‘A Bronx’s Tale’ at the Nederlander Theatre; originally built as a lavish and exotic motion picture theatre in the 1920’s, it had a transformation into a theatre in the late 1990’s.

 

We visited Macy’s store in the Marshal Field Building. There are two iconic bronze clocks outside, allegedly put there strategically as somewhere for people to meet under, whilst being tempted in to shop. The original store building went up in 1893; balconies enfold a central atrium so shoppers could see what delights the other floors held, whilst above their heads is a magnificent Tiffany glass mosaic ceiling which took over 18 months for 50 artisans to complete. The layout would be familiar to anyone who has shopped on Oxford Street in London; strangely enough, one of Marshall Field’s employees apparently left to start his own retail outlet across the pond – a Mr Harry Selfridge no less!

 

After testing out some Chicago pizza, washed down with a pitcher of ale, we boarded the Mobster Tour bus; this took us out of the downtown area to see where the notorious criminals who took advantage of Prohibition lived, operated (and died). Gangsters operated in all parts of the city, but the most famous was Al ‘Scarface’ Capone. He was suspected of having ordered the St Valentine’s Massacre bloodbath in 1929 and, consequently, began to lose control of his empire as criminal charges mounted against him. Eventually he succumbed to the IRS’s relentless quest to catch him out and they brought him in for federal tax evasion; soon after he began his incarceration in Alcatraz.

 

 

 

Chicago was a great place to visit for a weekend – we only scratched the surface so plenty more to return for…

2018 – who’d have thought…

Mexico – Los Cabos

January saw us heading off to warmer climes, in the shape of San Jose del Cabo, on the western side of Mexico and borders by the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Our accommodation was stunning, with numerous pools to choose from, and waiter service to whichever four poster bed you happened to choose; a perfect spot to fire up the Kindles, order an cocktail and some guacamole, and unwind.
Whilst there we booked a whale watching trip with one of the local firms; after an early start to do the rounds of collecting people from the various hotels, we arrived in Cabo San Lucas to receive our briefing. On with the life jackets, a quick reccie by the guides to ensure even weight distribution on our boat, and off we went. Heading out of the bay we saw numerous sea lions basking on the rocks; quite a sight to see having only seen on or two at most in a sea life centre display. As we picked up speed and bounced across the waves our guide told us all about the local whales, and what we could hope to see. All eyes peeled and focused on the water, it wasn’t long before we noticed some fins and took up the chase. Despite the restriction on how close you can go to the hump backed whales, it wasn’t hard to see even from just a flipper the sheer size of them.
A spectacular dance show one evening told us some of the local legends surrounding the summoning of water gods, beautifully performed under a star lit sky. The local town put on an art walk once a week, with local art galleries and shops welcoming visitors with tequila and nibbles, whilst dancers and other performers entertained in the streets.
On our last day we sat on the beach listening to the waves crashing on the sands, when a hotel worker passed us with some poles and tape which he placed in a circle on the beach. As we watched, intrigued, a small crowd gradually accumulated around a hole where a couple of people were donning rubber gloves. My first (macabre) thought, bearing in mind what we hear about Mexico, was that some body parts had been found.      However, the general mood of the group was one of cheerful fascination, so my initial guess seemed unlikely. On investigation, to my delight, it proved to be a nest of hatching turtles, gradually emerging or being helped from their respective shells by the rescue squad. The baby turtles are then taken to be cared for until they reach a viable size to be safely returned to the wild.
A wonderful bonus to behold at the end of a truly restorative break.

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Fire and Ice

February brought us a ray of sunshine in the form of daughter T, hotfoot from London, for a well earned break. With R heading off to the heat and smog of Pune and Mumbai for a work conference, our weather decided to crank up the snow delivery. Dog walks took us to magical places, where no one had set foot on the new sprinkling of fairy dust, and Hector gathered icicles on his whiskers and between his toes. It was the weather for baking, log fires, and a wee dram before bedtime; plenty of time for catching up and chewing the fat.
Despite the near cancellation due to poor road conditions, we managed to get to Dundas for a long awaited workshop with PMC (precious metal clay). Sandra (touch-of-glass.ca) watched over us as we fashioned our clay into pieces of jewelry to be fired. The following day we returned to scrub and polish our pieces to a shine.

 

Family Day February 19th

With R working, and most businesses and shops shut for the annual Family Day, I was looking forward to a long dog walk with a friend, followed by some uninterrupted art time for myself.
Fate however, had different plans for me; one smoke alarm going off, one fire extinguisher that proved woefully inadequate, and eight fire trucks (plus police cars and paramedics) later, we had been rendered homeless by an electrical fire.
After a few calls were put out, friends and neighbours rallied round, whisking Hector off our hands, and scooping us up for hot tea and sustenance. Later that afternoon, we were allowed back in to gather some possessions whilst there was still daylight; what earlier that day had resembled a home of familiar objects had turned to an alien landscape of furniture huddled under tarps, belongings blackened and tossed in a heap, and an acrid, clinging tang in the air. We retreated to our hosts’ in subdued silence.
The following week flew by in a flurry of frenzied rummaging to retrieve and salvage as much as we could (with help) followed by the eerie sight of people from the insurance company in white boiler suits and masks logging and bagging items piece by piece, room by room. Airing dirty laundry had nothing on the sensation of strangers picking over the bones of our seemingly ordered lives and possessions once again.
Move on two weeks and people have continued to be our saving grace, not only with kind wishes, but the practical too. Homemade soup and a glass of Canadian wine after a day that began at 4am and consisted of relentless packing, washing, transporting of goods until I could barely function; the collection of items by unknown people who’d heard of our plight and wanted to give us household items (and a leash for Hector) to keep us going; and the seemingly endless generosity and kindness of our hosts.
We are in the process of buying a property here, prompted by the desire to be responsible for our own safety, and the privacy that ownership provides.
Wish us luck!

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MOVING ON

April 2018

Our move went relatively smoothly, and we were finally reunited with our belongings; having undergone so many moves in the last two years where your worldly goods are totally at the mercy of someone else’s care (or negligence) does make you reconsider what is actually of importance. It’s so easy to hang onto items that aren’t truly necessary, and we have become more circumspect about this – I think…
An unexpected bonus on our arrival was my sighting in our new garden of a family of foxes – parents and six cubs; playing around in the snow in plain sight of us watching was a real privilege. Unfortunately, since Hector came home, they have kept a very low profile, although the odd piece of squirrel turns up now and then.
Friends again rallied round to help us move some of our belongings over to the house, plus my sister arrived on the day and straightaway got stuck in unpacking and stowing items whilst R and I checked where each box should go. J and I eventually had a chance to catch up in the evening, and spent a fantastic week together, mixing settling into the house with visits to Niagara and Toronto.

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Spring eventually arrived, bring with it the promise of new beginnings, and what better way to mark the occasion than with a wine tour of Niagara on the Lake! Organised byRobert’s nursing colleagues, we pitched up expecting a coach to transport us there but instead, we had the full party bus experience; leather couches, disco lights and some prosecco to get things underway. We visited a variety of wineries, testing out wine, various ciders (including one mixed with whisky – it sold out very fast), and learning about the history of wine making in the region. The weather, the scenery and the company leant itself to a throughly enjoyable day, although the journey home got a little high spirited, with dancing and pole dancing challenges taking centre stage; what stories the bus drivers could tell!

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Lobster season at the end of May meant more feasting, and the local lavender farm began their annual planting out. The countryside around Hamilton is in complete contrast to the smoky steelworks of the city, with rolling fields interspersed with woodland stretching for miles. The Grand River weaves its way through this area, linking indigenous territory with modern Canadians, not always in a harmonious manner. Tensions are still evident in the occasional blockade as the Six Nations continue to dispute ownership of the land.

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Blacksmithing has always been something that intrigued R so, courtesy of the children, he headed out to Milton, Ontario for a hot day at the forge – see photographic evidence.

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a totally gratuitous picture of Hector enjoying his new garden.

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Winter Wonderland

Snow hit us in December, transforming fields and roads into an eiderdown of sparkling white. Familiar dog walks became an enchanted land of virgin snow that crunched and squeaked underfoot. Christmas decorations that had begun appearing rather incongruously in November suddenly made sense, and the local carols and tree lighting ceremony across the way from our house seemed fitting. The Winter Lights at the Royal Botanical Rock Gardens gave us insight into the changes that winter brings, the pastimes and fun it provides, and a sprinkling of illuminations magic.

Hector’s first encounter with this new element was one of pure joy; at last something you could eat, bury your head in, and bring home in large icy clumps on your fur. However, as the temperature continued to drop, there was a certain reticence when asked to go outside at regular intervals to ‘perform’.

Having waited almost a year to get our fireplace up and running, our landlord finally gave in and managed to organise repairs the week before Christmas. R went out foraging, and proudly lined up our new log pile on the verandah. A good malt, a roaring fire, a fine hound on the rug and, at last, it felt something like a home.

On December 18th I then headed back to the UK, leaving R to relentless shifts and the kind offer of a Christmas dinner with friends.

Manchester greeted me with damp grey skies, but also the promise of seeing sorely missed friends and family, which wrapped around me like a good waterproof. Nights out with neighbours, the Christmas show at the Royal Exchange, and discovering new restaurants in the city centre took me nicely to my journey south with Sammie and Seth to meet up with Tamsin, my sister Jan, and finally my parents. It was lovely to all be together, if only briefly, before heading North again to continue catching up with friends, and a final splurge of retail.

Dragging our overloaded suitcases to the station for the Airport train, I felt truly blessed by the generosity and unstinting hospitality of everyone I’d encountered.

New Year

Back in Canada the generosity of new friends kicked in; an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party from a local shop keeper allowed us the opportunity to meet some more locals, and we saw in New Year’s Day at Ancaster Mill Restaurant, tucking into one of their famous brunches whilst marvelling at the frozen water

mill cascade outside. As our first ‘Canadian anniversary’ loomed, R and I took the time to reflect on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of our first year. Although it has been a roller coaster ride in many ways, we have learnt so much about ourselves, this amazing country we are lucky enough to experience and explore, and feel privileged to have been welcomed so warmly by so many wonderful new friends.

And now I’ll stop the indulgent alliteration and gushing…

Wishing the best of everything for all our friends in 2018.

Town and Country: Alpacas and Arlington

Halloween was a bit of a let down; having stocked up on treats in anticipation, got our Halloween pumpkins and decorations on display, on the night we did not have one single caller. I think this could probably be a record here!

I recently visited a local alpaca farm called Alpacas From Eighth and Mud with a friend who is interested in adding to her collection of animals. The farm shop sells anything from hand knitted items to home produced maple syrup. We were lucky enough to be offered a tour where, we not only got up close and personal with all the alpacas and their guard dogs, but were shown the various machines involved in the process of cleaning, preparing, and dyeing the wool. The alpacas were timid but friendly, following us around in a huddle and occasionally checking us out with a quick sniff. Their wool is hypoallergenic, and felt beautifully soft both on and off the alpacas. The farm is very involved in demonstrations and learning with local schools and colleges, as well as contributing to Knitted Knockers, an organisation involved in aftercare for breast cancer sufferers, by making and selling stuffed alpaca boobs. We left loaded with maple syrup, alpaca insoles (incredibly warm) and the desire to find an excuse to go back and see the animals again soon.

R had a week’s vacation booked for November, and decided we should go to see Washington DC. Our hotel was (the) Watergate Hotel, a early 1960’s build that caused controversy with its modern ‘space age’ design amongst the more conservative Washingtonians. Its location by the Potomac River and close to the neighbourhood of Georgetown, a quaint area reminiscent of an English village with up market shops and eateries and apartments overlooking the canal, was ideal for walking into the centre of town. Our first day we did a trolley bus tour which included a visit over to Arlington Cemetery. Our transfer bus driver was a joy; on a twenty minute journey we had learnt not only a huge amount about the cultural and social history of Washington, we had exchanged life stories and been invited to her house for Thanksgiving (sadly, we had to decline). Her infectious laughter and thigh slapping antics set us up nicely for the rest of the tour. Arlington’s size was impressive (and sobering), as we checked out JFK’s headstone and went on to see the Unknown Soldier’s tomb. Having always been told by my mum that I arrived a week before JFK’s untimely murder, it seemed weirdly appropriate to connect with this event in some way.

Continuing with the theme of murder, I was keen to catch an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery entitled ‘Murder is Her Hobby’: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies. Known as the Mother of Forensic Studies, in the 1940’s and 50’s she created a collection of detailed dioramas of unexplained murders scenes, which were incredibly accurate depictions used for training up and coming detectives. In the same way people rubberneck at dramatic car pile ups, these ‘doll house’ scenes were strangely captivating, each one challenging the viewers to try and fathom out exactly how each person might have met their demise.

Other places we visited whilst in Washington were the National Air and Space Museum (lots about the history of flight from the Wright Brothers to lunar landings), the Spy Museum (can’t tell you about that one), a quick glimpse into the Natural History Museum, and a fantastic collection of Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting at the National Gallery of Art. Finally, to top off our visit and celebrate my birthday, we had a riverside meal at a lovely fish restaurant followed by a (late) evening at the Jazz Alley Club watching an amazing jazz violinist and her band called the Chelsea Green Project. We left the city feeling that we could easily find more to see on another visit, including the famous cherry trees in the spring.

Lazy Hazy Crazy Summer

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Our first summer in Canada is now over; the Fall has taken hold, although the colours didn’t come to their full glory before the winds swept them away. I have enjoyed living in shorts, outdoor swimming and endless ice cream; less so the variety of insects that we’ve encountered, prompting us to buy a fly screen tent for the patio – fantastic!
Our second wave of visitors arrived (all three offspring), as did our new puppy, which slightly curtailed our sightseeing tour to showcase our new location. However, it was wonderful to introduce Hector to the family, and experience some of his ‘firsts’ all together.

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The remaining summer has involved reacquainting ourselves with the rigours of looking after and training our pup. Having done this once before I think we felt we had a good idea of what to do; then came the realisation that we were over 25 years older this time around, and puppies are all very very different.
We are now, as Hector reaches 18 weeks, the other side of house training (tick), sleepless nights (tick) and waiting for his inoculations to kick in (tick). Now, with a little official puppy training under our belts, a recommended training harness to curb his pulling (Hector can do a fine impression of a powerful traction engine), and some autumnal sunshine, we have thoroughly relished getting out and exploring as a team.

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Hope to report back soon on Halloween, Washington DC and further dog training!

Local Fun and Celebrations

Ancaster Heritage Days
Our location in the centre of old Ancaster is proving to be fortuitous. Since June we have had numerous events happening pretty much on our doorstep. Ancaster Heritage Days provided us with many different activities, including a writing workshop (met some lovely people), a jazz evening, a craft fair (quality stuff), and culminated in a street procession and soap box derby. We had the added delight of having portaloos positioned directly opposite our front door – plenty of entertainment there! 

 We also have been enjoying the delights of a pop up ice cream parlour just around the corner from us, open until 9pm every night (next to Caniche Bakery) – it’s pure torture.

 On Canada’s 150 ‘birthday’, we joined our fellow Ancastrians at the Old Town Hall for music and fireworks, a real family event. Afterwards we watched other fireworks going off all over Hamilton from our verandah. The Maple Leaf is evident everywhere; although there has been some debate about the authenticity of the anniversary, particularly amongst the indigenous population, it has been heartening seeing the positivity and enthusiasm most Canadians have in lauding the country they call home.

Artisans, Antiques and Awesome Feats

Now that the weather has finally (mostly) picked up, local events have also been hotting up. At the start of May Hamilton have their Doors Open weekend, where places of interest (museums, hotels, industrial buildings, masonic lodges, mosques etc) allow public access. We went along to the Cotton Factory to see behind the closed doors of all the small businesses located there. Set up to provide work spaces at reasonable prices there is a diverse range: it is home to the HAGS, an aerial arts group, photo studios, costumes, leather working, painters, potters, and the list goes on.

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Last weekend we headed over to Christie’s Lake, part of the Hamilton Conservation area, where we recently launched our kayak in Canadian waters for the first time. They hold a huge antiques fair twice a year, and we were interested to see what was on offer. I’m not quite sure what Fiona Bruce would have had to say about many of the goods for sale as ‘antiques’, but there were certainly plenty of intriguing artifacts that I had never clapped eyes on in the UK. Every item had a story…

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Finally, I attended the annual Buskerfest in Dundas with friends. The main street is closed to traffic, and all the local shop owners bring their wares outside to join in the fun. It was a scorching Saturday, which had me wondering about the problem of sweaty palms for the acrobats, as we were ‘glowing’ just watching them build up to their most spectacular tricks. Full admiration for these talented individuals who literally tour the world, reliant on the fickle generosity of the crowd.

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There are more local events to report on in the coming weeks, so I shall leave it there for now, and get back with more soon!

Prize to those of you who spotted a familiar face somewhere in the photos – collect only