Thursday, March 31, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"Into Your Arms" by Nick Cave
"Sour Times" by Portishead

It's as though the federal party leaders knew I was planning to emigrate. For the fourth time in seven years, we're heading to the polls. Luckily enough for me, I'll be able to vote in the advance polls, as I'll be in Scotland by Election Day (May 2nd, for those keeping score). Those who know me know that I am a political junkie. And we're not talking your average run-of-the-mill-I-like-The-West-Wing-so-now-I-like-politics junkie. Oh no. I'm a CPAC-watching, MP-emailing, hansard-reading junkie. A Canadian federal election is my Superbowl. It's my Stanley Cup (bingo bango bongo). It's my Brier.

By the by, if you caught those last two references, you might be a Canadian.

So I should be thrilled about this election, and yet I'm ambivalent. Not because I don't think there should be an election right now. It's clear that the Government of Canada was in contempt of Parliament regarding Bev Oda and the Jets (also the name of my band). No, I've already decided how I'll be voting and am now focussed on coming up with a good drinking game for the Leaders' Debate.

After I establish residency in Scotland - which will be nearly as soon as we land - I will only be eligible to vote in Canadian elections for 5 more years. That's right. After five years abroad, I'll no longer be allowed to exercise my right of franchise. I'll still be a Canadian citizen, but I won't be allowed to vote.

So what's the big deal, you ask? After all, I'll be applying for residency and eventual citizenship in the UK, right? Just vote in the UK and be done with it. It's still a vote, after all. Does it really matter which country you're casting it in?

Maybe I'll feel different after I've been in Scotland for a while, but as it stands right now the thought of never again being able to vote in a Canadian election is about as devastating as the knowledge that I'll probably only see my family once a year. I remember every vote I've ever cast. I remember how Mom got teary-eyed not when I got my driver's license or graduated high school, but when I cast my first vote.

If Harper wins a majority, he'll probably manage to hold onto power for the full 5 years, which means that this will be my last federal election. It will also probably be good that I'll have beat the rush to get out of Canada. If Ignatieff wins a majority, he'll probably manage to hold onto power for the full 5 years, which means that although this is my last federal election, at least I'll get to see the Liberals back in power. If either the CPC or the Liberals win a minority, chances are I'll be able to vote at least once more from abroad.

So, gentle readers, consider voting ABC (Anything But Conservative) for this poor blogger. Help her to vote in at least one more election, or at the very least allow her to leave the country smiling with the knowledge that the Liberals are back in power.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

british money...

Today's soundtrack:
"We Used to Wait" by Arcade Fire

... is crazypants. No, admit it. It really is. I would know. I come from a country with a currency not all that dissimilar to Monopoly money. We call our one dollar coin the loonie. Our 5¢ coin has a beaver. I know crazy money. And you, gentle Brit readers, you have crazy money.

Today I give you a Canadian's guide to British currency, beginning with the penny and the two pence, which for some reason isn't called two pennies. Also, why do you have 2p? Is the whole concept of having 1p not wasteful enough? Every country and their dog is trying to do away with pennies, yet for some reason you've found a way to make two kinds of redundant coins.

Anyway, here's what a penny looks like:

Innocent enough? But wait until you see what 2p looks like:

Well, that's a rather large jump in size. I expect, based on this, for sand-dollar sized nickels.. sorry, 5p.. to be in order. But no, the 5p is roughly the same size to the penny.

Which would be fine, were the 10p a practical size as well. But no, somebody at the mint hit the supersize button and we end up with this:

Okay, I think I've got it figured out. Small, large, small, large. I see the pattern. British money - sorted.

What the hell is that? No, seriously. What about 20p suggests heptagon?

See, now this is just getting ridiculous. I understood the whole small, big thing. I even understood the difference between the colours (brown for 1p and 2p, silver for 5p and 10p), but this polygon business is just getting silly. What's next - squares? Triangles?

Ah, even better. A £1 coin which is roughly the same size at 20p. Right. That shouldn't be confusing at all. I mean, it's not like the £2 coin and the 50p are the roughly the same size.

Well, crap.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

6 years in 18 discs

Today's soundtrack:
Q on CBC Radio One

In the ongoing effort to reduce how much we're moving to Scotland, I've spent the past day digitizing all the music we own. The vast majority of our CDs are about to find themselves unceremoniously dumped at a local used CD shop for a pittance. There are some CDs, however, that I cannot bear to part with, even though I've already ripped them onto my computer. It's the memory of opening that particular CD case for the first time and flipping through the liner notes. The well-constructed artwork that accompanies the music, the live albums from the concerts you attended.

It goes without saying that my entire Radiohead selection is making the move. I simply refuse to part with a single disc. The Iron Lung EP I found at the used record store at Country Club Mall. The Airbag EP that I may or may not have skipped Math class to buy. I still remember the first time I heard "There There", sitting in our Florence apartment, drinking cheap rotgut chianti and eating gelato out of the carton.

Deciding on the rest of the CDs was more difficult. I was shocked when I tossed my Cranberries into the "to be sold" pile. Nine Inch Nails, U2, Pink Floyd, and Our Lady Peace didn't make the cut. So what did? And why?

Wide Mouth Mason's self-titled debut (1997): When I wasn't listening to Radiohead, this album was in high rotation. When they played at Malmenage, my sister and I were in the front row, singing along to every song. I was too chicken to ask for anything more than an autograph. My sister, on the other hand, got a hug.

54-40's Heavy Mellow (1999): It's impossible to grow up on the West Coast and not know 54-40. This live album is actually from their tour in 1998. I was at their Nanaimo show.

The Smashing Pumpkins's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995): Because I was a teenager in the '90s and reading Hamlet only does so much for angst. I saw them years later at Summersault. Even though Corgan's not much of a stage presence, hearing "1979" live was like nothing I've since experienced.

Matthew Good Band's Underdogs (1997) and Beautiful Midnight (1999): Beyond having seen them live during the supporting tour for Beautiful Midnight, these albums are completely entwined with my last three years of high school.

Sloan's Twice Removed (1994) and One Chord to Another (1996): Part of the East Coast Explosion. Although I still regret not seeing them live, I doubt I could hear "I Can Feel It" without becoming a puddle.

Joni Mitchell's Hits (1996): An important part of the Folk phrase of my life as an undergrad.

Alanis Morissette's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998): In my opinion, her best album. Nothing before or after hits on this level of confessional honesty. Just what a hormonal 16-year old needs.

Carole King's Tapestry (1977): When I was working at Stokes at Woodgrove, this album was the soundtrack to nearly every day.

Manic Street Preachers' This is my Truth Tell me Yours (1998): My then-boyfriend was a real anglophile, which is how I came to know the Manic Street Preachers. Have adored them ever since, although this is the only album of theirs I refuse to part with.

Stereophonics' Word Gets Around (1997) and Performance and Cocktails (1999): I saw them live when they were touring in support of Our Lady Peace. The drummer kept trying to flip his drumstick in the air and catch it, unsuccessfully. Folks on the other side of the stadium had a giant Wales flag and the energy was far and away better than what Our Lady Peace brought to the stage.

The Verve's Urban Hymns (1997): Although it captures those final, fraught years of high school, this album always resonated as something deeper than the other British music floating around my collection (I'm looking at you, Oasis).

Neil Finn's Try Whistling This (1998): I couldn't point out Crowded House if my life depended on it, you understand. However, this album got me out of a tight spot one night as it allowed me to prove that even though I was on the wrong side of 30, at least I knew good music.

Arcade Fire's Funeral (2004) and Neon Bible (2006): Answering the age-old question of "who is Arcade Fire?"

Kid Koala's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (2000): The soundtrack to my first two years of undergrad. Nothing gets me giggling like "Like Irregular Chickens".

Aside from Arcade Fire, the majority of this music highlights 1994-2000, those angst-ridden teenage years. Which is why these albums are impossible to part with. Not only were they playing constantly in my room and on my discman, they are connected to nearly everything I did and felt during those 6 years. In all honesty, I should shove these discs in my nostalgia box, beside my yearbooks.

I never thought 18 CDs would sum up my teenage years.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

where we're going, i don't know

Today's soundtrack:
"I'll Bring The Sun" by Jason Collett
"Let's Talk" by Hannah Georgas
"Be Who U-R" by Underground Realroad feat. Miss Tee
"Procrastinator's Fight Song" by Shout Out Out Out Out
"Camilo (The Magician)" by Said the Whale
"Change of Season" by Sweet Thing

Miguel and I have now moved into what can only be described as a pre-acclimatizing acclimatizing mode. We're watching YouTube clips of Burnistoun and listening to BBC Radio Scotland in order to get used to the accent. This has been more or less successful, in that I can now do a pretty hilarious version of a very bad Scottish accent, and Miguel has no idea what anyone is saying. "Is that still English?" is a common refrain, especially when we're listening to the samples of Scots on But in all fairness to Miguel, Scots isn't English, which I'm sure would be reassuring if he could understand the Scottish English accent.

Part two of our pre-acclimatizing acclimatizing is watching movies set in Scotland. The list of to-be-watched movies currently consists of 39 Steps, Local Hero, Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, Chariots of Fire, and The Winter Guest. I've seen half of these movies already, due many to a sizeable Ewan McGregor obsession I was afflicted with as a teenager. I'm a little hesitant at watching The Winter Guest again, as it's a quite bleak and wintery portrait of the area we're likely to be moving to (East Neuk). Miguel might mutiny and start to rethink this whole Scotland adventure.

So, gentle readers, can you suggest any other films or TV shows that we should be watching in order to prepare ourselves for life in East Fife (I'm looking at you, Lady J)?

Although, with all this preparing that we're doing for Scotland... is Scotland ready for us? A snapshot from not five minutes ago: I was explaining how CBC Radio 3 works to Miguel. Shout Out Out Out Out's "Procrastinator's Fight Song" was playing. In summing up how the system works, I turn to Miguel and say "so, basically, we're hipsters," at which point we break into our imitation hipster dancing (well, technically chairdancing. Turns out we're lazy hipsters that can't be bothered to stand when dancing). After a minute, Miguel turns to me and says "I really hope no one is recording this".

Are you ready for us pseudo-hipster, quasi-intellectual expats, Fife?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

scotland, the canada of the uk

Today's soundtrack:
Northern Exposure

So, you may be asking yourself just what I'm looking forward to in Scotland. Deep-fried Mars bars aside (far, far aside), the prospect of living in Scotland is undeniably exciting. Understanding that everything I know about Scotland I learned from Trainspotting, Braveheart, Scott's Bride of Lammermoor, Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and Robbie Burns, there are clearly gaps in my knowledge. Also, the fact that not all Scottish men look like Ewan McGregor or James McAvoy has come as something of a disappointment.

If we are particularly lucky, we'll find housing in St. Andrews. I'm working to get past the fact that many of the ancestors of the students at St. Andrews oppressed my ancestors, focusing instead on the beautiful ruins of the Cathedral. Apparently I won't be able to swing a cat without hitting some historical building that's been around longer than my country. This is not a new feeling. When Miguel and I are in Spain, we regularly end up in cafes that have been around since the early 19th century. I've never lived that close to history, however. Well, not since those five weeks in Florence. And even with all those weeks, I never felt like I had managed to take it all in. Maybe with 5 years instead of 5 weeks, I'll be able to really experience St. Andrews.

Beyond the ruins, although, what I'm looking forward in Scotland is really what I love doing here in Canada, but in a new, more exotic (snicker all you want) locations. Hiking in the Rockies was amazing, but hiking the Highlands? And Fife apparently has half-decent cycle paths, which means that Miguel and I can jump on our bikes, ride for a few hours, have lunch beside the ruins of a castle, and be home in time for dinner. Or tea. Well, whatever it's called.

And although everyone keeps warning me about the damp and the cold, I'm really not all that concerned. I just spent six years living on the Canadian prairie. I walked from the University to Grosvenor Park in the blizzard. I've survived -50ºC. The cold? Bah! No danger of frostbite, no concern from this canuck. And the damp? Well, that's what has me quite excited about moving to St. Andrews. I spent the first seven years of my life on the north end of Vancouver Island, in a little logging town on the edge of the Strait of Georgia. Yet there were weeks where no one saw the islands just off the shore on account of the fog. The foghorn doubled as my alarm clock most days. And the rain. The wind would come howling in and the rain would fall at a 45º angle. Umbrellas were useless. Industrial rain gear was the only thing that worked. We'd have one or two warmish days in the summer, the dads would set up a PVC drainage pipe (sawn in half) into a wading pool. Our waterslide. In the winters, heavy snow would fall, our neighbour would bring out his machete and make igloo blocks. And in the spring and fall, simply because they could, bears and the occasional cougar would wander through the village.

Even though St. Andrews has no cougars or bears, I still feel like the climate will be all too familiar. The big shock will be the culture. The food, the people, the language, the customs. All that driving on the other side of the road business.

And the deep-fried Mars bars.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
The King of Limbs by Radiohead

Kristen's comment on the last post got me thinking about things that I'm bound to miss once we move to Scotland. Not to get pre-nostalgic about Canada or to put unreasonably low expectations on St. Andrews, but she does make an excellent, if not altogether terrifying, point. The absence of good showers aside, I've traveled outside of Canada enough to know that there are some aspects that I miss when I'm away in Spain. It's not necessarily a longing for things or people, but for a place.

After all, it's hard to put my finger on what exactly it is about a prairie winter that I'll miss. The -37ºC windchill? The black ice? Even now, when the days are getting longer and the cabin fever is receding, I can't look out at a snowy morning and not smile. Coffee cup in hand, watching the snow fall and the inevitable quiet that follows. Margaret Atwood is right. The Canadian narrative is about survival, and there's really nothing that makes me feel as though I could look my homesteading ancestors in the eye than when I come out the other end of a particularly miserable snowstorm.

And then there are the mountains. Hiking through the Rockies the other year, the Romantic concept of sublime hit on a much deeper, less intellectual level than it had in university. It's not the size, or the colours, or the meandering goat paths, but put all together... and it still doesn't come close. The only way I can think to describe the Rockies is in a way that only two gentle readers of this blog will understand. Walking through the Rockies, up at Lake Louise and Sulphur Mountain, was like walking down the street, looking up, and realizing that I'm standing in front of the Duomo. That weak-in-the-knees overwhelming sense of place.

I can't leave off the cedars. That smell in the air when the cedars have been sun-blasted all afternoon. I don't remember ever walking through it, only driving past it on the way to Victoria, but Goldstream Park, with all the Spanish Moss hanging off the branches, always looked so impossibly green. Every conceivable shade. And even though the sun had been on the cedars all day, there was still that little bit of ferndamp as you walk through, leaving dark streaks on your pants. Or so I imagine.

So I could quip humorously (ideally) about how I'm going to miss double-paned windows and rain-free days, but the snow has been falling all day, I've got a cup of tea in my hand, and I'm remembering all the prairie winters and Rocky Mountain hikes I'll miss.