Category Archives: travel

Seaton Hiking Trail

My British blood means that there is a very specific range of temperatures between which I am comfortable and willing to leave the house. That range falls between one-degree with several jumpers and about room temperature with slightly less jumpers. Anything outside of this range and I would rather be hibernating like an angry bear. However, autumn is soon upon us, and so revives my hiking.

ASeaton Trail Maplthough I would like to get back to my self-imposed springtime challenge of walking the length of The Don (read about that here), over the last couple of days, I have been walking The Seaton Trail.

The trail is located north-west of Toronto. It is about 13km (8 miles) long. There is a logistical issue with this trail that will make it more difficult than The Don.  There is no public transport. I will have to park my car, walk some trail, but then walk back to my car, thus doubling the length of the trail. At the time of writing, I have walked about half of the trail in two short days.

Day One

The Northern end of the trail begins just off Highway 7, east of York Durham Line (for Brits, this is the road that splits York “county” and Durham “county”). It’s about 30 minutes drive from where I live and there is a small parking area which was about three-quarters full when I arrived around 2pm.

jewelweedAs I began making my through the dirt trail, I rounded a marshy area with a small creek which was lined with Spotted Jewelweed, a yellow./orange flower speckled with darker spots. I was thinking to myself that they reminded me somewhat of the Snapdragon plant that is familiar to me from England, when I spotted a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird drink from one of the conical flowers, as silent and elusive as a wisp. It quickly zipped away, followed by a second hummingbird.

stairsI marched onwards. The terrain is easy, but there are occasional wooden steps to navigate as the trail rises up the valley walls, carved by the West Duffins Creek and the retreat of the Glacial Lake Iroquois which formed the water systems throughout Ontario around 13,000 years ago.

whitevalewaterfallThe weather was a little damp with occasional spitting rain, and so animal life was sparse, beyond a few brave Chickadees and an obstinate Crow. The trail ended at Whitevale Road due to bridge construction, but my GPS unit, with the trail marked on my map, showed that the trail had a loop. I took the other loop back to the start of the trail and eventually came to Whitevale Pond and a waterfall. A re-visit to this area during the spring of 2016 is called for, as I have since heard that Salmon make their return journey along this waterway, attempting to jump the waterfall. I disturbed a beautiful, prehistoric looking Great Blue Heron as I made my way around the pond. He flapped lackadaisically away towards some distant perch.


Day Two

I returned from where I had left off, near to Whitevale Road, about a week later. I was apprehensive at first. It was a whopping 26 degrees out, way above my usual threshold, but the day turned out to be a perfect for a walk in the woods.

I walked through the dew covered grass of Whitevale Park towards the trail, which was beautifully sun-dappled, thanks to the Maple and Fir. Each time a range of denser Fir began, the sound of scalding chickadees fluttered through the forest and the squealing, squeaking alarm of chipmunks as they would dash impulsively to the nearest tree. From their vantage point on the offside of a tree trunk, they would freeze, staring at you, almost certain that they were invisible to your threat.


Into the denser woodland, the floor coated in pine needles and fern, a distant, gentle “queedle” of two Blue Jays, a bird now considering its southward migration before the arrival of the unrelenting snow. Off the trail, the trees mostly left to their devices, some felled birch trees, their silver bark like wallpaper for the ground. Somewhere close by, a nuthatch, his unmistakable nasal report.

Several American Red Squirrels were fighting over the right to acorns and territories, all the better to store their horde for the harsher times ahead. No time to waste. As the trees thinned out, banks coated with Bur-Marigold were enjoyed by the community of bees, a species we now love but maligned for so long. And then, on top of a ridge, a vista of the creek.


The trail turned towards some open fields. Lined to the right by expired maize, to the left, apple trees whose deposited fruit sweetly perfumed the air. The trickling sound of the river, like a babbling brook, its sound emanating from the shallow riverbed of stones, rounded from decades of erosion.

daisyBeside the trail, some areas overtaken by white, yellow and purple weeds, Daisy Fleabane, Aster and Goldenrod, beloved by the insects that made this their home. Cabbage White Butterflies flew excitedly around, battling gentle breezes. A pale-yellow bodied dragonfly with neon blue wings.

I turned back once I reached Whites Road. There is parking here, so I will continue on at a later date. On my way back along the trail, back up in to the open fields, a pair of Turkey Vultures soared the hillside thermals in search of, perhaps, an unlucky squealing chipmunk. Some time later, back towards my car, a flash of yellow and a streak of black. A warbler, but my binoculars were in the car. A Blackburnian Warbler, I fancied. One of my favourites.

Parts 3 and 4? to follow.

Day One GPS Tracks:
Day Two GPS Tracks:

The Don River East Part One

20150416_100457So far, I have chronicled my walk along Taylor-Massey Creek, a tributary of The Don River (see here). Following on from this, I then walked south from the confluence of the creek and The Don River, to where the river empties into Lake Ontario (see here).

On Wednesday 15th April, I started from the same spot from where I had begun in my last post: where Taylor-Massey Creek enters The Don. This time, however, I would head up-river, to the north.

The Don River is formed from two branches, imaginatively named The East Don River and The West Don River. The split is actually just a few hundred yards away from where Taylor-Massey joins the East branch, and where I finished my first hike.

This hike was all a bit last minute, really. I had the day off work, but had a couple of errands. One of them involved a visit to the passport office at Scarborough Town Centre, and anyone that has had the misfortune to face this particular strain of torture knows that the time taken to have an application form transcribed by a stern and yet somehow glaze-eyed operator, can take anywhere between 45 minutes and 45 hours. I didn’t really plan ahead, and when it only took an hour or so to wade through the treacle that is City of Toronto corporate entropy, I just drove straight to the river.

First problem: There was no marked trail
Second problem: There was no marked trail
I know that this is technically the same problem written twice, but I feel that it was such a issue, that it deserved repeating.

20150416_101539When I parked my car, I took a look at Google Maps on my useless Samsung S4 and its freezing issue that takes hold at the most infuriating moments, and I immediately noticed the lack of the tell-tale little grey pathway that I assumed would be beside the river. I double checked the maps on my Garmin GPS, and my fate was sealed.

Oh well. I got out of the car and walked up to the river bank and pointed my face on a northerly course. While there was no marked trail, people had trod a path in this direction, and so I followed it. At least, I did for about ten minutes. And then the path died. The river was a ‘proper’ river. It meandered. I had walked further south along The Don a week or so earlier, and most of the banks were man-made slabs of concrete meant to prevent erosion, but not very pleasant to look at. Here, the environment was commanded by The East Don and so was the trail.

20150416_102801It didn’t help that railway tracks ran through the area. These damn tracks would continue to haunt me throughout this trek, starting now. I didn’t like the tracks. I didn’t know what they were used for, and as a Brit, the very last thing I wanted was for a Go Train to appear from nowhere, with its thunderous air-horn blaring into my skull announcing to everyone in the greater Don Valley area that I was the biggest prick in the locale. It’s telling that looking like a prick is a bigger concern than being hit by a train.

As mentioned, this trip was not planned. As such, my cellphone/mobile was only half-charged and whatever energy that remained would be pissed away by my phone’s insistence on heating up like a cinder block in my pocket. So it was with fleetness that I looked at various map sources to figure out the exact purpose of the tracks I was walking along thus which train it would be that filled my final moments. I was left unilluminated, so at least the type and colour of the train would be a surprise. I traversed the tracks a few more times, become more keenly aware that I hadn’t seen a train for almost an hour and so one must careen through at any moment.


A couple of white-tailed deer on the opposite side of the river

A couple of times, the trail just completely disappeared. I was left almost literally bush-whacking. I lost sight of the river on two occasions and suddenly became aware of how easy it is to lose your orientation when you are surrounded by trees. This was only a small area, but I still needed to pull out my Garmin in compass mode to figure out where the hell north had gone. Without a compass, I would likely have given up thinking that I had reached a dead end. In reality, I was facing east without realising it. What I actually needed to do was to cross those damn tracks again.

The trail had started at just north of Don Mills Road and St. Clare Avenue, and it continued in this vein until just south of Eglinton Avenue…. at which point, my ability to follow the river became even harder. This was the first example of private enterprise ruining my plans, and it wouldn’t be the last. Something that annoys the hell out of me is that in Canada, it’s actually not that easy to point at a geographically interesting feature on a map and then just make your way to it and walk around it. Most of the time, the land is private and there is no access. To UK readers, this probably sounds crazy and Canadian readers are likely thinking, “Yes, and?”. In The UK, there are a collection of lawful acts, which essential boil down to the fact that you pretty much have the right to roam.

bmxDonalda Golf Club greedily monopolises the land surrounding The East Don River, starting just south of Eglinton. This was not too much of a problem to begin with, as I stuck to the east, and the golf course was to the west. Although it did require navigating a rickety, elevated BMX stunt course. (Twice, because it just led to a swamp). I had to return and follow the lethal train tracks, again, this time under the bridge carrying Eglinton Avenue, where there were no places to escape a train. I closed my eyes and ran.

North of Eglinton, there was a more obvious (but still unmaked) trail, which I think was probably made by BMXers. This was the most awesome part of the trail where I almost felt like Stu the Don Valley Pioneer. I didn’t see or hear a single person until I hit Lawrence. The terrain was varied, the river was always close by, and this is exactly the kind of hike I love. The river continued to meander, and there were some great views. To celebrate, I took the opportunity to eat my Oatmeal Raisin cookie from Tim Hortons.

Don East

A little south of Lawrence, the unmarked trail I was walking, joins a tarmac’d trail that runs through the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area. This is a park area owned by the city with a variety of habitats and a few posted information signs about the fauna.This was a pleasant area and a work in progress, but considerably less profitable than a golf course, I can imagine.

North of Lawrence, everything started to go wrong. There was no obvious trail to follow. Donalda Golf Club swallowed the entire river. “No Trespassing” signs were posted liberally and without shame. I was forced to walk along Lawrence Avenue and then north on Don Mills. Multiple times, I tried to re-join the river, but each time I was greeted by “THOU SHALT NOT PASS” signs, God forbid that a retired member of the gentry should pause his drive. But where is the money in allowing the hoi polloi the walk through the course? As I approached York Mills Road, traversing the residential streets of the area, it was clear that the one thing that wasn’t in short supply, was money.

My hike petered out at this point. I was stuck on road filled with cars and a beating sun. I didn’t have a bus token or the correct fare in my pocket and I, quite exhausted, dragged myself to Fairview Mall at Don Mills and Sheppard so that I could break a $10 bill. I took the bus back to my car.

Below is a video showing my route. You can see me double back a couple of times where I either lost my way or reached a dead end. The GPS turns off near highway 401, which is where I will leave off from in part two.
Note: Some browsers prevent the video from showing. If you can’t see it, click here.

Total distance covered was 22km/13 miles. Around 27,000 steps.

Part two to follow.

Bluffer’s Park

Bluffer’s Park is on the coastline of Lake Ontario. The Scarborough Bluffs (cliffs – kinda) are named after those in Scarborough, Yorkshire by Elizabeth Simcoe.Bluffer's park

I took a quick walk along the trail that heads east from the main ‘beach’ parking lot/car park, onto the beach. The trail continues west from the same parking area, but I was performing a flying visit to try out my new GPS unit I recently splurged on. You can see a 3D video of my walk using the data from my GPS unit.

I’ve been to Bluffer’s Park dozens of times, as it’s just down the road from where I live, and the erosion is pretty startling. I’m sure in the 7 years I have lived here, there is a visible difference. The houses built on top appear increasingly precarious. Some of the erosion is from rainwater, running down towards the lake (and causing a few muddy areas).

April is fairly early in the year, so the park was quiet when I visited. There were a few of the usual boy-racers who seem to think that this is an appropriate place to share their music with the people least interested in hearing it (which is the point and source of their pleasure – that and the in-car sex that happens in the evenings). I imagine that coming here earlier in the day avoids these people who are unable to prise themselves out of bed.

In grassy areas at this time of year, you’ll see dozens of robins. Near the parking area, the bluffs are covered in little pock-marks, but on closer inspection, these are actually the nests of a migrating colony of cliff swallows that can be seen closer to summer. The beach is usually covered in ring-billed gulls, and you can sometimes see ducks like mallards, buffleheads etc… and double-crested Cormorant regularly pass The Bluffs on their way to a huge colony, nearby. Other backyard/garden birds are common. From late spring to early fall, warblers can be seen. Also, many raptors pass by. Especially during migration.

My walk was soured slightly by an incident with a middle-aged pair of women who could not control their dogs. Dogs are not allowed off-leash (off the lead? off-collar?) on city property, except in designated areas, and it is exactly because of people like this that everyone else has to leash/collar their dogs. I was walking along the beach near to the cliffs, when I heard rustling. I thought it was running water, but then I saw movement coming from overgrown bushes with a gap under them that looked like some kind of den. A dog came running out and for a second, I honestly thought it was a coyote (jackal-like), until another fat black dog came trundling from behind. The dogs bothered a few people while their owners yelled at the unconvincingly. At one point, they bounded up to me. The smaller coyote looking dog bit me on the back of the leg. The owners were too far away, too disengaged. There’s no point complaining. The dogs will be put down instead of the owners 😉

Couple of older pictures from Bluffer’s Park:

Marina 2008

Bluffer’s Park marina, 2008

White-tailed Deer 2012

White-tailed Deer 2012

Lower Don Mills

Lower Don mapThe Don River empties into Lake Ontario where The Don Valley Parkway joins The Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard. Or if you’re from England – a few miles east of downtown/the city centre. Around 9km (5.6 miles) upstream, The Taylor-Massey Creek joins The Don River. I walked much of the Taylor-Massey Creek a couple of weeks ago, and you can read about that here. North of confluence, The Don River splits into East and West branches. Those branches eventually lead to The Oak Ridges Moraine (a system formed during the previous ice age that I’ll maybe write about another time). This particular hike covers the area where I last finished off – where The Taylor-Massey Creek joins The Don, heading south to Lake Ontario. The blue dotted line in the map opposite.

Don River 1I decided to make the trek along the Don River on April 1st, which may indeed have been foolish, as according to the forecast the previous day, rain showers were forecast for around 2pm. I figured I could manage it by setting off at 8am, but the day turned grey pretty quickly.

The weather is my excuse for all the photos turning out kinda grey and miserable looking, but honestly, the Lower Don Trail is nothing like as nice as the one running through Taylor Creek Park. It is more urban and the trees seem to have sustained more damage from the Toronto Ice Storm of 2013. You’re also never too far from The Don Valley Parkway on this trail.

The Don River was named by Lt. Gov. Simcoe because it reminded him of The River Don in Yorkshire (he also named Scarborough under the same reasoning). In the late 19th Century, the river was heavily polluted by the industry that had built up along its banks, including a paper mill at Todmordon Mills and The Don Valley Brickworks, at one time both operated by the Taylor Family mentioned in my earlier post. The mill at Todmordon Mills was restored into a museum and arts centre and The Don Valley Brickworks is a park and community and cultural centre.

Lower Don River 2

Many trees remain damaged from The 2014 Ice Storm

There have been efforts to restore the quality of The Don River, and in areas where wetland habitat has been created, there were signs of life. A few Red-winged Blackbirds cheeped their territorial calls, and a couple of pairs of Northern Cardinals were engaged in a quarrel. I also heard the verse of several Song Sparrow. Although I didn’t have time to explore Crothers Woods, it is a designated sensitive natural area.

20150325_092508North Toronto Wastewater Treatment Plant (i.e. Sewarage works) releases water into The Don River as shown opposite. They must be doing a good job of filtering the water. A group of Mallards and a lonely Bufflehead seemed to enjoy swimming through it.

I began to speed up my walk as I passed the halfway mark and the time was approaching noon. A more recent weather prediction was calling for rain… anytime now. I didn’t really have a plan to escape the trail in the event of a downpour, and I didn’t really want to quit now.

Lover Don River 4The Prince Edward Viaduct System (a.k.a The Bloor Viaduct) is named after King Edward VIII (Price Edward at the time of naming). It carries traffic on top and the Bloor-Danforth subway line below that. It was another messy construction area as I passed, but just beyond it was a grass pasture filled with dozens of American Robins, scuttling around like children playing Grandmother’s Footsteps/Red Light, Green Light, (What Time is it Mr Wolf/What’s the Time, Mr Wolf). I then immediately entered a dank tunnel plastered in graffiti.

Lower Don River 5Progressing, as the rain began to spit down, the trail became increasingly urban. Foot and road bridges began spanning the river, including the arteries of Gerrard, Dundas and Queen, followed by Eastern Avenue. Due to the tidal effect on Lake Ontario, The Don appeared to be running in the opposite direction at this point. A pair of Mute Swans took advantage, ambling upstream. The CN Tower was never too far out of sight, now. I crossed some freight rail tracks/train tracks in increasingly heavy rain before the trail detoured due to, you guessed it, more construction.

Mouth of The Don River

For the last few hundred yards, I was forced on to the sidewalk/pavement and under the crumbling Gardiner Express, the rusty iron that once lived inside the concrete structure ominously visible. Finding my way back to the river, I saw (as Wikipedia aptly describes the scene) The Don River unceremoniously dumping itself into Lake Ontario, still a little frozen in places.

I took the TTC/bus back to the car… Looking for a brighter adventure next time!

Taylor-Massey Creek Trail

Spring is here and so my hiking escapades have begun. Last Wednesday, I took a walk along part of The Taylor Massey Creek. I used to live beside this creek when I first moved to Canada and lived with my Grandmother-in-law. The creek (stream) runs behind her house (and was excellent at helping to attract birds to the garden).

Taylor Massey MapThe Taylor-Massey Creek starts at Pharmacy, just south of the 401 where storm water run-off enters a couple of ponds. While still narrow, it runs mostly south along a hydro-corridor (government land that over-ground power-lines run through) before, unfortunately, disappearing through private land and then underground until it reappears around Eglinton Avenue, through Pine Hills Cemetery (good birding!) and then through Warden Woods Park. It becomes inaccessible for a stretch through a golf course, before entering Taylor-Massey Park. Eventually it joins The Don River.

The Creek is named after the Taylor family, who emigrated to Upper Canada from Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Originally living in Vaughan, they moved to what is now Toronto in 1834, ran a paper mill on the Don River and helped pioneer the use of wood pulp, instead of rags, as a paper source.

Daniel Massey, whose parents were from Cheshire before they emigrated to Massachusetts and later Upper Canada, was a blacksmith in Newcastle, Ontario. He founded the Newcastle Foundry and Machine Manufactory company in 1847. His son, Hart Massey, moved the annamassey_davidjasoncompany to Toronto. It has merged or been bought several times, but farming equipment bearing the name Ferguson-Massey is still made today by AGCO. Hart Massey was a philanthropist whose will helped to create the Massey Foundation in 1918. The Ferguson-Massey company funded the building of Massey Hall, which was later renovated using Massey Foundation funds. Hart’s grandson, Vincent Massey, was Governor General of Canada between 1952-1959. He founded Massey College and The Massey Lectures. Some of the descendants for the family have been actors in The UK (Anna Massey – Darling Buds of May, Daniel Massey – The Devil’s Advocate) and Canada (Walter Massey).

I have walked most of the length of the Taylor-Massey Creek before, where possible.,This time I walked from the golf course to where the creek enters the Don River. It was pretty quiet with just a few dog walkers and not much bird activity. Male Red-winged Blackbirds have begun to appear (they claim territory early in the mating season before the females also return from their southern migration). There were lots of active Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, a few nuthatches and a plethora of Black-Capped Chickadees.

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My next plan is to walk the length of the Don River to where it enters Lake Ontario. Stay tuned….!

England Trip 2014

I just enjoyed 10 days in England and, while there, I was told a few times that I need to post more pictures of my day-to-day shenanigans. In turn, I began to think that I really ought to blog a little more. This is about the 5th reprise of this site. Hello, again.

Last time I visited my home-country was in 2012 and that was for my brother’s wedding. This time I was going to visit my new-born niece, Aliya, but there would also be a little more time to be a tourist. And I do feel like a bit of a tourist in England now. I’ve been in Canada for seven years. Time flies.

Landing in Birmingham was a little hairier than I was previously used to, as Hurricane Gonzalo was dissipating, but still making its presence felt. The plane was banking from side-to-side in gusting winds just feet from the runway. I’m usually pretty comfortable flying, but I did grip the arm rest a little extra hard. The touchdown ended up being incredibly gentle, and there was a little muted applause from other passengers.

My first day back in England was mostly relaxed. I popped into my old home-town of Kidderminster to buy a UK simcard for my phone, mostly so that I had data without paying through the nose for roaming. I got a simcard for about half the price I pay in Canada and got more features – just sayin’. Later that day, I got to meet my new niece, Aliya. She is tiny, at 6 weeks premature, and looks startlingly like by brother.

Day two was a visit to Merry Hill. Shopping in England is generally done on the high street, but there are shopping malls and Merry Hill is one of them – though it is affectionately known as Merry Hell to many. My Mum was terrified of buying any clothes for my upcoming birthday, so she patiently followed me around dozens of shops, many revisited, while we searched high and low for the perfect jacket. I didn’t even know what I wanted. I think I drove her and my wife completely nuts by the time we were done. We stopped off at an ASDA Cafe (Walmart type store which often includes a cafe) and had some pretty dire food. I had a burger for £4.50 ($8) which is cheap, but the patty was so dry, I think it may have been found on the floor. But then, ASDA Cafes aren’t aimed at me. They are aimed at old people who have lost their sense of taste and like to sit together at table and reminisce about the good old days of rationing.

imageDay three consisted of a long walk from my Mum’s house, along the River Severn, to my step-grand parents and then back again, via Stourport town centre. The River Severn is the longest river in England and it’s a great place to spot birds… though maybe less so at this time of year. We did see a Kingfisher, though. The River Stour and The Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal also both run through Stourport, so there are lots of canal boats/narrow boats. Interconnected canals and rivers mean you can get pretty much anywhere in the country in one of these, and some people even live in them.

imageDay four was spent with my Dad in Worcester, the county town of Worcestershire, as you may well intuit. It is home to an impressive cathedral (which we didn’t visit this time) and Worcester Guildhall, the local government building (which we popped into). The walls are lined with paintings of Worcester’s past mayors. The weather wasn’t so kind, so after grabbing a few bits and pieces, we were on our way.


imageOn day five, we attempted to go for a quick walk behind my Dad’s house. He has long garden that stretches back, descends several levels and eventually comes out, via a wire gate, into some woods. It reminds me of The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett. There are fresh water springs in the woods, wooded areas, ponds and openfields – but it had been raining and has become a little overgrown, so we didn’t have much look. Later, we went in to Birmingham City Centre, had a greasy breakfast, did some shopping, visited the new Birmingham Library and stood around like tourists taking pictures of Birmingham City Hall.

On day seven, we took a trip from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth on the Severn Valley Railway, a heritage steam railway line still decorated in a Victorian style. We enjoyed a market in Bridgnorth, but the point is the train experience which is, of course, a peculiarly British thing to enjoy.

Day eight was my birthday. It began with another walk along the river and then another through Wyre Forest, one of the largest ancient woodlands in Britain. Not the best time of year for animal/bird spotting, be mostly saw a variety of tits (relatives of the chickadee and titmouse). We went to a local pub for my birthday.

Day nine, we travelled into Wales to go Red Kite spotting. We took a scenic route that would take us through the Clee Hills in Shropshire, near the Worcestershire border. Sheep roam freely and there are good views of patchwork green, even in the drizzly rain we had.


Red Kites almost became extinct in The UK because of poisoning, nest destruction and egg theft, but have made a comeback thanks to conservation efforts. We went to a farm where these birds have been fed meat for a number of years. It was pretty startling to see so many, though we missed the bulk of the action due to a cock-up based on daylight savings time changing a couple of days earlier!  Note: not my photo.

Our remaining full day in England was spent re-visiting Kidderminster and Worcester to try to pick up a few bargains on clothes, which are generally cheaper in England… at least at value end of the market 😉
I spent a bit too much, I expect… based on having to mess around with my case at the airport, to get it down to the correct weight.


How To Ride a TTC Bus

ttc busOr: How to be a civil human-being and not a [Am:E] Douche bag / [Br:E] Bell-end.

  • There are not dragons at the back of the bus. You will not be eaten or flambéed if you stand in the aisle between the rear seats. Stop staring dispassionately ahead while people, just as desperate to get home as you are, stand in the cold as the driver feebly begs “folks, please move back”. It is not a stand-off. Just because you are concentrating furiously on dismissing your surroundings, it doesn’t make those left behind at the bus-stop any less human (or and less victims of your dickishness).

UK Bus

  • This is how you sit on a bus where there are two unoccupied seats. This picture was taken in England and is not an exception, it is how civilised people sit in a way that makes the outside seat available. How DARE you sit on the outside to dissuade people from sitting down? How DARE you sigh and tut and generally make a fuss if someone says “excuse me”. EXCUSE YOU, PRICK.
    There were riots throughout England a few months after this picture was taken, but at least they know how to sit on a bus. And unless your shopping bag has a Metropass, I don’t want to see it sitting beside you.
  • Don’t stand in the middle of the aisle in a passive-aggressive stance like the big “I Am” and then bitch and complain because someone barged into you, intentionally or otherwise. You are not the gatekeeper of the rear doors, you are a self-important pussy that should stand aside or walk and not demand an interaction from everyone that needs to pass without wanting to look at your gormless face.
  • Learn to queue. If someone is stood waiting at the bus-stop, stand behind or beside them (don’t block the [Am:E] sidewalk [Br:E] pavement). Exception: If you are stood in the bus shelter, you are not in-line. I assume the reason it is called a line-up over here is because, like a line-up in the UK (i.e. an identity parade), there’s always at least one criminal.
  • Stop using the rear doors after a snow storm when snow banks have accumulated, dummy. Don’t you remember the snow banks being there when you boarded 10 minutes ago? Or were you too busy staring passively into your phone’s display of your Facebook timeline filled with videos of singing goats and photos of girls’ cleavages hanging like meat in a butcher’s window suspended in time, forever. Yes, girls. Your tits. On a hard-drive in a Facebook data centre in Oregon. Forever. You can delete them from the album, but they’re still stored. Forever.
  • Did you just fully watch your stupid valley-girl girlfriend alight and jam the rear doors into a snowbank? Did you watch how the driver got up, walked outside the bus to the doors and try to close them, fail and return to the driver’s sear? If so, why scream “Errrr, like, what the f**k?” when the lights go out because he is clearly restarting the engine to reset the doors?
    Is it because you were taking a “selfie” at an angle that happens to cause the curvature of your cellphone’s camera lens at the frame to exaggerate the size of your tits? Thought so.
  • Each time you under-pay your fare by dropping a fist-full of low value coins into the fare box or you come up with some pitiful excuse not to pay that the driver can’t be arsed to argue with, you are stealing from everyone on that bus. Not that you give a f**k.

I’m done now.

Kultura Restaurant

KulturaIn what seems like a lifetime ago, but was in fact only January, my wife saw an offer on the discount coupon website-come-smartphone-app Groupon. $69 for a “four-course global tasting menu for two”. With a keen eye for a bargain at the best of times, a 60-70% saving could not possibly be ignored. She bought the “groupon” which had to be used by September.

Fast forward to the present. I have just returned home from the worst dining experience of my life. This is not Groupon’s fault, but if this was supposed to be a deal for some kind of intentionally terrible ironic restaurant, where everything goes wrong on purpose, an ill-advised and utterly bonkers themed eatery of some kind, it would have been perfect.

To begin, I have to go back exactly one week to the previous Wednesday. My wife Sara and i made our way into downtown Toronto to Kultura restaurant near the intersection of King and Jarvis. We had an early booking for 5.30pm and we had arrived a little early, so we walked around the block (twice) to kill time. On returning, although dark inside, we saw that there were people at a table, but when I tried the door I found it locked. Shortly, a girl opened it. After asking if we had a reservation (“Yes”), we were told that the restaurant was “closed until friday due to technical difficulties in the kitchen”, which we took to mean that the chef had walked out. Turns out the people around the table were not satisfied customers chowing but probably disgruntled servers and front of house staff. I hope that they didn’t have our phone number or email address, because if they did, they didn’t use them to tell us they were closed and we wasted a journey. I didn’t say anything as she closed the door, partly shocked, partly because I am an archetypical Brit who is culturally predisposed to not making a scene.

Sara contacted Groupon and we were offered the chance to go back. I was less than keen on this idea. They had had their chance. Another of my cultural dispositions (or is it just a character flaw?) is to sulk brilliantly. A McDonald’s once refused me entry when I just wanted to use the washroom because, in that instance, I was not a customer. Nevermind the 100’s of times I had been in the past, such as the time their Kidderminster branch held my 10th birthday party where half the kids in my class came along. Well, I went on to boycott McDonald’s for some 3 years. I digress…

We returned to Kultura tonight (22nd Aug). I was over joyed to find that the door was unlocked and could barely contain myself when we were greeted, taken to our seats and promptly served water and cocktails. I had a B52 Expressolini and Sara had a Sparkling Tropics. We would each have a second, because the website menu and the reservation confirmation both said that cocktails are half price before 7pm, costing $6 instead of $12.

We had arrived at 5.50pm, 10 minute early. There were four courses. Before my first course arrived, our server returned to inform me that I would have to change my second course, as they didn’t have any sushi tonight. I chose something else. After 40 minutes, my first course arrived. It was Beef Tartar presented in what they triumphantly described and I would optimistically describe as spring rolls. I didn’t start my food as my wife’s Oysters had not arrived, but after 5-10 minutes my hunger and preference for warm food out-weighed the remains of my manners. Perhaps, I reasoned, the Oysters were being dredged up from Lake Ontario.

Dishes continued to alternate in this manner for the rest of the night. I would get a course and finish it before Sara would receive hers. It wasn’t until the second course that we realised that this was by design. Everyone was being treated this way, unless both parties ordered the same food, in which case, it would arrive together. I don’t know if they intended for us to share our food or if they knew they couldn’t keep up in the kitchen and to hell with it. Perhaps it is an experiment in a new dining experience where your partner gets to appraise the manner in which you eat while they wait.

The manager had made an appearance at this stage. He seemed to be interviewing someone, perhaps about the Kultura website, we weren’t sure. The manager, even after the interviewee had left, appeared oblivious to the dissatisfaction. The website should have been his least concern.

Averaging at one course per hour, my Tofu Thai Curry (rather than Sushi) arrived, and it was bland. Very average. I’ve had food-court meals better than this. But I was lucky. There are plenty of reviews slagging off the sushi. Sara’s second course was Scallops, which took even longer to arrive than any previous serving. It gave us plenty of time to reflect on the music that was playing. An elaborate mixing desk with two record players was situated behind me, though it was playing a mix CD with about seven songs on it, including an awful remix of Empire State of Mind and some other track that would always skip before the CD restarted. We had heard each song about 5 times by now. I understand it is supposed to be a leisurely experience, that’s what fine dining is. But this was all fine and no dine.

Anyone newly entering the restaurant was left waiting for up to 10 minutes before being seated. People in the restaurant were beginning to get visibly agitated by this stage, albeit in a kind of whimsical disbelief, possibly almost extending to a Blitz spirit. We’re stuck in here, there’s no escape, might as well make the best of it. Patrons began conspiring amongst each other, whispering conspiratorially about how awful it was before quickly zipping quiet when a server would eventually arrive. I can guarantee that if we were in England at this stage, the eventual arrival of each course would be greeted by the sound of jeers and sarcastic applause.

Just as I thought there might be an uprising, complaints started to be verbalised to the staff. A couple beside us complained about the slow arrival of courses. Their “Cornish Hen” then arrived undercooked. They left the restaurant refusing to pay any extra beyond what they had already paid for their Groupon (tax is not included in Groupons and nor are tips or any extras you order, like drinks). As they left, they turned to us and wished us luck.

The third course arrives and Sara has taken the lead! Her Mushroom Orecchiette arrives after another hour or so. We now begin to share food, mostly to relieve the boredom of whoever didn’t get served. This was supposed to be a signature dish. The pasta tasted of old water to me. Sara felt there was too much cheese, and she love cheese. She has Montreal genes in her, for goodness’ sake. There was a bizarre addition of chutney which didn’t so much pleasingly contrast with the cheese as was probably intended, so much as unpleasantly declare war on each other in your mouth.

Mistakes start to happen, perhaps as the staff are now under extra pressure. Two separate tables receive the same course twice. The table beside us (the female has already introduced herself as Claire who just moved from Hamilton) receive one of their second courses before their first course. Claire, upon finding out that Sara is from Toronto, asks her for recommendations for any GOOD restaurants.

My “Cornish Hen” arrives and it’s pretty miserable. The vegetables are overcooked and mushy enough to please a baby. Even as an amateur ornithologist, I am underwhelmed by this sorry bird.

Glorified TimbitsThe longest and most painful wait is for dessert. Sara was served first. It took 50 minutes for the “dish” to arrive. It was 4-5 cinnamon “timbits” with chocolate and caramel dipping sauces which just didn’t taste good. The regular price for this dish is $7. My dessert took an additional 25 minutes. The couple who’d arrived before us were finally leaving. The lady placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder and wished us luck. The lava cake arrived in a plastic container and I have to assume it was microwaved. Banana tempura was overly mushy. Ice cream was simply lame. I tasted each and left it. It was clear we were annoyed at this stage. Our server had made eye-contact with Sara several times over the long wait. She asked if we would like complimentary champagne. I declined. An older couple was sat behind us. They had faces like thunder, but not the temperate kind. They had faces like the kind of thunder only experienced within the red-eye of the planet Jupiter.

The bill arrived and we were told that one each of our drinks had been taken off. The bill was $55 (in addition to the $69 Groupon). Two drinks had indeed been taken off, but we had been charged full-price for the others instead of the advertised half-price before 7pm. Sara mentioned it and they said it was because we had a Groupon. I understand not combining offers, but we should have been told. They offered to make them half-price but I cannot explain how overwhelming the desire to leave was. Charges and tax would have to be recalculated. We had been imprisoned for 3 hours and 40 minutes. We paid the bill, which already included a 20% tip!!!

We have had good experiences with Groupon before, but they need to cancel this contract for the sake of their name. While we don’t blame them, it also doesn’t reflect well on them. Unless you are a sadomasochist or have a twisted sense of humour and more money than sense, avoid Kultura.

Things I’ve Embraced About Canada

Maple leafThere are harder places to move to, from The UK, than Canada. They speak English, have a culture influenced by colonial rule and there aren’t any wars right now. It was still a big step for me, though. I spent some 25 years living in Worcestershire. In the small town, near the field. The one with the horse in it, next to that tree.

There are a few aspects to life here that took some getting used to. There are a few aspects that I am still not used to. Thankfully, there are a few aspects that I have embraced.

1. Halloween

When I used to go Trick Or Treating, it was always with a bit of guilt and the whole experience usually ended up being less fun than anticipated. None of the adults we encountered, as we knocked on doors, were very pleased with it. Much of the generation that came before mine believe Halloween to be a horrible celebration from That There America. The words “Trick or Treat” were taken literally, as a threat. For the most part, doors were opened and sweets dispensed with annoyance – or doors were never answered.

What I used to prefer about Halloween in England was that dressing up in fancy dress (American English: “costume dress”) involved dressing as a ghoul, monster or other scary creature. In North America, it is common for people to dress as some kind of random character (eg. nurses, school girls, superheroes etc…). This is now becoming more common in Britain, but is still more of a North American thing.

mad hatter

I definitely prefer the way Halloween is celebrated in Canada. It is a festival that everyone looks forward to, but there are a few customs that help make Trick or Treating easier for residents and kids. First of all, Trick or Treaters only go out on Halloween night. In England, they are around every night for the best part of a week. Secondly, there is an accepted signal – the porch light. If it is switched on, Trick or Treaters are welcome. If it is off, don’t knock. Thirdly, kids are usually accompanied by parents at the end of the driveway and only tend to visit their own neighbourhood. These behaviours make a massive difference to everyone. Kids dressed in costume with their faces hidden are not seen as a threat.
The last Halloween that I worked (at a bookstore), I dressed as The Mad Hatter. I’m not sure if there’s much in life that is more awesome than that, even if I did intimidate several children. It’s all good.


2. Apple Pie

I never really got this. Those North Americans with their rich foods. You just don’t need it, when you have Custard Cream biscuits and, on special occasions, a trifle. It certainly didn’t resonate with me when Jason Schwartzman had sex with an apple pie. That isn’t to say I didn’t have the occasional Apple Crumble made by my Mother, but it wasn’t usually a song and a dance. Apple Pie has taken on a life of its own in North America. Especially at Thanks Giving…

3. Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, in Canada, is similar to harvest festival in Europe – giving thanks to God for the harvest. In The United States, it can also be considered giving thanks to the Natives who helped the English Colonists of Plymouth Colony (Captain John Smith – the whole Pocahontus thing, remember?).

The dates of Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving vary, but both involve having a big meal amongst family on the kind of scale normally reserved for Christmas. And Apple Pie (or sometimes Pumpkin Pie).


4. High Fives and Fist Pumps

I have no idea where this came from, but one day I simply woke up and realised that I had started giving out high-fives. Especially at work. Admittedly, it is with a massive sense of irony. Just managed to survive an encounter with a particularly “intensive” customer? High Five. Couldn’t decide what to buy for lunch, and end up returning to the store with a filthy McDonald’s Big Mac? High Five. I’ve actually got a few people giving each other ironic high-fives. Quite a feat for a country that invented the Alanis Morrisette version of irony.

5. The Words “Cart”, “Dessert” and “Tronna”.

Is it on the trolley?Rather than the word ‘trolley’, Canadians favour ‘cart’. For example, ‘shopping cart’. Since my job involves endlessly searching for books, many of which are hidden amongst book carts, I had to quickly let go of the word trolley. It led to blank stares. From time to time, I will yell at my colleagues “IS IT ON THE TROLLEY?” in the futile hope they will laugh at the vague reference to some long forgotten comedy from 1985 Britain that even I shouldn’t be able to remember. I was 5 years old for Christs’ sake. Why would my Canadian colleagues have a bloody clue what I am on about? Doesn’t stop me doing it, though.

If I asked for Pudding instead of Dessert, I would keep getting mousse when what I really want is the world’s biggest chunk of cake.

Tronna is how people here pronouce Toronto. People think I’m pompous enough as it is, so I have quickly learnt to drop the second “T” sound.


I’ll next write about some of the things I’m too stubborn to embrace 😉

Algonquin Trip: Live