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2012 - So you want to go to England - Part 2 - Before you go · Wednesday June 13, 2012 by colin newell

Before booking your flight (or boat – more on both of these in the coming weeks) you’ll want to know a little more about the people and what’s important to them. In this week’s instalment of “So You Want to Go to England” we help you get to know the people of the British Isles and give you some talking points should you trap one of them in a conversation:

Here in North America the popular vision of an Englishmen is a slender, foppish man with very bad teeth, dressed in tweed and seducing your wife with his ironed handkerchiefs. While in some parts of England that may still be true – Knightsbridge, Colin Firth’s house – the Englishman you’re more likely to encounter on your grand adventure is the one approaching you at the bus stop of a night, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and demanding your wallet.

tweed on wheels

Not everything has changed however – his teeth, if any remain, will still be bad and he is just as likely to be slender, although this will not be from wartime rationing but rather because running from the police is demanding work.

All right, that may not be every Englishman but it does represent a good portion of young men aged 15-35 and if you don’t believe me I suggest a weekend trip down to the local pub nearest to your hotel. Make sure you have good travel insurance and a blood donor card.

Most Brits are helpful, considerate types who will give you a good steer should you get lost – this is because the sooner you get where you’re going the sooner you leave their country.
They are a reserved people so don’t be surprised when your hearty “Howya doin’?” gets you a cold stare but they open up once you get to know them which, as a tourist, you probably won’t. You can count on them being polite though – unless you’re in that pub I mentioned earlier.

As in North America the people are friendlier in the countryside than they are in the city and if you’re going to make friends it’ll be in the north rather than the south. If you do get to chat up locals you’ll want to know at least something about the local culture so you don’t make an ass of yourself. Here’s a quick primer:

1. Soccer: The English call it “football” and you should too unless you want a pint glass upside your head. Also, don’t tell them you’re a Manchester United fan – this will mark you out as a tourist faster than asking if anyone has met the queen.

2. Politics: In 2010 the English voted out the Labour party headed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a man described by columnist and TV personality Jeremy Clarkson as a “One-eyed Scottish c***”. He was replaced with the Conservative party as led by David Cameron, who has two eyes. Under Cameron the government has introduced heavy austerity measures, sharply dividing the country.

Note that while you can pick on Cherie Blair all you want it is still not acceptable to make fun of Margaret Thatcher.

3. ASBOs: Stands for “Anti Social Behavior Order”, a kind of scarlet letter handed out by the courts to society’s rejects.

4.Hoodies: The people who get ASBOs. Not everyone who wears a hoodie is a thug but all thugs wear hoodies. With names like Keith & Trev they’re about as threatening as woodlice when you get them alone but in a group they’re like piranhas with acne. For reference watch the 2009 film Harry Brown in which Michael Caine goes all Paul Kersey on the hooligans terrorizing the council estate he calls home.

5. Council Estates: For the record, “council estates” or “council flats” is what the English call their housing projects. While “Winstanley Estate, Battersea” sounds like a lovely place to take your wife Merridale on a carriage tour it’s actually the English equivalent of Jordan Downs in Watts or Iberville in New Orleans. Most of the folks living here are good, decent people who would rather be living anywhere else, including the surface of the moon, but you still wouldn’t want to be walking around the place at night.

6. NHS or National Health Service: The British system of healthcare has flaws and under Darth Cameron is soon likely to suffer significant cuts but it’s still better you’re going to find in, say, America, where having cancer turns your life into Breaking Bad.

This is irrelevant to the British, who take great delight in picking on the NHS like it was the kid in school who wears sweatpants. It is considered rude to interrupt tirades about the NHS with stories from your home country, like the time an HMO-run hospital refused to treat your daughter’s asthma attack until you could prove you had the means to pay them.

7. Coronation Street: Also known as “Corrie”. This soap opera set in a fictional town in Greater Manchester has been running since 1960 and is practically a religion for English women.

While the cast of most American soaps are so smoothed over they could be mannequins, Coronation Street actually casts ordinary-looking and sometimes even fat people. And I don’t mean Kevin James-fat but “long chat with your doctor about getting a motorized scooter”-fat. Not all the cast are plain of course but it’s nice to know there’s a place for actors who wouldn’t get near an American television unless they were standing on it to fix someone’s ceiling fan.

Temptation will be great but do not – I repeat – do not – mock or in any other way disrupt the watching of Coronation Street. I’m telling you this because I’m your friend and I care about you.

8. Rhyming slang: So you’ve seen a few Guy Ritchie movies and know that being “in barney” means you’re in trouble and that when things go “Pete Tong” it’s time to start looking for the door. As a tourist you should avoid using these and other rhyming slang – rather than making you sound tough or street smart it will signal to everyone within earshot that you are in dire need of what the English endearingly call “a kicking.”
This same wisdom applies to the words “mate”, “blimey”, “guvnor” and “toodle-pip”. In fact if you say “toodle-pip” I will come to your house and kick you straight in the business myself.

9. The Only Way is Essex: The people of England treat Essex county much the same way America does New Jersey – like a redheaded stepchild. Maybe, then, we shouldn’t be surprised that Essex has produced the budget equivalent of Jersey Shore in The Only Way is Essex. It’s not worth my time or yours to name the characters, so just picture a group of twentysomethings who all sound like they’re talking through a mouthful of marbles drinking too much and firing DNA at one another.

After an episode or two of this you won’t have a hard time imagining why the English sometimes debate jack-hammering Essex free from the rest of the country and pushing it gently towards mainland Europe.
I challenge you to watch the clip below and try not to hear the sound of seven trumpets heralding the End of Days.

10. The Royal Family: The surest way to end a conversation with your average British citizen is to start talking about how amazing it must be to have a royal family. The royals are to the English what the Kennedys are to Americans – the good ones are dead and the rest are floating on an ever-thinning cloud of good will.

Now that you’re up to speed on the finer points of British culture it’s time to get serious about making arrangements. Next Wednesday I tell you why you shouldn’t fly with Canada’s flagship airline in “So You Want to Go to England: Getting There – Air Canada”

Comic, humorist, bon vivant and ranconteur, Brennan Storr is a Victoria resident and aspiring writer – from time to time we post some of his incredibly amusing words from

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2012 So you want to go to England - part 1 - Getting started · Tuesday June 12, 2012 by colin newell

In my life I have met people who are natural travelers – the sort who can live for 6 months on whatever they pack into a rucksack the size of a grasshopper’s scrotum – but I am not one of them. While most people come back from a vacation talking about their amazing adventure, the kindness of the locals and how their journey expanded their horizons, making them better people on a spiritual level, I complain about intestinal parasites, sunburn and being mugged by whatever passes for highwaymen in the place I have just visited.

This travel guide is for people like me.

Like many people the first country I visited was England, my first port of call was London and like many people I got my ass kicked; traffic was going in the wrong direction, my cousin and I were nearly hit by a bus and spent 6 hours looking for a hostel that did not exist. In fact, having my ass kicked may be too mild a description of my first day in London – it was a full 24-hour, size-12 colonoscopy.

Eventually I got the hang of the place and though over the years I’ve had many bungled trips to places the world over, I have finally achieved a kind of equilibrium with England. Since my first visit I have eaten blood pudding, married an Englishwoman and even stayed awake through almost an entire episode of Downton Abbey, all of which practically makes me an honorary citizen. I’ve also learned which seats on British Airways flights offer more leg and elbow room at no extra cost and how to avoid getting stabbed while out for a pint at your neighborhood pub. Now I’ve decided to share my hard-won knowledge with all other hapless travelers thinking of making their first trip abroad.

While travel guides like Lonely Planet feed you a line of crap, describing experiences you’ll have only if you look like the teenagers in a soda commercial, “So You Want to Go to England” will be the straight dope – unadorned advice for the ugly globetrotter. In coming weeks you’ll learn that the food served by Air Canada is “…uniformly awful and tastes almost exclusively of salt”, that you have about as much chance of having sex in a Hosteling International as you do in St. Peter’s Basilica and that in the Royal Family “the notable ones are all dead and the rest are floating on an ever-thinning cloud of good will.”

When to Visit:

Let’s get this out of the way now – whenever you visit England it’s probably going to rain. Not all day every day, but enough that the countryside will start to look the way a Dostoyevsky novel feels. This means that choosing a time to visit England will come down to what you want to do and how much you want to sweat under that rain jacket.

If it’s the tourist experience you’re after then April to September is your best time to visit – all the popular sites are going to be open and you have the best chance of catching good weather. The downside is, of course, that hotels are going to cost more and every hostel will be full of Australian backpackers trying to have sex with whatever they can’t drink.

Having visited England a few times in the fall and winter I can say that there are definite advantages to the cooler months: Bogan & Bru have gone home to uni, prices for accommodation are lower and while some attractions are closed (Buckingham Palace, for example, only runs tours in the summer) the ones that are open have virtually no lineup. Oh sure it rains like hell but you can hunker down in one of the many empty cafés and pubs that, in the summer, would be full of screaming American teenagers.

How Long to Visit:

Unless you’re traveling from mainland Europe, visiting England for less than two weeks will be a savage hell of jetlag and unintelligible accents. Two weeks will be bearable for families or couples who plan on exploring one or two regions or for backpackers with a pocketful of Benzedrine and a rail pass; three weeks or longer will give you freedom to explore more of the island without getting worn down by constant travel.

You’ll know you’re jet-lagged when one word makes
just as much sense as the other.

If this is your first trip abroad do not underestimate the power of jetlag, which is the profound confusion your body feels at being unceremoniously dumped into a new time zone. It will screw with your sleep schedule, put you in a fog at inopportune times and leave just as you’re getting ready to go back home.

Once you’ve nailed down your dates you’ll want to choose an airline and learn a little bit about what to expect from the English themselves. Luckily for you, next week we’ll have a primer on getting to know the people of England and the week after that we’ll start looking into which airline will make your trip the least miserable.

Comic, humorist, bon vivant and ranconteur, Brennan Storr is a Victoria resident and aspiring writer – from time to time we post some of his incredibly amusing words from


2012 Return to reality Chapter 1 Hawaii travel summary · Thursday February 2, 2012 by colin newell

Looking back on what I have written about Hawaii, I smugly thought to myself…

I have most certainly written everything that has to be said about travel to, living on and returning safely from the Big Island of Hawaii.

Fail on that account.

Magic Sands Beach - pretty safe but keep your wits!

This trip was entirely different – we embraced it differently – we approached it more from a “If this is the last time we do Big Island Hawaii for a while, let’s approach it like the buffet table on the 1st night of a cruise…” perspective.
Which was very effective. Did more stuff. Went more places.

Photo above – the up view at Magic Sands Beach – Alii Drive Kona – could have shot my horizontal perspective but that would have been bikini’s and bronzed dudes!

Tried some different things. Have a few more things to suggest. And some warnings for those who need to be reminded that, hey, listen up… there are hazards and you need to be warned.

Directing that more yours truly than anything else – but it makes for a good story I think.

Right off the top, this is going to be the last month long departure from home for some time to come. We both work – we both have a solid family connection here – and dang it, I love Victoria and I am a home body – and becoming more of one as time goes on.

That said, 25 odd days in paradise is hard to beat. And I have discovered a couple of things.

Crate Iki - be careful! Rocks, heat, fumes!

Thing A:) I take very little time winding down into the Island groove… often as little as a couple of days – this time was no exception.
Here is how it works: Plane arrives on Kona mid-day. Get off plane. Get baggage. Collect some brochures after visiting the lav. Get on shuttle to rental car kiosk. Thank you to Avis for years of great service! Drive to Kona Brewing company for a pizza and a beer. Drive to Cost Co for a quick shop. Drive to Safeway for some more supplies. Drive to Kona village condo to “get in” and dump bags. By 4 PM we are by the pool with a drink in our hands. If we are feeling energetic, we head down to “Don the Beachcomber” (great Mai Tai, very sketchy food) for a quick snack and a couple of strong drinks…
and in bed early because we are exhausted from being up at 5 AM for the 6:30AM connector flight from Victoria to Seattle.

Photo above – Iki Crate hike – 2.5 hours – take a minimum of 1 liter of water per person. You will lose this amount of fluid. I did and I didn’t have enough water. Result: Next chapter.

Note to readers: I avoid Vancouver International Airport in favor of Seattle because, IMHO, everything is better in Seattle. Another blog on this subject in the future.

Early days in Kona include medium to long walks early in the day to get acclimated – Kona is not tropical and not overly hot but it is not the North West and you will get dehydrated pretty quickly if you do not pay attention and badly sunburned if you do not load up with sun block.

Alii Drive - good eats, people and ocean watching

So – quickly: What did we do more differently?
The weather was really good and the surf was not too high so we spent way more time at Magic Sands Beach on Alii Drive – a great small beach about 1.5 miles from our Condo (at the Hale Kona Kai…) It is a great beach for body surfing (board surfing further down the beach) and snorkel. Average shore break is 3 to 7 feet this time of year and has to be considered very, very dangerous to those not familiar with Hawaii water hazards.

Photo above – the calm that is Alii Drive on a Wednesday (Cruise ship day) directly across the street from Island Lava Java Cafe – photo by Shari Morkin of Illinois

More people drown in Hawaii than any other state or Province in North America.
In 3 visits early on in our trip I witnessed three mishaps requiring Life guard and/or first responder intervention – Life guards in Hawaii actually are Firemen if I did my research correctly.

A couple of the mishaps involved turning ones back on the water. Here is the thing. Never, ever turn your back on the ocean – If you are in the wrong position when the wave breaks it is like having a 600 sq. foot apartment filled with water dropped on you. Best case scenario – you will get picked up and tossed backward 15 or 20 feet. Worse case: You will tumble under the water and your head and neck will get pushed into the sand. I saw both these things happen – and it is not pretty – and it is particularly frightening if you are just visiting and this is the start of your vacation.

Personally, I learned my water limits in 1996 – and that means never go much further out that waist level in the water – because the breakers are going to be double or triple that. Prepare to jump or tuck and torpedo under the approaching break – know how and it will save your life.

In the next chapter, more about… you guessed it… Hawaii!
Hawaii Photo-Gallery here.


2012 Picture report from Hawaii number 7 Shrimp sunset · Saturday January 21, 2012 by colin newell

Meal at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on Alii Drive in Kona.

This place was massively hammered by the Tsunami in March 2011 – the community pulled together and had the restaurant up and running again in 24 hours. That was the way it was all the way around the damage zone.

Many people do not know this but the Kona Village (some 25 minutes up the highway towards N. Kona and Kohala – was utterly devastated by the wave – and they will not be rebuilding. Sadly, they had one of the best Luau going.

Anyway. Nature lashes out – and people pull together.

Below is a shot of nature at its gentlest. A sunset. We get one a day.
Enjoy it folks. It is a precious thing.
Click on the photo for the bigger view

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Alii Drive in Kona


2012 Picture report from Hawaii number 6 - Indiana Colin · Monday January 16, 2012 by colin newell

Shared a picnic table with a friendly, but slightly twitchy praying mantis – eventually he walked onto a stick (a real stick) and moved off to a safer area.

We met with the good folks from Blue Horse Kona down in Kealakekua Bay – home of great swimming and snorkel activities – this was also an area that was hard hit by the tsunami of March 2011 – whole houses were ripped off of their foundations and dragged out into the bay.

The view here is spectacular – Kealakekua Bay is home to the Captain Cook memorial and the works largest cliff side mausoleum – (more on that on a later blog of our trip…)

Photo taken by former art director for Prada (yea, the fashion company…) – Joachim, owner partner at Blue Horse Kona Coffee. Click on the photo for a bigger view.

Indiana Colin and the Temple of the Praying Mantis


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