A Travellerspoint blog

The Scotsman Trying to Get Home (so he says...)

The SAS on Park Lane.

sunny 17 °C

I was walking up Park Lane today, heading to get a Martini at the Grosvenor House Hotel, an attempt to try and shake off the emotion of Harrod's when the Scotsman stopped me.

Now, I should probably explain what the "emotion of Harrod's" is to you. Harrod's, in case you don't know, is one of the high end shopping department stores in London. So much so, that it has become a tourist attraction. Especially moreso since the owner's son, Dodi was killed in a car accident in Paris along with one Diana Spencer, oft known as the Princess of Wales, the first wife of Prince Charles, heir to the British and Commonwealth throne.

So you face in Harrod's a mix of the hoi polloi gawking at the Diana and Dodi memorial, food hall and outrageously priced merchandise, and the uber-rich trying to buy said merchandise. I, sadly, sat somewhere between the two - not rich enough to think that £156 was a decent price for a bottle opener, but also not there to gawk and instead to spend some money (I shall expand on that in a future entry).


After all that, I needed a drink. Feeling a bit posh after laying down a few quid on Ray Ban sunglasses (a bit of a guilty pleasure of this otherwise Protestant tight-wad), I decided a nice Martini would hit the spot. As the Martini is an American invention (H. L. Mencken called the Martini "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet"), I decided to head to an American hotel and have my drink at the Redbar at the Grosvenor House Hotel by Marriott on Park Lane.

So I found myself walking up Park Lane - one of the poshest streets for tourists in London - with a Harrod's bag in my hand (containing my Ray Bans and a 2013 wall calendar (price £15)).

That's when the Scotsman approached me.

"Excuse me," he said. "What's the best way to Victoria?"

He didn't look a vagabond, cleanly shaven and carrying a small duffel bag, looking every part the out-of-town tourist you might expect in this area.

I looked over his shoulder, and watched a 73 bus pulling away from a bus stop just 40 feet up the street. Emblazoned on the front was the destination - Victoria.

I pointed over his shoulder. "Well, it's a long walk from here, but if you catch that bus it'll..." I offered, but he cut me off.

"Where you from, America?" He asked.

"No, Canadian," I replied. "So, you can catch that...". Again, before I could finish my sentence, he interrupted me.

"Canadian. Even better. Let me shake your hand." He said.

I shook his hand. He didn't let go for the next 4 minutes.

"Let me ask you a question," he said. "Do you know any Scotsmen? Do you trust Scotsmen?"

How is one supposed to answer that? In reality, with afterthought to compose any answer, my answer should have been, "I don't make judgements on how much to trust someone based on their nationality, but instead make my judgements based on their attitude and actions." However, easier said retroactively in a blog than at the time.

Instead, in the heat of the moment, I said, "Um, yeah. I know some Scots."

"So you trust Scotsmen then?" He pressed.

I shrugged. "Okay, sure."

He introduced himself. "Staff Sargent Harold Potter, first wizard corpse of the Queen's battalion," he said. Or something like that.

The Scotsman went on to explain he was SAS, having just arrived back at RAF Northolt this morning at 6 AM after a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"I can't call any one to help me get home," he said. That comment went unexplained, but in my head I decided to believe it was because as a member of the SAS, your missions are so secret that even your friends and family can't be alerted to when you arrive back in the country.

After the story, he turned away. "This is so embarrassing," he said, tears welling up in his eyes.

I knew where he was heading. I have been hit up by this before.

But Staff Sargent Potter's request was a surprise. "I need 87 quid to get the East Coast line back home."


"Sorry to hear that mate," I said. "I don't have 87 quid, but can help you out with something."

I dug into my pocket, looking to see what loose change I had. I pulled out 3 one-pound coins.

Stf-Sgt Potter shook his head. "No, please, don't insult me with change." he said, looking away.

"Okay," I said. "Sorry I couldn't help. Have a good day.". I tried to pull away, but he was still shaking my hand and pulled me back into his orbit.

"I can't take the change, but could you buy me the train ticket?" he asked.

"Umm, sorry, no." I replied.

Already, there was too much about Potter's story that wasn't ringing true. He was trying to get an East Coast train to Scotland, but was heading to Victoria station (instead of King's Cross or Euston where trains to Scotland leave from). The whole, "I am SAS and thus can't call friends or family to help me," just seemed unbelievable. And the fact that the forces would just turn out someone on the street after landing less than 15 hours ago seemed unreasonably cruel, even for a Tory-led British government.

"Please, buy me the ticket to Scotland," Stf-Sgt Potter asked.

"No, sorry, I don't have that kind of money," I said. I started to walk away, finally pulling myself free from Stf-Sgt Potter's grip.

"Wait, wait..." He called after me. "Okay, I'll take the change."

I handed Stf-Sgt Potter the change. He took it without a thank you, and walked 10 feet down the street before he cornered someone else. I could hear the refrain "SAS just arrived at Northolt" as I walked up Park Lane.

I, Harrod's bag in hand, headed into the Redbar at the Grosvenor House Hotel, and paid £13 a Martini to drown away my troubles.


"That is why I moan for Moab like a flute. I sound like a flute for the people of Kir Hareseth. The wealth they gained has disappeared." - Jeremiah 48:36

Posted by GregW 13:20 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged people tourist_sites Comments (0)

Still Overseas. Still Outside.

Is this home?

sunny 14 °C

Night fall covers me, but you know the plans I'm making. Still overseas, could it be the whole world opening wide?
- View to a Kill, Duran Duran

It has been a busy few weekends past. First was my trip to the Paralympics, and then, with a friend from Canada in town, two weekends of day trips to Hampton Court Palace, Brighton, Canterbury and... um, this is a little embarrassing... The Harry Potter Studio tour. Actually, Harry Potter was surprisingly good, even though I haven’t read any of the books and only seen the first of the films.

Award winning beach, Brighton

Award winning beach, Brighton

Rose Garden, Hampton Court Palace

Rose Garden, Hampton Court Palace

Canterbury Cathedral at Night

Canterbury Cathedral at Night

Dumbledore's office on the Harry Potter Studio Tour

Dumbledore's office on the Harry Potter Studio Tour

Given all this activity, I decided to take it easy this weekend. I slept in, did some laundry and as a final activity got my haircut. I planned to grab some take-out chicken from Nando’s and head home for a Saturday night in.

My haircut finished up about 16:30, so a little early for dinner. Instead, I popped into a local pub to catch the end of the Saturday Premier League football. I had a couple of pints, watched the football scores come in and surfed the internet on my phone.

18:00 rolled around, so I decided to head home. Wandering out of the pub, a thought flashed into my mind. “I am enjoying visiting this country,” I thought, “I will miss it when I go home.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Wait a second,” I thought. “I am not a visitor here. I live here, just around the corner.”

It’s not the first time I have caught myself thinking like that. Thinking that this is just a temporary situation - a holiday away or a longer-term business trip. I still, after four years living here, sometimes find myself surprised at the fact that I really am living abroad.


The truth is, I don’t really feel like I am British. Certainly, legally I am not - not at least for another couple of years.

However, at some point I would have thought I would start to feel like I belong here.

This isn’t an externally driven feeling. The people of London who I know have never made me feel like I wasn’t welcome. I feel accepted here. I feel like I have a life here. I feel like people are happy to have me here.

But I don’t feel natural here. I don’t feel far outside, but I do feel like an outsider, just always outside of the circle of those who have lived in the UK all their lives.

I wonder if that ever goes away?

Posted by GregW 02:17 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

Paralympics 2012

A day a the Olympic Park in east London

sunny 19 °C

I went to a few Olympic events, but didn't make it to the Olympic Park. Luckily, a friend of mine had a spare ticket to a few events in the Paralympics within the Park, so I got to head there for the day.


Got to see a couple of events.

First up, in the Velodrome to see a number of track cycling events.

Velodrome Exterior

Velodrome Exterior


Highlights on the day included Team GB Sarah Storey winning a Gold Medal in the Women's Individual C4-5 500m Time Trial

Sarah Storey after her race, cycling past the crowds

Sarah Storey after her race, cycling past the crowds

2012 09 01 Sarah Storey Podium Ceremony

2012 09 01 Sarah Storey Podium Ceremony

There was only one Canadian on the day, Marie-Claude Molnar, who took place in the Women's C4-5 500m time trial as well. She came in 10th in the event.

Next up, we were off to the Aquatics Centre to see an evening of swimming. We were quite high up, but still had a decent view of the water.

The Aquatic Centre

The Aquatic Centre


The crowd was pretty excited about Ellie Simmonds, who won two golds in Beijing at the age of 13, and has won two golds here in London as well. I saw Simmonds smashing the world record in the 400m (classification S6) by more than five seconds.

Simmonds getting her Gold

Simmonds getting her Gold

World records fell like dominoes throughout the day in both the pool and at the velodrome.

There was a medal success for Canada in the pool on the day I was there. Valerie Grand-Maison win silver in the 50m S13 freestyle.

Valerie Grand-Maison, Silver Medallist

Valerie Grand-Maison, Silver Medallist

The swimming let out after 9:00 PM. As we were high up, we got some nice views of the stadium lit up coming down from the upper deck of the Aquatics Centre.


An impressive day of sport, and I was quite happy to have gotten to see the Olympic park.

Posted by GregW 13:13 Archived in England Tagged olympics sports events Comments (0)

Stranger in a Familiar Land

“Everything flows, nothing stands still. Nothing endures but change.” Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher

sunny 25 °C

Without a way to connect my iPod to the rental car’s radio, I was forced to listen to the local radio. I tuned the radio to a classic 80s station. Wave Babies by Honeymoon Suite came on the radio as I made the turn off from the Queen Elizabeth Way (Niagara bound) to North Shore Boulevard.

If I hadn’t caught a glimpse of my receding hairline and grey-haired temples in the rear-view mirror, I could have sworn it was 1988 again, my teenaged years spent in this same town, driving these same streets and listening to this same music.

But, as Honeymoon Suite sung, just like summer, it is over too fast...


= = =

I flew back to Canada to visit with my family, and take care of some personal business. I stayed in the town where I grew up, Burlington, which is about one hour outside of central Toronto.

Despite only having left Canada 4 years ago and having been back a few times since, I hadn’t spent much time in Burlington since I moved away 15 years ago (originally to Toronto, and then to London). I had spent a few days, and the occasional overnight, but mostly had focused my Canada life on Toronto.

On this trip I spent 7 days and nights in Burlington, the longest I had been there in a very long time.

It was all so familiar, but at the same time, very different.

I ended up feeling like a tourist in the town I grew up in. A stranger in a familiar land.


It was partially the physical changes to the town - new buildings erected, old buildings torn down, new roads build. The constant turning of a corner and being surprised by what was there.

That was only a small part, though. When I lived in Burlington, I knew a lot of people. This was, of course, because when you are a teenager you know so many people in your local area. Everyone in your school and the place you work are likely from the area, so you have a wide social circle.

Now, though, I knew no one. In seven days, I didn’t see a single person I knew by chance. Even though I walked through the malls and the parks and ate in the restaurants of the town, I didn’t happen upon a single person who I knew without pre-arranging a meeting.


Mostly, though, the feeling was driven by the changes in the life of myself and my family. When I last lived here, my parents were both alive and lived in a house on a leafy street. I returned to a place where I have just a single parent, and he is going through the process of moving from his modern, waterfront condominium to a care home. My family is in the process of moving from having parents as caregivers to giving care to our parent.

When I say I was a stranger in a familiar land, there is a double meaning.

Not just familiar because I knew Burlington from my past, but also familiar in the sense "of my family." I am in the place where my family lives, but much changed since I lived here.

New places, new configurations, new structures. Physical, emotional and mental.

All change. Same place, but different.

I am local, and I am the foreigner.

“You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.” - Heraclitus of Ephesus, c. 535 – c. 475 BCE.

Posted by GregW 03:42 Archived in Canada Tagged migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

The Olympic Experience

London 2012 from a Londoner

sunny 20 °C
View Hungarian Grand Prix 2012 on GregW's travel map.

I was not looking forward to the Olympics coming to London.

I wasn’t in London when they won the right to host the 2012 Olympic games. I lived through two bids by Toronto, both that failed, to host the games (in 1996 and 2008). I was happy when Toronto lost. I frankly thought that the city would be overwhelmed by the visitors, and the benefits would be minimal.

As the games approached here in London, I expected the same. I assumed that a crowded, smoggy city whose transport system was bursting at the seems would become even more crowded, smoggy and we would see a transportation system fall apart.

Then something happened, about two weeks before the games started. I started to get excited. I was still pretty sceptical we could pull it off, but I decided if I was going to be inconvenienced by the whole thing, I should might as well get some benefit. So I booked a few events, figuring I would have nothing but problems getting there, but at least I should try.

Then the games started, and it all changed. I became a fan. I became an advocate. I started talking up the games to my friends and coworkers who weeks before had been of the same sceptical and cynical mindset of me, but it was for nought, because they had already come around to be fans themselves.

Soon it became apparent that the entire city, and the entire country had become fans. All the cynicism in the press disappeared, and all everyone talked about was the joy of hosting the game.


It wasn’t without its issues. Sometimes the seats were empty, corporate sponsors deciding not to come to the early events. The transportation system failed at times, but we in London are use to that, and got around it as we do. Athletes were caught cheating with drugs, and sent home. Athletes decided to not try in some events, and were reprimanded.

Overall, the negatives were far, far outweighed by the positives. Crowds gathered to cheer on Team GB. Usain Bolt wowed the crowds 3 times. Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time.

I was about to write that London embraced the world, but frankly that is the best thing about London - it is a city that welcomes all - Olympics or not. The Olympics is just London writ large. The world’s games, in the world’s city.


Opening Ceremony

Prior to being swept into the Olympic fold, I had booked a trip to Hungary to see the Grand Prix. On the Friday night, though, now swept up into the Olympic fever, I went out to an Irish pub in Hungary and watched the opening ceremony. It was crazy and strange but awesome, and pulled me into the games.



The first event I saw was the boxing at the ExCeL centre in east London. I saw bantam weight, heavy weight and super heavy weight boxing. 12 bouts in all, and probably one of the most impressive the games. We saw a Japanese boxer knock down his opponent five times and still lose (he won on appeal). We saw Iranian heavyweight Ali Mazaheri disqualified. We saw a fight were the opponent didn’t show up (did you know they call that a “walk over?”). We saw two GB fighters win, and also a Canadian super heavyweight. Canadian Simon Kean won on countback against Yoka of France.


Women’s games

The last time London held the games, in 1948, the longest running event for women was the 200 metres. It was felt that they shouldn’t be made to run longer. In 2012, Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia set an Olympic record in the marathon of 2:33:07.

An important point about this games is about equality. This is the first games where every country represented had both male and female athletes, and the first games where every sport had representatives of both genders. Most visibly, boxing for women.

Beach Volleyball

Next up, the Beach Volleyball. Hosted in the Horse Guards Parade, which has been the tournament and parade grounds dating back to the time of Henry VIII. Unlike the jousting tournaments of old, this year it saw scantily clad women and men play volleyball on tons of imported sand.


It was undeniably entertaining. As long as I didn’t think about what I had paid for the tickets (well too much for sitting 22 rows back), nor that I was seeing an Olympic sport. I know that the people playing were undeniably athletic, and no doubt the best in the world at what they do.

However, I couldn’t help but thinking that what they were doing was playing a holiday game. “Hey, we are at the beach, I brought the volley ball and the frisbee. What do you want to play?” I couldn’t help but asking myself, “is that really deserving of a medal?”

Random Olympic Shots

BT London Live was a pair of viewing sites within the Victoria and Hyde Parks in London. Good place to get together with others to watch the games.


Of course, pubs were also high on the list of places to watch the games, with most pubs showing the games non-stop during the two weeks.


There were various places around the city where countries were hosting hospitality sites. Brazil was hosting in Somerset House, just beside my office. It featured a Brazilian flag flying above Somerset House and Brazilian music in the courtyard.


When I wasn’t at the events live, I was still watching. Here’s a few of my selected Facebook posts during the Olympics...

Watching Olympic fencing. A bit like watching Tron. Two warriors in darkness, blue and red lights highlight the play space, electronic beeps announce points. 2016 - light cycles as an Olympic sport?

Similar levels of athleticism, dexerity and showmanship. The only difference between parkour, Cirque du Soliel and men's Olympic gymnastics is uniform. Parkour wears hoodies and low rise jeans. Cirque dresses like clowns. Olympians dress in tight, tight, tight shorts and chest hugging vests. Think for the purposes of expanding their fan base, the Olympians should select a new uniform that is a little less YMCA.

Have been watching the women's Judo on and off during the day on M1 ELO in Hungarian. Two things I have learnt. (1) Women in the 57kg weight class are generally quite foxy. (2) I know nothing about how Judo is scored, and the Hungarian commentary is not helping my understanding.

Diving is a strange sport. It is like the start of a swimming race, but without the swimming. It is solely about the start of an activity, the transition from not swimming and being on dry land to swimming and being in the water. I can't think of other sports like that. There is no sport for starting a running race, nor for bursting out of the gates in skiing. Who came up with this?

Arrived at Heathrow terminal 1. No line for immigration. In fact, there were agents waiting. Through in less than a minute.

Why do people keep reporting, blogging and tweeting about how quiet the tube is? Keep your mouthes shut and let those of us still commuting have a decent journey for the next few weeks!

Sharing a table at the bar before heading into the arena. My co-table inhabitant, while pouring pints of stout into empty water bottles (lines are long when you get in, he explained) asked me, "have you travelled far?" I replied, "Clapham." <pause> "it's two transfers."


If I ran the Olympics, a javelin throw would not count unless the javelin stuck in the ground. Glancing off the ground and sliding along would not count. It's meant to be a weapon, and if you can't stick it into something, then it isn't a very good weapon.
(I am told this is only allowable in the multi-event sports like heptathlon).

Shouldn't Sharapova be playing for "The Independent Tennis Training Facilities of Florida?"

SOOO upset with myself. I had the opportunity two weeks ago to buy athletics tickets for the Paralympics. But I held off. "it's not like the Paralympics is going to sell out, right?" I said to myself. And now, nothing available at all. London has embraced this Olympics (now that it has started), and there is very little available to see at all. Just hoping that something comes up available in the next few weeks.

The Brazilian flag flies over Somerset House. Some alternate reality where Brazil won WWII? Nope, just the Brazilians setting up camp for the Olympics

(On the Canadian women’s football win, where Canada won Bronze over France, reported as Late Strike Seals Canada a Bronze). Good headline writing. Canada "seals" a bronze. Get it? Seals! Ar ar ar.

Ethiopian runner in the women's 5000 metres named Burka. Ironic a woman named burka should be showing so much skin.

Team GB dropped the baton, but Canada qualified. Take a lesson from them. Coat the baton in the sticky internal goo of clubbed baby seals, makes the passes flawless.

Yanquis just set a world record in the 4x100 women's final. Erased a record held by East German "women." The last record in the books held by East Germany. This is truly the end of communism.

Women's 1500. Turkey 1-2. Cakir followed by Bulut. Number 2 with a bullet, then?

Modern Pentathlon. Awesome. Here's a sword. Now here's a gun, run with it. Now here's a horse. Swim! Random goodness.

Amazing relay! WR for Jamaica. Bronze for Canada. Yes! - Followed closely by - NOOOO! A DQ!?! devastated - followed by - Oh no. one of the Canadians stepped on the line, and thus was out of his lane. Such a shame.

Rhythmic Gymnastics, solo and team, has impressed me. Generally (admitting to a bit of perviness), I watch women's gymnastics and think about the general prettiness of the women. Rhythmic Gymnastics, I am (like a house cat or gold fish) enthralled by the movement of the ribbons, balls and hula-hoops. I don't even notice until the end that there are actual people involved in throwing around the ribbons.


Last day of the games, and the last free event - the men’s marathon. I went to Blackfriars Station, and watched the marathoners pass 6 times - as they ran 3 loops of the marathon route.


It was amazing how close you could get to the athletes. The first time they came around, I actually jumped back as they came around the corner and I realised they were just a foot from me. Amazing.


Closing Ceremony

It has been a great time. The volunteers were amazing. The Londoners were amazing. The visitors were great. I hope everyone had a great time in the city.


A final Facebook post repost form me - London 2012 has been an absolute joy. I was very sceptical before it started, but it has swept me up emotionally, been great to host the visitors and the volunteers here and has been no problem moving around. Well done, London. It has been an excellent games.


Posted by GregW 14:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged olympics sports events Comments (1)

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