Alberta’s animal magic

Wondering where all the wildlife action was in my posts about the Rockies? Well bear with me (see what I did there?)

As I said here, nature is everywhere in Canada, coming right down to the doorstep in Toronto. Canadians are quite blasé about their wildlife – “Yeah, I’ve seen a bear,” said my friend Rosie casually.

A bear, for heaven’s sake!

I, however, am a little more excitable and when we hit Alberta, I was on all-eyes-alert for anything. ANYTHING.

And I was rewarded pretty early on, with this stunning close encounter with this mule deer in Banff. Leaving Colin to get the photos, I merely stood and watched this magnificent creature – who had no idea she was the focus of the animal paparazzi – eating grass and then calmly walking away.

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Now I know it was only a deer, but I spent every trip to the Highlands of Scotland trying to find one and never seeing anything so this was quite something. Plus there was the stillness of the animal juxtaposed with the busy tourist centre we’d left a few minutes previously. We meant nothing to this animal.

Not too much later, driving through to Lake Louise, Colin and I were given an even better treat with the sighting of a beautiful stag walking through the forest. The road was busy and we couldn’t stop for photos but the image is burned onto my memory.

Of course, me being me, I got excited at anything: the many hawks riding the thermals or peering down from telegraph poles; the mountain goat by Canmore: the gorgeous little chipmunks and the gophers we saw on the prairies – the one pictured was obviously used to being photographed and posed like a red-carpet star. Plus there were the dinosaurs at Drumheller.

(The bears remained elusive. The closest we got was several hundred metres where we were told a black bear had gone into bushes. We waited but the bear never reappeared. I did see a cowboy, however, complete with leather chaps standing at the entrance of his farmland.)

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But the best came not long after the mountain goat, after my cousin Vicki, in a perfect tribute to The Terminator, announced there was a storm coming in. We decided to get home before it hit and were heading out of the park when something frolicking in a clearing grabbed us all. Vicki slammed on the brakes.

“Could be cougars,” she said, looking back at the three animals.

I swear, if I’d had a tail it would have stared wagging.

And then she said: “Nope. There’s too many. Cougars are loners. They’ve got to be wolves.”

God bless her, storm gathering pace, she reversed the car back to where the animals were. That’s where this picture was taken. Stepping out of the car and viewing the creatures more closely, it was obvious that these were large animals and everything about them looked like wolves.

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So why the bad photo? As I lifted my camera up, Mother Nature showed that she’s more than wildlife. Within seconds, the rain came hurtling down and the wind picked up, literally knocking the camera as I tried to hold it steady. I had no choice but to run back to the car, already soaking after less than 30 seconds.

It was the beginning of August yet we were in the middle of a hailstorm so loud and violent you would have thought someone was bombarding us with golf balls. I expected the windshield to shatter at any moment. Vicki had told me about cars being damaged by hailstones. Now I understood (and also why the car insurance is so expensive in Alberta compared to the UK).

The car was silent (we wouldn’t have been able to hear each other anyway) and Vicki received a round of applause when we emerged at the other side of the storm. That was serious driving.

This was the end of my Rockies adventures and they moved me more than I had expected. My author friend Douglas Jackson – who writes a brilliant blog – once talked about going up on the Borders of Scotland and England and seeing views that the Romans had seen almost 2,000 years ago. Watching these animals in their natural habitat, I understood perfectly what he meant: the sense of timelessness and unity as I watched a scene that the First Nations would have seen; a Canada from long, long ago. This was compounded by the storm – we were powerless, nature was in control. After all, only a few weeks earlier, Calgary and the surrounding areas had been devastated by heavy rains.

I’ve always hated the idea of borders and nations and visas and immigration quotas and my experiences in the Rockies made me see even more how we don’t own the earth, it does not belong to us, we only share it with all the rest of its inhabitants, we’re all just lodgers on this land. Perhaps we should send the world’s politicians to Alberta so they can learn this lesson too.

I can’t thank my family in Calgary enough for an amazing week filled with laughter and love and many, many memories (Vicki, I still feel guilty for the black eye I gave you when you were a little girl). I love you all and I hope it won’t be another 20-something years before we meet up again.

It all gets Rockie(s)

Those of you who know me will know I am rarely stuck for words. Well, I am now. And the reason? There are simply not words enough to describe how beautiful and emotional I found the Canadian Rockies. In fact, I was reduced to a mere: “Wow” and an open mouth every few hundred yards.

We started off in Banff, which is a pretty if formulaic tourist town filled with shops selling dream

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catchers and expensive art. You kinda expect George Bailey to come running along the main street. However, it is a living, working town and most of its residents – who have to prove a need to live there – are there full-time as opposed to second-homers, which goes some way towards dulling the chocolate-box feel. (It was also a bank holiday weekend so the place was teeming with tourists. Like us.)

But to be honest, if you’re visiting Banff, you’re not really bothered about houses and homes and dream catchers (or if you are, you need to get a life). All around you stands the beauty of the mountains, sharp and jagged and magnificent with the biggest blue sky behind them and lakes of turquoise below.

SAM_2858I almost forgot – there were two places of note on our way to Banff: first of all, this signpost, which needs no explanation as to why it should be on every Brits list of places to visit, and then at Lac des Arcs, where even a concrete plant (they mine the area) couldn’t detract from the beauty (below).

DSCN4906But it doesn’t matter where you stop in the Rockies. We pulled into a small car park to sit by the water for lunch and it was wonderful. The stillness and the feeling that you are so far away from everything…

We had wanted to visit Sulphur Mountain but the bank holiday traffic meant a sharp U-turn and so we were forced to visit Lake Louise earlier than planned. What a hardship.

And now I am going to shut up and let the photos do the talking (the nicer ones are courtesy of my cousin, Colin, who has missed his calling).

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From there, it was time for dinner. Sadly, not us. We went on a trail along Johnston’s Canyon where we discovered that organic mosquito lotion is crap for keeping the buggers away. With the constant slapping of our bodies, it looked like we were auditioning for Germany’s Got Talent with our performance of the Schuhplattler. “They’re attracted to dark colours,” Colin warned us. Too late in the day, mind you…

I cannot, hand on heart, hide the fact that we were in agony the next day from the bites. But the trail was magnificent and I would recommend it to anyone wearing Persil-white clothes and with enough kill-the-planet strength mossie spray on them to destroy the little gits forever.

The canyon has been formed by thousands and thousands of years of water erosion to form spectacular walls, tunnels and waterfalls. The waters are crystal clear and that amazing blue (which is something to do with the sediment. I was never that good at geography so although it was explained to me…)

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It was late in the afternoon when we went so thankfully, there were very few people around and we could see the canyon’s two waterfalls – the lower and the upper – without any obstructions. We’ve still to go to Niagara and this made me even more eager – the spray and noise from the lower falls was incredible. And then there was the stillness of the water merely yards away. Yeah, I said: “Wow” again. Many times. The trail to the upper falls takes you past cascading water and amazing rock formations.

Too late to continue on to the Ink Pots (pools of mineral waters), I vowed that someday I would come back. I mean, you’ve got to go through Moose Meadows to get there. I HAVE to do that.

From then it was back to Banff for bison burgers and a beer before heading home, via a trip to the countryside to try and see shooting stars (we didn’t). An amazing day.

Yee-haw! We’re off to see the cowboys

Canada, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Canada.

Okay, a slight exaggeration, but only slight. This is a big country and while you know that inside, it’s only when you’re here that you realise its enormity. Or rather, it’s only when you try to book

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtickets to go somewhere and you’re faced with travelling for more than two days by train (not such a rarity with Network Rail, I admit) or flying for five hours just to visit another city. And don’t even get me started on prices. How can a country with petrol at 80p a litre justify almost £400 for a return flight the equivalent of London to the Canaries? My nephew’s flying from Budapest to Milan for a little over 10€. TEN EUROS.

Anyway, to get to the point of today’s blog, when we were leaving Spain, one of the questions I was often asked was what I was most
looking forward to. And there was no hesitation – seeing the second cousins I used to play with as a little girl and, apart from a fleeting get-together in Montréal Airport in 1999, had not seen since 1989. Margaret Thatcher’s Britain had sent them to St John in search of work and from there, they’d ended up in Calgary.

I also had another reason for wanting to see this part of Canada – my Great-Uncle Walter had been here during the Second World War and loved it. It would be very special to go somewhere with so many family connections.

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My trip sadly started off with a poignant moment – a visit to my cousin Sid’s grave. He died last year after a valiant fight against cancer and one of the first things I wanted to do was see where he was buried and pay my respects. It was a strange feeling, to see the grave of a boy who’d grown up in the back streets of Byker and was now buried in a land far, far away. However, he’d adored living in Alberta and his spirit was never far away in the many loving tales his family shared with us.

His wife, my cousin-in-law Anne, has maintained her Geordie accent but their children, Vicki and Colin, now speak with a strong Canadian twang (and I did hear the A-word several times). But they still have British sensibilities and, just like when I was a child, laughter and gossip were always on the go.

Calgary itself is not such a pretty city. The downtown area is small and Vicki told me it’s practically dead at the weekend. Being a relatively new city – it was a town in 1864 and a city 30 years later – there are very few places of historic importance to see. Okay, practically none outwith Stephen Avenue, the Canadian Pacific Railway HQ and, of course, Stampede Park. However, it sits nestled into the Bow and Elbow rivers which provide a gorgeous, lush oasis in the middle of this very dry land (it wasnice to escape Toronto’s humidity). Too lush, sadly, as the debris and damage from this July’s Alberta floods could still be seen. There are families in the area still without homes and as we travelled the region, it became clear just how devastating it had been. The floods also showed a

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true outpouring of the human spirit, however, as thousands of volunteers turned up to help in the aftermath.

Back to the city, most people seem to live in the suburbs so there’s not a lot to see, although highlights of our visit included a look at their beautiful Chinese centre and the shops for cowboys.

SHOPS FOR COWBOYS.

I mean, how great

is that? We tried on all the hats and oohed at all the Dolly Parton-esque blouses and shirts not just in one of them, but in every cowboy shop I could see.

And of course, from there we had to visit Stampede Grounds, the home of the legendary Calgary Stampede, and…

“What’s that building? Looks like a giant twisty-turny place for skateboarders to practice on.”

“That’s the Saddledome stadium, you divvy,” replied Ged. “Look, it’s shaped like a saddle. It was on the telly all the time because it had been flooded and they didn’t know if they could get it ready in time for the Stampede. And you, a journalist…”

(They did get it ready but repairs are continuing so we couldn’t see much.)

Even though there was no Stampede, it was amazing to walk around the grounds (see gallery below) and see this tribute to Alberta’s colonial past. I have seen First Nations in Toronto – we stumbled onto a pow-wow by the waterfront on our very first weekend and were able to witness the singing and drums, as well as overhear how Velcro was the best thing to use for fastening dresses – but this era of Canada’s history seems very far away in Ontario. In Alberta, it is a living, breathing part of the everyday world and my cousins routinely discussed the conditions on the reservations and the problems facing the First Nations. Their dog, the sloppiest animal in the world, even came from a reservation (and has, according to a vet, some coyote in her. But more on Alberta’s wildlife to come).

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The strangest thing about Calgary, however, is how much it reminded me of my native Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Stephen Avenue at times felt like walking down Northumberland Street – that part just around the Haymarket and BHS – and I could see why my cousin and Great-Uncle Walter loved it and felt so at home here. But the next day, we headed into the Rockies and Newcastle and Northumberland were left far behind.

And for that, you’ll have to tune in to the next episode of Canadian Wry 😉

Young men – and women – here’s a place you should go

First of all, I’m sorry that you’re going to be singing THAT song for OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe rest of the day, but the YMCA is definitely worthy of a post. (Furthermore, I’ve never seen any cowboys or construction workers in it, although a nice policeman smiled at me as I went in the other day. What is it about those uniforms…?)

One of the things Ged was adamant about during our time in Toronto was that we would attend a gym. However, there was the slight problem of membership – although gyms aren’t particularly expensive, you are tied in for a length of time far outwith the six months we’re staying here.

It was a TV show where the kids were going down the Y to shoot hoops (see how with the local lingo I am now?) which gave us the idea of investigating a little further. And we are very happy we did.

For $109 CAD (about £68, if Mr Osborne stops mucking around with the economy and the pound doesn’t slide again. Thanks for that, Chancellor), the two of us get full access to the Y with a membership policy which we can cancel with a mere two weeks’ notice.

And the goodies in store are amazing. Forget all the ideas we have about the YMCA in the UK. This is not a drop-in centre to help those down on their luck. Not only is there a gOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAym for those hoop-shooting kids, but there is a full programme of classes, a weight room, cardio machines, running track, swimming pool and workout machines. It also gives us free entry into some of the talks and programmes the Y runs.

Best of all, however, is the rooftop garden: an oasis of wild Canadian plants carefully tended by the volunteers who help make the Y so special. Surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown, the garden OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmakes a unique spot to escape, with the gentle tinkling of a water feature making a lovely backdrop to yoga practice.

Yeah… I just said that. I think Toronto’s hipster vibe is getting to me.

Despite the many hipsters in this city, the Y’s gym-goers are a wide range of ages, shapes, races and sexualities – a true melting pot, in fact – and thankfully far removed from the nightmare stereotype of fit bods in competition with each other to have the best six-pack going. I’m fairly sure that for several of my fellow workout buddies, the best six-pack going is Molson Canadian.

That’s not to dismiss the amazing work that you see going on around OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAyou. It’s not much for some, but at my grand old age, it was at the Y that I finally ran 5k, inspired by the middle-aged people lapping me on the track. I think that makes me the first in my family to do it. I also have some decent guns going and as for that six-pack – Keith’s IPA is better than Molson Canadian.

Special thanks go to Jess, my kettlebell instructor, a volunteer at the Y who I can truly call awesome. She planks and lifts weights at the same time, for heavens’ sake! That is worth the A-word. And also to my Thursday night cardiofit-arriba (ie. zumba) instructor, Karina. This class is fantastic. Not only could she teach Shakira and Beyonce a thing or two, but half the class would be in her backing group. I sometimes think I should be paying for the entertainment value as hips shimmy and legs lunge.

I can’t get “pumped” or “stoked”, as Jess seems to think we should be by the prospect of exercise (I mean, do I look crazy? I’m in agony here), but the relaxed atmosphere makes exercise a lot more bearable. And I’m already sadly thinking: “Only ten more KB classes to go…”

Happy birthday, Canada

Yesterday was Canada Day. And I spent it in bed, sick.

I think the weather was sick, too. It has been for about a week and we’ve only seen one day of blue skies (naturally we dashed over to The Beaches).

But thankfully, the clouds cleared up in the evening and I was able to sit on the balcony and watch the parade of fireworks around the city to celebrate the country’s 146th birthday.

One hundred and 46 years. That’s just 100 years older than me. My own city of 013Newcastle upon Tyne (pictured) was founded 2011 years ago yet no-one celebrates that. (Embarrassingly, I had to look up how old it was.)

Compounded, perhaps, by the memory of the emotional singing of O Canada on Saturday at the football, it was actually very moving to watch the sky flash up in celebration and it made me wonder why we don’t do the same in the UK. I mean, 2011 years of Newcastle history – and some great history at that – is worthy of fireworks, isn’t it? And the rest of the country hasn’t done too bad either.

So why are we so reluctant to sing our praises?

The more we’re here, the more I think that North Americans should spend time in the UK to loosen up and get cynical (oh, how I miss cynicism). There’s a lot to be said for raising a Roger-Moore eyebrow at times.

In return, we should make the reverse trip to learn about customer service.

Yeah, that’s it.

Oh, okay, and enthusiasm, too.

Jaded old hack that I am, there is something quite wonderful about being amongst enthusiastic people and I have even heard myself saying that yes, I am mildly excited about doing 15 more burpees in kettlebell class. Whoo-hoo. And I have to admit to doing my first, non-sarcastic high-five the other week.

(Although that does not go so far as to take on the use of “stoked”, “pumped” and “awesome”. Honestly, if I hear one more person describe their lunch as “awesome” I’m going to shove the OED down their throats. It’s a chicken sandwich from Subway, for heaven’s sake.)

Don’t worry. I’m not going to return home shouting “UofK” with a pumping fist above my head. I still dislike our dirge of a national anthem and would substitute Vindaloo for it anytime.

But fireworks once a year would be… not bad.

Hope you all had an awesome Canada Dayl

Not such a beautiful game

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a football fan in possession of 40 bucks must be in want of a game. Or at least the sight of a stadium.

One of our first walks* in Toronto was to BMO Field, the home of Toronto FC. (This is a common occurrence on holidays as somehow, Ged’s routes always seem to take us to a football stadium. We even snuck into Estadio Teresa Rivero, as it was then, a good four years before we moved to Madrid.) Ever since, we’ve been determined to take in a game so discovering that TFC were to play Montréal Impact – the nearest thing to a derby game as we could get – we marched off to the stadium to buy tickets.

Plans changed quickly, however, upon getting to the stadium and being surrounded by thousands of TFC fans – there was a game on that day. As we walked along to the ticket booth, I realised how much I’d missed the atmosphere of a live game: the anticipation, the excitement, the camaraderie, the beer – BEER? They sell beer in the stadium? Fantastic.

So instead of seeing the league leaders, we handed over our $82 and settled down to watch TFC take on Real Salt Lake.

Now as views go, I’d always loved the vista from Easter Road with the seagulls sweeping over the Firth of Forth. It made an interesting OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdistraction for when the Hibs weren’t playing too well. (Which at the time was more often than not.) But BMO Field has to have one of the best in Canada. Spreading out before us was the whole of Downtown Toronto, with the CN Tower shining in the sun. (Naw, it was grey skies, but give me some romantic leeway please.)

The stadium itself is nice-looking, holding a little more than 21,000 spectators (which made a mockery of the announcement that 21,841 people were at the game. Most of the stands were about two-thirds OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfull, such is the appeal of “soccer”) but we were amazed to see free-standing seats, tables and even a set of comfy armchairs by the side of the pitch. Added to that was the wide range of concession food stores with everything from pizza to nachos to chips (the TFC website gives guidance on what a chip butty is) to popcorn. No pies nor Bovril.

The game started, like all games in North America, with the singing of the national anthems – the StaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAr-Spangled Banner for RSL and O Canada for TFC. A fine young chap with a healthy set of lungs gave a great rendition of the US’s theme tune but it was O Canada which truly touched me. The game was two days before Canada Day and the crowd were in a truly patriotic mood. They quickly joined in with the pro and the stadium was filled with voices as I scrambled to take a video. I have to admit to getting really emotional about it all (and consequently my video went skew-whiff) as the anthem ended in cheers and fireworks.

And that was about all the fireworks there were. The next 90 minutes were filled with some of the most turgid, lacklustre and quite frankly comical football I’ve ever seen. And I’ve watched Escape to Victory. The players played like girls. No, not like women. Like girls. Like girls who had just had their hair blown dry and painted their nails and would rather push over their opposition than muddy their Manolos on a football.

Pushing is rugby, lads, not “soccer”.

It was no surprise when the lack of discipline resulted in a handbags-at-dawn and two red cards – one for each side. Also, both sides should make their next away trip to Specsavers because they couldn’t OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdifferentiate between red and white shirts. Throw-ins, passes, anything and everything was sent directly to a member of the opposition, to sighs of sorrow from the fans and “FFS” from Ged.

Worse was a manager who couldn’t see beyond 4-4-2 and kept to that formation even though it wasn’t working. In the UK and Spain, such a decision would have been met with boos of derision from the crowd but one of the problems is that the majority of the spectators didn’t really know much about football and cheered anything that moved near the goalmouth.

RSL won 1-0, with a nice goal right on the 45th minute. Scotland’s Steven Caldwell (brother of Hibs’ Gary) missed a sitter in extra time but it didn’t really matter because he was named man of the match two minutes later.

And that’s the trouble with Canadian football – there’s no danger. The crowd will cheer and applaud blindly as they’re there to enjoy a day OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAout. They had started their fun two hours before the game, meeting for that “tailgaiting” where they have picnics on the back of their cars. The game seemed like a nice little sideline. The managers sat in front of the dugout and watched; none of Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary pacing and screaming and boot-kicking. And there’s no relegation so once you know you’re not going to win the league, there’s nothing to play for. Everything was sanitised and clean – the TFC website even gives guidance on when to wave your scarf. It’s football, Jim, but not as we know it.

But it wasn’t all bad. Some of the spectators have formed their own little ultra section, with a drum and crowd singing (although not much, it has to be said), the game was thankfully pretty free of the diving which blights the Spanish game at the moment, and then there was the half-time.

A group of tiny children, led determinedly out by a star of a wee man about 2ft tall, played their own little game in the centre circle to the accompaniment of the Benny Hill theme tune. They were fantastic and should be signed up straight away. And sent out to play on Wednesday.

On the tram back home, I listened to a couple of youngsters chatting about the game. “That was cool,” said one. “Two good chances at goal and a fight.” He grinned.

I despaired.

*marathon-distance, getting-lost treks

Cistern addict

Of all the things I thought I’d be writing about, this never entered my mind.

But by God, Canada, I’m in love with your lavatories.

See, I even have to call them the name by which the Queen calls them. No humble “bog”, “netty” or “place no-one can go for me” will do for these mighty beasts. It has to be the regal title for these thrones of thrones.

It’s not the porcelain palace itself, mind you, it’s the power of those flushes. In Europe, we have a nice, sedate, gentle flow of water that softly swirls around the bowl and then meanders down to sewerland (which is somewhere around the Wear, I think). But that won’t do for North America. Oh no. Here, we have a tsunami of a flush, a giant whoosh which threatens everything within its path before storming off to invade another waterworld elsewhere.

It takes everything prisoner.

And it gets better. These tyrants of toilets also flush themselves. No handles or buttons here. You stand up and pow! Your little gift to nature is on its way in a most hygenic manner. (Gave me quite a turn in the Eaton Centre, I can tell you. I was ready to call the Ghost Adventures crew out.)

Not that I should be surprised at the over-fastidiousness of the flushing regime. Once in the washroom itself (only the US has restrooms because obviously we all rest there), you’re greeted by a 12-point diagramme of how to wash your hands, starting with “Turn tap on” and ending with “Use the paper towel you’ve just dried your hands on to turn the tap off”.

Now I don’t know about you, but it seems a little odd, in a city where recycling and green living is everywhere, to be encouraging people to overuse a natural resource such as water by letting it run while you dry your hands (although being on the side of Lake Ontario, Toronto has plenty to spare, which is good because those flushes must use up gallons).

However, that seems to be the way here. You’re encouraged to recycle everything and they make it easy to do, with special bins for glass, plastics, food waste and paper as well as your everyday litter. But while you’re categorising your rubbish, a gas-guzzling giant of a 4×4 speeds past you. And then another. And another. They were singing the praises of one such vehicle on TV the other day because it did – wait for it – an incredible TWENTY-FIVE MILES PER GALLON. No amount of recycling is going to replenish that petrol supply.

Similarly, one mother saw no irony in telling her children to hold their breath as they passed a smoker in a bus queue next to us (“Okay, breathe out again. Good job, guys.”) while ignoring the fact that they were on a main road with dozens of exhausts passing her while walking through a major Western city that is inevitably filled with pollutants.

(And don’t even get me started on public transport, the greenest way to get a city moving. A 15-minute journey in a car took me two hours on public transport one day. But I recycled my coffee cup at the end of it so I suppose that’s all right. I mean, can you really call two and two-quarter lines a subway system? Isn’t it more of a subway wannabe? But I must admit I like the trams, even though we got trapped on our first one. We rang the bell, it stopped, nothing happened, we looked at each other, tram started moving again. Next stop, Ged stepped down on the the exit step to ring the bell again and hey presto! The doors opened. Turns out that won’t happen unless you step on the step. Why? Why? Do Torontonians have a sweepstake on how many tourists they can bewilder each season? If so, I want in. Watching this must give you hours of fun.)

However, for all my wry ranting, I am impressed by how easy recycling is here and also by how willing everyone is to do it, probably because it is so easy. One big difference we noticed on returning to the UK after our time in Madrid is the lack of litter bins on the streets (I recall, in Newcastle Central Station, being told they had been taken away because of the IRA, an argument which has as much sense as being told you couldn’t take shopping bags into a Spanish supermarket because of ETA – and I was actually told that) and how dirty the streets are as a consequence. Here, the streets are clean and the landfill sites are, it was reported the other week, not filling as quickly. If only the UK government would take note.

In fact, I’d be flushed with happiness if they did.