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 😉

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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

Nature, (oh) boy

Whenever you enter a park in Toronto, no matter what its size, you see the sign: “A city within a park”. Now I never thought that made sense, until we moved to our new home in The Annex.

We’re on the 17th floor and have a (small) balcony and when you look OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAout, this (left) is what you see. I showed the view to my sister and mam on Skype and they, like me, were amazed at how green and leafy the city is. That’s when I realised that the slogan was right: Toronto is a huge park with homes in it. Lots of them, granted, but they live side by side with nature.

I should have realised earlier how cheek by jowl the city is with the natural world. After all, on our second night here I watched a raccoon dance across the neighbours’ rooves. “Welcome to Canada,” said my cousin when I Facebooked it. “Oh, you’ll get fed up of them,” said my Torontonian friends. News flash: I haven’t. I won’t. They’re fantastic. With their little Zorro masks and fluffy fur – and claws which mean I will never get within 10ft of one unless there’s a glass wall between us. Nor is there any fear of touching their faeces, which I was also warned about. These OPI nails aint going anywhere near that.

Raccoons aren’t the only animals to make their presence known. Squirrels jump around everywhere while our route home to The Other Place (so terrible I’ve gone into The Liz Jones World of Diary Writing and capitalised descriptions that don’t need capitalising) used to take us past the Don Valley and the river (there’s even a creek!) and one night I saw its deer calmly munching on the grass of the nearby office blocks. After all the years of trying to see one in Scotland…

Then there is the wide variety of birdlife which makes me think OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtwitchers aren’t quite so geeky after all – we caught this magnificent heron at the Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville but the groundhogs proved a little more elusive to photograph. Fair enough, it was long past February 2nd and to be honest, they’re quite scary little buggers when they start di gging. I felt much happier oohing and aahing over the sunlight glinting off a dragonfly’s wings.

The weather is, of course, the biggest presence Mother Nature has to offer. The days now are getting hot and very, very humid and April’s bitingly cold winds and snow are hard to remember. But the rain is still around, although it’s a pleasure when it means we’re treated to sunsets like this (below).

We were reminded that we weren’t in Kansas (okay, Madrid) anymore on Sunday, while watching American Dad, when a tickertape from Environment Canada started feeding its way across the screen warning OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof a tornado and telling those in affected areas to go down to the ground floor or the basement if possible. Although the tornado was nowhere near us – and thankfully didn’t amount to much – there was a sharp change in the wind before the lightning hit. And what lightning. At times I felt like Richard Dreyfuss watching the clouds light up before the spaceship arrives in Close Encounters… othertimes it was as if I were at a Yes concert enjoying the light show but thankfully without the music. Also like a Yes gig, the show seemed never ending.

But the natural world is not all sweetness and light. My lavvie love affair has gone down the bog after a trip to High Park, where long queues and lingering smells meant a day trip to Toronto’s biggest park turned into the biggest exercise in cross-legged walking ever seen. Eventually, I’d had enough. I’ve seen I’m A Celebrity… and if the woodland is good enough for Carole Thatcher, well it would have to be good enough for me. So I found a secluded spot, left Ged on watch and answered the call of nature.

But Ged seemed to be fussing a bit, trying to catch my attention at a time when you don’t really want your attention caught, and I asked him what was up when I climbed back onto the trail.

“Did you see any plants like that?”

He pointed at a bizarre pen-and-ink drawing of a… leaf.

“Don’t think so…”

I took a closer look at the sign. Warning: Poison Ivy.

Now beyond the song, I wasn’t much sure what else was bad about Poison Ivy but a Will Robinson-type warning only means bad news. We tried to match the drawing with the leaves around us; however, as they were all green and sort of leafy-shaped, anyone of them could have been Ms Ivy. I spent the rest of the day wondering about every itch on my body and cursing the Thatcher family once more.

Toronto may be a city in a glorious park but when it comes to toilets, I think I’ll keep the two separate from now.

Only here for the beer – because there’s nothing else

It’s a beautifully hot day in Toronto, the beach is full and the barbie is out. You’ve just got time to head down to the supermarket and stack up on burgers, bangers and beer.

But wait – this is Ontario, fool, and booze in the supermarket isn’t allowed. Nor the local corner shop. Nor any shop that is convenient. And so your day at the beach turns into an exhausting round of searching for a couple of tinnies while the barbie coals grow cold.

Buying alcohol anywhere outwith certain sanctioned shops is banned in Ontario, along with much of Canada (the freedom-hunting Quebecois, of course, go their own way). The idea is similar to their views on selling tobacco – out of sight, out of mind. (Ciggies are hidden in a cupboard so young children – sorry, young, vulnerable children – don’t see them and suddenly fall under tobacco’s evil spell at the seductive sight of a packet of Marlboro Light with a grisly image of mouth cancer on its cover. Actually, this has now turned buying cigarettes into a fun version of the yes/no game. “Do you have Camel?” “No.” “Do you have Silk Cut?” “No.” “Is there any box in there with a red stripe on it?” “Getting warm…”)

Except this is beer we’re talking about and a Geordie and a Scot don’t give up that easily. Neither do the Canadians, to be honest. There are two major off-licences in Toronto: the Beer Store, which sells – surprise surprise – beer, and the state-run LCBO, which sells everything else. But rarely Bacardi Breezer, it appears, as two young children – sorry, young, vulnerable children – informed me: “They don’t often have Bacardi Breezer in this store,” said ten-year-old. “It’s mom’s favourite,” added his eight-year-old brother. Oooh, that out-of-sight policy is working really well.

The Beer Store is a warehouse and all the beers are kept out OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof sight in a large store room. Sadly, there is no opportunity for a parlour game here as they’ve conveniently put the labels of everything they stock on the wall with prices for one (where available), six, 12 or 24 units. Hence you’re left looking at an array of logos of drinks you know nothing about beyond the usual Becks, Heineken or Newcastle Brown Ale, which is a tipple for the trendy who seem to think it’s hip, as the adverts show (left). As in many of the bars, the more you buy, the cheaper it becomes, which seems an amazingly responsible pricing attitude. Seriously, a half will cost, for example, $5.45, a 20oz pint will be $6.95 but you can supersize to a 24oz drink for a mere $0.99. If you’re sharing, a two and a half-pint pitcher is always better value than two pints.

Back in the Beer Store, once you’ve dip-doo-maga-zooed your choice, you ask an assistant and he disappears into the store room to get it for you. In the meantime, other customers are returning their empties, clanking bottles and cans around you for which they get around 10c each one, usually to put towards their next drink.

Our first outing was to the BOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAeer Store next to the guest house we originally stayed in (left), which wasn’t, I admit, in the most salubrious neighbourhood and so the clientele were more interested in alcohol volume per dollar as opposed to brewing techniques or hoppiness. However, it has since become clear (ie. yeah, we’ve visited a few) that this is the norm. Because they are one of the few places you can buy beer, they’ve become a social club for people with drink problems and a small group can often be found gathered outside. Also, inside the shop you’re suffocated by the smell of stale beer from the empties. The assistants should sue for uniform gas masks.

The LCBO, meanwhile, is cold and sterile with staff who don’t know why you want angostura bitters. Plus there’s the lack of Bacardi Breezers, apparently.

The whole experience is grubby and nasty and makes you feel dirty. But it doesn’t stop people drinking. The pubs are as busy as the pubs in the UK – only no-one drinks halves – while most people leave the Beer Store with at least six bottles. In Québec, by the way, you can buy alcohol with your groceries or in the corner store without any problem and in single units.

One of the most unforgettable sights I’ve seen in Toronto was a woman in Kensington Market, wobbling down the centre of the road, almost-empty litre bottle of Smirnoff Ice in one hand, practically full litre bottle of Amontillado shoved down the front of her white knickers, on show to all the world as her trousers were halfway down her thighs. She came and sat with us, revealing a little of her history as we chatted. It was a sight I’d never seen in eight years in Madrid, where beer and wine are not considered alcohol, children are welcome in bars and beer is sold on the beach along with Coca-Cola and water (that’s the irony of our planned beach barbie: even if we had found some beer, we wouldn’t have been able to drink it on the beach – unless we hid it in a bag. The smell of weed is often to be found wafting through the air, however).

I wish I could say she was a rarity on the streets of Toronto but sadly, there are many sad sights around with obviously bigger problems than alcohol. And I can’t help thinking (sorry, bit of a Carrie Bradshaw moment there) that Beer Store and LCBO and the puritanical licensing laws exacerbate the problems: the off-licences are cheaper than bars, where a pint costs on average $6-$8, and it’s better value buying larger amounts so those with problems buy from there and sit on the street. Plus defining alcohol as merely a way of getting drunk – or turning it simply into a series of logos on a wall – removes any attempt at finesse and destroys the beauty of a finely brewed drink. Listen to a group of real ale drinkers talking about their favourite brews and you soon realise there is an entire beverage world far removed from the litre bottle of Smirnoff Ice drinkers. It’s like equating a Michelin-star meal to a McDonalds.

But enough of the pontificating. There is one subtle method of cutting back the amount people drink – put your purchases into paper bags, as the LCBO did my four cans of Alexander Keith’s IPA (very nice) one rainy Thursday. A few yards from our home, the growing soggier paper bag decided there was no point in existing any more and disintigrated, sending my four cans to the four winds of Eglington Road East and Sloane. I zig-zagged my way through the oncoming traffic to try and save them only to have this mass suicide continue as two of them then exploded, leaving me a beer-soaked wretch, much to the amusement of the drivers starting to queue up at the traffic lights. Our alcohol consumption was cut down 50 per cent in one move. Who’d have thought the answer would be so simple?

Notes to Canadian XYers from a Geordie XXer

“The thing with Canadian men is they’re a bit – placid.”

I’d just asked my new Canadian friend – let’s call her Ms X – about the menfolk here. It wasn’t a reply I was expecting. This is Canada, after all, home of lumberjacks and hockey players and Celine Dion. How macho can you get? But Ms X was adamant that when it came to wooing women, Macho Man turned more into Fearful Freddie. And so I decided to carry out a sociological experiment. Some might call it earwigging on conversations on the subway, bars and everywhere in general but I like my title better.

Anyway, after my close study of the male of the Canadian species and following out an intense comparison with his British counterpart (ie. ranting to Ged), I have these insights to offer:

1. Do not say: “I can say that without disrespecting her” (man on subway to his friend) . Now, I know the verb “disrespect” has a historic past stretching back centuries but in the UK, it’s the sort of word middle management use when they’re wanting to sound down with the kidz. In Britain, it’s use is generally followed by someone close by muttering: “Twat”.

2. Waitress: “Would you like anything to eat.” Man: “No, I’m just going to nibble on her all night” (slides up to girl next to him). I don’t have to explain what’s wrong with this, do I? Thought not.

3. “Are you okay with that because I’m feeling like you’re a little worried…” (man on subway to attractive businesswoman). We all know what talking about feelings does, don’t we? It leads to jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa. Best to keep emotions out of relationships as practiced by the British upper classes for centuries. Give a solution, that’s the ticket.

4. Don’t have Bubbles as a nickname. Again, I don’t have to explain this, do I?

5. And finally, sarongs are not suitable beachwear unless you’re David Beckham. After all, when your nickname’s Goldenballs (see the difference there, Bubbles?), you can wear what you want.

Seriously, it’s an eye-opener seeing how the two sexes interact here. Torontonian men appear to be very egalitarian when chatting to women, with one guy happily discussing childbirth with a group of women in the bar yesterday. (I would be hard pushed to find a Geordie who would do that – unless NUFC’s Moussa Sissoko was about to give birth, of course, with long discussions about whether or not he’d be fit for the following Saturday’s game.) But put the lads together, and it’s the usual topics – sports, videos games, sports and more sports. Women may be from Venus and Men from Mars, but it seems that in Canada, the city boys have learnt to talk both languages – even if that does translate into Bubbles.

Tips…

A Geordie and a Scot arrive in Toronto. So what’s the first thing they do? Hit the pub, of course. Now that was not as bad as it seems – everybody had told us the way to get over jet lag was to change your body over to the new timezone as soon as possible, which is why, even though we’d now been up 20 hours and drank and eaten enough for a small army (the food and drink on www.airtransat.com is plentiful and good), we were heading downtown to keep going for a few more hours. And what else is there to do at 9pm but go to the pub?

Which was where we discovered that as good as Rough Guides are, the one for Canada had missed off an important part – as good as their coverage is on the best places to go and the types of alcohol you can expect, they fail to mention that you need to sell your kidneys to be able to afford to drink in Toronto.

“That’s not $8 for a pint, is it?” I asked Ged as we examined the menu. Turned out, it was. Around £5.14 for a bog-standard pint of lager.

“And then we’ve got to tip,” Ged said.

Ah, yes, tipping. Now tipping bar staff in Britain is easy – you don’t do it. It’s a little bit more complicated in Madrid in that only guiris leave a substantial amount so you have to learn to leave a small bit of shrapnel, if that. Here, though, it’s a whole new ballgame. The standard is 15 per cent, although some places will ask you to leave 18 per cent (or even just add it onto your bill – and yes, it’s a “bill” in Toronto, not a “cheque”), but you do have a voice if the service is substandard – then you only leave 10%. Yup, even if the bar staff are the surliest people around, you’re expected to still leave a tip. Demand a tip in Scotland and you’ll be rewarded with the Glasgow malkie.

“I know someone who had the barman run out of the bar after him, shouting because he hadn’t left a tip,” Old Wife Tale-teller Ged whispered. “They get paid less than minimum back home so tips are really important.”

Now it’s not that I’m tight, but the argument that I should subsidise an owner’s decision to pay his staff low wages doesn’t really hold much water with me. Especially when I’m paying $8 a pint that I can’t possibly get unless there’s a bartender pulling it for me. If the service is good, then I’ll tip. But why should I tip for someone just doing their job – especially when this particular barmaid didn’t even know how to smile?

“I’m not doing it.”

“You can’t not do it,” Ged said, checking the bill. “She’ll run out after us.”

“Watch me,” I said, putting on my stroppy “I’ve been travelling for an eternity so don’t mess with me” head in true Worzel Gummidge style while sinking further down into my seat so the barmaid wouldn’t notice the change.

We paid the bill, got the change – and result! Ms Surly went to chat to a friend leaving us free to leg it, which we did, all the while watching our backs, half expecting to see the barmaid emerging behind us, meat cleaver in hand, demanding her 15 per cent.

Amazingly, that didn’t happen. But I was glad I was wearing my trainers.

(Would you have left a tip? Let me know below)