Tag Archives: Canada

Spotting a scam

I love Canadians. They’re so damn, well, uncomplicated. Rather like Paul Gross’s Mountie character Benton Fraser from ‘Due South‘ they’re extremely polite (mostly), easy going (except when the cable TV cuts out in the middle of the Hockey game) and oh so pleasant to deal with (when not being terribly passive-aggressive). At least in comparison to their UK counterparts who often are all too ready to froth at the mouth and throw Teddy out of the pram at the least provocation. Unfortunately this makes many of my Canadian friends all too vulnerable to every scammer and confidence trickster who sees an easy mark.

To the practised eye, scams stand out like pink sparkly searchlights in the night. Mainly because they sound like some modern day fairy tale. Long lost relative, or friend of a friend left you a huge pile of cash / winning lottery ticket / lost treasure of the Golden Behind in their will, and they just need your bank details to pass your good fortune to you?  Yeah, right.

Disney don’t make ‘em any better.  Pixie dust,  Unicorns and Rainbows rule.  Polar Bears are fluffy, huggable things, not massive slavering predators always on the hunt for protein.  Any protein.  Including human.  Oh yeah, and Dolphins are kind and gentle, if you conveniently forget about the beating Harbour Porpoises to death thing, yeah?

Now to us cynical sorts, whose eyes have been forced open by dealing with the slings and arrows of outrageous UK local authorities, the single rule to apply is; if it sounds too good to be true then it is.

A Canadian friend of ours recently got taken in by scammers. When he finally got round to showing me the email that had kicked it all off I put my face in my hands, groaned quietly and asked. “You haven’t sent these people any money have you?” He had the good grace to admit that yes he had.
“You know this is a scam, don’t you? For Pete’s sake mate, don’t send them any more.” I groaned. The scammers were asking for five thousand bucks to release several millions from a ‘locked’ bank account in the Far East.

So how easy was the con to spot? Very. Childs play in fact. I get two dozen of these missives a week, aren’t I a lucky chap? I derive considerable amusement from reading them all before throwing said missives into my yawning pit of hell-spam, ne’er to be seen this side of eternity. All right Bill smartarse Sticker, if you’re so bleeding clever, why don’t you tell all the boys and girls out in there interweb land how to spot one of these con tricks? Plaisir mon vieux. There now follows a brief lesson in scam spotting.

When one of these ‘too good to be true’ emails lands in your inbox. Ask yourself the following questions;

  1. Who is this?
  2. Where did they get my details?
  3. What is said glittering prize?
  4. Why did they pick me?
  5. How come they write such appalling English?

If any one of these questions make your bullshit detectors twitch, bin the offending email.  Or at least run a few simple checks. Does your benefactor really work at the United Nations? No matter how much their cause may tug at your heartstrings. African orphanages, baby animals threatened by eeeevil hunters or whatever. Remember, a little judicious cynicism now will save a whole heap of heartbreak later. I routinely bin these false messages of monetary gain because I never buy lottery tickets. You’d be better off betting on three legged horses at those odds. I also really used to know two people who worked for the UN in Geneva, but we don’t talk. Not even at Xmas. I don’t have any long lost relatives. Certainly none that would give me any money. Besides, any such offer would come directly from a UK based lawyer who I could check out in the phone book.  Any such legacy would also have to make it unscathed through a family who can make a shoal of ravenous Piranhas look like charm school graduates. There are specialists who trace relatives of large and small fortunes, but they write well spelled, grammatical English, and never, ever, ever, ask for your bank details or cash up front to ‘unlock’ funds.   Not even in ‘good faith’.  Nor do any of them live and work in Nigeria.   That last statement might be considered ‘raaaaacist’, but it is nonetheless correct.

If still not sure; check the originating email address.  If the organisation is a .com, why does the email address  end in .in.th?   It takes ten seconds to check out using WHOIS.com.   Is there a phone number?  Type said phone number into the search bar of your web browser and let Google, Bing, or any one of the many search engines bring enlightenment to your browser.   Then try one of the local phone directory services.  411.com for North America or in the UK 118118.com. The work of seconds.

When finding out that you are not heir or beneficiary to a massive business deal / lost millions, which the tax man would no doubt want an unhealthy bite out of, console yourself thus; it might have been real, but with all the scams out there, the odds are that it wasn’t. Add the sender to your spam or junk mail list and move on. There’ll be another one along shortly. That much is guaranteed.

Yet another snow day

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again; back in 2008 when we hunkered down for our first Winter in West Coast Canada, we were told by friends and family who had lived here since the 70′s “Don’t worry, it never snows in the Mid-Island.” Today I can confirm it’s snowing. Again. Cold, wet and heavy. It has snowed every year we’ve been here despite the assurances and blandishments of friends and neighbours. Despite all the assurances of those telling us that “Our children won’t know what snow is.”

The great lakes currently have about ninety percent ice cover, the most for over two decades at the time of writing, and almost as much as the 1973 record of 94.7 percent on 1979. The Midwest and USA are on the receiving end of Winter storm after winter snowstorm. Then we have witless fools chuntering on about how they think those of us with eyes in the front of our heads, and working brains between our ears are some form of criminal species they call ‘Deniers’. Deniers of what might I ask? Deniers of a changing climate? No, we can see that for ourselves. As for warming, if anything it’s getting colder. Simple observation will tell you that. In the words of Dylan; “You don’t need to be a Weatherman to see which way the wind blows.” I can tell you where it’s going to as well. Which is a bit of a disappointment as I was rather looking forward to some extra warmth.

The only people in denial are the politicians and activists who blithely swan around travelling Business class (Hey, what about their CO2 emissions, huh?) and never actually step outside for long enough to see that all their prognostications of doom are as valid as those made by some uneducated backwoods Bible thumper. And these bastards are robbing John Q Public and telling everyone it’s for their own good, and other like bollocks.

There is an upside to all this snow and ice, and I think it’s worthy of a mention. There’s a tiny colony of wolves on an island (Isle Royale – Google it) in Lake Michigan who since the 1940′s have rarely been able to get to the mainland. As a result they have suffered terribly from the misfortunes of inbreeding. Now there have been reports that some of them are on the move over the ice and looking for fresh realms to inhabit. Although one is reported to have perished recently on the mainland, others may have made the same journey and survived. The Spring thaw will tell.

Hell, freezing over

Satan skating to workLocally it’s been nothing like the temperatures experienced in either Hell, Michigan or even Hell, Norway, but still cold enough to induce extra work for local metalworkers as local brass monkeys queue up for emergency repairs. Locally we’re currently entering our second week of sub zero temperatures. Not unheard of, but cold enough. Snow from the small covering we had over a week ago was still hanging around in our front yard Sunday morning.

Take the day before yesterday, 7th February 2014; Victoria BC. Never mind the Great Lakes (Ice cover at the time of writing 77.4%), Esquimalt lagoon, Colwood, Victoria was observed to be almost ninety percent frozen over. Hey but this is Canada, Eh? Land of the Yukon bar and near permanent snow cover? Dude, of course it freezes. Not so. While the Midwest provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba alternately bake and shiver on a regular basis, freezing temperatures here in South Western coastal British Columbia rarely drop so low for so long. Yet if, as many are so keen to tell us, the planet is warming uncontrollably because of humanity’s errant wastefulness; where the hell are all these gosh-darned icicles coming from? They’re everywhere. Along Highway One to Victoria, every single bit of rock face sported an impressive display of metre plus long natural ice sculpture. In the six years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen so many.

This is nothing new. Just over a hundred years ago, the channel between Newcastle Island and Nanaimo harbour was ice bound on a semi regular basis, thick enough for local skaters to use. In the photo archives of the local museum, there are several black and white photographs of this occurrence. Yeah, but this is Winter, right? The coldest months of which are January and February, proves nothing. Which is true, and yet again, so terribly misleading. Taken in isolation, of course such observations are meaningless. Yet when compared with historical reports from the late 19th Century, when the world was exiting the Little Ice Age, there seem to be a number of correlations. Low Hurricane count. Tropical Storm force events occurring at less equatorial latitudes, suggesting a shift in temperature gradients. Which of course is all anecdotal, drawn as it is from newspaper and other reports of past times. Although ‘Warming’ seems to be noticeably absent. At least until Spring moseys on around. Or July, as last year.

Hey, it’s just weather. All storms and fury, signifying nothing. At least nothing worth getting taxed over.

Petitions, petitions

Ex UK tabloid Editor Piers Morgan has apparently annoyed quite a few of our cousins south of the 49th parallel (So what’s new?) with a rant about the 2nd Amendment to the US constitution. There is an active petition lobbying the White House for his deportation. There is a counter petition lobbying for him not to be deported. I’ve heard this mis-reported on CBC Radio that the second petition was raised by his ‘supporters’. Not so. I’m reliably told it was UK residents saying “We don’t want him back”.

There is a problem. If the White House does deport the odious little tabloid hack and he wants to stay in Canada; I personally do not want to have the nasty smegger polluting the airwaves up here in the not so frozen north. He has a vile, and some suspect, criminal past. Violating people’s privacy, damaging their reputations without good cause, causing the deaths of UK troops by publishing sensationalist and untrue allegations about UK armed forces in Iraq, and even suspected insider share dealing. If I was Immigration Canada I’d have him on the next flight out if ever he dared show himself at the border.

Although an amusing thought occurs. He could always take a gig up in Churchill, Manitoba, where he could go see how a gun ban works on one of the local Polar Bears. Or the Grizzlies on North Vancouver Island, even Northern BC would do. The bears would probably appreciate a free hack snack. How would that be for an edition of “I’m a celebrity – get me out of here!“? Hey, I’d watch.

Evil smirk.

TTFN

Well, just over the festering season. This year Mrs S and I are having not a Merry Christmas, but a Merry Detox. No belt loosening Turkey dinner this year but light seafood meals, Saunas and Steam rooms. No endless repeats on the TV but fresh air and waterfront walks with perhaps a spot of shorefront fishing. Spa treatments have been booked, and I fully intend spending a good portion of Christmas day lounging in a hot tub with a view over snow clad mountains and lakes, large glass of Quails Gate 2009 Special Reserve Pinot Noir in hand. I may already be there as this is a scheduled post………

Mrs S will be giggling away in the background as she plays with the serious present she’s always wanted, we may Skype with friends and family. We may just zonk out and be massaged and saunaed to a singing glow. I’m really quite dizzy with anticipation.

The traditional Christmas break over here in Canada is much shorter than the UK’s general two week shutdown, but to be honest, I prefer it.

Gravy snobbery

Hereby hangs a tale and a cookery conundrum; how do you make gravy? Traditional rich thick gravy. Not so thick as to stand a spoon up with, but not so runny it’s more like dark water. Simple question isn’t it? Hey, no problem, use the dripping from the meat, a little Bisto and corn starch mixed in cold water and liquor from boiling the spuds for mashing and no problemo, right? Perfect every time.

I happen to like gravy made in this fashion. Great when the dinner choice is traditional English meat veg and potatoes? Just the ticket every once in a while, yeah? Some good old fashioned British style nosh for a change. Gravy made heavy on the onions for serving with Sausage and Mash, or with a pinch of garlic salt to add an edge to chicken or pork. It’s grrr-eat! Or not. However, chacun a son gout. Each to their own, right?

This evening the Sticker household was faced with a dire emergency. A cataclysm threatening to dwarf that bit of inclement weather over the other side of the continent by a factor of 12. No Bisto gravy powder; and I wasn’t going to hike 15km along rainstorm darkened rural Canadian roads to the nearest stockist just for one five dollar packet, or 25km to the nearest stockist of overpriced British products. Think of the carbon footprint dahlings! I thought in my naive optimistic way I’d just fire up the ‘pooter and find a recipe on the jolly old interweb. Job done, brownie points in the offing, another expats hurdle overcome. Yay. Piece of cake. Or not.

Typed the search term “Home made gravy browning” into the mighty Google and was promptly brought up short. Some of the recipes were along the lines of “Roast corn starch in oven for two hours at high heat until dark”, or “Caramelise sugar in an old pan you don’t particularly like, oh, and don’t forget to leave your windows open” which almost made me reconsider cooking roast chicken for Sunday supper. Some of the recipes I came across were far too cumbersome and time consuming. On the cookery forums I also found some snotty types saying that they only cooked ‘Au jus‘. Yes, I really needed to have some sauce snob clogging up the forums when I was trying to find a recipe or some helpful hints. If you don’t know how to make gravy, then what the fuck are you doing telling someone who does want that specifically British sauce about your preference for ‘Au-fucking-jus‘ on a thread asking for recipes? The sheer, looking-down-my-nose-at-you-cos-Delia-don’t-do-it-that-way ignorance of some people, really. Like those sanctimoniously superior people whose response when asked a simple question is to tell you that what you want isn’t what they would do – so you shouldn’t. WTF?

Good gravy, for those of you not initiated into its intricacies, is an art that Michaelangelo would have carved paeans of stone to glorify for eternity, had he not been a renaissance Italian, and therefore ignorant of such a delicacy. Smooth slippery simplicity made wonderfully glutinous and conjured mid to dark brown to accompany Roast Beef, Chicken, Pork, Venison, Lamb, Sausage, Moose, Elk or whatever. It is a particularly English taste, and one I’m proud to cater for, even though it took years for me to perfect my technique. Both stepkids specifically love my Onion gravy, and Youngest has made it known that when she becomes disgustingly rich, she will have me kidnapped and set to work as her personal cook. Or else set up home close by in order to have my small culinary expertise on tap. By such things are the bonds of family strengthened.

Yet this isn’t telling you how I resolved my gravy powder less condition, does it? O-kay. Unfortunately I had cleaned the meat pan after breakfast, and had no cooking grease left. So; I took a rasher of fatty bacon and grilled (broiled) it until there were a couple of teaspoons of bacon fat left in the pan and the rasher was a dried husk of its former self. Then I took a teaspoon of cornflour and mixed it with enough cold water to form a smooth, milky liquor in the sauce boat. Next step was a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and Soy sauce to darken the cornflour and water mix halfway to the desired state of brown. Next, I stirred in some hot water from cooking the vegetables and, decanting the mix into a small saucepan, let the sauce thicken on a low heat. Potato water is good for this, being slightly starch heavy, but can result in excessive blandness. So I mixed in some liquor from cooking the green vegetables. Finally, I added the bacon fat and seasoned very carefully to taste, stirring constantly to keep the lumps at bay until it had thickened to the desired consistency. The end result was a slightly more aromatic than usual sauce, but was consumed with gusto, and English style (No milk) mashed potatoes, roast chicken and mixed veg. Re-sult!

Some Australian and New Zealand cooks, so I am informed, use half a teaspoon of Vegemite, but I find that gives the end result a slightly odd flavour for my palate. The same for stock cubes. I really don’t like gravy made with stock cubes, I feel they overpower the taste of your dinner, and produce watery gravy anyway. My personal preference is for something with a bit more body, because runny gravy gives me PTSD-like nightmares of school dinners past, from which I sometimes awake sweating and screaming. The trick here is balance. Good gravy should not overpower the roast, like some sauces do. Its purpose is to accentuate, and add a rounded, softer edge, not to swamp. Unless it is particularly good gravy and carries much of the roasts flavour anyway, in which case, mine’s a pint.

Fortunately, Canada is a civilised country and good gravy is generally not hard to come by, even over here on the hippy drippy wet coast. The Quebeckers (bless ‘em) even invented Poutine, which is French Fries with lashings of cheese curds and thick gravy. But on the cookery forums, oh my goodness, there’s more controversy over gravy than global warming alarmism, the pro and anti camps are so polarised. For heavens sake it’s just a bloody sauce!

Yet I find in my search for Bisto-less gravy the mirror for much that is wrong in the world. When you go looking for advice, there is too much telling you what you should want, and too little telling you how to do what you want the right way. Sometimes I feel it’s like going into a cigar store and asking for a fine Havana, only to be offered a lecture on the evils of smoking and handed a pamphlet on Cancer awareness with a pack of nicotine flavoured gum. Or, if you like, entering a liquor store and asking for a 15 year old fine Malt Whiskey only to be handed half a pint of Soy Milk and a stern imprecation about the evils of alcoholism. Both of which, if anyone is interested, I would consider a casus belli. There are people in this world who really should know when to butt out. The only problem is that far too many appear entrenched in positions of public trust, snouts firmly wedged in the taxpayer trough, narrow minded eyes on their pet causes and regarding all else as a threat. Perhaps we could do with a cull.

In the meantime, all I have to say to such people is this; you can stop me having gravy with my fortnightly English roast when you can pry the sauce boat out of my cold and dying hands. To me, saying ‘Au Jus’ is the only way is just another way of declaring your culinary incompetence.

BC Madness

I’ve been busy of late; too busy to even think of blogging, but the following items reinforce my long held belief that sanity is at a premium throughout humanity.

Firstly, the ongoing clashes between Provincial Premiers over the Enbridge pipeline. Alberta wants it built, but BC will not allow the building without cash up front to fritter away on the ruling parties pet projects, only to find that the cupboard is bare when ‘spill cleanup money’ is really needed. Duh. What happened to ‘the polluter pays’ for any cleanup? BC would make far more from an increased tax take from all the money and employment a new refinery would generate than simply ending up stiffed for fees if the price of oil drops due to increased availability.

Secondly, an American dumping 100 tonnes of Iron Sulphate into the Pacific near to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands for those with old maps). Supposedly this is a ‘carbon mitigation’ project, but one that violates BC anti pollution legislation, a number of other Canadian Federal statutes, and Environmental UN mandates. Oh yes, and seeing as the person who bumped the iron sulphate is an American, the EPA may well have a say. Plankton blooms of the scale already created may well be doing serious harm because they reduce the oxygen content of the local ocean. Well silly old me for thinking that Fish need that dissolved oxygen in order to live. Far from increasing the Salmon population, the effects may well prove the opposite. Read this piece by a Salmon Farmer about Plankton blooms and the harm they can do to fish life. There are grounds for serious concern here.

Mad dogs and Englishmen

At work recently, one of my co-workers was discovering the restorative value of what is colloquially known as ‘builders tea’. “You know.” She said to me. “I’m beginning to see what you Brits like about this stuff.”
“Oh yes.” Said I, airily, although a little nettled by the ‘you Brits’ label. “It’s one of life’s great restoratives. We built an empire on it.”
“Is it true that you guys used to stop battles to have tea?” She asked.
No idea where that one came from, but I thought I’d play along. “Only the senior officers.” I replied mischievously. “Generals and upwards. Colonels had to drink on the go, and all other ranks had to brew up in foxholes and the like while they were fighting.” Which is probably closer to the truth than most people would like to admit. You can’t exactly down bayonets and say to the other side; “Look chaps, we’re a bit hot and dusty, and it’s close to three o’clock, so would you mind while we take a quick tea break?” Although upon reflection, the sheer psychological value of doing so must have caused many a foreign potentate to think more than twice about taking on the English and their Northern ginger devils in skirts. Especially when the commanders of said forces decide to take a spot of Tiffin mid slaughter. “You don’t build Empires by being nice.” I pointed out. “Tea takes the stress out of Empire building. It’s very soothing.”
“Well you guys don’t have an Empire any more.” She pointed out gleefully.
“Ah yes.” I riposted ruefully. “That’s the curse of Empire, even stronger than Tea. Middle class guilt.”
“Middle class guilt?” She said, suspecting that I wasn’t being entirely serious.
“It’s why Empires fall.” I explained. “At every point in an Empires story, it becomes rich enough to support an extended middle class. Furthermore, the middle class evolves to a point where they feel terribly guilty for all the war and associated naughtiness required to build said Empire and they destroy it from within by not believing in it any more.” I expanded. “The expansion of Empires depend upon their self confidence and ruthlessness. Take that away and they begin to shrink because the energy necessary to push the boundaries of an Empires expansion grows less than the opposing forces. The supply chains get over extended because the will to maintain them fails. Tea is a kind of mental lubricant for this belief. Without it the Empire collapses. Happens to them all. The Greeks built theirs on trade and Hoplites. The Romans on Falernian wine and their Legions fighting discipline. The British on Tea and bayonets. The Americans on Coffee and technology.” I said. “The Germans and Austro Hungarians built a smaller version on Sausage, bombs and Sauerkraut, but that collapsed because it was mainly due to wind. The Ottoman Turks used religion. The French under Napoleon gave Empire building a go, but the smell of garlic and too much red wine did for them in the end.” I added with an air of impeccable logic. “Without tea and belief, Empire becomes too difficult to maintain.”
“What about Canada?” she asked.
“You’re too nice and civilised to have an empire.” I said. “With or without tea. You imported too much middle class guilt from England, and it’s too well embedded in your culture.”
“Oh, that’s all right then.” She said. Although I caught her staring at her teacup with new respect.

Yes I know. It was naughty of me, but I’m just a mad dog of an Englishman at heart, and must take my entertainment where I can find it.

Canadian wine

Sounds like a joke doesn’t it? Wine in the land of the frozen north? Bill, are you taking the piss? Oddly enough no. Mildly irreverent and contemptuous of fools as ever, but no piss taking.

When Mrs S and I first made the jump over to this side of the pond I secretly wondered if I would ever taste a reasonable wine vintage again. At least nothing that was not Australian, New Zealand, a Chardonnay, which is not my favourite grape variety, or hideously expensively imported French. However, it is with significant pleasure I can report that there are some quite reasonable, even remarkable, wines springing full blown from the Okanagan valley. Even at the budget end of the market ($14-20 a bottle).

Although I make no claims to have an educated wine tasters or epicures palate, I do know what is drinkable, and would like to share my top nine vineyards and most liked wines (in no particular order) with whomsoever cares to visit this blog. To set my baseline; I like wines with a pleasant bouquet and nicely rounded flavours that leave little or no aftertaste.

Mission Hill: 2010 Viognier, 2009 Pinot Noir
Quails Gate: 2009 Pinot Noir Stewart Family Special Reserve
Volcanic Hills: 2011 Gewurztraminer
Mt Boucherie: 2011 Pinot Gris, 2010 Gamay Noir
St Hubertus: 2010 Pinot Blanc
Cedar Creek: 2011 Pinot Gris
Gray Monk: 2011 Siegerrebe, 2010 Auxerrois
Intrigue: 2011 Gewurztraminer
Ex Nihilo: 2010 Pinot Noir

Best red: Quails Gate’s 2009 Pinot Noir Stewart Family Special Reserve. No question. By a country mile. Superb. Close second was Mt Boucherie’s 2010 Gamay Noir. Light and nicely balanced.
Best white: A tie between the subtly perfumed but eminently quaffable Gray Monk 2011 Siegerrebe, Cedar Creeks clean and rounded 2011 Pinot Gris and Mission Hill’s perfectly suppable 2010 Viognier. Honourable mention to St Hubertus Pinot Blanc.

We have tasted and purchased bottles of all the above wines and look forward to making suitable occasions to drink them. Did try an Ice Wine, but only one and did not purchase any so any comparison would not be fair. I would also like to mention that no Rose’s were tasted in the writing of this blog.

About the vineyards we visited: Some awards.

Bill Sticker Prize for most impressive goes without contest to Mission Hill. Their open air restaurant is superb and the staff a delight. Beautifully styled grounds. Architecturally stunning.
Bill Sticker Prize for most intimate: This is a toughie, but after due consideration I’d recommend Mt Boucherie. Smallest wine shop, but really worth a visit. Close run second; St Hubertus.
Bill Sticker Low Bullshit Quotient award: St Hubertus. No fancy talk. Small gift shop. Will go again. No question.

Downside: Being charged $5 for tasting three less than impressive wines.
Upside: Incredible views and some surprisingly sippable vintages.

We only managed to visit about sixteen vineyards, but were pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of most. There were few disappointments (No names, no pack drill, but SBML knows who I mean), and places I wouldn’t visit again, but they are not mentioned in this post. As for the mentioned; fill your boots. They’re good. Even to a tyro with a Biryani ravaged palate like mine.

There are vineyards we didn’t visit simply because of time pressure. Which means, oh dearie me, heavy sigh, we’ve got to go back there at some stage. Life’s a bitch, eh?