Saturday, 31 May 2008

Mess seafood night

Last night was the annual mess seafood night. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was bravely trumpeting it as the "mess function of the year" and I can confirm, it lived up to every part of our expectations. It was truly astonishingly good!

The theme was pirates (hence Jim and I in fancy dress, left) and the mess had been decked out with some great props, including the facade we are standing in front of - the military don't like to do things by halves!

On the menu, a whole lobster to start, followed by a dazzling buffet of hot and cold seafood, meat, vegetables, salads, cheeses and an entire table just to display the breads that the chefs had prepared.

We were unfortunately on a table with a really good group of people, unfortunate because, I was so busy chatting I forgot to go back for seconds! However, I did make some room for pudding, profiteroles and strawberries with chocolate sauce.

We were also supplied with a special edition apron to protect our fancy dress gear, although as ours all came from the local charity shop, I should have perhaps saved the apron and just soiled my clothes!

I must thank our friends The Beamans who took the photos in this post. Mark is a great photographer, if you click on their name, it will take you to their blog and some great photos of local birds (the feathered kind!)

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Summer departures

I write from glorious sunshine on the Alberta prairie... Summer is finally here to stay (I hope!) This week we've mostly been toasting departing friends as the big summer churn is beginning with a big chunk of BATUS families finishing their postings and moving on. This means we are about to become the most senior group here, the much revered 'second years'. This also means I absolutely cannot under any circumstances contemplate playing ice hockey again, as I remember second year players with some awe and fear!

It seems astonishing to think that this time last year our possessions were on the way here and I was doing my last fortnight at work in Germany. It has all gone so quickly!

Whilst doing the rounds of leaving drinks, it seems our cunning idea for an "alternative passage" home has also been latched on to, we hear reports that at least one family in the village are taking the MOD's flight money and using it to pay for a trip back on the Queen Mary II, something we have been plotting for summer 09, postings permitting!

Tomorrow we are going to what I will boldly describe as the mess function of the year! The annual seafood night. Apparently it's a chance to dine out on as much lobster and fish as you can manage all for a very reasonable fixed price and as if that isn't enough, for reasons that haven't been fully explained, we get a free apron too!

I dare say I'll report back on that over the weekend!

Monday, 26 May 2008

Grey skies and puppy training

We've had some very British spring weather here lately. Grey skies and showers, as a result my trip out to the wildlife preservation area on Friday was called off because the prairie is bogged down with mud, but we'll have another go at it in a few weeks when the prairie is back to its normal arid self!

Jim's been busy with the pets this weekend. Below you can see a video of Macy being clicker trained. It begins with me trying to distract her so Jim can test her on the double-click recall. As you can see she's pretty good at that at least!

Jim also spent all of Sunday putting a catflap in our outside door, so that Blackie has some freedom when we are away at weekends. It involved several hour-long round trips to Medicine Hat for tools and a lot of swearing and cursing, but by 6:30pm last night it was fixed and the cat obliged by hopping in and out of it several times. Even the dog had a go, but try as she might no combination of moves would allow her body to fit through the gap, quite amusing to watch though!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Gopher spotting

Very British weather here today - damp and grey, but at least the rain held off for my first trip out on the prairie this week.

Yesterday I went up to 'Excon' the exercise control centre about half an hour's drive into the wilderness. I was there to record a radio feature about the laser equipment that is used during the training exercises at Suffield. It's rather clever and works like a very large, expensive game of laser tag, with every man and vehicle marked with a laser receiver that can tell if and how badly it's been hit.

Excon is also home to the tamest gophers I have met in Canada! My colleague Martha was taking close up photos of them when this rather cheeky individual stopped to inspect the quality of her photographs... and see if she had any more biscuits!

I'm out on the prairie again on Friday in pursuit of wildlife and based on what we saw yesterday, including elk and antelope, I'm hoping to have some great photos for you by the end of the week and you'll be able to hear the results of both trips on our Best Of Canada podcast, just click on the link on the right.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Summer is officially here!

It's May long weekend here in Canada, a holiday which traditionally marks a seasonal watershed and a safe time to plant out your garden and pack away your winter clothes.

Having only just thawed out after our weekend in Waterton, it has been blissful to see the sunshine and bask in temperatures of 30c. With the sunshine, Ralston has transformed overnight into a green oasis and trees which have been teasing us with buds for weeks have finally come into leaf.

With the arrival of summer, there are baby gophers and rabbits everywhere - sometimes in the most surprising places! I found a baby rabbit sitting in our dining room this morning, having apparently either hopped in through the open door or been brought in by one of the pets. It was apparently none the worse for wear and once we'd caught it (see photo right) we released it in the garden.

There should be some more interesting wildlife encounters lined up for me this week. I'm going out on the prairie on an escorted tour of the wildlife preservation area for a radio feature about the biologists at the base and the work they do at BATUS. Amazingly there are military exercises, wildlife preservation and gas field work taking place in the same area, it'll be interesting to see how everybody is kept happy.

Hopefully I'll have some good pictures for the blog at the end of the week, I've been told their are vast herds of antelope and deer out there and that's just the start of it!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Wheels For Sale

We're back in Ralston after our washout weekend in Waterton and the weather has followed us. Hail and a thunderstorm currently, but everything is looking so green it's worth it!

I just wanted to share with you one of my favourite landmarks on the road between Ralston & Fernie (which is also the road to Waterton.) I have been meaning to stop and take some photos ever since we spotted it about 6 months ago and we finally got a chance today.

This ramshackle shed is close to the highway on the edge of a farm. The wheels are used for the long irrigation lines that roll round the circular fields. These particular ones are the old style, which have been replaced by taller frames with smaller wheels in most places.

The farmer who has these has been trying to flog these since the autumn at $5 a time. I noticed today, he also has a bunch of pallets he's trying to sell. I like to imagine he has a wife at home who is nagging him about getting rid of them, but until they go they make a rather interesting photo.

Saturday, 10 May 2008


So our spring weekend in the Rockies begun with something that has become very familiar over the last 7 months. It begins with 's' and you don't normally associate it with May. Can you guess what it might be?! Yes... more snow!

This weekend we're in Waterton International Peace Park close to the border with British Columbia and the United States. We have heard such fantastic things about Waterton and the incredible wildlife here that our visit is actually long overdue. We've been pleasantly surprised by the town too, which is on the edge of a large lake is wonderfully unspoilt.

The weather was fine when we drove up on Thursday afternoon, but when we awoke yesterday, the whole place was covered in a blanket of thick snow and it was still snowing. It snowed all through breakfast, all morning and all through lunch. We managed a brief walk by the lake first thing which gave the dog her first taste of snow (she loved it) but chilled us to the bone. By the afternoon when we went for a drive, conditions had improved and the sky was turning blue, but it was still very cold.

Today has been better and we've been out on the first boat trip of the season, which was two hours long and took us across the lake into Montana, US. In the summer this boat trip involves a stop on American soil, but today the upper end of the lake was still frozen.

Everything in Waterton seems to be opening up this weekend, but the town itself is still eerily deserted. The season is short clearly here, by October businesses that have opened their doors this weekend will be closing them again.

We love what we've seen so far of the park, but clearly we'll need to return to Waterton in a few weeks to make the most of the wildlife and the weather... our first bear sighting remains elusive!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Cops, gorillas & puppies

A rather eventful few days here, what with Jim's dad being woken by armed police at 1:30am, a man size gorilla delivering doughnuts and Macy's first puppy class.

I shall begin with the incident with the police! On Sunday night Blackie had gone out for one of her two hour wanders and as we were preoccupied by the dog, we had failed to notice her slip out until it was time to go to bed, but as it was a mild night and we're in the middle of nowhere, we decided to go to prop the door ajar with a shoe either side and leave her to return when she fancied.

We went to bed and all was well until I was awoken at 1:30am by the sound of heavy boots on the kitchen floor above us. The military police had driven past, seen the door ajar and decided we had befallen some terrible fate (I think it's fair to point out, police here are a little short on any real action!) So the cops had let themselves in and wandered through the house until they came across the bedroom that Jim's dad was sleeping in, where upon he was awoken by a torch in the face!

Meanwhile I had heard this unfolding, shaken Jim awake with a cry of "There's someone in the house!" (Yes dear, of course there is!) and Jim had run upstairs in his underpants to confront the policeman whilst mumbling an explanation about the cat! Thank heavens no one got tasered!

As if this little drama wasn't enough to convince Jim's dad that Ralston is populated by lunatics, a colleague of mine popped in to deliver doughnuts yesterday whilst dressed as a gorilla - all to raise money for the BFBS charity appeal, the Big Salute!

Tonight our evening's entertainment was the start of an 8 week puppy training course in Medicine Hat, which was a real eye opener! There were 11 puppies in the class. Two beautiful looking Huskies, one very noisy angry German Shepherd, three golden labradors, a surprisingly docile Rottweiler, a couple of muts and a Boxer. I left Jim to concentrate on the training information and I spent most of the class people watching! Although there were some very nice dogs (two of the labs and the huskies) there were also some ones I really didn't like and Macy was quite subdued, hiding under our chair and despite the almost constant racket she only barked once.

Photos in this blog - Macy being taught to greet the cat with slightly less enthusiasm. Macy and the class instrctor at puppy training. A TV schedule that made us chuckle!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Male bonding

Jim and his dad did a little male bonding on Saturday, playing at being cowboys at the local farm and assisting with the branding of the cattle. In stark contrast to the day the event had originally been scheduled for (when we had the big snowstorm) it was a lovely day with temperatures well up in the 20s. I stayed at home with the puppy and chilled out in the garden and both of the guys returned home from their day on the ranch looking very healthy... if not a little pink!

They had a great day and it turns out they weren't worked to the bone as cheap labour, in fact by the time they got there, there were only a dozen or so cattle left to do. Jim pitched in on a couple, but was not a fan of the rather acrid smell of burning hair that you get a whiff of up close!

Although the photos may make it look cruel, it's important to remember that this is not a sport, but an important part of running Alberta's second biggest industry.

This weekend has also seen the start of the first training exercise here at BATUS. Over the last couple of weeks we've had an influx of about 1500 soldiers and a slow build up of preparations for their departure on to the prairie.

On Friday I went up to the base to an area known as the 'dust bowl' where the vehicles were lining up ready to head out to the training grounds, as you can see from the photo, it was a pretty impressive display of military might!

The soldiers involved in this first exercise will now spend several weeks out in the middle of the BATUS exercise area (which at 1600 sq miles, is larger than Kent!) eating rations, camping out and having little contact with the base.

Many of the full time staff at BATUS are what's termed 'prairie staff' and will be joining the exercise intermittently for long days and even nights. Fortunately Jim is not one of these!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Macy's home!

Following a return trip to Calgary, I can now report that one husband, one father-in-law and one dog are now happily installed in the house.

We collected our 11 week old puppy on the way back from the airport. During the rest of the journey, we were still trying to decide on a name for the pup, with Maple & Fernie still firm favourites. However whilst flicking through the stations on Sirius satellite radio, it became apparent the dog had definite preferences. The comedy channels made her quite fractious whilst much to our amusement, the jazz channel was a definite hit!

Inspired by her intellectual taste in music we decided to take inspiration from the next female artist to be announced on the jazz channel, which as it turned out, was a male jazz artist called Macy O'Parker, quick survey of the car passengers and all round approval was achieved, so Macy it is!

The introduction to the cat has gone very well, even if Blackie is getting a little tired of a curious wet nose being stuffed in her ear every couple of minutes.... but obviously not bothered enough to get up and move!

Four hours on and the cat is still wandering around the house as if she owns it, whilst Macy has passed out on her bed after completing several very over-excited laps of our expansive garden.

Day 1 a success so far... but watch this space!