Monday, 30 June 2008

My anniversary present!

We celebrated our first wedding anniversary today and as you can see, Jim bought me a brilliant new number plate for our car!

Personalised plates are very reasonably priced over here and a few people in the village have splashed out, but they are still a bit hard to justify buying when we are only visiting for 2 years... a present however is a different matter!

Although we won't always have a car to put it on, we will be able to keep the plate, which will be a nice memento!

Jim's present from me was also car themed - a subscription to TopGear magazine. Not quite as exciting as the plate though!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

An hour's drive and a million miles from Ralston

We've done it - we've survived our first night in the RV and what a great adventure it was!

We drove up to Dinosaur Provincial Park, which is an hour from Ralston, but has a totally different landscape. Here the prairie gives way to rocky sculptured terrain, not entirely dissimilar to the grand canyon.... on a much smaller scale!

We arrived at 7:00pm, plugged in and cooked a barbecue, then walked around the RV park as the sun was setting and finished the night off with an open fire.

We both had a great nights sleep (not too hot, not too cold) and even the shower in the RV in the morning wasn't too bad. On Saturday we went for a walk along one of the trails and scaled a huge rock formation. It was hot, but breezy and the mozzies only really bothered us during the evening.

As we were having lunch at our picnic table, the first of two remarkable things happened. A middle aged man who we had spoken to the night before came over to us and gave us a packet of biscuits; "These are my favourites and I wanted to give these to you to say how much we appreciate everything the military does, whether you are Canadian or British." Although moments like this apparently happen quite a lot in Canada, it was the first time something like it had happened to us. We were both extremely touched and couldn't help but guess at the kind of response Jim's job would have received in the UK...

The second remarkable event happened on Saturday night when a group of us went down to Medicine Hat for a rather quirky jazz concert that took place on top of the town's only multi-storey car park.

Some weeks before I had been asked by the organiser to say a few words at the beginning and introduce the acts on stage. As part of my spiel I had to explain what BFBS does and most importantly where it does it. As I reeled off the list of countries that BFBS broadcasts to I reached Iraq and Afghanistan and suddenly as soon as the words were out of my mouth, applause and whooping spontaneously broke out in the crowd. It was extremely humbling .

Aside from the crowd's reaction, it was a really great night. There were eight of us in total, plus Macy and a 7 month old baby and we spread out a picnic on the concrete of the car park and watched a circus performer, a Canadian Idol finalist and a local jazz band.

The laws on drinking alcohol in public in Alberta are pretty strict, but remarkably the organisers or the Jazzfest had managed to get a license to allow us to drink alcohol on the top deck of the car park, which was good news!

On the right are photos of Paul, who very foolishly decided to let Macy have a lick of his lollipop and then found she didn't want to give it back! When he did eventually get it back, she sat and gave him sad eyes all evening, hoping for another lick. Paul's wife was not impressed at her husband sharing his food with a puppy!

Back in Ralston today, the sun is shining and we are forecast highs of 34c, which dare I say it, is almost too hot! Next weekend we're off in the RV again for 3 nights in Waterton. You may remember we went at the beginning of May hoping we'd see bears and instead ran into the last big snow dump of the season! Here's hoping for better weather next weekend and maybe, just maybe, our first bear sighting!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Out on safari

Yesterday we finally made it out on the prairie for our trip into the wildlife preservation area. We were supposed to go last month, but it was postponed because torrential rain made the ground unsuitable for vehicles.

Our guide was Delaney Boyd, a biologist who works at the base and although she couldn't make any promises that we'd see wildlife, as it turns out we were very lucky...

Prior to yesterday, I had only seen a couple of single coyotes at a distance, but on this trip we saw four hunting as a pack (see photo right) which was quite impressive! We also saw antelope, deer with their fawns, the famous Prairie Rose and the two types of cacti that grow in this area and we visited one of the protected historical sites which is the site of remains of a tepee ring, a sacred site for the native people.

As wonderful as the trip was, it was also incredibly debilitating. The mosquitoes have reached near plague proportions, particularly on the prairie. In this region they carry the potentially serious West Nile virus so we had to take (pretty futile) precautions against being bitten, which meant wearing trousers and covering ourselves in pungent mosquito repellent.

The result was we were staggering around in temperatures of 30c wearing jeans and almost continually fighting off a persistent infestation of mosquitoes. There is a lot to be said for summer in the UK, even if the wildlife isn't as exotic!

Tomorrow night we are taking out the RV for the first time. We delayed booking our pitch till tonight, thinking we'd be able to take our pick of the multiple RV parks within a couple of hours drive. What we failed to realise is that because Tuesday is Canada Day (and a national holiday), most people are taking a 4 day weekend.

So when we started calling we found most places were booked up - we have however managed to get a pitch at Dinosaur Provincial Park, so we're off there tomorrow night.

On Saturday we are at a rather bizarre jazz concert in Medicine Hat which is being held on top of a multi-storey car park! We take rugs and a picnic and watch the sun set over the town to the sound of jazz music... we'll report back on that and the RV's maiden voyage over the weekend.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The hazards of summer dog walking

We have discovered an unexpected perk to dog ownership. On Friday night whilst ambling round the village on our nightly dog walk, we passed our friends MaryAnne & Ed, we got talking and were invited in for a glass of Pimms, a quick drink turned into an hour and before we knew it we were late for a barbecue at a friend's house (see photos) but it was all rather enjoyable.

Then last night, we set out once again on our walk and this time barely half the way round, we were invited in for beer by some other friends, Jo & Danny, and as it happens one drink turned into an hour and by the time we were home it was dark, but once again all rather enjoyable.

Tonight, we set out again, determined to complete our lap of the village, but this time we were lured in by Jim's boss Simon & his wife Antje who offered us a glass of wine. We said we'd stay for one, but before we knew it, an hour had passed and we had to head home another dog walk incomplete! Oh well....

Aside from the dog related gate-crashing, this weekend we have mainly been sorting the RV out for its maiden voyage to Elkwater on Friday night.

We have cleaned it thoroughly, ripped up a swirly brown carpet and disposed of a fluffy blue loo seat cover! Amidst all the preparations, we've had our second round of visitors wanting to take a look and some remarking that we're going to start a trend in Ralston for RV ownership. In fact, this is not so far off, already a second one has appeared in the village and we are almost entirely to blame!

This second RV was one we had been considering, but had ruled out because it was 33 years old. Jim however recommended it to one of his soldiers, who was rather keen and called the lady who was advertising it. She said she was in Calgary, but that he was welcome to look round the outside of it as it was parked on her drive. The soldier then drove down to Medicine Hat, looked round the outside of the RV and before he left, thought he'd knock on the door just in case the owner was back from her trip.

The door was answered by a burly tattooed man who apparently didn't know anything about the RV being for sale. When the soldier explained he had a conversation with a woman and seen it advertised on the internet, the burly man became quite heated "That stupid b***h, it's a bloody divorce settlement anyway, I can't believe she's selling my sodding stuff"

The soldier looked round the RV, but it was a tip, full of beer cans and cigarette butts. So he made his excuses and left. He was quite irate when he saw Jim the next day, accusing him of setting him up. It was only when they started to compare the details of the RV, that it became apparent that the soldier had gone to the wrong address and viewed the wrong RV!

None the less, another soldier did make it to the right location and bought it on first viewing! So now there's another RV in Ralston... the first of many we think!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Out on the prairie

I'm delighted to say that at long last the weather has perked up here and we are all relieved that summer has finally arrived.

Yesterday I went out on the prairie exercise area to see some of the soldiers who are visiting BATUS for an intensive 28 day training programme. Being out on the prairie means that most of them haven't had access to a phone or the internet since they arrived here, so my role was to record messages from them for their families. Those messages then get played on our special request show, Access All Areas, which goes out around the world to the 12 countries BFBS Radio broadcasts to, on board navy ships and on the internet.

I also had a special mission to track down one particular dad on Father's Day and pass on a message from his 6 year-old daughter in Germany. (See photo top left) I'm pleased to say we achieved and I also recorded messages from over 30 individuals to their friends and families.

Whenever I get the chance to get out and meet soldiers (as opposed to sitting in our comfortable studio in the village) I'm always so impressed by the way they cope with their environment and the way they retain their sense of humour, despite sleep deprivation and being far from home. As you can see from these pictures, living conditions are pretty basic!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

25 million North Americans can't be wrong!

Yes, it's true, 25 million North Americans (and about 500,000 Canadians) own an RV and now despite concerns over rising fuel prices and the clock ticking on our Canadian tour, so do we! Meet our 22 foot Empress...

As you will see from the photo the weather has even perked up to welcome her to Ralston! Jim drove it up from Medicine Hat this morning after collecting it from the old couple who had owned her for the last 12 years.

Just to make the whole thing a bit more fun, buying a vehicle over here is unnecessarily complicated and the system is different in every province. In Alberta, you have to have official paperwork from the insurers, then you have to register the vehicle in person at an office that is only open weekdays and Saturday mornings.

When you register it you get an entirely new number plate and a little sticker to go on it to prove it is current. Because our surname begins with 'm' , all our vehicles registrations have to be renewed in February every year, regardless of when we bought them. So this morning was a little chaotic trying to get to the registration office before it closed with all the paperwork and our driving licenses... but we did achieve!

The Empress's first outing will be the weekend after next, when we are planning to head down to Elkwater, then the weekend after Jim will be taking her to Waterton for a week's adventure training.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

And it's still raining!

A slightly belated midweek update this week. For some reason I have been having problems uploading video, so I hung on until that was fixed.

Unfortunately the news from us is limited at the moment, I should have been posting to tell you all about our day at Chuckwagon racing, but on Sunday afternoon when we were about to leave to drive to town, we were in the midst of a thunderstorm and torrential rain.

Unable to get confirmation that the event was still on, we assumed it had been rained off and stayed at home, but I found out on Monday that Medicine Hat (35 miles down the road) was dry all day and the racing went ahead!

Ralston's weather was apparently a prairie blip... prairie blip or not, the rain has continued all week and we are really fed up with it!

None the less Jim has had lots of time to train Macy. This week they have been practicing something called 'Doggy Sit Ups', so we've got not one, not two, but three videos for you. Firstly our lovely weather...

And also a quick progress report on Macy's training at 16 weeks..

And finally some footage from BFBS TV who visited recently to film several pieces about BATUS, this one is all about the village...

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Rain, rain, go away!

We have had some truly miserable weather over the last fortnight and the last 48 hours has seen the worst of it, with almost continual rain or drizzle. Everything we have read in the local news tells us, quite apologetically, that the weather is most unusual for southern Alberta.

Anyway, what to do on a rainy Saturday in Canada? Why, go and wind up some of the local RV salesmen! On the left you'll see Jim with a brand new $180,000 Class A RV, the type they drive popstars round in - just ever so slightly out of our league! We were out looking for something to replace our second car, that we could sleep in to avoid getting mauled by a grizzly! Preferably something without draylon and built after the advent of personal computers! We think we might have found something, but we'll keep you posted...

The problem with our RV purchase, is that as soon as we've talked ourselves into it, we talk ourselves out of it! Will we get enough use out of it before next summer? (well we would have had a couple of months more use, if we'd bought it when we started having that debate!) Won't it cost a fortune to fill up? (yes, but it'll still be half the price of the UK!) etc. etc.

Anyway, RVs aside, we had a great night last night at a promises auction in the village. You know the kind of thing, where people pledge to drive people places, do their ironing etc. We had offered curry and a movie for two at our house. We were extremely pleased when it raised $140! In total the 39 pledges made an impressive $6,000 for Ssafa, a military families organisation. The BATUS commander bid $100 to co-present a show on BFBS with me, though he tells it he will be passing it on to one of his teenage sons!

Anyway, last thing for this post. My niece and nephew enjoyed our last video of Macy's training, so today I've got another clip of Macy with her best pal Sam, an Alsatian puppy. We regularly pop in on Sam's owners and vice versa so that the two pups can play together, it certainly helps them burn off some energy!