Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

What better way to start Christmas morning on the prairie than on the radio broadcasting to the Ralston?

For the first time ever, Jim joined me in the studio to do a 'Mr & Mrs' Christmas breakfast show on BFBS.

The BATUS Commander, Col. Ben Edwards popped in with port and mince pies and we had lots of phonecalls from families in the village who had tuned in, we even brought our stocking presents in to open live on air.

It was a very rewarding experience, I really enjoy broadcasting to a small community, we were even able to give every listener a mention by name! Now we are spending the afternoon at home with an embarrassing quantity of food, whilst preparing to fly home on Saturday for New Year in the UK.

Happy Christmas to everyone and I leave you with a short video of Macy the dog getting ridiculously excited about the prospect of Santa coming... (really!)

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Welcome home darling, now I have a little job for you...

As has been mentioned many times before, winter in Canada is to say the least exceptional. In Europe when it's cold you have to scrape your windscreen and use de-icer which is mildly irritating.

In Canada when it's cold you have to plug your car in. That's right, you plug it in, right into the mains power socket outside your house, otherwise you aint going anywhere...

Now here's a confession, back in November we noticed that last year's extension lead (neatly suspended 6ft above the ground on our washing line) had given up the ghost. Jim was off to Kenya for 6 weeks and he thought he could just buy any old random replacement leads (not worrying about whether they fitted) and leave me here to worry about it later.

I thought, "He's gone to Kenya, but it never gets that cold to January, so I'll sit this one out and he can deal with it when he gets back..."

Both of us very nearly got away with it.

But as you know, last weekend it got very cold, very quickly and the car wasn't plugged in and I discovered too late that the leads I'd been left didn't reach the drive. I could go in to detail here about how, in a last ditch attempt to save my transport I spent two hours running outside to hook up one bit of power cable and then running back inside to restore feeling to my hands and then repeating the process several times before eventually giving up entirely, but I think you get the idea.

So Jim came home last night and the car hadn't moved for a week, the weather wasn't going to get any warmer and typically the only store within walking distance had sold out of power cables. Nice.

The only solution was to borrow the work car (which was plugged in) to drive it to town to buy the cables, so we could defrost our own car overnight. So far so good and we did just that this afternoon and returned with the goods breathing a sigh of relief that we'd managed to get away with it all.

That was until we realised we'd bought the only external power cables in the whole town that were two pin, not three pin and the car as you may have guessed is three pin.

Never mind, apparently AMA (the Canadian equivalent of RAC) will come out to your house and "power up" your car so you can start it again, won't tomorrow morning be fun?

On a final more positive note, I'll leave you with a photo of some last minute Christmas presents I've knocked up. Is there ever an occasion when a personalised bag isn't the perfect gift?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

What does -48c feel like?

This week temperatures in southern Alberta have suddenly and prematurely plunged to winter extremes. On Monday the temperature was -37c, and a startling -48c with the wind chill. A lot of people ask, what does -48c feel like? And the surprising answer is nothing like the less extreme cold in Europe.

Cold dry weather doesn't penetrate the body like damp cold. It's not the kind of cold that gets under your skin to your bones and make you shiver. Primarily it feels sticky and painful.

Sticky because firstly it will make your eyes water and then the moisture on your eyelashes freezes, so when you blink its as though your lashes are coated in glue, with every brief contact they hesitate and take a second longer to pull apart.

Below -20c, nasal hair freezes too, so every breath you take has to negotiate a tangled maze of follicles. At these temperatures, you can forget breathing through your mouth. The body knows what's good for it and rejects a gulp of frozen air with more ferocity than a mouthful of smoke.

The second thing that marks out extreme cold, is pain. It creeps up on you and then suddenly burrows into your skin.

At -48c unexposed skin can develop frostbite in about a minute. When you go outside in this weather, nothing can be left uncovered and only densely woven fabric provides enough protection against the biting wind.

Any skin that isn't protected well enough screams out pretty quickly. Usually it's the face, where your goggles and face mask don't quite meet. One moment you're fine and the next it's as though someone is drilling into your face!

The most remarkable thing though is that despite all of this, our dog remains happy to run around unprotected. The video below was shot on Tuesday when it was "only" -25c...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Arctic blast!

It's been an eventful week in Ralston, as winter finally arrived full throttle. On Wednesday with the weekend's snowfall still on the ground we decided to spend the evening awaiting the transit of the Canadian Pacific Holiday train through Suffield.

The Holiday train makes an annual journey across Canada and the US stopping at over 100 locations in seven states and six provinces. It's beautifully decorated with lights and looks like something out of a Hollywood Christmas film.

Sensible people would have perhaps opted to drive to Medicine Hat where the train was stopping for half an hour or at least perhaps have decided that the best vantage point to see the train as it journeyed from Medicine Hat on to Brooks would have been at some distance from the track, but for reasons that now escape us, a group of decided the best place to see the train was beside the railway and about 3 foot from the track.... oh, for the benefit of hindsight!

After nearly an hour of waiting, drinking hot chocolate and faffing around with our cameras, the train finally passed through Suffield... at about 100km an hour! Instead of slowing for the level crossing we were positioned next to it sounded its horn, whipped up a icy gust of air and dumped a shower of snow on us. We were left gasping in disbelief and covered from head to toe in snow!

Instead of the wonderful action photos I had anticipated, I instead ended up with the photo above right! (the one at the start of this entry is courtesy of the Holiday train website)

We must have provided a huge amount of entertainment for the people sensibly parked up on the other side of the TransCan and the worst thing is that we won't even be here next year to benefit from what we have learned.

Our second big event this week happened yesterday with our first arctic storm. The winter so far has been unseasonably warm and we all knew that sooner or later temperatures would have to start dropping.

On Friday the weather channel put out a storm warning promising 25cm of snow, 60km winds, a wind chill of nearly -40c and zero visibility by the evening. Snow dumps at the weekend are a complete pain because living in the middle of the prairie I only manage one shop a week, on a Saturday.

With a storm promised for Friday night I knew we'd be running the risk of missing out on our weekly food shop, (they give us chest freezers for a reason!) So yesterday lunchtime I left work early and raced down to town ahead of the storm, I got back two hours later just as the weather started to close in, a bit of a gamble, but it paid off!

However, the fun was far from over, at 6:30pm I noticed the heating was no longer working and it quickly became apparent I wasn't alone with my problem. A massive gas leak in the village had forced them to shut off the supply to about 30 houses and with the temperature dropping rapidly (both inside and out) we were faced with the prospect of forced eviction and being rehoused in the gym on camp beds!

I had a mess function to attend, so I kept my fingers crossed and went out. Eventually after lots of updates being sent between the workmen and the mess, we heard they were "pretty sure it would be back on by midnight" and low and behold 15 minutes after I arrived home, a man turned up on my doorstep to relight the furnace (and what a treat I must have looked in ski socks and pyjamas!) I must say after everything, I was quite impressed that the house had only dropped to 5c in nearly 6 hours!

On a final note, I've noticed a lot of new traffic coming to this site looking for information about BATUK (the wonders of Google Analytics!) For anyone who is looking for more information, Jim is back next Saturday and I hope to extract a few more photos and some relevant details from him then, I know there was very little on the web when I first looked, so hopefully we can provided something of use...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Here comes the snow

animated snowmanOut of nowhere this morning it begun to snow. At first it was just a light flurry, but as the day progressed it grew heavier and heavier and most surprising of all, it appeared to be the European kind! White stuff that can be moulded into snowballs and used to construct things!

Normally our snow is very dry and powdery, almost impossible to bind together, but today's dump, which is now several feet deep is exceptionally versatile! This wonderful snow lady was built by a couple of kids outside their house this afternoon.

Macy was thrilled by the arrival of winter and after a hearty Sunday roast at my friends MaryAnne & Ed's, we braved the blizzard and took both dogs for a walk across the prairie. I've included a short video of this, largely for Jim's entertainment, he can then see the freezing conditions he's missing out on!

Other than the snow, there's not a huge amount of news to report from the village, or from Jim in Kenya. He is entering his final fortnight in BATUK and after a month in the mess is keen to come home for Christmas and a bit of normality I think!

Meanwhile Christmas party season is in full swing for us. On Friday we have a mess function themed on a "Cowboy Christmas". So beef not turkey to eat and heaven knows what to wear! A party dress and cowboy boots perhaps?

After spending the holidays in the Rockies last year, this year we're staying in Ralston for Christmas and Jim has bravely agreed to host the Christmas Day radio show with me. It'll be an opportunity for him to answer back after a year of one way banter on the airwaves!

Friday, 5 December 2008

-20c and feeling festive!

Lots of ups and downs with the weather this week. We started with +15c and I spent the day in the office in a t-shirt, then midweek it plummeted to -20c (-29c with the windchill!) and finally we ended the week at +5c.

Last weekend was the village Christmas fayre. Lots of stallholders, many of them military wives turned out to sell everything from door dogs to soup. There was also a charity Christmas tree auction with a wide selection of different themed trees.

I bid on three trees, losing out on the Canadian themed one which eventually went for $90, but I did win a kitchen themed tree decorated by the lady chefs.

It's adorned with miniature cheese graters, pots and pans and cookie cutters . I also won a steel tree which was made by one of the guys in the workshops. The kitchen tree is now in our studios at BFBS and the steel tree looks rather beautiful lit up in the garden!

Saturday evening was rounded off with a carol singing parade around the village, lead by a baby donkey (Aah!) I even managed to get some Christmas lights up on the house in time for the Ralston Festival of Lights!

However, Macy the dog is not quite so thrilled with all this festive spirit. Delving into the box of last years decorations I rediscovered a singing dog. You can see what she made of it in the video below!