It pleases me hugely to report that I write this latest edition from the relative safety of Canada, a million miles (give or take) from soggy old Germany, which I believe disappeared into the North Sea shortly after we took off and now serves as a shallow, but rather handy, shipping channel through central Europe. I say ‘relative’ safety of Canada because no sooner had we landed in Calgary than a state of emergency throughout the whole of Alberta (which is where Calgary lives) was declared due to… the worst flooding in Alberta’s history. You can’t make this stuff up. When we arrived, Alberta was settling in to the early stages of a lovely warm summer. Within two days over 100 millimeters of rain had fallen (not milliliters, I made that mistake and wondered what all the fuss was about) and things were looking soggier than ever. Luckily I remembered to pack my German rubber dinghy so I am becoming even more adept at floating and typing at the same time.
Fortunately, for us anyway, we were long overdue some time off and so the usual motley crew was soon on a short flight West, embarking on our latest city-break to none other than Vancouver; half hoping that Alberta would follow Germany’s example and we would all be home within a week. Despite Vancouver having been booked long in advance, there was only one thing we really knew for certain about the place, which was that it is home to a “vibrant” and “energetic” gay scene. Perfect – we spend two months in captivity surrounded by men and we choose to spend our first four days off in six weeks in the gay capital of Canada. Although I am told it may have been preferable to the other option on the table, San Francisco, which apparently makes Vancouver look like a fascist holiday resort by comparison. Inevitably we took a ‘when in Rome’ approach to this vibrant culture and soon found ourselves cruising through the glorious Vancouver sunshine in a black stretched Limo, waving to passers by from behind tinted windows, feeling like Hollywood A listers but looking far more like what we were – 10 idiotic Brits abroad crammed into the back of a beaten up limousine with no air conditioning, all wishing they had sat next to the one functioning electric window. If nothing else it provided a head turning spectacle for the local men when we rolled up outside our predictably grubby hostel on the busiest street in town and collapsed, one by one, out onto the pavement gasping for breath and sweating profusely. Vancouver- we’re here, we’re not queer (contrary to what this may look like) get used to it.
We then spent the next four days seemingly determined to fit in with the local scene. True to form we found ourselves dressing the same, usually in vibrant, summery colours (Vancouver managed to hang on to the sunshine even after we arrived) and partaking in some fairly energetic activities including mini golf and tandem biking. Trust me when I say that nothing screams energetically homosexual louder than 10 well dressed men, with jumpers over their shoulders, riding tandem bikes through Vancouver giggling like school girls as they go. Some may say we were tempting fate in a city with such a reputation; all I can say is that girls just wanna have fun. Believe it or not we managed to top all of our efforts on our last night when, after a fantastic last supper in Vancouver’s finest steak restaurant, we stumbled upon another limousine to take us to whatever club we were heading to.
It made sense to use it as we knew we could all fit in – the only upgrade to this one was that it was eye-catchingly pink with a working radio that seemed to specialise in tragically camp music. You can imagine the surprise on many a Vancouverites face who were no doubt expecting some tacky hen do, covered in ‘L’ plates, to pour out of the most emasculated vehicle since the Smart car, and instead out stumbled 10 guffawing Englishmen all sporting the blue jean-blue shirt-brown shoe combo to the tune of The Weathergirls’ ‘It’s raining men’. Sadly the comic effect was lost on our Canadian audience who seem to lack any form of sense of humour so we were taken completely at face value and generally left to our own devices – probably for the best. Mercifully however, the city of Vancouver seems to have an unashamed employment law for their bars and restaurants decreeing that only astonishingly good looking women can work there, so we were able to reinstate our manliness during our trip through some casual ornithology, charming chit-chat and the consumption of large quantities of beer. Four days well spent by any standards.
Overall Vancouver is an amazing city and if it weren’t on the other side of the world to anywhere except Calgary I would happily go back. It is flagrantly cosmopolitan with palm lined beaches and good looking wealthy people in fast cars everywhere you look, although after two months in Germany’s most inhospitable fun camp we might have drawn the same conclusion from a council estate in Staines, so don’t take my word as gospel. The down side is that these good looking, wealthy people are all extremely self-righteous and go for runs at 5am every morning before a breakfast of watermelon and those Rivita biscuits made out of cardboard in order not to ruin their weekly teeth whitening appointment- which ultimately makes them incredibly dull (the people, not their teeth, they are magnificent). It is also a very expensive city, which would explain why there is such an alarming amount of homeless people (presumably made up mostly of British soldiers who came for a long weekend and overcooked it slightly). Ultimately, you are either rich and beautiful or penniless and keen on drugs so it’s just as well we left when we did really.
Much to our dismay, Alberta had held its own against the floods and was still there when we got off the plane in Calgary allowing us to reluctantly return to our new abode for the next five months. The good news is that the living standards have gone through the roof. I now have a real bed, with real bedding and share a room with one person rather than 50. We even have an actual Officers mess, with a television, a bar and leather armchairs and the food is entirely edible. So life is considerably more comfortable. We are however in the middle of absolutely nowhere in what must be the world’s largest open field (the Canadian Prairies are nearly 700, 000 square miles of pure emptiness). Calgary is a three and a half hour drive away ($380 in a taxi) and there is quite literally nothing in between us and it, except one perfectly straight, perfectly flat, never-ending road. No houses, no bus stops, no trees, just flat, open, grassy Prairie with the odd bored looking Elk wondering what he has done to deserve to be indigenous to this endless nothingness. So it’s set to be an enthralling five months in what is currently an enormous flood plain, with a rapidly growing mosquito population and an even more rapidly diminishing supply of repellant. Wish me luck…
By Rich Glover