Monthly Archives: November 2013

Successful Brits in Toronto: Michael Cooke

Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke just found out you can squint through the paywall if you scroll very slowly

Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke just found out you can squint through the paywall if you scroll very slowly

As a former journalist, I have been in the trenches and seen the hard work that goes into getting the story, and hopefully the scoop. You do it for the love of the job and not the pay — that’s for sure. Now I work in communications at the Brits in Toronto HQ.

So we’re honoured that Michael Cooke, Editor of the Toronto Star, agreed in a tweet to be our latest Successful Brit in Toronto. He manages Canada’s biggest paper by circulation, employs multiple award-winning journalists and thinks [spoiler alert] “there isn’t a real pub in the entire city.” (That must be a typo, Michael … check out our Booze section.)

In typical Ask Ellie fashion, we put some questions to him:

What made you decide to choose Toronto as a city of choice? Did you plan a permanent move, or wanted to “try it for a while and see how it goes” and it turned out to be longer than planned?

Came on holiday, loved the place — open, big, fresh, different and you can see a bear 50 miles out of the city  … so I stayed … and then quickly learned to love the great extremes in temperature … proper bloody hot in the summer, proper bloody cold in the winter …

What steps did you take to land your first Toronto job? Did the infamous “Canadian experience” hinder you in any way?

At the time — 1975 — it was easy for Brits. I just walked in and cheerfully held out the papers to be stamped. No problems. Was made very welcome, especially in the Legion halls (my dad was in the Royal Navy).

What’s the best/worst aspects of living in Toronto?

Best: I love watching the skill and courage and brains it takes to play top-notch hockey. Worst: there isn’t a real pub in the entire city.

Do you make an effort to connect with other Brits in the city, or just meet them when chance allows it? Any recommended pubs/eateries/other places for homesick Brits to meet each other and network?

No. Big part of the joy of living here is everyone else who came from everywhere else. Who needs to search out Brits ?

So, there you have it. Short, sweet and to the point. Thank you Mr. Cooke, and if any readers know of “real pubs” in the entire city, please post them in the comments section so I can check them out too!

Totally biased product review by me — Deep Foods Palak Paneer

Four bits of cheese jostle for position in a bed of creamy spinach

Four bits of cheese jostle for position in a bed of creamy spinach puree

Got time for a curry quickie? Good. This item caught my eye as I was looking for an alternative side dish for tonight’s dinner. I think it was the combination of the words “cheese,” “spicy” and “spinach.”

It’s also vegetarian, which is nice. I balanced it with a pork chop in a BBQ sauce and toms.

Very quick and easy to cook, if your idea of “cook” is opening the microwave door, slinging it in and pressing COOK.

Five minutes later — and being careful to avoid the scalding steam — I peeled back the top and there it was laid before me in all its splendour: spicy spinach with bits of cheese in.

So … going in! The texture was very nice, and tasted authentic (just like the box described). The cubed cheese was also not bad. The biggest letdown was I couldn’t really taste any spice. I had to mix in some hot sauce to bring it to a respectable level, just to get that kick.

In summary, the Palak Paneer was pretty tasty, just needs a hit more of the spice.

I give it a Brits in Toronto 3/5 stars.

(Palak Paneer is also an anagram of “ale pea prank” which reminds me of a great stag night I once went to but won’t repeat.)

A jolly good British Isles Show, what ho?

The random arrangement of red, white and blue pixels thankfully fell into place to guide the way

The best of British luck to all ye who enter here

After my in-depth and extremely well-written preview of The British Isles Show, I was lucky enough to be granted a free ticket, so — disclaimer — I was here today on somebody else’s coin. Thank you to the organizers!

Unfortunately getting there just slightly too late for a pint with the tousle-haired Marc Baylis, alias “Rob Donovan” from Coronation Street, I was met by the pleasing sounds of the Wallace-Symington Highland Dancers doing their stuff on the main stage at the end of the hall.

This is not them:

Large burly, hairy men prancing around in tartan skirts? Check

Large burly, hairy men wearing shades and prancing around in tartan skirts? Box ticked

It was lunchtime, so — having had The Feisty Jack fare before — made a beeline through the throngs of British pensioners straight for their food truck. VERY EXCITED to see the TFJ Chicken Tikka Box was one of the menu items, so went for that. Delish!

Tikka Masala-marinated chicken, fried onion, cucumber mint raita, chili sauce, cilantro, lime Zest on yukon gold Fries

Tikka Masala-marinated chicken, fried onion, cucumber mint raita, chili sauce, cilantro, lime zest on Yukon Gold fries. You can’t go wrong, really

After lunch I headed to the pub for a quick looksie and checked out the range of craft beers. Hobgoblin, a Banana Bread Beer and a Double Chocolate Stout were on offer as some of the choices.

All very civilized. Not a Chelsea Headhunter in sight

All very civilized. Not a Chelsea Headhunter in sight

Wandered around the rest of the show and picked up a Spurs calendar and keyring. Some items were totally cheeky British humour … such as Carry On films.

"Hey dad, can we watch Carry On Emmannuelle tonight?"

Carry On films … always good for a laugh. Bit cheeky though

Time to get some culture. Bumped into the Downton Abbey Fan Club lady who politely posed for a photo, and told us about The Crown and Crumpet Tea Room where they hold a lot of events.

Not a time traveller, no. A member of the Downton Abbey Fan Club

Not a time traveller, no. A member of the Downton Abbey Fan Club

Some of the Downton Abbey clothes were then displayed in a fashion show on the main stage:

Come on, Vogue, Vogue ... let your corset-constrained body move to the music. Vogue.

Come on, Vogue, Vogue … let your corset-constrained body move to the music. Vogue!

Heading away from the cheery British chatter going on around me, just had time to stroll along and grab a Corrie T-shirt.

A very subtle and sublime play on words

A very subtle and sublime play on words

Alas, my day at The British Isles Show had wound to its weary end. It was great fun, there’s LOADS of British goods on offer and things to be entertained by.

The show’s on till November 17 so still time to check it out and grab yourself some Spotted Dick.

I feel really sorry for the British Rob Ford(s)

Rob Ford from Manchester, England is not a mayor, has never smoked crack or been drunk in public. One of these may be wrong actually

Rob Ford from Manchester, England is not a mayor, has never smoked crack or been very drunk in public. One of these may be wrong actually

So unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, you know that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is in a bit of a pickle. He’s been accused — actually, now admitted — to smoking crack cocaine, being very drunk in public and … just today … been caught on camera threatening to kill someone.

Toronto is a divided city: those who hate the guy, feels he’s embarrassing us and has to go — and those in “Ford Nation” who love the guy, want to forgive his foibles and feel he’s a “man of the people.”

And of course, those people take to Twitter to vent their anger or their love. Unfortunately, they don’t check the correct Twitter account — this one — and use the wrong Twitter account — this one. (There’s also this one but he seems to have escaped the wrath.)

The former fake Rob Ford, not the latter fake Rob Ford — this is so bloody confusing! — has been featured in the media and just wants to live a quiet life. Can’t say I blame him.

So, to all the British fake Rob Fords out there, we want you to know that Brits in Toronto has your back and support from across the pond!

Totally biased product review by me — Guinness crisps

A strikingly designed bag crinkles temptingly, leading you along the black and white path to the treasures inside

A strikingly designed bag crinkles temptingly, leading you along the black and white path to the treasures inside

Disclaimer: Guinness is my favourite pint at the pub. Nothing beats it for originality, looks, taste and pouring time.

So, imagine my excitement as a co-worker gave me a free bag of Guinness crisps to try. My trembling hand accepted the offering, and I scurried them away behind my Brits in Toronto PR, communications and social media plan files, hiding them to take home that night.

Never got to try them that night because it was Friday and I went straight out to the pub after work, and didn’t want to carry the bag of crisps around Toronto. That would look really strange. So, the crisps stayed thus, secreted away.

Until just now. The moment had arrived to consume the Guinness crisps.

I popped the bag open, and heard the crisps rustling inside, similar to dry, autumn leaves, crunching underfoot of a wild boar foraging through the forest on a chilly, starry night.

My first disappointment came when I noticed the bag was only half full of crisps. The rest was air. Free air, mind you, because my co-worker had given them to me — but air, nonetheless.

“Good things come in small packages,” the great Ronnie Corbett once said, so I plunged in and took my first Guinness crisp.

Holding it aloft like a tiny brown crisp-shaped butterfly that doesn’t struggle, but has accepted its fate, I examined it … and it did indeed have the pleasing Guinness hue. Things were looking good. I popped it in my mouth and crunched.

It was an odd taste. Truth be told, I expected it not to taste exactly like Guinness — more like a beef or Worcestershire sauce kind of flavour — but this tasted like neither.

One thing though — to me, it didn’t taste like Guinness at all. I understand it’s food, not the drink, but quite honestly, I couldn’t match it to its liquid namesake, and was therefore quite disappointed. In the free crisps. That my co-worker had given me.

So, VERY sorry Guinness, I REALLY wanted to like these — but it pains me to say I have to give my first Brits in Toronto 0/5 stars.

Get ready, dentists: The British Isles Show is coming from November 15-17

Hi. I'm Marc. With a c. I like soap operas, long walks in warm rain and crossing my arms. Come and meet me.

“Hi. I’m Marc. With a c. I like soap operas, long walks in warm rain and crossing my arms. Come and meet me”

So the leaves are falling, the patio stuff has been put away and the nights are drawing in. That can only mean two things: autumn is finally upon us and so is The British Isles Show from November 15-17.

This is the annual gathering of Brits from far and wide (or mainly from Toronto to Mississauga, a distance of 27.6 km according to Google Maps) and the chance to hob-knob about the weather, buy some Heinz Beanz and boxes of decent tea and maybe — just maybe! — catch a glimpse of a Corrie Street star.

This year the guest appearance is by Marc Baylis, who plays Rob Donovan. I stopped watching Corrie Street when my nan passed, so have no idea who that character is, but I’m sure legions of fans out there do.

Quick segue: went to a similar show years ago and spotted a sad and lonely-looking Curly Watts sitting behind a screen. Reminded me of when I was at school and paid 50p to go behind a curtain and meet those cheeky Cockney chaps, Chas and Dave. Make of that what you will.

"Oi, Marc! Yup yup rabbit yup yup yup rabbit rabbit bunny jabber yup rabbit bunny yup yup yup rabbit bunny jabber yup yup yup rabbit bunny jabber yup yup bunny jabber rabbit!"

“Oi, Marc! Yup yup rabbit yup yup yup rabbit rabbit bunny jabber yup rabbit bunny yup yup yup rabbit bunny jabber yup yup yup rabbit bunny jabber yup yup bunny jabber rabbit!”

Here’s a list of exhibitors for the show, so you can pick out what you want to see first before deciding if it’s worth $15 for a ticket. I personally think it is, just for the chance to browse around and hear those familiar accents from back ‘ome, luv.

Or you could give the show a nice free mention on your blog and try and blag free entry … something Brits in Toronto would never do.

See you there. Toodles!