Tag Archives: behind the scenes of

Behind the scenes of … the British-Consulate General in Toronto

Kevin McGurgan

“Please don’t skip to the end to find out who my favourite James Bond is! Pleeeaaasse!”

This is the third in our occasional “Behind the scenes of …” series that pulls back your gran’s curtains to take a peek behind everything British in Toronto. So far, we’ve gone behind the scenes of a fish and chip shop and a football blog and podcast.

Today we’re upping the game and going behind the scenes of the British-Consulate General in Toronto which represents the UK government in Ontario.

To help us out in that respect, we finally got in touch with Edinburgh native Kevin McGurgan, the British Consul-General in Toronto and Director-General for Department for International Trade Canada.

A very busy man having served duties in Russia, Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, Syria and free gin offerings around the world, it took us a while to get this one set up. But, here we are.

So, time for the British Consul-General to spill the beans. The orange ones you get from British shops, not the dark brown sticky ones that look burnt and taste like molasses.

How long have you been the British Consul-General for and how did you get the job? Did you get a choice of cities and, if so, why Toronto?

I have been the British Consul-General since late 2014. All our jobs are decided by internal interview. There were other cities available but I wanted to come to Toronto for two reasons.

First I have worked with Canadians throughout my career: in London, at the UN and Afghanistan to name a few places. The opportunity to work and experience Canadian life and culture was too good to miss.

Second. The role itself. As well as Consul-General I lead the UK’s Department for International Trade team, responsible for helping UK companies export to Canada and Canadian business invest in the UK. I wanted to help grow the UK’s prosperity and this was the perfect role to do so.

Explain what your role entails and the services that the British Consulate in Toronto provides to Brits.

I have three roles. The first is explaining to Torontonians and Ontarians what is happening in the UK, what the UK is doing globally and why that matters to them. In the other direction I explain to UK colleagues, mainly in Government, what is happening in Ontario and Toronto and why that should matter to them.

The second is my trade and investment role.

The third is the protection of British nationals and providing consular services to UK nationals. Those services range from citizenship ceremonies for new nationals to providing emergency travel documents when passports are lost or stolen (as sometimes happens!).

What’s been the most unusual request for help that you or the British Consulate has provided?

We get many requests from advice on what’s the best British pub to visit — The Queen and Beaver is a good place to start — to can we buy British poppies for Remembrance Day? (Answer: Yes.)

I can’t think of any particularly unusual request here but my colleagues elsewhere have received some. This Independent article gives a good summary about them, from bacon to Spanish nudists. [C’mon, click bait? Really Kev? OK.]

Is Toronto still a good destination for a Brit to consider moving to and why?

Toronto is a great destination for business and living. As the city and its economy continues to grow, there’s increased demands for British goods, services and expertise and I’ve met successful Brits [ahem, *cough cough*] who are seeing their businesses grow, from food and drink to financial services, interior design to recruitment consultancy.

It’s also such a great place to live with fantastic public amenities like the Toronto Public Library to great sports teams such as the Leafs and Toronto FC.

The Toronto Ravines are my favourite place. They are where I go to reconnect and recharge at the end of the week, either for a run or long walk with our dog, Cody.

Feel free to tell us anything about the British Consulate or exciting diplomatic life abroad that Brits in Toronto readers should know.

It’s a great privilege to represent your country overseas and make a difference for British nationals, the economy and global security.

At the Consulate we are always thinking of ways to involve ourselves in city life and for the second time, we climbed the CN Tower to raise funds and awareness for World Wildlife Fund Canada. We’ll be doing the same again next year.

One of the most recent exciting times was the Invictus Games in Toronto. It was inspirational watching all athletes, celebrate their success and see how Torontonians welcomed them to the city, helped along by some fabulous weather.

Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?

Connery. Always.

Advertisements

Behind the scenes of … a football blog and podcast

under-the-cosh

Left to right: Rishay, Alexander, Mohaned and Bernie ponder over some top-notch banter in the Coshcast

Back in March 2015 we started a series of articles themed, “Behind the scenes of …” with the aim of finding out what goes into particularly British things. We profiled a fish and chip shop and then never did another one for some reason. Until today!

We found these lads and really liked the cut of their jib. They are passionate about the beautiful game and created a brilliant football blog called Under The Cosh and weekly podcast called the Coshcast to back up their knowledge and opinion. It’s very funny.

There’s a Brit in the group — Alexander — so we sent an e-mail and probed him harder than Sergio Aguero in a West Ham defence. Here’s what he told us about running a football blog and podcast …

Firstly, why the name Under The Cosh?

There are so many football websites that we wanted something unique. We also wanted something British because it was the British game that we all grew up watching.

“Under the cosh” is a phrase used only by British commentators. Admittedly, not many people here know what a cosh is, but they tend to love the phrase once explained to them.

If I recall correctly, a couple of other candidates were “Into Row Z” and “Two Banks of Four,” but given we do a podcast, the “Coshcast” just seemed too perfect.

Please introduce yourselves, where you are from and how you got together? Any Brits in the team?

There are four of us: Mohaned (Egyptian), Rishay (Indian), Alexander (British) and Bernie (Nigerian).

All of us are Canadian citizens but also Anglophiles at heart due to our long-held love and interest in English football as well as growing up in British colonies (all is forgiven). Only Alexander is a true home-grown Brit though, growing up as he did in North London.

We all moved to Toronto in 2006/2007 for school and attended the University of Toronto. That’s where the group was formed, though we didn’t start the website and podcast until 2013 after we’d all graduated. The four of us now work in different industries but football runs our lives.

We actually bonded over the shared experience of dragging a laptop over a sleeping significant other at 7:00 a.m. Canadian time in order to watch a noon kickoff in the UK. Pretty sure that’s a standard British expat experience now.

How much time a week do you put into creating content for the blog?

The podcast is the one constant recurring chunk of time on a weekly basis. With the preparation for it, the travelling to get together, recording, editing and uploading … I’d say we spend about seven hours a week on that.

After that there are the articles that we publish — whether original or submitted by guest writers — and writing or preparing that content for publication is probably another four or five hours a week. Of course, there’s also being on Twitter all the time …

How do you decide what you’re going to chat about on that week’s Coshcast?

We have categories that we almost always cover; the English Premier League takes up half the podcast, with the other half split between news from the other major European leagues, a Toronto FC update when MLS is in season and two lighthearted segments: the football quiz which is named after a new player every week (Quiztophe Dugarry, Santi Quizorla etc.) and Mumu of the Week.

“Mumu” is a Nigerian pigeon slang word that Bernie taught us, meaning “fool,” “idiot” etc. So for Mumu of the Week we find the funniest or most ridiculous off-pitch stories from the world of football and have some fun taking the piss.

Last week for example we had a right laugh at Ryan Giggs for claiming that Swansea couldn’t match his ambitions, and a Norwegian manager who wants to use sperm from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo to produce a world-beating team in 20 years. You can’t make this stuff up, Clive.

In May, I believe, we plan on awarding the season’s biggest mumu the Bellend D’or.

Preparation goes on throughout the week, though. We have a Google document that acts as the agenda and we fill it up as the results and stories roll in.

Obviously Brits love football, but what kind of reaction do you get from your Canadian audience to the beautiful game?

The local appetite for football coverage is definitely growing and we know that a good portion of our reader and listenership is Canadian, which is great … but of course there is still a huge difference between here and the UK.

In Toronto I am still surprised and delighted if I overhear a conversation about football, whereas back in England it’s just innate and constant. What we’re trying to do is provide the level of depth, passion and humour with which the game is talked about in the UK to the Canadian “market.”

I think there’s some quiet dissatisfaction with the mainstream coverage of the sport here. The level of debate, analysis and even personality or humour that you get on Canadian TV leaves a lot to be desired. Craig Forrest seems like a lovely bloke but, let’s be honest, it’s the West Brom of punditry.

That said I suppose we can always be grateful that Sportsnet haven’t hired Robbie Savage or Michael Owen yet.

The Canadian football-supporting scene is a fascinating one. Given Canada’s urban diversity, a lot of people move or grow up here already supporting teams from elsewhere.

For example, the Canadian-Italian community has a great presence online that is very strong on its support both for Toronto FC and for various Seria A clubs, or if you go to a Toronto Arsenal Supporters Club event you’ll find a group of passionate young people with truly global backgrounds.

I think our content probably speaks most to this urban population who grew up with the Premier League or European football but are also pleased to have a local team to support.

Equally there is a base of Canadian national team(s) supporters who have fought hard for a long time to promote and popularize football in this country, and support for Toronto FC has been first class from the club’s first day with the stadium packed full of people desperate for local football.

We would dearly like to produce more content aimed at Toronto FC and Canadian national team fans but it’s a question of hours in the day. Our first love is British/European football and we’re always likely to have more fun discussing the expansion of Steve Bruce and Troy Deeney’s waistlines over the expansion of MLS, as sad as that might be.

under-the-cosh-europe

The lads having a bit of a giggle on their football pilgrimage to Europe

Spill the beans on your upcoming Football Trivia Night. And do you organize any other social events for Brits or football lovers to hang out?

We’re really excited about this! For a couple of years we’ve thought that a football trivia night would be fantastic, so we’re looking to merge the traditional British pub quiz with Toronto’s massive appetite for trivia and our perceived encyclopedic knowledge of the beautiful game.

We’re working on questions that will make this a lot of fun but also a really good challenge for those that reckon they know their stuff. We’ll cover the Premiership, European leagues, World Cups, we’re planning visual rounds and “identify the commentary” sections. It should be a good laugh!

The first event is taking place upstairs at Betty’s (King and Sherbourne) on Wednesday, November 2 from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. It costs $10 to play, we’re aiming for eight teams of four and there is a substantial cash prize for the winners! Betty’s has a good beer selection and food too so I can’t think of many better options for a good evening.

You can sign up on the Facebook event or, if you don’t use Facebook, feel free to send us an e-mail at underthecoshblog AT gmail DOT COM.

We’re putting the night on in partnership with OpenSports which is a great, locally-designed app that allows you to create or find and join games of pick-up football (or many other sports) going on around Toronto.

Feel free to tell us anything about Under the Cosh or running a football blog that Brits in Toronto readers should know.

If you’re a Brit in Toronto and into football then we strongly believe this blog is for you. We cater to the Premier League as already mentioned, but are also supporters of the local side Toronto FC. The club couldn’t have grown in the way that it did without the support of British expats who set the tone for football fandom here.

We also aim to highlight football at a grassroots level and the main players in that area. We’ve interviewed former players like Paul Stalteri, Nolberto Solano, Danny Dichio, Kanu and Bruce Grobbelaar who are all invested in youth development in Ontario.

All in all, running a football website and podcast is the best thing we’ve ever done. It led us to travel to Europe on a football pilgrimage that we documented and we’ve met legends of the game. Well worth it.

All feedback is welcome and if there are football-related events you’d like to see happen in Toronto, get in touch and let’s talk about making them happen.

Behind the scenes of … a fish and chip shop

Caption here

Breaking news: enjoy your halibut while you can. And we need to start a mushy peas campaign. Read on …

We’re very excited to launch a new series of articles: Behind the scenes of …

On a regular basis (we’re not committing to a definite schedule in case the series flops and this is the only one) we will contact British institutions — such as a fish and chip shop — and ask the hard questions that no one dares to explore.

It will be groundbreaking, truly insightful and, yes, sometimes we’ll walk the editorial tightrope of pure fear and excitment to bring you the scoop on information that you’ve always wanted to know — but never had a Brit blog to take care of for you.

That changes now.

So, without further link bait ado, let’s go behind the scenes of a fish and chip shop!

To help us in our quest, Kevin from Sea Witch Fish and Chips very kindly agreed to answer our thought-provoking, deep and probing questions.

Although not a Brit, Kevin describes himself as, “A pretty typical Canadian: a mix of a medley of immigrants. Fell in love with Britpop in the early ’90s. Toured the indie record shops in the north a fair bit. That, and fish and chips, is about as British as I get.”

But that’s totally acceptable; he runs a fish and chip shop.

Hold tight as we go … behind the scenes.

How long does the oil take to cool down and how often is it changed?

I have a system for “seasoning” the grease in the different fryers. Loosely, I remove a fair bit and add at least 40 lbs of pure rendered beef dripping every morning. As for how long it takes to cool down … I’m pretty sure you could dip your finger in it an hour after we close, but we’re long gone before it is “cool.”

What’s the most popular type of battered fish do you sell?

In Canada, halibut is still king. And it will always be that way until it approaches the $20/order mark — which is coming soon. Although, as the price climbs, haddock sometimes comes close … but never surpasses.

What happens to unsold food? Is it just thrown away or given to charities or organizations?

Happily, we don’t waste anything. I’ve been doing this for a while and, I guess, have learned how to prep enough without wasting.

For fish, I’d rather sell out of one or two — we have five types on the menu — than throw some out.

For spuds, if there are any blanched ones left at the end of the day, one of us will take them home and make a hash out of them in the morn. Taters blanched in beef and finished in bacon fat? Yes please!

Why is it always served in newspaper? Why not in a magazine or on an e-reader or something?

Hey, chips wrapped in an e-reader is a perfectly good waste of chips. As you know, the newspaper wrap is one of the vestiges of a working class meal. Cheap eats served on a free supply of packaging.

Sadly, fish isn’t so cheap anymore.

Any plans to get pickled eggs or curry chip sauce on the menu for the Brit palate?

In my experience, items like these are nostalgically mentioned occasionally but are not actually requested with any frequency. Like mushy peas. And Salad Cream for a chip butty. Scraps, bits. And kebab vans.

What’s the one surprising thing about a fish and chip shop that the punters don’t know?

This is a great question. Unfortunately, my top 10 answers can only be shared over pints! On the record, though, all fish ‘n’ chippers, after a time, eat things with legs, not gills.

So there you have it. We broke the news about the price of halibut going up and that — woe is us — staples like mushy peas are not frequently requested.

So, thanks to Kevin, and we’re off for a lie down while we digest these revelations. Until the next behind the scenes of …