Plastic may be fantastic but only a real Christmas tree will cut it

Christmas is coming — and it’s time for the annual tree panic. If an  artificial tree just won’t cut it, then you might want to join the growing numbers  “choosing and cutting” their own Christmas tree. I visited a farm  to get the whole festive experience. South Wales Evening Post, Wednesday, December 7, 2011. 

I HAVE really fond memories of my childhood trips to get our Christmas tree.

My dad would take my sister, my brother and I out in our estate car, armed with an axe and some twine, and we’d travel up a snow-covered country road to find somewhere where an evergreen would be growing. The outing usually culminated — after a big argument over which tree to choose — with my dad strapping a less-than-perfect-but-still-beautiful tree to the top of the car, and packing us all home where mum would serve hot chocolate.

​If this sounds unlikely to you — a bit too Hallmark-card perfect — it might not surprise you to find out that I grew up in Canada.

Not just Canada, but northern British Columbia, where trees outnumber people by about 82 million to one, give or take, and there’s always a white Christmas. It has meant that, for me, the fake Christmas trees you buy in the supermarket just won’t cut it.

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Stampede: Not for the faint-hearted

I wrote a review of the Calgary Stampede ahead of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit there.

It appeared in the South Wales Evening Post on Saturday, June 4, 2011.

I went to this annual event in 2010, but didn’t have the opportunity to review it until it was announced that the newlywed royals were going to include it on their itinerary on their Canada trip.

Here’s an excerpt:


The crowds at Stampede 2010 in front of the Saddledome.

Calgary, a city of about 1 million, has some of Canada’s wealthiest and best-educated people.

Situated in the oil-rich province of Alberta, it is the Houston, Texas, of Canada, if you will.

For that reason, when I visited stampede, I expected a sort of modern-day homage to the Western cowboy culture that used to thrive in this area – a sort of city version of the Wild West.

But this folks, is the real thing, and it ain’t for the faint-hearted.

Rosslyn and an autumn journey to Edinburgh

Here is my review, in full, of a trip to the Scottish borders in October 2010. A version of this appeared in the South Wales Evening Post on Saturday, October 30, 2010.

THE best-selling Da Vinci Code book and film inextricably changed the face of Rosslyn Chapel, on the Scottish borders.At one time, the relatively small chapel attracted 3,000 visitors a year.

But Dan Brown’s international best seller threw the decaying building into the limelight. At the height of the book’s popularity, 175,000 visited the chapel, and, in 2009, visitor numbers were still well above the 100,000 mark.

Although a visit to the chapel wasn’t our only aim on travelling to Scotland, it was most definitely one of the highlights.

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Aldershot barracks fill in for ‘Eastern bloc’ era Moscow buildings in Bond film

Filming for the 22nd Bond film, Quantum of Solace, took place in Aldershot and Farnborough while I was a reporter for the News & Mail. I interviewed local people after the production company gave the go-ahead for participants to reveal their involvement.  It was published on the Get Hampshire website on October 30, 2008.

Cinema-goers from the News area will be able to see some familiar sights when they go to the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Farnborough Airport and the Bruneval Barracks, in Montgomery Lines, Aldershot, were used in the eagerly-anticipated follow-up to Casino Royale, due out in cinemas Friday.

The star-studded cast from the film, including Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench, were all filmed in the area in January.

The barracks were portrayed as snow-covered buildings in Moscow.

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Fatima Cengic tells story of heroism

The Interior News, July 28, 2004.

Fatima Cengic survived the siege of Tesanj, in Bosnia, and proceeded to build a life for herself in Canada – all thanks to a Christmas shoebox that arrived from Whitehorse and a great deal of determination. This was published in the Interior News on July 28, 2004. This story also never made it online, so here is a full transcript:

WHEN Fatima Cengic was 13 years old, she was living in Tesanj, a Bosnian city under siege by Serbian militants. She was unable to enjoy even the simplest of pleasures of life, such as a carefree stroll down the road.

Because of the threat of gunfire and bombs, she lived with her family in the basement of their home for six months.

But after six months, Cengic got fed up and decided enough was enough.

“My room was upstairs, everything was upstairs,” she says.

“I just hated the basement.”

To the chagrin of her parents, Cengic defied what they thought was safe, and began sleeping upstairs.

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Groundbreaking filmmaker an adventurer at heart

The Interior News, July 21, 2004.

In 2004, Howard Ennis was living in the Kispiox Valley. He told me the story of how he first came to the north – to be one of the first people to film the First Nations people of British Columbia. This was published in the Interior News on July 21, 2004. It never went online, so the following story is published in full now:

WHEN Howard Ennis was a young boy in 1930s Pennsylvania, he used to read books by Canadian naturalist and author Ernest Thompson Seton, and dream about having similar adventures in the northern wilderness.

He was so keen he would plan small-scale, outdoor adventures and drag his older brother along.

Ennis says he was always the brains of the operation and his brother, the brawn.

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