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Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Canada's Great Big Blue Question Mark

All together now..................(best sung as if singing the very last chorus, and yes I know that it should be "Home and "etc for 2nd line, but I could'nt get a rhyme out of "land"....

"Oh Canada,
Our Country Strong and Free
In Canada, the highway sign system's a mystery to me,
Oh Canada,
What does the question mark mean?
Oh Canada, I'll always get lost on the 403
Oh Canada, I think I'll travel by skiiiiiiii!."

And do'nt even ask me about the signs for Pearson Airport on the 401, which would be more accurate if they all read "You should have turned here".

Yes, Canada's pretty bad. Until you try deciphering the glyphs and hieroglyphics which accompany tourist information leaflets here in the UK. Each leaflet is beautifully designed, with photos of the attractions, making you savour your forthcoming visit, like this mouthwatering picture of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, the location for the filming of Bridehead RevisitedUnderneath each picture there is a written description of opening times, price of admission, and any seasonal notes thus:

Magnificent 18th century house within 1,000 acres of breathtaking parkland. Featuring temples, lakes, statues and fountains, plus walled garden with Rose collection and ornamental vegetable garden, and woodland garden.

Daily outdoor tours (Mar to Nov). Plant Centre selling estate-grown plants, trees and shrubs, farm shop, gift shops and café. Plus events programme, adventure playground and boat trips.

We're thoroughly taken by this. Its actually enough information for us to plan a visit to any number of these attractions. Directions follow, so we consult Google Earth, and plan our route, missing out Ulan Bator as a possible detour. As we plan our day out, I re-read the leaflet. Suddenly the icons, printed in a neat line underneath each glowing description, spring out at me, catching my attention. What does this additional info, delivered as incomprehensible cyphers, mean? Am I missing something? Is there some vital information, possibly a code, possibly the location of the Grail, possibly free ice-cream if you correctly guess them all? Do I need a degree in Egyptology? The signs, read under the spell of flaming brand are thus:

I have to confess to complete bafflement at the meaning of these signs. What could be in store for us that simple words do'nt suffice to reveal? A recent spate of bad luck culminating in two law suits, a criminal fraud investigation in Canada, and a minor infection in Toshack's left eye leave me suspicious, and superstitious. "Lets just go for a walk in the local park", I tell Nel, "Phillip Larkin, the poet lived in a small, recently renovated, flat overlooking the duck pond. Castle Howard's overrated". We eschew the glories of East Yorkshire, and take a pleasant walk, reminiscing about a life where the most complicated thing we had to deal with was how to pronounce "Etobioke" as we sped past the exit we should have taken.

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