Welcome To Canmore, Toy Heaven

Today was reasonably devoid of adventure; we spent the day travelling from Kitchener in Ontario, to Canmore in Alberta. We packed up the hire car and scooted off to the airport in Toronto. Just a word on the hire car. If you ever have a long way to drive, six tons of luggage and two wriggling infants could I suggest you select anything other than a Toyota Echo as your vehicle of choice. In fact next time I'm going to try and get one of those trucks they use to transport people from prison to court; plenty big enough for all our stuff and we could keep the kids 'cuffed to their seats.

We arrived at the Air Canada desk in plenty of time, only to find out that we were pretty much all sitting separately on the plane. After a moment rejoicing at the fact that some other guy would have to entertain my one-year-old son on the four-hour flight, my conscience took over. Well actually, it was my wife who is often a more reliable substitute. We told Air Canada that it would be in everyone's interest to be sat as a family, but apparently there was nothing they could do. Eventually we sorted it out ourselves by trading seats once we were boarded but it did seem a crazy way of doing things.

We boarded the plane just as I imagine The Simpsons would. Homer, carrying the car seat down the aisle banged it on everyone's head as he walked past. Oops sorry, oops sorry, sorry, excuse me, oops. Marge began to engage the hostess in rhetoric regarding the injustice of their seating plan. Meanwhile Bart and Lisa quickly managed to bind themselves together using the cord from the in-flight headphones. Once Springfield's favourite residents were seated it wasn't long before Homer was asleep dreaming of Duff beer and doughnuts whilst Marge was holding it all together.

Arriving in Calgary was great. We were picked up by Saira in her huge truck and drove out to Canmore. It was just superb to see family Reed again. They've got a splendid house on three floors, views over the Rockies, more decks than you can shake a stick at, and best of all, a washing machine.

The children were in toy heaven. Having been deprived of all but a few carry-on trinkets, the toy-fest that met them in Canmore was a sight to behold. Both children sat in a catatonic state for a few moments in awe of it all. They then had to be dragged to bed wailing after several hours of non-stop plastic dinosaur action.

Apologies once again for the later than usual post. I know by now that if I've not posted by 04:00 BST then many of you guys think that we've been mauled by bears or somesuch. Well, we've not. Well not yet. It is bear season in town right now and we're just off for a walk in Cougar Creek. So if I've not posted again by this time tomorrow call the Rangers would you?

May 14, 2005.

What No Cougar?

The two hour difference between Ontario and Alberta seems to have caused more consternation amongst the children than the original UK:US clock change. Lottie and Ben are waking at just after five each morning, so we're seeing lots of early morning Canmore. In some respects it's fine waking up so early; the Reeds have deer grazing their garden first thing, so it's a great opportunity for a two-hour pre-breakfast nature fest.

The early morning vista reminds me of home. If you were to add just a handful of flare stacks, a couple of cooling towers, a brace of ghost ships, the steelworks and a petrol refinery it would be like waking up at home.

Lottie, Ben and their Canuck counterparts George and Bertie are playing together very well. We all had to give our heads a shake as Lottie and George walked off hand-in-hand to Cougar Creek. Oh how times have changed. It's almost half a lifetime ago since I met Andy. At that stage I'm not sure I'd ever have countenanced any son of his holding hands with any daughter of mine.

At Cougar Creek we went fossil hunting. George, aged four, is a world renowned Palaeontologist. My pub-quiz level of dino-info is spectacularly eclipsed by his encyclopaedic knowledge. I even asked him the trick question 'What colour were dinosaurs?'. He didn't even stop to flinch at such underhand tactics and responded, quite correctly 'We don't actually know'.

When we arrived at the creek, the pressure was on to actually find a fossil. It's a bit like trying to find a toilet in London. The wait was excruciating and the relief divine. The joy of smashing rocks all morning has to be up there in the list of 100 things to do before you die. Of boredom.

Nevertheless, the kids loved it. The thrill of knowing that there were Cougar out there ready for their mid-morning snack added a certain frission to the proceedings. And whaddya know, we did find a fossil. It wasn't very big, but it was a fossil all right, some type of shell.

In an Alanis Morrissette style twist, when we got back home, we found a huge fossil (possibly a woolly mammoth) in the crazy paving two feet from the front door. George was keen to dig it out of the paving and bring it inside, but Andy convinced him otherwise.

The afternoon was spent watching a bicycle time-trial. Saira was officiating, and Andy was race doctor. We thought a bloody crash was possibly on the cards, so we were keen to hang about and watch. After about twenty minutes of collision free activity, we skulked off back home.

Anyway, more bike racing is on the cards today. Andy is in the saddle this time, so we're off downtown to holler 'Go Reed'.

May 15, 2005.

Bicycle Race

Everybody in Canmore is super fit. Not just fit, but really really fit. Remember that dreadful eighties ad for ski yoghurt with the fit family? Well if the fit family really do exist, then they live in Canmore. I was downtown today, and in amongst a few hundred people, I reckon I was about fourth heaviest.

Similarly, when we took the children to the playground today the mums were talking about triathlon training. Back home adult playground banter generally extends no further than chicken nuggets and infant stool consistency. Not always entirely unrelated threads.

Anyway, my point is that the fresh air seems to motivate the citizens of Canmore to exercise their butts off. And our hosts are no exception. Today Andy was involved in 40 kilometre time trial and then a downtime crit race in the afternoon, so we went to watch, cheer and not try and get hit by high speed bicycles. We got the wrong location for the morning's race, so failed to see speedy reedy complete the distance in about fifty-five minutes.

We did however get to see the crit. Crit racing is all about hurtling round town in short laps. The idea is you try and knock other people off their bikes but stay on your own. It's like a cross between jousting and knock-a-door run. Andy came a commendable fourth, not bad for his first race, and won thirty dollars into the bargain.

In the evening we went to the pub to spend his winnings, and in so doing, undid all the good work.

In amongst the bike race excitement we took the children to the park where Lottie did some excellent jumping from the climbing frame. The heights she was clearing would have made her grandparents' hair curl. Good job they're not reading any of this.

We also went to the supermarket to stock up on food for our newly formed family of eight. We did that thing that you do in foreign supermarkets, buying only foodstuffs with rude names or that appear unfit for human consumption. Beef jerky wins on both counts.

Oh and in case you're wondering, Andy does shave his legs.

May 16, 2005.

Banff Day Trip

Well, hard to believe but we've been on the road now for just two weeks. It seems much longer, but I guess this is just a function of having visited so many places already. The children remain very settled, and are benefiting from having other children around to squabble with. Luckily they've played together very well and the fallings out have been few and far between.

Today was a regular day for family Reed, so we hijacked their truck and left them to it. We drove up the valley to Banff. This is a place we've visited previously (before children) and it was just as we remembered. The place is a centre for both summer and winter mountain sports. It has a great feel and we enjoyed visiting again.

The town is full of mountaineering stores and so we spent as much time as the children could stand, browsing their wares. When it got to the stage where Ben was ready to tear all of the clothes from their hangers we left, as usual, without buying anything.

To redress the balance, we then took the kids to a playground. It was mediocre by general North American standards, but was sufficient to let them work up an appetite. And so it was my turn to choose the venue for lunch. Craig's Family Restaurant in Banff was my choice as it looked cheap, and the use of the word 'family' suggested to me a place that children could roam free with the ketchup gun and knock over drinks with gay abandon. I was right on both counts. The food however was rubbish, and no amount of sloshing ketchup about seemed to improve the situation. Dr Leigh remained unimpressed.

With the kids all food-bribed out, we returned to the shops in the high street. I ended up talking to an assistant who was from Sheffield, and became engrossed in a conversation about running shoes. Meanwhile Ben was asleep in his buggy so I left him in a corner of the shop whilst I continued to browse. I left to meet up with Bec and Lottie afterwards, forgetting that Ben was asleep in the shop, and it was only on my way back down Banff avenue that I realised that I was missing a stroller and one of my progeny. I had to return to the shop sheepishly and was successfully reunited without any of the assistants noticing my careless error. I think.

We returned to Canmore, ate dinner and then went out for a walk in the woods. Bec and I are still a little nervy about the whole bear thing. It is bear season, and we'd both rather not meet one close up. Andy and Saira were both relaxed and reassuring about the whole issue, until during the walk a large brown dog bounded through the trees just metres ahead of us doing a great impression of a bear. It seems the procedure is to stand frozen stiff, slack jawed until the creature scurries off. Well it seems that this approach works for dogs at least.

Once the children were in bed, Andy, Saira and I went out for a run along the local trails. They whupped my ass, but at least I got round the course. Not bad for a fat lad.

So, two weeks in and we're still having a blast. Canada is a great place.

May 17, 2005.

Hey Science Fans!

Following the previous day's leisurely trip up the valley, we thought the children could do with some full-on education and interactivity. Given that none of the adults present could provide this type of service, we all jumped into the truck and headed off to the science museum in Calgary.

The place was great. There was even a bicycle that you could ride on the inside of a cylinder to achieve that schoolboy ambition of looping the loop. This exhibit was meant to demonstrate the effect of G-Force, and fast riders could pull three-gees on this baby. According to the display, the biggest number of Gees experienced by a human was a heart-stopping 186. I struggle to believe this number, particularly as the individual concerned was alleged to have survived the ordeal.

The place had all the key ingredients for a splendid day out, including hot-dogs and popcorn, meaning that all age groups came away happy.

I drove the truck back from Calgary to Canmore, with six sleeping passengers. I did think about pulling off my own G-Force stunt in the truck to wake them all from their slumber but most of the roads in Canada are just too straight for G-Force type shenanigans.

In the evening the adults split into two cohorts. One group sat about drinking beer and eating whilst the others performed a lactate test in the garage. This involves strapping on a heart monitor, pedalling a bike like billy-o for an hour, and then drawing blood via a finger prick test to establish at which level of performance aerobic activity turns anaerobic.

I'll let you decide which adults did what.

They're all bonkers in Canmore.

May 18, 2005.

Downtown Canmore

We left the Reeds to their own devices during the day and family Leigh took a borrowed double stroller down into Canmore. The weather was great, and the two-mile downhill wander into town was very pleasant. I've never been a fan of the whole double buggy thing, but although this thing was about the size of my car (not my wife's car you'll notice) it was reasonably easy to manoeuvre.

In town we found yet another playground where Ben achieved a development milestone. He started to join two words together to create sentences. It was a bit of a shame that his first sentence was 'bump head', but I guess you've got to start somewhere.

Once the children were all played-out we set off for the Bagel Company café where, collectively, we ate almost as much as we scattered on the floor. Following a brief wander down the main street we set off back to base. The journey home was more of struggle. Given that it was uphill, I chose to let Bec push the double stroller. Both children were asleep, and did that turning heavy thing that all children do when they're deeply unconscious.

In the early evening the ladies set off for Calgary to do some orienteering. Saira is training for an adventure race in just over a week and needed to bone up on her map work. Bec decided to go with them on the promise of a fancy meal without husband and children after the necessary exertions.

So that left me looking after four children until Andy had finished work. The instructions I given were fairly straightforward, keep them alive and get them all in the car to Andy's surgery for half-five. I succeeded on almost all counts. Getting four children in their car seats in less than five minutes without swearing at any of them is a challenge I throw down to you all.

Despite none of my passengers being older than four, they all knew a different way to the surgery and I was offered random and conflicting directions along the way. It's funny how even the persuasions of infants can start to make you doubt your own navigational skills.

Too idle to cook for the assembled crèche, Andy and I offered a choice of restaurant venues for their delectation. The unanimous verdict was Wendy's where the lure was not any of the deep fried sweetmeats on offer, but rather the plastic toy that accompanies each platter. To avoid conflict, I had to ensure that each toy was identical. Move aside Kofi Annan.

The highlight of our trip to Wendy's was discovering that the headline in the Canmore Leader was all about Andy's successes in the bike race last weekend, accompanied by a photograph of him, which took up most of the front page.

So Andy is King of Canmore for a week. And yet they still made us pay for our burgers.

May 19, 2005.

Sport Billies

Today Andy and I left the ladies and the children at home and set off to climb Mount Lady MacDonald (8550 feet). We set off at 08:00 and had to be back for Andy to start work early in the afternoon. One of the greatest things about this route is we set out on foot right from the front door. None of this getting in the car nonsense.

The route involved just over four thousand feet of ascent and starts through forest and then climbs to an abandoned teahouse just above the tree line. The final thousand feet are up sharp shale and scree to the final ridge. The summit ridge itself is probably only five hundred feet in length, but is pretty exposed and an awkward scramble. It's unlikely you'd ever fall off, but if you did, it's likely you'd have grazed knees or worse. For the record we did it unroped and in approach shoes.

The weather was kind to us, although we did get a tiny amount of snow at one stage. There was what the English would call a stiff breeze; the Scots amongst you would have been in bikinis.

Andy, as ever, was fit as a fiddle, he set a reasonable pace on the ascent and we beat our own estimated ascent time. Once we were back at the teahouse, we put on our shorts and ran the whole way down. About three thousand feet of descent in forty minutes. Suffice to say, this mountain is reasonably steep. When we got back home, Dr Reed threw a couple of ibuprofen tablets at me and said 'better take these'. A purely prophylactic measure of course, but who was I to turn my nose up at free medical advice? It was one of the best days in the mountains I'd had for a long time.

Meanwhile the others had gone to the local pool to do some swimming. Reports indicate that Ben cried most of the time due to the low water temperature. Eskimo Nell apparently broke through the ice and swam a whole two lengths. Good work Lottie. The remainder of the day was spent snoozing and wrestling, depending on your age. Oh, apart from Andy, who was packed off to work until nine pm.

Work huh? What's all that about?

May 20, 2005.

Moraine Lake

Following breakfast we left the Reeds to their everyday tasks and stole their truck to drive up to Lake Louise. We stopped on the way to take a hike around Johnson Lake. When we arrived, the place looked fairly eerie, not least because we were the only folks there.

I'd really taken the whole bear thing to heart, and was quietly petrified about taking the two-mile walk in the woods. All of those children's stories started to take on a sinister twist in my mind as we sat looking at bear posters from the truck. After some brief coaching from my wife, we agreed a bear strategy. It was little more than every man for himself. Even you Ben. I even did that hopeless thing of attributing my nervousness to the kids; "oh, it's not me I'm worried about, I'm thinking of the children".

In fact, so unworried was I, that I picked up a large stick. Realistically, had we met a bear, it would have snatched the stick out of my hands and saved it to pick the bits of me out of its teeth. Still, it made me feel better.

So, we were going on a bear hunt. Swishy-swashy, stumble-trip, I was really hoping we wouldn't get to the 'two big googley eyes' bit. My lovely wife was much more composed.

What do you know; we completed the whole circuit without seeing so much as a ground squirrel. And as we approached the truck again my bravado started to return. I think I even dropped the stick.

We continued on up the road to Two Jack Lake where we had a picnic lunch, and then with our well-behaved children napping peacefully on the truck, drove up to Lake Louise. Despite having visited Lake Louise on two separate trips previously, once in winter, once in summer, we'd never made the detour to Moraine Lake. It's great. I'll not bore you with the geological details; I've already done that with my family, but suffice to say it's not without interest.

The view is also superb. It's locally known as the valley of the ten peaks, and is a view that's replicated on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill.

Anyway, enough education. This is starting to sound like one of those early morning Open University courses that you only watch when you're drunk or nursing a sick infant. Or both.

There was water, and neither of my offspring fell in. In my book, that's a result.

May 21, 2005.

How Far Is A Kilometre?

Huzzah, it's a bank holiday weekend here in Canada. In contrast with most bank holiday weekends back home the day started sunny and warm. Encouraged by the fine morning we set off en masse for a drive through Kananaskis country. The road out to this spectacular area is what your dad would call 'unmetalled', whatever that means. In fact my dad would probably be straight on the phone to the council. It was a shocker.

Anyway, we set out along what was little more than a broad dusty track in convoy. We needed two cars to accommodate all of our stuff. Our kit list for the day out included four infants, four adults, a road bike, buckets and spades, Tonka toys, enough sandwiches to feed a small army, and a handful of plastic dinosaurs thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately what we had forgotten to pack was any warm clothing.

Saira, training for an adventure race next weekend, decided to set off before us on foot, and had run 11k before we caught up with her. Kilometres are a North American invention, perpetuated to make them think their continent is bigger than everybody else’s. Still, eleven of these babies uphill, in less than an hour is a splendid effort.

Once we gained altitude the weather became almost as bad as the road we were driving on. We saw a couple of Moose (what is the plural of Moose?) but were all really holding out for a bear. Any variety would have done, black, brown, grizzly, polar, koala, danni. We just wanted to see one. Besides, I'd promised the kids.

We stopped by a lake and dragged the children out to play in what by now was arctic tundra. Let me tell you, even Tonka toys have a tough time digging frozen earth. As we were decked out in our finest Hawaiian garb, it didn't take long before we decided to jump back in the car and head down to a lower altitude. On the way down eagle-eyed Andy spotted a bear on a closed service road. Breaking every rule in the 'don't get eaten by bears' handbook, we left the car and walked up the service road to get a better look. The risk to Andy was small; given all of his training he certainly looks much less juicy than me. On this basis, I stayed a few steps behind and sucked my stomach in.

It was a black bear, and he looked up at us in a disinterested fashion. We took some video and then shot him.

Actually, that last bit isn't true, but by now I'm sure my mother has already got the RSPCA to issue a warrant for my arrest the moment I step off the plane back in blighty. Seeing the bear was great, but it was his forest, not ours.

Later we dropped by a visitor centre to see more wildlife, albeit stuffed and on this basis much easier to photograph. We ate lunch, all eight of us cocooned in the big truck, and then set off for home.

By now, it won't surprise you that the bike we were carrying belonged to Andy, and he got out at this point to cycle the eighty kilometres home. The journey home was uneventful; I drove like the clappers to make sure Andy wouldn't beat us back. Most of my passengers slept as usual.

Andy arrived home about two and a half hours later. We ate dinner and then he suggested he and I bike out to Banff, twenty kilometres up the valley. I only agreed to it as I thought he'd be jiggered from his earlier ride. That was the first mistake I made.

The second mistake was agreeing to ride his race prepared mountain bike that has a saddle that's made from the nose cone of an old space shuttle. My ass wasn't that shape. It is now.

Anyway, we made the ride and had the ladies and children meet us at Bow Falls by the Banff Springs hotel. Riding up to meet them was a lovely family moment. Because there weren't enough seats in the truck for all eight of us to travel home, Saira cycled the thirty kilometres back to Canmore along the road. You've stopped looking surprised.

So, two moose, a bear and a remoulded backside. Not a bad day out.

May 22, 2005.

Mount Rundle

This was one of those days where not a moment was wasted. Everyone seized the day in some style, including all of those team members aged four or less. The secret, I suspect, lay in the pancakes that Andy cooked up for breakfast. Throw away your fancy powerbars, Doctor Reed's blueberry pancakes are the thing to eat.

Once we had finished breakfast and unbuttoned our pants we set off for Grassi Lakes. This was just a short car journey away to the other side of the valley. In true Canadian style we stopped for coffee to drink in the car. Automatic transmission is great. It leaves one hand free to dangle out of the window, and the other to swig bucketfuls of caffeine infused beverage. Little wonder the roadside ditches are full of smashed up cars.

Grassi Lakes was a good venue. Water to fall into, rocks to climb up, snacks to eat. The children were in good spirits and so too were the adults. The trip back down to the car turned into quite a fell race between Lottie and George. The spoils fell to George, although the grazes he sustained were almost worthy of a transfusion. Lottie didn't do so bad either, not least considering she was competing in second-hand wellies.

We ate close to home, at the Summit Café. Breakfast burritos were all the rage, and famished by the morning’s excesses even our children ate a reasonable meal.

Soon afterwards, Andy and I headed out again to climb the East end of Mount Rundle. This was less technical than the Mount Lady MacDonald trip we'd made recently and involved less ascent. However, it did involve climbing up tottering piles of shale, which isn't my favourite terrain. The weather was mixed, at one stage was pretty miserable - suffice to say the shorts didn't get much of an outing. The view from the top was fantastic, as good as any summit I think I've ever been up. True to form, we hurtled down and knocked the guidebook time into a cocked hat. Almost as soon as we returned home the ladies passed the baton, so we were immediately given the bigger adventure challenge of bathing and bedding four children. The honey-mummies were off to Banff to drink cocktails and go to the movies. Ben chose this evening to wail like a banshee. So I shot him.

No, that bit's not true either, but it did cross my mind.

May 23, 2005.


The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice a slight change in style. Up until now this blog has been in Tim's words but at last he's letting me get a word in. You can expect a much more reasoned and accurate account of our adventures, none of this fabricated nonsense about children falling in ponds or seeing bears.

We are having a FAB time (now you know for certain that it's not Tim writing don't you). Today was a bank holiday in Canada so Andy wasn't working. We were all feeling a little sluggish this morning - the Reeds are full of cold and the Leighs are exhausted at keeping up with the Reeds.

We set off in the cars for a day out but had to make a quick stop for coffees and a huge bag of scooby-snacks. Sustained by caffeine and chocolate we headed back to Kananaskis Country. You know, we went there two days ago. Oh do keep up.

This time we went on a real road rather than a dust track. And this time we had practically all the fleecy, downy, waterproof gear that we possess. For the Leighs that wasn't actually that much since we've only got two bags of stuff between us but the rest of the gang have more kit than Blacks. Needless to say the sun came out and not a flake of snow fell all day.

First stop was Wedge Pond. Out of the cars we poured dashing for the beach. We set up camp on the beach on a stripy mat, just like being at Blackpool if it wasn't for the mountains.

There was one other family on the beach, a dad with two children. One of his kids fell in the pond. How shameful. What terrible parenting.

The sun gradually disappeared. Andy and Saira started running around the pond to keep warm. Time to move on. We drove back down the valley to Lorette ponds where Saira produced a fabulous picnic before we set off for a gentle stroll. What a beautiful place this turned out to be. Sparkling blue water, fish leaping out of the pools and loads of bushes for the kids to hide themselves in. The grownups sat on a bench for a good half hour while the kids just pottered in the pools and woods.

The kids all fell asleep on the way home and the big boys went out for a bike ride when we got back. By 5pm we were all packed up and ready to head off on our next adventure. This is when the day became really mellow. We found a campsite by a lakeside where we lit a log fire to barbecue some wonderful Canadian steaks. The kids played on the climbing frame and threw stones in the lake while the boys did their manly stuff around the fire. The sun shone, the mountains glowed and everything was good in the world. Tim, a man of general grumpiness and scepticism, gushed "this is one of the best days of my life". Me too.

Back to the grumpy sceptic for further instalments you'll be relieved to hear.

P.S. we really did see a bear the other day and, yes, Ben did fall in a pond.

May 24, 2005.

Bad Hair Day

Compared with many of our recently action packed days, today was much more relaxed. Which was no bad thing as most of us were fairly goosed. We had some everyday chores to do. Despite being on a big trip, there are a few mundane things that still have to be done. So, we bought nappies, posted some excess baggage home, washed the car and sorted out some washing. Most of my socks have been sucked into the Reed's laundry vortex and so for the remainder of the trip I shall be wearing one Barbie sock and one Bob the Builder. I'd cut a dash at pre-school.

Ben is growing some more teeth. Hard to believe, I know. That boy is always teething. It's going to cost me a fortune when the tooth fairy comes knocking on the door. The weather here is thundery and it's also a full moon, so we've got a mixture of tension headaches, lunacy and teething which is a heady brew even at home, never mind on the road.

To try and entertain the children we went to the Dollar Store in Canmore. Lottie bought a bug collectors kit, including tweezers, magnifying glass and bug storage device. I'm not sure the state of California will thank her for introducing the Canadian Weevil when our eager entomologist next hops off a plane.

We ate at the Bagel Café again and then went to the park. Ben entertained the troops by eating nothing at the café and then scoffing handfuls of gravel at the park. I guess it's easier to cut teeth on stones than bagels. Anyway, to borrow a phrase from Saira, the whole morning was a gong show.

Later in the day we turned the deck into a barber's shop and Bec cut my hair and Ben's. In an attempt to show Ben that there was really nothing to worry about, it was decided that I would go first. Unfortunately she omitted to put the guard on the clippers, so I now look like I'm about to start my twelve weeks basic training. Worse than that, I've been trying my hand at a bit of facial topiary, so with a beard, it now looks like I've got my head on upside down. Quite the bobby dazzler.

When we strapped Ben to the gurney, he was looking pretty worried. And with good reason. He now looks like his dad.

May 25, 2005.

Another Busy Day

So, the big news in Canmore today is that there's a Grizzly in town. She's a momma bear with two cubs and has been wandering about two streets away from where we're staying. The local papers and radio station are reporting recent sightings and are recommending that children not be allowed to play in the woods on their own. I've told the kids that if they don't behave I'm going to drizzle them in honey and leave them outside.

Given their recently improved behaviour we took them back to Johnson Lake to play on the lakeside beach. Buckets and spades with a mountain backdrop is quite an experience and everyone seemed to love it. We lured the children back into the car on the promise of fast-food and super sugary drinks, but on the return trip they were so exhausted that we managed to drive right by Wendy's without so much as a whimper.

I was left in charge of all four children in the afternoon, whilst the ladies went back down to Canmore. Bec bought new clothes, Saira had a sports massage and I played with plastic dinosaurs.

I was relieved of my pre-historic duties in the late afternoon and went to collect Andy from work. We were going directly out to ascend Ha Ling (7,900'), another local Canmore summit. It's an easy day out and the guidebook suggests a round trip time of 2.5-4 hours. Andy set off at his usual pace, and we hurtled on up.

About half way up we met on of Andy's sports buddies who was on her way down the mountain. Apparently she's the world record holder for most distance covered on cross-country skis in twenty-four hours. She noticed that Andy hadn't even broken a sweat and commented that he must be in great shape. She then looked at me, perspiring liberally, breathing like Darth Vader and hugging a tree for support, and asked if I was from England. It seems that despite my efforts, I still don't yet look like a Canmore native.

Andy summitted in exactly one hour, and I got to the top six minutes later. The view, as usual, was terrific. We decided we'd have a whole thirty seconds rest whether we needed it or not, and then make the descent.

In true Billy Bland style we made the summit back to the car in twenty-two minutes, knocking a whole hour off the guidebook time. I was absolutely goosed. I might have been mistaken, but I think I even spotted a bead of perspiration on Andy's brow.

We drove home and whilst the Reeds performed a lactate test on a neighbour, Bec and I went out to sample the culinary delights of Canmore. It was great to be out just on our own and a chance to reflect on the trip so far. Better still was to be eating below a mountain I'd been on top of just an hour earlier.

Canmore rocks.

May 26, 2005.

On The Beach

We've become accustomed to travelling in vehicles so large that we take almost everything we own with us. When we set off on our day trip this morning, we had so much stuff with us that Lottie asked 'Are we going to the airport?'. Poor thing thought we'd finished the trip and were headed back to Blighty.

Today we drove up the road to Lake Minnewanka. Be careful how you say that. It's a twenty-kilometre lake with some great trails and picnic areas on its shores. Better still it has some splendid beaches that are ideal for hauling drowning children onto.

Before long all four children were mostly naked and wet. For the first time on this trip, the weather was hot and sunny, with temperatures in excess of twenty degrees. The water, however, was still pretty chilly, and it was only the under fours that were brave and foolish enough to venture in. I showed willing by taking off my socks and then replacing my shoes, just so I was in 'rescue mode'. I felt so at home with the Miami Vice look that I promptly fell asleep leaving the ladies to oversee the infants.

I took some comfort that between them, Saira and Bec hold certifications in life saving and medicine, so I was probably surplus to requirement. Wake me up when that ball thingy falls out of the bottom of your mouse and I'll be right onto it.

I managed to open my eyes for a spot of luncheon. On the way out, we'd visited Tim Horton's. Timmy's offers a wide range of cardiac disease inducing delicacies, particularly doughnuts and coffee. Thirstier customers can avail themselves of a 59oz cup of coffee, although I suspect it's only available to those who are already catheterised. Anyway, I digress. Tim Horton's also sells sandwiches, so we did that whole sand fly and grit sandwich thing that is only really possible on the beach.

We stayed at the beach until mid afternoon. The children were almost entirely played out when we left and almost without exception there was a good deal of snoozing on the return trip. Given that we dodged the whole fast-food thing yesterday, we were able to manipulate the kids on the promise of Wendy's again - but this time we did actually have to deliver.

By the time we'd got them home the children looked as though they were fairground ride operatives. Even a decent hosing down in the bath didn't really restore them to their former glory, so we sent them to bed still encrusted in ketchup and sand.

Once the under fours were asleep my man-flu, from which I'd been suffering all day, began to subside. What are the chances of that eh? My hosts were kind enough to suggest it may have been a case of 'over-reaching' which I think is what happens to fat lads when they put on an old track-suit. Anyway, I soon became well enough to drive out to the shops with Saira for some late night snacks.

It seems that despite this healthy facade, once the sun goes down, the whole of Canmore goes shopping for bread, crisps and chocolate. It's a whole new calorific underworld for me to explore.

May 27, 2005.

Back To Banff

Ah, the joys of house sharing. Last night, in an attempt to tidy away the kids’ stuff, I ended up scrunching up a picture that George had drawn. It turns out that he'd planned to give it to his teacher on his last day at pre-school today. At one stage I thought I was going to have to stay up all night and make a fudged attempt at a forgery, but Saira got the iron out and returned the two-dimensional representation of the T-Rex back to its former glory.

Given that family Reed was busy either at work or graduating from pre-school, we went on our own back up to Banff. This time we took the gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. The view is tremendous and the children got to ride for free so everyone was happy.

Like most visitor attractions in Canada, the summit station is very well set out. A series of platforms and steps lead to the top of the mountain. Ben and Lottie very carefully negotiated all of the possible hazards and got right to the summit without any problem at all. It was only when we got to the safest possible section, a precision laid concrete walkway without any conceivable trip potential that Ben chose to launch himself floorwards and burst his bottom lip.

There then followed that two stage facial animation that all other adults in the vicinity then feel obliged to execute. This is generally characterised by a short sucking in of breath through pursed lips with eyes firmly fixed on the infant. Stage two consists of a slight yet discernible shaking of the head, exhalation through still pursed lips with eyes now fixed on the not so responsible parent.

At this point I generally mouth 'He's not mine' with an exaggerated head shake to the assembled masses.

We lunched on Banff Avenue and then drove back to Canmore via Safeway. You see it's not all wall-to-wall excitement. Ben and I snoozed in the car whilst Lottie and Mum went shopping. I did that thing that all blokes do when they're sat at the wheel of an unfamiliar car in a car park; I pressed all of the controls on the dashboard that I was too afraid to touch whilst I was driving.

I'd repacked the airbag by the time the ladies arrived back at the car, and so we loaded up and headed back home. By now the temperature was mid twenties, and when we got home, the boys were playing in the garden with a sprinkler. It took our children less than ten seconds to take off their clothes and join in. It made me wonder why getting undressed at bath-time often takes half an hour.

Saira then left with Andy for Calgary in preparation for a twelve-hour adventure race tomorrow. This means we've got four children to look after for the next day or so. I'm beginning to wonder whether entering the race would have been an easier option.

Unless the children beat us into submission, more tomorrow.

May 28, 2005.

Two For One Offer

So two new hot pieces of news to report today. One natural, one unnatural. The first story involves the grizzly that was on the loose; well it's been caught and relocated. Apparently it had been stalking people, and although it hadn't yet attacked anyone, it had seemed to have lost its fear of humans. It was caught in the woods just a few hundred metres from here, where we'd been running just a few days earlier. Not sure where they'll send it, but the bloke that caught it was called Simon Smith, from Amazing Dancing Bear Inc.

The unnatural news is that Lottie has gone totally native and now seems to prefer weeing in the woods than using conventional methods. I guess she's never spent so long outdoors for such a sustained period. I blame the other boys in our party. I've managed to convince her out of the 'standing up like a man' approach and at least get her to squat which is some consolation. Results are mixed, but improving.

As Saira was adventure racing and Andy was supporting her, Bec and I were in charge of all four children. We thought we'd better take them somewhere where they knew the drill, so a waterside location was chosen. Lots of water to choose from in Canada; this time we set up camp at Cascade Pond. As usual, the kids had a blast, spending most of their time either getting wet or drying out.

The reaction of others at the pond was quite comical. They were looking at Bec and I askance, and trying to work out how on earth we'd managed to produce four children who are almost exactly nine months apart. Passing blokes would wink at me encouragingly; ladies would look generally look aghast.

Well, despite general all round good behaviour, we were glad when Andy and Saira came home and we could hand them back. One adult per child is a much superior childcare ratio.

Anyway, tomorrow is our last full day in Canmore. We'll let you know how it goes.

May 29, 2005.

Last Full Day In Canada

Our last day in Canmore was fantastic. All eight of us drove out to Lorette Ponds and had a cookout lunch. The skies were blue and the temperature had risen to about twenty-four degrees. In fact as I was stood juggling sausages over our wood fire I began to wonder whether I was in danger of spontaneously combusting. Boy, that would have been something to write home about.

The rest of the afternoon passed without incident. Andy cycled the forty-five kilometres back over a mountain pass trail. When he got back he complained that the trouble with that route was he wasn't able to gain enough ascent. Apparently the thousand-metre climb he'd put in along the way just wasn't enough. In his defence, he is training for the TransAlps race in Europe in six weeks time where some of the days will involve three thousand metres of climbing.

In the evening we left the children with a babysitter and the four of us went out into Canmore for a meal. It was just like old times, except we didn’t drink quite so much and we were back home by ten o’clock.

Our time in Canmore has been better than we could have ever hoped for, largely due to the efforts of Andy and Saira who made sure that every day was action-packed, not just for the grown ups but the children too.

Despite our geographic separation it was interesting to see how similarly we were bringing up our children. It seems the Victorian Father approach works pretty much anywhere.

Anyway, must sign off in order that I can birch my offspring before their cold bath.

May 30, 2005.