Past, present …. and future

I was reminded the other day of an album I bought on vinyl, 30 years ago.  Apart from it being as brilliantly sounding today as it was back then, just hearing the opening bars to each track – took me back to when I would play it endlessly on the second-hand record player in my bedroom.  Some tracks I haven’t heard in a very long time – yet, I still know all the words and the nuance of every line and song.  Sometimes I can’t remember what I was told last week, and yet this album from 30 years ago, I can recite verbatim.  I also wonder, that as a teenager listening to this in my bedroom all those years ago – what would I have thought if I’d have known that 30 years later I’d be listening to it again living in Western Canada?  I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me.

Three years ago, I started this blog after being asked if we would move to Canada for a year or so.  Back in 2014, being issued with temporary work permits for 3 years seemed a long time in the future – and yet, here we are.  They are due to expire in September.  For those of you who have been keeping up with our antics, you’ll know that about 18 months ago we started the process of applying for permanent residency as an option to extend our time over here.  It’s certainly been a long time in the making and by no means, is a simple process.  We’ve had the ‘delights’ of sitting an English test (part 1 and part 2!), demonstrating our education credentials, applying for police checks, taking medicals, proving job histories – the list has been endless.  Not to mention the cost.  Anyhow, as you’ll know, we finally submitted the full application back in February (click here for that saga) – and this culminated in an interview with Canada Border Agency last Thursday.  During which, we were all granted permanent residency in Canada.  Success!

I was expecting some trumpets heralding the news, a few fireworks to mark the occasion – but alas, no.  We have a piece of paper as confirmation, but now have to wait until our formal ‘PR’ cards arrive in the post which will then act as our main source of documentation proving our status here.  In the meantime, all other temporary permits, study visas and work visas have been taken in lieu of the cards arriving – which means that whilst we can leave Canada, they won’t let us back in – until the PR cards arrive.  Thank goodness, we’ve got no overseas trips planned for the next 2 months …

I’m also slightly relieved that we don’t have to worry about having to pack everything back up to return, and even more so, our cat (yes, she’s still here at nearly 22 years old) equally can continue to reside in the manner to which she has now become accustomed.  I was starting to panic that she wouldn’t last the flight back across the pond ….. mind you, I had the same concern 3 years ago when she first flew across here.  She’ll outlive me at this rate.

So what does it all mean?  Well, it never prevents us from returning back ‘home’ – but at least it allows us to continue residing and working in Canada for the foreseeable future.  It provides options and choice – and that’s what we wanted.  And for my British friends reading this, no need to rush about getting a trip over to visit in the next few months!  Take your time – we’ll be here for a while for those venturing over this side of the pond.  Feel free to sample the harsh cold of the far north with lots of winter skiing and skating – or bask in the blue skies, constant sun and high temperatures over the summer months.  The choice is yours ….

So, upon reflection – the latest albums I’m now listening to over here in Canada, I’m just wondering where I’ll be when I replay them again in another 30 years from now?  Now there’s a thought ….  🙂

So … you want to stay?

Time flies

This year will be an interesting year.  Back in 2014, when we were initially told we were moving to Canada, it was for a 12 month period.  Which extended to 2 years ……. and by the time our temporary work permits arrived, they were for 3 years.  It’s a bit like my husband subtly muting the prospect of his annual bike trip which starts off as being a few days, then moves to a week duration, and by the time everything is committed, he’s absent for a full fortnight – insisting full disclosure was made right at the beginning.  Still, I console myself with the bonus of peace and quiet, and a significant reduction in washing volumes whilst he’s away …….Mountain biking goatBack to the topic in hand.  Would you believe that we’re now 6 months away from our temporary work permits expiring and as you would expect, this triggers some degree of anticipation and consternation as to what will happen next.  The simple answer, and Plan B, is to extend our temporary work permits which we’re reliably informed we can do for the next 2 – 3 years.  Plan A however, is to apply for permanent residency ……ImmigrationIt’s a long path to ‘PR’.  You may remember last year, my blogs on the surreal experience of sitting an English test (click here for a reminder – and probably one of my better blogs for comedic quantity even if I do say so myself).  We also had to apply to have our educational credentials assessed against the Canadian equivalent and duly received confirmation as to the level they equate to over on this side of the pond.  Why bother doing both I hear you ask?  Well, as the ‘pre-enrol’ stage for ‘PR’ in Canada, these two steps are essential pre-requisites before you can apply to be in the ‘pool’ of people who wish to be considered for PR.  To put it very simply, what you achieve in both equates to a set number of points.  These points, along with other factors on your application all comprise to form a total score.  Every 2 weeks or so, there is a ‘draw’ by Canada Immigration Services and those achieving a score at or above wherever the line is drawn, are ‘invited’ to apply for PR.CanadaNote the term ‘invited’.  It is by no means an open invitation.  We received our ‘invitation’ to apply for PR at the end of December and have 90 days to compile all the evidence requested before ‘submitting’ our application.  We have to substantiate all our work experience, the employment offer here in Canada, undertake medical assessments – physical, chest x-rays, blood tests …. kids are included and nothing is left to chance; although by the time we’ve finished the entire rigmarole itself is enough to trigger a major ailment of some kind.  There are UK police checks to be obtained, the need to demonstrate financial stability, details of the specific dates and all overseas travel undertaken over the past 10 years ….. let alone the standard type of documents like passports, work permits, birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc etc ….. the list is long.  I often struggle to remember where I was last week let alone have the specific dates and places mapped out for the past 10 years …. but map them out we now have.  To some people, I would imagine this item alone is enough to make them think twice about whether to go through the process of PR in the first place.  A detailed spreadsheet has been commandeered to track everything required, and thank goodness for email and the ability to receive timely replies to requests – as if we were relying on carrier pigeon between Canada and the UK, we’d never achieve it within the deadline.UK background checkOne of the strangely unnerving things we’ve had to undergo are UK police checks.  Whilst neither of us should have cause for concern, just the very fact we need to apply to the police to be checked out evokes nervousness in the first place.  A bit like spotting a police car travelling behind you on the road – the rational part of your brain knows you’ve complied with all the rules, and yet a little part of you can’t help assume a guilty conscience.  We were relieved to receive our UK police certifications declaring us as having ‘no trace’ – which hearteningly means we’ve not been convicted or sentenced, and are under no active investigation.  Reassuring to know.   I can sleep peacefully at night in the knowledge my husband is not currently on the ‘Most Wanted’ list back in the UK …..Immigration CanadaWe’ve also had to obtain validation from previous employers about roles undertaken and lengths of service – to confirm that what we’ve declared as our work experience is legitimate.  Just imagine having to go back through your employment history over 20 years or so, and obtain past employers’ evidence that you did what you said you’ve done.  Some were easier than others.  UK legislation and the Data Protection Act doesn’t help this process as the availability of providing the level of information required is restricted and in some cases, has been removed from computer systems and is no longer accessible.  It makes me wonder how on earth people from other countries manage ….

Anyhow, like a dog with a bone, I have not been deterred and have managed the evidence collation exercise like a military operation.  We’ve finally pressed the ‘submit your PR application’ button and all the information is now in the ether.  There’s a 6 month processing time, and after due consideration by border officials, can well be refused.  So we await to hear news – which should arrive just in time for when our temporary visas expire.  Talk about cutting it fine.  Mind you, there’s always Plan B to fall back on.  I’ll keep you posted ….. 🙂

 

Google images are to thank for the pics in today’s blog …

Should I stay or should I go now?

ClashStayorGosingle

It’s a pretty momentous day for Britain as we go to the polls and cast our votes as to whether we stay in or move ourselves out of the European Union.  Now, as a point of note – and this has been commented to me on several occasions over the past few weeks – if we do choose to depart, it doesn’t mean we’ll be picking up anchor and sailing ourselves over to another continent as we’ll no longer be part of ‘Europe’.  Mind you, judging from the news coverage of the Euro 2016 football, plus our consistent track record of coming bottom in the Eurovision Song Contest (key indicators I’m sure you’ll agree), I’m pretty sure the rest of Europe wouldn’t object if we did …… maybe that’s where we’ve gone wrong?  It may possibly have been a better option to ask the rest of Europe if they wanted Britain to stay.  I think we all know the answer they would give us  …… 😉

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Talking of news coverage, I’m only glad we haven’t been in the UK for the full media run-up.  It seems that whatever decision is made will either prompt the ending of the world, trigger World War 3, spark financial ruin or promote another series of Big Brother.  On a more negative note (!!), it could just be like all the preparations that were undertaken as we moved into the new Millennium, when, – guess what? – nothing happened …….

British news does get coverage over here, and indeed, it has been taking more and more of a prime slot as we’ve moved closer to the event.  Almost everyone I’ve spoken to over the last week, has made reference to it during conversation, and it’s notable to me that British news gets such high billing on the media platform.  That said, so does Trump and all the American antics associated with the presidential elections – another key event which is scheduled to take place later this year.  It certainly seems that 2016 is a pivotal year in world history ……. let’s hope it’s remembered for promoting fundamental change and improvement, rather than complete catastrophe.

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I was reminded about Britain’s illustrious past only last week during yet another school trip to the Edmonton heritage park, ‘Fort Edmonton’.  Named after, and housing the original fort which was constructed during the height of the fur trade when Edmonton was first established back in 1846, it reconstructs a further 3 distinct time periods in Edmonton’s history – 1885, 1905 and 1921.  I was accompanying the Grade 1’s, and they were spending the day exploring the 1885 street, with all the various buildings and ways of life that existed during that time.  It’s wonderfully done – with fully functional houses from the time, and staff in costumes depicting the era.

school house

One of the first places we saw was the schoolhouse.  All the class were asked to take a seat at the desks, girls on the right (hats could be left on), whilst boys to the left (hats removed as a sign of courtesy).  And no talking.  The very first action was to all stand and sing the national anthem, to which the entire class starting reciting and singing, ‘Oh Canada’.  The school mistress brought them to a halt after 2 lines of the verse and admonished the class by stating that whilst melodic, this was not the Canadian national anthem of the time.  Could they now recite, ‘God save the Queen’.  Rather like a familiar tune coming over the airwaves on the radio, my youngest kid remarked, ‘oh, I know that one!!’, whilst her fellow classmates looked slightly bewildered around her.  I couldn’t have been prouder …..

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After this, they were instructed to draw the national flag on the chalkboards in front of them.  As expected, they all started to illustrate the Canadian flag with the red maple leaf.  Unimpressed, the schoolmistress was aghast that a piece of broccoli was on the Canadian flag, and could they all please behave and draw the Union Jack.  A knowing smile resonated from my youngest kid, and I did chuckle ……

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Britain has clearly left marks on the world and today’s vote will no doubt have repercussions no matter what the decision is for decades to come.  The well-known song, ‘Should I stay or should I go now?’ by The Clash back in 1982 had the following refrain, ‘if I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double’.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come back to haunt us ……

🙂

Thanks as ever to Google images for the pics in today’s blog …

What on earth am I doing here ???

Canada Immigration

It’ll come as no surprise to my regular blog readers, that this week’s blog is the sequel to last weeks’ edition of ‘Parlez-vous Anglais‘.  For those of you wondering how on earth I fared in my English test, then please read on ….

As a prequel to applying for any additional residency visas, one is obliged to go through an exhaustive English test. In my case, I spent all of last Saturday at MacEwan University School of Aboriginal Studies (you couldn’t make it up, this stuff just writes itself) for a gruelling set of tests.  Biometric authentication(!) was the only way in, and candidates were stripped of everything except 3 HB pencils, sharpener and an eraser.

IELTS

Entering my first lecture theatre in 20 years along with 70 other ‘foreigners’ from about as many countries was quite the experience. The doors were locked and examination conditions were enforced with draconian vigour. One chap near me was the first to be shouted at, for having the temerity to turn over his answer sheet before being instructed to do so. The timid Iranian girl next to me nearly jumped out of her burqa.

The invigilator/dragon began barking instructions at us for the listening phase of the test. Thirty minutes of capturing numerous details from a CD playing different conversations. I thought I was onto a winner, when the second exercise involved answering questions on ‘driving in the UK’.  Tempted to start answering before the CD had started playing, I held my nerve and listened with interest as a lady speaking the Queen’s english and voicing a BBC-type accent reminiscent of those adopted by the corporation pre-1980’s, began a conversation on the CD with a hesitant gentleman asking inane questions to which she patiently gave a response.  It was during the conversation when the topic turned to the ‘free-flowing traffic in Manchester city centre’, that I was tempted to object and claim this was falsely misrepresentative, but I resisted and distracted myself by watching the bemused look on the face of the fella from the Ivory Coast sitting alongside.

There followed 60 minutes of a written multiple choice paper with another familiar (to me) subject. A detailed comprehension exercise on the 3 Peaks Challenge up Snowden, Scafell and Ben Nevis. Having finished early I began musing what a Korean sitting in Canada with very little English would be making of this challenge. Judging by the wailing coming from the girl behind me, not a lot.

Canada Flag Sign

Another 60 minutes (no bathroom breaks permitted), and a chance to shine by writing 2 essays on given subjects. My piece on writing a complaint letter came naturally, and I had to curtail my enthusiasm and not get too carried away with the second topic entitled, ‘Some people believe family are more important than friends.  Discuss.’  At the end of this session, “PENCILS DOWN” was screamed. Mr Ivory Coast was clearly finishing a word off, but in so doing earned the full wrath of Dragon lady. She flew at him from the lectern, grabbed his pencil and forcibly scrubbed over his last 2 paragraphs. As he’d only managed to write 3, I thought this a little harsh.

After the 3 hours duration, we were almost finished and answer papers were rigorously collected, collated, checked and counted.  We had been provided with detailed instructions at the start of each session and throughout the morning, on how to complete each answer sheet – starting with inserting our name, candidate number and today’s date at the top of each and every page.  A written example was shown to us on each occasion on what to do.  At the very end of the morning and after checking the papers, one of the invigilators approached a Middle-Eastern lady sat in front of me and began insisting that her name was not ‘John Smith’, even remonstrating by showing her her passport in front of her and imploring her to remove all such reference and put her actual name on each sheet.  At this point, I realised that I was sat in a room where English truly was a foreign language to the majority, reflecting that my worries about what the content of each module would be and my ability to answer them all correctly, was minuscule compared to most of the others in the room.

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With a thumping headache and ballooning bladder there was only the final test of the day to be faced. We had to depart the lecture theatre and navigate our way to a different part of the University.  I was mistaken as a member of staff on several occasions by my fellow foreigners, whose ability to understand what on earth was happening next, let alone where they needed to move to, was clearly beyond the realms of their English comprehension.  We made our way across campus, where we waited in an ante-room and were called one at a time for the verbal interview.  I dutifully took my British passport (the only one in the room) forward and was again finger-printed before entry to a different cell with a different menacing invigilator.

good answer

This test was verbal, and recorded. I was asked to speak for 2 minutes on my beliefs on the importance of being able to speak a second language. Maybe it was the last straw, or the levels of exhaustion, but I put forward the view that a second language would be unnecessary if only people took the trouble to learn English properly. I was just getting into my stride when she cut me off with the 2 minutes elapsed. With a face like thunder she posed question 2. Could I talk about a time when I had been forced to use a second language, and how did it make me feel. By this point I was beyond caring, so I talked about the time I had been thrown into a foreign country with no preparation to live amongst non-English speakers. She seemed to be warming to me at that point, and with a sympathetic smile asked me which country it had been. All goodwill evaporated when I told her it was Canadia.

Interview over I was ejected from the room (not backwards and bowing like the Thai chap before me), and await my results which will be issued to me via traditional Canada post after 13 days. I fully expect to be deported soon after.

🙂

Parlez-vous, Anglais??

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It doesn’t take much for me to get distracted from the task at hand, and today is no exception.  Foreign languages have never been my forte – I’m more of a ‘wave your hands around, speak slightly louder and slower in basic English’, in the hope my ‘conversation’ translates to the other respective party.  In fact, I always remember my Gran remonstrating her conversation and discussions with full arm movements – so much so, that we used to hold her hands behind her back and ask her to continue talking – after which she was completely unable to utter a word without her arms in full flow ……

So given my lack of significant knowledge in being able to communicate in a foreign language, you’d probably assume that I’d be pretty competent in English.  I’d like to think so too, but this week will be pretty pivotal in confirming whether this assumption is accurate or not.  I have an ‘English’ test on Saturday, here in Edmonton.  In preparation, I’ve been sat for the last few hours trying to hold my concentration by completing various sample test papers on different elements of the exam.  The wonders of modern technology have seen me diverted by incoming emails, browsing websites, and now I’ve been distracted yet again, and am writing this blog instead of focusing on the task at hand ……

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Yes – an English test.  The last time I did an English exam testing my language capabilities was when I sat my GCSE’s in the late 80’s.  I did pretty well, and my logical reasoning has me thinking that a further 20 years experience in the English language will have enhanced my skills yet further …… but will it?  Or will it be like driving tests, where thank god they don’t do them more frequently in the UK and I bet if I had to undertake one today, all my bad habits may come to the fore?

So, I’ve got an English exam on Saturday.  It’s a full day ‘experience’ where I’ve even had to pay for the privilege and sees my English tested against 4 key variables – listening, reading, writing and speaking.  Proper ‘exam’ conditions will apply, there are invigilators upholding the rules and ensuring consistency amongst all candidates, and the only items I’m allowed to take into the exam room are 3 HB pencils, an eraser with no writing on it, and a basic pencil sharpener.  There’s also a warning not to wear any deodorant or perfume as this could be off-putting to others nearby ……. I’m hoping this was a general clause on the ‘welcome’ document and not one specifically targeted at me.

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Tactics may have to play a part.  I reckon I’ll be fine on the reading and writing elements – how hard can that be really?  The writing element will require me to pull together a cohesive argument on a specific topic – my husband has commented that I’m award-winning at generating an argument – it’s making it cohesive and logical where there’s room for improvement.  Charming!  Equally, I’ve been the brunt of his sarcasm when it comes to ‘listening’ too.  After 14 years together, I’ve developed a knack of trying to complete the sentence my husband often starts, as a means of avoiding the need to ‘listen’ further to what’s being said.  I may have to concentrate a little bit more when we come to this part on Saturday …..

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No, my biggest worry is in the speaking.  I’m easily understood in northern England, but will often walk out of a Tim Horton’s coffee shop here in Edmonton with completely the wrong order, or a confused expression by the server behind the counter prompts my oldest kid to ‘translate’ my request into Canadian english that is met with instant acknowledgement.  Not just the speaking, it’s the ‘stopping’ me from continuing speaking which others are often challenged by.  To say I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, would be an understatement ….. Let’s hope I have a sympathetic examiner.

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I’m not sure what will happen if they determine my English isn’t up to par.  Given I’m unable to speak any other language, I anticipate that this may be slightly problematic and a significant confidence hit.  That said, I’m up for the challenge and let’s hope sensibilities prevail.  I get the written results (in English) of my performance after 13 days.  I’m wondering whether I’ll score extra points for artistic merit in arm interpretation and hand movements??  Let’s hope so …..

🙂

 

Thanks as ever to google images for pics used in today’s blog …

The difference a week can make!

Canada flag

Welcome to Canada!  Well, this time last week we were already on a plane headed to Edmonton, Canada from Heathrow, London.  It was a rather traumatic week and was akin to the last 400 metres of a marathon when the pace picks up and there’s a sprint for the finishing line.  We made it and the flight was boarded and landed 9 hours later in sunny Edmonton.

Our first stop was immigration and for anyone else thinking about applying for a work permit upon point of entry – absolutely.  There’s a bit of a wait, but providing you’ve got the required documentation and lashings of patience, you’ll get through eventually with the signed permits and approval to stay in the country.  Bit of a relief as there was no ‘Plan B’ if we weren’t successful …..

We hired a car and headed towards a service apartment which we’ve booked for a month – so all’s good.

So, the checklist upon arrival looked like this:

1.  Place to stay – tick

2.  Transport obtained – tick

3.  Husband in a job – tick

Thompson Place House

Day 1 was already planned and 10 properties to view with a ‘Realtor’ were scheduled in diaries.  It was just me and the 3 kids – with the agreed remit from husband that we ‘could select whichever property we liked’ (direct quote).

It was fascinating going around all the houses and my oldest kid became a godsend, as she was busily scribbling down notes about the good points and negative aspects of each property which after 10 – all became rather a blur!!!  The biggest observation was the sheer amount of space compared to UK houses.  There’s loads of it – and rooms upon rooms that you have to find a use for.  Bathrooms are aplenty, and the number of washbasins has a ratio of 1:1 with the sizes of the bathtubs and showers positively mind-blowing!  I saw some basements with their own gyms, pool rooms, hot tubs, bathrooms, artist rooms, playrooms, cinemas!  Tempting – yes, but the practical reality of housing a lot of this was at the top of my mind.

On the negative side, Canadians seem to enjoy living side by side and directly overlooking one another in the city suburbs.  I’m used to a house which overlooks Cheshire hills and only has 2 neighbours within half a mile.  It was a drawback and several extremely nice properties had to be rejected literally because I didn’t want to be looking into the next door neighbours lounge.  That said, we found a lovely house which will do us proud – and better still, it is vacant and looking for a quick sale.

Day 2 then found us putting an offer in on the preferred house and securing a mortgage broker who would ensure appropriate finance is put in place.

Plan construction

Day 3 had the offer accepted and we have agreed a completion date in 3 weeks time.  I then spent 2 hours queuing for a SIN (Social Insurance Number) which then led me onto yet another building where I had to duly sign up for healthcare.  There’s no getting away from it, these things just have to be done and luckily for me, the 3 kids are extremely patient (probably something to do with the treats I’d taken with me to keep them amenable!).  Day 3 also saw us visiting the Edmonton Keyano Swimming Team who had asked for me to bring our oldest kid as a trial to join one of their squads.  Not only are the facilities absolutely fantastic, but the number of coaches and amount of technical training offered is superb – and she enjoyed every minute.  She’s now enrolled in their Provincial squad and trains with them 6 days a week.

By this point, I now had all the required documents, to enrol the kids in the local school for the house we’re buying.  This was Day 4 – and all the kids were amazed at the newness of the school (it was built in 2010), the size of the playground (lots of climbing frames and swings), and the fact that it takes kids from Kindergarten to Grade 9.  In England, this is like saying from Reception class through to Year 9 at Secondary School  – and for my kids, also means that my oldest doesn’t have to swop to another school in June when she completes Year 6, but gets to stay with her sisters for the next few years.  A great bonus when they’ve just arrived in a new country and they only have each other.

School bus

Day 5 had us purchasing supplies for the kids to use in school – each class has it’s own supply list which you are asked to provide.  This also includes a laptop for the oldest kid, which we’re just hanging fire on until we get a feel for the type of laptops the others are using in her class.  That said, even without this the list is long and the local ‘Staples’ and ‘Walmart’ certainly benefitted from our business!

So, with the house and school secured, Day 6 moved us onto buying a car – a Jeep Wrangler which you can’t get in the UK and well, why not!  The doors, windscreen and roof all come off – and it can traverse any type of terrain known the man – why ever not!  Should just about cope with the snow here then …

Talking of which, upto this point we’ve been lucky with the weather and basking in 21 degrees with blue skies and sun.  Hard to believe then that Day 7 had snow and blizzard like conditions appear!  It was also my oldest kid’s birthday so we took the day off and celebrated with a trip to the cinema and a nice meal.

So, checklist at the end of Week 1?

– House sale agreed – tick

– SIN Number & Healthcare enrolled – tick

– Bank account opened – tick

– Kids enrolled into school – tick

– Car bought – tick

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How funny the difference a week can make?  We’re only 1 week into our Canadian adventure and yet have achieved things that would traditionally take a few months in the UK.  Week 2 sees the kids start school so I’ll let you know how they fare …

🙂