Punch-drunk and scrambled; that’s not a new breakfast order but rather the way that I feel right now. It’s 0930 here in Montreal, 1030 back in Charlottetown, and I’ve been awake since 2.45 this morning. That’s awake in the physically conscious and aware sense; I crawled into the taxi, climbed on and off the plane, wandered through the terminal, and managed to make it to the Maple Leaf Lounge, which is our First Pit Stop. [For non-Canadians, the cultural reference there is to a TV show called The Amazing Race!]. I’m not really awake in the cognitive sense, however, even though I’m on my third Americano with an extra shot and really should have some synapses firing by now.
There’s a lot of snow in Montreal, it looks a lot more like a ‘proper’ Canadian winter than the damp and still-green landscape we left behind. The young woman who is house-sitting (and dog & cat entertaining) for Victoria flew in from southern Germany last week. She felt right at home and was disappointed not to be needing her Arctic-strength parka in order to bring in firewood. We tried to explain that in 2015 the same weather pattern prevailed, and after a warm and wet January we got eighteen feet of snow in six weeks. Time will tell whether this winter follows a similar pattern, and whether she is still talking to us when we get back.
It was dark, damp and around the freezing mark when we walked out to the plane, with a light mist of something sparkling under the arc lights. Think ‘thick air’ because it wasn’t really snowing or raining in any measurable sense. There was enough to concern the pilot, however, and so we had a 25-minute delay while the plane was de-iced. This wasn’t really of any concern to us, given that we have a six (6) hour lay-over between flights in Montreal, but a group of seven passengers who were supposed to be going down to Fort Lauderdale in Florida got somewhat upset. It seemed that their tickets showed a one-hour connection time, which their travel agent had told them was more than enough to change terminals, complete US Customs and Immigration in Montreal, and board the plane. The consensus was that a 35-minute connection time might not be quite so successful.
Flying in Canada, in winter, is always a challenge. I generally try to avoid it or, if it’s really necessary, give myself lots of time. Winter storms evolve out of nowhere, equipment breaks or malfunctions, crews get stranded in Point A when their plane is waiting in Point B, and so forth. That said, there must be some happy medium between a frantic dash across the terminal and a six hour ‘rest’ in the lounge, listening to Newfoundland oil workers on their way to or from the job site in northern Alberta use their ‘outside voice’ on a cellphone. Now all the rest of us in the lounge now know that Buddy isn’t going to get back to work on time tomorrow because he’s stranded back home with the fog, and Sheila got an upgrade so she’s happy, and someone else thinks that the engine in their truck needs a good overhaul before they try to use the winch again …
Montreal to Vancouver, an upgrade to business class made that a very enjoyable leg, then Pit Stop 2 saw us dashing outside the airport for a couple of hours to meet our youngest daughter Kate and her husband, Andrew, plus his mum Rose, for dinner. It was nice to be able to walk around for a bit, stretching one’s legs, and to spend time chatting and catching up; but there’s always this twitch at the back of one’s mind … what happens if there are long queues at security and we miss our flight, etc? There weren’t, and we didn’t.
And so to the long tedium of the cross-Pacific flight, hour after hour of darkness terminating in a flare of red before suddenly there was light, and then we went down through the clouds and had a first glimpse of Botany Bay as we curled around to approach from the south. We were given a bird’s eye view of what the First Fleet had seen exactly 235 years and one day earlier, on 20 January 1788, when they made landfall after a 252-day voyage from Portsmouth. They had 11 ships carrying 1400 or so people whereas we had a Boeing 777-200LR with 300 passengers, and the disembarkment process probably took about the same time because we arrived early and there was no gate available.
Still, eventually we were here, Pit Stop 4, and looking forward to a week of exploring the city. I’ve been here before, and have a few favourite places I’d like to revisit, but there are always new experiences to which one can look forward. That will be another blog.
And here we go, again, it’s that time of year. A time of reminiscence, yes, especially for those whom we have lost, but also one of hope and future. Indeed, as soon as the days start getting longer, on the twelfth day after the solstice, the tradition on Prince Edward Island is for certain worthies to open up their homes or places of work in order to host a levee.
The levee is an annual gathering held on New Year’s Day. It comes from the French lever, which means to lift or rise, and is grounded in the tradition of Kings meeting with courtiers and other petitioners as they got dressed. The term was recorded by Catherine de’ Medici, Louis XIV (who had both a grand lever and a petit lever, a system which helped differentiate between the ‘in’ crowd and others), and Charles II (who introduced it as an English tradition in 1672).
It has now evolved into a reception, where the host (Lieutenant-Governor, Premier, Mayor, University President, etc.) stands in a receiving line and welcomes those who attend by shaking hands or, more commonly these days, bumping fists or elbows. Hugging and kissing are no longer encouraged. Guests mill around, chatting to others and enjoying the food and drink provided, then leave and head off to the next one on their list. Where they often meet many of the same people again.
For many Islanders, and for Come From Aways who have embraced the tradition, the custom of travelling from place to place on January 1st, greeting each other and enjoying refreshments, signals the start of a new year. It’s something that has apparently been taking place on PEI since 1854.
This year the levees started again, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID, with thirty-five to choose from, but we only went to three. It’s always a delight to see people whom you might not have seen since last year and to drink moose milk, an ungodly concoction of eggnog and rum. In addition to the traditional “how are you?” and “what are you up to these days” questions, we were faced with “what are your New Year Resolutions?” and “what do you predict will happen in the world this year?”
It’s been human nature since the early days for humankind to be inquisitive about the future. Celtic druids practised ornithomancy, the interpretation of the behavior of birds, and the old shamans of Canadian First Nations used the shoulder blades of caribou and porcupines for scapulimancy. Not too many people follow the ways of the Etruscans these days, fresh sheep livers are so difficult to source, and so hieromancy is on the decline. This I find sad.
I had to look up Piacenza on a map and was interested to discover that it is only 60 kilometres or so from Parma, along the A1. That’s a straight road, considering that it’s a motorway and wasn’t built by the Romans. Anyway, Parma, of course, is famous both for its ham (Prosciutto di Parma) and its cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano), which we used to sell at the market. I wonder if the two communities ever spoke to each other, back in the day. If there was ever a shortage of sheep liver, the seers could have always considered tyromancy, the art (science?) of using cheese to foretell the future.
Apparently the most popular process was for young women to etch the names of various prospective beaus onto slices of cheese, then leave them (the cheese slices, not the beaus) in a cool dark place. The slice which grew mold the quickest revealed the name of the person she was going to marry. I wish I’d known this earlier; that would have been a marvellous marketing strategy for the Charlottetown Cheese Company to implement in early February.
Such future-casting is part of the warp and weft of our lives. Just the other day I was sitting on the deck of a friend’s house, drinking coffee and chatting about the weather, when he mentioned that there appeared to be more geese than usual staying around longer this year. “It’s a sign of a short winter,” he said. “If they don’t leave soon, they’ll pass themselves coming back.” I had never realized he was a druid. That same afternoon I saw a robin sitting in the tree outside my daughter’s place, and a friend of hers reports that they have a Baltimore Oriole at their feeder. The bird, not the baseball player. Although that would also be a sign of a mild winter and an early spring.
Like many, I had found myself spending those damp dull days of late December reading the tealeaves or the chicken bones or the newspapers to try and determine what the new year will bring. Young people, being modern, no doubt rely on algorithms and AI, but the goal is the same. What’s going to happen this year?
It’s a futile exercise, of course. A year ago, who among us predicted that there would be a full-scale war in Europe? That the COVID19 pandemic would morph through Omicron to whatever variants are stalking us now? That there would be global inflation at levels not seen for nearly half a century? That we would experience a series of “once in a century” extreme weather events such as floods, forest fires, hurricanes, and blizzards?
That said, many of the issues we face are known to us, however we might choose to divine them. Personally, I use a variety of news media, rather than sheep livers or porcupine scapula or cheese, although I have been known to look to ornithomancy in the short-term. Two years ago, I identified six broad issues which I felt would impact our lives in 2021 and beyond.
I regret that I can repeat that list here as though it were new ideas:
Economic, social, and racial inequality.
Global human migrations.
Militarization of space.
Political and trade relationships with other nations.
The problem, it seems to me, is not so much the identification of the issue but the action that ought to follow. When a shaman determined that the caribou were going to be coming early one year, the hunters made sure they were ready. When it was indicated that a neighbouring tribe were going to become difficult, defences were established. In essence, divination led to decisiveness.
And that, these days, is sadly missing.
There will be a provincial election on Prince Edward Island this year. It is tentatively scheduled for 2 October, although the Premier can call it at any time before then. Although the last two issues on my list are really more the purview of the federal government, the first four are of great significance to Islanders.
It would be so refreshing to have a campaign that focused on the ways in which these matters were going to be addressed. Like others, I have so many questions that I would like to be answered, questions which are PEI-centric in some ways and yet globally applicable in others. In the interest of space, I shall restrict myself to six.
Will there be new laws or policies regarding the building of homes (or shops or factories or anything) in known flood zones or within a certain distance of the high tide line and, if so, what are they?
Are there any plans to try and mitigate future power outages by burying the lines underground and, if so, who will pay for this?
To what extent are clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals going to be staffed to the extent required to serve a growing (and aging) population?
How and to what extent will the government take responsibility for ensuring that low-cost accommodation is available to those who are under-employed or otherwise unable to afford a place to live?
Are there any plans to introduce a basic living wage on PEI and, if not, why not?
What proactive actions are being taken to ensure that the growing number of people seeking a new life on PEI have opportunities to find appropriate housing, employment, and health care?
It would be very helpful to see what differences, if any, exist between the various political parties with respect to these issues. What will happen if Party X gets elected instead of Party Y – could we expect any actual and discernible differences in policy, in action?
Please feel free to adapt these questions to your local context, and to address them to your elected representatives. They may legitimately claim to have no jurisdiction over matters related to the militarization of space or political relationships with other nations, but they ought to have a position on those things that will directly impact our lives. As electors, we may not agree with those positions, but we should at least be informed.
This is just a short blog to wish everyone a Merry Christmas / Happy Hanukkah / other seasonal delight. At least we’re now past the Solstice, so for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting longer!
We’re going to spend Christmas Day out at our daughter’s place, and are planning on staying overnight, so that should be a pleasant ‘country Christmas’ complete with various friends and the 3 dogs and 3 cats! We are under various weather watches and wind warnings at the moment – the big storm that has brutalized central Canada and most of the US is set to hit us this evening.
We’ve been told to prepare for up to 110 km/hr winds and about 25-30 mm of rain overnight as temperatures rise to +10C. I guess it will be a green Christmas!
I hope that the weather is clement where-ever you might be. If you’re being buried in a blizzard, whipped by a windstorm, or simply dashing about because you realized you forgot to buy someone a gift, don’t forget that you can get some good books to read at www.jtgoddard.com.
And please, use the code XMAS22BL at checkout to get a 15% discount off your entire order – this offer remains valid until Christmas Day!
Thank you again for being a loyal reader of this blog. As always, my New Year Resolution (well, one of them) will be to write to a more frequent schedule. In between novels and other adventures, of course. Among other projects, I’m working on the next Gavin Rashford novel, which will hopefully be published in the spring, and which is set in the Maritimes – mainly Prince Edward Island. This will open up new vistas for him (and me) to explore. Here is the current opening scene – but don’t hold me to it, as I have discovered that stories are really shapeshifters and may change significantly between first draft and publication!
Staff Sergeant Gavin Rashford swore, flapping his hands and opening and closing his mouth rapidly. Tears welled in his eyes as he groped around for his can of pop. He could hear laughter. He chewed furiously, swallowed, and gulped a drink, swilling it around his mouth. His vision cleared and he saw the giggling girls. They were about six or seven, he guessed, and apparently thought that a man burning his mouth on a hot deep-fried scallop was really funny. He glared at them, and they rushed back to their mother, who was sitting at an adjacent table.
The morning rain had dissipated but the pavement was still damp and steaming when he had pulled off the highway just before one o’clock. He was hungry, and still feeling a bit hungover. He drove down the ramp and surveyed the array of fast-food options available. He settled on the one offering a scallop basket; ‘when in Rome’, he thought. Although even through his headache he remembered that he was in Nova Scotia.
He had parked at an angle between the building and the picnic tables, between a minivan and two Honda Goldwing motorcycles, then gone inside. There was no line-up, so he ordered his meal, then went to the washroom. He had finished, washed his hands, and returned to the front area long before the young woman behind the counter called his number. He took the cardboard box of food and some extra paper napkins, balanced his can of soda in the crook of his elbow, then pushed open the door with his foot and found an empty table outside.
An elderly couple in bike leathers were chatting at an adjacent table, a map spread out between them. Further down the slope two children from the minivan laughed as they ran around next to their parents, who were still eating.
He had felt the sun on his neck as he opened the lid and the perfume of fried food rushed out to meet him. He speared a scallop with the small wooden fork he had been given, sniffed it without any idea of why he did that, and popped it into his mouth.
The mother gathered her children in her arms, glaring back at the big man who had frightened her daughters. There was a steady drone of traffic from up on the highway. A plane on final approach to the nearby airport cruised overhead, the wheels already down. Rashford took another scallop, more carefully this time, and smiled to himself.
‘At last,’ he thought. ‘Now I’m on holiday’.
I wish you and your loved ones all the best for the festive season, and I hope that 2023 brings you good health, prosperity and happiness.
Prologue. I know there are some people, not many but enough, who find football strange, uninspiring, unintelligible, even – gasp! – boring. I know that there are people in North America who view soccer the same way.
I am not one of those people. I fall more into the camp of those who agree with the great Liverpool manager, Bill Shankley, who is reputed to have said:
Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
To any of my readers who might fall into the “what’s all the fuss about, it’s only a game” school of thought, please accept my apologies and move on. This blog is very much about football.
I recently read a great quote from Louise Penny. [If you don’t know her, she’s a wonderful Canadian writer. Check out her Chief Inspector Gamache novels.] Anyway, the quote was:
There’s a reason no reality TV show has followed the life of a writer. We pretty much just stare into space most of the time. And mutter. Expletives.
Penny, L. (2021). Building your community. In L. Child with L. R. King (Eds.), How to write a mystery (pp. 276-283). New York: Scribner.
I have to confess that this is usually one of my more repetitive activities, with interludes of varying length when I might actually write something down (or rather, type something up). But not recently. This past month, my staring into space, and muttering of expletives, has usually resulted from some bizarre occurrence at the FIFA World Cup.
Not that I have been overly surprised by the fates of ‘my’ teams. Nobody expected Canada to go beyond the Group Stages, and the whole country erupted when the first World Cup goal by a Canadian team was scored. We actually ended up with two, but the second was an own goal by the other team so that doesn’t really count. Except in the statistics.
England got as far as most people expected, which was the quarter finals, when they were defeated by France. Or rather, defeated themselves, having fought back to 1-2 and won a penalty with six minutes left. Only for the England captain, Harry Kane, to blaze his shot so far over the bar that it probably qualifies for ‘worst penalty at this World Cup’. So far, anyway.
Meanwhile, Belgium, Mexico and Germany were among those who didn’t get out of the group stages. In this they were at least better than Italy or Scotland, neither of which qualified in the first place. [Never mind, Mark; there’s always 2026]. Spain went out in the Round of 16, and then the Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, and England fell at the quarter final fence.
And so, now there are four.
For what it’s worth, I think that Argentina will beat Croatia. This is partly the romantic in me – I would love to see Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players of the modern game and someone who has never won the World Cup, get a chance to go for glory.
And then there is France.
Je suis désolé pour mes amis français mais tes rêves sont terminés. C’est vrai, Robert, c’est vrai! Personne n’aime les Bleus. La demi-finale sera la fin.
Parce que … France is the World Champion, and nobody likes a dynasty.
Parce que … their opponents will be Morocco.
A friend of mine is currently living in Rabat. She called me on Saturday, after Christian Ronaldo started his lonely and tearful walk down the tunnel, just so I could hear the eruption of noise that was coming from the streets of the Moroccan capital. It sounded like absolute bedlam. That raw unbridled passion of absolutely unanticipated success, of amazement threaded through with disbelief, that ‘pinch me I’m dreaming’ elation that only happens when the logically impossible happens – that is the euphoria in Morocco right now.
Life has a tendency to imitate art in so many ways. The friendless and lonely child who grew up to become rich and famous, the bullied person who ends up saving the life of a tormentor, the hardscrabble gardener who coaxes the world’s largest pumpkin out of the barren ground, the plain and ordinary that becomes striking and beautiful … these have been the plot lines of stories, plays and films since Marlowe and Shakespeare. And indeed, even before then, since the days of myth and saga. We like tropes like these because they give us hope, that perhaps we will achieve some private dream when we hear others scoff.
Of course, sometimes the imitation becomes a bit blurred, and reality reflects a slightly off-kilter version of the original art. The rich and famous person is a complete jerk, the saviour demands some outlandish reward, the pumpkin is hollow and rotten inside, the beauty becomes vain and vindictive. ‘Couldn’t handle their success’, we say, pityingly, as we nod sagely to each other and retreat back to our mediocrity. There is an element here of what the Australians call ‘tall poppy syndrome’, when someone who is seen to rise above the group is carefully cut back down.
In this World Cup, many hopes and expectations have already been dashed, many of the mighty have already fallen. Of the ones who are left, three are not unexpected. France are the reigning World Cup holders, hoping to repeat and be the first team to win the trophy in consecutive tournaments since Brazil in 1958 and 1962, sixty years ago. Before that, only Italy have also achieved this feat, in 1934 and 1938. So, it would be a huge success for France to win.
Argentina have won the World Cup twice, the last time in 1986, and have been runner-up three times. For one of their greatest-ever players, Lionel Messi, this is his fifth (and undoubtedly last) World Cup. He’s never won it, though, and this would surely be his dream opportunity.
To do that, however, he’ll first have to beat the third semi-finalist, Croatia, which many pundits picked to do well this year. Croatia has only missed one World Cup (2010) since emerging from the ruins of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. They have an experienced team, many of whom remember the last game they played in the 2018 series, when they lost the final 4-2 to France. If Croatia defeat Argentina, and France win, then 2022 will see a repeat of the 2018 final.
But for that to happen, France will have to win the second semi-final, against Morocco. We all love the underdog, the person who really shouldn’t be doing whatever they’re doing, but at the same time is doing it so well that we can only admire. Well, that’s Morocco, in football terms.
They are ranked 22nd in the world, and they are in the semi-finals of the World Cup. They have only let in one goal, and that was an own goal scored in one of the group games. By Canada, in fact, which is another claim to fame that team carried home. In this World Cup, nobody else has scored against them, whether in open play or in a penalty shoot-out. They have been claimed not only by everyone who lives in Morocco and the diaspora but by all Arab peoples and all Africans – surely a mighty weight to bear but expected when they are the first country from that continent to make the semi-finals of the World Cup. And now they face France, which was the colonial power in Morocco from 1912 to 1956. Once again, like the World Cup Final of 1966, old rivalries play out on the sporting stage.
There are many hopes and dreams evolving and mutating across the stadiums of Qatar, and making predictions is always a difficult task. My hope would be for Argentina to defeat Croatia, and Morocco to beat France, and then for Lionel Messi to lift the trophy after a pulsating final match at the Lusail Stadium next Sunday. But as you know from previous blogs, it is my lot in life to be a Leeds United fan, and for us hopes and dreams tend to be ephemeral and anticipatory rather than actual and achieved.
Thank you for indulging my passion for the beautiful game. For those who don’t share it, worry not – in another week I shall pack this all away, and it will be another four years until the next tournament!
And so, on Wednesday, like so many others, I’ll be staring into space and muttering expletives, and hoping that the underdogs win. We’re all Moroccans now – sauf si nous sommes français.
I know, I know – Ned Ludd is probably rolling on his loom. Now I don’t claim to be a technophile, and my next trip to Australia will be for a holiday and not as penal transportation, but I’ve emerged into the 21st century somewhere between Luddite and Geek.
Now, when I say ‘constructed’, I obviously mean that in the metaphysical sense. A bit more conceptual than concrete, I suppose. I figured out what I wanted, and even did some of the ‘click here and write something there’ operations. But every time it got too difficult, I called it quits and went for a cup of tea. And called Victoria to help.
Which she did, when I could drag her away from the launching of her new mega-book, At the Feet of the Sun, for which she had an official book launch – in Boston, Massachusetts. As one does, especially when one has fans who come all the way from Seattle, Washington, to hear you speak and read from your work. Me, I haven’t decided on which coffee shop to ask if I can book a table. But I do have a website.
It’s not a very fancy webpage. The dreams of Musk and Gates, Zuckerberg and Bezos were not even remotely interrupted. My niece Rachel probably creates a more exciting experience before her first coffee every morning. But it’s a start.
As I think I mentioned in my last blog, my third novel is now out! Missing is available from Amazon (print and e-copies) as well as Kobo, and our local bookstore here in Charlottetown.
I’m also going to be signing (and selling) copies at the two Artisan Christmas Markets being held at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market (Belvedere Avenue) on 11 and 18 December, so if anyone is going to be around, please drop by!
My Christmas ‘novelette’ is nearly ready to be published. Piracy is a just a bit of holiday fun, a quick read while you’re taking a break between the roast and the mince pies. I’ll send out a note when this new story is available.
But in the meantime, you can check out my new website.
Any thoughts and comments would be gratefully received. It really has been a journey of discovery and I would appreciate it if you could tell me about any loose or broken links, weird transitions, etc. And about any good bits as well, the things you liked!
And if, while you’re there, you decide that you might like to buy an e-book or two (or three), please use this code when you get to the checkout: XMAS22BL
That will get you 15% off your total bill; please consider this my gift to you, with thanks for being such a loyal reader. The code will be valid until Christmas day.
That’s how long it’s been since we were hit by Hurricane Fiona. Even in the calm(er) light of day, the devastation is appalling. In some places we lost ten metres of shoreline, sand dunes eroded by the storm surge. Trees still litter the countryside, although the roads and ditches have been cleared so that the plows will be able to get through, once the snow comes.
A friend was over from Calgary, a long-arranged visit, so we went out for a drive to the recently re-opened north shore. Shattered fishermen’s cottages and a disintegrated wharf.
Disaster tourism at its best.
Everybody has their power back now, although for some people the outage lasted for twenty-two days. The roar of chainsaws echoes late into the evening; piles of blocked-up logs and brush line roadways, waiting for pick-up.
We all watch the sky and pay morbid attention to the weather forecasts. We all know of trees that are half down, hung-up in the branches of a neighbour, simply waiting for another strong wind. This past week the grocery shelves emptied as the remnants of Post-tropical Cyclone Nicole approached. Last time we had three days worth of emergency supplies, now we aim for three weeks. Yesterday we had a lot of rain, about 50 mm, and some wind in the 80 kms/hour range.
Nothing in comparison to Fiona, really. It’s just that we’re all nervous, gun-shy at what might come next. And we share out thoughts. It is common not only to enter into a lengthy conversation with the cashier at the checkout, but also to have the next couple of people in line join in.
The Maritimes are known for their friendly communities, their sociable neighbours. Too friendly or sociable for some, perhaps, but that’s what you get when you leave the big city. Riffing on the ‘lessons learned’ by newcomers to the Island surprised at being asked all sorts of personal questions related to lifestyle, family, health, and income, Patrick Ledwell [a well-known writer, musician, singer, and stand-up comic; you have to multi-task to make it here] puts it this way: “PEI stands for ‘Privacy Ends Immediately’.”
Recently, all conversations have been about “the next nor-easter” and the damage it may cause. People have also been shaking their heads at the amount of money that the provincial government has been pouring into relief programs. “Must be an election coming,” they say.
This ability to focus on the negative, the ‘what-ifs’ and the ‘I supposes’, gives a certain dour shimmer to the atmosphere. Perhaps that’s why I feel at home here, it’s very similar to the pubs and villages of Yorkshire. As Monty Python so eloquently phrased it, people seem happy “chewing on life’s gristle,” and “I told you so” is the final arbiter for any argument.
I think it’s time to think positively for a change. It’s only six weeks until the celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and the joy they will bring. Although, as I overheard while in line at the store, waiting for the cashier to finish her conversation with the woman in front of me: “Is that carols they’re playing already? Well, it is after Remembrance Day I suppose. Nearly Christmas, can you believe it? They still haven’t moved the trees from our street. And it was twenty degrees again yesterday. I mean, I like the weather but it’s kind of scary, all that global warming stuff. And gas went up eight cents again yesterday, how are folks going to get to work? Or heat their houses, furnace oil is up over two bucks a litre now?”
Let’s follow Eric Idle’s example and “always look on the bright side of life, ta-da; ta-da ta-da ta-da” … oh, sorry, now you’re going to be humming that tune all day! It really is a classic earworm I’m afraid. Do you remember the film? Life of Brian. Brilliant, wasn’t it? Ta-da; ta-da ta-da ta-da.
I have three shining suns on my bright side. First, I’m delighted my third novel is now out! Missing is available from Amazon (print and e-copies) as well as Kobo, and our local bookstore here in Charlottetown. Here’s a quick link to the Amazon site:
I’m also going to be signing (and selling) copies at the two Artisan Christmas Markets being held at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market on Sundays 11th and 18th December, so if anyone is going to be around, please drop by! “What’s it about?” you wonder? Well … as it says on the back cover:
Disillusioned and disgruntled, Gavin Rashford is trying to take early retirement from the police. He agrees to undertake one last task; to give a conference presentation about FILTER, the Focused Indigenous Language Training for Emergency Responders program introduced when Alsama separated from Canada.
He does not anticipate the social interactions associated with a small university in a small town: music, missing persons, money laundering, murder …
A quiet retirement can be so hard to find.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. And yes, the fourth one is on its way, and will hopefully be out in the spring. Meanwhile, I’ve also written a short story, officially called a ‘novelette’, which will be published in early December. Piracy is a just a bit of holiday fun, a quick read while you’re taking a break between the roast and the mince pies. I’ll send out a note when this new story is available.
On a wet evening in eastern Prince Edward Island, two hundred well-dressed people scurry through the rain to board a wooden tall ship. A replica of Neo Victoria, the flagship of Magellan, the three-masted carrack has been brought to PEI to host a gala dinner and fund-raiser. The guests chatter and mingle, while a woman with a mysterious past displays an array of valuable jewelry. A group who misunderstood the invitation to be for a fancy dress party arrive dressed as pirates. Nobody expects what happens next.
I am also working on a new website. This has been a bit of a challenge (Hah!) for a Luddite such as me, but it has filled my evenings in-between storm clear-up and watching Leeds United flail about. I hope to have the new website up and running by mid-December and will post links once they are available. Admiring comments will be gratefully received.
Saturday night, nine o’clock. The wind and rain warnings have been dropped, it’s just ‘normal’ bad weather out there. The hurricane hit thirty hours ago. We’ve been eighteen and a half hours without power, and from the appearance of the streets, it’s going to be a while before they get things up and running again.
We knew this one was coming, and had time to stock up on bottled water, canned food, bread, and the Maritimer’s favourite treat, ‘storm chips.’ Some people tell me that they’ve added ‘Hurricane Wine” to the list. Post-tropical storm Fiona made her way up the coast as a Category 3 hurricane, the cone of uncertainty ever compressing and always keeping Cape Breton in its sights. We are just west of there. Perhaps a hundred kilometres, and the weather reporters took great pleasure in reminding us that winds are ‘anti-clockwise round a low’, so we would face the brunt of them. And the most rain.
Which we did. A good old fashioned nor-easter, whipping in with 100+ km/hour winds gusting to 120, 130, even higher, and somewhere between 100 and 200 mm of rain. That’s a lot of rain in a short time. Not up to the ‘monsoon on steroids’ levels of Pakistan, or the ‘once in history’ inundations of Brisbane and Lismore, but more than enough for a little island in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, normally known for its potatoes and its beaches and its cute red-headed orphans. Not for storm surges and power outages and destroyed harvests …
Friday night. 0215. We have venetian blinds on our windows, and we wake up to them blowing inward like sails. The latches on the windows have popped, and I climb onto a small footstool so I can access the top sills. I force the windows down, then relatch the clasps. The blinds subside, foresails in the doldrums. The streetlights show water racing in rivulets down the street below, ornamental trees whipping back and forth, a parked car shaking itself awake with flashing lights and a strident alarm. The rain is horizontal, biblical, the wind a banshee.
Suddenly there is a loud explosion, not thunder, and a purple flash bounces off the roiling clouds. For a moment I think it is a car bomb but then common-sense kicks in; a transformer has blown. The common-sense opinion wins as the lights click out and there is nothing to see, inside or out, just the hazy retina-memory of a purple haze. Where’s Jimi when you need him? I go back to bed, lulled to sleep by the gale.
Saturday morning, eight o’clock. A wind-whipped street, the rain still lashing the windows. I wake to a crossfire hurricane, to a tree outside the China Garden restaurant that wasn’t there yesterday, either dead or alive. I have no idea where it has come from, its shattered limbs splayed across the sidewalk. Slowly people emerge from their apartments and congregate in the corridor. Our neighbour lost a window, it blew in at two thirty this morning, rain and wind pouring into the bedroom. Luckily, she was able to reinstall it, complete, and minimize the damage. Another neighbour was not so fortunate, the frame held but the glass shattered, his living room floor a sodden and dangerous mess until there was light enough to see.
We call our daughter, who lives out in the country. A tree has fallen onto her house and appears to be resting on the roofline. The apple tree has been uprooted, as have the big poplar and the hedgerow trees in the community pasture across the road. The dogs are getting squirrelly from not being allowed outside for a proper run. She’s had no power since nine o’clock last night. She’s been boiling a kettle on the wood stove, and the edits to her new book are going well. “I’m fine,” she says, just before the connection is lost.
The phone zings with another alert from the Emergency Measures people, beseeching us to stay indoors and not put ourselves – or first responders – at risk. Most of us comply but there are always those who believe that they are special, that the rules don’t apply to them, who walk their dogs or stroll the neighborhood looking for images to capture and post on Facebook or Instagram. Down the street outside I see someone wandering along, obviously determined to get his morning routine completed no matter what the namby-pamby emergency officials might think. He steps into the road to avoid the fallen tree, but the car driving down Queen Street sees him in time and brakes to avoid running him over. Shame, really. Through the gaps in the seams of the windowsills, the wind cries Mary.
Saturday afternoon, four o’clock. The hurricane warning is ended, the bridge is opened to certain classes of vehicle. There is still a steady rain, but the wind has died down to a stiff breeze. People emerge from buildings and start to slowly navigate the streets. I walk down six flights of stairs and check the basement. It is dry, much to my surprise; I had expected at least some flooding. I go outside and check the parking area, there are some scattered branches and pieces of metal from a disintegrated air conditioner, but not too much. I had put my car in a nearby parkade for the night, so it would be under cover and away from flying debris. As I walk to get it, I see the upturned trees in our neighbourhood park, the broken utility poles and the downed wires. It’s going to be some time before we get power restored.
Saturday evening, seven o’clock. The phone service appears to have stabilized now, we’re getting messages and texts from across the country, people wondering how we’re doing. Apparently, the news film from the storm has been horrendous, people are very concerned. We have no television, and data downloading is iffy on the cell phones, so we don’t really know what’s happening outside our own little cone of survival. We light the propane burner, a relic from our camping days, and boil some water for pasta, which is then set aside and later added to the frying pan full of onions, tomato, black olives, and bacon. We grate some cheese on top and open a bottle of wine. It’s dark, but the storm lanterns remind us of campgrounds long ago and far away.
Sunday morning, eleven o’clock. We decide to empty the fridge and freezer and take everything out to our daughter’s place. Last week we fixed up a generator there, so she can keep her fridge and freezer going. We load the cooler in the car and navigate the streets of downtown, then the highway. The main roads are clear, and there are two half-kilometre long line-ups at the only gas station that appears to be open. Some people are filling up cars, others portable containers so they can keep their generators going. The highway is lined with broken power poles, the wire scything through stands of wind-blown corn, soybeans, cabbages. Trees are down in yards, along hedgerows, in the woods beside a river. A camping trailer lies on its back, wheels upturned, looking like a fat puppy waiting for a belly rub.
Sunday afternoon, two o’clock. One of Victoria’s neighbours turns up with a chainsaw and a tractor. Half an hour later, the tree has been cut into pieces and pulled away from the house. He refuses payment. “If I’d known you were going to offer, I wouldn’t have come.” We are amazed that the only damage was a dent to the eavestrough, and a squashed pinecone on the roof. The squirrel that lived in the old red pine is a bit perturbed as he gets dragged for a free ride out across the grass.
Sunday afternoon, five o’clock. Friends contact us. They have (had) a cottage up on the north shore. They went out to check on it and found that the top half had blown off. They found this in a field a few hundred metres away.
They went to the cottage and found that the storm surge had dragged the bottom part of the cottage, plus the furnishings, fridge, stove, etcetera, out to sea. There is nothing left but the expensive pilings they installed last year, to keep the floor from being flooded at a high tide.
So now they have half a cottage, but it’s the top half. What the heck do you do with that?
Sunday afternoon, six o’clock. We get our power back. One of the benefits of living downtown, I suppose, and on the main transmission line that feeds the government offices, the hospital, and other important locations. We are an unanticipated consequence, but I’ll take it. Thirty-nine and a half hours is a long time in the dark, but most people are going to experience double that or more. It’s raining again, but nobody notices it without the wind assist.
Monday morning, eight o’clock. Friends from Ottawa e-mail to say they’ve just got back from Europe and seen the footage from Fiona. “Must have been terrifying to live through,” they say. “Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.” I reply immediately: “The ATMs are down, and the liquor store is closed. Please send money and scotch.” There is no response for a while, and then: “You’re a Leeds United supporter, you must be used to misery and anxiety.” Did I say ‘friends’?
Monday afternoon, five o’clock. It’s been three days since the winds started to pick up, since I returned from parking my car in the parkade, out of the reach of flying debris. For next time, we now know that we need one of those old-fashioned transistor radios, the battery-operated ones, so we can listen to CBC and figure out what’s going on outside our own little bubble. We followed the traditional advice of having enough food and water to last 36 hours but now know that we should probably have double that, enough for five or six days. We need to figure out how to connect the pump on the well at Victoria’s place to the generator, so she can continue to have water. These are all important ‘lessons learned’.
The island – indeed, the whole of the Atlantic region – is a landscape of shattered dreams. Houses decapitated or washed into the sea; twelve metre waves producing historically high storm surges; thousands of trees down, tens of thousands of people without power. There are photographs of fishing boats washed up onto bridges, of barns and silos exploded, of roads ending in a jagged sinkhole. Most of us know that this storm has set a new benchmark. The lowest air pressure ever recorded in Canada. The highest wind gusts for the longest time. The rain. The waves. The storm surge. All future storms will now be measured against the fury of Fiona. But we also know that these benchmarks will be challenged, perhaps not this year but in the years to come.
The time (and cost) required to rehabilitate the region is incalculable. The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs until 30 November. That’s nine weeks away. One can only hope that we don’t get another big storm before then. The Farmer’s Almanack is predicting that the winter of 2022-2023 “will remembered as a time to shake, shiver, and shovel – a winter season filled with plenty of snow, rain, and mush as well as some record-breaking cold temperatures.” We’ll all be looking forward to that. As long as the roofs and windows are fixed, there should be plenty of wood to burn.
As Bob wrote and Jimi sang,
And the wind began to howl, hey; All along the watchtower
I have crossed a couple of things off my bucket list in the nearly three months since my last blog. I’ve been to the Yukon, and I’ve been to the ballet.
The latter, I must admit, wasn’t really on my bucket list, but when the opportunity came up to see ‘Anne of Green Gables: The ballet’ at a local theatre, how could I resist? I’ve seen the musical and the stage play, watched the film and some episodes of the television series, and I’ve read the book.
I’ve paid homage here on PEI to the various locations affiliated with the orphan and the author; and tried to separate the two for numerous visitors. I’ve lost count of the “you know she’s a literary invention, right?” conversations I’ve had with those who want to see the ‘real’ farm where Matthew and Marilla lived, not the National Parks replica. But a ballet?
So off to Summerside we went, not sure if we were in for the most excruciating evening ever experienced or something that would be OK. As it turned out, it was better than OK. Although (spoiler alert!) I hadn’t really realized that there are no words in a ballet, no script for actors or a narrator to recite. So, if you don’t actually know the story, there are a few moments where you’re wondering quite why this older gentleman is so happy at collecting an orphaned young girl from a train station …
The Yukon, however, was very much on my bucket list, as it was the only province or territory in Canada which I had not yet visited. [As an aside, Tasmania is my Australian equivalent, but we’re hoping to get there next year. More of that in a later blog.] Having decided that we were going to brave the post-pandemic(ish) travel landscape, we had our booster shots and flew out to Vancouver. This was early April, before the great spring rush sent everything sideways when airports still in pandemic mode suddenly faced a zillion passengers. Our travel was uneventful.
From Vancouver we flew to Whitehorse, and were immediately transported back into the past, a kinder, gentler time. Air North serves food. Free food. To all passengers. Even those who are flying on the pensioner discount. And their sandwiches are so good, they sell them in shops as well!
Then, just when you’re enjoying your second cup of coffee, and looking out at the ice fields, they bring around warm chocolate chip cookies, which are absolutely delicious. This airline is one of the few left that is owned by an individual, rather than a bunch of pension fund shareholders, and so there is still a human element. Highly recommended.
From the Yukon we went to the Sunshine Coast (ha!) in the Sechelt area north of Vancouver. Our youngest daughter and her husband have a place there, so we had somewhere to stay out of the rain and chill of the coldest spring in fifteen years. All the houses have moss on the roof, which shouldn’t really be a surprise – it is, after all, part of the temperate rain forest. We also got to visit friends on Savary Island, which is a PEI-like sandspit of land off the coast of Lund. All in all, we had a fabulous break, like many people our first flights and holiday for over two years.
And like many other people, I’m fed up with the pandemic, with the increasing cost of gas, with the depressing news out of Ukraine, with global warming, and with the burgeoning food crisis. I think it’s time we worried about something else. No, not monkey pox.
In an earlier life I was a teacher of geography, with a focus on physical landforms. I am sure that everyone has heard of the Great Rift Valley, which stretches some 6400 kilometers from Jordan to Mozambique. It is not really a single valley, more a series of contiguous trenches that mark a fault line where two tectonic plates have shifted. In North America, there is the Denali fault which extends 4000 kms from Alaska into southern Yukon and northern BC, and where there was a major 7.9 magnitude earthquake in 2002. And a smaller 3.5 one last week, by the way.
We often hear ominous forecasts about the San Andreas fault, which runs for about 1200 kms across California. It is what is known as a right-lateral slip – basically, the tectonic plate on one side shifts against the other, causing earthquakes and much death and destruction. But I was surprised – nay, shocked! – to recently discover an equally significant fault line in Canada.
We were driving from Whitehorse to Dawson City and came to a small roadside information board, located in a layby overlooking a wide valley. Naturally, we stopped to see what information was being provided. The valley, it turned out, was part of the Tintina fault, another right-lateral slip, and at over 1000 kms about the same length as the San Andreas fault. This is the biggest fault line in Canada! Who knew? I sure didn’t.
It is just as likely that the next big North American earthquake could take place along the Tintina fault as along the San Andreas fault. Why, then, isn’t the Tintina fault always in the news? Why don’t we have breathless projections as to when the next ‘big one’ might impact McQuestern? Are not the 10 people who live in Stewart Crossing (Statistics Canada, 2021 census) just as important as the 10,040,682 who live in Los Angeles County (American Community Survey, 2020)? I think we need to contact our Members of Parliament and ask them to focus on our own potential geological catastrophes, rather than those of our neighbours.
Speaking of earth-shattering news, and as I mentioned in a teaser blog a few days ago, I am delighted to announce that my second novel, TRACKS, has now been published. For those of you who wanted a sequel to Traces, here it is, but it is also a stand-alone novel for those who want to see what the fuss is about.
Synopsis: Sergeant Gavin Rashford of the North-West Mounted Police has been posted to the remote reaches of southern Saskatchewan, where he soon finds that small town life can have both benefits and drawbacks. A chance encounter during a prairie storm leads to a challenging pursuit through the Alberta foothills – and an unexpected road trip to the Maritimes.
This is not really a blog – hopefully that will follow later next week. I am interrupting the Jubilee Long Weekend to announce that my second novel, TRACKS, has now been published. For those of you who wanted a sequel to Traces, here it is, but it is also a stand-alone novel for those who want to see what the fuss is about.
Sergeant Gavin Rashford of the North-West Mounted Police has been posted to the remote reaches of southern Saskatchewan, where he soon finds that small town life can have both benefits and drawbacks. A chance encounter during a prairie storm leads to a challenging pursuit through the Alberta foothills – and an unexpected road trip to the Maritimes.
I checked another item off my bucket list yesterday, flying into Whitehorse on an Air North jet. It’s my first time going to the Yukon, the last of the Canadian provinces or territories left for me to visit. The flight was smooth, and the service friendly. As we travelled north through the clouds, I reflected on some observations made the previous day, during my flight across the country.
We had checked in at 3 a.m., which is really an inexcusable time to expect anybody to be awake, and my first thought was that the airlines have either given up worrying about who gets on the plane or the staff have developed the ability to see beyond the mask when matching faces to passport photographs.
My second thought was that although many companies have used the pandemic to update and upgrade their products and processes, Air Canada has apparently decided to stay with the tried and true. The inflight breakfast was the same as it was 751 days ago, the last time I was on a plane: omelet, sausage, salsa, individualized tub of flavoured yoghurt and a stale croissant with a plastic container of a fruit-based product that looked like strawberry jam. Coffee or tea. I guess I could have had the pancakes instead.
I had forgotten the massage chair vibration of light turbulence, and the stronger pockets when you must close your eyes and imagine you are in a boat whistling across the wind-chopped lake, bumping over the waves and laughing as the spray hits your face. Instead of being strapped into a tube at 28,000 feet.
In Toronto, I discovered that the elevator to the Maple Leaf Lounge is holding on to its reputation of being the slowest elevator in an airport. Anywhere.
The flight to Vancouver was on a bigger plane than those which can land in Charlottetown, and so the safety briefing was a video rather than a person. In the past these films have either been static or boring, with cartoon comedy the height of innovation. But not now. The new film was impressive, with each segment located in a different province or territory. I was particularly taken with the ‘how to fasten your seatbelt’ segment, which starred a young woman on a dog sled in the Yukon. The illustration of how to brace yourself in an emergency, by leaning forward and holding your ankles, was demonstrated by a beach yoga group on the shores of Prince Edward Island, and the cut-out view of the plane showing the various emergency exits had been mown into a Saskatchewan wheat field. All very clever. The final scene focused on an inshore fisherman sitting on a stool, surrounded by lobster pots and coils of rope, reaching down, and pulling a yellow safety vest from a pouch under his seat.
The flight itself was uneventful. The same breakfast was offered, but declined, and I slept a bit, and then we landed. Here I discovered that the ‘priority’ labels on one’s luggage are still more decorative than functional, attached with flair by the person who checks in the bags but tending to be ignored by those actually responsible for prioritizing the delivery of said luggage.
This is probably an opportune moment for a lengthy discourse on the relative merits of entitlement and privilege versus the proletarian equitocracy of a unionised workforce*, but I’m still mad that my luggage was almost the last item to arrive on the conveyor belt. On the plus side, most of the other 500 passengers from our Boeing 777-300 had already collected theirs and the baggage hall was nearly empty as I manoeuvred my trolley out to the taxi rank.
We stayed overnight in Vancouver, in the rain, and headed back to the airport in the morning. The Air North check-in desks are in a far corner of the ticketing hall, three desks jammed up near to the toilets and some construction. The staff were cheerful and pleasant, our bags were processed quickly, and we made our way through security to wait for the plane.
To my amazement we were served lunch, a free (!) sandwich, and then a hot chocolate chip cookie for dessert. Blissful. I highly recommend this airline.
The clouds cleared as we crossed the icefields of northern British Columbia, glacial tongues extending down the valleys between chains of sharp-peaked mountains. At Carcross the sun glinted from the roofs of houses that formed a necklace along the shore, the lake still frozen, the road a grey straight-line interruption to the natural curves of the landscape.
Mountains, glaciers, frozen lakes, boreal forest – it all seemed a long way from PEI. As we settled in for the final approach, the trees gave way to an urban landscape, an industrial estate, suburban cul-de-sacs, cars lined up at traffic lights. I am looking forward to this visit, a few days in the north at the start of a holiday that will also encompass the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. But more on all that later.
*I thought I’d made this word up, but it seems that it was first coined a decade ago by Radu Buzescu, who according to Google was either “a Romanian noble from Wallachia in the late 1500s, during the reign of Michael the Brave”, or else someone with no social media profile on LinkedIn. I’m opting for the latter.
Buzescu, R. (2012). Equitocracy: The alternative to capitalist-ultracapitalist and socialist-communist democracies. Published by iUniverse.