My Week 223: Amusing Museums

So if you were wondering where I’ve been the last few days, we just got back from Ottawa. K and her girlfriend, the lovely V, had asked for a trip together in lieu of other presents, and I have to say that it’s wonderful when your child thinks a great gift would be to spend time together. I also have to say, it was a capital trip, haha (that’s an Ottawa joke) which combined my favourite things—walking a lot in the freezing cold and looking at plaques and if you know me at all, you’ll know I’m being outrageously sarcastic. Ultimately I DID have a good time, despite the way it began, which was arriving at the hotel to discover that the check-in line-up was almost out the door. The kids were guarding the luggage, Ken was dealing with the car valet and I was standing there, trying to figure out what the f*ck was going on when suddenly a cheerful, matronly woman named Denise appeared:

Denise (yelling): Hi Everyone! My name is Denise. I just wanted to let any of you ‘newcomers to the line-up’ know that our computers are down and we have to check everyone in by hand. We’re very sorry about this, but I hope you’ll be patient seeing as it’s the time of year for goodwill among men, peace on earth etc. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Me: Denise? DENISE?!
Denise: Yes?
Me: Will it help if we have the computer print-outs of our reservation?
Denise: No. But thank you for asking. PEACE ON EARTH, FOLKS!

The people behind me agreed with me that the only reason the hotel had sent out Denise was that she seemed the least likely to get throatpunched by an angry mob. But don’t forget, this is Canada, and aside from the profuse apologies, there was also a wonderful moment when the hotel’s chefs suddenly appeared with carts containing urns of coffee and several large charcuterie boards so that the people standing in line could help themselves to drinks and snacks. Which would have been great except for the large number of small children who suddenly appeared in the lobby, descended upon the charcuterie like a plague of locusts, stripping the wooden boards bare in a matter of seconds, then disappeared among the Christmas tree display again, carrying all the cheese knives with them–it was a little disturbing.

We finally got checked in and planned the next couple of days. Remember that we were with two twenty year-olds whose plans naturally included sleeping late, but that was fine with me. Here are the highlights of the trip:

1) The Museum of History

Yes it was. ALL THE HISTORY. The most interesting part was that we walked to the Museum and at some point, crossed over into Quebec, where it’s located. The only difference I could tell was that instead of saying “Hi Bonjour” which is what they do in Ottawa, they say “Bonjour Hi” because French is the first language there. We had an interesting conversation about how Canadian provinces have no discernible borders, but that you apparently can’t bring beer from Ontario into Quebec, and I was like “How would anyone even know? The only person we saw before we got to the museum was a bus driver having a smoke break.”

2) The National Gallery

There are some pretty astounding Canadian artists in their permanent collection, including many works by the Group of Seven, who were called that because there were seven of them. They were apparently very groundbreaking painters who created a lot of controversy, which seems strange today. In fact, in front of one stunning piece depicting a lush garden, there was a quote that said it was initially condemned for using such a huge canvas to depict a mundane subject and I said to Ken, “Everyone’s a critic!” Then we went into the “special exhibit” of paintings by some dude named Paul Klee and I was like “This guy sucks!” just to prove my own point. I didn’t know anything about him but here’s a description: “Paul Klee was an Expressionist painter who created witty and childlike works which detached colour from physical expression.” In other words, “my kid could have done that.” Here’s a test. Look at the images below and guess which one Paul Klee painted in the late 1800s, and which one I painted it couple of years ago because I had some leftover paint:

The second one is mine and I call it “Klee-next”. I just named it now, proving that I am also childlike and witty. And I know I shouldn’t make fun of people like Paul Klee–I think my problem is that I’m only awed by things that I could NEVER do myself. And I won’t even get started on the art “installation” which consisted of 6 plastic buckets scattered around the floor of a gigantic room because I could do that one too, but mine would only have five buckets because five is much more art-y, as everyone knows.

3) Museum of War

Yes it was. ALL THE WAR. As we were walking into the first exhibit, there was a poster on the wall that said, “Come and celebrate your birthday at the War Museum!” It featured cupcakes and candles and it was right next to a display of shrapnel wounds. Can you imagine? Like “Come on, Bobby, it’s time to open your presents! Why are you crying?!”

At any rate, we had a wonderful time together, playing board games in the evening, and visiting some family. We never did get to the Museum of Nature, but I’m sure it has ALL THE NATURE.

My Week 217: Things You Learn While Travelling

I just got back from spending a week on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean. It was great fun but I definitely learned some things about myself among other things, as one does when one is on a boat.

1) I’m not good at packing. I mean, I can PACK just fine—I’m a f*cking amazing packer. I roll everything into tight little sausages which makes them more compact AND unwrinkled. I can fit so much stuff into a small suitcase, you wouldn’t believe it. Also, I never pack until the night before, but I spend a lot of time thinking about the process and what exactly I will need. My parents actually PRACTICE packing to make sure everything will fit. They practiced on the Tuesday before we left and did such a great job that they just kept everything in the suitcase until Friday and I was like “My god, when was the last time you brushed your teeth?!” Me, I have no problem waiting until the last minute because I might end up needing something important, like what if Benedict Cumberbatch invited me to an impromptu pool/cocktail party and all my sh*t was locked inside a suitcase? So it’s not the packing itself that I struggle with—it’s WHAT I pack that’s the problem. The last time that Ken and I went away, I didn’t pack enough ‘daywear’ and had to buy a couple of souvenir T-shirts and now I will never forget where the halibut fishing capital of the world is (apparently it’s Homer, Alaska). So this time, I overcompensated but when I repacked my suitcase to come home, I realized that I hadn’t worn even half the sh*t I brought. Also, I packed twelve pairs of shoes. I was only away for 7 days.

2) Canada is a lot smaller than you think. You know how people assume that all Canadians know each other, like how people joke “Oh, you’re from Canada? Do you know Bob?” Well, it’s true. We were on a bus tour and people started saying where they were from:

Woman 1: Oh we’re from Kitchener.
My parents: So are we!
Woman 1: What part?
Parents: At the lofts at Benton!
Woman: Oh, do you know John Smith?
Parents: Yes!
Me: I’m not from Kitchener; I live in Drumbo.
Man 1: My brother’s from Drumbo—do you know Frank Jones?
Me: Yes!
Woman 2: We’re from Edmonton.
Me: Oh, we were there last summer. We stayed at the Chateau Louis.
Woman 2: Did you hear the piano player in the lounge?
Me: Yes, we did!
Woman 2: That’s Jeff—he’s my husband’s best friend! They host Blues Fest at the Chateau Louis every year and he always plays for that too!
Man 2: Oh, I think I saw him when we went there from Newfoundland last year! He was really good. We bought him a drink.
Woman 2: Wait—are you Bob?!

That’s Canadians for you—6 degrees Celsius of separation.

3) I don’t actually like monkeys. That might not seem like a big deal, but don’t forget that I have often waxed poetic about the joys of having a monkey butler. His name would be Ralph Van Wooster, obviously, and he would wear a little tuxedo with a hole cut out of the bottom for his tail. But in reality, I don’t think I like monkeys very much if my reaction to hearing that there were wild monkeys out and about on one of the islands we visited is any indication. Our tour bus driver was telling us about how people used to smuggle monkeys onto the island but then when they got older and more aggressive, they would release them into the wild, and now there were non-butler-type monkeys roaming the island and hanging around on the rooftops. And all I could think of was how terrifying it would be to wander around the botanical gardens and come face to face with a simian who was super pissed off at being tossed out onto the street and probably didn’t know how to make a dirty martini. Our tour guide also told us that people on the island ATE monkeys, and then he said, “I’ve never eaten monkey myself. I mean, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat monkey, but if someone had some cooked monkey and it was right there, I would probably eat it” and I was like “How did it come to this, Ralph Van Wooster?”

4) Sea turtles have attitude. I got to go snorkeling with sea turtles, which was pretty awesome. The guide on that tour told us not to touch the turtles but he didn’t say anything about the turtles not touching us, and one of them slapped my dad which was a real dick move because my dad is Scottish and feisty as f*ck even in his eighties but he couldn’t fight back because he had to use two hands to hang on to his little floaty. So I also learned that sea turtles can be assholes but I guess when you’re “endangered” you get to do what you want.

Anyway, it was a great trip. We did tours of the islands, learned about spices, waded in waterfall pools, sat on beautiful beaches, and made good use of the “premium beverage package”.

Today is my birthday, but it will be a quiet one since I just got back late last night. My parents DID get me a cake on Friday night at one of the restaurants on the ship. When it came out, I started laughing hysterically. The maître d’ looked at me in confusion and said, “Isn’t your name spelled correctly?” and I said, “Not even a little bit.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said, “the pastry chef is from Thailand” and that was even more random, and made me laugh even harder. Good times, good times.

My Week 208: Alaska Is Cold, Stuffed Squirrels

The journey continues…

First, just for the record, I did NOT pull the emergency brake on Canada One.

(As a side note, I’d like to share that I finally had the chance to do the following on my regular train this week as I was sitting in a group of 3 other people by the emergency exit:

Car Attendant: So you all know what to do in case of emergency?
Me: Absolutely. I call out “Mjolnir”, the hammer inside the box flies into my hand, I use it to break the window, and I lead everyone to safety.
Car Attendant: Uh…
Other People: *stare in confusion*
Me: The hammer won’t come if I call it?
Car Attendant (laughs): No, but I enjoyed the Thor reference, ma’am.
Me: Please—just call me TrainWine.

TrainWine is my superhero name in case you haven’t read My Week 191.)

Anyway, the Canada One train that Ken and I were on did, however, eventually stop in Vancouver, and that’s where the next leg of the journey began. We boarded our ship, the Celebrity Infinity, in record time. I have to say it was an excellent ship—there was a lot to do, and our cabin was extremely comfortable with a lovely balcony that we couldn’t use because it was freezing; in fact, if Ken had a dollar for every time I said, “Why? WHY IS IT SO COLD?!” he could have paid for the whole trip. If you know anything about me, you know that I’m always cold, and a trip to Alaska, in retrospect, is something I should have thought more carefully about.

So cold it’s glacial.

At any rate, we had a lot of fun onboard, going to lectures, silent discos, and trivia contests, where we met a lovely pair of English couples who, at the end of the trip, gave us their names so we could look them up on Facebook. Unfortunately, the names they gave us were supercommon, like “Mary Jones” and “Jane Smith” and there are hundreds of those names on Facebook so now I’m worried that they didn’t really like us after all, and we’ve been ghosted by English people.

In addition to fun times on the ship, we also did 3 shore excursions. Here are the highlights:

1) Icy Strait Point

We paid $90 each for a tour called “Taste of Hoonah”. It was advertised as a tour of the town, with a stop for an “Alaskan Beer and Local Cuisine Tasting”. The driver’s name was Bill. The tour consisted of three stops: the ferry dock (there was no ferry but we learned that it cost Bill’s family $400 to go to Juneau for shopping), the local public school (Go Braves!), and the Icy Strait Lodge, where we had the tasting. The lodge owners greeted us with “So what do you want to drink? The first one’s free.” Um, beer…? Then everyone got a small dish that had three tiny things on it—a piece of halibut wrapped in bacon, smoked salmon on a cracker, and a miniscule crab cake. I have a severe shellfish allergy but I also love bacon, so I told the woman about the allergy and asked, “Was the bacon halibut thing cooked near the crab cake?” and she looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course not!!” she exclaimed. “Everything was cooked separately.” So I ate the halibut. 3 hours later, when I was doubled over in the ship’s bathroom, I whispered to Ken, “I think that woman lied to me.” Luckily it was just a little cross-contamination so I didn’t need my epipen.

Rating:           
6 out of 10 for Bill, because he was very sincere and it wasn’t his fault that Hoonah is boring.
2 out of 10 for Icy Strait Lodge and its crabby halibut and dishonesty (the 2 points are for the bacon).

2) Juneau

Our tour in Juneau was “Gold Panning and a Salmon Bake”. Our tour bus driver was also named Bill. The tour was very disorganized, with buses coming and being too full. We chose to wait for a second bus and received tremendous gratitude and goodwill from the tour company, but little did they know we had a hidden agenda—the other people who would be on the first bus with us were an extended family of 6 adults and 9 kids under the age of 10 from Las Vegas. One of the kids was named Tyler. I know this because every two minutes, one of the women would scream, “Tyler!! Stop that!!” So we had to wait fifteen minutes for the next bus, but I’m pretty sure it was worth it. At the gold panning, they gave us pans with dirt in them, and everyone immediately found some teeny flakes of gold. It was really exciting until I realized that the pans were pre-loaded—when Ken and I scooped our own dirt from the river, there was nothing, and I was sad because I had visions of finding a huge nugget and waving it in Tyler’s face (yes, his entire family was still goldpanning when we arrived. Tyler had, at that point, fallen in the river and was wandering around soaking wet as the woman continued to scream his name). But we came away with a small vial of our gold flakes as a souvenir.

Then we went to the salmon bake. The food was great, and there was live entertainment in the form of a woman playing guitar and singing famous songs that she had ‘modified’ for the tourists. Our favourite was her rendition of “Proud Mary” which included the lines ‘Salmon keep on churning, cruise ships keep on burning,’ and if that wasn’t f*cking ominous and perhaps a little telling about her attitude towards tourists, I don’t know what was.

Rating :          
8 out of 10 for the Gold Panning because for most of it I was super optimistic that I would end up rich.
7 out of 10 for the Salmon Bake because the food was great but I’m pretty sure that the singer was throwing some very passive-aggressive shade at us.
10 out of 10 for Tyler because of his ability to not give a single f*ck.

3) Ketchikan

It was pouring rain when we arrived in Ketchikan, and it didn’t stop all day. We were soaked by the time we got on the tour bus, whose driver was called Helen. She was oblivious to the fact that we were cold and wet, and that the windows of the bus were so fogged up by our dampness that no one could see out of them. This kind of ruined her tour “patter” which consisted mostly of her saying stuff like “If you look out the window to the right, you can see a bald eagle” or “If you look out the window to the left, you can see a totem pole”. We were all too busy trying to wipe the windows off and shivering to see much of anything. The best part of the tour was when she took us to a totem-carving centre where they had these bizarre stuffed squirrels dressed like explorers, cowboys, and other things.

Price Tag: $265

Also, at the end of the tour, we stopped by a river to see bears fishing for salmon. Now, normally I’m terrified of at the mere thought of bears, but there were several elderly people in our tour, 2 of them with walkers, and I knew I could outrun at least half of them, and probably Ken too if I had to, so I was like “Bears? Cool. Whatevs.”

Rating:
6 out of 10 for the cold, foggy bus.
10 out of 10 for the creative taxidermy.
8 out of 10 for me for overcoming my fear of bears. I’m deducting 2 points because my attitude was a little mercenary.

Overall, Alaska was beautiful, despite the frigid August weather, and the cruise ship was the nicest one I’ve been on so far. Next week, I’ll finish up with a quick tale about our return to Vancouver and the Tour of Death, and then we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled lunacy. Cool? Whatevs.

Howdy, pardner.

My Week 207: Vacation Part Two: Crazy Train, Braking News, A Little More News

I left off last week at the point where Ken and I were about to board the train. According to my Via Rail GPS tracker, the train was over two hours late, so I called Via to make sure. “Oh no!” said the woman on the phone. “Those trackers are never right. The train is absolutely on time. IN FACT, it’s early. You should get over there right now!” So Ken and I packed up everything superfast and called a cab. The cab driver was very pleasant and chatted with us amicably while he drove extremely slowly and took as many detours as he could, because the train station was only 5 minutes away and he wanted to extend the ride as much as possible, even tucking himself in behind a slow-moving dumptruck.

We were getting a little panicky, but we got to the train station in Edmonton, which is quite possibly the dirtiest, sketchiest station I’ve ever been to, with about 10 minutes to spare. “Oh no!” said the man behind the desk. “Those people at the call centre are never right. The train is absolutely two and a half hours late. IN FACT, you should go find something to do.” So Ken and I checked our bags superfast and called a cab to take us to the shopping centre we saw on the way over to buy a magnifying mirror (I had forgotten mine at home, and I needed it to put on mascara, which sounds stupid, but if you have to wear reading glasses, you’ll understand how necessary one of those is to not gouging your own eye out with a mascara wand). The second cab driver was also very pleasant and chatted with us amicably as he too took the slowest way possible back. We would repeat this one more time before the morning was over but we are now intimately familiar with 121st Street and all of its numerical tributaries.

A somewhat pretentious moniker.

The train finally arrived though, and Ken and I proceeded to our car, named Elgin Manor. Manor, indeed, if the grand home in question had worn carpeting, torn upholstery, and smelled like a urinal cake. Still, there’s a certain charm to rail travel, so I’m told, and when we were shown to our room, which was approximately 8×8, with a large window and its own sink and toilet, I was actually quite pleased with the whole set-up. And then we were off. By this time, it was lunch and we made our way to the dining car. Via actually has its own on-board chefs, servers, and a rather smarmy maître-d, Philip, who greeted us and showed us to a table for 4.

We weren’t sitting there for more than two minutes when he showed up again with an elderly man and said, “Right here, sir.” The man sat down and I looked at Philip questioningly. “Oh,” he said, “It’s a busy time so we need to put people together at the tables.” If you know anything about me at all, you know that being forced to talk with a random stranger is something I would NEVER willingly do, yet there we were. Luckily, Ken did all the heavy lifting/chatting, and the old dude was actually pretty interesting, having fought in ‘Nam and been on an aircraft carrier. But for the whole meal, we were literally the only people in the dining car, so I was calling bullsh*t on the “busy time” rationale for forcing me to eat with a stranger. Then later, when it was dinnertime, it got worse, as Philip immediately took us to a table already populated by a couple a little older than us. I was about ready to scream, but I didn’t want to offend the couple, and Ken was excited about taking pictures of the scenery. Unfortunately, the woman we were seated with didn’t have a problem being offensive herself.

Me: That’s a great shot, Ken. Too bad there’s such a glare on the windows.
Woman: There’s ALWAYS a glare on the windows. It’s because of the light inside the train.

5 minutes later…

Woman: And then we climbed Chichen Itza.
Me: Oh nice. I climbed a Mayan pyramid once too.
Woman: WHICH ONE? CHICHEN ITZA?  
Me: I don’t think so. One of the other ones.
Woman: TULUM.
Me: No, not that one. It was in Costa Maya.
Woman: THOSE ARE THE ONLY ONES.
Me: I’m pretty sure there are more than just those two. I can’t remember its name, sorry.
Woman: THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES.

They’re actually not, lady, but I really didn’t want to argue with her anymore about it, and I just looked it up now and it was Chacchoben. The final straw came though when she made what seemed to be a racist remark, and I was done with her sh*t so we left them and the still empty dining car. The next morning at breakfast, when Philip arrived to take us to a table, I announced loudly, “I’m not sitting with anyone. We want our own table.” Philip looked pretty pissed off, but since there were 12 tables empty, he didn’t have much choice. Do not force me to make friends, PHILIP—I will throat punch you.

Prestige Class Observation Car: Only allowed in here after 4.

It was really pleasant though, sitting in our cabin, or up in one of the Observation Cars, watching the scenery roll by. The mountains were gorgeous, and at one point, the engineer slowed down so we could all ogle a bear walking along beside the tracks out in the middle of nowhere. Then it was time for bed. Our car attendant came in, and with the pull of a few levers, our chairs collapsed and bunkbeds came out of the wall and ceiling. I looked at them skeptically, already planning for a worst case scenario.

Me: I’ll take the top bunk.
Ken: I thought you wanted the bottom?
Me: We don’t know how secure these things are, Ken. You outweigh me by a good 75 pounds. If the top bunk collapses, it’s probably better for both of us if I’m in it. I promise not to crush you.

2 hours later:

Me: Ken! Can you help me get down the ladder? I need to go to the bathroom.

2 hours later:

Me: Ken! Ladder! I have to go to the bathroom again!

1 hour later:

Me: Ken–
Ken: Why did you have to drink so much wine?!

But the bunkbeds were very comfortable, even if the ladder was a pain in both of our asses. The next day was pretty leisurely, and we spent time wandering around the train, which was kind of like Snowpiercer (if you’ve seen the bizarre movie with Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, you’ll get the reference) in that it was over a quarter mile long, had 19 cars and two engines, and its own class system where one end of the train was the Economy class where people slept sitting up in their seats, the middle section went from berths to “Sleeper Plus” where Ken and I were, and it got more exclusive until the other end of the train, where the Prestige cabins were. The Prestige people had their own lounge, which the rest of us plebeians were allowed to enter after 4 pm, although I heard that the Prestige folk were a snobby, tightknit group who gave everyone else dirty looks when they came in and muttered ominously about amputating people’s arms by sticking them out the train windows.

There are at least five…

And that’s where I saw the Emergency Brake sign that said you could pull it if you had a valid reason. So I leave you with this—the top 5 valid reasons to pull the emergency brake. Next week, we will explore Alaska and have fun in Vancouver!

Top Five Valid Reasons to Pull the Train’s Emergency Brake

5) I need a better picture of that bear. There was a glare on the window.
4) I appreciate the “History of Alaska” lecture, but William Seward did not say, “7 million dollars? Whatevs.”
3) Philip, you’re a dick. Get off the train.
2) The Economy passengers have organized a coup and are marching on the Prestige Lounge.
1) Racist on board!

A Little News

Some of you might already know this if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, but I just had my second YA novel accepted for publication. The Dome will be coming to a bookstore near you in 2019, and I’m over the moon!

My Week 206: Vacation Part One: All Signs Point to Edmonton

So, a few weeks ago, I reposted my very first blog from four years ago in which I had used a can of Febreze with the scent of “Alaskan Spring” and I wondered if Alaska really smelled like stale Old Spice cologne. After having just returned from Alaska, I can say with absolute certainty that the Febreze people are WAY off base. That can of Febreze should have smelled like a combination of salmon and Sitka pine tree because that’s what Alaska ACTUALLY smelled like. Not to say it was a bad smell—after a while you got used to it, and it’s certainly better than downtown Toronto, which I will always associate with garbage and urine. It’s funny how certain smells are linked to memory; for example, the scent of lavender always reminds me vividly of the first time I went to Scotland, where the house we stayed in had lavender pomanders scattered everywhere. I was nine years old, I’d never smelled lavender before and even today, it’s one of my favourite things—I grow it in my garden, I have sachets of it under my pillow, and many of my infamous jar candles are lavender-scented. However, I digress.

Ken and I just got back from our vacation, which involved flying to Calgary, driving to Edmonton, taking a train overnight to Vancouver, and then getting on a ship to Alaska. It was a long and complex trip, so I’ll be dividing my review into three parts, starting with the first 24 hours entitled (drum roll, please)…Alberta—What The F*ck Is With Your Signs and Streets?

I’m used to travelling abroad and seeing signage that’s very different than what we have at home in Ontario. For example, years ago, we went to Jamaica and were baffled by a road sign that said “Sleeping Policeman”. Turns out, that’s what they call speed bumps, which makes sense in a kind of weird way. In Key West, I saw this bizarre sign:

No coconuts?

It was outside of Ernest Hemingway’s house/museum where they have a lot of cats, but how many people were picking up the cats that they had to have a fancy sign made just for that? Were the people like, “I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I want a cat.” And those cats were all like, “Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.”?* (There’s a reason for this asterisk–check out the end). I don’t even know where to begin with the prohibition of coconuts—were people using them to lure the cats into being picked up as in “Here kitty, kitty—I’ve got a lovely coconut for you”?

But the signs that we saw on the way to Edmonton from Calgary were like if you were living in a parallel universe where things were almost the same but just slightly different enough that you got confused. For instance, in Ontario, we have signs that say “Avoid use of engine brakes”. Engine brakes are internal brakes that slow the engine down instead of external brakes on the tires. They’re apparently more efficient but they make an incredibly loud noise and in residential areas, they can be “extremely disruptive”. In Alberta, the signs have the same purpose but they say “Avoid use of engine retarder brakes”, which is completely redundant since “retarder” means “to slow down” and a brake is “a device for slowing down or stopping” so essentially what you’re saying is “Don’t use your slow-y down things to slow down.” They also had signs for a “water spray park” as opposed to a water park (guess they feel it’s necessary to be super specific about the agressiveness of the water), “wildlife on road” instead of a picture of a leaping deer (all I could think was ‘Is this the same thing as ‘roadkill’ or do I need to look out for a bunch of deer having a party? They’re redundant about brakes but can’t be bothered to say “moving wildlife?’) and something called a “car turnout area” which is a place where you stop your car, and throw all your garbage into bins. These aren’t ‘picnic areas’ like we have in Ontario—there’s no seating, just a row of garbage cans, so what the hell are people in Alberta doing in their cars that they need these ‘turnout areas’ every few kilometres? The funniest was this one though:

Me: That’s a weird billboard. It’s an ad for a moving company called ‘2 Burley Guys’.
Ken: That’s makes some kind of sense, I guess.
Me: I’d agree, but they spelled ‘burly’ wrong.
Ken: Maybe it’s actually their last name and they’re trying to be clever.
Me: Maybe the name ‘Burly Guys’ was already taken so they added the ‘e’ to avoid getting sued. Although I can’t imagine there would be two companies with that same name. Think of all the alternatives: Husky Helpers, Rugged Removers…
Ken: Strapping Sapiens, Muscular Men…

5 miles down the road, we passed another billboard. It was an ad for a moving company. The moving company was called ‘The Burly Boyz’.

Ken and me together: Ah.

Then we finally arrived in Edmonton, and went to drop off our rental car. We had rented through Avis, which is the most laidback car rental agency on the planet. When I called Enterprise to get a quote, they said, “Well, you’re not dropping the car off at the same place you rented it from, and then there’s the tax, and the insurance etc., so it will be three hundred and sixty-four dollars and twenty three cents.” Then I called Avis, and they said, “Sixty bucks. Bring it back in one piece and fill up the tank before you drop it off.” When we had picked it up at the airport, I asked the guy, “I rented it, but can my husband be the primary driver?” and the guy just looked at me and said, “Yeah, whatever.” The drop-off in Edmonton was in the middle of a construction site, and it was hell trying to find it. We realized that we were miles from our hotel, and when we got to Avis, the girl said, “Oh, we have a store right near your hotel. Why don’t you take the car back there and they’ll drive you?” So, OK. Then we asked her for directions and she laughed:

Girl: Oh, you know, that’s not my strong suit. Let me check Google. OK. You go left on 103rd St., then right on 103rd Ave. Then go right on 104th St. and then left on 104th Ave. Then right on 109th St. and right on 109th Ave. Then you’ll turn onto 105th St., and it’s just a couple of blocks up.
Me: Is that close to 105th Ave.?
Girl: Yes, it is! Do you know the city?
Me: No. Lucky guess.

Apparently, in Edmonton they don’t believe in giving streets actual names—they just use numbers to f*ck up the tourists. Anyway, we finally found the Avis store, and dropped off the car again. Then the rental car agent there almost killed us by driving straight into oncoming traffic (he actually asked obliviously, “What’s all that honking about?” as people were swerving to avoid him). We finally got to our hotel, a beautiful place called the Chateau Louis Conference Centre. It was decorated like a French Castle, and the room was really comfy. The best part was that it was a five minute cab ride to the train station, which was located at…12360 121st Street.

The next day, we got on the train, which was only 3 hours late, and set off for Vancouver—but that’s another story. Stay tuned, but here’s a teaser for now. Imagine the list of “valid reasons” I might have come up with…

I can think of several…

On a side note, I’ve returned to work and things are completely back to normal. On Wednesday, I was at a meeting and one of the managers said, “Due to government cutbacks, we’re short-staffed at the warehouse, so we’ll all have to take shifts there.” I immediately clapped my hands together in glee and asked, “Ooh, can I drive the forklift?!” and everyone laughed, because it turns out he was ONLY JOKING. But I wasn’t, so my intense inner embarrassment was outweighed only by my extreme disappointment.

*Also, bonus marks to anyone who knows what Hemingway short stories these pieces of dialogue are from.

My Week 204: Vacation Planning “Worst Case Style”

Ken and I are about to go on vacation. We’re flying to Calgary. Then we’re driving to Edmonton. Then we’re getting on a train to Vancouver. Then we’re taking a ship to Alaska. This whole ‘adventure’ has kicked my obsessive need to plan for the worst into high gear. I already figured out how to survive a train derailment when we were in Spain, and the lifeboat drills on a cruise ship are a tremendous comfort to me. The plane I know I can’t do anything about unless it lands in water but I booked an aisle seat just in case. (Ken: You should wear running shoes on the plane in case it crashes and we have to go down the slide. Me: I’m wearing flip flops in case we’re in water and I have to use them like flippers.) But there are other forces outside of my control that are making me very stressed; for example, I already found out three weeks ago that the train will be arriving in Vancouver 9 hours late. It hasn’t even left the damn station yet–how do they know?! The best I could do was build a 24-hour buffer into each of these segments of our journey because anyone who knows me well, knows that I always plan ahead. In fact, if you’ll remember, in an earlier blog I talked about buying Kate a book called The Little Book of Worst Case Scenarios so that even she, as a young child, could start to plan for disasters such as:

a) Bear Attacks: Make yourself look as large as possible and scream loudly to let the bear know you could take it in a fight. Do not run—bears are, apparently, very gazelle-like.

b) Driving a car into a river: Find an air pocket, wait for the car to be submerged, then open the door and swim to the surface. Kate was like “I’m seven years old–why would I ever drive my car into a river?” I DON”T KNOW, KATE. But if you plan for these things, you might SURVIVE them, and now that you’re twenty and have a driver’s license, it’s a damn good thing you know about this.

c) Bouncy Castle Mishaps: The survival rate for a bouncy castle you’re playing in which suddenly becomes untethered and floats away (which apparently happens more often than you think) is very poor. That’s why my child had boring but safe birthday parties.

So after years of careful consideration and planning, I feel ready for almost anything, like wrestling an alligator or even escaping from a burning bus. For example, I have hammers in strategic places around the house, which prompted Ken to ask, “Why do you have a hammer in the bathroom?” Answer: in case there’s a fire, and I can’t get to my new fire extinguisher, and I have to smash the bathroom window and crawl out onto the porch roof. Obviously. Here’s another example–in the winter, we put a wheelbarrow over the pond so that Titus doesn’t fall through the snow into the frigid water. This happened to our previous dog, prompting a very heated argument which had followed this earlier argument:

Ken: I’m going to dig a 3-foot deep pond.
Me: Don’t be ridiculous. Someone will fall in and drown.
Ken: No one is going to fall in. You’re worrying for no reason. It needs to be deep so the fish can survive the winter.
Me: I’m serious. Please, I’m begging you, don’t make it so deep.
Ken: I’m totally disregarding your emotions and I’m going to do what I want. Screw you. (OK, he didn’t actually say any of THAT, but he DID continue to dig a 3 foot deep pond despite my objections).

6 months later, we let the dogs out into the back yard. The pond was covered by a healthy layer of snow, and about ten minutes later, we realized that we couldn’t see one of the dogs, the really old one with bad arthritis. Yes, she had fallen into the pond, and it was too deep for her to climb out. Ken rushed outside and rescued her, prompting this heated argument, which I will sum up in one sentence:

Me: OMFG!! I TOLD you this would happen!! And the fish are all DEAD!!

Hence the wheel barrow which straddles the pond all winter. As you might already know, I also have a baseball bat under my side of the bed. This is the scenario for the baseball bat:

1) We wake up in the middle of the night to strange noises coming from downstairs.
2) Ken, as one does, offers to investigate. He puts on his housecoat and goes down with the dog, who is clearly agitated.
3) I wait, wracked with fear. There are shouts, commotion, then nothing.
4) I assume that the intruder has tied both Ken and Titus up, and is taunting them as he steals our stuff.
5) I quietly get the baseball bat out from under the bed and sneak downstairs. The intruder has his back to me.
6) Ken sees me, but luckily, he’s gagged so he can’t do what he would normally do and say something like, “Why do you have a baseball bat?!”
7) I swing, connect with the intruder’s head, and down he goes.
8) I free Ken and Titus, we tie up and gag the intruder, and then we call the police. Ta dah!

Would it happen like this in real life? Hopefully we’ll never have to find out.

So you see, I have impending disasters carefully planned, even in Toronto, where I live in a high rise building on the 34th floor during the week. This, of course, has led to a whole new set of worst case scenarios. For example, I have a balcony. Everyone is always like, “Awesome, you have a balcony—I’ll bet you can’t wait until it’s nice enough to sit out there.” Are you f*cking kidding me? Do you think there’s ANY way I will EVER sit out on a precipice that is over 400 feet from the ground? And here’s why. It occurred to me that the balcony figures prominently in several worst case scenarios, which I am slowly working my way through. Here’s the one I solved during my first month there, as I lay awake listening to the baby next door screaming like it was being throttled (it wasn’t, of course; when I politely inquired after its health in the morning, the mother told me they were “sleep training” him, and he was “very unhappy” about it. Oh yeah? I’ll bet he wasn’t as unhappy as me.) Anyway, I suddenly had this horrible thought that, say, I did take someone’s advice and try to grow pots of basil on the balcony. I go out there to water my plants, and somehow the door closes and locks behind me. I don’t know how that would actually happen, but say that it did. What now? I’m stuck on a 34th floor balcony, wearing only pajamas (because that’s what I was wearing when I started trying to solve this problem).

Option A: Scream for help. No, because I’m 34 floors up. No one on the ground can hear me, and the neighbours’ eardrums have been damaged by their ‘unhappy’ child.

Option B: Take off an article of clothing to wave around and attract attention. Well, I’m only wearing pajama bottoms and a T-shirt—which one do I use? I guess I have to decide HOW MUCH attention I actually want. But who will see me that high up anyway?

Option C: Start tossing the basil pots down to the ground until someone looks up and sees me (either topless or pantless) and calls the cops. This solution is unlikely because my experience with people downtown so far is that many of them are either completely self-absorbed and oblivious to the world around them, or looking down at the ground for cigarette butts.

No, the only sure thing is Option D: Keep an extra hammer out on the balcony. Then I can smash the glass in the patio door and get back into my condo. The hammer people must love me. Not only do I have several scattered around my house, I’ve purchased two for Toronto as well. I should probably put one in my desk drawer at work too, just in case. Fun fact: Via Trains are equipped with tiny hammers in boxes to smash the windows in case we are somehow trapped in the train. Nice to know they’ve been paying attention. Now if they could only arrive on time…

Update: Ken and I are in Vancouver right now, about to get on the boat. Man, do I have some stories for you when we get back!

My Week 173: Sewage, Spiders, Sundogs, and Stuff

 

Sign of the apocalypse?

Well, it’s been one of those weeks. I’d finally recovered from our trip to Montreal—the actual Montreal part was wonderful, but the train trip there and back was a total sh*tshow. We’d taken K and her girlfriend, the lovely V, but we couldn’t get seats together. “Don’t worry,” the VIA rep told me when I called. “The service manager has been notified and will help rearrange your seats once on board.” When we finally GOT on board the train, which was already 40 minutes late, the service manager very professionally shrugged and said, “I dunno. Ask someone to swap with you.” The train continued to be delayed at each stop with people getting on with duplicate seat assignments and the staff trying to figure out where to put them. It was a total comedy of errors with one lady finally saying, “Oh, I can just stand, I guess.” The three days in Montreal were great, but then we had to make our way back home, and it was even worse. We left on time, then at the first stop, the train literally shut down. Everything went dark. Car attendants started running frantically up and down the aisles whispering into walkie talkies. Once the train was fixed, 90 minutes later, it was clear we weren’t going to make our connection in Toronto, but no one would tell us what we should do. This, of course, made me super-stressed, because I always need to have a plan. Ken, on the other hand, just sat there unconcerned, making excuses for the train people, and telling me to “calm down”, which, as we all know, is THE BEST WAY to get someone with anxiety to stop freaking out. I got really mad, but then I realized later that it’s just the way Ken is. I realized this as we were watching TV the next night, and a commercial for septic tank cleaner came on featuring a man mowing his lawn and walking right through a puddle of sewage:

Me: That doesn’t make any sense. How could he not see that giant puddle of toilet spew?!
Ken: He was concentrating on mowing the lawn.
Me: Concentrating? He was going in a diagonal line across the lawn. No one mows like that. It’s like he purposely walked straight into it.
Ken: Don’t blame him. It’s not his fault that his septic tank was clogged.
Me: Well, who else clogged it, Ken?!
Ken: Calm down. See? He used CLR and now he can mow his lawn safely.

For the record, I sent VIA a sternly worded email, and they apologized and gave me all the points back that I’d used for the trip, so I won’t have to boycott the only train that takes me to and from Toronto, where I arrived on Sunday night.

Monday:

I saw my family doctor because I was having some pains, which turned out to be mostly from overenthusiastic abdominal crunches. He did, however, considering my age and lack of a uterus, suggest that I start taking estrogen. “Let’s try it,” he said as he wrote out the prescription, “Every day for 2 weeks, then twice a week after that.” When I went to the pharmacy to pick it up, things became very confusing. The pharmacist, who was a very young and good-looking fellow, said, “Have you ever used this before?” and when I said “No”, he pulled out the package and opened it to show me. Inside were cellpacks of long plungers. Each one had a small pill in the end. They looked like the thing you use to give your cat medication—you know, the long stick you shove down its throat and then pop the pill out. But I’m pretty good at taking pills—why would I need to use a cat plunger? Then the pharmacist said, “I highly recommend doing this right before bed. So the tablet doesn’t fall out.”

Me: Fall out?
Pharmacist (slightly embarrassed): Um, yes. You want to keep it in there. So better if you’re lying down for a while…
Me: OH!!! (hysterical laughter as it dawns on me where the pill actually goes) Because it would be awkward if that happened at work, right?!
Pharmacist: Um…
Me: Gotcha. Sorry—I thought at first I was supposed to swallow it.
Pharmacist: No, you—
Me: Say no more.

Wednesday/Thursday

As it turned out, the medication made me extremely sick, so I stopped taking it after three days, but not before the nausea had completely ruined my overwhelming joy at having to attend a two-day workshop on “Evidence-Based Decision Making”. The highlight of the two days was a pseudo-Jeopardy game that we played in teams. The CEO of the agency was sitting right next to me, so I had to bite my tongue and NOT object to the fact that NO ONE was answering in the form of a question. But at least I didn’t have to worry about jumping up excitedly if we won, and having a pill drop out of me. My team had the lowest amount of pretend money, but we were promised Final Jeopardy on the second day. We calculated and plotted carefully, so that we had a chance of winning if the other teams got the question wrong. But then the person running the slide deck put up the question AND the answer simultaneously by mistake. To appease the crowd, who were out for blood, she just gave everyone what they had bet, and I was like, “Oh, come on, Team Two! We all know you had no idea the answer was ‘What is a logic model’! You wouldn’t know a logic model if you tripped over it, Becky!”

Friday

I was finally feeling better and back onsite. I walked into my office, and felt something weird brush against my face. I wiped my forehead and my hand came away with a long string of spider web with the spider dangling from the end of it. The strand was also still attached to my head. I shook my hand furiously and the spider dropped to the floor, but in my panic, I threw off my coat, scarf and started doing a dance which involved hopping up and down, swatting at my hair, and screaming “Ah! Ah!” When I was finally done, I looked up and realized that the nice gentleman in the cubicle across from my office had been watching. “Whatever it was,” he said, “I think you killed it.”

Saturday

Ken and I were driving into town to have dinner with my parents. I was looking up the ballistic missile report in Hawaii that morning, and was telling Ken about how it was 38 minutes before they knew it was a false alarm when he suddenly said, “Look! There’s a sun dog!” So I looked directly at the sun.

Me: WTF! Why did you make me do that? Now I can’t see anything but sunspots!
Ken: Why did you look directly at the sun? You’re not supposed to do that.
Me: I wanted to see the dog.
Ken: A sun dog is a like a rainbow.
Me: Everyone knows you can’t see a rainbow if you’re facing the sun!
Ken: This is different. If it’s north of the sun, there’s a storm coming. If it’s south of the sun–
Me: How do I know what side of the f*cking sun it’s on, if I can’t look at the sun!

Then K, who hasn’t been to church since she was very little and has only been to one very secular wedding, started messaging me that she was at a wedding with V and she didn’t understand what was going on. It was hard to read because of the spots in front of my eyes, but the gist, in her own words, was this: a dude kissed the bible, raised up a cracker and another dude rang a bell. Then the first dude downed a glass of wine. I responded, “Did they try to make you eat the cracker?” and she said, “Don’t worry—I spirit blocked them”. I was reading all this and laughing when Ken said, “So what would YOU do in that half hour?”

Me: Meh, I’d just sit and think. That’s what I do when I’m bored—I think of something to write and then plan it out in my head. I do that all the time in meetings.
Ken: You’d be bored?
Me: Well sure. Plus I’m not really into religion.
Ken: You wouldn’t be scared?
Me: Well, they can’t MAKE you eat the cracker.
Ken: Cracker? It was a ballistic missile!

Then I realized that we were talking about two different things, because I forgot that I hadn’t yet shared K’s wedding experience with Ken. He, of course, was talking about Hawaii.

Sunday

I have to spend the rest of today creating a logic model for what I would do if a ballistic missile was heading towards Ontario and I had 38 minutes. Luckily, I just went to a workshop…

 

 

My Week 171: New Year’s Eve and International Chip and Dip Day

Well, another year is almost over. And yes, I’m aware that 2017 was NOT the kind of year that many people will look back on fondly. Personally, it was kind of a good year for me, all things considered. I still remember New Year’s Eve 1999, or “Y2K” as it was nicknamed, when we were all told that because of some computer glitch, at the stroke of midnight, the world just might come to an end. Apparently computer scientists are either not as smart as we give them credit for, or are incredibly pessimistic because rumour was that there wasn’t enough room in their computers for the extra zero in the year 2000. It was probably MUCH more complicated than that, but we didn’t have Twitter back then so that celebrities could explain it to us. Being the Queen of Worst Case Scenarios, I made Ken buy lots of bottled water, canned meat, and wood for the wood stove, just in case. Of course nothing actually happened, except that one minute after midnight, neighbours down the street screamed, “We’re still alive!” and we screamed back, “So are we!” Then the next morning, we went skating on our pond without coats on, because it was over 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees for my Imperial readers) which was VERY warm for that time of year here in Ontario. Of course, climate change was just a glimmer in its daddy’s eye 18 years ago, and now it can drink. And like most teenagers, it doesn’t handle its liquor well.

Anyway, we just got back from Montreal, Quebec, and while the three days we spent there were lovely, the train trip there AND the train trip back were the worse sh*t shows in the history of rail travel. But I’m going to leave that for another day, because I have to write a sternly worded email to Via Rail based on the tweet I sent them last night, to which they responded asking for more details.

But even though we had a great time in La Belle Province, for some reason, I woke up each morning wracked with anxiety, the source of which I couldn’t put my finger on. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a hair trigger for weird stress—maybe it’s just the thought that another year is done and I’m another year older. Maybe it’s that I have no idea what’s going to happen in 2018 and I would really like to hammer this sh*t out ahead of time, but I can’t and it makes me nervous. Or maybe it’s squirrels. Who the hell knows? So in honour of the fact that it’s New Year’s Eve, here’s another celebration that freaked me out:

International Chip and Dip Day:

At work, we have a social committee. They plan fun and interesting events, like ice cream socials, drinks after work, etc. At the beginning of last week, they sent out an email announcement that they were hosting a mini-celebration for International Chip and Dip Day. Now, I never knew that this was an actual festival, but it made total sense, because who doesn’t like chips/and or dip? I was really pumped for it, but then the stress started. We had to sign up at reception on a big, totally PUBLIC flip chart, and say what kind of chips we liked, and what kind of dip we were going to bring. This was a COMMITMENT. I take these things very seriously, so right away I should have known there would be issues. Here they are in chronological order:

1) I was excited to sign up, but when I got down to reception, there was only one other person signed up before me, and I didn’t want to seem too eager, so I left and waited until there were more people on the list. I spent a lot of time peeking my head around the corner, and when there were about 5 people ahead of me, it seemed appropriate. Yes, I realize that I was overthinking this in a very big way, completely disproportionate to the event itself. Thanks for pointing it out, Ken.

2) I had to specify what kind of chips I liked. In public. Were there chips that would make people think I was weird? If I asked for quinoa chips, would people think I was a little elitist? Would BBQ make me seem kind of redneck-y? I went with my gut and wrote down “Anything bacon-flavoured”. (This was after I figured out how to use the magic marker, which had a button that you slid up and down to get the marker nib out. It was very complicated and I almost threw in the towel right then and there, but there were chips and dip on the line so I persevered). Then it was time to commit to a dip. I panicked and wrote down the first thing that popped into my head, which was “Ranch Dip”. OK, cool. I had specified a chip and made a promise regarding dip. Now all I had to do was wait until the night before, and buy dip. Awesome. I totally had this.

3) Three days later, I had a panic attack. I had forgotten to buy dip, was working off-site, and had no way to get the dip to the office, even if I had it. When I finally confided to my co-workers that I was overwhelmed by guilt, they reminded me that Chip and Dip day wasn’t until Monday. Crisis averted.

4) On the weekend, I completely forgot about International Chip and Dip Day until I was driving to have coffee with a friend. I pulled a U-turn, and ran into the nearest grocery store, where I purchased two tubs of ranch dip. I decided that if I kept it in my car, then there was no way I would forget to take it back to Toronto, and I was only mildly worried about it staying cold. Which is weird in retrospect, because you’d think I would be more concerned with NOT giving my colleagues salmonella.

5) Sunday Night. I put the dip in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, all ready to take to work the next morning.

6) Monday Morning, 7:45 am: I left my condo and forgot to take the dip with me.

7) Monday Morning: 10:15 am: I popped out of work to run to my condo and get the dip (the party didn’t start until 2:00 pm—I thought). When I got back to work, I put the dip in the refrigerator and then realized that my colleagues had disappeared. When I finally found them, they were all in a VERY important meeting that had been called while I was out getting the dip. I didn’t know where the meeting was, and ended up coming in noticeably and embarrassingly late. Stupid dip.

8) At 2:07 pm, I looked at the clock and realized that the party had started, and my dip was still in the refrigerator. I took off from my desk, ran to the kitchen, got my dip, and went to the boardroom where the party was being held. The only person there was someone from a different department who was carefully arranging chickpeas in a circle around a glass, flowered plate of homemade hummus. She gently reminded me that the party didn’t start until 2:30. I cracked the lids off my tubs of dip nihilistically, and left her there, lovingly spooning out her decorative chickpeas.

9) As it was coming up to 2:30, I made a decision. It was all more than I could take, and I refused to start worrying about when would be the right time to go to the boardroom ie: if I went right at 2:30, would people think I was over-anxious (yes, I get the irony), but if I waited until closer to 3, would I miss the party altogether? I was done. The only way I was going was if someone came to my desk and personally invited me. Screw it. But at exactly 2:30, members of the social committee began going to everyone’s desks, inviting them individually to come to the International Chip and Dip Day celebration. A couple of my colleagues were feeling guilty that they had forgotten to bring dip for the party and didn’t think they should go, so I said, “Hey, no worries—I brought two tubs, so we can say it was a group effort.” They were like, “Excellent!” so we all went to International Chip and Dip day together, and I was so relieved that it was finally over that I barely cared that most people had brought home-made dip, while I had cheaped out on Philly.

Happy New Year to all my wonderful followers. May your 2018 be filled with joy. And if you ever get stressed about something small, and it makes you feel super-anxious and silly and alone, just remember that you now know someone who freaked out about chip dip.

My Week 152: Trip Part Two, Bats in the Belfry, The Irony of the KKK

Wales and Scotland—the journey continues

So last week I ended with a promise that I would tell you about a couple of my favourite places from our recent trip to Wales and Scotland. There are three notable spots that I’d like to mention:

1) Stonehenge

Stonehenge isn’t in Wales or Scotland, but our boat docked in Southampton and we had to drive to Swansea. Luckily, Stonehenge was on the way. I’d always wanted to see it for myself, and despite the fact that there’s a huge fence around it and you can’t get that close, and there’s a super-touristy gift shop, it was pretty impressive. There’s a lot of speculation about why and how it was built. Historians now believe it was for ancient pagan religious ceremonies and such, and that they brought stones from as far away as North Wales. Personally, I think it was a guy who was bored and built it for fun, just because he could. Ken does that all the time—for example, he built himself a 16 by 20 workshop just because he wanted to, and he put in dormer style windows in the top. When I asked him why he needed fancy windows for a building where he would be hammering and nailing sh*t, he replied that he’d always wanted to try building something in the “Cape Cod” style. Now of course, it has corbels and architectural detailing, as well as a gazebo to one side that he created using metal that he brought all the way from Woodstock, and which sits overtop of the graves of our last two dogs. In 2000 years, historians will speculate about the purpose and design of “Fix-it Shop”, and wonder whether it was used for animal sacrifices. “It must have been a major centre for many worshippers,” they will say. “Look at the extraordinary number of hammers and screwdrivers—too many for just one man.”

2) Portmeirion

Portmeirion is a village in Wales that was built by one guy, just because he could (see above). It’s the ultimate homage to salvage and it’s absolutely beautiful. The story goes like this: Sir Clough William-Ellis bought 22 acres of land in Wales, and decided to recreate an Italianate village there by going to auctions and buying buildings, statues, and architectural pieces from other British nobles who couldn’t afford the upkeep on their property any more. It became kind of a magnet for pop stars, artists, and writers in the middle part of the 20th century when Sir Clough was still around. Now, it’s a tourist site where you can actually stay in the buildings which have been converted into guest accommodations, wander the property, and buy things at the gift shop. The best part about the place though is that it was used as the set for a bizarre 1960s series called The Prisoner. We watched a few clips of the show, and it was very cool to say, “I stood in that exact same spot!” or “That’s where the giant-ass chess board is now!” Ken and I only have an acre of property, but we do have four outbuildings, so we’re on our way to becoming a mini-Portmeirion. I’m currently in the market for a small grotto, so if you hear of any lord who’s fallen on hard times and has one to sell for cheap, let me know.

3) My own property in Scotland

As you may remember, I am now a Lady, having been presented with the title to 10 square feet of land in a nature reserve in Scotland after complaining that everyone else in the family was nobility except me. K thought it sounded kind of sketchy, but it’s actually true (well, the landownership part if not the “peer of the realm” part), and on our second last day, Ken, K, and I decided to drive up to the Duror area to visit our property. We didn’t know what to expect. We had directions from someone named Stewart, and we were told we were too late to book an actual tour, but we were welcome to come and visit the property. When we got there (down a single-track road, because that’s how you know you’re in the UK), we came out into a parking area with a small, log-style cabin. But there were other cars around, so we knocked on the door. A woman called for us to come in, and then next thing you know, we’d logged into the wifi, downloaded their GPS app, were handed personalized maps of the reserve. It was a lot more high-tech than I imagined it would be. We followed the GPS compass through the dead forest—“dead” because we were told that it had originally been a corporate logging area, and that the North American spruce trees had been planted too close together, causing them to crowd each other out so that none of them could grow properly. The 5 year plan is to take all of them down and plant native Scottish species, but currently, it’s dark and forbidding:

K: Those are like trees that had some terrible disease and died. Who would want to own THAT? It’s like a tree graveyard.
Me: Can you imagine the poor sucker who paid good money to own 10 square feet in THERE?
K and Me: I know, right?! HAHA.
Ken: Um, the GPS says to turn left in 10 metres.
Me: But that would be into the dead forest…

Sure enough, both K’s and my land were in the part of the reserve that’s going to be “rejuvenated” over the next 5 years. But we were pretty happy to discover that our property was on the far edge of the dead forest, where there was a little sunshine and some moss growing:

K: I have a mushroom on my land!
Me: You’re so lucky–I wish I had a mushroom! But I have all this lovely moss. Ooh, there’s a bird in my dead tree!

In truth, the whole place was beautiful, despite the dead trees. There are fields, and rivers, and all kinds of lovely forest creatures. And because it’s been parcelled out, it can never be developed or destroyed, so it was well worth the 85 bucks we each paid for it. K and I each buried toonies (Canadian two dollar coins) in our land so that future civilizations would know that Canadians were capable of crossing the great water. And in five years, when the whole thing has been rejuvenated, I’m coming back and building a tiny castle to oversee my estate. Just because I can.

Friday: Bats in the Belfry

When Ken, K, and I were in Wales, we visited this manor house/castle and went for a tour. The tour guide told us that the one place we couldn’t go was into the attic, because there were bats up there. Essentially, the bats sh*t all over everything, including the top side of the elaborate ceiling on the third floor with glass inserts, and you could see the bat guana, but the National Trust people couldn’t clean it until the bats “migrated for the winter” because—wait for it—“bats are a protected species”. In what possible world is a creature that’s half mouse, half insane miniature dinosaur protected from being removed from any premises without its consent? Well, the “possible world” is the UK, where bats are seen as lovely denizens of the night, rather than bitey little assholes. The tour guide even had a dead bat in a box that she insisted on showing us. His name apparently was Cecil, and I was like, “Is naming a dead bat corpse a Welsh thing?” One English guy on the tour was really up in arms, and told me that if you wanted to convert a barn into a residence but there were bats, you had to call in a special agency, who, for the cost of around 10, 000 pounds, would do a study and tell you whether or not you had to make special provisions to ensure the bats would be safe. I was like, “I’m from Canada. We just exterminate them,” and he was like, “I wish! Bloody bats!” He seemed a little over-invested, so maybe he’d been dinged with a large bat-bill from the bat conservation people. Personally, I feel bad that sometimes it’s necessary to “get rid” of the bats, but hey—I don’t go hanging around in their caves, pooping on THEIR floors, so they can just stay out of my space or pay the price. My only previous experience with bats was a couple of times one has gotten in the house, and Ken has been able to shoo it out the open door, so I’ve been a lot more sympathetic to the little creatures of the night. But then on Friday, Ken was away, and K and I were alone in the house. About midnight, I heard scrambling in the same cupboard as a few weeks ago, and I ran upstairs to K in a panic:

Me: There’s something in the chimney again!
K: It’s probably a bird. Let’s go see!
Me: Don’t you dare open the cupboard door!

We raced each other downstairs, but then when she heard the noise, she saw sense and we decided that the best plan of action was to close the door to the back room and wait for Ken to come home. The next day, Ken came back from the computer camp he was running, and after a while, I mentioned to him that there was something in the chimney again. “I’ll go look,” he said, and I hid behind the door, as one does. “Holy sh*t! It’s a bat. It’s just hanging on the inside of the cupboard door,” he said.

“Is it moving?”

“No. I think it’s asleep. Come and look.”

So I did, and there it was in all its creepy glory. “Take a picture of it,” I said.

Ken took one picture, then he tried to zoom in for another, at which point the bat stared straight at him, bared its teeth (zoom in on the picture to see how terrifying it truly is) and hissed. I didn’t know regular bats actually HAD teeth—I thought that was just vampire bats, but now I was living in f*cking Transylvania and this bat looked just like Gary Oldman only without the weird white wig.

Me: Shut the door! Get out!
Ken: I can’t shut the cupboard door—I might hurt his wing!
Me: His WING??!! Fine—don’t come crying to me when he bites your neck and turns you into the undead!

So we shut the door to the room, opened the patio doors, and hoped that the bat would be sensible and leave. Later, when I made Ken go back and look, there was no sign of the bat. So now I don’t know if it’s a) still in the chimney b) hiding in the room somewhere c) plotting its revenge.

The Irony of the KKK—a throwback.

With recent events in the news, I thought I might re-share some of my thoughts from previous posts regarding the stupidity of racists in general, the KKK, and its offshoot, the KKK lite, who are people that can’t afford bed sheets but don’t like anyone who’s not white…

…Isn’t it the biggest irony of all that David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan, has a Jewish first name? All those crazy anti-Semites out there, and most of them are named after Hebrew people. I wonder if they realize that. Although from the idiocy I’ve seen and read coming from the so-called “alt-right”, I highly doubt it…

Imaginary KKK rally

David Duke: All right, white virgins—time to put on your silly hoods. Aaron, Adam, Ben—you guys are in charge of leading the chanting. Dan, Ethan, and Gabe—you can set the cross on fire.
All: Yeehaw! That’ll show those foreigners with their weird-ass names and strange, cultish behaviour.
David Duke: Look at me! Whee! I’m a wizard!

…the KKK confuses me. Are they supposed to be Christian? Cuz their leader is a male witch, and that sounds really magic-y to me. Plus, why do they burn crosses? These guys are just FULL of irony. Or stupidity. It’s hard to differentiate with the KKK…

Imaginary conversation with the KKK.

Me: Why are you dressed like a cheap-ass ghost? You know Hallowe’en isn’t until October, right?
KKK guy: I’m not a ghost. I’m a wizard. A grand wizard.
Me: Whoa there, Hogwarts. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. You haven’t done any magic yet. Can you turn lead into gold? Where’s your wand? Is it hiding under your Ikea bed sheet?
KKK guy: Ergh. Immigrants are taking all the good jobs.
Me: What job? You can’t even do a card trick. You’re a sh*tty wizard–an immigrant could do YOUR job better.
KKK guy: Please don’t punch me. Also, the bagpipe music is frightening me.
Me: As it should, you dumb f*ck.

Oh, and by the way, there’s no such thing as either “White Nationalists” or the “Alt-Left”. They are either “Nazis”, or “normal people who care about other human beings”, respectively. All we can hope for is that the former angrily inbreed themselves into extinction, and the latter keep happily standing up for humanity.

My Weeks 150/151: Travelling Dangerously on the Queen Mary 2 and Throughout the U.K.

I’m on a boat!

Well, I WAS on a boat. Then in a car, then on a plane, and now I’m back. I hope you didn’t miss me too much—it’s the first time in years that I haven’t made my weekly journey into the absurd. Even when I had surgery last year, I wrote something ahead of time, and had Ken post it for me. This past week though, anyone who could have figured out my computer and hit “upload” was actually with me. Plus, I didn’t have anything new to tell you until I got back. Which is now. So fasten your seatbelts and secure the overhead bins—things are going to get slightly humorous.

So, as you know, I like to live life on the edge. And while maybe it’s usually the edge of sanity, or reason, the fact is that I’m pretty much a daredevil when it comes to travel, which I will get to in a minute. As you may or may not know, I’ve been away the last two weeks, having taken the Queen Mary 2 over to the United Kingdom with my whole family, parents, siblings, and children included. Then we all split up and went our separate ways, with me, Ken, and K going first to Wales and then to Scotland. It was an excellent trip—let me break it down for you. First, the boat (which my dad keeps telling me is a “ship” not a “boat”, so if you’re extremely old and extremely rich, the Queen Mary is definitely the “ship” for you. Unfortunately, I am NEITHER, so it was an interesting experience to be on that particular BOAT, DAD, haha.)

Part One:

Things I liked about the Queen Mary 2:
a) Like most cruise ships, it was decorated like an upscale brothel, which made me feel very risqué.
b) The beds were comfortable and you could stay in them all day if you wanted to.
c) You could get breakfast brought to your cabin instead of having to get dressed, and it didn’t cost anything extra.
d) The food was OK. There was always bacon, and I mean real bacon, not those weird-ass slabs of pan-fried ham that the Brits think is bacon. Silly Brits.
e) There were two guys who played the piano and told jokes, and they were so funny that I saw them twice.

Things I didn’t like about the Queen Mary 2:
a) You could stay in your bed all day because there was literally nothing much else to do that was interesting or didn’t cost you a lot of extra money. The lectures were either on war, politics, or Broadway musicals, and the other “seminars” were sponsored by the Spa, as in ‘Come to our session on Botox and hear an expert talk about why it’s so great and then you can get a discount on a costly Botox treatment’, or by the Art Gallery, as in ‘Come to our session on this unknown artist and then you can buy his extremely expensive painting of emoji-faced lollipops for a significant discount’. The other activities all had costs associated with them, like the red wine tasting entitled, “Syrah, Shiraz? What’s the difference? Find out for a nominal fee of $120”. 120 bucks for a flight of 6 small glasses of wine? For that price, I can wait until I get home, buy 10 full bottles and find out for myself, so Que Syrah Shiraz to you. There were also art classes for a fee, and a variety of other things you could do that all cost extra. Why is that a problem? Because whenever there was any activity for free, it was a MOB SCENE. For example, there was a free rum tasting at the duty-free liquor shop one day, and people were rioting like it was the only Red Cross water truck in the middle of the desert. And yes, obviously I was there because it was FREE RUM. Just as I was about to get my tiny plastic cup, a guy beside me whined that he’d been waiting for twenty minutes and still hadn’t gotten any. I was like, “Here’s the line-up, mate. Try standing in it.” Because I’m CANADIAN, and we are extremely OCD about line-up protocols, which a lot of other countries aren’t and it makes me crazy. I firmly believe that the inherent understanding of how to line up in an orderly fashion is what makes a culture civilized, and the Fall of the Roman Empire can be directly traced back to their inability to queue properly.
b) The ship’s House Band was a group known as “Purple Haze.” Mostly because they covered the whole ship with a fog of Motown and cover songs. They weren’t actually bad if you like a reggae version of Justin Beiber’s ‘Love Yourself’—they were just EVERYWHERE. In the lounge after breakfast—Purple Haze. Poolside at lunch—Purple Haze. In the ballroom during afternoon tea—Purple Haze. In the very sad little disco that no one ever went to because most of the passengers went to bed at 10 pm—Purple Haze. I swear if the ship was ever sinking, it would be to the “fine musical stylings of Purple Haze”.

Overall, the good outweighed the bad. It was a very relaxing crossing, and the best part was that our whole family was together for the journey. And seeing K all dressed up for dinner was pretty cool.

Part Two:

I am a total f*cking badass when I’m travelling and here’s why:

1) Despite the fact that I’m severely allergic to shellfish, I wandered the beaches of Wales and collected seashells. This doesn’t sound dangerous, but the last time I did that in British Columbia, I picked up some shells then accidentally chewed on my cuticle (not so much an accident as part of an OCD thing), and then my lips swelled up. So now, if I want to collect seashells, I’m literally TAKING MY LIFE IN MY OWN HANDS, and have to consciously avoid putting my fingers in my mouth until I can wash with soap and water, or else risk having to use my epipen. I live my life on the edge, folks.

2) I am deathly afraid of heights, but I still climbed up ruined castle towers and stood on ramparts that were 100 feet in the air. Did I have a full-blown panic attack at Harlech Castle when I realized that I was on the top of a stone wall with no guardrails and at any moment some unruly British child could run past me, causing me to lose my balance and fall to my death? I may or may not have. (I did). But I still crawled back to the stairs like the daredevil I am instead of crying like a big baby.

3) I defied the tide and clambered over jagged rocks to make my way to a private little alcove half a kilometre from the main beach at our bed and breakfast in Wales (which is called Kilsaran House and it was amazing). I had no choice really—K and Ken announced they were doing it, and I had to go along or be left behind to worry about them dying. I figured if I was with them, I could scout out the worst case scenarios before one of them fell off a tippy rock or poked a jellyfish with their fingers. I spent the whole time with one eye on the ocean and one eye on the rocks that threatened to break my ankles. But we made it there, and I was glad I went with them, because who else besides me was going to shout “I forbid you to climb that cliff!” or “That crab might not be dead so don’t pick it up!”

4) I made an old man give me a chair, all by my bad-ass self. In fairness, I HAD the chair, and he tried to take it away, but I was like “Out of my cold, dead hands, elderly English dude!” I should probably provide a little context—on the “ship” (there you go, Dad), they had trivia competitions 4 times a day, and because it was one of the few activities onboard that was actually free, EVERYBODY went. Except it was held in a small pub with limited seating, so people got pretty testy about the chairs, especially since you could play in teams of 6 and the tables and chairs were arranged in groupings of 4. So this particular time, I asked a guy if he was using one of his chairs, and he said no. I was in the process of moving it when this big old man came over and pulled it out of my hands. Seriously. He was like, “Oh, I have this chair,” and I was like, “Um, I asked for it first, but whatever” and I let go. Because I’m Canadian, and a chair isn’t worth being a dick over. But my sacrificial, and slightly sarcastic attitude made him feel  bad, so he gave it back to me. Score one for the good guys.

5) Driving in the UK is enough to earn anyone the moniker of ‘madcap heroine’. Of course, I wasn’t actually driving—I was the navigator, having never learned to drive a stick shift. I mean, why have a dog and bark, am I right? But the Brits drive on the wrong side of the road (yes it is, don’t argue), and the bulk of my job was yelling at Ken “Stay to the left!” Also, the “roads” in the UK, especially in Wales aren’t really roads at all, at least not by Canadian standards. What they call a major roadway in Wales is what we call a “tractor path” here. For example, the so-called road to our first bed and breakfast went through a gravel parking lot and out the other side, then became a one-lane walking path with little spots to pull over in case someone was coming in the other direction. The directions we were given said “go past Hunter’s Fleece Cottage, then follow the track downhill for 100 yards” where there was an almost sheer vertical drop. Getting back up was a treat, with Ken gunning it in third gear and hoping to hell that no one was coming the other way. The best part was when the GPS would announce, “Take the next left onto A725” and it would SOUND like a real road, but it would be one lane, pinned in on both sides by rock walls, and suddenly there would be sheep.

I was a kick-ass navigator until the day that Ken decided to defy the GPS and plot his own route:

Ken: I took a screenshot of the way I want to go. Where do I turn next?
Me: How do I turn the Ipad on?
Ken: Push that button. Where do I turn?! I need to know now!
Me: Where’s the ‘You are here’ arrow? How do I know where to turn if I don’t know where I am?
Ken: We started from New Steddon Road. Where do I go next?
Me: The map goes sideways if I try to figure out which way is North.
Ken: I don’t need North! I just need to know where to turn! God, I forgot how bad you are with maps!
Me: I’m not bad with maps! You can’t just give someone a screen shot of some streets, not tell them where they’re starting from, and expect them to calculate your route! I’m not a GPS, you know.
Ken: Fine, just program the GPS then.
Me: OK. Where are we going again?
Ken: Sigh.
K: What’s going on?
Me: Just go back to sleep. I’ve got this covered.

Two other minor proofs of my bad-assedness: I walked through the haunted corridor of a castle. It wasn’t—I have plenty of experiences with ghosts (see My Week 69: Ghost Stories) and there wasn’t one there, despite the place being featured on some reality show where a woman swore there was electromagnetic energy and an angry ghost who wanted to strangle people. Also, I ate haggis. If you’re Scottish, you have to. I just love being descended from a culture whose national dish is so disgusting that you have to force yourself to eat it, but you’re so stoic that you do it anyway. My Scottish cousin Lynn put it this way: “I keep trying it because I want to like it, but it’s so gross”. So there you go. I’m a devil-may-care, throw caution to the winds kind of gal who’s happy to be home where I can use a hair dryer in my own bathroom and eat the best national dish of all–poutine.

Next week, I’ll tell you about some of my favourite places from the trip, but for right now, I’m still kind of jet-lagged. Plus, my head thinks it’s 5 o’clock instead of noon, so time for a nice glass of wine–maybe a Syrah…