Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A wet day in Halifax, NS

Canadian dream – revisited

The Highlights

My one day in Halifax was wet. The kind of wet that comes at you in a horizontal straight line and chases you everywhere you go.

I have just begun to play the guitar and someone suggested to me that I could buy a second hand guitar for $40, trail it around the country with me and give it away before coming home. The first stop in town was the Halifax Folklore Centre to see if such a buy existed. I spent about two minutes it this unique store, just enough time to gaze at immaculate instruments lining the walls while listening to a couple of customers, or staff members, belting out ‘Dueling Banjos’. I scuttled back out into the rain with my humble head hanging low.

It is just as well Halifax has some fine restaurants to hide in. Dinner that evening was a mouth watering seafood plate served up in the very popular McKelvie’s. But before that yummy nachos were gobbled up for lunch in The Argyll in Argyll Street.

It was while I was waiting in The Argyll for the rain to take a break that I was grabbed by a tune from the radio. A catchy little number with hilarious lyric; The Pick Up Truck by Shane Yellowbird. It was made even better by the accompaniment issuing forth from the cheery wee waitress who served me. I was amazed when, that evening, I watched Shane on TV lift an award at the Canadian Country Music Awards. Well done Shane. I now have another song to add my growing repertoire of tunes I can’t play.

Just read

I only wanted to take one book on holiday so I had to be a big one.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is the semi autobiographical story of two families in the Salinas Valley in California. It tracks the life of the Trasks who have lots of money, good land and no desire to make use of the land and the Hamiltons, how have poor land and work hard to scrape a living from it. The story like Steinbeck’s other great novel The Grapes of Wrath has a biblical connection. In East of Eden Cane and Abel is used to throw up the strong themes of sibling rivalry and the quest for parental approval. Unlike Grapes of Wrath the characters in this book are given the space to show what they can do. The best character is the Chinese servant who rears the Trask boys when their mother deserts them to run a whore house and their father sinks into depression.

The style is that of a narrator telling the story from a chummy omniscient point of view. This works very well. Steinbeck uses a wonderful wholesome language, which thrills in its simplicity and effectiveness.

I loved this book but left it feeling that it didn’t quite impact me with the punch Grapes of Wrath swung. They are both worth reading

Monday, 24 September 2007

Back on Scottish soil

Sorry for the Absence

Well it just didn’t happen. I had hoped to blog some of my holiday experiences on the way round but the truth is I didn’t want to spend time indoors, away from the glorious Canadian sunshine, to write this blog.

Canadian dream – revisited

Glasgow, Scotland to Halifax, Nova Scotia in less than five and a half hours is pretty good going and the time difference is only four hours. I walked out of Halifax airport into a welcome 27C into a sunshine I hadn’t felt for years.
But even though Nova Scotia experienced an Indian Summer over the last few weeks, their tourist industry closed on September 2nd.

The highlights

Peggy’s Cove - This neat little fishing village, with its granite rock formations scattered around timber fishing houses, form the backdrop for some stunning photo opportunities. A tall lighthouse perched on massive rocks give the tourist something to aim for. Peggy’s Cove gave me my first encounter with a ‘Fifth Wheel’, a motor home the size of a Double Decker bus, strapped to a truck. These monsters are trundled back and forth across this vast country. Why do folks find the need to carry their entire homes with them?

Caledonia and The Kejimkujik National Park - On the map Caledonia looks to be a significant town, in reality it is one street with a supermarket, a hardware store, a junk shop and a diner. It does however have one great little bed and breakfast.

Aunt Nettie’s is run by Cindy and dominated by Abby, the mad Jack Russell terrier who ensures that the premises is kept squirrel free by terrorizing the garden tree. As soon as the front door opens Abby tears across the lawn to her tree yapping like a raging… Jack Russell.

A few miles up the road from Caledonia is the Kejimkujik National Park. The walks presented by the rangers vary through high forests of old hemlock to loch side rambles. I am sure the best way to see this park is by canoe, but being a land lover I opted to chance meeting a black bear on the trail.

After a hard day on the trail Colin and I ate at the nearby diner M & W’s. This busy dinner is run by the wily Marilyn who tempted me with the mouth watering pastry of her home made blueberry pie. She worked the diner, May through to October from 8.00 in the morning till 9.00 at night as well as looking out for customers to her store next door. But even after closing and leaving for home, if a hungry body turns up at her door she will feed them.

One such hungry body I met was a biologist who had trailed through the park. He was studying the decline of loons, the result of mercury in the water and their food. It seems that even in protected areas pollution still creeps in by way of rain fall. The poor guy had been eating trail food for five days; all he wanted was a plate full of grease and a big piece of pie.
Tip - make the most of everything
When I go on holiday I always try to leave the house clean and tidy. I don't go mad with the cleaning, just enough to make a difference.
When I arrived home yesterday it was wonderful to walk through the door into a sweet smelling, bright, shiny house.
I then proceeded to erupt my rucksack all over the floor and make a complete mess of the place, but that was OK.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Books and Films

DVD - Black Book

I don't watch telly, well maybe a little, but I do indulge in the occasional film. Three a month to be exact. We hire DVDs from Amazon. We compile a list of old and new release films and receive them by post. Once the film has been watched it's popped back in its pre-paid envelope, posted back and within a couple of days the next film on the list arrives. It's great.

This week the offering was Black Book, a dutch film with English subtitles. Black Book is the story of a Jew involved in the Dutch Resistance just before the end of WWII. The story is well plotted and convincing and the actress who plays the lead, Carice van Houten, is brilliant as the Jew who falls for the German she is sent to spy on. The revulsion she tries to hide, as she sings a duet with the SS officer she saw murder her family, can only be describe as simpering contempt.

Just Read

The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov is my first real venture into the world of Russian Literature and I enjoyed every minute of it. The novel is a fantastical story of a visit to Moscow by the Devil and a few of his side kicks. The Devil uses a theatre black magic show to gain access to large numbers of Muscovite and tempt these poor people with money and fine clothes. He exposes the worst traits in them and sends a number of the theatre staff to the lunatic asylum in the process. The only two characters immune to the mischief are the Master, a writer who burns his own novel about Pontius Pilate before ending up in the asylum, and Margarita his lost mistress, who left her husband to become a witch and host Satan's Ball so she could free her mad lover.

The novel is packed with fanciful stories and an intriguing account of Pontius Pilate's part in the demise of the Messiah. The descriptions and images are described in a rich and unique style. The one problem I had reading this novel was the weird nightmares that visited me, so in a way I am please to close the last page and look forward to a peaceful night's sleep.

On Holiday

I am off to Canada tomorrow. I hope I can post some snippets while I am there.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Tip - make the most of everything

Stoning plums

Stoning plums is a messy business and time consuming. When I have an activity like this I choose a piece of fun music, none of yon intense thought provoking stuff, and I blast it out of my little kitchen CD player. Yesterday I choose 'Most Wanted Music 7'. A cheeky little compilation number I picked up while working in Denmark in 1998. This mix of Euro trash is perfect for floating off into mind numbing nostalgia, although it did make me wonder what did happen to B*witched, Hit'n'Hide and Aqua. Madonna's Immaculate Collection is another good bet for this job.

As soon as I finish stoning I clean up the mess (and have a wee boggy round the kitchen) before moving on to the next stage. The stones go into my compost bin, but I would imagine they will take a while to break down.

Artist Way

I am currently working my way through Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. A twelve week course to free an artist's blocked creativity. I have tired this programme before, years ago, but I failed to progress past week three, I am now on week four. I don't feel creatively blocked but I thought this would be a good opportunity to try some of the exercises while I am between novels one and two.

One of the tasks on week four, which I refuse to do, is the reading deprivation. No way can I abstain from reading. It's just plain cruel.

The main problem I have with the Artist's Way is the heavy reliance it places on accepting that creativity comes from God. That coincidence and synchronicity occurs because God has willed it. I find it vain to expect God to be sitting around feeding struggling artists little gem ideas when there is so much suffering to be dealt with.

I do accept that when writing there is a form of Divine intervention, things do just happen to me. However, I prefer to believe this power comes from my dead ancestors. I can just see them floating around somewhere wanting the best for one of their tribe. I suppose this view is similar to that of the Native Americans. I'll let God get on with the serious stuff.

I am off on holiday next week but plan to continue with the tasks and record some of the outcomes here.

On my previous excursion along this 'Way' I learned the benefits of morning pages. This is a routine whereby I write three A4 pages of muses as soon as I rise in the morning. The purpose is to force myself to turn up at the page every day, but it also allows me to voice any issues or worries I have. This is a practice I have now been observing for about four years; as a therapeutic and writing practice there is no better tool in my opinion. I am hooked.

Another of Artist's Way basics is the Artist's date. This allows me to take myself off somewhere, alone, and spend time with my creative self. It doesn't have to be far, it might even be sitting at home watching an old movie. The important thing about the artist's date is that it frees the mind of humdrum. An Artist's dates can be doing what Julia Cameron calls an artist activity, a physical activity that allow the artist to drift away from day to day problems and enter the realm of fantasy.

I think stoning plums is a perfect artist's activity.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Blisters on feet and hands

Southern Upland Way

My usual lazy Saturday morning was disrupted this week. A 6.15am rise was required to transport me to Wanlockhead in the Scottish Borders to begin a long, long stage of the Southern Upland Way. But because this was a charity walk for CHAS, my moaning was kept to a minimum. Wanlockhead claims to be the highest village in Scotland, and judging from the freezing mist that welcomed me when I left the nice cosy car I realised the this boast was true.

The stage Colin and I did was Wanlockhead to Beattock. The freezing hill fog persisted as we climbed Lowther Hill. This hill has a huge 'golf ball' aircraft tracking station on top, and although I walked within feet of this marvel, I detected only a notion of a globe in the gloom. As the mist sprayed my face and dewed my leggings I realised that this fine moisture was beginning to soak through to my skin. I had no alternative but to don waterproof gear.

The terrain was undulating to say the least, as soon as my legs became accustomed to the climb they were asked to descend. A gentle wee stroll across a dam head was followed by a steep trudge along a switchback ridge. Fifteen miles into the walk I felt the beginnings of a blister. Miles later a visitor's car park sign told me I had only two and a half miles to walk to reach Beattock: it was far from encouraging. This last section was on The Crooked Road and the name says it all! What the sign failed to mention was that the way was peppered by herds of cows lorded over by a massive bull. My blister were forgotten while I manoeuvred past the beast.

After nine and a half hours and twenty plus miles of walking, with over a thousand metres of ascent, I finally peeled off my boots and socks to reveal first degree burns weeping on both ankles. Splendid!

Tibbie Shiels Inn

My reward for this endurance was a night B & B in a local hostelry. The Tibbie Shiels Inn is an old coaching Inn originally run by the widow of a Border mole catcher. The Inn sits on the southern edge of St Mary's Loch, surrounded by rolling heather splashed Border Hills. As I hobbled into the bar and guzzled a pint of the local beer my earlier ordeal began to fade. The menu was uninspiring but I could have eaten a scabby 'dug'. In the end I gobbled up an unremarkable mixed grill before the kitchen closed at the ridiculously early hour of 8pm. The accommodation was a strange mix of antique chairs and white DIY cabinets. 1960s net curtain screened our view of the car park and although the shower worked, a scorching hot bath would have been preferable to the pitiful hot trickle. But the bed was clean and comfortable. A duvet was forgone in favour of a traditional honeycomb blanket and simple hand made quilt.

The owner, a formidable elderly lady with an impeccable white coiffure, took no nonsense from her clients. The Inn's quirkiness was spoiled for me by the sadness I felt. This historic coaching Inn treasure has grown old and tired, but I can imagine that such an operation takes time energy and lots of capital to make it work.

Food for free
The two trees in my neighbours garden drip with jewels, rubies waiting to be plucked. When he invited me to help myself to the ripe plums I jumped at the invitation. A jelly pan full of plump juicy fruit made hardly a dent in the tree's offering. 12lb of fruit was collected in minutes. That is a hell of a lot of stoning. 6lb I tackle right away and soon had a gallon of wine brewing. The rest will be chopped up for jam and chutney tomorrow night; after I have been out to check up on the progress of the sloe bushes in the hedgerow