…as we wait for an internet connection. Your call is important to us. Really.
We’ve just got back to Calgary, and you know how it is in the big city compared to living in more isolated locations. Yes, big city life and all the conveniences, like reliable internet, functioning remotes to parkade doors, no lineups in supermarkets due to a high level of staffing, and happy, happy people. (Apparently, I’ve forgotten how to drive, at least that’s what fellow urban road users appear to think. Maybe that chap in the shiny red pickup was waving a fond hello?) All invisible modern problems, but my goodness, being back in the city might have raised my resting heart rate just a touch.
As I’m in cheerful rant mode, I’ll continue. I’m writing this on my phone out and about, and since the paragraph above took about 3 hours, and I can barely read the screen, this will have to be brief. Please excuse any typos, but no need to excuse the incoherence – it’s all good, and I’m quite enjoying myself.
Hopefully, the photos I’ve included are reasonable – again, it’s hard to see when viewing on the small screen, at least for my tired old eyes. Plus, I’m on high alert due to being in an urban setting full of fashionable young people, and I’m sure they’re all looking at me, wondering what he’s doing, sitting in the corner and muttering at his phone. Have I mentioned my inner city induced paranoia? (Calm down, PlaidCamper, you’re in Calgary, not exactly high on any list of no go areas!)
I’m going to have to stop now, this is too exhausting and I might have outstayed my welcome in this cafe – how long can one cup of coffee last before having to order another? I will quickly mention we enjoyed our road trip from Ucluelet to Calgary, and it was very pleasant to be driving through big mountain spaces. We’re planning a weekend in Canmore soon, a favourite mountain town, so I will write about that in the near future, once a sense of calm and the internet at home have been restored. Might need to decaffeinate as well…
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!
PS Hoping this gets posted on Friday morning as usual, and very much hoping we’re online somewhere over the weekend, and I can get caught up on all your posts I’ve not seen the past few days.
Wandering around St. Andrews last week, in the middle of visiting friends and family in varying degrees of good health, it occurred to me I’m pretty much on the back nine.
That’s a sobering thought, and enough to send you in search of the nearest microbrewery, but for once I managed to resist. St. Andrews Brewery, rest assured I’ll visit next time. Instead, I spent quite a number of happy hours walking in the rain, all around the edge of the Old Course, along the Eden Estuary, past the castle, the cathedral, the university buildings, and down to the pier.
I have to say, even in the rain, I found St. Andrews to be a pretty and genteel little town. I’ve no idea if it is full of golf snobs in the bars and clubhouses – I didn’t bother going in – but everyone I met and chatted to was very pleasant indeed. They had time to stop and share a few words with a damp and bedraggled tourist, which was nice.
It’s been many years since I’ve tried to swing a golf club with real conviction, but I’ll admit to being absolutely thrilled seeing the bridge over Swilken Burn at St. Andrews. The course looks easier and smaller than it comes across on television. Many a fine golfer has been undone on this famous course, and long before reaching the 18th.
I saw excellent golf shots played as I mooched about, and I also saw many poor shots – shots I’d have been proud of. Maybe I should dust off the golf clubs and bring them with me next time? I’m on the back nine, perhaps I need to (re)take up a more sedate pastime?
Best not – as I recall, my ability to remain calm under (golf) pressure wasn’t ever (ever, ever) a strong suit. Sport and comedy will have to remain the poorer for my early golf retirement. I’d rather be out not spoiling a good walk, and enjoy smelling the flowers. Almost every day when we’re out and about, Scout reminds me of that and I’d be wise to listen.
Being on the back nine isn’t so bad, if you can convince yourself you’re wiser for being older and that having hair on top of your head is overrated. We’re all headed for the nineteenth, might as well enjoy it, water hazards, sand traps and all, before getting there…
Thanks for reading, and wherever you are on the course, I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
With thanks to Teenage Fanclub for the post title. Never heard of Teenage Fanclub?! No? Try this: Ain’t That Enough?
I’ve been driving about northern Britain for the past week, windows down and enjoying almost sunshine and one or two rain showers. Then the windows go back up. They’re also back up whenever I start to sing, seems only fair to the people living here.
I never lived in northern Britain, but visited often over the years. I felt a little nostalgic for a place I don’t know that well, but I think it was more the music I’d chosen. My driving playlists had a northern leaning, and they made for better listening than the ongoing Brexit/Bloody Boris Johnson stupidity dominating the airwaves. Grrr.
Where was I? Teenage Fanclub, excellent listening for the past three plus decades, and very appropriate for the Scottish leg of the trip. I remember an album review from over ten years ago that described them as “wizened” even then – they were younger than my age now! So this wizened listener enjoyed hearing the old songs, particularly from the Songs From Northern Britain album. “Here is a sunrise, ain’t that enough?” Well, yes, sometimes. The last three tracks on that album are even better than the opening three. Cue beer fuelled debate with sibling.
When I drove away from St. Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife earlier this week, having caught up with Junior McPlaidCamper, the weather was a touch misty – or I may have had something in my eye. Whatever the cause, I’m pretty sure I passed a sign for Angle Park. Let the memories from distant youth flood back. Angle Park? The bonus track on The Crossing by Big Country? Big Country! I was in a big country alright, with high hills and low mountains accompanying me through the Kingdom of Fife. What pleasant surroundings to find yourself in. The North Fife coastal path will call me back for further exploration. Never heard of Big Country?! Try this: Big Country – The Seer
Junior is happy enough in St. Andrews, working hard in several of the hotel kitchens, and producing good food mostly made from local ingredients. We visited the store that provides ice cream to the hotel, and if you’re ever up there, can I recommend the pistachio? And the rum and raisin? And the mint choc chip? And the salted caramel? And pants with an elastic waistband? Yup, that’s how some of the evening went.
Before St. Andrews, I stayed a few days with younger Brother PlaidCamper, allegedly to help him out a bit as he recovers from a hospital stay. Mostly we sat in his sunny backyard, talking nonsense about books, movies, and music, and drinking a beer or two. Then more nonsense. He’s on the mend, and probably not because of my medical bedside manner…
My final stop on the northern Britain tour was in North Wales, and an overnight with Pa PlaidCamper. He’s also on good form, pretending to be annoyed with Blue, his constant canine companion. They’ve sold the farm, and will be moving to a small hillside cottage located a few minutes away in the same valley. We drove past it yesterday, and it is in a beautiful location with spectacular views in every direction. If you can imagine steep green hillsides dotted with sheep and stands of trees all about, then that’s where they’ll be. Green and pleasant is an understatement.
Thanks for tuning in this week, and so to a final rousing song – if you know the words, feel free to sing along (I’ll roll the windows up): In a Big Country
There will be more about St. Andrews – and far less music, I promise – next week. Have a wonderful weekend!
With a tip of the hat to this coming Sunday, let’s say the photographs and some content this week is slightly Dad biased. That said, you don’t have to be a Dad to enjoy old trucks and good beer. My Dad does enjoy old Land Rovers and Range Rovers, and he will drink a beer if there’s nothing else, but he’s more partial to a full bodied Rioja.
Before we moved away from the UK, each summer my Dad, brother and I would meet up for a few days and play three rounds of golf. That’s not quite true. My Dad would play golf – he’s a very good golfer, toyed with the idea of turning pro – and my brother and I would go for a long walk trying to find our errant golf balls. My Dad was referee/coach/guidance counsellor/man mercilessly taking the piss out of our monumental sporting struggle. My brother and I were playing to win a penny. It’s true! We even called it the penny trophy! (I’m not the current holder…) My Dad had tremendous patience in the face of our (mostly my) inability to remotely master the game, and if you could have seen how bad we were (I was), his restraint has to be admired. We’d enjoy a glass or two of something good after each round, recounting the highlights and lowlights, and I do miss those fun summer meetings, even if I was often a miserable so and so on the course. I know, that’s hard to believe!
Anyway, cheers to my Dad, and to Dads, and cheers to everybody, because it’s fun to raise a glass if you’re so inclined, and I will for almost any reason, but maybe not on a school night.
School nights? Not too many of those between now and the end of the academic year! Lots to keep us busy between now and then. I was at a celebration of Nuu-Chah-Nulth learning earlier this week, one where some beautiful murals were unveiled and blessed at a high school. A collaboration between local indigenous artists and high school students, the three paintings were stunning depictions of local history, nature and culture. To see so many people of all stripes come out and celebrate, enjoying the artwork, singing, drumming and dancing was wonderful to see. The accompanying feast was also a highlight, with multi-generations present.
On the way home, I saw this green truck parked up, and I had to stop and take a picture. They do look good in green, don’t they? It probably isn’t what’s meant by going green. Old man dreams?
At a cafe the other day, Mrs. PC spotted a weighty tome she thought I’d like to look at. It was a picture book – she knows me so well – with great photographs of pick up trucks past and present. Perhaps her thinking is if I look at the pictures, that’ll be more than enough to be going on with, no need to actually buy an old wrecker. Good strategy, bound to work, and anyway, the real thing is too expensive to maintain. Far better to buy a cup of coffee at that cafe every now and then, and look at the book.
The following day, we were leaving the grocery store when I spotted this old pink-wheeled delight. Imagine being the proud owner of a truck like this. I bet it doesn’t need that much maintenance. After all, it’s been going this long, it’s bound to have many years left in it. Way more fun than looking at a book. Probably even has cup holders?
I’ll leave it here for now, as I’ve got to head over the bay, put some hours in on the forthcoming education celebration we’ll be enjoying next week. You’ll be interested to know I always slow down when I’m passing this beige beauty:
Let’s head away from the coast and into the interior this week. A title borrowed from Wallace Stegner, a recommendation to read the Stegner title, and some Saskatchewan memories. What brought this on? Friends from Alberta emailed us last week, catching up on recent events and checking in to see if we had plans to be in Alberta over the summer. Likely yes, and I hope we can mesh our summer schedules and meet up face to face. We’ll have to time it so we see them before or after their planned camping trip to Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan!
I have fond memories of a Saskatchewan road trip and cabin stay we did during our second summer in Canada. Big skies, long distances, empty roads, and the biggest bugs ever. Ever! Also, the week we had in our cabin provided me with some of the most restful sleep I can ever recall. Ever! It was quiet and the backroads cycling was easy. Apparently, parts of Saskatchewan are quite flat. That summer had been rainy just before we set off, so the prairies were a vibrant green and gold – and the abundant insect life was big and bold. The dragon flies were enormous, or so it seemed when cycling through them.
The following year we camped a few nights in the Cypress Hills area, a windswept and beautiful location straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. We had a fun time camped down by the water, aside from some of the biggest mosquitoes ever. Ever!
So what about the title of the post? Wolf Willow? It just so happens I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner’s remarkable book about plains life around the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century. It is a spellbinding account of the trials and tribulations of settlers heading west. It also acknowledges the terrible devastation wrought by those early settlers, on people and place.
Storms, wind, fire, hard winters, dry summers, near starvation, genocide and environmental destruction – this is not a cheery account of that life and those times. Yet Stegner loved the several years he spent there as a child. His account of being a “sensuous savage” running pretty wild with his peers is quite a contrast to the experiences of many children today. There might be an argument made for the rough and tumble of his childhood being a more meaningful experience. Many true and a few tall tales are told, the secondary heading of the complete piece being “a history, a story, and a memory of the last plains frontier.” He had many exciting and striking memories, that’s for sure.
There is much on the nature of nature forging identity and character, how a landscape can define a person, even years after they have moved on. For all the tough times and challenging living conditions, Stegner has a real love for his brief – yet formative – years on the prairies, his family scrabbling to survive on what felt at that time like the last frontier. Or the end of the last frontier in North America.
There are any number of wonderfully descriptive prairie passages in the book. The wind is a constant companion:
“Across its empty miles pours the pushing and shouldering wind, a thing you tighten into as a trout tightens into fast water. It is a grassy, clean, exciting wind, with the smell of distance in it, and in its search for whatever it is looking for it turns over every wheat blade and head, every pale primrose, even the ground-hugging grass. It blows yellow-headed blackbirds and hawks and prairie sparrows around the air and ruffles the short tails of meadowlarks on fence posts. In collaboration with the light, it makes lovely and changeful what might be otherwise characterless.”
The central part of Wolf Willow tells the story of a cattle drive undertaken just as winter approaches. This fictional account is utterly compelling, a tremendous piece of writing about fighting to stay alive in a snowstorm and do a job of work. The main character is a fresh faced romantic recently arrived from England, and he is desperate to be recognized as being stoic and hardbitten like his work colleagues. A few days of driving cattle in plummeting temperatures forces a reassessment of what he saw as a romantic life, and as for achieving the stature he believes his colleagues have? Well, you’ll have to read Wolf Willow to find out. If you do, you won’t be disappointed, although you might find some of the attitudes and prejudices from the time of writing a touch off putting. Maybe treat it as a history lesson on past social attitudes, and then enjoy the tales told.
From when we were road tripping in Saskatchewan all those years ago, a strong memory is of how friendly people were. One morning we found ourselves in the tiny town of Tisdale, a few hours northeast of Saskatoon. (As an aside, I delight in writing or saying Saskatoon or Saskatchewan. Even better, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!) Anyway, we were lost, which is hard to do in a small rural town, but soon knew where we were when we inadvertently turned onto a street and found ourselves driving at the head of a parade. Oops. For a few minutes, we headed the floats and marching band. Those friendly townspeople clapped and cheered as we drove on up the street, and was I ever happy to turn off as soon as possible. I’d love to visit again, but I don’t want the townsfolk feeling pressured about putting on a parade…
Ah, Saskatchewan! Land of Corner Gas, a show that told us all we needed to know before heading out on that particular vacation. Corner Gas shows that life has changed on the plains since Stegner’s day! I have to say, prairie life is still a tough business, maybe not Stegner period tough, but there is something so attractive about it nonetheless. Honestly, I’m as hopelessly romantic about it as that young Englishman in Stegner’s story…
Wolf Willow was one of the first prairie shrubs I learned to recognize when we moved to Alberta. One freezing November evening, a kind botanist walked me through a river valley in the prairie edge lands as preparation for a school field trip. The Wolf Willow and Red Osier Dogwoods were a delight, each standing out, even in failing winter light. I’ll be honest, it’s easy to remember a plant with a name as captivating as Wolf Willow. (A quick search earlier revealed it isn’t a willow at all, but that’s okay…)
I think I’ll leave it here, otherwise there’s a danger I could meander on like a slow and muddy river flowing in a summertime prairie valley. In Saskatchewan!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
All the photographs this week are from Alberta prairie visits in previous years. I have photographs from our SK trips, but couldn’t find them this week. Maybe we need to plan another SK trip…
No, we haven’t headed back to Alberta – no plans to visit before the summer – but I am feeling a touch saddle sore. A short but very fast post this week. You’ll have to be quick to catch this one as I race by in a blur…
The local community has been geared up with encouraging as many people as possible to ride their bikes this week. Well, I have found out that it’s a good idea to ride a bike a bit more frequently than I have been. Ouch. Still, complaining muscles (and complaining about muscles – or lack of) and a wobble or two have all been part of the fun.
What a sight it was on Monday at school to see over 110 bicycles out front, and only one vehicle in the parking lot. On Tuesday, the bike count was almost 140. That day, I felt terrible for riding home at lunchtime and coming back in the Jeep. I had work to do later in the afternoon over the bay, and I would have been very late if I’d cycled. I’m all about the journey, not the destination. I like to say that, it sounds better than “I can’t pedal very quickly!” Maybe an e-bike is the answer? Pedal assist on the hills, and self-propelled on the flat. I’m fairly sure I’d end up deciding it was all hills and require a lot of assistance…
I’ve included a few photographs from my pedalling travels this week. You’ll understand I was only stopping to take a picture, and not because I’d ridden up a small hill or slight incline and needed a quick rest.
I have enjoyed getting back on the bike, and I’m committed to cycling whenever my work is in Ucluelet, and only driving for the trips over the bay or to meetings in distant places. Have you seen the price of gas? Yikes! Perhaps the wobbling will diminish, the hills will seem flatter, and I’ll be a speedy two wheeled PlaidCamper. So please take care as you overtake that grizzled geezer on his bike – he’s doing his best and going as fast as he can!
Speedy as promised – thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend!
Me? Maybe, maybe not. This will have to be a very brief post this week. My excuse? I’ve been back to school (Back? Don’t you work in schools most days, PlaidCamper? Well, yes, but this time I’m one of the students, and the classroom isn’t in a school, but in the communityand well, perhaps I’d best just get on with the post?) Evenings have been very busy, reading up/doing homework for a course that continues into the coming weekend. It’s been quite intensive, and I’ve felt very tired at the end of each day, so much so, the fact it is May already almost passed me by. There are “learning celebrations” as our lovely instructor likes to say when talking about tests and exams. Will I pass? Maybe, maybe not…
The courses lead to theory qualifications for Small Vessel Operator Proficiency. I say theory because we are in a classroom, not a boat, and the learning, whilst important, is no substitute for practical experience – hours at sea!
I’m learning alongside a group of youth, and any one of this group has many more hours of practical experience in small vessels than I’ve had over a somewhat longer lifetime. They are often applying some theory to quite a body of practical knowledge. The aim this week is to give a basic safety foundation to these students, add the theory to their experience. I have to say the learning has been illuminated by many family stories being shared – sad, funny, frightening and thrilling. The West Coast roots and love of the ocean shows.
It’s been great fun learning together, and I’m delighted to report everybody passed the first couple of exams. I’m not looking for a new career, but in a day and age where certificates and qualifications are needed along with developing experience, the young ones are positioning themselves very well for post secondary opportunities, in and out of school.
I know I wrote above about how tired I’ve felt, but in truth it hasn’t hurt to experience and be reminded that this is often how many learners in our schools feel day after day. Yes I’m tired, but I’m enjoying this learning – sometimes (often?) what we are asking our children to learn may not be all that relevant or engaging in terms of curriculum – how tiring must that be?
I’ll leave it there, as I’m off to refresh my memory about the finer points of coastal navigation, or I will if I stay awake long enough. Perhaps I should give myself some latitude, or even a little leeway, and have a beer, take the night off? Oh, that was bad.
The photographs this week were taken last weekend, when April mistook itself for May, and we weren’t complaining. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!