Story of the Month
Extract from last section of final chapter of upcoming
"Nowt at all like Home"
I am desperate for a coffee.
Being desperate for a coffee hereabouts is rarely a problem for as long as it is not a Monday, all the many coffee shops are open - at least in daytime. Soon I am refreshing myself with a medium roast in a big mug along with others who are sitting around and as many more who are purchasing to take it away – or as is always said here – “to go.”
I have learned that a key part of coffee-drinking for many folks hereabouts is to drive or walk about with it in some sort of disposable cardboard cup. Consequently, much coffee is consumed tepid or cold – and I cannot as yet see the point of that. For now, I settle in and do what I often do; indulge myself by listening to others’ conversations. It is a good way to pick up language nuances.
The bearded, ear-ringed, heavily tattooed, middle-aged man in the corner nearby starts into a story about “some guy” and I am reminded that although I once upon a time thought I knew what a guy was, I have had to adjust. That has been in two stages as initially I had to accept that in North America, a guy was what I had always called a bloke or a fella as well as being the effigy of Guido Fawkes we put on our bonfire every November 5th. I was then soon to understand that in these parts guys can also be female. Now that is downright or (as they would say here) darned confusing. As for dude which is used a lot by teenagers here; I reserved it for dandy or toff only to find out that it is a mainly friendly reference to some (male) guy.
Over by the door is a young man trying hard to impress his girl friend. Although the most common headgear in the coffee-shop (and almost anywhere else) is a baseball cap, he is wearing what looks like a wool bonnet or tea-cosy. This is the Canadian speciality the tuque (or toque or even tuke) which is often brightened up with the maple leaf emblem. However, it is what he is saying rather than what he is wearing that catches my attention. At first, I think he is describing a new egg production enterprise as he goes on about this “guy” he knows who has just bought a top of the range “coop” and it takes me a few more ear-stretching sentences before I work out that he is talking about a two-door Chevy. Blame the Americans if you will, but Canada is supposed to be a bi-lingual country, he is wearing a French-named head cover and coupe with an accented e should be pronounced as in sundae or even Sunday. Then I would know that someone buying a coupe is not buying a chicken-house.
Not that is keeps me awake at night but it is all part of the mix that includes other pronunciation differences. I only have to say bananas or tomatoes or chips instead of fries to make it very clear that I am not long out of England. In our early days here, I thought that someone talking about a “reno” (for renovation) was referring to a French car rather than the fact that they were having their house done up. Just to rub in my differentness in case any one should care, I ram my very flat flat-cap on my sparse mop and “head” into the village.
Oak Bay is a suburb by the sea but it clings on successfully as an almost separate place. As a kid out on the farm and as a family man back in South Yorkshire, I always wanted a village to live in rather than it being two miles or so away. Walking into it now there is enough of the village feel remaining despite all the development over the years and to me it still has something of a Toytown appeal. So, there on the right, under the towering oaks and beyond the small blocks of apartments (which I have eventually come to call condominiums), is the neat municipal hall where sits the mayor and other Oak Bay official officials. I cross the road and pass a number of shops – which everyone refers to as stores – and the Penny Farthing pub and the pharmacy (or chemists if you will) and one of the many banks, then turn left. Before too long I am at my other Toytown experience as the Fire Station complete with shiny engine comes up on my right next to the local police station. Its not quite the picture book Fred the Fire Chief and Percy Plod the policeman (plus Linda the Chief Librarian from the other side of the avenue) but it is not far off it.
Had I not already had a coffee (and a raspberry and white chocolate muffin) I might have been tempted to drop in to the pub as I have been known to do. As is the case almost everywhere it is an eating pub but they try hard to make it a bit like old England and usually have some very drinkable beers on tap. The beer has improved considerably in recent years, thanks largely to micro-breweries. Nowadays I can get a pint that actually has the hoppy taste and gets close to the best bitter of my past. They insist on serving it too cold and I have got used to asking for it to be pulled into a straight glass (not an olde world dimpled pot) that is also not cold and then I wait for the chill to wear off. I have also learned to sit down to drink and not order and then at the bar. Amazing what you can get used to over time.
Overfull of thoughts as the sun plays shadow games on the streets of fine middle-class houses, I walk on first Hampshire road and then Brighton avenue before turning back onto Island Road and following it through to one of my favourite look-out points. Anderson Hill is craggy and wild with an abundance of stunted Garry Oak trees. It is a fine place for looking across the straits towards the nearby Washington State. It is a totally natural park where well-behaved locals keep their dogs on leash during the bird-nesting season. Often as now it is almost still and a fine place to sit for a while. As one of the old sayings of my youth goes – “sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit”. Some folks around here pay good money to learn how to meditate but I seem to have no problem up here.
A float plane takes off from the harbour and powers its way across in front of me on a path for Vancouver. A few cars trundle along the promenade and an eagle floats across to one of its own look-out points on a nearby fir. Away to the west the sea is blushing with the pleasure of it all. All at once I find myself thinking again on what Arnie said about home and the suggestion that wherever I went it would be “nowt at all” like where I started. That is not the way it has worked out. The differences are interesting, often amusing and rarely annoying. Sitting here in the ancient land of the First Nations Songhees people who had this home-place to themselves for so long before the outsiders came in, I feel guilty of even speculating that what I have done in my minor and deliberate dislocation could ever be something to worry about.
It is almost dark as I make my way along the rough track and back to the road. Down my home street of Newport - named yet again by some pioneer after a place far away - there are cooking smells and a drift of woodsmoke from a living-room open fire. Soon I will be lighting ours just as I did for so many years in another place. Turning into our plot on the corner I wonder what it all looked like around here when the house was built in 1925. Canada was still a very young nation and King George V reigned over a vast empire. That was also the year that my father, his parents and younger brother moved to the South Yorkshire dairy farm that was my home until I married and left to go to Africa for the first time.
I am also wondering what my one-time golf partner Eric would make of it here. A retired coal-miner he could always be relied upon for a straight from a strong shoulder comment. He would probably say something like “it dunt “seem like such a bad place to live, but these ere Canadians do talk a bit strange dunt they? As for joggin’ with a dog on a lead. Tha’d never see that around Barnsley.”
Our many travels way beyond South Yorkshire come to mind as I walk up the steps to our front door and see the lamp-light reflecting off the large brass plate from Egypt hanging above the mantlepiece. The same lamp also picks out the face of the old grandfather clock, now happily settled by the ocean after its many years of service to me, my Derbyshire-born father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Perhaps the clock has a lesson to teach me. Most importantly, the love of my life and best possible friend is home and planning our evening meal. Home-made shepherds pie and a glass of red.
Home is the key word. Here is after all, quite a lot like home. I have my love and my family with me and baskets and baskets full of good memories of another home and other times. This I know and this I am happy with, even though it would probably take a while to convince my old friends back in the other place.
I light the fire, help to lay the table and yet again, count my blessings.