Story of the Month
Extract from the draft final chapter in ….
Nowt at all like Home – Travels of a Yorkshire Farmer’s Son
It was one of those November afternoons when the sun was only just lighting up the remaining birch and apple tree leaves with a yellow-gold glow. Most of the maple, hawthorn, plum and oak leaves had gone or were in my compost heap with a few piled on the verges or boulevards (as they are confusingly called here). I turned towards the sea and had walked past only three of my neighbours’ houses when I was confronted by the biggest stag I had so far seen in this part of the world. He had a head that looked as though it would enhance a baronial hall with sufficient horns to hang four cloth caps and a scarf or two. As he made it clear that I was the intruder rather than he, I stepped aside and allowed him to pass. This was the breeding season after all. What right had I as a retired old gent, well past his reproductive prime, to get in the way of a lusty large buck looking for his next conquest? However, he put deer into a part my much-scattered mind and they stayed there for most of my reflective and long walk.
Reaching Beach Drive by the golf course I turned right and walked on towards McNeill Bay. Long before I came to live here on a permanent basis, I had become attracted by the significant history of the pleasant but relatively unremarkable bay with its shallow pebbled beach and rocky outcrops on either side. It was the history that mattered, as it was here that the pioneering Hudson Bay Company ship, the SS Beaver, first anchored on March 14 1843. The party found a poor anchorage but sought better and just around the corner came upon a remarkable natural harbour. They also found land which appeared to be suitable for settlement and crop and livestock production and most importantly a site for the fortifications. Fort Victoria became today’s Victoria, the capital city of the province of British Columbia – and it all began when they sailed into McNeill Bay, just a short walk from home.
Ah yes, home. If you have read even some of the earlier chapters you will be aware that I have travelled about more than a bit. This was my good fortune but it was not part of some adolescent life-plan. I did not milk cows, spread muck or gather in the hay on the family farm with even half an eye on far horizons. I did not go off to university with a plan to go further afield. I was not destined or inclined to follow my father’s fine farming footsteps but I could well have found a slot and a steady job, assisting in farm-management surveys in Yorkshire. That was not to be.
It started almost by accident but then went on for a very long time. I blame it on the overseas missions’ propaganda of the Methodist church, my early reading of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa plus Kipling (Indian sub-continent) and John Steinbeck and Erskine Caldwell (North America). Throw in Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific for good measure – all burrowing shallowly into my sub-conscious. More significantly, one enchanted evening I met a beautiful young woman who was not only prepared to marry me and embark on and enjoy life in far places but also tolerate my solo travelling which took me away from our family for extended periods. In that regard as in many others, I have been a very fortunate man.
Perhaps some of my old Yorkshire village friends also thought I was fortunate. Early in our acquaintance pig-killer Jim had decided that I was “a lucky young bugger” and much later on Arnie, my farmer acquaintance, had to admit that “all this gadding ‘ere and theer (travelling) dunt (does not) seem to do thi any harm at all, as tha allus (always) seems to land on thi feet.” It was Arnie who came up with the classic line which sits at the top of this chapter and titles the book. Finding out that we planned to emigrate to Canada he narrowed his eyes and scratched his bristled chin. “I suppose as ow tha knows what tha doin” he muttered, putting his empty pint glass on the bar in such as way as to indicate that he expected me to buy him another. “Tha’s come and gone more than a bit” he allowed “but tha’s really lived here all thi life so far” so don’t thee be forgerrin’ (forgetting) that wherever tha goes it’ll be nowt at all like ‘ome.”
On a very significant day in October 2008 we flew out of the land of our birth and landed in Vancouver en route to the island and Victoria with our watches showing only an hour and a half later than when we had climbed out of dark clouds around Manchester airport. I guess that I had limited doubt as to my capacity to settle easily in a place we already knew quite well but this was the first time we had come through immigration with all the necessary paperwork complete. After close to three years we had two rather sparse pieces of paper which indicated that all being well we would be allowed in as “landed immigrants.”
Landed immigrants – what an evocative expression – redolent of a different time when many crossed dangerous seas in cramped conditions searching for a new life. The term has actually been replaced by “permanent resident” but seems to live on as a much more colourful reminder that the vast majority of us, or our forebears, are or were all settlers – all immigrants.
Our arrival, with our new special status was not the most enjoyable imaginable as although the volunteers were encouragingly pleasant, the fully-paid up and severely-uniformed immigration officials were so very different. There was much waiting about and no chairs to sit on. Some questions were asked more than once - just to check we assumed that we had a memory span of ten minutes. All the faces were hard and smiles were non-existent. As it all dragged on, I was tempted to remind those concerned that we had got up at 5am UK time, travelled forty miles and then flown for nine and a half hours in a tin box on wings, but desisted after an extra-large dig in the ribs from the memsahib. She also reminded me that this was not the time or place for sarcastic humour.
They let us in eventually but as I remember it, I also reflect on humour as one of those subtle but enduring cultural differences we have encountered. By and large - and with a totally unfair (but most enjoyable) generalisation, I find that Canadian-born Canadians do not do (what I regard as) subtle humour very well. I also find that when I occasionally launch into a not quite true story – or even a down right total fabrication – every word is being taken literally as what used to be called “gospel truth.” In particular, South Yorkshire style sarcasm, known locally as “slow timing” does not travel well. I have learned to be cautious and choose my listeners carefully.