Folk Who Really Exist:

For those who have just joined us, I’ve arrived safely in North Sydney and am about to head out into the weather for dinner…

I added one complimentary umbrella and a lovely black and white knitted cap with a crocheted flower and I headed out into the storm for what I was assured was the short walk to the Lobster Pound Restaurant and I was Quite the Picture. Which lasted five seconds until I was nearly blown sideways by the wind and had to forge my way along the ‘10 minute’ walk to the restaurant. Grey, dark, windy and wet. And it got wetter. And wetter as the rain had learnt to multi-task and sweep in under the umbrella. It was only luck and the extreme politeness of Canadian drivers that I wasn’t drenched by the deep puddles in the road. Seriously these drivers stop all the time for everything and everyone. I don’t know how they ever get anywhere but I’m grateful. So after trudging, head down, I made it. There was the big sign.

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And a really run down looking building with a smaller sign telling me that the restaurant was around the back. It was. And it was closed. I did not accept this. It shut at 8pm the sign said. It was 7:30pm. I knocked. No answer. I walked away but my brain would not let this go as I gazed down the street and realised I didn’t know what was down there, how far it was and it was bloody wet and my boots were beginning to get wet. So I kept going back to the door and peering in. Like something out of a Dickens story. If his subjects of choice were well dressed middle-aged aged women who think they are still in the heart of Melbourne’s never sleeping restaurant district of Brunswick Street. I had mascara on. In the rain. There was a woman talking but she didn’t see me on account of she was clearly fighting with someone. This didn’t stop me flapping my arms harder to catch her attention. On my third return she drove out in a huge ute – they are all huge – and didn’t even glance at me. Why should she? She’s a local who knows better. I’m beneath her gaze. So I called the restaurant. Because there was no helpful black plastic phone. And the soon to be known as The Venerated Leslie said that no, they closed at 8pm. It was now 7:40pm. Yes, but the kitchen was closed. Oh. Ok. I walked away. I came back. I called again. ‘Do you know somewhere else I can eat?’

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I saw her through the glass and she came out and started telling me where was good, what was open. And breaking the news that they were only open Wednesday to Sunday so I’d missed my chance to eat there, ever. Then, behold, more valiant than any Mountie (not that I’ve seen one yet – like the puffin, this breed eludes me), appears Richard The Chivalrous Chef. ‘I tell you what, you come inside and I’ll cook you something but it will have to be “Chef’s Choice”’. He looked at me, a sad but valiantly fashionable and utterly useless creature and said ‘You’re too much of a lady for me to send you into town – it’s a bit rough down there – come in, you can pay me by donation – how’s that? Are you allergic to anything? What kind of food do you like?’

No. I eat anything. Whatever you give me is fine. Do you have wine? The malbec sounds lovely, thank you.

So then I got this:

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That is blackened halibut, a lobster claw because Richard wasn’t sure if I’d get to try it in Nova Scotia and I had to. Mashed potatoe with julienned vegetables and a salad with maple dressing – which is the only way I want to ever eat salad, ever again. It was beautiful. I have never taken a picture of food because I like to think I am better than people who do that – yes, yes, I know, I’m a vile person with a really weird bag of measuring sticks and now you know. And now I’m not. I’m at one with the rest of the human race, again, and I could not be happier. Look at that food! Look at that lobster claw. Oh! And then there was Snow Crab. Did you know there are lots of different types of crab? Well there are. Leslie and Richard told me and Snow Crab is Leslie’s favourite seafood of all the seafoods. And this is a woman who has run a restaurant with Richard in Vancouver for 17 years before moving here with her husband, a local, seven years ago. And Richard’s favourite seafood is the Moreton Bay Bug and I’d just been telling Leslie about it and she never knew this about her husband – oh glorious evening of insight and revelation and gustation. And the Snow Crab was delicious. Flaky and sweet and really – it was better than the lobster. I asked about the music jam night at the newly opened Theatre Pub in town and if it was worth going. Richard said, by this time he’d had a chance to work out that I may dress pretty but tough really doesn’t throw me, that I’d be fine but he wanted me to  know what I’d be in for. ‘You’d be the centre of attention with your accent , they’d all buy you drinks but there’d always be the one idiot yelling out if you knew Crocodile Dundee. Hang on, I’ll call them and see what’s going on.’ So he did and found out no-one had turned up because of the rain.

I learnt from Richard and Leslie these things:

They have two styles of cooking, one for tourists and one for locals. The locals like their steaks well done and it drives Richard mad because he uses really good steak. The tourist menu is superb – the bountiful seafood, then there is ‘Korean style steak’ – okay then! It’s an eclectic mix of what Richard loves to cook from his decades of experience in big city restaurants.

This is, or was, a fishing and mining town – Leslie told stories of how there used to be really big families, 12, 13 kids and how kids as young as nine went down in the mines. This is a tough town that has always worked hard – when coal was booming and the oceans were teeming with fish and when the mines closed and fishing dwindled they kept working hard, just for less return. Like our own Silver City the locals refer to outsiders as ‘from away’ – Leslie is still known and will always be known as ‘from away’. They don’t have kids and Leslie said if they did they’d be taken away because ‘you have to feed them right?’ The restaurant is their life and Richard proudly tells me that, like Crocodile Dundee, he bagged himself the gorgeous blonde tourist and brought her home. We both look at Leslie who smiles and we nod. He did good.

Then Richard refused to take what I wanted to pay, telling me this wasn’t Melbourne. We haggled. We split the difference. I’m ashamed at how little it was. Then he drove me home with a packet of his mother’s choc chip (gluten free) cookies because I did not have room for dessert. Of course he did. So that was my first night in North Sydney.

Did you try the phone?

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Sigh. Meet Constance.

The Inn owners in this part of the world – of my sample two – are, in my vast experience, unjustly proud of and invested in the plastic black phones they have nailed to their doors. ‘Pick up phone to contact Inn Keeper at Any Time’ the teensy business cards taped to them proclaim. So, in Charlottetown I did, only to be assailed with more static than trying to find my beloved 3CR on the AM dial. Warning – every blog is an exercise in vanity but we’re about to take a detour into the big leagues so look away now. It’s 855AM if you’re wondering and when I deign to be in Melbo I do a half hour show, Communication Mixdown on all things media every Thursday at 6pm with the long suffering and ever gentle and infinitely talented John Langer. I love it. I think it makes me a better person and I reckon anyone who listens to community radio is better than anyone who doesn’t (okay so I still have a way to go in the better person stakes but at least I see it – that counts right?). I think Subscribers are Good Citizens Giving Community a Voice. And I’ve been known to shout this or say it in a Very Serious low tone to those who I think need to hear it. Because Neil Gaiman once said saying things quietly is more effective than shouting – I thought Terry Pratchett told him that but when I tried to source the quote I couldn’t find it so look out – this could be fake news.

So the phone. No. It did not work in Charlottetown. Which was a grand lark because no-one locks a door there or anywhere in Nova Scotia that I’ve found so far. With one exception, but I’ll get you there. This has been verified by my lovely Gospel Singers Allison and Gerald who stayed in a big old house in downtown Lundenberg (a town I would later have to  flee because the jewellery and treasures and food were so good I knew I’d be broke if I stayed) and, when they asked for the keys they were told ‘…keys, yes, well, no-one has been in the house for two months but if having a key would make you feel better I’m sure we can find one for you?’ This was a fully furnished, kitted out home. Gerald looked at me and said what we were all thinking: ‘Surely there are bad people in the country, right?’ I nodded with the wisdom of a well-travelled woman: ‘We know this, we watch netflix’.

Here are some of the houses in Lundenburg. Imagine them now. Unlocked and waiting for you. Yes, I named them. Don’t judge me.

 

 

So I waltzed into this three story mansion in my soon to be beloved Charlottetown and after doing the obligatory ‘hello? Anyone here? – I proceeded to explore. I mean what could go wrong? Not like this was every Spooky House Horror Plot ever. I did take comfort that I was not a virgin, it was not Spring Break and at least it wasn’t my boyfriend’s parents lake house but still – clearly, I’m a woman with a taste for danger. Or just an insatiable, entitled busy-body who adores old houses and wanted to make sure I was going to get the Best Room. I was in danger of death by dust in some spots or tripping on broken fireplace tiles or being entangled in really heavy drapery.

The other thing is these magnificent old beauties need constant care. How these timber homes survive this climate – snow must slay them – is clearly only achieved by doing as much work as possible on them when the weather breaks. But this Dame Hillhurst has excellent bones. And the rooms – all the linen, all the crystal – which made me decide I really wanted to stay here. And I’d need help with my Lovely Luggage – which is not so much Lovely as Outrageously Loud. I call my cases,  ‘The Zsa Zsa Gabor’. Think bright sky blue with a screaming stylized Paris skyline. I’ve been told that my luggage is ‘more gay than the Gays’ by a man who is an authority. So proud. But Luggage pride aside I went and knocked on the next mansion, as you do. Picking up another black plastic phone and behold, someone answered. And asked me if I’d tried picking up the black plastic phone at My Mansion. When I said yes, they really could not understand why it didn’t work. This was a mystery. We both pondered this. Finally they realised there was a real person of flesh and blood wanting to give them money and appeared, apologising and, as compensation for the best half hour of exploring I’ve had since I was a kid, I got upgraded to a king room with a brand new modern bathroom with a bath so deep it looked a bit dangerous. From there it all went swimmingly, breakfast was two mansions down and there was a photo of Paul McCartney on the wall because that is where he too enjoyed a lovely fruit parfait and a ham and pear and cheese panini – or perhaps bacon and eggs, done any way Sir Paul would like them. And he’d like them.

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It so is.

 

So that was then and this is four days later…I arrive at A Boat To Sea. Four hours in a storm, alive but to be honest pretty tired and bedraggled and that shaky feeling that you try to ignore after being rather scared for quite some time and having to deal with it because you have to. And I have found the only place in Nova Scotia with a lock. A very fancy multi combination gold lock that I would have found really comforting two days ago but not tonight, not now. Standing here just wanting to Be Inside Out of the Rain. But no mind, there is a black plastic phone. I pick it up. Nothing. Zip. Not even the obligatory static. And I knock. Nothing. And I can hear voices. Voices talking loudly no doubt about things that are dry and not outside and bedraggled. What other subject is there? Surely they are laughing at me now. Then the woman who I would come to know as The Lovely Jane opens the door. And asks me in quick succession ‘Why are you standing out here all alone in the cold and the rain? Why didn’t you pick up the phone? It gets straight through to me!’. I look at her. She looks at me. ‘I did. It’s dead’. Now you know those people who are really graceful under pressure? One day I would like to be one of them. I know I have managed it on occasion and this comforts me. But usually I just come across as cranky or simply dead inside. I did a good job in that moment of Being Dead Inside. Jane then thought she’d help by saying she’d been trying to contact me. ‘How?’ By email. To my travel agent. But Jane had not considered trifles such as time zones. No. She was worried I had thought I’d booked for North Sydney in Australia. People really do this. I’m not surprised – her prices for this waterfront position in Our North Sydney would have Australians weeping with joy. But the best case of mistaken destination was the man who flew all the way from Holland only to land in Nova Scotia in the midst of a blizzard asking which way to the Opera House. Yep. Wrong Sydney, Sport! The thought of him standing there with his togs and his board shorts looking at This Weather pleases me more than it really should.

But back to the soon to be Lovely Jane. ‘Email? It’s Sunday morning in Melbourne’. I tell her, with cold fish eyes that would later sparkle like the sea on a Summer’s day at Jane’s attention. But not today. Then I was ushered in, Jane, Bless Her, took my hand and hung onto it for quite a long time – which reminded me I was a part of the human race and she most probably had fresh towels and linen and was that a fire I could hear crackling? And look at these beguiling lamps. And there –  ‘The Captain’s Room’ – this one right here – is mine. With that huge bed, that lovely shower and ALL the crystal, lamps, dark wooden furniture and busy busy wallpaper I have come to expect – with armchairs, big, stuffed armchairs. All was well.

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I got my gear, briefly said hi to the Nice Couple Staying Upstairs, Valerie and Michael, who were headed down the road for dinner to a place Jane said was superb: the Lobster Pound. And I said I’d be down shortly. Then I got in the shower. Water pressure, hot. Then I unpacked. I love a good unpack. I hang things. Properly. On wooden hangers with clasps for skirts. I organise my Smalls. Then I dressed. I Made an Effort. I like to. Especially in far-away towns with main streets that look more like Stratford-Upon-Avon in South East Gippsland than in England. It makes me laugh at myself and I like to think it’s a nod to the women I come from. My Gran, my Great Aunts, Doss and Lil – I’ve mentioned they were milliners – well they also sewed up a storm and always dressed exquisitely, usually in clothes made by each other. So picture it. Long black shiny boots, gorgeous black pin-striped 40s style firm fitting skirt which is teetering on the edge of tight soon to make the dive (who knew eating more energy than you used meant you stored it in the form of padding?) fitted long skirt with a series of zipped red panelling at the back. Waistcoat. Double breasted. And my Good Winter Coat that is a triumph of tailoring. I know because Ken, who run the wonderful Radio Springs that you must never visit because it is a delicious secret and I don’t want it to get too popular, told me so. And believe me – he wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it. He’s a Renaissance Man who used to be the projectionist at the Nova and now runs a B&B in Lyonville which has its own private cinema. Don’t go there. It’s mine. Let’s continue…

The Drive

My first night here did not begin well. I got off the ferry which I’d caught from Prince Edward Island to Caribou, Nova Scotia, and drove out into a rainy, grey day that soon decided to kick it up a few notches for me into a storm which my wipers valiantly gave their all but to no avail. I kept going and there were breaks and I would round a bend and laugh at loud at The Beauty. I talk to myself. All the time. Forget trying to stay on the right-hand side of the road – which I did, because I kept saying, like a mantra ‘stay right, stay right – hang in there, stay right’ (I may have also told myself ‘love you Jen’ because goddamn it someone had to say it if it was all going to end. Or even if it wasn’t – it’s a nice thing to hear) – staying on the road was a feat. And I did it. And there was The View. The trees – all the greens – from that lovely ghostly green to that almost inky black and then they splodged in with the swathes of brown trees with their scraggly black branches. When I first wrote this I remembered gold but I had a pull in my gut that this was wrong. And it was. I did see one scoop of gold in a bush clinging to mountainside on the highway to Halifax but that was all and that hadn’t happened yet. And on the way to Annapolis Royal I would  see golden leaves and apple blossoms and enough green to drown in, but not here, not now.  There is no gold in these thar hills in this corner of the Nova Scotian landscape. This is a place that wants you to know that Winter isn’t coming, it never really left. If there was mist it would lurk. Instead it winks.

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And the sea! I’d forgotten – there was that whole trying to not die on the other side of the world thing – or worse, just stop and be helpless – I was by the ocean! And there she was, miles of her, with boats being thrown about and waves having a Big Day Out and me, smiling so hard my face really did hurt. Still does to be honest – seems windburn is a thing – who knew? Or rosacea. But windburn sound so much more less menopausal. So I’m taking that. Windburn Sweetie – oh, and I have thin ankles. Update: It IS windburn. I know this because my face is now peeling and I look like a middle-aged alligater in a Rather Nice White Shirt and black pants with puffy eyes and great hair. Of course everyone at the IALJS is far too polite to say anything. Which is lovely, but really, I gave up caring about things that just have to take their course a long time ago. And what’s a bit of enforced face-peel when I’ve driven across Canada in a storm like a Boss? But my hair is great. Really. And only because I had the sense to visit Dean my hairdresser (no, I will not hyperlink to him. He is mine) before I left and, as usual, when he asked what I wanted I told him, as I always do, to do what he liked. He knows how to drive, I don’t. Except across Canada. Did I mention that? And drive he does. So forget the face honey – look! Look at that cut and colour. Please? Or my new hat. Look at that. It was made by Kelly who is ‘The Saucy Milliner’ and she’d only opened her story in Lunenburg two days earlier after moving from Toronto and she was just deciding whether or not to close up for the day when I ambled in and bought this:

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My Great Aunt Lil and Doss were milliners so this was never not going to come with me. Because what is easier to travel with than a hat box after all? It’s mine and has felt like mine the moment I put it on so get used to seeing me peering at you from under this brim – pity I didn’t have it at Halifax to hide my sandpaper complexion but I have it now. But it that isn’t your cup of tea then perhaps you’d prefer to fall into the blue of this perfect day on the road to Lunenburg instead. You’re so welcome.

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