Monthly Archives: July 2013

St John’s, Newfoundland – Wuthering Heights (1847)

“Irish or Scottish?” asks the cabbie.
“Pardon?” says I.
“Your accent” he says. “You’re not from here – but it’s not quite English either…”

He has a good ear. I grew up in England, but both my parents are from Dublin. I had an Irish accent till I started school, and it creeps back when I’m tired, or when I’m in Ireland – or here.

As a child, I used to wonder: where was the most Irish place outside of Ireland? So many people had left – was there another almost-Ireland out there, somewhere? I asked my father, who said probably Boston. Usually he’s quite well-informed – but he didn’t know about Newfoundland.

First colony of the British Empire, first European settlement in North America. The Vikings were here 500 years before Columbus – and if you believe the legends, St Brendan was here 500 years before them…

Almost everyone here has Irish ancestors. The Avalon Peninsula makes me feel so homesick I want to cry – like Ireland, yet not. And like Dublin, St John’s is a small city. Everyone seems to know everyone. Sometimes this is a good thing – sometimes it’s not.

I’ve had a week here this time. I’ve visited archaeological sites, bird reserves – and a lot of bars. I’ve developed a taste for the local rum – aah, Screech. I’ve met the hottest accordion player on the East Coast (a phrase I never thought I’d type). I’ve photographed moose, and caribou – I’ve eaten moose and caribou. Possibly I could have saved myself some time by simply photographing them as they were served up for dinner.

My holiday reading this trip is Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. It’s about love, hate and rivalry across two generations, set on the Yorkshire moors, so Newfoundland, with its own rugged beauty, is an interesting place to read it. Mr Earnshaw adopts an orphan – Heathcliff. His own son, Hindley, is jealous – his daughter, Catherine, loves Heathcliff, but doesn’t want to marry someone poor. Instead, she marries a neighbour, Edgar Linton. Heathcliff elopes with Isabella (Edgar’s sister) for revenge. Catherine dies after giving birth to a daughter, Cathy, who ends up marrying Heathcliff’s son, Linton… It’s complicated.

While I liked the intensity of the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine, it just leads to cruelty and destruction. Hardly anyone in the book is sympathetic, which means it’s not really a fun read. I wish I’d enjoyed it more. Maybe I’ll give it another chance in a few years…

Back to Newfoundland. Tomorrow I’m heading home – but today, I’m going iceberg hunting.

Well, that’s the plan. It didn’t include skidding on some gravel on Water Street. I put my hand out to break my fall – it lands on broken glass. Luckily I’d put my gloves on just seconds before. My knee takes most of the weight as I hit the ground. Ow.

But this just reminds me why I love Atlantic Canada. I once tripped over a wobbly paving slab on Oxford Street in London, and six people stepped over me before anyone asked if I was OK. Here, I’ve barely registered that I’m on the ground before a car pulls over and the driver asks “How are ya?” Having been raised in England, I of course reply “I’m fine”. Another car pulls up – this one’s my tour guide (I wasn’t kidding about St John’s being a small city). She asks if I still want to chase icebergs – hell, yeah!

So, a quick stop at my hotel to wash away the blood, then off we go, in search of icebergs. There is an official iceberg finder site, but we’re relying on word of mouth – any time we see a car my guide recognises (which is often), she asks them if they’ve heard of any.

And we find them. Some huge and distant, some small and close. One shaped liked a dragon, rolling in the waves. Beautiful, blue. I go down to the water’s edge, for a better look at the small pieces, the growlers. The wind that blows off them is the coldest thing I’ve ever felt.

It’s a great day – but by the time we get back to St John’s, my knee is feeling really sore. This is where someone sensible would lie down and rest – but you know me by now, right?

There’s something else I have to see before I leave. Ron Hynes is in town. If you’re in Newfoundland for more than 24 hours, you will almost certainly hear one of his songs, most likely ‘Sonny’s Dream’. I have some of his albums, and I’m not missing a chance to see him live.

So down to the bar I hop. I’m not in pain while I sit still. I enjoy the music, get to meet Ron, get a CD signed. It’s a great evening – until it ends, and I try to stand up. Ouch. The road up to my hotel seems a lot steeper than it did this morning – and now it’s starting to snow…

Next morning my knee is covered in a hideous rainbow of bruises. It’s so swollen it will barely bend, and when I try to put weight on it – it feels like fire. Getting out of bed is a performance. I end up rolling off the side of the bed, then using furniture to drag myself up off the floor. I get dressed (with difficulty) and lurch down to the lobby.

There’s no way I’m going to be able to make it to the plane without a walking stick. The funny thing is, I was actually looking at a beautiful hand-carved hiking stick yesterday, but I talked myself out of buying it – “When would I really need this?”. I could kick myself – but right now, I can’t.

St John’s is hilly, so I’m hoping the front desk might have a walking stick I can borrow. They don’t, so I ask where I can buy one – it is, of course, a Sunday. The receptionist is very helpful – she rings around pharmacies till she finds one that’s open, and has walking sticks in stock, then calls a cab to take me there. The cab driver is also very helpful, doesn’t want to be paid.
The walking sticks aren’t very attractive (why would anyone want anything in sludge green?), but fashion isn’t really a priority right now. I get one that’s a bright copper colour.

Back at the hotel, I pack. The less weight I have to drag around right now, the better. I abandon as much stuff as possible – dirty clothes, a pair of boots (I know I won’t be wearing high heels again any time soon) – and say goodbye to Wuthering Heights. I make it to the airport OK, and thankfully (in spite of the snow) the flight takes off according to schedule.

But when we land at Heathrow, and it’s time to get off – OWWWW. I don’t know whether it’s the pressure changes, or sitting still for five hours, but my knee has now locked – and I can’t get up. The cabin crew ask if I need assistance. I want to say no, but finally have to face the fact that I can’t even stand, let alone get my stuff out of the overhead locker.

They send for a wheelchair – but it’s a tiny folding one. The man pushing it is also tiny. He looks at me – then at the wheelchair – then back at me – and squeaks “But I’m only eight stone!”.

Maybe, but he’s strong for his size. Slowly, precariously, we wobble our way through security, then baggage reclaim, and on to arrivals. The whole time I’m wondering how on earth I’ll manage to make my way across London – but then I see a familiar face. My father, who’s decided to surprise me by meeting me at the airport. I had no idea he’d be there, so I haven’t told him I’ve injured myself . He sees me in the wheelchair, and his jaw drops.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Newfoundland


Lord of the Rings? Loads of the things!

The Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite books, yet I never take it on my travels – although I’ve travelled inside it many times. Over the years, I’ve probably spent as much time looking at maps of Middle-earth as I have looking at the map of the London Underground, or the AtoZ.

As I won’t be mentioning it in my travels, I thought I’d use it as an example of the bibliophile’s vice – buying multiple copies of the same book.

I first encountered Tolkien when I was five. My father brought The Hobbit home from the library, but I didn’t like the cover (the black, white and green one). Instead, I got into Narnia, and for a long time wouldn’t read anything but CS Lewis. Once I’d read all the Chronicles of Narnia, I moved onto his other work. I did enjoy The Screwtape Letters, but most of the others didn’t really interest me at that age.

I think I came across some of Tolkien’s poems (Oliphaunt?) in a poetry anthology, but I’ve never been able to remember what it was called.

Then one day when I was about ten, at a friend’s house, I saw a huge paperback belonging to her father – The Lord of the Rings. The cover looked familiar –  it was by Pauline Baynes, who had also done the Narnia covers current at the time – so I asked to borrow it.

(I won’t go into the plot here – everyone’s seen the movies, right? They’re among the better adaptations of books to screen, and almost do the source justice. Shame about The Hobbit…)

That first night I read up to the part where the Black Rider is sniffing its way towards Frodo… It gave me nightmares, but didn’t stop me reading, and I’d finished it two days later.

I loved it – I didn’t want to give it back. As I couldn’t afford to buy my own copy, I started borrowing it from the local library on a regular basis. They had a three volume edition (1973, with the ring and eye design on cover) so that was the one I was most familiar with. And unlike the single volume it had the appendices, with family trees, chronology, runes, and big maps to unfold!

The first copy I bought was the 1983 Unicorn edition, which I think was the first single volume paperback to include all the appendices. I didn’t really like the cover (and it was quite heavy) so when I found second-hand paperback copies of the 1979 edition of my library’s version, I bought them.

But then I came across a copy of the 1968 edition (the first one I’d read, with the Pauline Baynes cover) in perfect condition, even the spine! – so I could hardly leave it lying in the charity shop. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to track down books now – back then it was an absolute thrill to stumble across a book you’d been after for years.

In 1991 they brought out the huge hardback single volume edition with illustrations by Alan Lee. I told myself there was no way I could justify the expense, not when I had three copies already. Fast-forward to the day a neighbour was having a clear-out, and asked me if I wanted to look through some books before she threw them away! And there it was – so I rescued it.

I did like the look of the seven volume millennium edition – I resisted, but in the end got a second-hand copy of the last volume – the appendices, possibly my favourite part.

There was simply no way I could resist the little volume of Poems from The Lord of the Rings – or The Road Goes Ever On (sheet music for some of the songs) – or Bilbo’s Last Song. I’ve managed to resist all the recent movie tie-ins (although I have got a copy of the film book of the animated version – does that count?).

So – more copies of one book than I really need – yet I love them all, for different reasons. I have duplicate copies of a few books – sometimes intentional, sometimes not (why do people keep giving me the Klingon Dictionary?), but the only other book which I have deliberately bought several times is Dracula – more on that in another post, perhaps…

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 3, 2013 in Books