“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.