Category Archives: Newfoundland

Cullercoats – Limerick Nation: The UK in Verse

One of my poems has been included in an anthology by Iron Press. I’m quite chuffed by this, as their Haiku Hundred was the very first book of haiku I bought. I’ve been asked to read at the book launch at the Eclectic Iron Festival, which is in Cullercoats, Northumberland – basically, head north until you reach Newcastle-upon-Tyne, then head east until you reach the North Sea. It’s quite a distance, so instead of going for the day, I decide to go by coach, stay in Newcastle and have a weekend of it – slower than the train, but cheaper and less hassle. Well, that’s the plan…

My lift to the coach station falls through at the last minute, so I have to race out for a bus at 8am. Foolishly, I skip coffee…

My first coach is late. However the driver seems confident we’ll make up the time, and catch the connecting coach in London. But there are roadworks. Lots and lots of roadworks. Despite having an hour in hand, we miss the coach by ten minutes. At Victoria, I join a long queue of cranky people who’ve also missed connections due to roadworks, and get booked onto the next coach to Newcastle – which isn’t for another three hours. I consider having a coffee, but it’s the hottest day of the year so far, and it’s absolutely sweltering in the coach station. I ring the hotel to confirm my reservation (as now I should be arriving at 11pm). The place is too packed with people for me to sit and read comfortably, but somehow I find myself working on a poem, and three hours pass surprisingly quickly.

The second coach also struggles with roadworks. I’m struggling too – with caffeine withdrawal – but we’re running so late that by the time we stop for a break, the coffee shop at the station has closed. I get out to stretch my legs, and find myself swaying slightly, trying to adjust from the motion of the coach.

By the time we reach Newcastle-upon-Tyne, it’s after midnight. The taxi rank by the coach station is deserted, except for a large rat. It looks at me dismissively before scampering off behind a nightclub. But this sort of thing happens to me a lot, so when I rang the hotel earlier I asked for the number of a cab company. Soon, I’m on my way to the hotel.

Unfortunately when I try to check in it turns out there’s been a glitch with the hotel booking system, and it’s completely full – of hen nights, if the drunk lady in the bar clutching a giant inflatable penis is anything to go by…

The receptionist is clearly having a chaotic evening, but asks me to take a seat in the bar while they arrange something with a nearby hotel for me and the other people who are also room-less. When I’m offered a drink, even I’m surprised how quickly I say “Coffee! Sweet, sweet caffeine!”

By the time a taxi drops me off at hotel number 2, I’m really tired – I’ve been travelling for 17 hours, and I’m still in the same country! I black out as soon as my head hits the pillow.

Next morning I have a swift breakfast in hotel number 2 (nice hotel, incredibly bitter coffee), then go back to hotel number 1 to see what’s happening with my room. They tell me check-in is at 2pm. I point out that I really need a room, as I’m supposed to be at Cullercoats for 3pm, and it’s going to take me at least half an hour to get there – plus, I’d really like to get changed first. They agree to let me have the first room that becomes available.

So – back to hotel number 2! Check out, lug my stuff to hotel number 1, and wait in the bar, again. I’m not expecting there to be a lot of early risers, but it’s 11:30 before I can finally check in.

I change quickly, then head back down to the lobby, and ask where the nearest Metro station is. “Well, first you have to get to the city centre…” I am, of course, in Newcastle Gateshead – the wrong side of the river Tyne. Never trust Expedia SuperSaver’s definition of city centre…

I ask them to call me a cab, and I go back to wait in the bar – for what seems like quite a while. I go back to reception to check, and they say that the cab came, but someone else took it, so they’ve called another. Back to the bar I go. By now, the hen night crowd is leaving – to be replaced by an incoming crowd wearing stag night T-shirts! Are there a lot of weddings in Newcastle this weekend? Does this hotel offer some kind of special rate if you book an entire floor? Am I still asleep on the coach, dreaming the whole thing?

I check again on the status of my cab, to be told the second one was also poached by someone else, so they’ve ordered a third. By now I’ve had enough of the bar so I go outside, determined to grab the next vehicle that arrives. It turns out to be a 12-seater booked for a hen night – luckily I don’t have to hijack it, as my cab is immediately behind it.

Into the cab – and into more roadworks. Apparently there are five major projects taking place in Newcastle at the moment – great news for the infrastructure long-term, a pain in the derriere right now. After crawling for a while, the driver asks where I need to go to, then offers to drive me all the way to Cullercoats. It’ll be quicker than driving into the city centre, then getting the Metro out again. I agree, and we head off, leaving the city and its roadworks behind.

Finally – Cullercoats! It’s a fishing village, with picturesque ruins, sandy beach and rocky shore, cottages with old rowing boats filled with flowers in their gardens.
In Victorian times it became very popular with day-trippers and artists, including American artist Winslow Homer.

It’s a sunny day, but it’s breezy walking along the sea front above the beach. I usually wear something long and flowing for readings, and my skirt has decided it’s time for a Marilyn Monroe impression (I apologise to any Cullercoats residents who got an inadvertent eyeful!)

I make my way to the venue for the book launch – a  fisherman’s mission, easily the prettiest place I’ve ever read in. I’m surprised how many people there have a ukulele with them, but it turns out there’ll be a band playing before and after the readings.

The book, Limerick Nation, contains limericks from all around the country, and one of the rules was that the last word of the first line had to be a part of your postal address – so no cheating! Readers have been organised geographically, so it’s interesting hearing how accents change as we read from north to south and back up again. It’s fun – the venue is full and we get a lot of laughs from the audience.

Afterwards I go to the book fair – a community centre that’s been taken over for the day by independent publishers. I’ve never seen so many lovely little poetry books in one place before, and I want to take all of them home with me, but I restrain myself and just buy what I can fit in my handbag. Luckily, books of haiku tend to be tiny.

Elsewhere, live bands are playing in the garden of a house on the sea front. Cyclists are trying to compose haiku about a bike ride. A writer is sitting out on the rocks trying to compose a poem before the tide comes in. This festival even has its own specially brewed pale ale – but I manage to catch the last train back into Newcastle.

I’m back again the next day – this time wearing more practical shoes and jeans, so I can walk on the sand,  gathering sea glass, watching swallows. I attend another launch, for two poetry books – this time in a lifeboat station, again with musical accompaniment (guitar). I particularly like the readings from The She Chronicles (poems about women from history).

On the sea front, there’s an ice-cream parlour selling some unusual flavours, like Horlicks with Maltesers, and Turkish Delight. I can’t choose, so have both –  both delicious, but eating them together does taste a little peculiar.

In the evening there’s a talk by Ann Cleeves – author of the series of novels televised as ‘Shetland’ and ‘Vera’ – a very interesting lady. Someone else beats me to it asking her what she thought of the casting of Douglas Henshall (good, but blond) as Jimmy Perez (dark, and of Spanish descent). She said there are going to be eight Shetland books in total, so that’s a few more to look forward to. This time the accompaniment is a traditional Shetland fiddler, with a beautiful instrument.

Easily the best literary festival I’ve been to – I wish I’d seen more of it, including the play about fracking – but next time I’ll go by train, not coach! As I leave Newcastle, I catch sight of that massive sculpture, the Angel of the North. I hope it will watch over my journey home…


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Trinity, Newfoundland – Seldom (2002)

Well, it took me three days to get here (read my previous post, if you haven’t already), but it was worth it.

Trinity is simply beautiful. It used to be the centre of a busy fishery, but now it’s a heritage town, with lots of very picturesque historic buildings, and a busy theatre festival, Rising Tide’s Seasons in the Bight.

I’m staying at Maidment House, which was built in 1892. It’s been lovingly restored, with the emphasis on local crafts – the bed, the quilts, the soaps are all made locally. Even the pretty leaf keyring for my room key was made at the forge just across the street. Karen (who runs the place) is hospitality itself. She makes the most amazing breakfasts, a different one every day. Normally when it comes to breakfast I’m a toast and coffee kind of girl, but they’re so good I try to eat as much as I can.

In fact, everyone here seems very hospitable. I’m out walking one day when a man says “You’d be that English girl that’s staying with Karen”
How did he know? Because he didn’t recognise me. Everyone knows everyone here. His wife has just made biscuits, so I’m invited in to try them. The next day I come across someone frying fish, and I’m invited to try that as well. Just two hours ago it was in the ocean – fish doesn’t get much fresher than that!

I love it here, though it might not be for everyone. There are some shops, restaurants (where you can watch icebergs drift by), a small marina – but it’s an hour’s drive if you want fresh fruit. And if you want to get a signal on a mobile phone, you have to walk to the top of a hill. I do, and finally get an update from home – I now have a new nephew, and all is well. I can breathe a huge sigh of relief, and start enjoying myself.

I go to several performances, all good. There’s a lot of artistic talent here. The New Founde Land Trinity Pageant makes particularly good use of the unique setting, where storytellers lead the audience around the town, and different historical episodes are re-enacted at each stop.

One play (a comedy) features a scene where campers exit, pursued by bear. There are screams backstage and everyone laughs – until someone comes back onstage and asks if there’s a doctor in the house. The bear has tripped over and broken his nose – luckily there are two doctors in the audience, so they look after him until the ambulance arrives (nearly an hour – the one drawback to living somewhere off the beaten track).

From fake wildlife to the real thing – there’s a whale-watching tour nearby. I’m interested in this one as they use a Zodiac. Apparently because it’s inflated, rather than having a solid hull, whales seem to regard it as sea life, and come closer than they would to a normal boat. Of course, being inflated means that if it hits a submerged rock, you’re in trouble, so we have to put on survival suits.

I now look like a fun balloon animal. Any whale watching me will probably die laughing. But off we go. And it seems to be true about the Zodiac, as several dolphins join us shortly after we set off. They stay with us, leaping alongside, until we pick up speed. A couple of humpback whales have been spotted in the area – we don’t see them, but we do come across a fin whale (the second largest whale after the blue whale). I’ve never seen one before, so that’s a real treat.

Next day I go hiking on the Skerwink Trail. It’s a slightly drizzly day, so I have the place almost to myself. Then I hear something breathing – something big. I make my muddy way through the trees (past a sign reading ‘Danger – Unstable Cliffs’) and lean over the edge. In the bay at the bottom of the cliffs are two humpback whales – the breathing I heard was them spouting. They are totally oblivious to me, so I can stand and watch for as long as I like, without worrying that I’m bothering them. Beautiful.

It’s so quiet here – and very dark once a play ends and the audience drives away. Luckily that means it’s time to read. Maidment House has a bookcase full of Newfoundland books, including Seldom, by Dawn Rae Downton (2002). Seldom is an outport on Fogo Island, not too far from Trinity, so it seems like an appropriate choice.

It’s the story of the author’s grandmother, who loved a man who was lost at sea – so she married his handsome, charming brother instead. Unfortunately he turned out to be jealous, devious and violent. But she stayed with him, trying to keep the family together, because that’s what people did – bandaging up the wounds, and telling the school the child was off with a fever. In small towns, where everyone knows everyone, it’s interesting what people choose not to know.

This makes it sound depressing – and it’s not always an easy read. I would have enjoyed it more if it were fiction. But it’s well-written, with loads of little details of daily life back then. The book spans the first half of the twentieth century, giving a history of the island as a whole, as well as the central family,. There’s no attempt made to excuse or justify the grandfather’s behaviour – it’s just another threat in a harsh environment, like the sea or the snow. But despite the harshness, love managed to flourish between the six children and their mother.

And reading it here, where you can see Newfoundland at its best, is the ideal setting.

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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Canada, Newfoundland


Travelling to Trinity

Go to Newfoundland, see a play – how hard can it be?

A friend of mine has written a play, which is going to be performed in Trinity, Newfoundland. I’ve actually been to Trinity (briefly) a few years ago, and had been planning to go back. Unfortunately Air Canada no longer operates the daily flight direct from London to St John’s, Newfoundland, so I’ll have to go via Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Trinity is about 300 miles from St John’s. There’s a bus that goes from St John’s to Clarenville (nearest large town) and from there it’s about an hour (and $100 dollars) in a cab. Or there are a couple of cab companies that operate a cab/delivery service, dropping off people and packages around the peninsula – slower, but much cheaper.

To catch my flight at Heathrow, I will have to leave home 4.30 Saturday morning. Now, mornings – I am not at my best (to put it mildly) so I decide to just stay up all night Friday.

This is a decision I will regret.

Saturday – I leave on time, but the train is late. I get to London, and have to get across to Heathrow. As time is tight, I decide to get the Heathrow Express – more expensive, but quick and reliable. This leaves from Paddington.

Now, there are three Underground lines that go straight to Paddington. Two of these are closed for engineering works but the third seems OK – until I get downstairs and set foot on the platform. Then comes the announcement “Signal failure – no trains – passengers are advised to seek alternate routes”. I drag my luggage back upstairs to look for another route, and end up changing lines twice (and acting as guide for an Italian tourist, who is also struggling to catch a flight).

I get to Heathrow. It’s busy, but I make it through security and into the departure lounge before my gate is announced. “Great” thinks I, “Sit down, get your breath back”. But someone is kicking the chair behind me. I turn to look, expecting to see a bored kid – but it’s a woman having an epileptic fit. She stops kicking – because she’s stopped breathing. Luckily airport staff have called someone, and soon she’s sitting up again, and well enough to wonder where her other earring has gone.

And then I hear that my flight is boarding. In all the excitement, I hadn’t heard the gate announcement. I grab my luggage, sprint for the gate, board the plane. Now I can relax.


About an hour outside Halifax, the captain says “The good news is, we’re early…”
The bad news is – fog. Lots and lots of fog. We may have to divert to Montreal.

We fly a bit further. We circle Halifax for what seems like hours. The captain announces that we can try to land, but if that fails we’ll have to fly on to Moncton. I don’t like the thought of Moncton – but I don’t like the sound of a failed landing either.

Finally, the plane lands, safely. The captain gets a round of applause.

By the time I’ve cleared immigration, it’s after 3. My flight to St John’s isn’t till 9.30. I consider going into Halifax, but it’s about half an hour (and $50) in a cab, and it’s surprisingly cold and wet for July. I settle for browsing the airport shops, and treat myself to a Tim Horton’s Boston Cream doughnut – “Mmm, I could never get tired of these”.

I will eat those words…

Eventually I head up to the departure lounge. A lady from Nova Scotia tourism is doing a survey of why people are here, and seems a little disappointed that I’m just passing through. The time comes to start boarding, but the plane hasn’t arrived yet from St John’s – and the fog is getting thicker. The crew are hovering, waiting to hear what’s happening.

Finally the plane arrives, passengers get out, but still the crew are hovering. They get the OK to go, boarding starts – then stops. The flight is cancelled. Nothing is getting out of Halifax tonight. We are all given a piece of paper with two numbers to call – one to book another  flight, one to book a reduced rate hotel room. We have to retrieve our luggage then ring these numbers.

This, of course, is the ideal time to discover that my mobile phone won’t work in Canada.

There is a stampede for the payphones. I ring for a flight – the first available one they have is on Monday evening. Then I ring for a hotel – the woman on the phone says Halifax is full. I ask if she’s tried Dartmouth (the other side of the harbour) but she just says “But you’re in Halifax” and tells me to try again in ten minutes.

I try again. And again. And again.

Eventually I give up on the Air Canada helpline, and try a hotel I’ve stayed at before. They tell me that Halifax may well be full. This weekend there’s a big concert on Halifax Common. It’s also the Atlantic Jazz Festival, plus the Tall Ships are in town. I try big hotels, small hotels, student accommodation, and finally a cheap place in a rough part of town. When even that is full, I know it’s not looking good.

I try the number of a friend in Halifax – who turns out to be in Ontario this weekend. I ring the bed and breakfast I have booked in St John’s to let them know I can’t make it. Thank goodness I happen to have a lot of quarters on me.

Some people who have been able to find somewhere to stay are hiring cars to drive out to hotels as far away as Truro. It’s hard to get a cab now because the concert has ended. Dozens of people are stranded at Halifax airport – women with babies, elderly people in wheelchairs. Eventually the staff notice that we aren’t leaving. There is a garbled announcement that we can get $10 worth of Tim Horton’s if we show our boarding passes – most people can’t hear it, and it isn’t repeated.

By now it’s midnight. I head up to the observation deck, where it’s quieter and the lights aren’t as bright, so I can rest my eyes. I curse whoever designed the airport seating with armrests, specifically so you can’t lie down. The fog is so thick that I can’t see anything outside, just the red Exit-Sortie signs reflected on the windows.

I can’t sleep, so I consider my options, with Pinchy. Pinchy is a big floppy beanbag lobster I have bought in Halifax as a gift – but he’s now been promoted to travel pillow/companion, and named after the unfortunate lobster in The Simpsons.

There is a ferry to Newfoundland. I would have to get a bus to Sydney (5 hours) then ferry to Port aux Basques (5 hours) then bus to St John’s (12 hours). I don’t know how much the fares would be, plus I might have to find somewhere to stay at Sydney/Port aux Basques if I miss a connection. There is a tourist information booth here, but it’s closed now till 9.30 in the morning, and Halifax airport doesn’t seem to have an internet kiosk I can use to find any information.

Or – West Jet have a flight leaving in the morning. If there are any seats left, and if they can get off the ground, I’ll only be a few hours behind schedule. It probably won’t be cheap, but it’s better than staying at the airport till Monday. The fog does seem to be clearing – I can just about make out the lights on the runway. I try the Air Canada helpline again, and it’s now just a recording telling you to make your own arrangements.

So – Sunday 4am, I join the queue waiting for the West Jet counter to open. Yes, they expect to take off as usual. They only have four seats left, costing $Eeep! I buy a ticket – it’s almost worth it just so I can check my luggage in, and not have to keep dragging it around.

By now I’m starting to feel sleepy, but I daren’t nap in case I miss my flight. I get my $10 of Tim Horton’s – nothing else is open. Then go back through security, back to the gate – and back to the tourism lady, who seems slightly confused to see me again. She says she has to ask me why I’m there – I bite back any number of rude responses and say that I just can’t keep away from the place.

I’m too tired to read, so I try to do a crossword puzzle, but in my current state it seems incredibly hard. More Tim Horton’s…

We board. Apart from me, everyone else on the plane seems to be a Newfoundlander who was at the concert last night. We take off – no problems, no fog.

No fog in Halifax, that is.

We get to St John’s, and I find out what a failed landing is like. The captain takes the plane down as low as is legal, but the fog is so bad he can’t even see the runway. We have to turn around – and fly back to Halifax.

I collect my luggage again, then sprint to the West Jet counter to find out what’s going on. They have a flight leaving for Toronto within the hour, where we should be able to get a connection to St John’s – but if that one can’t land either, I could be stranded in Toronto… I opt for their next flight out of Halifax – which isn’t till Wednesday.

If you ever get stuck on a flight that’s cancelled, try to make sure it’s with West Jet, not Air Canada. Within minutes, they have a hotel room booked for me (free) until Wednesday. They give me vouchers good for six meals at the hotel, and direct me to a shuttle bus to the hotel. Unfortunately, while getting onto the bus, I whack my head against the door frame. It is at this point I want to cry like a two year old, and wonder if I should just give up on Newfoundland entirely…

But I am nothing if not persistent. So I check into the hotel, have the world’s quickest shower, then try to decide what to do next. First priority – get a phone. Ordinarily when I’m on holiday, I’m out of touch – but little sister is hugely pregnant, and complications are expected. I left her my mobile number, and detailed itinerary – all of which is now useless. So I call a cab, ask the driver to take me to a mall where I can get a phone. He points out that it’s now Sunday evening, and the mall is closed.

Then (and this is why I love Nova Scotia) the cab driver rings a friend to see if they know anywhere that sells pay-as-you-go phones. Then he calls the head office of the store to see which branches are open late Sunday, then calls the stores to check that they have phones in stock. He drops me off right outside the store – bless his cotton socks.

I now have a phone. I’m right next to the boardwalk, so I decide to have a quick look at the Tall Ships – forty sailing ships from around the world – along with a fun fair, barbeque, and more piratey merchandise than you can shake a wooden leg at. Apparently 75,000 people visit, and they all seem to be here today. And the weather is great – it’s hard to believe after the fog at the airport this morning, but it’s so hot now that I have to buy some sunscreen.

I wander up to the Economy Shoe Shop (which, despite the name, is a bar), and have my first proper meal in what feels like forever. There’s a firework display in the harbour tonight, but I decide it’s probably a good idea to head back to the hotel. By the time I get there, I’m feeling pretty rough – not sure if it’s concussion, or the fact I’ve now been awake for about three days – but I black out for twelve hours.

Monday – I wake up to find I now have a bump on my head where I banged it yesterday. I wonder if I should fly at all – but after breakfast and a bath, I decide I’m probably OK. I set up my phone, and start making calls – check in with my sister (no news), then ring Air Canada (to check flight status), bed and breakfast in Trinity (to let them know that I am still planning to get there), cab company in St John’s (to let them know I won’t be going to Trinity today – the guy there says he’s lived in St John’s for 58 years, and has never seen fog like it). I get numbers for some St John’s hotels, so I’ll be able to find somewhere to stay if I ever make it there. Then I try to get my luggage organised, and check how much cash I have left. I’m too tired to go into Halifax again.

Most flights seem to be back on schedule, so I go to the airport – again! Through security – again! Up to the gate – again! Thankfully tourism survey lady isn’t there this time (she’s probably run away screaming by now). Some twisted part of my brain is singing an alternate version of Hotel California – Hotel Nova Scotia – “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”… and I can’t face any more Tim Horton’s.

The plane arrives, we board – but have to wait for eight people who are stuck in security. We’re late taking off, but I don’t care, because this time we make it to St John’s – and land!

It’s now after midnight. So I grab my luggage and start ringing hotels again – find one that only has four rooms left, and ask them to hold one for me – good thing I do. By the time I get there, they’re full. I’ve actually stayed in this hotel before, so the guy on the desk knocks a bit off the rate for me. And they have a computer! So I get to check my emails, before blacking out again. This time I have really weird dreams – including one that I have finally made it to St John’s…

Tuesday – I get up early to call the cab company and see if I can get on today’s cab out to Trinity. They squeeze me in – literally! Twelve of us, in a cab built for ten – two of them small children who keep biting each other – one a little old man who tells me he had too much whiskey last night – then offers me a sandwich. It’s cozy – and it’s quite an experience. We drive around, picking up people from hotels, hospitals, houses, gas stations, a crossroad in the middle of nowhere. And we take detours down tiny side roads, dropping off parcels, car parts – all manner of things, in a blur of evergreen.

But after five hours, I get to Trinity. Just enough time to check in, drop my luggage off, and race into the theatre.

(to be continued)

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Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Canada, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia


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.

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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Newfoundland