“Canada is the linchpin of the English-speaking world”.
“In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect”.
“A Canadian is sort of like an American, but without the gun”.
Princess Di died the day before I left for Canada.
I woke up in my friend Erin Crackel’s house, turned on the TV and it was on every channel.
I guess that means it’s true what they say 'when really famous people die': you do remember where you were when you found out.
‘Gap years’ between the end of school and going to university had started to become quite trendy - delaying the wisdom gained in the lecture theatre, in favour of the wisdom gained from getting pissed overseas - and I had planned on utilising this convenient excuse to get away and earn some ‘life experience’ well before my acrimonious departure from school would mean that the ‘gap’ year away would become simply a ‘year’ away.
Ashamedly, I had pooh-poohed the noble, global, volunteering placements that were snapped up joyfully by my fellow gap year students, and instead gave myself a choice between spending a year shearing sheep in New Zealand, or going to the Rocky Mountains in Canada and working in a ski resort.
My heart (and head) chose Canada.
I appreciated that both countries could offer vast open spaces, big clear skies, the freshest of fresh air, poor quality lager-beer, beautiful scenery, and friendly locals – but Canada could also offer large public bins made of industrial bear-proof metal, maple syrup, streets named after rodents, and Neil Young.
In my locker, I possessed fat sideburns, a love of snow/the cold, some Radiohead bootleg CD’s, and a wardrobe full of checked shirts, all of which I thought would be very useful in my new home from home.
On the extensively long plane journey, I struck up conversation with a plucky Cornishman, who seemed disorientated, but relaxed. Given the brash youthful naivety in attendance, he was clearly comforted by his palpable intellectual superiority.
We had much in common, and even more not in common.
He was from a sleepy backwater in the middle of nowhere; I was from a sleepy backwater in one of the biggest cities in the world.
He had a sharp tongue, dry wit, sturdy outdoor footwear, and dark sense of humour; I also had a tongue, and was wearing a pair of shoes.
Having enjoyed a few gin and tonics we talked about John Stuart Mill, ice-fishing, Bob Dylan, human behaviour, sturdy outdoor footwear, gin and tonic, the differences between an elk and a moose, the remoteness of being, the fact that the best thing about life was that it couldn't go on forever, and how youth ended and middle agedness crept in when the broadness of the mind and the narrowness of the waist changed places.
We both decided right there and then that not only did I know nothing about these things, but also that we would probably be good friends for the rest of our lives.
On my arrival in Banff, a small town in the centre of the serenely stunning eponymous National Park, the Cornishman (who went by the name ‘Joseph Ouseph’), myself and 5 other bewildered humans were put together in a sizeable rickety wooden house – part alpine lodge without the creature comforts, part former nursing ward, part poorly built shed from Homebase, part Addams Family holiday home.
The first thing that struck me, other than the sight of a large elk asleep in our front garden, was that we had inherited the world’s worst front door. Not only did it not have a lock, but no catch to stop it from swinging wide open. An old vacuum cleaner propped up against it from the inside was used to perform these basic duties.
Whilst our new (timidly nice and polite) housemates settled for various pokey student-esque box rooms, Ouseph and I somehow managed to snatch a room that was roughly a third of the size of the entire house. Complete with skylight, our own bathroom, and a walk-in wardrobe that would have garnered two thumbs up from Elton John.
We lived on ‘Squirrel Street’.
All of the streets in Banff are named after animals.
There was ‘Bear Street’, ‘Caribou Street’, ‘Wolf Street’, ‘Cougar Street’, ‘Deer Street’, ‘Otter Street’, ‘Rabbit Street’, ‘Pangolin Street’, ‘Vole Street’, ‘Moose Street’, ‘Beaver Street’, ‘Antelope Street’, and my personal favourite…’Marmot Crescent’.
Most of our co-workers lived down the road in the wonderfully named “Moose and Beaver Apartments", on the corner of the Moose and Beaver intersection.
Once settled, we made our way up a nearby mountain at a time in the morning that I barely knew existed, to our new place of work. We were greeted on our first day by tough, work-hardened husband and wife double act, Denise and Martin.
Denise was a broad-armed straight talker, with inflated thighs, firm jaw, and a thirsty lust for cheap food and hard liquor.
Martin, apparently, was actually a 'toy boy' husband, who looked to the naked eye to be much older than his wife. It soon transpired that he was in fact 10 years younger, but his skin had aged cruelly due to the over application of anti-ageing cream, which had left him looking craggy and weathered.
In my whole time there I don’t remember him speaking at all.
Together they made a very impressive team.
TO BE CONTINUED...