My God, what have we done? [archive 05/07/2007]

It’s taken several days for me to downgrade that phrase from an incessant internal roar to an occasional shuddering mutter, but as I have managed that I guess we can call it progress.

Yes, we arrived on The Island with barely a hitch and spent several days touring to get our bearings and explore our new locale. Going across the Canso Causeway was exciting to a degree as it’s an operating swing bridge over a busy shipping canal, so we were treated to a twenty minute wait on one side while a gigantic freighter went through the canal, then they let thirty or so cars through before another twenty minute delay for the tiny harbour pilot boat to go through… ‘Welcome to Cape Breton ’ was painted on the swing bridge. I guess they ran out of room to put ‘where everything takes forever’, or more than likely the painter is still working on that bit.

It’s not that they can’t do things here or they’re lazy, it’s just that everyone likes to chat, about anything, all the time. Which is nice. Kind of. If it didn’t mean that a five minute job takes thirty. Honestly, you can’t even walk across a car park without someone pulling off the road, jumping out of their car and chatting to you about their family, where they’ve been, where their kids went to school and what they’re doing now. Then they hear our accents and Bam- you’re trapped! It’s like a spider web made of human beings instead of silk- you’ve got to disentangle yourself and sneak off before some giant eight legged human comes along and injects you with jellifying acid. And excuses don’t work either- you say ‘okay, it was nice chatting but I’ve got to get to the Laundromat before they close’ and the next thing you know they’re on the phone to the Laundromat asking them to stay open for a few more hours so this couple from England can get their clothes done. Then when you do get to the Laundromat there’s a crowd of people waving bunting and falling over themselves to chat about, well, everything. Actually we’ve found the best solution is to get them to chat to each other then slowly back away…

We appear to have brought El Nino with us too. On our first morning parked up at the farm (more on that in a bit) they had the ‘weirdest storm they’ve ever seen’. It was pretty exciting/frightening depending on the size of your dangly bits, and knocked out the power to the southern half of the island. My time in the UK taught me that the weather is a pretty safe thing to talk about with strangers but they don’t really pay it much heed here. Most of them just say ‘yeah, that’s Nova Scotia for you- will probably rain tomorrow. Anyway, my son went to SAERC up the road here and now he’s working at the red lake mines, where I worked 47 years ago. Yeah, whaddiya think about that?’ As most of you are British I can quite safely discuss the weather with you and yes, it does seem to change by the minute. I’m currently sitting here in our ‘safe room’ listening to the Stan Rogers Festival (I’m not sure what it is either, but they call it the stanfest and it seems to be folky) being broadcast on the islands french radio station, accompanied by recalcitrant rumbles of thunder as it rolls lazily around the hills outside. Ten minutes ago it was bright sunshine and blue sky. And as I finish typing this sentence the sun is out again as if nothing happened. It’s still thundering though. If you come over to visit bring suntan lotion, mozzy repellent and a mac- you’ll be wearing them all at the same time.

So our first experience of Cape Breton was an hours wait to get on it, then we made the mistake of turning right and exploring Port Hawkesbury, our nearest and biggest bit of conurbation. We drove round town looking for the town before we realised that there wasn’t really any town, just a road with some houses on it and somewhere to park your boat, all flanked by a stripmall which boasted a supermarket, two hardware stores and three Tim Hortons. And they made it sound so nice in the brochure…

We decided to hightail it outta there, head up the 105 and, as it was a few days before we completed on it, take a surreptitious sneak preview of the property we’ve bought. Mistake number two really, although at least now we know what it can be like. We only stopped at the bottom field (the 65 acres west of highway 105) for a brief inspection then drove east through what turned out to be mainly our woods. Now it had been raining solidly for about a month here and the brook had kind of taken over the lower pasture, meaning that Laura, seeking to lighten her mood after the disappointment of Port Hawkesbury, went for a walk and ended up knee deep in a swamp. I guess I was too busy filming her and dreaming of how I’d spend the cash from Jeremy Beadle to warn her that the tall grass in front of her looked more like reeds… We figured out what those things on google earth were too- a radio tower and a gypsum quarry. Oh well, at least I have full signal on my mobile and can say I’m buying local when I go to home hardware and get the drywall for the house…

Ah yes, the house. Most of you know that there are two houses here. A more accurate description would be one and a bit… There’s a little one that Anne-Marie, the outgoing owner, is living in (and will do so until the beginning of August) and a ‘big’ one that was her brother in laws before he died. We call it the big one but it’s actually the same size as the little one apart from the kitchen extension that’s built over a large hole that houses the oil heater, the well pump and the foundations to the building above it, that just sort of dangle in the air there. How that works I don’t know but I’m hoping that whatever magic keeps the house up doesn’t head off for warmer climes.

Now Anne Marie’s brother-in-law was a bit of a hoarder. He kept just about everything he ever stumbled on- bills, letters, receipts, xmas decs… there appears to be sixty years worth of human detritus stashed away in various cabinets, shelves, trunks and drawers here and Anne-Marie has the unenviable task of going through it all and sorting the wheat from the chaff. And yes, there’s A LOT of chaff… There is also rather worryingly a huge collection of religious artefacts- from bibles and songbooks to hand etched tin crosses, rosaries and we’ve even found what looks like a well worn scapular that proclaims the wearer will not suffer in the eternal fires of hell. It’s currently being shared by a plug in wall clock and a 1971 calendar that has everything written in Gaelic. I’m not sure if it will work for them but it doesn’t make it any less creepy or scary (once again delete according to dangly bit size). I might just brick over that bit to save having to touch it.

Despite all this Laura decided that she couldn’t hack another night in the motorhome and we drew up a plan of attack where we’d clear, clean and scrub one room, move our stuff into that then advance in tortoise formation through the hallway and the bathroom. That’s taken us two days of solid work, but we feel we have our foothold on the beach, juno-style. We went down to the strip mall town today and ordered a fridge, washing machine and cooker, which is somewhat optimistic given the state of our precariously balanced kitchen and the fact that there are precisely 4 electricity points in the whole house, and none of them are beefy enough for the cooker. As its Canada Day on Sunday all of the shops are closed on Monday, so we’ll have to order an electrician on Tuesday for, uh, Tuesday as everything’s being delivered on… yup, Tuesday. Which gives us two days to storm the kitchen. Sounds easy, but you haven’t seen it yet. Imagine how much kitchen junk a hoarder can hoard over sixty years then double it, as his mother was fond of collecting tut too.

I haven’t mentioned the flies have I? After moaning like a pensioner who’s p—ed themselves for the previous two emails and expounding countless wishes on all flies being dead we appear to have moved into a house where the flies got so bored that they just landed and died. Nobody’s lived here for three years and there’s literally hundreds of dead flies, per room. We had walked far into the house by the time I realised that this was a problem. Most of them died where they landed so they were mainly stuck to the walls, curtains and ceiling. I stopped Laura, made her look me in the eyes and promise me that she would never, ever look up. I then sent her outside and got busy sweeping and scrubbing the ceiling. Even now I close my eyes and see the still, lifeless carcasses of flies.

On a positive note I did find two shotguns and an acoustic guitar painted in the manner of Elvis’ moonlight island. I AM going to have fun with those puppies J

Love n Hugs,

Jamie

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