blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Trip south: sixth and final day

We are back again, landed in Gatineau at 3:50pm to satisfy CANPASS immigration requirements, although the officers never turned up to check (presumably since all the necessary work is done by phone and form-filling) and then, without getting out of the 'plane, flew the little 10-minute Ottawa River hop straight over to CYRO to tie PTN down at her home spot and retrieve our car.

The flying was beautiful today. We were engine-on at 10:02, says Chris, reminding me. I was sorry to leave State College without really having seen any of the main part of town on this occasion, but on our take-off the hilly view to the north of town was spectacular, a much clearer view than yesterday's, when that rain was coming on.

Somewhat at random, simply because we hadn't landed there before and were curious, we chose to fly to Oswego County today, in New York State, just over an hour and a half away. This airport (KFZY) turned out to be a fair distance from Oswego itself which is on the Lake Ontario shoreline, the nearest town to the airport being Fulton.

In the air, we were enthralled by the steep sides of the curvacious Pennsylvanian valleys on a sunny autumn morning. Some small low clouds hung around in the valleys but it was mostly clear and the sun made the winding rivers sparkle. We identified places that brought memories back for us: the ridge near State College (where Chris took George and his astro-physicist friends flying in 2006), Elmira (June 1999), Glen Watkins, Ithaca, the gorges round Cayuga Lake and the other Finger Lakes (last spring). Mellow colours emphasised the shapes of the woods and fields. The lakes were very blue, the swamps near the airport bright green.

For lunch we took a taxi (long wait, slow drive) to a Wendy's fast food place in Fulton and didn't have time to linger there because Chris was concerned about the Ottawa weather forecast for our planned arrival time. We did step onto the Broadway bridge to see the Oswego River flow down the rapids (this town used to be called Oswego Falls) and out of a hole in the wall of a former mill. On the other side of that building is a wide canal lock, obviously intended for more than pleasure boats.

Chris filed his CANPASS and EAPIS documents and his flight plan in good time; we took off to cross the border at 2:30pm, and this was a scenic flight too, up the eastern edge of Lake Ontario with the wind creating continuous breakers on the long, sandy shoreline. We could see the power stations and town of Oswego on our left, to the southwest. Ahead was Watertown and the St. Lawrence that we crossed near Brockville en route to the waypoint called CYRIL, This is where Wheeler Sack approach hands you over to Montreal's aerial jurisdiction and the traffic controllers' voices begin to have French rather than New York accents. All very familiar to us now. During this part of the journey today, we gazed in fascination at the growing cumulus clouds, some dropping dark grey showers on the landscape, others just casting big shadows. We could make out the Gatineau Hills to the north so realised we weren't going to blunder into bad weather at our destination. The Ottawa controller gave us vectors to a visual approach at Gatineau, so that we didn't have such a long final as usual. The winds, forecast to be strong, gusting 20 knots or something, turned out to be so light (only 4 or 5 knots with no gusts) that we were able to do a tailwind landing at CYND, ditto at Rockcliffe.

For the record, total engine-on time during this holiday was 17.7 hours. 1385 nautical miles there and back airport to airport (see the map above), but we detoured, zigzagged and extended our approaches, so the mileage actually totalled more than that.

Well done, Chris!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Trip south: fifth day

It is the trip north again, now; we are stopping at a Holiday Inn in State College (Penn State University town) for the night, on our way home. This was a cloudy day because a cold front is coming through tonight and ahead of it were many clouds producing a 2000ft ceiling over most of the eastern states.

We breakfasted at the sunny Doubletree Hilton restaurant, overlooking the yachts and motorboats docked on the river outside, and said goodbye to our elegant southern mansion, its pillars and covered walkways, as a courtesy van took us to the Tidewater FBO at KEWN airport. Before we set off, the driver was interrupted by a phonecall from his wife who wanted a particular birthday gift from him. "Jesus!" he complained, and then to our amusement told us that his wife was "A Minister" who, he'd thought, ought to be happy with a lobster dinner for her present, but he was obviously in awe of her. He was going to drive her to Greensboro for her birthday treat. Once again, we were also dealt with in a most friendly way at the FBO, but it upset me to see so much right wing election propaganda lying around. Someone must have brought it in on purpose. I spent a while reading a National Rifle Association publication with its repeated excuses for shooting animals and humans dead at will --- and getting away with it scot free, because the law is apparently on their side --- its glorification of the Trump-Pence ticket and vilification of their opposition, then I filed that magazine in an appropriate receptacle in the ladies' room. Hours later, I still felt disturbed by what I'd read and by the fact I'd found this in the pilots' lounge. I gather the partisan nature of the American judiciary stems from the fact that judges in some states are elected by the citizens of whatever municipality, like MPs, the ballot papers showing their politcal allegiance. We'd seen a few posters advertising [so and so] for Judge, in New Bern. Another worrisome feature of western democracy.

New Bern looked good from the air. I managed to snap the roadbridge over the sparkling Neuse and with a backward glance at the town, we headed towards the low-lying thin layer of white cloud. Once over it, of course, we could see no ground features, just the fluff. I said that a game of I-Spy wouldn't be of much use for passing the time and Chris replied, "I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with C." Which was the end of that conversation. We followed the GPS screen, the electronic charts on our laps and the instrument panel, as we flew to the west of Chesapeake Bay. Our first destination was Charlottesville in Virginia (not to be confused with Charlotte NC, Charleston SA, Charleston WV, etc) which lay northwest of Richmond. An air traffic controller eventually gave us a direct heading to KCHO, so that we could bypass the waypoints in a straigher line, thus gaining a few minutes en route time. But then Chris had to do the full RNAV Zulu approach to Rwy 21 which took us 16 miles or so beyond the airport and then back again. Never mind; we avoided an encounter with the steep hillside by that means. We broke out of the cloud at 2000ft ASL, which Chris reported by request to the Tower controller, who would then have to relay the information to Potomac Approach.

No food available on the field, but no matter; yet again, we got a car key and a car and so could drive to the nearest cluster of eateries near a Harris-Teeter grocery store. I had a gigantic five-bean salad at an Italian place, after which I felt decidedly sleepy. Our next leg was to be shorter, but rather unnerving, because we were flying towards a slowly approaching line of "Weather", as the aviation community calls it. We could have aborted the flight at Winchester or Hagerstown that lay beneath our flight-planned route, had the "Weather" become too threatening. Giving it some thought, my pilot decided to complete the planned leg, while on the airways we heard other, more westerly pilots broadcasting requests to deviate around the Weather (i.e. big clouds) they were seeing. Washington Center and then New York Center looked after us, the latter controller repeatedly telling his charges to "take care" as he sent them on their way. He told us that he was "painting some weather" (i.e. seeing radar images of heavy rain) just 20 miles to the west of University Park where we were going to land, so he promised us a vectored approach to ensure we stayed clear of it. They do their best to help. As we descended to intecept the localiser and follow the glideslope down to runway 24, we had three Piedmont jets on our tail. Everyone was making a (vectored) run for University Park! We landed a minute or two before the rain began.

Again, an admirable welcome from the ground staff. We only had to mention that we needed an hotel room for the night when the receptionist was on the phone to the Holiday Inn booking us a room at a corporate rate and ordering the shuttle bus to fetch us there in comfort. In the evening we ate at the next door Outback Steakhouse, one of a a mock-Australian chain with Australian scenes on the walls and Aboriginal paintings decorating the (Blokes' and Sheilas') washrooms ... which isn't the most respectful place for them, IMHO. The food was good, though. We digested it by going for a there-and-back walk along a neatly landscaped road in the damp, lamplit dark, through a residential area beyond the grandiose hotel grounds / carparks with their tinkling water features. This "village" has a regular public bus service.

It would have been nice to see downtown State College again (we were there with George and his astronomical cronies in 2006 or so), but it's raining tonight, we don't have a vehicle, and we are too sleepy to explore further.

Chris says that from an aeronautical point of view, the most interesting occurrence of the day happened at Charlottesville. We had been cleared to taxi to runway 21 for departure, and had started that taxi, when ATC asked whether we would be willing to use Runway 3 instead, even though this would mean taking off downwind. The reason for this was that the only ILS at Charlottesville was to Runway 3, and two jets were coming in that were less equipped than PTN, being unable to fly the RNAV (i.e. GPS) approach to Runway 21, as we had done. We acquiesced, and gained the gratitude of the controller.

Chris dictated that last paragraph.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Trip south: fourth day

We just came in from a memorable supper on the riverside deck at Persimmons: an organic / local-sustainable foods / gourmet restaurant by the marina on the Neuse (pronounced Newss) River, one of the widest in North America. Usually we don't eat out in such exclusive places, but since our lunch at a coffee shop had only cost $11 for the two of us, we treated ourselves tonight. Persimmons' bread basket was in a class apart, never mind the rest. I chose a Mother Earth Endless River Kolsch beer to drink with the THREE PREPARATIONS OF NOOHEROOKA FARMS PORK --- SWEET POTATO AND PISTACHIO PUREE| PARKER FARMS KALE |GRILLED PEACH AND CHERRY CHUTNEY (gluten free) for my entrée, after which I didn't need any dessert. All the same, the waitress brought us four complimentary hand-rolled home-made dark chocolate truffles to finish off the meal.

As we dined, we watched the slow progress of the black sided yacht (ketch?) called the Bolero on her sunset cruise. Earlier today Chris and I were the only two passengers on her afternoon cruise, Captain Paul showing Chris the ropes in a sailing lesson that mostly had to do with tacking and jibing and keeping her into wind on the right heading. The wind blowing at 9knots at best today was not a difficult wind to master. Our vessel was an elderly, 41ft yacht that had originated on the Isle of Man and had been sailed across the Atlantic at some point. Her Captain intends to take her out on the Atlantic again, this winter, with a three-man crew, because he has his eye on a very attractive property in the Caribbean (the American Virgin Islands). I don't know whether the crew will include Scupper, the ship's dog, an affectionate little chap of mixed pedigree, with one ear usually up and the other ear down, who barks when the sails are hoisted because he doesn't like that noise, but gets a ship's biscuit thrown onto the deck for consolation. He also barks a greeting at the dogs he sees on shore. Otherwise he snuggles up against the people on board on the ship's cushions and goes to sleep.

I asked Paul questions about how boats like this behave on the high seas. Capsizing, he told me, is usually due to pilot error. You have to avoid broadside waves by sailing at 45 degrees to the wind and into the waves. In rough weather he wears a harness at the helm which he clips to hooks on the wall behind. He also uses two very small sails to help with the steering and closes all the hatches in case of misfortune. If the boat were to "turn turtle" (turn upside down) she is designed to right herself. This reminded me of the most exciting chapter of Paul Guimard's novel Le Mauvais Temps --- I regaled Chris with the whole story at supper time.

It has been so much cooler today that New Bern is a different place from what it was yesterday. The sun has stayed behind the thinnish layer of grey stratus so that the bricks and painted clapboard house fronts seemed to take on different colours. When we weren't eating or sailing, we were generally ambling around the streets looking at the plethora of churches and other buildings, and their lovely gardens, or the parks lining the waterfront. Magnolia trees bloom in September, here. On our way, we passed a fireman's museum, a British looking palace with Buckingham Palace-like gates, and a red brick former academy that had doubled as a hospital for the severely wounded (Union) soldiers of the Civil War, after the Battle of New Bern. The Confederate casualties were dealt with in houses on the other side of the street. Nowadays these are peaceful properties, with wooden rocking chairs under the shade of their verandas, hanging flower baskets and green lawns.

We were by no means the only people walking around. We got talking to a local lady with a very strong southern accent who told us how the mail coach from New England used to go by (before her time) on its way to Florida. She told us how tunnels beneath the city had been discovered during recent excavations that had served as secret escape routes from the Palace, for Union soldiers to hide their uniforms in after their defeat at the battle, thence pretending to be civilians, and then also as burial grounds, during the war. Mid-afternoon hundreds of walkers went by, all finishing a sponsored walk called the CROP Hunger Walk, accompanied by two police motorcyclists with flashing blue lights. CROP stands for Christian Rural Overseas Program, an initiative that has been going strong since 1969. A quarter of the money raised goes to local foodbanks and shelters. Many of the people taking part were struggling to keep going down the last street, obviously not used to walking as far as 3+ miles; they were lucky it wasn't as hot and humid today as yesterday.

At the end of the day, live music was playing on the hotel's deck again, a band with a female singer, specialising in swing and rock and roll, and a reunion party of retirees was dancing to it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trip south, third day

Today I have stood under branches trailing Spanish moss, so can well and truly claim to be in the southern states, and can report that the crepe myrtle trees down here are still in bloom. I have heard and seen the mockingbirds. the fine, hot weather continues and we are spending two nights (with a deliberate rest day for Chris tomorrow) in New Bern, which attractive, is not the same as old Bern, although its founder, a Swiss baron, came from over there. We are almost on the Atlantic coast here, on a river estuary near the Outer Banks. These days, the town's pet name is Bear City, not only because of the coats of arms hanging everywhere which seem to be identical to the ones seen everywhere in old Bern, but because at every corner you see a bear statue as a gimmick. Behind one window downtown is a huge, stuffed grisly, although they don't have bears of that sort in Switzerland. One mock bear was grotesquely painted like a school bus; several were decorated with coats and ties. New Bern is also PepsiCo's place of origin or Birthplace.

Back to this morning, when we woke up early at the University Inn, the motel opposite the Eastgate Plaza in Chapel Hill, where I now realise I used to go shopping from Landerwood Lane. The house we rented in 1988 was not much more than a mile's walk away along leafy Ephesus Church Road, past the Elementary School. There was a sidewalk along there, although Landerwood Lane didn't have one. We found the house easily, and it didn't appear to have changed at all. The surroundings still smelled the same, a nice smell of pine needles. The big trees were full of birds and squirrels. Even at 10am, it felt very warm out there. The humidity is high this week; the grass was covered with dew all morning. When we reached the airport, driven by a lady who chatted all the way (she had lived in Michigan, California, Hawaii ...), I found the benches all covered in dew as well.

We took off on an IFR flight from KIGX to KEWN with a father and son from town watching us go, and cleared the trees with no problem, turning right to overfly the Chapel Hill stadium for the football game and thence over Raleigh which spread for miles until we finally came into flat countryside. At our altitude (5000') the haze was noticeable, so we couldn't see the coast on our descent. The views of the blue River Neuse and its interconnecting bridges made up for it. On landing, the line man at Tidewater Air Services was generosity incorporated. He waved our tie down fee for both nights, welcomed us in a really friendly manner, and not only drove us and our bags to our hotel in town, but gave us a useful tour of the main parts of town as well. We walked around it later this afternoon, after we'd eaten battered flounder / club sandwich and chips on a baking hot outdoor deck, with two guitarists and a drummer getting ready to perform through their amplifiers under a tree there all afternoon. We also sat down for icecreams at a candy store, and walked through the park by the water. The most atmospheric spot, I thought, was the large and shady episcopal churchyard (where I found the trees hung with Spanish moss) including an alternative, outdoor church with benches and an altar, perhaps only used for weddings. I looked into the Nautical Wheelers clothes store and made two purchases of something to wear. We bought 2nd hand books at a bookstore, too.

We are sleeping at the DoubleTree by Hilton at the Riverfront, overlooking a marina jam packed with large, ocean going, private boats. There's a three tier fountain in the indoor courtyard beneath our corridor. Since I asked for a quiet room, we have a king-sized bed in the building next door to the main hotel, in Room 255, which is 0xFF in hexadecimal, says Chris, the largest number that can be expressed in an unsigned char. He says everyone knows that, but I'm not so sure.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Trip south, second day

It's going to be hard to keep this up, but let's try. This morning we woke up in Hagerstown, if I remember rightly. Tonight we're staying at the University Inn in Chapel Hill, a town, as Chris keeps telling people here, where we once lived for a whole year (in 1988-9).

Last night, after a good deal of research and debate, we decided that our flight today would be from Hagerstown (KHGR) to Danville, Virginia (KDAN), just north of the N. Carolina border. After stopping for lunch at a truck stop diner near the airport, an experience in itself, for this is hillbilly territory, we decided to fly further south and Chapel Hill looked like the obvious place to stay overnight. Our original plan had been to spend the whole weekend here, but the hotels here are overflowing, with no more rooms to be had for Saturday. A university footmall match (American football that is) is taking place and "football is very big in the southeastern states" (said a young man whom we met today). That's why.

To add a little detail...

Our departure this morning was fraught with difficulties, although we had a cheap and easy ($11) taxi ride to the airport despite yesterday's warnings about Hagerstown taxi drivers. Chris wants to continue the story by dictation:
Invariably, I ensure that chocks are removed during my walkaround. Today, however, I did the walkaround a long time before our planned departure time, because I had been anticipating a delay while the aircraft was refuelled. However, we found that it had already been fuelled. The helpful FBO attendant advised me not to remove the chocks until the last minute, because the aircraft was parked on a slope. I filed my IFR flightplan to Danville and close to the appropriate departure time we walked to the aircraft; another FBO man arrived on a golfcart and, at Alison's request, cleaned our windscreen. He then removed the chocks and drove away with them on his golf cart. We climbed into the aircraft and, looking at my kneepad, I realised that I had made the assumption that we were departing from Binghamton rather than Hagerstown. Question: had I filed a departure from Binghamton or had I simply mistakenly written it on my pad? This necessitated a call to Flight Service who confirmed that the flight plan had been filed to depart from Binghamton. It was, unfortunately, too late to modify the flightplan, this already being with Binghamton Departure. I therefore filed a new flightplan from Hagerstown. However, I had to allow enough time for the revised flightplan to arrive in Hagerstown. During the wait, we went through our checklist and started the engine. When I tried to taxi forward, the aircraft would not move. This required us to shut down the engine and inspect the wheels to find one chock still in place in front of the front wheel. This was removed, and the engine restarted, and an uneventful flight was made to Danville.
The flight may have been uneventful; it was certainly beautiful, once again in smooth, if hazy air. We crossed the border into Virginia almost immediately, overflying the Shenandoah valley area near Winchester, where we'd stayed in April '14 with John and Jill. Ahead were waves of Appallachian mountains, forested ridges and steep grassy valleys, continuing into the distance. We remembered driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1989 and climbing Grandfather Mountain in the Smoky Mountains further south, all part of the same range. From the air you could see why they'd called it the Blue Ridge.

Our truckstop lunch place was called 'The 58', after the highway. Solitary, elderly men were dining there, served by friendly waitresses. One old man, wearing blue denim dungarees, had an elaborate pony tail under his embroidered cowboy hat. Sad to say, he could hardly walk to his car; there was something very wrong with him. A lady diner jumped up to help him at the door. The TV sets  in thse public places broadcast a continuous flow of adverts for medical insurance or miracle medications. I wondered if he could afford it.

As in all the places we've stopped at so far on this trip, there was a church of one denomination or another beside every shopping plaza. The churches must surely teach their congregations kindness, consideration, good manners and respect, because those qualities are much in evidence. Once again we were driving a car belonging to someone at the Danville FBO, who had entrusted us with his car key. It seems to be the done thing in the states. When we landed in the sea of trees at Chapel Hill airport, at the end of the next hop, just half an hour's VFR flight to this small airport, the young ramp attendant, who has been studying history and military strategy or something at the UNC, called us Sir or Ma'am every time he spoke to us. He takes his job very seriously and has ambitions to be a military man. In his office hangs the Lineman's Creed:
It is impossible to accurately measure the results of fuelling aircraft safely. No one can count the fires that never start or the engine failures and the forced landings that never take place. And one can neither evaluate the lives that are not lost nor plumb the depths of the human misery we have been spared. But the man with the fuelling hose can find lasting satisfaction in the knowledge he has worked wisely and well, and that safety has been his first consideration.
Chapel Hill downtown is a far cry from Hagerstown. Instead of the rather haunted and hungry-looking poor people who sit on doorsteps hoping for the best, this place is swarming with well fed, self-confident, sporty, well-heeled young students in blazers or posh cars. I remember and like the elegance of Chapel Hill's architecture, especially the tall white tower and spire of the United Church on the campus. We saw the Morehead Planetarium again that had once inspired our 11 year old son to become the astronomer he now is. We are staying in a well appointed motel opposite a familiar shopping plaza on the edge of town. The house we used to rent in Landerwood Lane is not much more than a mile from here, but we didn't venture that far to see it again. We had supper at a downtown Thai restaurant instead.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trip south, first day

We were wheels up in good time, 8:35am, to fly south across the US border to Binghamton in New York State. Although rain was approaching Ottawa, the sky was fine and blue where we were heading. We had good views not only of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, but also, more unusually, we could see the mountains to the east from the Watertown-Syracuse area. To the west, a hint of the Finger Lakes that we'd explored earlier this year.

The border patrol guard at Binghamton, a lady, was expecting us to land at 11am, and after a smooth flight we landed at 5 minutes to 11, so that was fine. She came through the FBO doors and greeted us in a really friendly manner --- long may she live and thrive! After we'd filled out the paperwork, she encouraged Chris to keep her BPG pen as a gift. She and the girl behind the desk at the FBO, also very friendly, warned us that there was no longer an airport restaurant as advertised, but both of them recommended lunch at the Apple Farm a short drive away. We were given a key to the courtesy vehicle, a minivan, along with a printout of the Google directions, going round the eastern perimeter of the airport, up and down some curving country lanes. Here, the trees are already colouring nicely for Fall. The Apple Farm's restaurant, where we took a verandah table with a view, lived up to expectations, apple pie and all (we had the choice of apple crisp, apple pie or apple pie de luxe, i.e. with pecans and cream, and two forks). Afterwards we walked towards the apple orchards, petting a goat, a small hairy pig and a donkey, before driving back to the airport.

Binghamton is the home of Edwin Link of Link Trainer fame. A photo of him standing beside Amelia Earhart hung on the wall at the FBO.

In the afternoon we flew over the ridges and scraped out, parallel valleys of Pennsylvania and Maryland, crossing the Susquehanna Rivers and passing west of Harrisburg, with the smog of Philadelphia on the horizon. This leg took us as far as Hagerstown, which I'd guess was originally pronouced Hahgerstown, and neither Haggerstown nor Haygerstown, as is disputed nowadays, because its population 150 years ago or so was mainly German. (We ate at a genuinely Bavarian Stübli this evening, the Schwankerl Stube, dining on Spätzli, Schnitzel and the like, served by girls in Dirndls. The owner, who has been here for 50 years, spoke to me in Bavarian German.) Our driver, Mike, summoned by the Rider Jet Centre receptionist, wanted us to dine at an Indian restaurant to his liking and even drove out of his way to show us where it was; in the end we chose to walk into town instead; not as far when we were hot and tired. Mike, more of an executive chauffeur than a taxi driver, gave us an incredibly detailed tour of Hagerstown and its suburbs, including a history lesson about the horrific civil war Battle of Antienam and its aftermath, before finally dropping us here at the Best Western (aka Grand Venice Conference Center). Mike will vote for the Diplomats in the imminent election, not typically for this area, where it seems he has lived all his life.

So many dead bodies were lying on the field after Antienam that they couldn't be dealt with. The Yankee bodies were all collected and buried, but the others were left, until local people took pity, gathered them up and buried them individually on their properties. You can still find Confederate graves at the farms in this area, apparently.

At the end of the day we've been gazing at the stars from the outdoor hotel tub; the water in the swimming pool, though I swam around in it for a longish time, feels cold.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Newness of life

When I was much, much younger, my father used to take my sister and me to Mattins at our local Anglican church on Sunday mornings, phrases from which have stuck in my mind since, some of them out of context. For instance, the prayer:
... grant to these thy servants, that by the power of thy Holy Spirit they may be set free from the chains of sin, and may be brought to newness of life ...
Nowadays I'm more indifferent to "the chains of sin" than perhaps I should be, but "the power of thy Holy Spirit" and "newness of life" are words that five decades later still resonate. They remind me of that Advice from the Quakers: to live adventurously.

To contrive to see the familiar from a different angle each day is a good exercise, whether religion comes into it or not. A literal example: on Monday, for the first time, I happened to ride on the top deck of one of OC Transpo's 74 new(ish) double-decker busses down the Sir John A. MacDonald parkway, the scenic route to Parliament Hill appearing quite different and more splendid from up there. Yesterday, I cycled along the newly surfaced trail between the canal and Queen Elizabeth Drive to a friend's house by Dows Lake, part way back on my return ride deviating along the newly constructed Princess Patricia Way to the Landsdowne Park development, which I'd not explored before. I found some lunch* at one of the brand new, sparkling clean cafés by the "courtyard" there, before pedalling on past the gardens in glorious, full, autumnal flower, the blue water on my right. Because the Chateau Laurier pool is closed for renovations this month, I then visited the Westin's swimming pool on its 6th floor instead (free of charge for Chateau Laurier health club members at present), which wasn't exactly a spiritual experience, any more than my lunch was, far too self-indulgent, but there again, it was new for me, and I had the whole pool to myself, so I enjoyed it thoroughly. (In the evening Chris brought my total day's kilometrage to about 20km by taking me for an evening walk.)

In the evening I sent an email promising to help an Arabic speaking Syrian refugee now settling in Ottawa to learn English --- that will be Something Different too, my goodness.

Tomorrow Chris and I are flying our Cessna into the USA, which we've admittedly often done before, although we shall visit places we have never previously visited, starting with Hagerstown, Maryland. I have no idea what that will be like. Then we hope to continue further south, to see what we can encounter for the first time down there.

*During lunch and later, I was working at a translation into German of phrases for a paper my husband needs to present in that language, on the software handling of hardware errors, learning a wide range of unfamiliar vocabulary in the process. So my day was not entirely self-indulgent.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Two Weeks In The Lives Of Two Schoolboys

This came before the week I spent with my mother: my grandsons came to stay with us in Ottawa during their school holidays.

The family arrived on time on August 17th, after a 7 hour flight. Thomas (5) fell asleep in the car and when his parents carried him into the house, stayed asleep on the settee while the rest of us ate our supper; then he was carried downstairs to bed, still not waking. Alexander (9) was still very lively, eyes wide open. He told us he was having a 30 hour day and promised to look after his brother when they woke up in strange surroundings in their basement beds the next morning.

On their first full day in Ottawa, the boys were up at 4am, cornflakes (that I’d left for them on the table, anticipating this) at 4:30am. That morning we had an exciting visit from a chipmunk in the garden. Before the sun was very high in the sky, they had been to the local playground in Bordeleau Park, also to the nearby tennis courts with balls and raquets. Back at the house, they played the piano while their grandparents picked up the minivan we were going to use. We all piled into the minivan with swimming gear and a frisbie to visit Britannia beach. We shared an outdoor lunch there with some wasps, after which the boys swam in the river for a long time with their Grandma and Mum. Then we walked to another beach. Home again via the Byward market for giant icecreams. After shopping for provisions in the market, we grandparents both fell asleep from exhaustion. When he woke up Granddad took Alex to the Flying Club, playing on the flight simulator while I prepared supper.

“How are we going to keep this up?” I wondered.

Day 2 didn't begin quite so early. I drove us all in the minivan to Chelsea where we stroked and admired the stuffed beavers etc. at the Gatineau Park Visitors' Centre, and saw the beaver dam in the stream there. Then I drove on into the hills so that we could climb King Mountain, the boys bounding up and down the steep, rocky steps. They also climbed on the rocks beside the trail, we all sat a while at the lookout point above the Ottawa valley, and showed their parents the trig point. Back in Chelsea, the Cat Café was a big disappointment since children under 10 weren't allowed into the room that housed the cats; Granddad couldn't find a sandwich without cheese there, either. So we drove home for lunch. In the afternoon, while Emma and I went out shopping, Granddad took both boys and their dad for Thomas' first flight in The Little Aeroplane, including a touch-and-go at Gatineau (Alexander being allowed to take the controls from time to time). On the way home Granddad bought a Smores-making kit and volunteered to be chef-in-chief for this part of supper, with two keen assistants. Thomas also helped Grandma cut the vegetables and set the table. After supper -- poetry for supper as well as food -- it was time for some music making, with Grandma at the piano.

Later in the week Thomas, having taken this in, frequently sat at the piano, pretending to read the music. He even got someone to turn the pages for him. Having watched their Grandparents singing together, they gave a performance of their own. Thomas wrote the words and improvised the music for the world-première of I Can See The Dragon, But You Can’t, standing up very straight and chanting the song from the music stand just as his granddad does. The sheet music was illustrated with a carefully coloured picture of the dragon. Alexander accompanied him at the piano, incorporating a glissando, such as I’d demonstrated earlier. My daughter had the presence of mind to capture this on video.

Day 3: In the morning we walked (or ran, depending on our ages) from the Rockcliffe Park lookout to Rideau Hall where they were just in the process of changing the guard. Rideau Hall has a row of the Canadian flags, a sentry box for children, a playground and a totem pole. In the afternoon, so that the boys wouldn’t get bored (!) I suggested that they decorate our doorstep with chalks, which they did with enthusiasm. In the evening we joined the crowds at the Festival of Light in New Edinburgh Park, followed by the finale of the Sound of Light fireworks: we saw them reflected in the Rideau River.

Day 4 was a wet day, so we mostly stayed at home, but in a break between showers the grandsons got to take turns steering the Aqua-Taxi across the Ottawa River and back. Alex wore the Captain's hat. 

The next four days were spent in Quebec on a trip to the Laurentians, staying at a cottage on Fiddler Lake, about half way between Lachute and St. Sauveur. On the way we stopped at the dramatic Chutes de Plaisance, fortuitously full of water after the heavy showers the day before, and the Omega Park. Foxes and baby deer were on view outside the visitors’ centre, and from the safari ride by car, at close quarters, we saw wapitis, wild pigs, fallow deer, elk and a moose. Further on were wolves (grey, arctic), coyotes, bison and eventually, an enormous thrill for Thomas: black bears.

Our stay at the cottage –– I'd won our access to it at a silent auction in May –– proved a great success, every one of us benefitting from the tranquility there. Blue jays, chickadees and squirrels kept coming to the bird feeders on the verandah, and Emma and I enjoyed an early morning view from the cottage dock, on Tuesday morning, of a lake so still that it perfectly mirrored the trees in the misty sunrise, before the rest of the family got up. Then the fun started. Alexander proved to be a masterful kayak paddler and Chris took Thomas for a ride in the canoe. When his parents had a go at the canoeing Alex was contemptuous of their ineptitude!

We lunched at Mickie's in Morin Heights, then drove on, to look inside the Catholic church at St. Sauveur, the boys surprisingly interested in the stations of the cross around its nave. The main attraction in St. Sauveur, though, was the Aqua-Park on the skislopes, Alex and his mum immediately buying rides on the "Dragon" zipline. The Viking ride (Alex alone) turned out to be even more "epic" than the Dragon ride; during our car ride back to the cottage he described every turn. "I was petrified!" said Chris, who had taken the next cart in line, with Thomas. The following day we returned to this crowded, but exciting place, Alex trying out the water chutes with his mum, as well as the “Sonic” and “Red Baron” rides. We adults seemed to prefer the lake where our cottage was, Thomas swimming by himself in it at one point (wearing a buoyancy jacket).

On the day we returned to Ottawa, we visited the Carillon Dam on the way, and toured the hydro power station there, wearing helmets, headphones and goggles. Then crossed on the ferry to Pointe Fortune, on the other side of the Ottawa River, still (just) within Quebec.

More excitement to follow: a day at the Museum of Canadian History, followed by a morning at the Aviation and Space Museum and then a memorable "bombing run," throwing flour bombs out of Granddad's aeroplane. It was too hot for the boys to stay in the tent we’d erected beside the plane. Pilot, bombadier and crew did the bombing run and spot landing with the side door removed! Thomas, thrilled to wear a headset like the others, sat in the back with his mum, wearing headphones and feeling the wind in his hair. Alexander was the bomber; their crew came third in the Rockcliffe Flying Club contest.

On Monday, the National Art Gallery proved to be more popular with my grandsons than we'd expected. We were answering their questions in there for a good two hours. That evening, I was very touched when Thomas came and joined in with a soft obligato to Schubert's An den Mond (Geuss, lieber Mond, geuss deine Silberflimmer ...) while I was singing and playing it to his mother. I think he liked the vibrations. This happened to be the first song I ever sang solo in a concert ... when I was 12, with my dad accompanying. We walked to the Rideau Falls that evening, to gaze at the sunset, the rowing boats and sunset cruise boat on the Ottawa River.

Tuesday, Emma and I had a lovely time to ourselves, driving to Wakefield, Chelsea and a beach at Lake Meech for a swim, while the men of the family went on a trip to Morrisburg. "And what did you do?" I asked Thomas, once we were all back at the house. "We flied again!" he told me, and his brother was excited to add that they nearly flew across the border into the USA (before landing for lunch at the Upper Canada Village). That evening we had fish fingers, waffles, strawberries and a singing bowl for supper.

The next day we all went back to the beach at Lake Meech for another swim, and it was hard to stop the boys making water channels in the sand before we repaired to lunch at Biscotti's, Chelsea, but there was fun to be had there too, the boys climbing in and out of the windows at the crazy house in its garden. That afternoon, in very hot weather, we walked the Pink Lake trail with all its steps, green water and shards of mica, then had supper at Tucker's Marketplace this evening ("I had five puddings and one dinner!" said Thomas) and watched the busker with the big hoop (who danced with me, briefly, to everyone's great amusement or embarrassment), before keeping the children up for the Northern Lights show on Parliament Hill. We were all late to bed, Alex incensed by the patriotic message of the light show; in his opinion, England was the best nation in the world, not Canada.

On Thursday September 1st, they had to leave us to fly back to London. That was a sad day.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Week in the life of an old lady

Having spent two weeks in the lives of my grandsons, I flew across the Atlantic and spent a week with my mother, who needs just as much attention, but of a different kind. She is looked after at the nursing home where she lives, where they make sure she has daily medications, wash her clothes and serve her meals. Glad as she is, not to have to take responsibility for these things any more, she doesn't like being told what to do (wear her hearing aids, add Poligrip to her dentures) and when to do it ("She gets angry with us ..." one of the staff told me). In spite of twice daily Activities -- quizzes, puzzles, poetry sessions, Songs of Praise (hymn singing), knitting circles, flower arranging and the like, some of which she enjoys, many of which she doesn't -- her routine is monotonous. Breakfast from 9 till 10, "dinner" at 1, "supper" at 5, with far too short a gap between those meals, and then a seemingly endless stretch till she's ready go to sleep, usually after listening to the radio in her room. Her eyesight isn't good enough to allow her to watch TV or read comfortably. Sometimes the monotony is relieved by a doctor's visit or by someone coming to give her a hairdo or pedicure; Mum lives for my sister's visits.

Mum's sense of home is now reduced to one room, with her father's paintings on the walls, family photos on the shelves, flowers on her windowsill, and a chaotic bedside cupboard containing her necklaces, toiletries and magnifying glasses, with her her "lifeline", the telephone, sitting on it. In the nearby communal room is her piano, now shared with other people, strangers, but at least it is being used. I played it when I was there, sang a few songs, and persuaded Mum to play too, although she can only tackle one piece now, Bach's Prelude in C that she once learned by heart. We copied it for her in large print, but even that is too tricky for her to read the accidentals.

Following my overnight transatlantic journey, Tuesday and Wednesday were recovery days, so to start with, Mum and I didn't go far afield. I wanted to see how far she can now walk, which is about half a mile, beyond which she chooses to ride in her "pushchair" as she calls it; we lunched out in Whitchurch and lingered in the parks and shops, though she is no longer interested in shopping.

On Thursday -- this was my sister's idea -- we took her away for a three day holiday. It required some effort but it worked. We treated it as an adventure and went to Abergavenny, via Cardiff central, by rail. Fortunately we had sunny weather that day. The first challenge was to get Mum and the wheelchair and the luggage down the steps at Llandaff station, the lift being out of order, and then onto the first local train. Faith had a rucksac to carry; I had brought a small suitcase on wheels, and the wheelchair is a folding one. At Cardiff we changed onto the train to Manchester, travelling through Cwmbran where, twenty-something years ago, I used to live. Abergavenny is not far, but the scenery makes it feel like a different part of Wales. For me, seeing the mountains / hills was like greeting old friends: first the Mynedd Troed at Cwmbran, then the Blorenge, the Sugar Loaf, the Skirrid: Mum remembered them too. There was a smaller one I'd forgotten, near Abergavenny, the Deri, with CROESO (Welsh for Welcome) carved in the bracken on its slope facing the town. We managed to walk the whole way into town from the station, Faith pushing the chair, me trundling the case down a steepish hill, then up the main street. Having found some lunch and explored side streets, we carried on trundling, through Bailey Park with its playing fields and lovely, big trees, to the street where our guesthouse was.

The Guest House is extraordinary in that it is also home to a considerable number of animals. Three cats live there (and a dog whom we didn't meet), two tank fulls of tropical fish, two caged parrots, Eric and Alfie, and outside, many more exotic birds in an aviary, as well as the flock of prolifically egg-laying hens, ducks and quails. My sister made quite a friend of Alfie who fluffed up his feathers, "talked" and whistled when she approached him. He could say "Hello" and "Goodbye" in male and female voices, as well as "Go away!" and "Take cover!" He did a convincing wolf whistle. I tried to teach him some Chinese, to no avail, although I could see he was listening. Mum liked the company of the ginger cat, Squeak (whose companion Bubble was no more, apparently) who sprawled on her lap and encouraged her to stroke him.

Setting off back into town for supper, we wandered along a path by the Gavenny River, Mum on her feet this time, helped along by my sister and her stick, through some woods, before returning to the pavement and the wheels. Supper was a good discovery, at the Regency 59 restaurant adjoining the Kings Head Hotel. It is run by a Nepalese family and the food was splendid. We had the chef, Krishna Bhandari, come to our table so that his colleagues could take a photo, once they'd heard that one of their latest customers was 97 years old.

Abergavenny seems to have gone steeply up-market since I used to stop here in the '90s. I gather this is due to the popularity and success of the annual Food Festival, taking place this coming weekend, in fact, attracting tourists from afar. Londoners like it (and the local house prices) so much that they tend to move here.

My sister "drew the short straw" as my husband puts it, and shared a room at the guesthouse with Mum who had a small, low bed beside the window. That's good, since she might have fallen out of the larger, higher one and slipped on the hard floor. The birds in the yard were surprisingly quiet during the warm night, must have been asleep on their various perches.

Friday kept relatively dry, so that once again we could walk around with the wheelchair. We took Mum to the Linda Vista Gardens near the ruined Abergavenny castle and thence to the Castle Meadows by the River Usk, as far as the 15th century, seven arch bridge at Llanfoist. Not only is the view of the bridge and weir very pretty from there, but the walk is also dominated by views of the towering scarp slope of the Blorenge, its "Punchbowl" side, with the Sugar Loaf in the distance too. The riverside path was OK for wheelchairs, fortunately, although Mum's eyesight didn't let her appreciate the views very well. These meadows have recently been the site of the National Eisteddfod, and a festival thoroughfare was being deconstructed there as we walked by. In the gardens, a prominent Pawlownia tree had been yarn bombed, which Mum seemed to think a degredation; she felt happier under the weeping silver birch. In the afternoon we also toured the castle ruins and history museum alongside, though it was coming on to rain by then. We had afternoon tea at a little place called Cwtch (Welsh for cuddle) on the high street, and supper at the Farmers Arms near the market.

It was as well that we had the market hall to revisit on Saturday morning when the rain came down in earnest and we had to cover ourselves in waterproofs. We looked in a few conventional shops too, including the longstanding Abergavenny Music Shop where I bought some Songs of Wales. Going to the indoor market is not like normal shopping, being full of surprises. I found an inexpensive fossilised shark's tooth and an ammonite there for my grandsons. High above us flew, as it were, stuffed goats and Welsh flags. A life-sized Alpaca llama stood against one stall, and we could have bought any manner of old music recordings and unfashionable paintings, necklaces, jars of honey, soft scarves, fresh fruit and vegetables, tea cosies, free range eggs, or plaster dogs.

Our journey back to Cardiff started off worrisome, since it was cool and damp that afternoon, the train we'd hoped to catch was cancelled and the following one delayed by half an hour. No real concern, except that the waiting room on the other side of the railway bridge at Abergavenny with its four flights of steps was padlocked shut and Mum was getting to feel chilly. I went to find someone to complain to, and the only official I could find was the lady in the ticket office, who took the trouble to come across the lines and unlock the waiting room for us, which smelled strongly of fresh paint, but was at least warm. We completed a crossword to take our minds off the fact that there weren't any public conveniences on that platform, and when the train finally rolled in, I was relieved to find that it had plenty of free seats. By the time we'd ridden a few miles south of Abergavenny we were in bright sunshine, and Mum was back at her nursing home in time for tea.

Sunday, rest day! I suggested Mum come to see the place where I was sleeping, the Whitchurch Travelodge, so I wheeled her there a mile or so through Whitchurch, which meant crossing the busy A470 dual carriageway, but on the other side there is a recreation ground, the premises of the Rhiwbina Rugby Club; we spent a good hour round the perimeter of that field, sitting on benches in the sunshine. Mum had a cup of tea and an afternoon sleep on the spare bed in my hotel room, then a filling vegetarian supper at The Plough. On Monday we had more energy to spare, therefore took a taxi to Cardiff so that we could walk through Bute Park to the water bus stop, where we caught the Aquabus for a there-and-back cruise down the Taff River and around Cardiff Bay, before lunch back in the park at an outdoor cafe behind flowery brick walls, The Secret Garden. During our taxi ride from the city to the nursing home we heard that the taxi-driver had a grandmother the same age as Mum, so we compared notes. That night I shared supper with Mum at her nursing home, with the other residents. Mum's table of choice is by the window from where she can see the mountain ash tree against the fence between the home and the school playing fields. The old chap at the next table said, "Oh dear, I feel very old these days!" and was comforted by his uniformed helper.

I wanted to take Mum out of doors on my last morning with her too, but it was not to be, due to teaming thundershowers. We remained at the nursing home and looked at photo albums, full of imperishable memories (photos of my dad conducting at rehearsals, photos of me and my sister and our children very young, wedding photos, other holidays, other outings, the poster for the inaugural concert of my parents' youth choir ...). I'm glad that my sister was able to drop by before I had to say goodbye to Mum to set off to cross the Atlantic again, because that's the heartbreaking part; there was someone left behind to cling to after I had departed.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Catching the sun, becalmed

Yesterday we had a ride on Mark's yacht, with his son Kai and parents-in-law Rolf and Vija (who provided us with a delicious on-board picnic). It turned out to be one of the most windless days of the year, but nothing daunted, we took the yacht Catch The Sun –– an appropriate name –– out from her moorings at the Britannia Yacht Club marina onto the Ottawa River, to sail upstream across Lac Deschênes, almost to Aylmer Island, where other yachts were trying to pick up a breeze. At one point we managed nearly 3 knots, but most of the time on the water, we were becalmed, which made for a tranquil pastime, for Chris and me a welcome rest after all the boisterous activity of the family visit from London. We just sat on the comfy cushions and soaked up the sunshine.

There was a small dog called Jack aboard, who lay on the cushions with us with his legs splayed out for comfort.

Aylmer marina, from the river
Aylmer Island ahead

... We stuck, nor breath nor motion; 
As idle as a painted ship 
Upon a painted ocean. 
Approaching the narrow entrance
to the BYC marina
Even paddle-boarders and kayakers were making better headway than we were. So for the return leg, Mark resorted to the outboard motor, running at very low revs. and brought us efficiently back to our point of departure.

Ship's dog in the harbour
To reciprocate the favour, Chris is taking Kai flying from Rockcliffe airport today, taking him to lunch at Lachute.