On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
With your face sketched on it twiceJoni Mitchell – A Case of You
Friday 17th June
This trip was conceived when I found out The Chicks were going to tour. At that time there was only going to be one show in Canada so I jumped in and bought a 2nd row ticket for Toronto.
Next I got a train ticket from Toronto to Vancouver, 4 days and nights on The Canadian.
Then I hit a wall. I had lots of ideas, there were suggestions from friends and they all made me feel tired. I felt tired just living my life at home, let alone hiring camper vans, driving for days on end etc. etc. Grief is the most tiring thing I’ve ever done and I’m still recovering from all the years of both Carol and then Chris and then Carol being ill and how I hardly slept for long periods of time because I feared for what did happen.
How does this relate to a simple decision to travel? Because it’s a big deal, I’ve gained confidence in some areas and lost it in others. There’s the loneliness and the not wanting to keep going but somehow managing it day by day. It’s not the same travelling alone when they’re not there to return to. The last time I went to Canada was shortly after Chris died and I was very numb at that time but it did engender a love for the vastness and the beauty of the country.
Eventually I planned out a trip I felt I could manage incorporating meeting a new friend at the start in Montreal and staying with some good friends at the end.
I got A Class Taxi to Sowerby Bridge station. The driver helped me with my bags but asked if I owned my house, weird question, MYOB!
The journey to London was fine. I like first class. I have an air conditioned room in a Premier Inn Hub at King’s Cross which is quiet. It was hot at 32 degrees when I arrived but I didn’t mind which is an unexpected change after a lifetime of hating heat.
I had a big salad in Francos next door, enjoyed the sexy wait staff and a guy selling me beer flirted with me. Watched Lady Gaga in the Gucci film, very bad film, don’t bother.
Saturday 18th Jun
In the morning I knew very early on that I needed to get my tooth looked at urgently before flying. I got myself over to Whitton near Twickenham where Margaret lives.
I tried the dentist opposite the station in Whitton when I got off the train but they had no appointments available.
Then 2 hours of trying to get a Saturday emergency appointment in an area I don’t know. It took over an hour to get a referral from 111 but when I rang the dentist was off sick. I then rang 4 private dentists and the last one in Kingston gave me an appointment. I managed to eat some breakfast at a cafe while doing this and while Margaret had her Italian class.
She very kindly whizzed me over to Kingston and an hour later I was minus one large rotten molar.
Back to Margaret’s lovely home. Shaunn arrived and was in charge of the bbq. We had a nice quiet time together with chicken and salad. I ate slowly and took lots of ibuprofen.
Sunday 19th June
The tooth was so much better this morning that I only had one ibuprofen. I slept well and woke without pain, just a bit of discomfort.
Margaret and I hung out, picking vast quantities of yummy cherries from her tree. I feel blessed to have made new friends through our queer bereavement group. Margaret drove me to the station at Whitton and I got trains to Gatwick.
Today is one of the first days when I’ve thought it’s worth having a future.
I’m now in the Sofitel at Gatwick North terminal. Have eaten something unmemorable in the hotel very slowly which is no bad thing. And so to bed.
Monday 20th June
Security at Gatwick took 15 minutes.
I went to Pure for breakfast and it was fairly horrible, should have stuck with what I know and like.
The plane was 2.5 hours late leaving because it had been delayed in Montreal plus it had to wait with us in it for the catering which took an hour.
Watched Belfast, very good and Downton Abbey which I managed to get to about 3/4 of the way through and realised I’d seen it before. That’s how memorable it was! I must have seen it in the first foggy year after Carol died.
I chatted a little with a Bulgarian woman who sat next to me. She was getting picked up by her pal and offered me a lift with her! I recklessly got into their car and they took me to a metro station. She was late on the brake pedal, but it was very kind of them and I survived.
The metro station had no elevator so I struggled down the stairs with my bags, I worked out how to buy a ticket and promptly wheeled my bags through the turnstile without me. Grumpy man in a box had to stop playing on his phone and help me.
Got to Berry UQAM station and then walked 5 minutes to La Loggia B&B. Yoyo gave me a room at the back opening onto the deck. Lots of towels and more pillows than I knew what to do with. Met Simon from Tasmania and later on Cass who are in competing in a triathlon at the weekend. Sleep.
Tuesday 21st June
The Chicks have had to cancel 3 of their gigs because Natalie’s voice has given out due to allergies. They actually got half an hour into a show and had to stop. My gig is not yet cancelled. Slightly sorry I’m not seeing them at Pine Knob! Hope Natalie recovers in time for her appointment with me.
I walked round the old town and then to the river (St. Laurent) and did a boat trip. I suddenly felt really tired so had a bol of veg for lunch and returned to my B&B and used the huge top loader and huge dryer on my laundry. Read my book and relaxed.
Then it was time for another meal. My B&B is on the edge of the gay village and I’d picked a well reviewed vegan restaurant which looked good but no spaces. I ended up in a vegan chain called Copper Branch, not bottom and had another bol of super foods.
Raining and cool this evening.
Wednesday 22nd June
Pacing myself. Today I walked to the McCord Museum to see photos by Alexander Henderson who was a Scottish landscape photographer working here in the 2nd half of the 1800s. He documented native people a bit but his main focus was the landscape. There were also indigenous artefacts and a queer lives photo exhibition.
Then I met Kayla for a long lunch in the village. It’s great that such positivity and love has come from our queer bereavement group. We walked around the Village (which my Bulgarian friends had never heard of!) and Kayla showed me some of their old hangouts and places they and Cat, had played. They had a band called Dollhouse Riot. Kayla was just as great as I thought they would be.
Spent the rest of the day chilling. Managed to get into Tendresse for excellent vegan food. Back at the B&B had some wine with Simon from Tasmania.
Thursday 23rd June
Looking good for Friday, a message has come from The Chicks to say the gig is going ahead!
Heavy rain and cool. I left the b&b with its slightly disturbing bouncy floor this morning. Taking a shower felt like being at sea.
Took the metro to the Gare Centrale and found the Via Rail business class lounge and had free coffee and juice.
Very efficient train boarding operation. Plenty of luggage room and plenty of seat space. Masks are mandatory as they were on the flight over. I now know what it’s like to wear one for 8 hours.
There was a cat called Abi accompanying her human in the seat behind me. Abi was in a holdall not a cat carrier. Reminded me of when our cat Bumbles travelled in a holdall on a motorbike with me. He still loved me even so.
Copious amounts of drink and food. I had a Canadian whisky which I had to water down and wine with my meal also watered down, for my sore mouth. Pasta pockets and parmesan with tomato and mozzarella plus a chocolate coconut bar. Not so dusty.
Lots of grain silos and old barns along the flatlands, not so very different from East Anglia.
We went along the side of Lake Ontario, you couldn’t see the other side and it’s one of the smaller great lakes. It looked like the sea.
5 and a half hour journey, very smooth. Started off in big wet in Montreal, Quebec and ended up in hot sun in Toronto, Ontario.
Google said go to Dundas subway station and walk. Dundas was like arriving at a rock gig, very loud music on a massive screen and hot and quite stressful because of that. A horrible introduction to Toronto, wondered if I’d made a big mistake. It’s Pride this coming weekend so the rainbows are everywhere as are the queers which feels OK. So long since I’ve been around anything like that.
It turned out the nearest subway was not Dundas but Queen station. I walked right past the Pantages hotel with its too discreet signage. Checked into huge suite on the 15th floor which moves and feels slightly disturbing!
It had been hard to get a room in Toronto because a lot of events were taking place including Pride.
Out to eat at Planta Cocina, really good vegan food. They brought me cauliflower balls by mistake and I pointed it out and was allowed to have them gratis!! Then a Caesar salad with mushroom “bacon” and almond dressing. Washed down with sparkling water that came from Finland. Nice water but why?
Friday 24th June
Walked to Distillery district as recommended by Cliff for brunch. Then to the harbour for another boat trip.
Back to hotel to wash out my smalls as mum would say and to get ready for The Chicks 24th June. See separate entry at end for this.
Saturday 25th June
Decided not to go to Niagara or up the CN tower. The tower way too scary to contemplate.
I went to Pride. It was very hot and it reminded me why I stopped going. I don’t drink when I’m on my own in crowds, or when other people are drunk so not at all in Toronto. Life is hard enough without making it more difficult for myself. I hung on to watch the dyke parade i.e. dykes on bikes go past. That was nice to see, total time warp. Several almost completely naked people, however butt naked with sliders and socks is not a good look. More like Naked Attraction!
Back to hotel to get cool and ready for the gig and to do the packing. There will be no access to the big case for 4 days so had to think it through carefully!
Huge blister on sole of foot.
Ate at Planta Burger which was the fast food version next to Plants Cocina. Food out of a box and not quite as good as the proper restaurant.
Then I went to see The Chicks 25th June again and my write up of this is also at the end of the post.
Sunday 26th June
Today is the start of my 4 day train ride to Vancouver. Toronto is great but I’m all done with crowds and noise and drunks. Looking forward to beautiful scenery and some p&q.
Up early. Glad I did the packing well ahead. Walk and subway to Union station. Checked in the big case, reminded again that I won’t see it for 4 days! Checked in myself at the business lounge. Allocated my meal sitting for today. A slick operation. My cabin for 1 is compact. It’s a bit old and tired but everything works. Two girls gave me and my neighbour Ann from Wellington NZ our safety talk and showed us how to unfold the bed. It was a rumour that there are no charging sockets on the train other than in the washrooms, at least there are plenty in the cabins. Not much wireless though. Nibbles and champagne in the observation car. The “champagne” was orange and is called a mimosa, which I didn’t know! It had a tiny bit of alcohol in it.
The train left about 15 minutes late then somewhat disconcertingly reversed for 45 minutes so it could get on the right track.
Lunch was tomato soup, veggie burger with salad. I skipped the bun. Lots of dietary requirements were catered for. Sat at a table of 4. Masks are mandatory throughout the train other than when eating and drinking and we get reminded if we forget them.
Today is the first day I’ve put my tongue in the tooth hole. It was not hard at all not putting it there, my tongue was very well behaved! My mouth has been very sore but 7 days in I can feel it’s starting to really get better.
Mostly the train is quite slow, we just had a little burst of speed but now we have stopped in the middle of nowhere. It does this a lot while freight trains go past, passenger trains always give way to freight, and sometimes we stop for ages while we wait for a train ahead to do something. Our train is long, it has 2 observation cars. I’ve walked up and down a bit because the only place we stopped at where we could get out was during my dinner sitting. The food is good. Nice salad, good steak and a chocolate mousse. They have Canadian whiskey and Johnny Walker.
Going to bed is a tight fit, and requires organisation but bed is comfy enough.
Monday 27th June
Slept on and off. Alternately too hot or too cold. Managed not to need to wee in the night thus didn’t have to lift the bed but had tested it out just in case. Woke at daybreak but quite gloomy so slept a bit more. Eventually woke at 6, which was 5 because we’re in central daylight time now. I went to bed shortly after sunset and watched the light go. Stunningly lovely and exciting.
I wanted a shower, these have to be unlocked and staff start work at 6.30. I rang for Erin and got a shower. Think camping. Lots of hot water, towels and toiletries.
Breakfast with Alma and 2 others. Vegan tofu rice veg scramble. Ok.
Sunny day, sat chatting with Alma in observation car.
Lunch with Alma, Lily and Jim. Tomato juice. Quinoa salad. Blueberry tart.
Stopped at Sioux Lookout. Pop. 5,272. I walked 1.5km in the 17 minutes we had. First time we could get off the train since Toronto, after 30 or so hours! I have lost the time zones plot. I walked the length of the train as fast as I could. Nice and warm outside after cool air con. This journey is 2775 miles.
Read and dozed.
Dinner with Alma, Lily and Jim. Mushroom bacon tomato soup. Cod, potatoes, red peppers, broccoli. Canadian whiskey with Alma. She’s not a great listener but bought me a beer.
Stopped at Winnipeg, pop 749,607, for 45 minutes off train. Wanted chocolate but card not accepted in shop. Got back on but train took another hour to leave. Tired and had to wait for the water to come back on in order to use the facilities!
Tuesday 28th June
Slept ok. In Central standard time. I think I’m gaining time all the way across. Breakfast is 6.30-8.30 daily regardless. I think I get more sleep but I can’t work it out and it doesn’t really matter, I wake when it’s light.
Breakfast feta omelette and hash browns.
The prairies are flat and green. I was expecting dry and yellow. Maybe that’s later in the year or further south.
This is latitude nearly 51. Home is 53.
We had a 45 minute stop at Saskatoon, pop 266,141, just now while they emptied the sewerage tanks. Lucky Saskatoon! When my septic tank at home is emptied there is no smell at all, not so with the train!
There was nothing at the station, no taking advantage of the sitting ducks with ££ to burn. Nothing at all except for railroad things.
Lunch rice and ginger beef and ice cream.
Edmonton, pop 1,010,899. We arrived here mid evening and the stop was for 4 hours. The station is a long way from the city and there is nothing to do in the immediate environs. Now raining heavily.
Yet another time zone: Mountain Time but a definite lack of mountains!!
Wednesday 29th June
Breakfast fruit and yoghurt and granola.
The Rockies. Jasper, pop 4,738. Early morning, Tim Horton’s was open as was a mini mart so I bought potato chips. It was v cold, 9 degrees because its altitude is 1050M . My warmer clothes are on the baggage van to which we have no access. Great journey through the mountains, some rain. Pyramid falls. Bear sightings but not by me.
Lunch tomato omelette and hash browns.
Lovely chat with Tracy, drank my first Caesar. Clamato juice, vodka, asparagus and celery plus spices.
Dinner salmon rice guacamole and veg, v good.
Early evening we stopped at Kamloops, pop 97,902. A short 15 minutes stop.
Then dramatic change to arid desert scenery. Fascinating and beautiful. Along Kamloops Lake and the Thompson River for miles and miles as the sun set. Tracy, Mike and I watched it all from the Park car at the end of the train. Laughed a lot.
Thursday 30th June
The train arrived in Vancouver on time. Finished the journey with breakfast of tomato omelette and hash browns with Helen, Kevin and Nathan who have lived in Canada since emigrating from China 10 years ago. We talked a lot about the situation in China at a previous meal.
Disembarked and it was nice to be reunited with my suitcase!
Farewells with new friends Tracy who introduced me to Caesar cocktails (Bloody Mary with a salad in it!) Weird but nice! Mike who introduced me to The Tragically Hip. I had a great time with them knocking up the miles walking up and down the train and laughing.
Also farewell with Susan and Kevin.
I walked to my hotel and left the bags.
Walked to Stanley Park and bumped into Helen, Kevin and Nathan, so odd to bump into people I’d only just left.
Did a very touristy horse and cart ride round the park, because I was so tired.
Back to Marriott hotel to my huge and far superior suite on the 27th floor with no wobbling.
Checked out where to go tomorrow, just as well because it’s not at all obvious.
Wandered round the harbour area.
Back to hotel and promptly fell fast asleep which I never do. I blame it on the ever changing time zones and the train sleeps. Writing this now and I’ve been sleeping at the drop of hat anytime at all since I got home!
Had a beer and a chicken Caesar salad and ready for bed again.
Friday 1st July
The swish hotel was a very good part of the plan. I slept well with no air con on and the window open as far as it was allowed on floor 27.
Buffet breakfast, fruit yoghurt granola, cheese salad croissant.
I had allowed just over an hour to get to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen but then left at 9.15 giving myself an hour and 3/4. Walked to the station and got the train to Bridgeport bus station. Then no bus for ages. I only just got on before they turned people away. Busy because of Canada Day. However it arrived at the terminal after my boat had gone.
Lovely day for the 1 and a half hour ferry to Victoria. When I did this the other way around 5 years ago it wasn’t warm enough to be outside, today it was.
Karin met me and drove us to their home in View Royal which is to the west of the city. It feels pretty rural. The ferry comes to the north at Swartz Bay.
Karin and Fred showed me my quarters for the next few days. They have a whole apartment under the house which I’m in. Beautifully decorated with lots of lovely things and very comfortable. Fred hooked me up to Wi-Fi and showed me the TV and we had a beer.
Put my laundry in the washing machine!
Out in Fred’s truck to the local pub for beer and grub. I had a Buddha bowl. Good meal. Then we did a drive round Victoria which was busy with Canada Day and various demonstrations.
Back home to my clean laundry and stocked cupboards. What a wonderful welcome.
Saturday 2nd July
In the morning Karin and I went for a walk around Thetis Lake which is just a few minutes from their house. Really lovely lake on their doorstep where people walk or do things on the water. Later on we went for a great drive round Bear Mountain and Shawnigan Lake we ended up at the Alpina restaurant which overlooks the Finlayson Arm. Stunning location for our meal and excellent food.
Sunday 3rd July
Today we set off early to reach the Juan de Fuca trailhead on the west side of the island. Stopped on the way at Shirley Delicious (and Shirley did not disappoint!). The best coffee I’ve had in a long time and a great vegan burrito.
We walked through the rainforest, past the huge stumps of old growth trees. It was dark and magical. Got down to Mystic Beach which had only a few visitors other than us. It was worth getting there early as it began to get busy when we went back up.
We had a bit more picnic and returned via Sooke where Karin and Fred had lived for a while and then back to the sea across a narrow spit that’s overlooked by Hatley Castle. Here there were driftwood sculptures made by a native artist, Paul Lewis, they looked quite old.
Monday 4th July
Very sadly, Karin and Fred’s dog Lilli died in the night, early morning. Lilli was 14 and old for a French Bulldog but so very sad.
Karin and I went into Victoria and wandered about and then had lunch.
On return I took a wander back to Thetis Lake which was lovely.
Fred and I had beer together and made our farewells.
Tuesday 5th July
Karin asked me what the highlight of my trip was and I said seeing The Chicks live.
While that was important to me on several levels, really the highlights have been the people: Margaret and her kindness to me in London; meeting Kayla in person; Mallory, my new Chicks buddy; making new friends on the train Tracy and Mike. I’ve had a lovely relaxing time staying with Karin and Fred, a home from home. I feel all loved up!
I’ve also really enjoyed the scenery and the food!
Karin took me to the ferry and we bid each other farewell. I had such a good time with Karin and Fred. From the ferry it was onto the bus and then the train to the airport. I arrived with quite a bit of time to spare so had a sit down meal of Caesar salad which wasn’t very good.
The plane behaved as expected and I sat next to 2 gay men from Northampton and we amused each other.
Wednesday 6th July
The baggage reclaim at Gatwick took nearly an hour.
I’ve been in car, ferry, bus, train, plane, 3 trains and a taxi since Karin’s house. The taxi driver for the last 4 miles of my journey was a total arse. He had a filthy vehicle, he didn’t get out to help me put my bags in the back, stopped the car so that I had no option but to get out into any traffic, lucky there wasn’t any, didn’t help me get my bags out and this driver also wanted to know if I owned my house, why? don’t I look like a house owner? He made a “joke” and said the fare was £20. I said I wasn’t born yesterday as could see the meter said £8.50. I told him to give me £1 in change. He didn’t hand it over and then when I asked he waved it at me from the window. He didn’t deserve any tip at all. This is A Class Taxi in Sowerby Bridge by the way.
I’ve had a great trip, it did me a lot of good and I’m thinking about the next one!
The Chicks Gigs
Toronto 24th June 2022
Subway then streetcar to Exhibition station. To Budweiser Stage, chatted to 2 senior dykes, one of whom had seen Judy Garland and Janis Joplin sing! Wandered about and bumped into Mallory. Mallory recognised my Terri Hendrix cap because she knows Terri. I only know Terri because I’ve watched her shows with Lloyd Maines online and I attended a guitar class with Lloyd that Terri set up. Lloyd of course is Natalie’s dad. It turns out Mallory lives in Austin and is a massive Chicks fan. She introduced me to her pals.
The Budweiser holds 16,000 so smaller than I am used to for Bruce. I got a kale salad and sweet potato fries which were good. Can’t imagine any of our arenas offering such healthy fare. Everyone was very friendly and kind. I was in the second row. Bonny and Grace behind me said they were going to laugh and cry. I expect they did!
First up to open, Patty Griffin and David Pulkingham who were excellent. Shine a Different Way, really beautiful song with mandolin. David is a very talented classical and jazz guitarist.
The Chicks were everything I wanted, Natalie’s voice in full glory having recovered from the allergy problems. Her son Slade played guitar and keyboards. Martie’s daughter Eva played fiddle. Emily added piano and fiddle to the long list of instruments she plays. Her daughter Violet took a part in the roll the dice to pick a song for us to play game. It was Ready to Run.
Regarding the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, Natalie had this to say “Fuck the Supreme Court”. Excellent video backdrop for March March. No doubt on where they stand.
Back via streetcar and subway. Not busy. Bought a front row ticket for the Saturday because I could.
Toronto 25th June 2022
Subway and streetcar back to Budweiser. Arrived a bit later as knew the ropes. Chatted a little with Mallory and her pals who were directly opposite Natalie. I sat there until people arrived for their seats and then moved along a bit.
Patty and David were excellent again.
A tall man and I had the 2 end seats of the front row. I stuck with him as he checked to see if the 4 centre seats had sold. He was a bit of a dick but useful! Nobody had bought the seats so he and I stayed in the middle. I was 2m immediately opposite Emily and 3m from Natalie.
Two girls, Ashley and Tiffany became my next new friends. Ashley got Natalie’s guitar pick when it landed in front of her.
The show was just as good. Emily looked at me and bestowed her beautiful smile on me which was the best moment of my night. She is still so in awe of attracting such bonkers amounts of adulation, makes her appear very approachable. I like that she thinks it’s funny too. Natalie is more aloof, smiles rarely but still full of feistiness. Tends to focus on the mid distance. Martie, can’t say as she was further away. She did take my tall man’s magazine off stage with her and it came back signed by them all.
The dice roll produced Truth #2, a Patty Griffin song and one of my favourites.
The gigs have been very healing for me on a lot of levels. Really hope they come to Europe so I can do it all over again. The Chicks are very clear on their politics and part of a tradition of protest.
I wish they did full band introductions and wish they moved around the stage a bit more.
Getting back was very slow and the streetcar was packed, drunk Ethan began singing but his gang of girls told him to shut up. Then a dyke started off Travellin’ Soldier and the entire tram joined in! This is why The Chicks are well paid for what they do and the streetcar riders are not. Late to bed.
Patty Griffin with David Pulkingham
Photos from both nights and videos of Shine a Different Way