Canada 2022

On the back of a cartoon coaster

In the blue TV screen light

I drew a map of Canada

Oh, Canada

With your face sketched on it twice

Joni 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.

In the Premier Inn Hub before the tooth drama

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.

Swan in the Thames at Kingston wanting to eat my foot, losing tooth is more than enough!
Margaret’s garden with old air raid shelter

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.

Blurry cherries

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.

I love this mad lamp
Room looks onto deck

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.

Aldred Building
Sailors’ memorial tower

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.

KPMG spending their dosh on big buildings
In McCord museum
Alexander Henderson
Rainbows everywhere
Lots of new construction

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?

Request or demand?
Lake Ontario
Toronto Union Station
Winter Garden Theatre

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.

Distillery district
CN tower
Yes that is a dog on a paddle board
From the boat

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.

From hotel window
Physical distancing, not social, that wasn’t hard was it?

Toronto Pride

One of Carol’s best lines was “the sights you see when you haven’t got your gun”!

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.

Ready for the off

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!

Sioux Lookout
Bridge into Winnipeg
Late evening Winnipeg
Back of the train

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!!

Dear deer
Front of train

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.

Cold in Jasper
Mike and Tracy
Train at Jasper
Kamloops Lake/Thompson River
Kamloops Lake
Kamloops Lake
Thompson River

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.

Vancouver station
Marine building
Marine building

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.

Karin and Fred’s home
Thetis Lake
Thetis Lake
Fred, vroom vroom
Dining view!
Karin and Fred
At restaurant
Finlayson Arm

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.

Rainforest hike
Mystic Beach
Debris from old logging operations
Paul Lewis art
Mystic Beach
Paul Lewis art

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.

At the end of Karin and Fred’s road, just 50 metres from their house
Karin and Fred’s home
The Empress Hotel in Victoria
Thetis Lake
Thetis Lake

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.

On the plane
On the ferry

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!

Train videos

Food and drink!

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.


Woman on left had seen Judy Garland and Janis Joplin live! Not together!
I have no idea who they were! Friendly!
Emily, Natalie, Martie
Natalie, Keith Sewell and Slade, Natalie’s son
Emily, Keith, Slade
Keith, Slade, Emily, ?, Natalie, Jimmy Paxson
Keith, Slade, Emily
Keith, Emily

Not my video, I could listen to Martie’s fiddle for ever

The Chicks Toronto 24th June 2022 gig photos and a couple of videos

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.


Behind Budweiser Stage
Mallory, Diondra, Jenny and Charlie with great shirts
Fortune Feimster and Jacquelyn Smith

The Chicks Toronto 25th June 2022 gig photos and videos

Patty Griffin with David Pulkingham

Photos from both nights and videos of Shine a Different Way

My 2020 in photos













The best, the worst

My friend Liz did a list of the good and bad stuff that’s happened to her in 2020 and the good by far outweighed the bad. She said she wanted to see other people’s lists so here is mine.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Bad thingsGood things
Global pandemic, millions dead, millions sick.Went to the far top of Norway in January and saw my old friends Inger and Steve in Bodø. We were at uni together in the late 70s, we hadn’t met up for about 20 years!
Contemptible never ending series of cock ups and mismanagement from our despicable, uncaring government made up of self serving greedy bastards.Made some new friends including new online friends.
My friend lost both her parents within days of each other to Covid.Went to the Alpes Maritimes to be loved by my friends in February. Great walks.
Friends getting sick with Covid.Went to the Lake District for my birthday a bit before lockdown started. There was a shortage of paracetamol in Ambleside but stacks of loo paper in Booths in Windermere.
Friends sick with other awful illnesses.Grew veg for the first time properly in the garden. Hit and miss but it was nice eating my produce.
Had to remove this one as don’t want to be sued.The blue tits nested in the box they demanded I put up. The babies fledged and I hope the jay didn’t get any of them. The only time I saw the jay was when the babies were about to leave the box.
Some bouts of depression.Walked a lot and then some more.
Did more exercise.
Not done the travels I planned. I was about to “set wing to wing”.Started to like myself again, enjoying living on my own in my lovely house with a great view. I’m very lucky.
I have routines and like looking after myself.
Nearly lost the plot waiting for results of 2 tests for cancer (negative).Because of IBS, had a better diet and lost some weight.

Last time I had a hug was on March 15th, it was a good one with Cath.Pre lockdown visit from Ian, who I’ve known since childhood, was a real tonic.
Not had any overnight visitors.I got my guest bedroom all set up to receive overnighters. One day they will be able to come.
Had to cancel short break in January 2021 to Wales. This was so that I would not be at home for 2nd anniversary of Carol’s death. Was going to meet up with my cousins. It is what it is.Saw my very good friends Liz and Tracey and my cousins Sophy and Jo.
Video calls and phone calls with old friends.
The love and support of friends and family has been central to this year and to keeping me sane. You know who you are and I love you.
Had to cancel other trips in October as well.My house and garden are much improved thanks to work done by contractors and by me.
I know my neighbours a little bit more.

Had a memory lane holiday in Cornwall and a short walking break in North Yorkshire, all a bit Covid weird but good to get out and meet people.

Continued to enjoy occasional blog post writing, helps me to work through things. Each post is crafted over several days, weeks sometimes. Some lovely feedback about my posts.
It will very soon be just 2 years since Carol died. I am coping, not seeing lots of people is ok, it’s allowed me time for reflection.
I miss the 2 loves of my life more than words can say, every single day.

Continued to enjoy taking photos. Having the time to take photos makes a huge difference.
Music has come back into my life in a big big big way. Playing it, singing it, dancing to it. Starting to learn to play the guitar (this will take a while which is good because it looks like being confined to barracks is going to go on for some time yet).

Bruce at 71 is sexier than ever and singing in what he calls his current voice which is not the same but ok in a new way. He put out an album, Letter to You which is really good and he sang along with fellow New Jersey songwriter, Jack Antonoff on brilliant Bleachers’ track chinatown. Happy music. Bruce has been doing a regular DJ slot and plays some epic tracks. Listen to it direct from the US not the watered down BBC version.

Natalie, oh Natalie. I was in love with Natalie back when the Dixie Chicks first released Wide Open Spaces in 1998. I remember seeing the videos and had the CDs. Then she and sisters Martie and Emily were vilified and threatened with being shot because Natalie had the balls to criticise Bush on the eve of war in 2003. And she did it in London which incensed the good ol’ bad ol’ boys even more.
At the beginning of 2020 a new album and a tour were coming and my interest was getting perked up again. Gaslighter eventually got released a bit later than planned. It’s an excellent album produced by Jack Antonoff. Do not mess with those chicks! I love this track which is a love song to Natalie’s boys Young Man.
When Natalie sings her voice inspires very intense emotions in me, both on her own and in the harmonies with Martie and Emily and with other singers.
In my view, Natalie’s also very hot but that’s actually second to what her voice does to me.

Natalie posted an impassioned entreaty on Instagram re staying at home to which I responded equally passionately. She liked my comment and made my day! She manages her own account and doesn’t post very often so extra exciting!
I came out as trans. Not done anything about it but not planning to do more than live my life as the boy I am, breasts and all. The breasts have annoyed me for years but no way am I having surgery.
Sexuality, no change there then, as Carol would say, “so long as they’re breathing”. Pansexual despite all the kitchenware jokes.
Looking forward to wearing more hats and showing off my legs in 2021. Peace and love.

Letting go

Soon after Carol died I wrote of feeling that I’d been cast adrift. I thought of myself on a raft in an ocean of tears with no sight of land and exposed to all the vicissitudes of weather. I later watched Sarah Outen’s film Home of pretty much exactly that, except she was in an enclosed vessel but some of her rollercoaster of emotions as she fought for her life rowing across the Pacific during a dreadful storm reflected where I was emotionally during the first year. She survived and so did I.

That first year I cocooned myself in a protective bubble, not out of choice, it was just how it was. In a daze, I went through the motions of walking and talking. Sometimes people told me things and I couldn’t remember them a moment later. I’m so sorry if that was you. When I encountered new people the first thing I told them was that Carol had died. Mostly they were fine about this and mostly very kind. One or two recoiled from the impact. But I made a new friend, well I call her a friend, we only conversed for a matter of minutes after I’d blurted out my widowhood. Sarah was widowed 3 weeks before me. We became Facebook friends and I’ve learnt from her as we watch each other sometimes stumbling and reaching for a handle to grab hold of as we work out our new lives. Her man Tony was also a renegade, a wild and beautiful man.
During that first year I’d done a few ritualistic scatterings of ashes, making meaning by going to places that Carol loved. There are ashes at Dove Stones reservoir (not in the res itself) alongside those of her very good friends Joyce and Liz, mother and daughter; Esthwaite Water, which we both loved; in the mountains at Llanymawddwy; near Dunstanburgh Castle, and in the new top garden of my home.

2020 arrived. I passed the first anniversary of Carol’s death somewhere on a boat off the coast of Norway. I do still tell people that Carol has died but it’s not the first thing and it’s not every single person I meet.
As this year moved to Spring, I started to feel as if I was ready to pop my head up and enjoy the sun on my body. I felt excitement and a readiness to throw myself back into living instead of enduring. Well that was crap timing! As we veered towards Lockdown 1.0 I had a fair bit of self pity around the restrictions as well as panic. I surprised myself by finding that it was possible to survive that as well. I have been extremely careful. There is only me to look after me, at least physically. Mentally my friends and family have been fantastic. I did it without putting on loads of weight or turning into an alcoholic. I’m actually very lucky to be on my own and have not been forced to work at home cooped up with a partner or indeed any other person. Some friends are spending all day working online and are living with the same person all the time and it’s not necessarily that easy. Some have entered into difficult life phases by becoming carers and I know how achingly grinding that is. I have a lovely house and garden with a great view and I’m on the edge of a pleasant village with mostly pleasant neighbours.

I had a nice summer, took a couple of holidays, saw some friends and family, in our new restricted, contactless ways. I went a bit manic for a month or so, felt really high, euphoric even. Thankfully it wasn’t followed by a deep low. I’ve had some short periods of depression but now am much more levelled out and for the most part feel pretty good.

As we approached Lockdown 2.0 I began to put more effort into exercising and started doing weight training. As part of looking after my bones, I joined the gym last July and had been doing that 3x a week religiously. Then nothing at all since March except for walking. I now do a short fast walk most mornings followed by a 10 minute all body workout with Kelly on YouTube. I’ve started to lose a bit of poundage which makes me feel quite perky.

As part of letting go or my death cleaning 2.0, I’ve been looking at objects that I’ve carried around with me all my life and reevaluating them. Some of them are not surviving the cut. I took my wedding ring off and this does not mean that I’ve stopped loving Carol but I’m not married to a dead person. It was the right time for me to do that. It also does not mean that I’m available although I might be. Taking the ring off was a relief, a freeing up. It’s a chunky ring and is now round my neck on a chunky chain most of the time.
I’ve got back into sorting out the house. All the work needing contractors ended up in November, it all should have happened months earlier. I’ve got new bedroom cupboards and have painted the room. I’ve got a better patio and 2 new sets of steps to my garden areas. The ceiling in my sitting room has finally been fixed after 8 months of looking at a piece of cardboard! There’s still quite a big schedule of redecorating which initially I was planning to pay someone to do but I really like having something to do and it’s given me some routine. I think Carol would be pleased with the house improvements.

My grief is not there all the time, well it is but often I can put it to the back, sometimes it gnaws away at me. So the last week I have cried a lot, mostly listening to music but it’s not all the time and I’m learning to understand and control my emotions. I’m ok, despite sodding Covid, despite being on my own most of the time. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed my own company. I do miss people and I miss physical contact. I miss Carol and Chris taking the piss out of me for being a dork. The other day I looked at an old photo in a book, of a man and a woman together. It said the woman was 5’7″ tall but she only came up to in between his elbow and shoulder. Therefore he would be roughly 6’7″ if not taller. Then I realised she was sitting down and I could hear Chris and Carol laughing at me.

I’m enjoying finding myself again. I’ve taken up new pursuits, albeit online. I’m singing, dancing, learning an instrument. I want to throw myself at the world. But there’s a pandemic. So yes I will take the vaccine as soon as I possibly can. I want a ticket to freedom. I want to drive, to walk the west coast of the Americas, to do the New Jersey Springsteen tour, to swim in the ocean, drink tequila as the sun goes down. I want connection. I want music. I’m so glad music has returned, it’s like a drug that takes me inside and outside myself. I wake up with tunes in my head. Feel like I’m in love, in lust. And it’s all ok. Letting go and starting to live.
It took a while to understand
The beauty of just letting go

This song, written by Patty Griffin, was on The Chicks’ second album, Fly. Patty Griffin is an astute singer songwriter and The Chicks have recorded and performed several of her songs. It’s about a failed relationship, however some of the sentiments work for me.

Ain’t no talkin’ to this man
Ain’t no pretty other side
Ain’t no way to understand the stupid words of pride
It would take an acrobat and I already tried all that
I’m gonna let him fly, mmm

Things can move at such a pace
The second hand just waved goodbye
You know the light has left his face
But you can’t recall just where or why
So there was really nothing to it
I just went and cut right through it
I said I’m gonna let him fly
Oh yeah

There’s no mercy in a live wire
No rest at all in freedom
Choices we are given
It’s no choice at all
The proof is in the fire
You touch before it moves away, yeah
But you must always know
How long to stay and when to go

And there ain’t no talkin’ to this man
He’s been trying to tell me so
It took a while to understand
The beauty of just letting go
Cause it would take an acrobat n’
I already tried all that
I’m gonna let him fly, fly whoa
I’m gonna let him fly, fly
I’m gonna let him fly, fly

The Chicks, written by Patty Griffin

Oh Carol

You missed some things this year:
I cruised the coast of Norway, hiked in the south of France and the Lake District and then we started having a pandemic. I was so lucky to get those trips in.
The whole world turned. Lockdown and a shiny new vocabulary. A never ending list of ill thought out fuck ups from the government.
My Big Plan for this year was to follow Bruce and The Chicks on tour all round the world, well the US, Canada and Europe.
I grew vegetables.
Quizzes, endless quizzes.
Video chats.
Walking, walking, walking.
Hand washing, cleaning, anti bac, masks and open windows.
I fell back in love with Natalie Maines.
I fell back into music, this house is rocking.
I’m trying to find out which foods are giving me bowel problems, it’s a slow process and a dull diet while I do this, 2 months already. The good news is I don’t have bowel or ovarian cancer. I didn’t sleep for 2 weeks waiting to find out. My go to anxiety response.
I rediscovered my libido, it is only permitted to travel in my imagination.
We had our 12th wedding anniversary. I celebrated that one on my own because of you being dead, and Covid restrictions.
Bruce put out a brilliant new album.
You didn’t show up for your 60th birthday either.
I’m exercising at last.
We got locked down again.
I got Phil to make and fit really nice cupboard doors in my bedroom.
The Americans voted Trump out and I cried with relief.
This long long year is not yet over.

Bruce Springsteen Ghosts