A Palaver In The Wet Fish Department

I have recently returned from giving lectures in Canada and the USA and thought that I would amuse myself by subjecting you to my mini-memoirs of the experience.

It is quite like being subjected to my holiday snaps except that I am not there so you can slope off without my noticing. The story begins on Day Two – day one consisting almost exclusively of travel by car and aeroplane. I cannot remember which films I watched on the flight but I know they were quite rubbishy. One of them had Jennifer Anniston in small shorts.


8:00am:I am writing this from the Holiday Inn Express in Spokane, Washington. It is quite sunny this morning and I have just eaten a warm sugary doughnut for breakfast – as a result I feel slightly buzzy and have nascent toothache. This combined with jet lag is an interesting combination.

3:00 pm: I have been whisked round the city by the extraordinarily eccentric (but equally extraordinarily charming) Meyer sisters (well, two thirds of the available collection) we have seen parks, undulating wheat fields, vineries, exterior dance floors,a conservatory and, the piece de resistance, the House of Meyer. This is an unassuming suburban house made notable by the addition of some breathtaking Halloween decorations and a large crane in the driveway. Halloween is a weird celebration and Americans take it very seriously: the hotel was covered in fake cobwebbery and there were themed parties (all this three weeks before the actual date). The Meyers take it one step further and have talking witch shaped automatons and a village of miniature electric models full of ghosts and skeletons. They get through an awful lot of sweets at trick or treat time.

10:00 pm: Back again having eaten a strange pizza that was crimped and folded so it looked like a Cornish Pasty and delivered a lecture to the well attended monthly meeting of the Inland Empire Gardeners. Seemed to go very well in that nobody threw anything. There was cake (i) as well as a treasurer wearing a very snappy leather kilt.


9:00 am: Back in Spokane airport after a surprisingly weird breakfast consisting of a piece of round bacon and an omelette the colour and texture of a post-it note. Bought some grapes.

12:30 pm: I am boarding a bus. A rather well appointed bus with squashy seats and wi-fi. I have not been on a bus for ages. I used to travel by National Express when I was younger, it was never like this. Plastic seats and I usually ended up asleep and dribbling on my neighbour’s shoulder. I am here because I thought that if I flew to Vancouver I would see nothing. This way I get to see some trees, some water, a good slice of landscape and a lot of freeway. I am finding it rather delightful even though the skies are smoky grey and it drizzles.I passed a place called Chuckanut which amused me more than perhaps it should.

4:30 pm: Canadian Border. Had a long chat with the Immigration Officer about gardens. So much so that he forgot to stamp my passport and had to call me back. I feared it was a Gordon Jackson moment (ii) and I was going to be slammed in the slammer for some reason.

17:30 pm: Based on the scientific study I have carried out over the past hour it rains more in Canada than in the U.S. This may or may not be the result of global warming. Perhaps.

10:00 pm: Back in the hotel after eating a lobster. Tomorrow I must work.


9:00 am: Two talks to fabulous people from the Vancouver Hardy Plant Group in a comfortable theatre under a museum. It is still raining: which is good as if it was sunny and we were all stuck in a dark room then we would be disgruntled. Lunch was a sandwich of lamb and pear in bread studded with figs. Very jolly indeed.

3:00 pm: emerge, blinking to find the rain stopped and a glimmer of blue in the sky. Hurrah. Time for a swift visit to two gardens, some sea viewing and to realise than Vancouver is a very charming city before the rain starts again. Dinner was fun.


9:00 am: This is serious rain. I thought that we were kings of precipitation but we are not. I bow my head in humble acknowledgement that this is serious soak-you-in-double-quick-time rain. My theory is that each raindrop is approximately 25% larger than a British raindrop. Ergo the rain is wetter. I am waiting for the ferry to Victoria.The sea and sky are pretty grey which is a great pity as I was expecting spectacular views, autumn trees and possibly a few frolicking whales. There was conversation yesterday about high winds preventing the ferries from running. “It’s okay though, you can always take seaplane”. I don’t know about you but, if the wind is lively and when given the choice between big chunky ferry and small seaplane my choice would be with the former. Apparently not. I seek reassurance – “Most of the seaplanes get there okay” I am told. “But it might be quite bumpy”.

I do not like bumpy.

Bumpy is my idea of hell. Mind you so is nautical choppiness. My family has quite a long history of seafaring: we have salty sea dogs as ancestors. My great grandfather (a WW1 Cruiser Captain, later Admiral) was described in a book about the Battle of Jutland as having a face “like a scrubbed hammock”. I have missed the sea-going gene.

10:30 Many Canadians have rugged cases for their iPhones. Perhaps because of earthquakes.

12:18 pm: I have been on deck for the sake of research. I have used the opportunity to take some fine pictures of foggy islands for your amusement. I can now barely see properly as my specs are rained over. No whales but there is a large television over there showing an American Football game. One team is wearing neon pink spats with matching pink handkerchiefs dangling from the waistbands of their trousers.

3:00 pm: I have been whisked, via a sandwich, to the Salvation Army Hall in Victoria. Somebody’s car has caught fire in the parking lot and a man has just asked me if I was the Reverend in charge. The two events were not, I believe, connected as the man did not seem to be in search of absolution but you never know.

5:00 pm: I have delivered my fourth and final lecture of the mini-tour, as an added bonus I met a longtime commenter on this blog who I did not know was (a) Canadian (b) present in the audience (c) smiley (d) female. Nice to put a face to a nom de plume.
It is still raining.

10:00 pm:I have done two things this evening: I have eaten a large steak and have noticed that Canadian light switches work in the opposite direction to ours: on is down rather than up. I wonder why.


9:00am: Typical. The sun is shining. I have just eaten a muffin of indeterminate ingredients for breakfast. I decided against the shiny hard boiled eggs. A peeled and naked cold egg can be a bit off putting. Mind you not many things look that appetising peeled, naked and cold. I am now going to see some gardens about which I will write on another day. I like to think that I know when my readers are at the end of their tether. Here is a decorative bin from Butchart gardens to whet your appetites.
It has all been very marvellous. Everybody has been a delight, I love lecturing over here.

Maybe someday I will get asked back.

I am now returned and am listening to Metal Heart by Cat Power.

Sylvia Kristel died the other day: my goodness she was beautiful. I was, I’m afraid, one of the many adolescents whose hormones she fuelled in the 1970s, I went to see Emmanuelle with a friend of mine when we were fifteen. Very young looking fifteen year-olds wearing ties. It was in the Prince Charles Cinema just off Leicester Square and we blagged our way into the afternoon performance. She had a tough time, very sad.

The picture is of some lettuce.
(i) American cake is different to British cake. Somehow it has more air in it, presumably this is something to do with the wide open spaces where buffalo roam etc etc
(ii) Classic Great Escape moment. You remember. Gordon Jackson and Richard Attenborough getting on the bus. All papers inspected. Gestapo officer as a parting shot says “Gut Luck”. Jackson turns and says “Thank you very much”. Bang. That’s it. Next scene they are all mown down in a field by a machine gun on the back of a truck. Moral: Manners can sometimes be a bad idea.