Hot Hotels and Celebrations

I turned 60 in March and wrote about the party I hosted in Canada in a recent blog. However there were three of my close friends at Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland who were not able to be present. The four of us have remained in contact, and in 2006 we celebrated, over a period of time, our 50th birthdays. At the beginning of May this year, John Salisbury, who lives in Plymouth, in the UK, organised his 60th event. It was amazing. He and his wife hired an old fort on a hill overlooking the city. This is a Landmark Trust building. The officers’ quarters are available as bedrooms (in various configurations from two to four to a room), and there is a kitchen, lounge and across the courtyard, an excellent party venue with a bar and dance floor. The walls of the fort have magnificent cannon at various intervals. People who hire the place have it completely to themselves, and once the huge wooden main gate is locked and barred, guests really are completely on their own! It would be a good setting for a murder mystery. I can strongly recommend going to the website and having a look at this magnificent location. It is also very reasonably priced as a venue, if there are enough people sharing it.

The fort was hired from Friday to Monday and so guests came and went over the weekend. Owen travelled the furthest, having come from Durban. He did however visit various other relatives in England and Europe during his two weeks in the Northern Hemisphere. David flew over from Luxembourg on Saturday and left on Sunday. Ailsa and I flew from Norwich to Exeter: the nearest airport to Plymouth on Friday. It was an enjoyable flight taking just about an hour. The airline is called Flybe and the aircraft a propeller driven, Bombardier Q400, a Canadian made plane. We hired a car in Exeter and drove over to Plymouth, not a long trip and quite beautiful through the Devon countryside. As the fort has a total of eight guest beds and shared bath rooms, this meant due to capacity (and in my case, sharing) issues we did not stay there. We were booked into a Travelodge just up the road. This was absolutely fine and we hired taxis for the times when we knew we would be over the limit and should not be on the road!

The festivities included a meal on Friday evening; the party on Saturday with plenty to drink, food and dancing; walks on Dartmoor on both the Saturday and Sunday. The weather was kind to us as it was sunny and pleasant for both the ambles. We walked along old railway lines where the tracks have been taken up and the paths are now for cyclists and walkers. Jon and Katie arranged buffet style breakfasts and lunches and also cooked the supper on the first evening. It was a great weekend, and was good to see old friends and meet the people who had worked with Jon over the years since we left Waterford 42 years ago. As David remarked if we worked it backwards, we left in 1974. This is 42 years ago. If we went 42 years back from the time we left the school it would have been 1932. This is an interesting perspective on time!

Ailsa and I decided to go to Exeter on the Sunday evening and spend the night there. We booked into a hotel, a reasonable rate £60 for a room, but it turned out to be rather small and very airless. Not the last airless room of the month. We walked around the city centre and down to the quays, feeling Exeter was rather smaller and less impressive than we expected. Still we survived the heat, and next day dropped the car at the airport and returned to Norwich.

It is a source of some sadness to me that I did not organise events with my Swaziland friends and family to mark my major birthdays. I guess if I make it to 70 then I should start making plans as soon as possible. There is no doubt though these birthdays marked a real time of transition for us. Two of the four have retired and one is about to. I on the other hand will probably keep working for another five or so years. It will be interesting to see how we change and indeed if we do. I feel that after being at school together and sharing formative years we have not changed… but who knows.

I was in the UK until 25 May, then Ailsa and I travelled to Canada. It was the usual early morning flight, 06.15 from Norwich to Amsterdam and then a 09.30 flight to Toronto. We went to the lounge in Amsterdam just long enough to get coffee and then got on the plane. The purser came to say hello to me. She looked at her list, looked at me and said, “Mr Whiteside”. I admitted that that was to whom she was speaking to and said something like “you’ve come to ask me to sit in the front, but I can’t because I’m travelling with my wife”.

She said that she had come back to greet me because she was “always interested to know what platinum elite flyer passengers looked like”. And then about 15 minutes later they came and moved us both to the back row of the business class section. The slight embarrassment was that we had left various items in the seat pockets where we had been sitting, had to go and retrieve them, and face passengers who had been moved to these seats.

Ailsa and I spent two nights in Waterloo and then drove down to Lake Erie. We went to Long Point, a beautiful spot on the side of the lake which is a provincial park and very scenic. It looked interesting on the map and additionally was right next to Port Rowan. There was no accommodation to be had other than bed and breakfast facilities. We had a cup of tea and then drove along the lake shore to the town of Port Dover, which was significantly larger. Here we were able to find a hotel with a reasonable room and, after a walk around, had a huge enjoyable Canadian style supper (triple fried chips and some interesting local beers including potato beer).

On Saturday we drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the resort town that is the home of the Shaw Festival. There is, away from the lakeshore, very little that is attractive in around southern Ontario towns. The strip development outside them means one is driving through quite horrible business areas. I am of the opinion that a major difference between North America and England is that in the UK we have industrial areas off the main roads with limited access to them. Here they spread along roads leading into and out of towns, each competing with ‘eye-catching’ advertising of various degrees of tastelessness.

There was no accommodation available in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but a very kind Chinese lady running a bed-and-breakfast allowed us to use her Wi-Fi and book a hotel in Niagara itself. It looked okay on the website, but when we got there we discovered it was a motel on the main road and had definitely been ‘made up’ for the photographs. We took a breath and checked in. The room was large but airless, and the heater was on in the bathroom, just to make it worse. There was an air conditioning unit which got used for some of the night. We walked down to look at the Niagara Falls and then got a takeaway pizza and beer and went back to the hotel. All in all Ailsa was impressed by the waterfall but appalled by the town. This was the same reaction that Douglas and I had had so it clearly runs in the family. Actually to be fair it is also the reaction of most of my Canadian friends, they consider it a carbuncle on landscape.

We have completed the major processes for Ailsa and Douglas to come to Canada and they now have some time to decide when they would like to do so. It took a very long time and I have to say I am very grateful to Chris Daw who facilitated the whole thing, being patient and good-humoured, when faced with my inability to complete forms or stick to deadlines. The next instalment of this blog will reflect an interesting period of travel.

Films

One of the activities I undertake quite frequently in Waterloo is to go to the cinema. There are two within walking distance of the apartment. Ailsa and I went to see Sing Street, a very recent Irish musical comedy drama film. It was only released in the United Kingdom on 20th May. It is a mixture of a high school prom and coming of age story set in the 1980s. We both enjoyed it a great deal.