Archive for May, 2015

Leaving Nova Scotia

So, the time has come to leave our little bolt-hole in Nova Scotia, Canada. We’re flying out to New Zealand, postponing our US trip slightly for personal reasons. We’ve really enjoyed our time here in the Bay of Fundy – home of the world’s highest tides, and… um… ah…

No, sorry, that’s it.

But man, is it ever beautiful!

Nova Scotia Cabin

When we arrived, the whole place was still buried under a thick blanket of snow – much to Roo’s delight. She set about building a snowman, then hollowing out a snow cave… you know, the kind of stuff that non-Australians generally get out of their system by age 10.

Roo Snowman

Meanwhile, I settled in to write about Asia. It was a little odd, filling my head with scenes of steaming jungles and sprawling concrete metropolises – only to look out of the window at the pristine snow every time a car drove past our cabin. Which happened roughly three times per day…

Nova Scotia Deer

We had plenty of other visitors though!

Most days, we took a stroll down to the beach – a rugged and dramatic location, the sand black beneath the white snow, and strewn with boulders and great chunks of ice. An awesome place for photographs; sunbathing, not so much.

Icy Beach

Overlooking the beach was (and still is) my favourite house in the area – a delightful little cottage with a bay window and panoramic views over the bay. Snow ramped up, covering the front door, and we could tell that no-one had visited the cottage in months. It was obviously a holiday home, and one I was rather jealous of.

Port Greville Cottage View

In a tantalising twist, we happened to be walking past it again a few days ago – just in time to spot a real estate agent, taking photos of the place. The owner had taken ill, and put it on the market; “Needs a bit of redecorating,” he admitted, “but it’s in great shape!”

Port Greville Cottage

The price? $98,000. That’s Canadian dollars, by the way – putting the UK market value at a tad under £50,000. (It’s HERE if you’re interested!)

“It’s the view,” the lady who runs the local shop told me. “Any house with a view like that shoots right up in price.”

She was right – a quick check of the estate agent’s website revealed a house on 7.5 acres for sale nearby – for $30,000 (£15k). That’s the price of a decent car in Australia…

And speaking of the shop, there is just the one; a tiny place that sells bread, milk, eggs… and not much else. Not much of those either, to be honest – in the last two months we’ve bought three cartons of eggs from them, all from the same batch. They expired shortly before we bought the first lot, and by the time I bought the last pack I had to point out to the owner that I was now paying full price for eggs that were two entire months out of date. She apologised, and nipped out the back – returning with a pack that was only one month out of date. Score!

The shop also has one of those Kuerig coffee machines that posh people have in their kitchens. This has become a bit of an addiction, and I make an excuse to go there every couple of days to buy one. But, other than that, we haven’t been to a single shop – groceries or otherwise – in eighteen days.

I think that’s a personal record.

So, yesterday we borrowed our landlord’s car, for the third time since we got here. It’s a knackered old wreck, squeaking and shuddering the 20km to the nearest town – but it’s still a lot better than walking.

Buried Camper

Nova Scotia winters are seldom kind to vehicles…

Roo and I flipped a coin for the driving privileges, and I lost, which meant it was my turn. My first, actually, and as Roo pointed out, I was badly in need of the practice. Roo and I will be sharing the driving on our US trip – so far that’s in the order of 10,253 miles, split evenly between the two of us! But so far, I’ve never actually driven in this part of the world. Or in an automatic.

It took me a while, getting used to that auto transmission – bunny-hopping down the road with one foot on each pedal, while Roo gently reminded me that I was still on the wrong side of the road. I suffer left-right confusion issues, which to be honest doesn’t stand me in the best stead to be a driver. Or a navigator. In fact, it begs the question, “What the hell good I am going to be on a three-month road-trip around America?!” I frequently find myself driving on the wrong side in England, and I’ve never had any continental experience to confuse me… just my crazy old brain, up to its usual tricks.

Left Right Hands

I used to do that thing where you make an ‘L’ with your left hand – until I noticed this…

So we made the first turn (there are only two turns on this 20 minute journey), and Roo convinced me to move over to the opposite side of the carriageway. I started to speed up, and amidst the myriad clangs and squeals of tortured suspension, I was sure I could hear the regular thud thud thud of a flat tyre.

Roo was also listening to it. “Might just be a stone in the tyre,” she said.

So we carried on.

Then we came around a bend in the road and saw, in front of us, a police blockade. One cop car, lights flashing, on either side of the road, and a handful of vehicles queuing through the gap in between them.

Roo and I exchanged a look of horror.

“Thank God you’re driving!” she said. Because her license had expired a month ago. The new one was still en route from Australia, and hadn’t arrived yet. This hadn’t stopped her driving on our last trip to town, but thankfully this was the first time we’d seen a police car in Nova Scotia.

“We still have a bit of a problem,” I pointed out. “This isn’t our car. We’re not insured to drive it. I don’t know if it’s even registered. Hell, I don’t know if it’s even roadworthy…”

It was a long, dead-straight road down the hill to the cops. No way out. I fumbled on the back seat for my jacket, groped in the pocket for my wallet, and gave it to Roo while I slid my licence out of it. Then my hand twitched; the license fell from my nervous fingers, clattering down the narrow gap between the passenger seat and the centre console – the single hardest-to-reach place in the entire car.

“CRAP!” said Roo, “You’ve got to be f’ckn’ kidding me!”

I pulled up behind the driver who was currently talking to the cop.

The voice inside my head was going, “SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT!”

When it was my turn, I inched towards the cop, leaving an almost suspiciously large gap between myself and the car in front.

Just don’t hit the wrong pedal, I told myself. Don’t kangaroo the damn car right past the guy. That almost always looks bad.

The policeman was inspecting the tyres of the car opposite me, which didn’t bode well.

“Morning sir,” I said, as cheerfully as I could manage. Roo dug my license out just in time and I held it out before he could ask for it. This was because I was terrified he would ask – like every traffic cop in every move I’ve ever seen – for my “license AND registration.”

I had no idea where the registration was, or what it looked like, or if there even was any – and if there was, it sure as hell wasn’t in my name.

The officer was frowning at my UK driving license. “You don’t have a Canadian license?” he asked.

“Ah, no, we’re just on holiday,” I explained, “staying back there in Port Greville.”

The officer winced in sympathy.

Port Greville Beauty

Don’t know why he wasn’t keen – Port Greville may be boring, but it’s absolutely stunning!

Then he walked around the back of the car, studying something. He bent down for a closer look, then reached for his radio…

I was braced for a shout of “Step out of the VE-hicle!”

But it didn’t come. He just handed back my license, wished us a pleasant day, and let us go.

I don’t think I’ve moved off as carefully as that since the day of my driving test.

But we made it.

My fears of being stranded beside the road, several hours’ walk from our landlord’s house, with no phone to call him – and him with no car other than the one we’d just had impounded…

I was suddenly reminded of this moment:

Droids meme

“I can’t understand how we got past that trooper,” I told Roo, “I thought we were dead!”

Roo got the reference straight away, because Roo is awesome like that.

“The Force is strong with us,” she explained. “I just hope they’re not still there on the way back…”

* * *

Right well, that’s enough waffle from me! Next time I promise we’ll have Roo back, and you can look at some of her stunning images instead of reading my rubbish. 🙂

USA Trip Update!

Well, it looks like this USA trip is a go!

First off, I’d like to say a massive THANK-YOU!!! to everyone who replied, with offers of food, accommodation, adventures, and advice. Every one of you is fantastically awesome, as well as super-generous with your time, your food, and your bedding/garden/sandpit/daughter’s tree-house.

So, like they say on TV: APPLICATIONS ARE NOW CLOSED! (which doesn’t mean you can’t send me any. But if you do, I might cry.)

Couch Surfing

I also got sent some natty graphics! 🙂

To be honest, I was a bit worried I’d only get three responses, one of which wanted to put me in a dungeon and one of which was only interested in Roo staying over…

So it was quite a relief, as well as a bit of a shock, to receive almost 170 replies. WOOHOO! Again, thank-you SO MUCH, everyone!

It’s taken me quite a while to transfer all this information from emails, Facebook messages and blog comments, and to put it in some kind of shape that I can understand. By which I mean, a zonking great list which is currently covering the dining table. So if you haven’t heard from me yet… don’t worry! No bugger has. 🙂

Planning

BEWARE my pencil case!

Anyway, I’ve been struggling with the problem of how to organise the trip so that we can see the maximum number of people, and do as much stuff as possible. (NOTE: ‘Stuff’ is a technical term for the wide variety of activities we could potential be involved in – which so far includes an all-day wine festival, a police ride-along, urban caving and some SAS-style manhunt training…)

Now, several kind folks sent me a link to this map, which has been doing the rounds on Facebook:

USA trip map

It gave me a pretty good idea about how I should start, so I dug a bit deeper, to discover the original article it was based on. And that’s when I discovered why planning this trip is giving me a headache.

Apparently, finding the best (or most efficient) route between several different places, is a popular logic problem known as ‘The Travelling Salesman’ or ‘TSP’. It is classified as one of the hardest puzzles to solve, because of [some crazy-assed science stuff that I didn’t understand], and of course the exponentialismness (or something similar).

Here’s a quote from the article’s original author, Randy Olson:

“With 50 landmarks to put in order, we would have to exhaustively evaluate 3 x 1064 possible routes to find the shortest one. To provide some context: If you started computing this problem on your home computer right now, you’d find the optimal route in about 9.64 x 1052 years — long after the Sun has entered its red giant phase and devoured the Earth.”

Now, he’s a PhD Computer Science candidate who specialises in ‘biologically-inspired artificial intelligence and evolutionary processes’. So we can probably trust him.

What this means for me is, I’m still stuck in the planning phase – which, as anyone who’s read my books will know, is normally the non-existent phase. There’s a reason for this: I suck at planning. It was the same before my trip around Asia – I maxed out my library card, hiring at least two books for every country we were hoping to visit. And I never opened one of them.

Asia Planning Books

Okay, so ONE of these books DID get read from cover to cover. Anyone who can guess which one wins a lollipop!

I appreciate that so far this has been an update that hasn’t actually updated anyone on anything. Yeah, um… sorry about that.

To make you feel slightly less cheated, here’s a comedy sign Roo snapped on the way into Perth:

Amusing Sign

A few seconds later is said ‘…PRAWNS $14.99 PER KILO’, but for a while there we were seriously considering calling the WWF.

Now, there are a few things I can tell you:

1) I’m sorry to say that, unfortunately we won’t be able to see everyone on this trip. Even if we had six months instead of three, I doubt we’d get round them all. Of course, as with all good books, there’s always the possibility of a sequel…

2) If you are unlucky enough to have us show up at your door, we’ll probably be imposing for two nights. By my calculations (and by the Power of Grayskull) we’ll be spending a day driving between places, spending the night we arrive, and getting to spend one full day boring the life out of our hosts with stories they’ve already read about, before toddling along the following morning.

3) We’ve both always wanted to go to one of those crazy college parties we see in the movies – you know, where everyone drinks beer from those red plastic cups and dances on tables and stuff. It’s, like, the iconic pinnacle of American culture for us. Honest! So if anyone has any suggestions about how to make this happen, we’re eager to hear ‘em!

4) Talks n’ stuff: I’m really keen to talk (just ask Roo – she can’t shut me up!) – so book clubs, libraries, etc – anywhere who might be interested in having me over for an hour, please get in touch with them and find out if they’re interested! Obviously I don’t charge anything, and I’m not trying to sell books (though I’ll keep a box in the car in case anyone wants one). I’m less about actual ‘book signings’ than I am about giving talks, as very few people will have heard of me – a signing at a proper book store is likely to be graveyard quiet, and, well, that would be pretty awkward…

Paul Carter

This is Paul Carter, author of the funniest book I’ve ever read: ‘Don’t Tell Mum I Work On The Rigs (She thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whore House)’. I met him at a book signing in Perth. His books have sold squintllions of copies, and a major Hollywood movie is currently being made of them. Number of people at the book signing? 6.

So, thanks for letting me ramble on again, folks! I’ll try to convince Roo to share some more of her stunning photos next time, to give you all a bit of a break. And by the time she’s done with that, I might actually have some real news to report…

Imagine that!

🙂