The Royal Wedding

I stayed up all night and watched the Royal wedding pre-pre-coverage, pre-coverage, main event, balcony scene and after coverage.  I switched between CBC and CBC NewsNet, CNN, an entertainment news show and went online to BBC.

Piers Morgan & Anderson Cooper at Buckingham Palace CNN bureauInterestingly, my husband and I stuck with CNN for the actual wedding.  Both of us usually choose CBC or CTV over any American channel for political, sports or ‘significant event’ coverage.  But Piers Morgan was great.  He, Anderson Cooper and their guests were informative and witty in their commentary.  Donald Trump did a good thing with Celebrity Apprentice in introducing Piers Morgan to US media.

The wedding was beautiful, the dress was fabulous, the singing of God Save the Queen brought tears to the eyes, the balcony kiss was sweet and funny.  I wish she’d ridden in the glass carriage to the Abbey, but it still was a total fairy tale wedding.  Just one observation about the music in the ceremony – the lovely choir piece that was composed as a wedding gift sounded to me very similar to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast theme song.

Royal Wedding Style

In the pre-coverage talk about the dress, there was a lot of emphasis on Kate’s sense of style.  I was thinking huh?  She’s got all the money in the Queen’s realm and all the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice at royal weddingadvisors in the fashion industry and the palace to ensure that this dress is the epitome of elegance and high-style.  How could she not look absolutely fabulous?

And then I saw the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice.  I saw you can have all the fashion mavens and money in the world and still look like you got dressed from a Salvation Army clothes bale.  I liked their shoes though.

In my fashion assessment of the event, I divided the family women into two categories. (Kate and her sister Pippa, both stunning, were in their own category.)  On the ‘regally elegant’ side were the Queen, Mrs. Middleton, Camilla and the Countess of Wessex.  On the ‘WTF?’ side were Eugenie, Beatrice and the Princess Royal.  Now, Anne I can accept – she generally always looks as if she grabbed whatever was clean and not wrinkled from her closet.  She’s never been an icon of fashion; she has other things she’d rather do.

But those girls!  I think that they’d like to be fashion plates, and they have the looks to do so.  If they’d take half the owl eye makeup off and not wear clothes that are jumbled and way too busy and not flattering to their faces or figures in any way.  And they sat right behind their Gran!  So you couldn’t even look at the Queen without being distracted by the costume party escapees behind her.

Best Wishes

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge balcony kissI wish the new Duke and Duchess the very best.  I don’t envy them though.  One commentator said something like ‘this marriage cannot fail.  There is no reason it can’t last:  they’ve lived together, she’s been part of his world long enough to understand her role, they’re both mature enough.  If it doesn’t last, the British monarchy will end with it.’  Gee, that’s not much pressure is it?


In June 1983 Charles and Diana, Prince and Princess of Wales, came to St. John’s on the Royal Yacht Britannia.  Two Britannia, at sea in Scotland after decommissioningyears before, I had woken up early or stayed up late, can’t remember which, to watch their wedding on television.

I was very excited that they were visiting and couldn’t wait to go to the harbour front to see them.  I didn’t want to go alone – it felt like an event that should be shared with friends.  Turned out the only people I knew who were going were Irish Republican supporters going to protest.  Well, you have to make the best of things, I thought.

Charles and Diana wavingSo when the yacht arrived, I walked down to the waterfront with about ten people carrying placards and a rolled-up banner. We found a good spot as near the yacht as we could get, with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary staying near us, keeping a watchful eye.

Placards and banners

Placards were distributed and the banner unfurled.  Ten feet long, it read “England Out Of Ireland Now”.   I have no idea why they gave me one end of it to hold.

When the Royal couple came on deck, the crowd went wild.  Diana sparkled – well, like a princess.  Even at the distance we were, you could see her astounding beauty.  I too clapped and cheered and jumped up and down.  The banner bounced awkwardly so I tucked the stick under my arm to keep it steadier while I clapped.

Sinn Fein banner, in IrelandI turned around to look at my companions.  In this huge crowd, only they were standing stock still, with long morose faces.  Oops!  I tried to curb my enthusiasm, but it wasn’t enough.  One of the guys came to me and said, “stop clapping!  We’re not here to clap!”  Well, I was, and I hadn’t made a secret of it!  Still, I tried to keep still and look serious.

The Yacht without the Royal Couple

A few days later, the yacht was in port without the Royal couple.  Friends and I were in a downtown bar and some of the Royal Navy crew came in.  They sat with us.  Much later that warm summer night, going swimming seemed like a good idea.  So we did.  A sailor, fooling around, grabbed a girl’s ankle.  She twisted and the ankle was seriously sprained.  We had no car and she couldn’t walk.  Thankfully, we had fit young men to carry her.

Britannia gangwayThey felt bad for what happened, so invited us aboard the Royal Yacht the next day along with St. John’s dignitaries.  Unfortunately, the injured girl couldn’t navigate the gangplank with crutches.  The rest of us did and told her all about it afterwards.  Our sailors showed us the salons, kitchens and bridge – everything but the Royals’ private quarters.

I was sad when Britannia was decommissioned as a Royal vessel.  She was magnificent and deserved royalty.  In 1997 I also got up early or stayed up late to watch the funeral of Diana, former Princess of Wales.  This Friday I’ll do the same to watch her son marry Kate Middleton.

I have no pictures of my own from this time – too  busy juggling placards and gawking. These pics came from: HMS Vanguard, Charles and Diana (picasaweb, damaggie), indymedia and gangway.  Thanks!

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Apr. 24/11)

The Dinner Party

Sean touching his son’s face onscreen, Cheryl after her husband battered her – moving moments. But Ken telling pre-dinner party in Roversdinner guests Audrey and Lewis, “Tracey always says how much she misses her mother’s home cooking, her stuffed marrow in particular.” Like Audrey, I knew:  “yum yum.” This is going to be good!

What followed Ken’s statement was a tiny three-act play. Set into Tuesday and Wednesday’s episodes, it starred Ken and Deirdre, Audrey and Lewis.

The Barlow dining room, after their (and our) appetites had been whetted in the Rovers. Not really Audrey’s though. She seems to not be a fan of stuffed marrow. (I don’t know why the writers picked on the poor squash, any type of which is delicious when stuffed and baked. I guess it just sounds funny – yum yum, marrow!!)

Dinner chat

dinner party in Barlow dining roomAudrey seems on edge with Deirdre. And something’s been whetted for Deirdre. She’s sparkling with rapier-like wit and flirtatious asides to Lewis. Audrey glowers at both her stuffed marrow and Deirdre.

Ken figures a discussion about the last election will loosen things up around the old dinner table. Lewis, with his usual insouciance, simply says, “I didn’t vote.” Well, Ken comes up out of his chair – “not vote!!??” Things are not improved when Ken gives Lewis his clincher argument – “how can we complain about how the country’s run?” and Lewis simply smiles his lovely gigolo smile and says “But I don’t.” And there you have it, that topic of conversation done.

From there on, although it doesn’t seem possible, it goes from bad to worse. Deirdre provides conversational distraction by asking if Audrey wants ketchup, then asking if the marrow isn’t too runny. Audrey says “I must get the recipe”. Deirdre is dying to bring Lewis’ line of work into conversation, so says that Ken used to be a male escort. They all nearly choke on their teeth, or marrow. Ken accuses Deirdre of being a tad tiddly and suggests she just drink straight from the bottle, Deirdre lighting Lewis' cigarettesaying “you’re turning into your mother”.

Mercifully, the meal and after-dinner chat finally end. The third act of this little comedy of manners occurs outside as Deirdre is having a well-earned cigarette. Lewis, the man for all women, apparently also indulges from time to time. He lights that cigarette like a true smoker. Deirdre says she’s been naughty teasing about escort work, Lewis says “a very naughty girl.” Deirdre, with a smoldering look, says, “if I had to pay for your services or his, I know who I’d choose.” Lewis smolders right back.

Audrey, coughing, saying taxi is hereAudrey comes outside right then and is horrified to see him sucking back on the smoke. She coughs, flaps her arms to keep the smoke away, “oh, put that out, oh oh” etc etc. Deirdre offers to copy the marrow recipe right then, Audrey looks like a treed animal. She makes her escape into the house. With a wonderful come-hither look over his shoulder to Deirdre, Lewis follows her in.

Deirdre looks very pleased with herself, it’s been a good night’s work. Presumably Ken is inside, wondering if he ought to raise the ceilings so that a library ladder in his new study is justified.

Mabee’s Corners

My cousin Lynda Sykes wrote this about her visit to Mabee’s Corners many years ago, after reading about my ‘sightingof the road sign for it. She graciously gave me permission to post it. Lynda is the editor of Charles Kipp’s WWII memoir Because We Are Canadians.

Mabee's Corners sign, Norfolk Co. ONEver since I can remember anything, I remember Grandma telling me many times with great pride how her family came to found Mabee’s Corners, which I vaguely knew was somewhere down around near Tillsonburg.


Grandma told me that her great-great-great (I don’t remember now how many “greats”) grandparents got married on the three-way crossroads of Mabee’s Corners. There was nothing there at the time – just the intersection of the three roads. She said the bride came from one direction, the bridegroom came from another direction, and the preacher came from the third direction. They all met at the intersection and the preacher married them there at the crossroads. After they were married, the young couple was looking for a place to settle, and so they decided to settle at that same crossroads. And thus, they founded Mabee’s Corners. Real romantic story, right?

I never saw Mabee’s Corners until I was a teenager, dating Wayne. One Sunday, he and I were out driving and we were coming into Tillsonburg, kinda through the ‘back door’ from the south. I saw this road sign that pointed to Mabee’s Corners, so many miles down the road. I got all excited, and asked Wayne to turn around and follow that road. As he did, I’m telling him with great pride about how my ancestors founded Mabee’s Corners, and relating Grandma’s romantic story to him.

Mabee’s Corners now and then

Today, Mabee’s Corners looks very different from what it did then, almost 50 years ago. Then, it was just a three-way stop. It’s only in the last 20 years or so that they opened up what used to be barely a cowpath to make a fourth road running to the south, thus making it into a four-way stop. Today, all the roads in the south country are paved. Modern, tidy homes have been built in Mabee’s Corners.

Mabee’s Corners on Google maps, Tillsonburg to north and Lake Erie to south

Back then, however, when I was happily telling Wayne Grandma’s wonderful romantic story, it was very, very different. And it was March, when nowhere looks its best.

We’re driving along, getting closer and closer to Mabee’s Corners, and we start seeing some small weather-beaten houses. A store on the corner. That was it, except for the mud everywhere. Needless to say, I was stunned! I had always wanted to see this place. In my mind, it was a magical town like on a picture postcard.

Wayne looked at me with such a smirk on his face and he started to laugh.”So this is the place your ancestors founded, eh? Well, it looks like they’re still here.” Well – we laughed and we laughed. It was at such odds with the romantic story I had just been telling. For years and years, we could never drive through Mabee’s Corners on the way down to Judy and Fred’s without laughing.

Marrying at a crossroads

Years later, after Grandma passed away, Mom found a newspaper clipping amongst her papers and keepsakes. It was an article about the Mabee family. But it also gave some history regarding early pioneer culture and customs in this area. It described the practice of marrying at a crossroads, like Grandma’s ancestors did.

Normally when a couple plans to marry, in order for the union to be legal, they either have to have their marriage certificate for at least Beverly Hillbillies, armedthree days before the marriage date or have the banns read aloud in church for three Sundays before the blessed event. However, back then, if one was in a hurry, there was another way. If neither of those two criteria had been met, a marriage could still be considered legal if 1) the marriage took place at midnight, 2) the bride and groom were attired in their nightclothes and 3) the marriage took place at a crossroads.

Shotgun wedding?

Sure sounds like a premise for a shotgun wedding to me! Needless to say, this article pretty much obliterated whatever romantic notions I had left regarding my ancestors’ founding of Mabee’s Corners.

Doesn’t it make ya’ wonder if great-great-great-great-grammy was knocked up, and that great-great-great-great-grandpappy wasn’t too thrilled about marryin’ her?  But bless their hearts!  I guess we all turned out all right anyway.  All I can say is, “Thanks,” and I hope life wasn’t too hard for them.

And those are my stories about Mabee’s Corners. (Edited and images added by DS)

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Apr. 17/11)

Stayin’ Alive

It was Graeme’s week. Even before all his Christmases came at once and he got lucky with Tina, he was the man. Stayin’ alive – the Beegees got nothing on him!

Graeme and Ashley practicing dating linesTwo scenes on Wednesday made me giggle. First Graeme and Ashley sitting on the floor in the back of the butcher shop role-playing Graeme’s speed dating chat. Ashley playing the girl and assessing Graeme’s best chat up lines.

Tina walking in on that to invite Graeme over. Looking at them and wondering. You have to wonder how she could still entertain romantic notions about him after that!

Stayin' alive - Graeme strutting in blue satin shirtThen Graeme, swinging his way down the street, dressed in his best disco dreams shiny shirt. ‘Stayin’ alive ah ah ah ah stayin’ alive.’

I can’t see Graeme and Tina together for long, but it’s nice to see him happy for at least a little while. He and David and the radiator and handcuffs was played as slapstick and was just delightful.

The Waitress Club

My very first job was waitressing. It was a street corner restaurant with booths and tables, bigger than a diner restaurant coffee potsbut not fancy. I had just arrived in a city new to me.

There were four or five waitresses working the day I started. They were all older than I, ranging from their 30s to 50s. I was 17. I tried but I was pretty useless. They were career waitresses, very good at their job. Most of them helped me, but a couple looked at me with cynical eyes, as if to say “wonder how long you’ll last”.

Second day, not too bad. One bowl of soup spilled almost in a customer’s lap. But I knew where the mop and bucket were. When my shift was nearly over, the manager came out of his office at the back. “Take this to my brother” he said and handed me a fat envelope with a nearby address written on it. I noticed the waitresses and kitchen help all watched me leaving. Some had little smirks. All looked interested.

The restaurant was owned by the man I went to see. Aside from the waitresses, the staff consisted of his brothers. Cooks, dishwasher, manager, even the busboy who was the youngest brother. All of them watching me.

“I like to help girls”

waitressing uniform, from backAt the apartment, the owner said, “Come in, sit down.” I said my shift wasn’t over so I’d best be going. “I’m the boss, it’s ok.” I stood. He asked where I was from, how old I was, was I going to school. Coming close, he said he could help me if I wanted to go to university, you know, help out with expenses. “I like to help young girls, you know.” I said I really had to go, they’d be wondering. “Think about it” he said, “here, you’ve got something on your uniform,” and brushed my backside with his hand.

When I returned to the restaurant, the waitresses stopped what they were doing and the brothers came out from the back. “How did it go?” asked manager brother with a definite look of curiosity. “Fine, I gave it to him, sorry it look longer, he wanted to talk a bit.” “What did he talk about?” he asked. I could see the waitresses all craning their necks to catch every word. Brothers stood in and behind doorways, also listening. “Oh, just chatting.” Busboy brother snickered.

“You’re not going back”

I left after my shift, with waitresses saying “see you tomorrow?”  Their smiles were sly. Back where I staying, I told my mother and her friend. They said “you’re not going back.” Mom’s friend phoned a friend who worked at a Community College and got an appointment for me. I did go back to the restaurant the next day, on time, to tell them I was quitting effective immediately. The waitresses just smiled.

I don’t know what would have happened if I’d not had someone to tell. Mom was there just to get me settled. I didn’t know what to think about the experience. I’d never worked before; maybe this was normal. But my mother and her friend certainly knew it wasn’t. So owner brother did help with my post-secondary education. I started it the next week.

Waitressing rite of passage?

waitresses, from the movie WaitressYou know who I most dislike for this? The waitresses. The rest of the staff were men and brothers. But the waitresses were neither. It seemed to me, even as it happened, that ‘taking the envelope to the boss’ had happened before. So this was some weird rite of passage that gave entertainment to the staff, both family and non-family. Were bets laid? What if I’d accepted boss brother’s offer? Had other waitresses? Had some of these? I don’t know. But those women – some of whom had daughters – never gave me a bit of warning or advice.

Amazon link for Counter Culture
Click for Amazon link

When looking for images for this, I came across a book called Counter Culture:The American coffee shop waitress by Candacy A. Taylor. It looks wonderful, and her waitresses don’t seem to be like those in this story. I later waitressed at a small diner and it was indeed a very good experience. The coffee pot photo came from Ms. Taylor’s blog and the photo of the three waitresses is from the 2007 movie Waitress.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Apr. 10/11)

A Proposal

a proposal - Roy to Hayley on bended kneeMy pick for the week is not the small, unexpected quirky moment. I’m going straight to the Big Event – Roy’s romantic proposal of marriage. It was lovely, weepy-making and also quirky even if expected or at least hoped for.

In a smoke-filled room with shattered glass on the floor, Roy got on one knee and asked Hayley to be his wife, again. No, they weren’t in Hayley smiles and says yes to Roya pub evading no-smoking laws after a bar fight. It was their living room after he’d had a cooking disaster. As he attempted getting down on his knee, Hayley fussed at him about shards of glass and what are you doing, be careful. She did not see what he was trying to do. But her smile when she heard his words, and realized his meaning, and her immediate heart-felt ‘yes’! Priceless.

Long day preparing

He had worked on preparing the event all day, with Anna’s help. He’d carefully planned the menu and timed Hayley’s arrival. But she had a horrible day. The factory girls wanting her to find out what was going on with their jobs, the factory and the new contract. Nick, up to his eyeballs in worry trying to sort it out, didn’t have time for her. Carla took off with Trevor to South Africa for the World Cup and recuperation after her ordeal with Tony. No jobs, no factory, no new contract, and everyone wanting answers from Hayley.

Delayed by more questions and complaining on her way home, Hayley was late. Unlike her usual cheery self, she was fed up with everybody and everything and just wanted a nice bath and early bed. Roy, holding dinner in Hayley comes in the cafe, to Roy and Anna's reliefthe oven, first was fretful over dinner being ruined. Then he began panicking, afraid that Tony still had some evil in store for her.

She arrived in the café, to his and Anna’s great relief. But the smoke alarm went off upstairs. It was her turn to panic. Roy knew the cause, but she didn’t. She flashed back to the factory burning, screaming at Roy to please don’t go upstairs.

Roy fanning door in smoke-filled apartmentHe did, to find their apartment full of smoke and the smoke detector blaring. Fanning the door, getting frantic trying to shut the noise off, getting his burned Dutch apple pie out of the oven. He stepped back, bumped the table and knocked the vase of flowers onto the floor. It shattered far and wide.

Hayley, still Hayley cleaning up glass, remembering Amsterdamfrightened, came upstairs. When she saw the Dutch baked apple cake, he explained he’d been making a reminder of their time in Amsterdam. She recalled her feelings then. Her overwhelming despair of ever becoming the woman she felt herself to be instead of the Harold she was born. Of ever being with Roy again, the man who had loved her as Hayley. Then Roy finding her and still loving her as Hayley, Harold or Santa Claus. In Amsterdam, she did become Hayley, with “all that to-ing and fro-ing down there” as Julie later so wonderfully described it.

Hayley and Roy embrace as a newly engaged, married, coupleAnyway, after that moment of Hayley remembering how hard it was getting to where she and Roy now are, they sat on the couch amid the shattered glass. And he proposed. He didn’t have to say and nor did she, but they, and we, know that this time she will have her fancy wedding dress and the big party. It isn’t just about life insurance policies now.

El perro de la playa

In the morning, when Helen opened her cabaña door, the dog was standing beside it.  She was surprised.  She’d seen him on the beach but never around the cabaña.  He moved away when she came out, but not far, and he didn’t back off when she said “hello doggie”.  She walked on, heading for the indoor café across from the beach where she could get café con leche.  She needed air-conditioning and white tablecloths to help her think about being on holiday alone, with her limited Spanish.

In the restaurant she dawdled, pouring the hot coffee and hot milk from their small covered pots into her cup only a bit at a time to keep the liquids hot as long as possible.  She ordered more and a sweet roll.  It had been easy, with Robin as translator, protector and all things male and acclimated.  But Robin had gone to San José the previous afternoon.  He had work to do, and she’d meet him in four day’s time.  Before he’d left, the thought of being here alone was exciting.  She knew more Spanish than she had last year when they were here.  She knew the beach and the sea, she knew the café vendors that spoke English.  She knew the trails and picnic spots in the parque nacionale that bordered the public beach.  It was the best place to test her Español sea legs.  It was still scary though, knowing there was no Robin to provide backup.

Even accustomed as they were to turistas soaking up the cooled air of their restaurant, the waiters began pointedly glancing in her direction.  They were replacing tablecloths, setting up for lunch, wanting to clear her table.  She finished her coffee and took a deep breath as she went outside, to the heat and the linguistic challenges waiting beyond the anglicized environment of the café.

Close to the door but far enough away from anyone taking exception to his presence sat the dog.  When he saw Helen, he stood up and gave one wave of his long tail.  “Hello again, what are you doing here?”  He didn’t move away, but she didn’t want to push her luck by going near him so she walked back toward the beach.  The dog followed a couple of paces behind.

From his belly up, he looked like a perfect German Shepherd in head and ears, colouring and body shape.  It was only his legs that made you wonder about the other part of his parentage:  short little Corgi legs.  He’d hung around her and Robin the past couple days, but wouldn’t come near.  They had put bits of food down for him.  He wouldn’t go near it until they stepped back.  There were many stray dogs on the beach, some quite ferocious looking.  Most came to the beach only at dusk, foraging for food people had dropped.  This one hung around in the day too and looked like he should be someone’s pet.  No, un perro de la playa – a beach dog – they were told.  He likes the tourists, they feed him.  Helen started ensuring she had a bit of leftover from any meal.  This morning, when it seemed he was changing the terms of their relationship, she’d forgot to save any of her sweet bun.

She crossed the road to the beach and walked the length of it, the dog closing the distance until he was at her heel.  She turned to him and put her hand out.  After a minute, he sniffed her palm.  “So, we’re friends?”  He licked her hand.  She ruffled his large pointed ears.  “Hola, perrito, mi amigo.”  He wagged his tail.

They walked on, side by side.  She bought a pop and sat at a picnic table to study her language book.  The dog lay beside her under the table.  A boy came to clear tables.  He saw the dog.  He said to Helen in English, “The dog bothers you?” and jumped to shoo him away.  The dog didn’t move, just sat up alongside Helen’s leg.  “No, no, he’s fine.  He’s with me.”  The boy looked amused and went back to the stall.  Helen saw him talking to his boss.  A while later, he came back with a paper plate of meat scraps and plantain chips.  “Here, he like this.”

Everywhere she went that day, the dog went with her.  Some of the beach concessionaires smiled to see them, some asked if he was annoying her.  None seemed surprised that he’d attached himself to her.

Helen had dinner at the thatched-roofed restaurant beside her cabaña.  She ordered a full meal, so she’d have mucho leftovers for Perro who lay under her table.  Clearly, he’d defined his job – to protect her.  She was learning hers – to provide for him while he was in her employ.  They went back to Helen’s cabaña, with the leftovers.   Perro waited outside but came in when he saw Helen putting the plate on the floor.  Perro had his dinner and slept on the floor at the end of Helen’s bed.  Next morning they went to an outdoor beach café for breakfast.  Perro lay under Helen’s table and nothing was said about his presence by the proprietor or the boy waiting tables.

Helen wanted to swim.  She had her bathing suit on under her sundress and contact lenses in.  She had a towel, a novel and sunscreen in a tote bag.   She hoped it was safe to leave it on the beach.  She and Robin had, but it’s different when you’re alone.  Different for you and perhaps for thieves.  But she had no choice if she wanted to swim.   She preferred to not wear contacts in the water.  In surf like this, big Pacific rollers, a near-sighted person is challenged.  Contacts can be torn out, glasses can be ripped off.  The options are wade sighted in the shallows or go blind into the surf.  Helen usually chose blind but this time decided good sight was better, to see what Perro would do and if her bag was left alone.  She hoped he would prove useful as a guard dog.  It was a faint hope; Perro was surely on closer terms with the local thieves than with her.  If she stayed close to shore, she could have a brief swim and keep an eye on her gear.  She headed to the water, and Perro came right behind her.

Not Perro. I had no camera with me. But evocative of him.(Wikicommons)

The main beach is silky sand with rolling waves pounding ashore. There were no surfers that day, but the surf was worthy of their efforts.  Helen had learned to body surf on these breakers, first time she and Robin were here.   She strode into the sea, Perro following.  So much for him protecting her bag.  She had to battle the waves just to walk out far enough to swim.  She didn’t think Perro would keep following, but he did.  He was soon in over his depth.  Helen returned to him, trying to get him to go ashore.  She wanted to swim, and Perro wanted to keep her near him.   She went out farther and farther, figuring the waves would force him to give up.  He kept swimming, waves pounding in his face and then over his head.   Helen looked back, astounded to see his head bob up from the surf, battling to get to her.  His face, when it wasn’t submerged by waves, was frantic.  He was in over his head and, in his mind, so therefore was she.  He couldn’t let her be that far away.

Helen let the waves carry her back, he swam out.  When they met, Helen coming inland, Perro going seaward, he climbed up the front of her, exhausted.  She held him and let them both be driven back to shore.  Helen decided to try again; maybe Perro would realise it was best to leave her to her watery fate.  No, he swam out again, and again they floated in, gripped together.  Third time, Helen stayed closer to shore.  Perro stayed at the water’s edge, with eyes on her.  If she crossed his designated depth line, he was in the water, to save her.  If she didn’t, he stayed on the beach.  When he felt sure that she would stay nearby, he took up sentry duty beside her bag.  She was free to have a leisurely swim as long as she stayed close enough to not worry Perro.

After her Perro-permitted swim, Helen trotted up to where he stood guard.  They lay down on the towel and sunned their bellies and their backs.  Helen read and Perro dreamed with moving paws and whiffling noises.  Was he chasing rabbits or swimming in his dreams?

For dinner Helen and Perro walked to a fancy restaurant about a half kilometer up the road.  She told him he deserved it.  The waiter said no dogs.  She wasn’t asking to take him in the dining room, Helen said, she just wanted an outside table for “myself and my dog”.  English in a haughty tone got them a lovely patio table and a delicious doggy-bag.

Next day Perro and Helen use their agreed-upon system for swimming.  Helen stays near shore and Perro guards her stuff.  She wears no contacts or glasses.  She’s promised Perro she won’t go out over her head, but she can still duck inside the waves, surf with them and let them roll over her head.   Perro sits spine rigid beside her pack.  A man walks past, too close for Perro’s liking.  He snarls until the man passes, and resumes his watch over her.   Helen comes out of the water.  Perro keeps his position until she reaches him, then wags himself silly in delight that she’s back safe and sound.

She asks him what they should do for dinner.  Being a beggar dog, he knows to keep his own counsel and let the donor decide.  She decides well – a thatched hut bar up the beach.  The owner knows Helen.  He tried to talk her and Robin into operating the bar in winter so he and his wife could go to San José or maybe to San Francisco.  There’s a cat, the bar mouser, and a parrot.  Helen lets the parrot sit on her head where it squawks at Perro.  No one else makes a fuss about Perro’s presence; he is a welcome guest.  He just has to put up with that insufferable parrot, and the cat staring at him with malevolent eyes.  Pay-off is big time!  A big plate of fresh shrimp.

Next morning, Helen packed a small bag with water and biscuits for them both.   They walked across the wide swath of public beach and entered the jungle, heading to the parque nacionale.  Helen had been in the park before; she knew there was a small, protected beach.  Without surf, it would be nice for Perro.  Perro also knew the park, and the park rangers, and he lagged behind as they neared the entrance.  He knew he wasn’t welcome.

Helen strode to the park gates.  She too knew dogs weren’t allowed. The guard saw him, and said quite a bit, the only words Helen could pick out being “prohibidos los perros”.  Helen said “El es mi perro, él viene conmigo.”  The guard said in English, “No dog in park, get away.”  To make sure his point was clear, he raised his rifle and aimed it at Perro.

Helen jumped in front of it screaming, “put that gun down right now.  Are you a lunatic?”  “No dog in el parque.  Stray dogs get shot.  You not want that, get away.”   “You’ll have to shoot me first and think how that will look on international tv.”  She carried on in that vein, despite knowing no cameras were anywhere around.  Perro snapped ferociously, from behind Helen.  Using both Spanish and English, the guard told Helen he had the right to arrest her, and shoot the dog.  Helen said “no tienes jack shit.  Si you touch este perro, yo kill you myself. Y yo soy una norteamericana, una canadiense.   You want to defend yourself against headlines – ‘el guard en shootout con una canadiense y perro de la beach’?”  The guard put down his rifle.  “We know this dog – un parásito, always begging.  This one time, go in.”  Helen didn’t know, but hoped, that her impassioned defense, fracturing two languages, helped Perro win the day.  And his action!  He too confronted the guard and he knew, better than she, the risk he was taking.  They walked fast as soon as they got in the park.  Get some distance, in case the guard changes his mind.

They passed the first beach, one with large waves but not as large as those that hit the public beach.  Some people were way out, riding the waves.  Families with small children were on the beach or in shallow water where ebbing waves washing over the children gave them a thrill without endangering them.  Ten minutes more walking brought them to a small beach tucked in a cove.  A couple of people were at the far end.  Quiet beach and quiet water, just as Helen remembered it from a day there with Robin.  Helen and Perro waded in.  Helen swam and floated, Perro dogpaddled alongside her and sometimes rested in her arms.  They swam, sunned and swam again.  They left just before twilight and walked across the public beach in darkness.

Supper at her cabaña restaurant, steak.  Not what Helen would usually order, but she’d be leaving the next day and Perro needed a good meal.   How could she take him with her, give him a home?  But she and Robin are going on to Nicaragua – part of this working holiday.  Borders, planes, hotels, vets, vaccinations, not enough time.  There is no way she can take Perro, and should she even try?  She tells herself she’s not the first turista Perro has made feel at home here, and there will be more.

The morning bus arrives.  Helen boards and so does Perro.  She tries to explain to him and the driver while she puts him off the bus.  The driver puts the bus in gear and again finds he has an extra passenger, a very determined dog.  All Helen can hope, as she pushes the dog off the bus the final time, is that another turista comes soon for him.  Maybe one who will take him home.  She stumbles to the back of the bus, tears streaming, and looks back.  He sits at the bus stop, watching the bus as it snakes its way out of town.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

727 suite, Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa RicaIt started with an email I received. You may have also got it, it’s making the rounds. A woman turned a jet into a house for only $30,000. It’s astounding, as is where it’s situated. I thought, well, you might luck out on beautiful wood and fixtures at the scrap yard. And just because you didn’t spend much converting it doesn’t mean you don’t have the money to buy ocean-view land in the tropics.

My husband delved into it further. The email is partially true – more accurately, it’s two true stories mashed into one. A woman did convert a 727 for $30,000 – on a country lot in Mississippi. And there is a converted jet with Hotel Costa Verde photo from its websitefabulous teak paneling and chandeliers overlooking a beach at the Hotel Costa Verde in Costa Rica. That’s it above, and its plane in the picture at top. My husband’s opinion was that the real story of the $30,000 conversion is interesting on its own, as is the story of the fancy hotel one. I agree, but for me the story really hit home when I checked out the hotel jet story.

Beach and National Park

I yelped with almost physical pain when I saw Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio is my very favourite Manuel Antonio, playing in the surfbeach in the world. There is a public beach and a national park side by side. Here it is as I remember it. Never crowded when I’ve been there – maybe it is when Costa Ricans take their vacations, but not when tourists flock to resorts.

There really were no resorts there then, 20 years ago. Some small hotels, clusters of cabañas on the beach. That was it. Especially near the national park, a wildlife refuge, there were no tourist developments. You had to make sure you took your own water and food into the park because you wouldn’t be able to buy me and parrot at beach bar Manuel Antonioany there. On the public beach, small huts sold food and drinks. Picnic tables to eat at. This is a small bar on the beach where they also rented surfboards and bicycles. There was a bar parrot, here sitting on my head. Also a bar cat who patrolled his territory but would deign to eat a shrimp if you gave him one off your plate. The food was delicious, the owners delightful.

plane on airstrip at QueposManuel Antonio wasn’t hard to get to. Drive or take a bus, fly to nearby Quepos and take the small bus to the beach. If you wanted to only hike in the park, walk a couple hundred yards from the bus stop across the beach and you were at the park entrance.

Now, I can’t imagine it. A private path into the wildlife refuge for hotel guests. Special packages for wedding parties. Edgy brides frightening the bejabbers out of poor monkeys who thought they were safe in the protected forest. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet I can’t help but think about it. I had a special experience with a dog here, a dog with no name so I called him Perro, Spanish for dog. I pigs scavenging on beach at sunset photo Dorothy Stewartwonder if the stray and feral dogs still roam the beach, most not friendly but a few like Perro enjoying human company. Pigs too roamed the beach, at night, cleaning up the scraps left.

Aren’t there enough beaches and islands that have become resort-land? Don’t bridal parties and package holiday seekers have enough options already? Do they have to go to Manuel Antonio too?

Perro has stayed in my mind for 20 years. A few years ago I started writing a story about him. I finally finished it to my satisfaction last year. Click here to read it.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Apr. 3/11)

‘Our Father’?

Becky bashes door of UnderworldA woman battering at the factory door, the menfolk trying to decide whether to help, and nary an official of civil authority in sight. This image from Wednesday encapsulates the history and ethos of Coronation Street.

It’s always been an insular community where people fix their own problems, and a community where Ashley & other men watch Becky bash doorwomen are the leaders. Here we have a madman holding hostages inside a building, threatening to shoot them. The police (for once!) have been called. But before they get there, Becky takes matters into her own hands.

I thought, as she reached into the pile of building materials, that she was going to get something to use as a battering ram. Probably if she’d found something substantial enough, she would have. Instead she started bashing at the reinforced door glass.

A lighter and the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father - Tony says the Lord's PrayerMeanwhile, inside, having poured gasoline over everything and with a lighter in his pocket, Tony intones the Lord’s Prayer over and over while Carla surreptitiously fights to loosen the rope holding her wrists. Tony intones Our Father…, Becky breaks through the glass, everyone else yells.

Maria standing in streetShortly before this scene, Tony has let Maria leave. He knows that means the jig is up, that she will call the police. She doesn’t though. Miss Always-Has-Her-Phone staggers across the street, runs into Roy and tells him Hayley and Carla are being held by a lunatic Tony.

Roy, much to my Roy at door, pleading with Tonysurprise, also doesn’t phone the police or tell her to. He runs to the factory door, offering himself to Tony in Hayley’s place. The glass mesh between them acts as a confession booth screen, for whose soul-baring? Tony’s or Roy’s, or both? Eventually Maria staggers into the Rovers and tells Becky. Thank God – I was starting to wonder if she’d go off somewhere by herself to think things over! While Steve and others just stand there gobsmacked, Becky says “phone the police”. Then she takes off to save her friend Hayley.

Carla holding gun on Tony It all plays out, with police and even the Army by the looks of one guy trying to keep people back. Sharpshooters are posted around the outside of the factory. Meanwhile, Tony and Carla fight inside as the factory burns around them. Carla shoots Tony but only wings him and loses her nerve before she gets a better shot in. But she gets out, running into the arms of Trevor.

And a beautiful moment that made my tears fall, Roy telling Hayley that he’s not Tony in fire, just before walking back into the infernovery good at expressing his feelings but that he loves her and only wants to tell her and show her that every day. And Tony?  Unless it goes the American soaps route and he miraculously escapes the explosion, sadly we’ve seen the last of the lovely but demented Mr. Gordon.