I often look back through my life and review the highlights and lowlights. One thing I have very very few of is regrets. This post pertains to one of the highlights and its continued association some 23 yrs later.
In the summer of 1987 I met a cousin of mine for the first time that I can remember. Maybe I met her once as an infant, but I don’t remember it if I did. Claire lived in Canada in Toronto with her fella David who was not with her on this trip to Europe. Anyhow, we managed to spend a little time together and spent a lovely evening with my uncle and his wife over a meal and a few bottles of wine. I have always been a very practical person and I am good with my hands and can do most jobs that are construction related. I had done a lot of work at my uncle’s house and his office that kept me busy and that was the reason I ended up in Newcastle upon Tyne. Anyway, I digress. The conversation somehow evolved into a talk about holiday homes and the like. My uncle owned an apartment in Tenerife and also a holiday home on my aunt’s side in South France. Her family is French. Sadly she passed away a couple of years ago now, she was a wonderful woman, very beautiful, very elegant and the accent combined with a slightly husky voice all conspired to make her one of the most desirable women I have ever known. Sorry, I digress once again.
So, it transpired my cousin owned a cottage [I use the term loosely as you will discover later] and she needed some work doing. Would I be prepared to go to Canada and do some of the work for them, they would pay me and meet my travel and living costs. Too good to turn down really and I am never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
So it was agreed I would go out in April of 1988 and make a start. The cottage was in an area called Muskoka, beautiful place, about 200 miles north of Toronto. I arrived in Toronto and was met at the airport by Claire and David, who I got along with from the word go. He was the one taught me Backgammon, which I still play today and also golf, which sadly, I don’t play right now. David is the father I never had, or the father I should of had, depending how you look at it.
They took me to their house in Toronto. Lovely place, crap garden! Neither of them were gardeners. My Grandpa [mothers father] was a keen gardener and I used to spend many a day in the garden with him as a child. So I set to the first day and sorted the rear garden out. It only took me a couple of days, reshaped the lawn and watered it heavily, raked the crap out of it [moss and lichens] forked the ground as it was rock hard and took the weeds out. It looked 100% better than when I arrived. There were a couple of other things needed doing. The handrail and railings at the front needed cleaning and painting. Took me 2 days, the garage door was the same, 1 day, the front lawn was brown and threadbare. Rake it out, fork it over and water and it looked much healthier inside 2 days. I took a couple of days off to do some sightseeing. David is a corporate travel agent. He got me tickets to CN Tower, the zoo and the Science Museum which I loved. I saw my first Koala Bear at the zoo and CN tower just blew me away. I also took in a couple of baseball games, the Blue Jays will always be my team and really had a good time. I was in Toronto for two weeks. Man it was hot there and it took me some time to acclimatize myself.
I then went north to Muskoka. I had a picture in my head of a nice little log cabin in the woods or on the shore of a lake. Ha! I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had tried. The place was huge. Not my idea of a cottage at all. It was bigger than most peoples home. A wonderful building of timber cladding and glass that took my breath away. 4 bedrooms on split level, massive lounge with open fireplace, dining room and kitchen. 2 bathrooms, a deck with steps down to the waterfront deck and bays for the boats and a diving board. Cottage? My arse! On Birch Island in the middle of Lake Muskoka. I had just found Heaven, I was sure. There were about another 10 “cottages” on the island and the people I met were wonderful and I really enjoyed my time there. In the November most places start closing up for winter. I had sponsors and guarantors and a job lined up to stay there. I had just got to know my partner and her son before coming to Canada and it came down to a simple choice. Canada, or my GF and her son. There was no contest really. But, it is one of the few regrets I have. However, things happen for a purpose and I came home in November after Thanksgiving. I had a great time there, met some great people and loved every minute of it.
To the point of this blog now.
While I was in Muskoka, I read a few books that were lying around in the evenings. One book I read was Clan of the Cave Bear by an author I had never heard of, Jean Auel. I loved the book and could hardly put it down. I am not going to go into great detail, but the main story was about a young child, Ayla, and her battle to survive in the Ice Age. Her parents were killed in an earthquake and she was alone and dying when she was picked up by a “Clan” woman named Iza and taken to live with Iza and her people. Ayla was different from the people of the “Clan” and she suffered because of it. But the tale goes on to describe her life in the following years and all the events that took place. It was a joy to read and that was the last I thought of it.
A couple of years later, well maybe more than a few, back in the UK, I was browsing in a bookshop [I can spend all day in a bookshop] and came across The Clan of the Cave Bear again, and a sequel, The Valley of the Horses, which of course I just had to read as well. So I bought it home and set off reading. 36 hours later I had finished the book. It followed on nicely from where The Clan of the Cave Bear left off and was another great read. I don’t want to do book reviews here, suffice to say that if you ever get the chance, read these books. It transpired, that the first two books were the beginning of a 6 book series called Earths Children. So, there were still four volumes to come, happy days I am thinking.
I kept my eyes and ears open, but book #3 never arrived. These were pre internet days and no one had any idea what had happened to the author or if book 3 would ever materialise. Well eventually it did and someone gave it to me as a present, I forget who. It was another cracking read and was called simply, The Mammoth Hunters. Book 3 came and went and I could not wait for #4. Again though, it never came, no one knew anything, although there were rumours that the author was seriously ill, so maybe #4 would never be written. I was really sad about that as I really wanted to read about how Ayla survived and the struggles she had. But I guess it was not to be.
Some years later, I was in my favourite bookshop again and realised that book 4 actually had been written and published. The Plains of Passage was the title and I payed for it there and then, went home, read it from cover to cover and was so absorbed in it, I never realised it was 3.30am and I had work in less than 3 hours! I didn’t mind, it was worth it to follow Ayla and her exploits.
Again, years passed and no sign of book 5. I asked in all the bookshops, no one knew. Rumour had it that the book was ready to be released, then it wasn’t, then it was and this went on for something like 2 yrs. However, finally, book 5 appeared. The Shelters of Stone is about Ayla and her companion Jondalar, who’s live she saved a couple of books earlier. Another compelling story and at long last, the end was in sight. Was it? Errr, no! Again, years went by and nothing. Again I checked the bookshops and rumours were rife about the author and a release date, etc etc etc. Nothing, not a thing, but, we now had the internet! No one was safe and reports were that Jean Auel was seriously ill and book six looked a none starter. Pffft, no way, this can’t be happening, surely. No book 6? C’est la vie. Nothing could be done. There were more rumours and reports that a member of Jeans family would do #6, but that never happened.
Then, astoundingly, book 6 was given a release date of July 2010. Out of nowhere, 10 yrs after book 5, finally, book 6 was here. Errrr, hold on, rewind, no, it wasn’t ready. More waiting. Finally, a new release date was issued and next month, yes, next month, March 2011, the last edition of Earths Children will hit the shops!!! Hoo friggen ray!! About time. I am not 100% sure when The Clan of the Cave Bear was written. Even if it was written in 1985, then it will be 26 years from start to finish, give or take.
The Land of Painted Caves will finally end this epic tale. March 29th, finally, the book hits the shelves and mine is pre ordered. It will arrive at my door on the 3oth March and the phone will be off the hook, the doors and windows locked and internet switched off and if anyone disturbs me until I am finished, theres gonna be hell to pay!
The point of this blog is really about association and what reminds us of our past. The Earths Children series has been a long time in the making. If I hadn’t gone to Canada, maybe I never would have started reading the first book, let alone waiting for the last. So that’s my reminder and association with Canada. Ayla’s story will always remind of good times and good people in a far away place. They will always be happy memories and will go with me always wherever I lay my hat.
Somewhere along the line, not sure which book, a song springs forth, simply The Mothers Song. It’s not a song, more a poem, but can be a song as well and its one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. It tells the story of Earth being the Mother of all and how she provides for her offspring. Now again, association is present. I happen to believe in Mother Nature as a force in itself. I have worked the land, I cleared footpaths in Derbyshire [google it] for 15 months, I have been a landscape gardener amongst other things for a few years. I helped my Grandpa in his garden when I could, so I have a decent enough knowledge, but am no expert. There are stories [unrelated at this point] about Ley lines as the blood vessels of the planet that carry its life force. Many buildings and monuments are built in straight lines, hundreds of miles apart, that date back to I don’t know when. But that’s for another day.
Roll on March 29th, a day that I think I shall also remember for a very long time.