Swimming in Paradise

I may update this with some photos from our trip to Turks & Caicos in the near future.

Swimming in Paradise

“Is it an STD?” our brother playfully asks the nurse as we burst into the examination room with camera in hand. Our sister, suffering from burns, sits on a chair in the medical office of our resort while the attending nurse verifies her condition. Barb is not yet finding the hilarity of the situation and presents a finger in response to the intrusive photo taking and general merriment being enjoyed at her expense.

The day had nearly been like any other, on a trip with friends and family at a beach resort in Turks & Caicos. Relaxing breakfast lingering over coffee, wandering through the grounds, reading under a canopy, swimming. Today we sign-out snorkel equipment to be able to better appreciate the beautiful sea life below the surface. “You can snorkel here,” we are told at our resort, “but if you continue down the beach, the area in front of the next resort has a lot more to look at.”

“That’s awesome! Thanks so much for telling us!” Barb replies. We all make our way towards the water pulling on our masks and trying-out making silly noises through the snorkels. We sound like a herd of elephants in confused distress as we listen to our own affected voices manipulated through the air tubes while our feet awkwardly slap the wet sand as we walk with our flippers.

We enter the waves directly, with plans of swimming over to the next resort to behold the more impressive beauty known to reside there. It’s always interesting after swimming somewhere, particularly in salt water where you need to close your eyes tightly, to later swim again but with the added view of what is swimming with you. The beach around our resort was voted by readers of Conde Nast Traveler to be the “best of all island beaches worldwide”. So it was pretty. The main attractions, under the water, were not to be missed.

As a group we playfully drift our way in the direction we were suggested and eventually we encounter a rectangular area a bit away from shore circumferenced by lines of red buoys. “This must be it!” someone calls as we all follow suit and one-by-one duck under the line of buoys to enter the space. “Gold pot!” Barb calls sing-songly as she views her first school of spectacular fluorescent-coloured fish and brightly-coloured vegetation. “Over here, look!”

“This is amazing!” our brother Bryan exclaims, pulling his face out of the water long enough to share his enthusiasm. “Incredible!” calls a friend, “I can’t believe this is real!” We’re all fascinated as we slowly skim along the top of the water, enjoying the views of life and beauty unfolding just underneath us.

“I have to go in,” I swim over to tell someone not very long after we’ve started, “I’m getting burned.” I guess the waterproof sun block is coming off and I’m burning just at the top of my shoulders. I leave the group and the water and make my way to shade. Deciding I’m done with the beach today because of the sun, I go back to my room to clean-up. I’ll find a nice sheltered area where I can read.

An hour or so later Bryan has come to find me. “Do you have burns?” “A little bit, that’s why I got out.” “Let’s see!” I lift my T-shirt to show a bit of redness on my shoulders. “That’s not sunburn, that’s where the buoys touched your shoulders when you ducked-under them! I just have a bit on my arm!” Bryan shows, “You should see Barb, she is covered with great big red spots! She’s in the medical clinic, let’s go!” Starved for adventure at an all inclusive resort, this is quite a breakthrough. I mean, she probably won’t die or become maimed, so no need to worry really.

The first burst of adrenaline in days of lounging and eating at this child-friendly family resort, we excitedly run to the medical office where, when no one answers, we continue through to the private examination room. “This is private!” the nurse shouts on our rude and abrupt entry. “It’s okay, we’re with her!”

“Holy smokes, what is it?” I blurt-out seeing Barb covered in big red blotches and after Bryan has teasingly asked the nurse whether she has been sought on this occasion to treat an STD.

Barb, who was last to leave the water, explains. “We were swimming in fire coral. When I came out there was this older local guy who asked didn’t we know that we could be fined ten thousand dollars each for swimming in a restricted area.”

“What restricted area?”

“The area inside the red buoys wasn’t showing the best area to explore, it was showing where not to swim.”

“But how were we supposed to know?”

The nurse, who most likely fills her days dealing with minor injuries caused by the utter imbecility of resort guests, looks at us with tired eyes and some pity. I suppose she never gets to meet the sensible visitors. The ones who didn’t forget to wear sunblock when seeing sunlight for the first time in three months, or who thought it might not be prudent to try to pet the interesting wild birds that have large, funny beaks. No, she meets the daredevil who was sure he could impress the ladies by going down the enormous water slide standing-up and then sent his now-broken teeth right through his lip when it all went wrong. The girl who had one-too-many bottles of wine before accidentally falling unconscious into the chocolate fountain very nearly drowning herself in front of small children holding up their strawberries and marshmallows on little sticks under the flow of the viral chocolatey liquid. Had it not been for their screams. . . . The man who thought his mother’s medicated hot roll-on ointment for joint pain was his deodorant and burned his armpits. Okay, in his defence he never went for medical treatment and anyway that was months ago and he wasn’t used to having houseguests. They were very similar containers. With the impressive line-up of ailments she must treat, the nurse probably wonders how all of these ridiculous people can even afford travel let-alone how they haven’t accidentally killed themselves already by choking on their own toothbrush or forgetting to chew a large hunk of steak. Life isn’t fair.

“Does red mean “go” in your country?” the nurse asks. “Because in our country it means stop. And caution.” We stare, processing her logic. Interesting.

Barb continues, “He said there was a sign that blew over last week. And then the old man points at my red patches and he says that they are burns from swimming near endangered fire coral and that I will need to see a doctor.”

“Oh my goodness gracious,” I reply, although in less polite terms, as I now suddenly re-visit my own red burns. “So do they put-out burning acid into the water? Is that why they’re called fire coral?”

“They’re actually a type of jelly fish,” informs the kill-joy nurse. Again, we stare with pause. This woman really likes to be the centre of attention, barging-in with her random comments.

“Should we pee on her then?” asks Bryan, helpfully. (Urine can be an antidote to jelly fish stings.)

“You could,” the nurse replies, “but it won’t help.”

“Let’s try anyway,” I offer, “I’ll pee in this jar and bring it back.”

“If it’s not going to f*ing help, I’m not pouring your f*ing piss on me! Thank you!” Barb politely refuses. A tad melodramatic if you ask me. We’re just being silly about her being covered with burns from swimming with poisonous see creatures. I mean, she is in pain and I suppose we don’t yet know if it’s serious or not so I guess she has a point. But she’s probably not going to die or anything.

Cortisol cream dispensed, ten days later it’s like it never even happened. Just another happy travel memory.

Two years pass and we find ourselves on set of a travel show in production. We’re being interviewed for this story and for the story earlier-written that caught the producers attention about our flight to Turks & Caicos. Both stories will be separate segments of “Bad Trip”. http://www.cmjprod.ca/badtrip.html The show will be in editing this winter and aired sometime in 2014. I’ll post a link to it when it’s out.

20131029-230245.jpg

If this looks like a photo shoot, it’s because we forgot to take photos while they were interviewing us on cameras. These are pics from the photo shoot afterwards. See here Bryan, Barb, and Me.

20131029-230444.jpg

Rather than visit this production company in Montreal, we joined the proceedings at the Royal York Hotel here in Toronto. That’s why it may look like some conference you’ve attended.

20131029-230517.jpg

Of course they wanted me to be the one lifted in front but I was too shy.

20131029-230708.jpg

Sharings from my Edinburgh Journal of 1997

20130623-141706.jpg

I have been trying to write some stories from my latest visit to Edinburgh. I did write thousands of words while I was visiting this past June, nearly all reminiscing about the life I had when I lived there at age 23/24. But there is too much, it is too long. It is not the type of writing that I currently espouse either; it is more rambling than should be a collection of stories about my life in Edinburgh. It’s reads like a memoir, but I don’t want to write a memoir. Not yet. The topic a bit too large for me to yet breech, yesterday I dug out my Journal from the time and started reading. I have no stories yet finished to share with you but I think that sharing some pages from my 1997 Journal might be interesting. (Even though it is like a memoir.)

Pages from my 1997 Journal.

20131022-142114.jpg

Before this entry I had Graduated University with a degree in Business Administration. I had organised a 2-year working holiday visa for the UK and spent some months working in London. Then I backpacked a bit through Europe and went home for xmas. While home I decided to upgrade my computer software skills before returning to Europe to try it all again in Edinburgh.

Meeting that man in the tube as I passed through London who gave me that advice (highlighted) proved instrumental in creating my new life in Edinburgh.

I arrived to Edinburgh that Wednesday night, and Friday I accepted a 2-month office contract at a recruitment agency on George Street starting Monday.

20131022-142810.jpg

Later that Friday, I found my first flat share in Edinburgh. (Was not March 1st, was Feb 28th.)

20131022-142938.jpg

1997 Photo showing windows to the flat, three of which were in my room. (Middle Right)

20131022-143223.jpg

Photo taken in 2013 from the corner of the Royal Mile and South Bridge better showing the location of the building, behind the Bank Bar.

20131022-143339.jpg

My landlord in London had let me store all my possessions accumulated from my life in London into a locked closet in his building. After I had my flat in Edinburgh I went down to London to retrieve my things to discover that they had been looted. I would later discover that it was looted by my landlord, who tried to give me back my things after the police were involved, but he had very little remaining and nothing left of any worth. TV, VCR, clothes washer, some chairs, framed pictures, lamps, CDs, various decor items, dishes, cutlery, cooking utensils – all the basics were probably easily pawned. My landlord also owned the local taxi company and was known to the driver who I was telling my story to as he drove me back to Victoria Station to return to Edinburgh. I don’t know if my landlord was from Pakistan, I thought he was from India actually.

20131022-143811.jpg

I had accepted that I was choosing a noisy flat when I rented in such a lively, central area. But when a friend visited from London, she caused quite a stir and nearly got me kicked out, as remembered in the next two images from my journal.

20131022-144529.jpg

20131022-144715.jpg

One of the things I loved most about living in Europe was the proliferation of the classical arts. In Edinburgh I enjoyed strolling by theatres on a free evening to see if they had rush tickets. As a young person, I could see most performances for only £10 in 1997/1998. My memory poor, I didn’t remember ever seeing Faust until I read this entry. I’m good with some details, but names of plays, music, movies, artists, even things I listen to often – I’m terrible.

20131022-144954.jpg

In addition to working in an office, I took a part time evening job at a cafe. It filled my time before I had the pleasure of making friends and also allowed me to save more money for future travels. I enjoyed spending time with my co-workers. In the next entry I mention Karen inviting me and Katie (from South Africa) to visit her family home at Lock Lomond. “Where people shake hands firmly and wonder who you are.”

20131022-145444.jpg

20131022-145616.jpg
Looking down to Katie at Cafe Florentine in the Lyceum Theatre.

20131022-145709.jpg

There’s me at 23. Wow was I a bad waiter! Well-intentioned though. That will be a story. But I had a great attitude, which was enough I guess.

20131022-145843.jpg

Here it is in 2013, I had lunch there on the patio and enjoyed seeing the office where I worked too, which was just across Lothian Road.

20131022-150001.jpg

Kitted with Scottish gear from Karen’s parents to go explore nature and collect some drift wood. Left to Right, Katie, Me, Karen. Sadly, I lost touch with both Karen and Katie. That happened much more in the days before Social Media.

I stopped working at the cafe when it no longer served me (at the office I’d miss our new opportunity of overtime to go work at the cafe, and that meant earning 3 times less). When I left it was just before the Edinburgh Fringe too, and I also didn’t want to entirely miss the Fringe festival to earn less money working more hours. I could add two hours to my regular office day of 7 (35 hrs was full time in Scotland, probably still is), and earn more than working an additional 6 hours at the cafe, which would take my entire evening. It was a no-brainer, although not everyone was pleased.

20131022-150910.jpg

Another reason I quit the cafe. I no longer had free evening time I wanted to fill!

20131022-151023.jpg

“I sit in a room of familiar strangers.” I quite like this phrase. I guess because we were a new team all starting our first day, we were very familiar with each other anxious to make new friends and start-off on the right foot. This was day one of my second contract with Standard Life. When my first 2-month contract lapsed, I didn’t renew and returned to the personnel agency where I started a new 6-month contract in a different department with a completely different job and in a different building. The change was great and with overtime often available the pay was much-improved too.

I did not remember that I was starting to have arm trouble already by the day I was starting my second position. I also mention having trouble handling the dishes and cleaning (at the cafe) too, which became much worse very quickly. My new physical limitations would have had me leave the cafe very soon had I not already left. Eventually, I even had to buy plastic dishes to handle at home. My arm disability became instrumental in my decision making with the limitations they caused. I would not find out until 1999 that the cause was spinal damage. The condition became completely manageable after learning that.

20131022-151509.jpg
Some views from my 1997 photo album.

20131022-151600.jpg

20131022-151639.jpg

20131022-151722.jpg

Bumbling about the Handsome City of Chester

Bumbling About the Medieval Walled City of Chester by Darren Elliott

Chester is one of those places where I arrived in disbelief. It wasn’t like some outpost in Northern China where I wondered what I had done so wrong to deserve to end up there. It wasn’t shocking in the way that getting-out at the wrong subway station can be in some US cities. It didn’t remind me of my time in Winnipeg or of growing-up in the Kennebecasis Valley. Of being a visible minority in a suburb of London or the only Western person in a school in Japan.

The disbelief came from wondering why I had never heard of this place before. Chester is one of England’s best-preserved walled cities with nearly 3 km of Grade 1 listed walls. First established as somewhere in 79 (that’s 0079, not 1979) by the Romans and having received city status in 1541, this is not some new place for me to have not yet heard about. This is an incredible, handsome city full of character. Chester should long have been on my radar of places to visit, and yet it was only by recent suggestion during my UK travels that it came to be on my hit list.

I had heard of lovely Chester years ago but it didn’t register. My most senior employee when I was a co-owner of a retail business in Winnipeg was from Chester.

Margaret is one of those people with the gift of charm and we were lucky that she wanted to work for us. Friendly and outgoing, interesting and interested, Margaret could while away the hours chatting with customers and neighbours while selling any manner of merchandise. Always impeccably dressed and ready to work, Margaret came from that era when people felt their time at work belonged to their employer. None of the texting, doing homework, mobile phone-using, watching videos or playing games on tablets that younger people might hope to achieve during their employment hours. Between sales Margaret was dusting, sweeping, glass cleaning, watching. We had other excellent staff too, but they weren’t from Chester.

Margaret’s charm was bolstered by her jovial English accent which I had thought was from Manchester. I had known that she had danced with John Lennon, he was in a band called the Quarrymen that performed at a pub in her hometown. (The band later became the Beatles.) That Margaret’s hometown was Chester, a smallish city today of 120,000 people South West of Liverpool near the Welsh border, had never quite connected to my obviously-weak brain tissues. I did not realise I was visiting Margaret’s hometown when I was in Chester, she told me that later, on my blog.

I did come to know that Chester was Paul’s hometown before my visit. Paul was someone who taught for the same board of education as I did, in Matsuyama, Japan. As handsome and impressive as his hometown is, I can see that it may not have had the plethora of career choices he may have wanted since sadly Chester is no longer needed as a base from which to attack Wales. So pros and cons about that. “Let’s attack Wales just for jolly fun!” I am tempted to suggest remembering my very long week in Cardiff this past winter. “Jolly” isn’t even in my vernacular, that’s how enthusiastic I feel just thinking about it. “But Wales is part of Great Britain.” “But is it, really?” “Yes, it is.” “Is it though?” “Yes.” But they were mean to me when I was trying to order sandwiches and stuff. Everywhere I went. All week. Oh never mind, it was just an idea. I bet it would be good for the economy though.

So between knowing Margaret and Paul, I figure I’m practically a son of Chester. Most of the places I’ve visited on my UK adventure I’ve had no connection to whatsoever. Did you know that Princess Diana was also the Countess of Chester? I would have put that above my Princess of Wales title if I were her, but that’s just me holding a grudge. I suppose she had no choice in the matter really. And for some reason when I hear “Countess of Chester” my mind pictures “Court Jester” because of the slight rhyme. So I suppose Princess of Wales has a nicer ring to it, it doesn’t make me giggle.

When my favourite writer, Bill Bryson, passed through Chester, he just passed through. I guess he was saving it for others to write about, he mentions only that he changed trains here. In this beautiful town of medieval buildings, many restored during the Victorian era and still absolutely picturesque. How could he have passed this lovely town and not felt compelled to capture it in his entertaining way for time immemorial. He can’t have been well. Under the weather. Temporarily blinded. I’m not complaining, his act would have been very hard to follow.

Chester is perhaps most famous for it’s Rows. These are very interesting and unique structures. All in medieval style, basically there must have been some type of agreement between the landowners that each independent building in a row would have a built-in walkway. These are within the structure linking building-to-building on the level above ground. This was a very early form of multi-story shopping where one would promenade along one row of shops and dwellings on the ground level, and another row of shops and dwellings on the level above. The walkways are not uniform and are obviously of separate construction. As one passes from one building to the next there are changes in height, dimension, and building styles; it’s a very interesting arrangement.

Pondering Bryson’s surprising exclusion I find a place to wait for the little antique double-decker bus that has a narrated tour by costumed guides. I have seen this little contraption here-and-there putting about the city. It is quaint and cute and I want a turn. It has arrived to the departure point but I am told to wait. If others do not come, there will be no more tours today. Sitting there, a mother and her grown daughter swoop in beside me. “BHS is British Home Stores and I’m sure they’ll have it. Just wait here and I’ll be back for you,” says the daughter as she merrily wanders off down the high street. “I’ll be here with Mondrian,” her mother replies, referring to my socks. Pretty ones I got in NYC. Having fun socks is enough for this woman to decide that I must be a decent sort of fellow.

Now I might have used the term “swoop” loosely. I meant it in more of a trudging, painfully-slow, dragging-ones-limbs, laborious sort-of-way. The mother, who looks to be shy of 60, is, how can I put this delicately, mammoth. A very large woman who has become nearly immobile and steps with the aid of a large walker. Very friendly and amicable, we start chatting before her ample weight has even met the bench. (No, it didn’t break. How rude of you to think that. You’ve gotten me completely off topic. Again. Bad reader.)

“Are you here with the cruise ship?” I ask. I had just completed a walking-tour with a group of Albertans who came off a large ship docked today in nearby Liverpool. The entire town seems to be abuzz with the sudden influx of hundreds of visitors who arrived all at once and soon will be departing in a flash mob to return to port before curfew. In a matter of minutes half the people wandering the streets will have suddenly vanished. “We are, are you too?” “No, I’ve been here for a couple of days. I’m touring around by car.” “By yourself?” “Sure.” “I’ve never done that, I always bring one of my daughters with me. I’ve run-out of friends to invite, I travel as much as I can afford to. It’s always been my thing, my friends and family think I’m nuts! I used to travel with my husband until he passed a few years ago.”

“So, do you mostly take cruises?” “No, I prefer rock climbing and adventure travel. Last year my other daughter and I hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.” “Oh, I’ve been there too!” “I was kidding.” “Oh, yes. Ha, ha.”

“I LOVE cruises,” she continues, “I’ve been all over the world on cruise ships. I get all sorts of perks now, with the cruise company I’m with this time I have their top status, that’s for having more than 150 days of cruising with them.” “Wow! That’s a lot of days!” “Sure is,” she acknowledges proudly. “My husband, rest his soul, was a large man. One of the cruise companies didn’t treat him well with his mobility issues, so I don’t use that company anymore.” We continue talking about cruising as I have only travelled on one so far and I am happy to learn more from this veteran of the seas.

The conversation comes around to my travels and I tell her that I am planning on taking a road trip around her country soon. “You must visit my beautiful valley, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.” Well, she would know. “I live in the Shenandoah Valley of West Virginia.” “Like the song?” “That’s the one!” I had thought the song came from Ireland’s longest river, the River Shannon. And that “doah” was a word for “river” like “loch” was for “lake”. Turns out I was completely mistaken in this assumption. But then I only ever knew the first two lines of the song. Every time I sang those lines, as an actor, I thought my character was pining for his homeland across the ocean. I never got to the end of the verse and I never actually heard the song apart from what I sang.

One summer during university I had a summer job in Fredericton as a park performer. I was a member of a troop called the “Calithumpians”, we wrote and performed some historical plays for tourists in a downtown park. In one show there was a brief mention of Ireland and in lament I suddenly burst into song, “Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you, away you rolling river . . . ” before being pulled-back to the action by another actor. The song itself seems to have been made popular by the Irish Tenors too, so I am surprised today in researching it online to find that yes, in all it’s variations of lyrics it is indeed from the Shenandoah Valley of West Virginia. This well-travelled woman’s homeland.

Click on the video below to hear me sing the first two lines of Shenandoah. (If you received this story be email it should open it in a browser.)

We must have chatted for at least twenty minutes before the coach tour was cancelled and I took my leave. “It’s been great chatting with you!” I said as I stood up. Walking away I added, “I hope that I’m you in thirty years!” Now, I am in my fortieth year and I look that or more. If she paid attention to my comment and added 30 years to my appearance, she might have thought about that for a long time. Another kind and thoughtful remark put out into the universe by yours truly. I don’t know how I said that! I was trying to leave with a complement, I had very much enjoyed chatting with this friendly, interesting American woman while she waited for her daughter. The two of us were from small towns and were both enthralled with seeing as much of the world as we could. Of course she would realise that I had meant that I hoped to be her with regards to the extent of her travels, which exceeded my own, and not with regards to her being a young widowed grandmother or for her substantial girth which weighed her down so that cruising was really her only option for travel. “That Canadian guy must have thought I looked like I’m in my seventies! Do I really look that old? We seemed like such kindred spirits, he and I. Why would he say that?”

Kicking myself, I circle back thinking to somehow mend my departing comment but I am too late. Coaches are already filling to take everyone back to port. I see her from afar, as do two older local woman standing near me. “Bless ‘er, she’s as big as a bus,” one of them says, her hand over her face. “Oh my word, don’t look now, she’s trying to get in one,” gasps her friend.

A deep thinker and a student of life, I often look back on experiences to try and find the deeper meaning, the life lesson that the universe is trying to teach me. Perhaps even the real reason that I find myself in Chester today. After only a few minutes I have my “ah-ha” moment.

Next time I happen upon Mondrian socks I really should buy a few more pair because they really do go with just about everything.

_______________________________________________

20131015-180616.jpg

I stayed at a B&B called the Chester Townhouse on this lane. I enjoyed staying there, pleasant hosts and a warm environment.

20131015-180843.jpg

Here you can see the unique feature of the Rows. What looks like open balconies are openings on to the above-ground common walkway.

20131015-181113.jpg

Another view showing the Rows.

20131015-181148.jpg

Walking along the above-ground walkway.

20131015-181319.jpg

20131015-181428.jpg

Click on the image below to see some kind of exercise commercial that was being filmed in from of the town hall.

20131015-200720.jpg

A view from walking along the city walls.

20131015-200755.jpg

School trips were here and there being led by costumed guides.

20131015-200841.jpg

20131015-200920.jpg

One of the things I miss most when I leave the UK are the pedestrian zones. Every city should have one.

20131015-201145.jpg

Another photo looking down from the city walls.

20131015-201217.jpg

The antique bus tour I missed from waiting until my last afternoon to take it. I guess I’ll have to go back another time.

20131015-201432.jpg

Mondrian Sock.

Click on the image below to play a video of someone practicing piano inside St John’s Church.

20131015-201834.jpg

Resting back at the Chester Town House.

20131015-201935.jpg

20131015-202020.jpg

Reading on My Favourite Podcast

Hi everyone,

I wrote in my last posting that I would post a direct link to this.

“Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase” is my favourite podcast, it’s made by a flight attendant who travels with a tape recorder who captures fun and clever stories by her co-workers and fellow travellers. My other favourite podcasts include “A Way with Words” (about language and the way we use it), and “Attention Surplus” (two Toronto guys pursuing meaningful lives of purpose and sharing their journeys).

To be included on my all-time favourite podcast that I’ve been listening to for a couple of years was very exciting for me. I’ll let you know if I end-up on any of my other favourite podcasts!

Here is a direct link to episode 98. You should listen to all of it, it’s great. I keep Betty episodes on my iPod in the car and if ever I’m grumpy putting one of those on has me laughing in minutes. She makes the world a better place as far as I’m concerned. If you’re in a rush you can fast forward about 12 minutes to hear me reading my flight story in front of a Toronto audience.

http://ec.libsyn.com/p/1/8/5/1850939510b8f057/98_Whats_in_Your_Baggie.mp3?d13a76d516d9dec20c3d276ce028ed5089ab1ce3dae902ea1d01c08634d6cf5bce3c&c_id=6240778

Cheers!

Darren

20131009-230949.jpg