The Inn owners in this part of the world – of my sample two – are, in my vast experience, unjustly proud of and invested in the plastic black phones they have nailed to their doors. ‘Pick up phone to contact Inn Keeper at Any Time’ the teensy business cards taped to them proclaim. So, in Charlottetown I did, only to be assailed with more static than trying to find my beloved 3CR on the AM dial. Warning – every blog is an exercise in vanity but we’re about to take a detour into the big leagues so look away now. It’s 855AM if you’re wondering and when I deign to be in Melbo I do a half hour show, Communication Mixdown on all things media every Thursday at 6pm with the long suffering and ever gentle and infinitely talented John Langer. I love it. I think it makes me a better person and I reckon anyone who listens to community radio is better than anyone who doesn’t (okay so I still have a way to go in the better person stakes but at least I see it – that counts right?). I think Subscribers are Good Citizens Giving Community a Voice. And I’ve been known to shout this or say it in a Very Serious low tone to those who I think need to hear it. Because Neil Gaiman once said saying things quietly is more effective than shouting – I thought Terry Pratchett told him that but when I tried to source the quote I couldn’t find it so look out – this could be fake news.
So the phone. No. It did not work in Charlottetown. Which was a grand lark because no-one locks a door there or anywhere in Nova Scotia that I’ve found so far. With one exception, but I’ll get you there. This has been verified by my lovely Gospel Singers Allison and Gerald who stayed in a big old house in downtown Lundenberg (a town I would later have to flee because the jewellery and treasures and food were so good I knew I’d be broke if I stayed) and, when they asked for the keys they were told ‘…keys, yes, well, no-one has been in the house for two months but if having a key would make you feel better I’m sure we can find one for you?’ This was a fully furnished, kitted out home. Gerald looked at me and said what we were all thinking: ‘Surely there are bad people in the country, right?’ I nodded with the wisdom of a well-travelled woman: ‘We know this, we watch netflix’.
Here are some of the houses in Lundenburg. Imagine them now. Unlocked and waiting for you. Yes, I named them. Don’t judge me.
So I waltzed into this three story mansion in my soon to be beloved Charlottetown and after doing the obligatory ‘hello? Anyone here? – I proceeded to explore. I mean what could go wrong? Not like this was every Spooky House Horror Plot ever. I did take comfort that I was not a virgin, it was not Spring Break and at least it wasn’t my boyfriend’s parents lake house but still – clearly, I’m a woman with a taste for danger. Or just an insatiable, entitled busy-body who adores old houses and wanted to make sure I was going to get the Best Room. I was in danger of death by dust in some spots or tripping on broken fireplace tiles or being entangled in really heavy drapery.
The other thing is these magnificent old beauties need constant care. How these timber homes survive this climate – snow must slay them – is clearly only achieved by doing as much work as possible on them when the weather breaks. But this Dame Hillhurst has excellent bones. And the rooms – all the linen, all the crystal – which made me decide I really wanted to stay here. And I’d need help with my Lovely Luggage – which is not so much Lovely as Outrageously Loud. I call my cases, ‘The Zsa Zsa Gabor’. Think bright sky blue with a screaming stylized Paris skyline. I’ve been told that my luggage is ‘more gay than the Gays’ by a man who is an authority. So proud. But Luggage pride aside I went and knocked on the next mansion, as you do. Picking up another black plastic phone and behold, someone answered. And asked me if I’d tried picking up the black plastic phone at My Mansion. When I said yes, they really could not understand why it didn’t work. This was a mystery. We both pondered this. Finally they realised there was a real person of flesh and blood wanting to give them money and appeared, apologising and, as compensation for the best half hour of exploring I’ve had since I was a kid, I got upgraded to a king room with a brand new modern bathroom with a bath so deep it looked a bit dangerous. From there it all went swimmingly, breakfast was two mansions down and there was a photo of Paul McCartney on the wall because that is where he too enjoyed a lovely fruit parfait and a ham and pear and cheese panini – or perhaps bacon and eggs, done any way Sir Paul would like them. And he’d like them.
So that was then and this is four days later…I arrive at A Boat To Sea. Four hours in a storm, alive but to be honest pretty tired and bedraggled and that shaky feeling that you try to ignore after being rather scared for quite some time and having to deal with it because you have to. And I have found the only place in Nova Scotia with a lock. A very fancy multi combination gold lock that I would have found really comforting two days ago but not tonight, not now. Standing here just wanting to Be Inside Out of the Rain. But no mind, there is a black plastic phone. I pick it up. Nothing. Zip. Not even the obligatory static. And I knock. Nothing. And I can hear voices. Voices talking loudly no doubt about things that are dry and not outside and bedraggled. What other subject is there? Surely they are laughing at me now. Then the woman who I would come to know as The Lovely Jane opens the door. And asks me in quick succession ‘Why are you standing out here all alone in the cold and the rain? Why didn’t you pick up the phone? It gets straight through to me!’. I look at her. She looks at me. ‘I did. It’s dead’. Now you know those people who are really graceful under pressure? One day I would like to be one of them. I know I have managed it on occasion and this comforts me. But usually I just come across as cranky or simply dead inside. I did a good job in that moment of Being Dead Inside. Jane then thought she’d help by saying she’d been trying to contact me. ‘How?’ By email. To my travel agent. But Jane had not considered trifles such as time zones. No. She was worried I had thought I’d booked for North Sydney in Australia. People really do this. I’m not surprised – her prices for this waterfront position in Our North Sydney would have Australians weeping with joy. But the best case of mistaken destination was the man who flew all the way from Holland only to land in Nova Scotia in the midst of a blizzard asking which way to the Opera House. Yep. Wrong Sydney, Sport! The thought of him standing there with his togs and his board shorts looking at This Weather pleases me more than it really should.
But back to the soon to be Lovely Jane. ‘Email? It’s Sunday morning in Melbourne’. I tell her, with cold fish eyes that would later sparkle like the sea on a Summer’s day at Jane’s attention. But not today. Then I was ushered in, Jane, Bless Her, took my hand and hung onto it for quite a long time – which reminded me I was a part of the human race and she most probably had fresh towels and linen and was that a fire I could hear crackling? And look at these beguiling lamps. And there – ‘The Captain’s Room’ – this one right here – is mine. With that huge bed, that lovely shower and ALL the crystal, lamps, dark wooden furniture and busy busy wallpaper I have come to expect – with armchairs, big, stuffed armchairs. All was well.
I got my gear, briefly said hi to the Nice Couple Staying Upstairs, Valerie and Michael, who were headed down the road for dinner to a place Jane said was superb: the Lobster Pound. And I said I’d be down shortly. Then I got in the shower. Water pressure, hot. Then I unpacked. I love a good unpack. I hang things. Properly. On wooden hangers with clasps for skirts. I organise my Smalls. Then I dressed. I Made an Effort. I like to. Especially in far-away towns with main streets that look more like Stratford-Upon-Avon in South East Gippsland than in England. It makes me laugh at myself and I like to think it’s a nod to the women I come from. My Gran, my Great Aunts, Doss and Lil – I’ve mentioned they were milliners – well they also sewed up a storm and always dressed exquisitely, usually in clothes made by each other. So picture it. Long black shiny boots, gorgeous black pin-striped 40s style firm fitting skirt which is teetering on the edge of tight soon to make the dive (who knew eating more energy than you used meant you stored it in the form of padding?) fitted long skirt with a series of zipped red panelling at the back. Waistcoat. Double breasted. And my Good Winter Coat that is a triumph of tailoring. I know because Ken, who run the wonderful Radio Springs that you must never visit because it is a delicious secret and I don’t want it to get too popular, told me so. And believe me – he wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it. He’s a Renaissance Man who used to be the projectionist at the Nova and now runs a B&B in Lyonville which has its own private cinema. Don’t go there. It’s mine. Let’s continue…