Friday, April 23, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part VI -- Rock eating dogs and lumberjack babies

Today I saw a dog chained to a chest freezer eating rocks.

Yep, that's how tough this place is.

When I say rocks I mean a rock, a big one, but a rock nonetheless.

My bid for a random daily walking pattern (yes I note the irony) has led me to discover some pretty interesting paths, today's was down along the harbour past 'Rock Dog'.

He was lazily gnawing on the rock as I strolled past, unconcerned by my presence I stopped to watch him chow down on some sedimentary supper and it got me to thinking.

St Anthony is an odd place of juxtapositions, of extremes.

It is not uncommon to see a big barrel-chested-truck-driving-Moose-antler-hoarding-hunter pull up to the convenience store, leap from his Chev, land with a thud in steel-capped boots, enter the store and return minutes later not with a sixer of Bud nestled under an arm but instead slurping on a soft serve ice cream.

It's true ... I've seen it.

Which brings me onto another question -- what is the collective noun for a group of men with moustaches?

If I were in Vancouver's Main Street area I would go with 'wisp' however in these parts I am inclined to go with a 'thicket' or 'bushell'.

It seems everyone here has a moustache and for better reasons then just irony.

My theory that only firemen and Tom Selleck are allowed the privilege of sporting a moustache has been updated to now include Newfoundland men.

They have some of the biggest and bushiest bottom lip marquees ever seen and it makes perfect sense, it gets cold in these parts and as such facial hair comes in handy but a beard can be cumbersome.

Things certainly are a lot tougher around these parts hence the title of this piece.

Last week I wandered past a house in which a grandmother, she would have been well into her 80s, was splitting logs in preparation for, I am assuming, next winter.

I am not sure where the logs came from but as I have yet to see any babies or kids younger than about five, I can only assume they are the ones out in the forests cutting down trees and providing their families with much needed warmth.

I told you they were tough in these parts. Lumberjack babies -- who would have thought?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

EXCLUSIVE -- The Great Newfoundland Cookbook launched

I love cooking and not just for the resulting awesome food.

I find hanging out in the kitchen with my lovely wife, cooking food, creating or fine tuning recipes to be ultimately satisfying, especially with a nice glass of wine in hand like one of my idols Keith Floyd.

Cooking should be an inclusive activity and as such I have created an extra page here titled The Great Newfoundland Cookbook or TGNC where I will be posting some of the recipes and photos of the dishes I routinely cook at home.

Last night I whipped up a red wine glazed ham that would have been perfect for Easter or Christmas time because of the infusion of cinnamon and ginger. The dish was sans cloves because I couldn't justify spending $7 on a small bottle of them when ours are currently winging their way over from Vancouver.

It was a good northern hemisphere dish I have called Oinking Awesome Ham.

You can find the link just under the Lost and Found banner up there *points his finger at the monitor*, there, can you see it? Just next to the word HOME, there *points again*.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part V -- Shiver me understatement

"Picked a nice day for a walk," Barry said nonchalantly leaning on the counter of Strangemore's, St Anthony's slashie (SEE FOOTNOTE).

I laughed but the look on my face, equal helpings of terror and confusion, was one of my 'tells' that gave me away.

It was obvious I wasn't a local. Fluffy earflaps aside, a local would have listened to the weather report that morning which would have alerted them to the fact a snow storm was going to hit St Anthony in the early afternoon.

A local would also have been driving a car and not burrowing head first through a curtain of snow on foot.

"What are you doing in these parts," Barry raised an eyebrow when he heard the accent.

He stuffed my bottle of wine into a brown paper bag and listened intently as I rattled off my comedy routine, two Australians living at the northern tip of Newfoundland is a novelty.

Snow built up against the front doors, the early-afternoon blizzard was raging turning grey rocks and potholed roads into white bumpy slippery slides.

I had earlier been test driving our prospective new car, returned it and began the meandering walk home when the white descended from the north straight off the Labrador mainland, whisking together harp seal breath and polar bear angst.

Less than an hour before, the day had looked promising, blue sky lurked mischievously in the background but now I couldn't see the road.

"How you getting home," Barry asked.

With my plan to walk home clearly foiled, Barry jumped to the rescue.

"Come on, I'll give you a lift," he urged pointing me to his massive truck.

Here I am a stranger in his town and Barry just up and offers me a lift. Gentlemanly and generous.

On the trip home I learnt several lessons as Barry demonstrated the benefits of traction control and just how slippery the roads.

The most important thing I garnered from the experience was the need to buy a front wheel drive car, the second was that passive smoking is part of life up this way and thirdly that the weather moves quicker than the style of life.

"If you're going to drive in this," Barry said, pointing his cigarette at the snow as we passed the only set of traffic lights in St Anthony, "drive to the conditions," he continued, "the biggest problem with some folk when they come up this way, is they want to drive the same way in snow as they do in normal weather. Well that's not going to work now is it?"

Barry, you are right. If you can't see the road or the bonnet of the truck it seems foolhardy to try and drive at anything but the speed of a moose on Valium but Barry assures me that some people are foolhardy.

Earlier in the week I had been chatting with the lady in the local thrift store about the weather, a popular topic in these parts.

It's obvious why too.

If you talk about how nice the weather is you don't have to talk about how awful the cod prices are.

The woman in the store told me how lovely the past winter had been and how hardly any snow fell.

"See, that's where the snow came this year," she pointed to a black pen mark on the front window about five and half feet up. The building is on a two foot footing making the depth of snow at about seven feet. She caught me gawping at the mark.

Typically understated.

(ENDNOTE: A slashie, I have learnt, is the name for a place that does many things and is a reference to the slashes between its services hence Strangemore's is the liquor store/video rentals/electrical goods/misc)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part IV (addendum) -- Viking Quest

28 hours of non-stop writing and I hit a giant plot hole.

If this sombre moment was captured on canvas as a painting it would be called "A Viking in thought".
Just as a reference point, here are the photos I submitted to further my cause to become a Viking. They were taken during last year's 3-Day Novel Writing Contest hence to crazed look.

Tales from St Anthony Part IV -- Viking Quest

I really want to be a Viking.

The fact that Norstead Village is just up the road and who regularly hire Vikings over the summer period, I am in pole position to fulfil my dreams so this morning I fired off the following cover letter (below) and resume to push my cause.

Fingers crossed they like it and like me.

I asked Sir Richard to ring Norstead for me put in a good word but instead he went over his finances and called his stockbroker. I don't speak feline but I heard him bleating "meow, meow, meow" which doesn't sound good.
Re: Employment as a Viking during summer

To Whom it May Concern:

One of my boyhood dreams was to be a mighty Viking but alas being born in Australia in the late 1970s cruelly curtailed that as a vocational option but with your help I may now finally achieve that goal having just become a permanent resident of St Anthony.

As such I would like to offer my services to you as a spritely young Viking this summer.

I have long imagined what it must have been like to be a Norseman traversing the oceans under sail and oars on a longship heading for far off lands on a journey of discovery clad in mail, iron helmet and wielding a battle axe.

As glamorous as that sounds I am fully aware of Vikings’ other nefarious activities, pillaging and the like and while armed combat in a theatrical setting would be awesome, I am sure if I were alive in the Viking age, my time as a marauder would have been short lived and brutally ended.

With a thirst for knowledge and love of history, I have spent countless hours in libraries reading about Norsemen and their gods. I even delved into the Poetic Edda in a bid to garner more details for a comedic fictional novel I am writing, a re-imagining of Ragnarok in which the Norse gods aren’t destroyed but instead sent to Earth to live while Asgard is rebuilt.

Due to the global financial crisis and lack of workers (the Gods did kill all the giants in the melee after all) the reconstruction has taken hundreds of years. Thor, depressed about not being able to wantonly kill, has become an alcoholic bar owner, the mischief making Loki is now head of a giant global media corporation and Odin is a paranoid, forgetful yet still very angry patriarch with a love of pigeon racing. As you can imagine hilarity ensues but that is beside the point.

There is only so much you can learn by yourself squirreled away in a library which is why learning and in turn teaching will really give me a feel for Viking life, the trials and tribulations. Most of all I want visitors to Norstead to gain the same love of Vikings, their mythology and their lives as I do.

While I have no direct experience at being a Viking (I did play a really annoying American tourist visiting in a high school play) I am sure I could one of your chieftain’s best thanks to my outgoing personality and appearance (see attached picture).

I have attached a resume outlining my service experience but in short, and I know this going to sound desperate, please hire me. Please.

With warmest Viking regards.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part III -- Just ask the janitor

A house near the most northerly tip of Newfoundland near L'Anse Aux Meadows, where Vikings first landed in North America.
"Do you eat meat," my landlord Ken asks me as we stand next to a chest freezer in the basement of what will one day be his dream home.

At the moment it is a gutted two storey house, age unknown, located at the front of a large chunk of land near the fish processing plant.

A seemingly abandoned fishing punt, replete with a large hole in its stern, dominates the backyard that is also home to a rake, a bit of fishing net and several large chunks of snow, remnants of one of the warmest winters on record.

From the outside it looks like it should be scuttled, but Ken is a carpenter, electrician and handy man. A scan of the work done so far you can tell he's a good one too.

He's also a good bloke.

"Do I like meat," I parrot, "of course."

Ken swings open the lid of the freezer, which will one day be replaced by a queen sized bed in what is to become the master bedroom.

"Ever eaten moose," he asks and seemingly already knowing the answer he rummages around in he bowels of the freezer producing a pack of Italian herb moose sausages and two moose steaks plonking them into my hands before reaching down again to retrieve another another plastic bag.

"Moose heart," he says revealing the contents of the bag, "we stuff it then bake it, it's quite nice really."

Having eaten heart during my time as a butcher, I strongly doubt it.

"You can tell the weight of a moose by the weight of its heart," he tells me balancing it in his left hand like he's a human Salter scale.

"This heart here is about five pound so the moose was about 500 pound," he puts the heart back in the freezer before pulling out another bag, this time I know exactly what is coming.

"Do you eat fish," he asks, "here take this it's cod, dad and I have got heaps, more than we can eat."

What he asks me to take is about 10lbs of frozen cod fillets, far too much for Em and I to eat in a year so we come to a gentleman's agreement and head back to the truck and jump in.

Every time I meet a local talk soon turns to the future of the town.

"If you want to know what’s wrong with this town, just ask the janitor,” Ken says as we round the bend near the processing plant.

"The problem is when things go wrong in a town like this they ask the wrong people what needs to be done," he continues.

"All you need to do is talk to the janitor or the labourer on the job site digging holes, doing the hard work. They’ll tell you what’s wrong with the place and how to fix it."

He's right. If you want to know what ails the population and how to fix it, just ask the people on the bottom rung of societies ladder.

No point asking the ones with the money, they'll just tell you how to make them more money, although I don't get that same feeling in a town like this.

In sporting parlance, St Anthony has a serious case of the yips, a form slump if you will.

The town is facing a troika of trouble -- the fishing industry (cod, crab and lobsters) has gone belly up, the seal season is similarly slow and the government is in the midst of relocating the air ambulance, the biggest issue of the day here.

Just a few years back they tried to relocate the trade school but that failed and while the future of the hospital seems certain considering they have invested a whack of money into it, the air ambulance is seen as a life line that is being yanked from the slippery grip of the people by the government.

"I’ll give you this," I say, "you Newfoundlanders are a hardy bunch, you’ll pull through."

He looks at me and laughs.

"Oh ya right, we are hardy," he says, "stubborn too."

Not far from his house, moored along the docks are rusting hulks, a few men mill around a big black Chevrolet truck.

"They’d go out if it were worth it but it ain’t," he says.

"What do they fish," I ask.

"Anything that will pay the bills. They'll stay at it though, they'll find a way."

You know what? I believe him.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: First photos now up

Pretty, oh so pretty.
Sir Richard baying for blood.
That's right, for those unlucky souls who happen by this page you get to see the first lot of photos of St. Anthony, our new abode in Newfoundland. 
How long is a piece of string?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part II -- A shed-load of history

Juniper lumber under pressure.
"Why did you stop building boats Ray," I ask the self professed lifelong bachelor and boat builder.

We are standing in an old shed perched on a black rocky shale ridge that straddles St Anthony Harbour and while it’s presumptuous to suggest he was married to the sea, saying this Newfoundlander knows a thing or two about boats is anything but.

He takes a second or two to dissect the Australian accent before he responds

“I stopped needing ‘em,” he says
peering at me through tinted glasses spectacles.

In part he’s joking but at the same he's not. It’s true, he no longer fishes so he no longer needs a boat

"How many have you built," I continue.

"Oh," he drawls, looking around the shed, “you know? A few,” he concludes with a broad smile that suggests one of two things.

Either he’s built so many boats he’s forgotten the real number or as I like to believe, Ray is the kind of man who never bothered counting.

And when you think about it, why would you?

It’s like a hairdresser counting how many perms they have done, a journalist tallying how many words they have written or a librarian knowing just how many books they have read.

Who knows how many Ray’s “a few” really is but standing beside him, a hand the size of a grapple hook resting on the skeletal beginnings of a boat he is overseeing construction of, you get that feeling he knows a thing or two.

He traces the timber grain with a finger when he talks about the benefits of juniper lumber, when he espouses theories developed over decades on boat stability he wraps one of those large hands around the timber and grips hard.

There is talk of different techniques, of steaming the timber or carving the ribs, the complexities of construction are intriguing and if given the chance I excitedly tell Ray that I would love to help out on boat number two.

He shrugs and says it's got nothing to do with him now.

The tools he uses and has passed down others are relics that in most cases would only be handled by white-gloved museum curators but not these ones. No these tools are sharpened every day.

One such tool, name unknown, is a plane of sorts gripped on either side and pulled along the timber.

It's history is long but one story is that Ray used to sharpen it each morning then to test it was sharp enough would walk out back and shave several slices off a frozen seal and cook rashes before starting work.

Ray's story is amazing, he is a book, a living breathing book and to be standing in this shed talking timber, fishing and dog sledding (he used to drive dog teams) you get that feeling of the special people in St Anthony.

You may be asking why we are inside his shed on a Friday at 10pm.

Our host, Emma’s new boss Aaron is building his second boat – a low profile speedboat.

We passed Aaron’s first, The Spiteful Lady (named such for no apparent reason), a few kilometers up the road.

Beers in hand, we trudged the water line to a Lego-coloured vessel dry docked outside a friend’s house.

Hundreds of man hours had gone into building it and it wasn’t quite done however once the paint job is finished and the mast attached, it should be right to go by summer, Aaron says.

We continued up the way to the shed and to a bone warming fire followed by tales of the region as recounted by Aaron, a fiddle-playing Nova Scotian wordsmith, character and quite the story teller.

Several days later he spun a yarn that gives you an idea of the type of people are around this region. True or not, it’s still a great story.

An old fisherman is strolling away from the harbor with two lobsters in his hand; a Fisheries officer allegedly jumps from his car hoping to startle the fisherman who he clearly thinks is poaching lobster out of season and without a licence.

"Got ya red handed," he allegedly said, "poaching."

"Poaching," the fisherman fired back, "what are you talking about, I’m just taking my pets for a walk."

"Pets," the officer asked.

"Yep I do it every day. I take them down to the water, throw them in and when they are done and I want to go home I call their names and they come back and we go home."

"I’ve got to see this," the fisheries officer said and urged the old timer to show him so the pair walk back down to the water and the lobsters are hurled into the blue water.

"Go on," the fisheries officer said, "call the lobsters back.

What lobsters," the old timer said and walked away.

Folklore is strong in these parts which leads me to think I am going to love this place.

Tales from St Anthony Part I -- Finding the viking within

Dear People of the Interwebz,

We have found a tiny sliver of Nirvana in our new home of St Anthony and if that wasn't good enough I may have landed on my feet already with word that I may get the chance to work as a viking in the summer tourist season, but more on that later.

Tomorrow's yarn will be about the place but firstly let me fill the gaps, the plot holes if you will and give the briefest of rundowns of the 7000km journey across Canada.

Two planes, one car, two days of solid travel.  

Maybe that's too brief ... okay how about this then?

A teary farewell at the airport with Em's parents was immediately squashed by a delayed flight but it worked out well for us because we too were delayed by a rather precarious situation thrown up by airport security.

Unconcerned by releasing an already cranky beast from its cage, the officer requested we remove Sir Richard from his travel kennel so they could check for explosives.

My response of: "You're kidding? Let him out here in this crowded airport - are you mad?" was met with a shrug of the shoulders and a curt "it's the law".
Coat in one hand and a firm grip around the scruff of his neck quelled his desire and chance of escape, the officer's swab revealed nought in the way of explosives which of course was not at all unsurprising, Sir Richard's bomb making ability curtailed by a lack of opposable thumbs and a brain the size of a pea that flits between just three things -- food, sleep, poo -- not necessarily in that order.

That's not to say Sir Richard's plans for world domination are any less fervid, they just don't include terrorism. 
After the baggage handler threw out his back picking up the cage (he weighed in a grand total of 11.5kg), we headed for security which was an absolute breeze, the flight itself highlighted by turbulence and a viewing of Ninja Assassin, an altogether tofu-like experience -- bland yet surprisingly filling.

A game of Scrabble later and we dropped into Toronto like a brick and thanks to our earlier delay walked straight onto our connecting flight to Deer Lake which gave rise to an interesting scenario: screaming baby versus burly Newfoundland men.

The baby won by virtue it was still on the flight by the time we got to Deer Lake at 2am.
Note to oneself -- the wicker cowboy hat I bought for road tripping purposes apparently has a different meaning in Newfoundland. 

While I enjoy the protection it affords me from the elements, over in these parts I have been told by locals at least that it is a sign of someone who has just returned from the oilfields. 

Being that I unloaded the luggage carousel with four bursting bags, one a cute little pink plaid number and a cat, I am unsure of where the other men thought I was from.

Nevertheless we packed the lot into the awaiting van and headed 45 minutes into Corner Brook checking in at about 3am. 

At 5am our friend Mark turned up and by 11am we hit the road, a taxi driver told us the trip would take about 4.5 hours, Google Maps said closer to 12 hours, we got there in a touch over 7 hours but we did stop a couple of times on the way.

Stay tuned for the next edition when I recount our first couple of days and my chance to live a dream and become a Viking.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


It's here, D-day.

Sorry if I don't wax lyrical about the amazingness of this experience as moving 7000km rarely gives rise to much mirth. I am sure once this is done there will be plenty of smiles and chortling however at this point in time just know that we are off on a journey of a lifetime.

Take care all and we will see you on the other side.