Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part XVIII – Martha Stewart saved my life and tips on driving in Newfoundland

I am prone to fits of internalized paranoia whereby the usual outwardly projected extreme and irrational distrust of others is turned inwards – in short I am paranoid of paranoia.

Just for the record I am also scared of people wearing sombreros (who needs a hat that big anyway), termites (anything so small that can devour a house deserves to be feared) and since moving to Newfoundland, I have begun to fear driving, more accurately my paranoia of computer-based written driving exams scares the bejesus out of me.

Oh and I am also scared of falling asleep and waking to find my limbs fused with useless kitchen utensils like a pastry brush, spork and a colander as a helmet, but none of the cool ones like rolling pins for arms a meat tenderizer for my right hand and a pizza cutter for my left and egg beaters for legs that I would spin so fast I would gravitate to become the ultimate crime fighting machine able to flambé the fricassee out of culinary crooks.

Anyway, today I should have been studying for my driver’s test because despite my 16 years of clean driving in Australia, I have to go through the whole process again. That's cool with me, I dig practical tests. I'm a practical kind of person. But it means I have to sit
that rotten written test again so instead of studying I cooked macaroni and cheese from scratch for the very first time.

The driving exam has me spooked so much I turned to a Martha Stewart recipe. It makes sense after all, who better to guide me through the heady and complicated world of Mac and Cheese than Martha, who I also discovered is a damn fine history teacher. Did you Thomas Jefferson invented Mac & Cheese?

Now let me make this clear, my fear of driving isn’t because of the conditions in these parts. I have driven horribly dangerous roads in the southern hemisphere and survived potholes the size of small mammals, small mammals the size of humans and humans with brains the size of small mammals.

Nope, but sit me down in front of a driving test on a computer screen and I go to water and it’s all because of the way they phrase the questions and rank the answers.

There is always one ridiculous answer, one slightly daft one and two that are almost identical and would both be correct however one is more right than the other.

For instance, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Road Users Guide, the minimum safe following distance is at least one car length for every 15kph meaning if you are traveling at 90kph you should be six car lengths behind the one in front. To work that out you must wait for the car in front to pass a checkpoint and start counting. If it takes two or more seconds for your car to pass that same checkpoint, it is considered to be a reasonable following distance.

The literature goes on to point out that the two second rule will allow you to react to an obstacle but it won’t be enough time to stop your car.

Again, sound advice though I would tender the argument that novice drivers shouldn’t be burdened with mathematical duties as well as driving responsibilities.

Now if I were to then suggest that it was safer to up the ante, turn the two second rule into a three, four or five second rule, I would be correct and a great deal safer but I would also be wrong and fail the test.

Then there is the advice given in the user guide which at times is quite hilarious.

For instance under the heading To Avoid Hitting a Car in Front of You, it calmly starts with: “Don’t be impatient,” which I admit is very good advice before concluding, “never let personal problems or daydreams take your attention from the road.”

Again, sound.

One of my favorite quotes comes under the heading Sudden Stopping and Reaction Time that reads:
“Before you can realize that you must stop your vehicle to avoid an object ahead, you must see it.”

I am wondering if this is a philosophical debate or instructions to Jedi.

The most worrying aspect from a non-moose acquainted driver is that the writers of the manual appear more worried about headlights then they are about moose.

For instance the paragraph about headlight glare reads:

“Glare causes the pupil of the eye to contract ... it takes about seven seconds for the pupil to readjust, during this time you may be temporarily blinded. If you were traveling at 90kph for those seven seconds you would have gone 125 metres while you had no vision.”

Temporarily blinded for 125 metres traveling 90kph? The only way that could get any worst is if an eagle flew in through the open window and began clawing your face off.

The writers under the heading Vehicle Plunges into Water helpfully demonstarte how to successfully escape a submerged car, what to do if the hood flies up or your car catches on fire while driving 90kph down the highway. 

They also offer the indispensable tip on what to do if you are about to slam into another car under the heading Direct Collision Course that reads: “Brake hard!”

Martha might have just saved my life.
Under moose the best advice they can give is thus: “Always think moose – especially when you drive at night”.

'Think moose' is the best they can come up with?

I think Martha Stewart and I are going to become well acquainted up until I sit my test on July 22.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part XVII –George the Bard, Family Ties and $25 lobster dinners

Hello Mr Lobster, would you like a new home in my belly?
"Do you come from a big family George," I asked Cow Head’s friendliest local bard as I tried to prevent my rickety plastic lawn chair from toppling over.

George had rushed up the road to the Dr Henry N Payne Community Museum where he had been boiling lobsters at the Anglican Church all morning.

As strange as that sounds, it was all part of the 29th annual Cow Head Lobster Festival on the weekend and George was multitasking.

"Oh yes, a big family, seven brothers and a sister," he said as the summer sun slapped me upside the head while the ice box chilled wind kicked me in the shin.

"My daughter asked my father there once, she said, why do they have such big families around these parts and my father said, 'well you know, we’ve got to keep warm in the winter somehow'," George grinned and chuckled to himself.

For about an hour George did what he does best, he spun some yarns regaling us tales of his family and that of the region, stories that would have been told years ago around the camp oven, or in the kitchen to traveling strangers.

This time around it was just four of us huddled together on the lawn of the historical society.

He told us about his fishing days, local folk lore, maritime disasters and the death of modern society.

"When you buy a piece of lumber 2¼ inches and what you actually get is a piece 1¾ and you pay seven times its worth, well things aren’t looking good," he said, "we are in a bad way, a bad way," he concluded of modernity.

The talk of families was poignant as I had only that week bid farewell to my own who had journeyed from Australia to the northernmost point of Newfoundland.

I hadn’t seen them in about 18 months so there was plenty to talk about and for almost two weeks we showed them all that the Northern Peninsular had to offer and by the end, my father had developed a guttural Newfoundland laugh, my sister and mother had been made honorary Newfies after being ‘Screeched in’ and the entire lot had grown scales and gills because of all the cod and seafood they had digested.

A family portrait, not my family portrait but one nonetheless.
On the last night though, my parents in typical dramatic form, brought the whole trip crashing to a low.

At this point I must point out that my parents can be kind of dramatic. If mum has some bad news she usually starts the conversation with, “now don’t panic” or “before you get upset” my dad normally just comes out and speaks his mind.

“It’s been good to see you,” my mum said as she wiped at her face in a bid to make it look like she was scratching an itch that scuttled about her face like a snow crab. She was crying, but she didn’t want me to know. But I did and put an arm around her.

“Don’t make it sound like it’s the last time we’ll see each other,” I said.

“But it might be,” she said, “we might never see you again.”

“Sure you will it’s not as though we are that far away from you. We are only in Newfoundland.”

“You don’t know that,” she muttered, repeating it under her breath, “you don’t know that.”

Moments earlier over a tasty chunk of halibut my dad averted his eyes from my gaze when we had concluded the very same conversation.

“This might be it mate,” he said, “we might not ever see you kids again.”

“Don’t be silly,” I retorted.

“I’m not,” he grunted, jack blunt as always.

And therein lays the difference of generations. While we think it’s nothing to jump on a plane and fly around the globe as if we are packing the campervan and heading to the local beach for a holiday, for my parents it is a big deal, this trip to Newfoundland was a big trip, a once in a lifetime trip if I am to believe them.

I know the locals around St Anthony feel the same. With job opportunities limited, most of the extended family has been forced to move away to Alberta or further afield to make ends meet but each summer they try to make it home and celebrate as a family unit.

As each year rolls on and families expand and contract with numbers, a new baby here is offset by the loss of a grandparent there, many of us wonder if this will be the last time they will see a family member again.

My grief at not seeing my parents again for a while is tempered by the knowledge that I am lucky.

My family is still alive and currently driving around Ireland.