Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Days 480 to 484: Stratford And The Cottage

Idyllic Stratford...








Stratford is a town in Ontario, a couple of hours' train journey from Toronto, and we were there because 40 years ago my mother had a boyfriend called David. Fortunately for myself, my brother, and my sister, David and my mother one day looked at each other and said "Nuh. Not working, is it?" (I may be paraphrasing) and went their separate ways. My mother met my father, and produced a trio of children - I am the upper part of the trio - and David found himself presented with a trio of choices: stay in Aberdeen and become a television broadcaster, go to London and become some kind of financier, or go to Canada and study. It was the great crossroads of life, and he chose the final option. As three-way coin tosses go, it seems to have gone pretty well: he soon met and married a girl called Barbara, and today is one of the chief organisers of Stratford's core business: the April-to-October Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It worked out pretty well for me too: I exist, and I have the perfect hosts in the form of David and Barbara should I ever be in Stratford. Which Danielle and myself were.

For a couple of days, we were able to sample what Stratford has to offer. It's a town of about 30,000 people, but due to the festival influence has four theatres. Unlike the flash, glass modernism of Toronto, Stratford is very happy to coast along being gentle and charming. It has a river and lots of ducks and a quaint village feel, only a little let down by the giant and totally unnecessary road that cuts through the middle: how North Americans love their roads. To our delight, it had this:


We bought Irn Bru (formerly banned by Canada, but seemingly allowed back in) and some Fry's Chocolate Cream. The latter isn't Scottish, strictly speaking, but does taste good.

A small music festival is taking place, so during a warm Saturday afternoon as Danielle and I enjoyed a slow stroll along the river banks, we stumbled upon a Celtic music-esque performance on a barge, which diverted us for a while. The music festival, as is the larger and longer Shakespeare festival, are low key, so the town isn't rampacked with thousands of revellers as in the style of Edinburgh festival, it just has old people and tourists ambling around, popping into a theatre now and again. And the theatre was our destination for Saturday evening - and my first ever musical. David seemed somewhat surprised, alarmed even, when I mentioned this to him. He very kindly had acquired some tickets for us, so we got to see "Crazy For You," a joyous explosion of singing and dancing, set to the music of Ira Gershwin. I'll freely admit: the musical genre is not one that has ever particularly grabbed me. I would actively avoid it on TV or film. But I'll freely admit: onstage it was excellent. It would have taken a person with a stone heart not to have enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it immensely (my heart is part limestone, but there's still plenty of beating organic matter). Lots of young men and women flung each other around, sang a lot, and it was funny and entertaining throughout. Consequently, something changed inside me, something I never expected: I would now rather like to see a musical at the theatre again sometime. They say travelling broadens horizons and the spectrum of life, but I never expected this.

Stratford was just part 1 of the David and Barbara experience. Part 2 took place four hours away, on Sunday through till Tuesday. At the Cottage, by the lake.


Yeah, hardly a tiny cottage, is it?

The Cottage, or some form of it (it was effectively rebuilt a number of years ago) has been in Barbara's family for decades. If I described Stratford as idyllic, it's only because I hadn't yet been to the Cottage. In the Star Trek film, Star Trek Generations, Captain Kirk finds himself in a realm called the Nexus, a timeless dimension in which he can live forever in paradise, and he chooses the simple life of cutting wood at a log cabin. It might sound a strange comparison, but that is how the Cottage felt. Life felt simple and uncomplicated, and time didn't really seem to exist (except, sadly, when eventually announcing it was time to go). Barbara made us fabulous breakfasts and dinners, and explained the history of the Cottage, along with the decor. Danielle and I were in a kind of daze, thinking, yes, this is it, travels over, let's just stay here now.






In fact, Danielle and I technically weren't even in the Cottage, we were in the boathouse. Yes, the tiny Cottage has its own baby house next door. It's the one on the right.


On our first night at the Cottage, we concentrated on corrupting the youth. With David and Barbara was the daughter of a family friend, a girl called Ellen, from Scotland. We poured into the town's single booze shop, emptied it of vodka and rum, and had a cocktail evening. Well, Danielle and Ellen did. David and I stuck to a single malt, and Barbara mostly looked on in horror as Scottish drinking culture took over a corner of Canada. Of course, we all jumped in the lake.


David and I retired at a more sensible time, but Danielle and Ellen stayed up till 3am drinking Cosmopolitans. Danielle didn't get up till 3pm the next day, and Ellen had to run away during breakfast, and remained pale and ill for the rest of the day, in full swing of what she claimed was the first hangover of her life. Danielle was a mixture of deep shame and deep pride about this.

Barbara and Ellen had to leave on the Monday evening, but David, Danielle and I remained for one more night, fending for ourselves. The next day, David took us out on his boat for a trip on the lake, and we took a wander through the small town. And then - paradise lost. Time caught up with the Nexus, and we had to leave the Cottage, and leave Canada altogether. An overnight Greyhound bus journey awaited, departing Toronto at the ungodly hour of 1am. The idyll was shattered: the grim reality of a life on the road was once more upon us.

1 comment:

  1. Great to see David and Barbara again and Stratford and the "cottage". Both places as lovely as I remember!
    Great paraphrasing Niall!
    Mum

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