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After my exhilarating stay in Michigan, when I arrived in Toronto after a long day’s drive, I decided against the great rates offered at Bate’s Motel – en-suite shower in every room – and headed to a rather ritzy down-town hotel.  Is it ok to call a hotel ritzy if it isn’t the Ritz?

I had stayed in this hotel on business, but now I wasn’t on expenses.  I booked in for a couple of nights to start with.  I should have known it would be expensive when the uniformed doorman (he was a man), held open the door and another uniformed bellhop (he didn’t hop) came to collect my luggage – both had large open palms.  After checking in, the BH took me to my room. He took my one bag and the guitar case, looking rather silly, on a large wheeled luggage cart, complete with hanging rails for dresses and suits.

As we walked along the corridor the BH glanced at my guitar case and asked whether I played professionally.  I managed to smother the snort that almost got loose and replied modestly “No, no, just for my own enjoyment”.  True enough, I really enjoyed those three chords and the way the top (fattest) string buzzed when I twanged it. But not to fret…arghhh.

The BH must deal with some well-off but pretty ignorant people, because he proceeded to show me how to switch on the lights (oooh that’s how they work), the TV (never seen that before), open the blinds (gosh, who would have known) and where to find the bathroom (cleverly concealed behind the bathroom door) – I eventually put us both out of our misery by crossing his palm with silver (actually I grubbed his palm with crumpled up paper, but it doesn’t sound as cool).

I won’t bore you with my stay in the Toronto area other than to say I really enjoyed the Royal Ontario Art Gallery and the McMichael Gallery at Kleinburg. The latter has a wonderful collection of work by the Group of Seven, a Canadian group of impressionist painters. I took a day trip to Niagara Falls (the Canadian Falls are the most impressive), visited my friend’s theatre and took in a complementary show.

I also saw The Beach Boys live at the stadium.  Which on the whole was better than waiting to see them once they were dead.

After a good time being a tourist and wearing out the hospitality of my friends, I decided it was time to head for Winnipeg.  This would mean two very long day’s driving.  I had decided to take the Canadian route going north of Lake Superior – through the Canadian Shield. It’s wonderful scenery and with much wild-life to spot along the way – including the danger of encountering a moose on the highway!  The moose is the largest member of the deer family and most vehicles do not survive a collision with this majestic animal.  The male Western Moose, found in North Western Ontario and Manitoba, weighs in between 990 and 1,100 lbs.  You can call me Mr. Moose.

North of Superior.  Rodney, 1976.

North of Superior. Rodney, 1976.

The scenery was so beautiful I decided to try and capture its essence in gouache. Better go back and practice more chords.

I was driving merrily along, the windows open (no air – remember) and playing Mozart’s Horn Concerto’s on the tape deck (remember those, at least it wasn’t 8-track).  I was having a lovely time, the sun was shining, the clouds were full and brightly lit, the lakes were gleaming and full of water fowl. It felt good to be alive.  I was humming along to the third concerto and driving at the top of the speed-limit when it happened – a bullet came flying in the window, struck my chest and fell down to the seat right between my thighs (if you will pardon the expression) where it continued to roll until coming to a stop in a location too delicate to mention here.  It was either a bee or a wasp.  Without thinking (obviously), I stood up!  I was still driving at the speed limit – I prided myself on driving a stick-shift – I was standing up off the seat, in a sort of crouch.  As I raced down the highway deep in thought, I came to the conclusion that standing up had not been the smartest option to take.  The bee or wasp that hit me at that speed was undoubtedly stunned or dead – and probably did not present a clear and present danger lodged in the nether regions.  But once I had stood up, it had continued its roll further back on the seat – so I couldn’t sit again without the probability of being stung.

I managed to ease off the accelerator and keep the car roughly on my side of the road. As the car slowed I realized I would have to find a way of depressing the clutch or yanking the car out of gear.  I couldn’t put my foot on the brake and the clutch at the same time.  With some finesse I managed to depress the clutch (my spirits weren’t that high right at that moment either), take the car out of gear, then switch my foot onto the brake pedal, all the time keeping in a straight line.  Fear was all that gave strength and stamina to my thigh and calf muscles.  I came to a dusty and gravelly stop on the shoulder of the highway.  I checked the road was clear and managed to tumble out of the car without touching the seat. I stood there just breathing. The only sound of cars and trucks racing by followed by a gust from their slip-stream.

I hate wasps – well to be more correct, I am terrified of wasps.  My mother used to talk to them.  If one flew into the kitchen in the summer or fall, she would flick her tea-towel (A Gift from Penzance) at them and say, “Out waspy, come on, out you go”. And always the wasp would get out (can a wasp make a bee-line for the window?).  There was discussion about Mum possibly being a witch – something she encouraged.

But I did not have Mum’s kind of relationship with our striped friends and saw them mainly as potential for pain and swelling. I did finally get the comatose projectile out of the car.  After some deep breaths and deep manly coughing, I climbed back into my car, now, in my imagination become a Spitfire and me a World War II ace – one of ‘The Few’, thanks to some amazing aerobatics I had been struck but survived.

I had stayed the first night in the town of Wawa which sports a giant metal sculpture of a Canada Goose, no s–t, which is good when talking about a gigantic goose.

I didn’t intend to spend a second night away from my apartment and luckily the rest of the drive was a great experience and uneventful. It was quite a trip – but not in the 70’s meaning.

In case you are wondering, we have air conditioning in our car now!

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone – and thanks to all who follow this strange blog and for all the likes and comments throughout the year, it only encourages me…