Also, my brother’s first memory of my father was seeing a pair of legs waiting at the bottom of a rail car as he and Mom disembarked. I assume this was also the York St. Station. He would have been three. Dad was away on the continent fighting a war when he was born and, at war’s end, had been shipped directly back to Canada.
And – of course – I lived ten minutes away from this station for thirty-four years. Many and many are the times I walked the tracks to go to UNB, both as a student, and for work at the University Library. Many was the Sunday walk I took from the Station to the Princess Margaret Bridge, which was two kilometres away. Then I walked back beside the river.
I also took a number of train trips to and from this station. And during those times the train finally did not physically come into this station, one took a bus from here, to and fro the Fredericton Junction station.
This unexpected walk down memory lane is caused by my current character, Alison Alexandra. For the last three days I have been describing Alison Alexandra sitting beside a disused train station (now a museum), waiting for a train to pass so she can wave at the engineer. Which she did.
Here is the link that describes how this station – eventually – was revived from its years of abandonment, and its derelict situation, to become a modern place of commerce.
This is not only an idea whose time has come, but it is an idea I have used in three novels starting over three decades ago. In my novels, I have some edible substance aged through transport at sea.
In A Lost Gospel, set in the time of Christ, I have seafarers strengthen an unnamed gruel stored in a barrel that is used to relieve the effects of seasickness. It tastes vile.
In my two historical “Onion” novels, I have special cheeses aged during the two year long sea trips my characters take for trading purposes. They return tasting right (and ripe) fine.
Here is a current news story set along the same lines.
A Nova Scotia distillery is sending its spirits out Monday on an around-the-world trip on a tall ship, promising it will taste better for the journey.
Four barrels of rum from Lunenburg’s Ironworks Distillery will spend the next 15 months in the cargo hold of the three-masted tall ship Picton Castle.
And here is an excerpt from my novel, China Lily.
The storage hold for the cheese is actually a room partitioned from the main hold by thick oak planks. Its back wall is the side of The Pegasus. There is a raised floor to keep the cheese from the bilge, and a barred door with heavy locks. The Cannaras had the room designed, and placed specifically, so it would not hinder the running of the ship through either weight or volume displacement. In addition, the Cannaras paid the other owners an impressive surcharge for the space.
Matzerath steps back as Cepa unlocks and opens the door. The cheeses have not been moved for over two years, except through the motions of The Pegasus itself. They are tightly packed with straw and wax, three to a wooden crate. The crates are kept in place through the use of ropes and webbing that allows them to move with the motion of the ship. If they break loose they can dent, break, or even shatter their thick outer shell of wax. The exposure to air would turn them to rot.
The two and more years of exposure to the sea salt atmosphere tightens the ropes and webbing. They reach a point where it is not worth the effort to unbind them. Cepa begins to use his knife on all the ties.
He is quickly followed by Matzerath, who does not question the reason for Cepa’s actions, but just follows suit. Together they make short work of the ropes and webbing. Matzerath gets by the doorway and takes his place in the human chain. Cepa hands a crate of the cheese to him. He carries it to the first man on the steps who, in turn, takes it up the steps to the next man. In this way the cheeses go from man to man until they are placed in the carts. It is not backbreaking work, but it is awkward and exhausting enough that Cepa eventually calls for a break. They all go up to stand on deck to take advantage of the fresh air.
“How long have you been selling this ‘voyage cheese’?” Matzerath is watching the frenzied activity on the dock.
“Over two hundred years.” Cepa keeps an attentive eye on the cheeses already on deck. “But never any trip as long as this one.”
“Any magic secret in making it?”
“The choice of the onions. But I don’t actually make the cheese – that is for others in the family.” Cepa smiles. “I help create the mystique.”
“Yes.” Cepa turns to scan the dock. “Look at those three men on horseback.”
“One is a priest; one from the noble’s house; and the third leads the cheese maker’s guild.” Cepa holds up his hand to shade his eyes from the morning sun. “Their sole reason to be here is to verify that these cheeses actually come off The Pegasus. They will affix a seal onto each crate.”
“They don’t trust the Cannaras?” Matzerath turns to Cepa in surprise.
“They trust us because this was our idea.”
“Ha! You Cannaras are crafty.”
“There are few questions asked about items brought back from far away. They are so foreign they have to be authentic.”
“But cheese made right here …” begins Matzerath.
“Yes – anyone can make cheese.” Cepa indicates that he wants to walk around the deck. “And it all looks the same once covered and waxed.”
It was clear weather (easier to choose when one can take the time), and I was waiting for the bus a good hour before departure. I wait outside so I can walk around. There are always a few others who do this, and one fellow approached to ask if I would watch his luggage for a few minutes. I agreed, and said perhaps he could do the same for me. “Sure,” he said. “We gotta look out for each other.” I took that as some Seasonal good will.
While I pondered in the sunshine (the last sunshine, it turns out, that I was to see for four days), I heard a sound that I interpreted as either a roaring bus engine or a plane flying overhead. When neither was revealed, I went looking. On the far side of the bus station is the large parking lot of a large grocery store. In one corner of the parking lot was a forest of cut and bundled Christmas trees. One of the tree vendors was removing the bindings of the trees. He then placed the cut base of the tree on a circular metal platform. He turned on an engine (the sound I had heard), held the tree, and the metal base shook violently. It shook so much that it shook all the loose needles off the tree. The fellow then removed the shaken tree, stood it aside, and did another one. Tools for everything.
As I was watching this performance, an elderly gentleman approached me. Perhaps because I was immersed in a woodland of felled trees, his clothing reminded me of someone from the back woods. His work boots were unlaced, his heavy coat was well worn, and his face was both creased and had the stubble of three days growth. He had a guitar of similar vintage slung over his back.
“Nice day,” said he.
“I’m a Busker,” said he. “I’ll give you a Christmas carol for two bucks. I don’t have enough for smokes.”
“That’s OK,” said I. “I’ll gladly give you two dollars.”
“No – I’m going to sing for it.”
I could not judge if his voice was more rough than the guitar. The guitar was out of tune. Some strings were loose. ‘Hollow’ and ‘twang’ come to mind. I got a hoarse rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. He included three verses.
Then he took my two dollars and wended his way to the large grocery store.
When I wrote my novel, Kafka In The Castle, filling in all of Kafka’s missing diary entries, after a few months of writing, I found something very interesting. The day/month/year I was writing about, mirrored the day/month/year in which I was writing.
For example, if the 03 of July was a Friday in my writing year, it was also Friday, 03 July in 1917.
It was an exciting surprise, and made (I think) for more immediate writing.
When Kafka became so ill he he took leave from his employment, he stayed with his sister Ottla in a village, hours from Prague. The following recounts the visit of his fiance,Felice.
Here is 23 &24 September from Kafka In The Castle.
23 September 1917
The trials of Felice. The trials of Franz. As they are put together in this obscure little village – with animals and harvest and the clatter of waggons without.
Because of the war, her train journey an ordeal of thirty hours. Only to reach this destination. This lover who doesn’t … “even have the grace to love another.”
That is something F. can understand.
24 September 1917
The two days Felice spent here a trial of misery. A trail of misery. Even – I suspect – when she slept.
It is fortunate that I am ill, for it lets her see me in life, the way I am in spirit. The`me’ she would have to fight against. The `me’ which is always opposed to her.
We shared quiet meals, grateful and annoyed by Ottla’s constant chatter. As good a hostess as possible to this strange, sullen couple.
Ottla must have been thankful that her chores took her away as often as they did. I had no such excuses, yet could offer nothing in their place.
F. and I were truly left to each other, and any thoughts she might still have about us getting married must surely be removed.
When we did talk, it was about the change in seasons, the harvest (she took an interest), her work in Berlin. About my health when I seemed to tire (my weariness not all caused by being sick).
We rarely held hands on our walks – just briefly, in the minutes as we returned.
The few kisses were perfunctory.
Not even for memories of things past.
There are all sorts and conditions of people who take the bus (myself included). A few years ago I made particular note of the two talkative folk who sat in front of me, one on either side of the aisle.
Directly in front was a handsome young man in his twenties. He had, that morning, just been released from penitentiary. He was on his way home. Across the aisle from him was a grizzled and bearded man in his mid-life who had never taken a bus ride before.
They talked. I listened.
The convicted felon (a cheerful and polite fellow) had, with a partner, robbed a grocery store. Stole the safe. Got a lot of money (thousands in the double digits).
They got away with it.
However, some days later, his partner got a case of the ‘guilts’ and turned himself in.
And told what had happened.
His buddy, unplanned and unwanted, soon followed. Fourteen months.
The bearded fellow – never on the bus – had a host of motorcycles and vans, and travelled in them. He took a header when he hit an empty pop bottle. He was a hippy from way back, and more or less continues to this day. Even the bus driver recognized the van he described, famous for its art work.
The former inmate revealed:
how to make ‘moonshine’ from unimaginable ingredients;
how to make money from ‘nicotene patches’ (by cutting them into strips and selling the contents);
how cigarettes behind bars cost $15 each.
Oh – yes – he also lost his girlfriend because of his actions. “A BIG mistake,” he said.
I gotta admit, all this plus the beautiful scenery wiled away the time.
Admittedly I set out later than I should, but the poetry readings were to go from 7-9. Enough time for some of it. However, as I was a few blocks away from the harbour (yes, I was also going to stop by the harbour first) I heard Latin chanting.
I greatly enjoy Latin chanting, so imagine my surprise. It turned out there was a large tent set up in a parking lot beside the Roman Catholic cathedral. Six men were chanting a service for a small group. It seemed related (in some way) to the jazz festival happening in the city. They had mics and lights. I lingered by the fence and listened. Evocative and effective.
However, I did feel I should go to the poetry readings, so off I went.
But I gave in to my temptation of visiting the harbour on the way. It was there, as I sat looking out to sea, that an elderly, white haired man struck up a conversation. A visitor who had arrived by train for a week of vacation.
The first vacation without his wife, dead these fourteen months.
She was eighty-four.
When he said this, he saw the look of surprise on my face.
“Bet you can’t guess my age,” said he.
I answered, with some truth, that I never answer that question.
“Eighty-one,” he said.
I granted I would have shaved a dozen years off his age.
“Married sixty years,” he said. Always had travelled with her. Always went by car. “But it wouldn’t be the same,” he said. So he took the train.
So – yes – I stayed to talk to him.
“Get up every morning to fill the day is my motto,” he said.
So I answered his questions about the islands, and if the helicopters flying overhead were military, and if all the ships needed the use of the tugboats we were standing beside, and was there somewhere close he could buy magazines, and how he got this real good travel deal through CAA, and how he talks to everyone.
“Is that really the ocean out there?” He pointed.
The troubled night carries too many warnings of mortality to be ignored.
There are horses kept unfed in refrigerators, clambering to get free.
Some will be found emaciated.
Punishment will be meted in an ingenious and terrifying manner.
Flowers will turn to doorknobs.
Stooping to smell will reveal the pungent scent of fingerprints.
Dreams to befuddle Satan.
Fears not be wished upon a hated enemy.
The steps are steep.
The rooms without walls.
Pictures hang and grin with howling mouths.
What would be the fruit of seed tilled in these fields?
If that hunted figure, racing so slowly after the final train, is you,
Whose eyes watch the train?
Alison Alexandra, the main character in my current Work in Progress, is about to set out on a sea cruise. She wishes nothing as boring as a Cruise Ship, so she is going on a freighter that has room for twelve passengers. She gets accommodations as comfortable as the ship’s officers, plus decent food and some entertainments. The drawback – which she does not consider a drawback – is that she goes where the freighter goes as it drops off and picks up cargo. Not necessarily fancy ports of call.
Alison Alexandra has just spent my week of writing watching the business on the dock as the freighter gets ready to cast off. For this scene I have stolen (and greatly altered) an incident that happened to me. I hear that’s what authors do, but it seems a rare situation for me.
I previously described what happened to me those many years ago, and do so again. Alison Alexandra is actually watching a crewman named Ellerton do what I did, when I stopped a submarine from running amok.
Harrison Ford And Me
In 2001/02 the movie, WIDOWMAKER K-19, was made, much of it filmed in Halifax harbour and out on the nearby ocean. It deals with submarines and an in-ship disaster, staring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson.
I was not aware of this when I visited Halifax. I went down to the waterfront and went along the boardwalk. It was very foggy on the water (which it can be without having much on land). I was exceedingly surprised to see, looming out of the fog, a submarine next to the wharf. There are submarines in Halifax, but they are berthed at the naval dockyard a couple of kilometers from where I was walking.
It took a couple of minutes to realize that it was not a naval submarine (no markings). What was happening was that the submarine was being turned by a couple of tugboats. I read later that each side of the same submarine was altered differently so, in close ups and aerial footage, it could appear to be two different submarines.
However, there quickly appeared to be a problem. From the shouts and gesticulations of a man on the wharf, I found out that one of the mooring lines had not been cast from the wharf. The submarine was being pulled away from the dock, but it was still attached. It was a gigantic and thick mooring line, and I do not know what damage would have been done to either ship or dock.
The man was yelling to another man on the deck of the sub, who had a bullhorn and in turn was bellowing to the crew of the tug boat. However, nothing was heard over the roar of the engines (tugboats have powerful engines). The man on the wharf was trying to lift the mooring line from its post before it got too taut to move. I ran over and helped him, and we managed to get it from the post just as it started to be pulled into the water.
Of course I watched the movie credits closely, but I was not mentioned.
No famous movie actors were involved in this incident.