Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Job Seeker

I'm early, of course, so I sit outside McGill metro on a hard stone wall. After several minutes in the sun I realise that I'm beginning to sweat, a definite no-no at interviews, so move to the shade, where I'm cold.

I'm sitting in the informal smoking area of all the staff from the nearby arcade. Girls come out in small groups, sit next to me, and blow smoke in my direction. Normally I wouldn't care, but I realise that I'm going to smell of smoke afterwards, which is another minus point.

'Oh, il fait frit!' Exclaims one of the girls between a lungful of smoke. She eyes me, sideways-ly.

Eventually I move on and wander towards a building that contains a large-ish employment agency. I have an appointment at 10am concerning a terrible job that I don't want. I suppose I don't have much of a positive outlook.

I try to sneak past the fat desk clerk, who seems to be hunched over, perhaps eating doughnuts secretly, but he spots me and mumbles some questions.

I tell him the name of the company, and he grunts a reply.

I stare at him, as I didn't understand a word.

He manages to clear his mouth and finally says, 'Fourteenth floor'.

I find the office with time to spare, but enter anyway and announce myself. I'm kept waiting, so read the paper, which is full of dull election news. The paper tells me that the west of Canada wants independence now too. Interesting.

A few minutes late, my agent arrives and escorts me to a small room of the kind commonly found in police interrogation units. Except the chairs are softer. Just.

We follow the usual routine that Canadians take when talking to English people – we discuss where I'm from, struggle to pinpoint it geographically, finally locate it with the aid of Liverpool, discuss the places they have been in England and the friends they have there, and then finally how wonderful London is, but isn't it expensive, eh?

Then, onto the job.

Along with 120 other poor, lost souls I will receive a constant stream of telephone calls from a large pharmaceutical company's overpaid scientific employees who can't find their email icons. It's 40 hours a week, no chance of promotion, shift work, and $12 an hour.

Wow, what a catch, I think, sarcastically.

We then have a long conversation about road rage and how terrible drivers are in Canada.

'In England they drive really fast, but well.' She says.

'And the roads there are narrow.' I say, then add, 'And no-one indicates here.'

'Oh I know, we're terrible. It's like that in America too, I'm told.'


'Oh yes, I think so.'

We then decide that I shouldn't actually apply for the job. I'd be frustrated, bored, and leave quite soon after taking it, so it seems. I think we're right about that.

'You should get a job in a café.' She tells me, 'At least you'd learn more French.'

She's right. Tomorrow, I'll trawl the pubs with CVs in hand.

Though, that often goes terribly wrong....

Friday, June 25, 2004

La Mauricie

Getting out of Montreal is one of the pleasures of living in Montreal. Every so often, it is essential to leave the city and surround yourself with trees, rolling fields, and fresh air. So, we loaded up the car with all kinds of un-essential things and headed for the highway.

Now, I don't like driving in Montreal. For several reasons. Of course, everyone is driving on the right hand side of the road, which is confusing for me. No-one indicates, which raises the temperature of my blood somewhat; and no-one knows how wide their vehicle is. This results in people swerving wildly about the road to avoid things they worry they will hit, when in fact they have a good ten foot of clearance.

But I'm not going to get involved in a road-rage rant. Not now.

So we head east, and the traffic thins out eventually and we're left on a dual-lane highway that goes in a straight line for hours on end. There are trees on either side, and for long periods you can't see the traffic flowing in the other direction. This leads to moments of panic when you suddenly imagine you're in the wrong lane of a normal road, and accounts for yet more swerving.

I watch, idly, the jeep in front of me veer onto the emergency lane of the highway and then veer back onto the road just before hitting the grass verge. It then wanders into the left lane, and wobbles back only when about to hit the barrier. The driver is obviously drunk, or simply stupid.

Two hours later we finally enter the national park.

'La Mauricie'

We park in the visitors' centre and procure maps. We then pay $10 for the privilege of entering the countryside, which makes me slightly angry. I think the countryside should be free, personally.

But, it's quiet, and we don't see any people around, which is good, as far as I'm concerned. If you see entire families, pushing infants around, or old ladies with walking frames, then I know I'm not likely to enjoy myself.

Solitude. Fresh air. Peace. Quiet. Black bears.

Black bears?

I picked up a leaflet in the visitor centre entitled, 'You're in Black Bear Country!'

Yikes. The most dangerous thing in the countryside of England is, other people. Or perhaps an angry badger.

There are some tips:

'If you spot a bear on the side of the road, consider not stopping.'

'Do not surprise a black bear.'

'If you encounter a bear: Keep calm. Don't run. Give the bear space. Leave the area.'

The guide goes on to say that it isn't common for a bear to attack you, but if it does, then:

"...react aggressively and try to intimidate the bear. If this fails, fight back with anything at hand such as bear spray, rocks, sticks, knives or other possible weapons..."

So I enter the woods with my head full of images of bears bearing down on me (excuse the pun) and I, waving a stick in its face, screaming...

I shake my head and try to enjoy the flowers and bees. It's very pretty. It's quiet, we walk. We see a snake, a hare, some dragonflies, lots of birds, beetles, and mosquitoes.

Hmm. Quite a lot of mosquitoes.

All we have with us is a citronella spray, which I bemoaned at the time we bought it, saying, 'But it doesn't bloody well work.'

'It's better than nothing,' said the wife, and bought it anyway.

We applied a coating and walked on. The trail we took was 11km long, not too tough, as we only arrived at 2pm.

As we made our way on, the mosquitoes became worse. When we stopped to try and eat lunch, about five million of them descended upon us and proceeded to suck our blood in great haste. We, wailing, and waving arms, applied half of the bottle of citronella spray in one go.

It didn't help.

We took to waving cloths around, slapping them over our backs and heads, to keep the onslaught off a little.

Then the deer flies arrived.

They hover around you and refuse to go away, landing whenever you fail to notice them, and then taking a huge chunk out of your flesh, leaving a bleeding wound.

Ah, nature.

Don't get me wrong. I love nature. I have been in mosquito infested places all around the world... but... I usually try and carry some nasty chemicals to keep them away. Or, some long, baggy, light clothing to wear. But, we had none of this, and simply suffered a hundred bites as we walked.

Upon reflection, the day was wonderful. The countryside, views, trail, hike, flora and fauna (except the mosquitoes) made up for the discomfort, 100%.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

The Wife's 30th Birthday

I think perhaps that I should leave parties an hour before the end, to avoid the bizarre and hazy events that generally ensue after hearty alcohol consumption at 2AM. But, if the party is your own (or your wife's), then you're honour-bound to stay until the end.

I have no concept of 'enough' once I get into the end-of-the-party zone, and will continue to top up my glass with rum and drink it merrily until I realise that I'm sitting alone, and all my guests have gone home.

'Where did everyone go?' I ask.

This evening started well enough, and I actually managed to avoid drinking the Rum that I had bought, and stuck to the various beers that lined the fridge. I had made a fruit punch which contained a sturdy measure of the hard stuff, but I only had a couple of cups of it before it was polished off by others.


So I remained fairly clear until about midnight, or perhaps 1AM, when the veil of stupidity fell upon me and I started to talk nonsense to whoever was unfortunate enough to be close to me.

I spent some time trying to learn a trick for opening beer bottles using only a bottle top and some thumb pressure.


This resulted in a lot of beer bottles being opened at the same time, which then, of course, all had to be consumed.

I avoided inflicting my own party tricks on people, preferring instead to tell people how much I loved them and / or that they were my new best friends.

'Whenever you're in town, call me, we'll go out for a beer. You can stay here whenever you like. Look, I'll give you my telephone number.'

'You already gave it to me. Twice.'


At one point I go to get a card with our address and phone number on it. When I get back to the lounge I've forgotten who I'm supposed to give it to. I spy someone leaving and guess that it must be them.

'Here's that card,' I say, holding it out.

'Um, I already have one, thanks.'


My golden rule of drinking stood me in excellent stead during the evening:

"Never, ever, arrange to do anything with anybody, whilst drunk."

Picture the scene, it's 9AM and you have a hangover from hell, then, as you wobble towards the bathroom it hits you like a thunderbolt:

Oh my god, I arranged to go hangliding / waterskiing / mountain climbing / play rugby today with that guy from the pub last night.

You hope that he won't remember, but no, there's a knock on the door and you are doomed.

So, although the offer of 'sailing tomorrow' is very appealing, I ask for a telephone call in the morning to confirm the event.

'I never arrange anything when drunk.' I slur, in bad French.

'A real sailor goes to sea if he says he will, no matter how bad he feels.' He replies.

There was no phone call this morning.

The evening's last memory for me is a very intense conversation where I feel like I'm saying inappropriate and bizarre things, and then everyone is gone.

'Where did everyone go?' I ask.

Luckily, everyone else was rather drunk too. No sober people taking notes.

I hope.

This morning we found a lot of Gin, Rum, beer and cameras. Now you know it was a good party when people actually leave half a bottle of Gin behind, too drunk to remember to take it when they leave, focusing all their concentration and energy on the task at hand – getting home.

But today I was surprised to learn that most of the people who left all had the intention of going to eat a Poutine at 3AM.

I'm somewhat glad I didn't feel hungry.