It is all just one big flip-flop

So, with a couple of weeks securely under my belt of sporadically flipping and flopping between wellies, winter boots and, well, flip-flops, it is blatantly obvious that Spring is now well underway. Weird weather patterns – a near frostbitten bike to work, a sweaty one home at the end of the day, with strange looks at my unseasonal choice of outfit, somewhat gives it away. Not to mention the switch from twin-tips to full suspension machines, the increasing number of inadvertent tan lines, the plethora of townies and the general cheerful demeanor of pretty much everyone. Spring has officially sprung.

However, for me, spring in Canada reminds me of a rather different side of things. That of road trips, museums, arguments and country radio stations. The latter alone I believe could be the cause behind the first three problems and collectively create something of catastrophic proportions. Because as remote as you can get, 20kms after cell phone coverage, road signs and anything with a heartbeat packed up and went home, there is always – I mean always – some country classics available to you. A truly brutal turn of fate for any road trip.

And who better to share such road trip discontentment with? If you know me at all by now, something so dramatic and damaging could only mean one, or rather two, things. My parents. Mummy and Daddy Carswell. My Geriatric Parentals. Slightly Deranged #1, accompanied by Slightly Deranged #2. Or, as they’re more commonly known in their loving circle of friends, Nan and Ian.

Initial feelings of such I’m sure began many moons ago, shortly before I hit diapers, really peaking during the awkward and embarrassing Parent years of the early teens. But in May 2007, the May of all Mays and quite possibly a month I shall never forget, things hit an all time low. Or perhaps an all time high if you were lucky enough to be watching the Carswell’s, as an intrigued and undoubtedly amused onlooker in Osoyoos, Kelowna, Penticton, Jasper Ice Fields, Lake Louise, or anywhere in between.

And my way of coping? To document this brief encounter with the outskirts of hell. So, read on for a few excerpts of my ‘cry out for help’ journal and just count yourself lucky. It truly describes how our RV-tastic trip in May 2007 went down…

Shortly after I picked up the RV that was as far from its promised 22ft in length as it could be and instead was described in the unhelpful brochure as a ‘converted minivan’, then successfully collected the precious cargo from Calgary airport, (issues nos. 1 and 2), I soon realized I’d made a dreadful mistake.

“Issue no.3: In one word, the ‘Parentals’. For a couple of people I can easily call ‘fantastic’, ‘great’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘never dull’, I can also call them a bunch of other things that should remain unwritten. Once packed into said 'converted minivan', Dad (from the cheap seats in the back), piped up 'Is it 10 in the morning or 10 in the evening?' I actually thought he was joking, but sadly not. He was indeed as strange as the last time I saw him. Maybe stranger, if that was possible. He blames his age, but I think that’s a cop out, I think he’s just strange.”

Size of minivan aside, we did our best to ensure the majority of days and nights were spent outside of it. And when the time came to cram ourselves into our sleeping quarters, we had it down. Mother would construct the beds while Dad and I sheltered under a nearby tree or hid in the loo giggling like small children. Then, on Mother’s command, we would fold ourselves into place – my parents on the single bed in the middle of the van, me on the futon, which was spacious in width and meant for two, but as my Dad was 75 at this stage in his life there was no way he was getting up the ladder. Less than ideal.

Yet still, overly cheerful father continued to declare every night “Isn’t Canada superb.” Yes it is, but to be honest, he’d see the positive in prison. Mother on the other hand is slightly more despairing and dramatic (like her daughter) and because of this and our occasional unrest in the Carswell family camp, gin and scrabble played a vital role in our evenings. And with it, came conversations like this, (please note Dad’s obsession with bears – and not long into our adventure I was perhaps praying for an encounter)…

“On the topic of bears, Dad, out of the blue, mid-scrabble, pipes up with: 'Algie met a bear, the bear was bulgy, that bulge was Algie.'

On the topic of bears (again) and placing our useless ladder outside, again from Dad: 'A bear might pinch the ladder,' with Mother responding, 'Well I hope he likes climbing up it!'

On the topic of yoghurts, yes, yoghurts, again Dad: 'Wow, they have real lumps of peach! Did we buy these out here?' Mother and I respond suitably sarcastically…

And on the subject of bedtime, Dad, getting increasingly excited and unable to reach bathroom as the beds were now constructed rendering all movement impossible: 'Get me my toothpaste – I’m too pissed!'

Actually incredible what topics of conversation you can cover with two elderly people in the space of a few hours over a bottle of gin (sod the tonic, ice or lemon). But finally (and thankfully) after maneuvering the golf bag (yes, we were travelling with my golf clubs which were the size of a 4th person) with Dad sitting in the loo reading his book as the bed making drill was executed, we were ready for night-time…maybe after another 14 nights (Oh God help me), we will have it down to seconds…”

50% of the way through the trip and things were pretty similar. Dad wouldn’t shut up about bears and Mum still couldn’t get to grips with either my driving, or why alcohol was not available in the supermarket. Every time we shopped, she brought it up. In fact early one morning in Lake Louise, it really hit an all time embarrassing low…

“After stocking up on salad, crisps and milk we left the shop. And again, confused as to why there wasn’t a booze isle, mother appears panicked. Dad tries to board the van for takeoff, but mother, in a slightly hysterical manner, literally shouts as she points towards her target, 'We need the Liquor Store!' There was no need for such a blatant show of alcoholism, so I attempted to usher them into Liquor Store (bear in mind it is only 10am) to pick up some wine for lunch. I hoped the car park had cleared and there wasn’t a Japanese tour bus audience awaiting our exit. Seriously, they need to get to grips about some things…”

And as if to prove a point, the fridge too felt a little under pressure with its extensive alcoholic cargo, as its door violently swung open every time I took a hard left (cue Mother’s complaints over my driving). Luckily the golf clubs made the perfect doorstop. Them or Dad.

One problem my Parents had with Canada, was the fact we worked in kms, not miles. Despite their years in France, they felt the need to involve a not so brief maths lesson. For it seems that once we have a destination in mind, we cannot pass a road sign without the need for an announcement by Dad…

Dad: “56kms! That’s…now, er, divide by 8, times by 5, I think about…35 miles. Don’t you agree Mum?”
Silence (as Mum is on daily nap #4)
Dad: “Mum?”
Mum (awoken from backseat, head buried deep book): “Eh? What’s that?”
Dad: “56kms to Vernon.”
Mum: “Oh?”
Dad: “Yes. And I said, divide by 8, times by 5, it’s about…what did I say it was again…er…?”
Mum: “That’s 35 miles”
Dad: “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I said!”
Pause (to take in the riveting news)
Mum: “Is there a Liquor Store in Vernon? We need more wine…”
Abi despairs…

On the subject of desperation, I’d endured a number of bizarre, boring and quite frankly bad tourist attractions by now, but this one hit the nail on the head. Just outside Peachland, Dad came across this little beauty. It was his first and last bit of trip planning.

“So, day starts with an activity suggested to us by the crazy campground babysitters. They were English, slightly obscure and elderly, so obviously they were going to suggest an activity that in itself was all three. Ladies and Gentlemen I bring you, ‘The Crazy Parrot Man’…could be wrong, but this activity in my mind was doomed for failure, but Dad (also English, slightly obscure and elderly) was very much up for it. So off we go traipsing up the hills away from Peachland in search of parrots…

A few facts to share:

1) Parrots get so obsessed with their owners, that if owner meets a man/woman and brings them home, the parrot will attack (great)
2) Parrots have the IQ of a 6yr old child (ok, so?)
3) The eldest parrot is said to have lived to be 146yrs old (poor parrot)
4) Parrots feather pluck as they are chronically inbred. It is not, as Parrot Man, fellow parrot researchers and Mother, (who jumped to put her hand up in our 3 person Q&A session looking for a prize), previously believed because they are bored, stressed, lonely etc etc (either way, I don’t like bald parrotts)
5) If you dump your parrot on said Parrot Man and 10yrs later return, the parrot you thought you’d seen the back of will recognize you instantly (well that’s just brilliant)
6) And lastly, parrots are so loveable all they want is a cuddle (*%^^#@#)

Oh and one more, 7) P.S. They bite – Parrot Man had 9 fingers and a dodgy eye…”

Enough was enough. From here on in we do vineyards and only vineyards. They were always entertaining and always improved the day. And when the vineyards closed, it was dinnertime. Where wine was served. But here lay another nightly problem – my Father’s ability to attract unwanted attention. It must be that positive thing again, that and the fact everyone over the age of 60 in Canada has a Scottish descendant. And this night, as we sat down for a quiet meal in Nelson, was no different…

“…lucky for us there was another batty old person close by. This time our no doubt certain new friend was clutching a guitar and in a certain fashion, ‘playing’, some suspect Country & Western. Not my favourite, but we could zone out. But of course, as he was elderly and slightly strange (another dodgy eye, but luckily no parrots in sight), it wasn’t long before he appeared at our side to strike up conversation. His name was Bill and Dad, wasting no time and a fair bit of whiskey and wine behind him by this stage, took the old fella slightly aback by announcing in his loud voice, “Let me guess, you have a Scottish Granny?””

It stopped him in his tracks momentarily, but not for long and it was the start of another long night of random conversation. Towards the end of a long, long two (and a bit) weeks in a converted minivan, that wasn’t quite long enough for three (and a set of golf clubs). But the tales were long and the memories of May 2007 will long cling on and haunt me for better or for worse. And perhaps that’s a good thing, as for now, it makes me smile from the comfort and normality of Fernie, where I’m happy to watch events unfold around me. And where my only problem is the sore bit between my big and second toe as I get used to flip-flopping around during the long and dreamy month of May.

(Full RV-tastic journal available if you really want to experience some more of the Carswell’s...)