Oh, Canada!
by Julia Daly

I met Tommy Ferguson for the first time in the summer of 1996 at Albacon in Glasgow. We had a most enjoyable conversation or two and, due to a vastly amusing fiasco in my personal life which was some of the best entertainment at that convention for those in the know (and which I have no intention of going into right now), we began to engage in correspondence. I tried not to take it personally that a mere two months after meeting me he felt compelled to accelerate his emigration to Canada. Magnanimously, I therefore decided to visit him.

Arriving in Canada, my first major worry hit me - would I recognise Tommy? Would he recognise me? Would he take one look at me and just leave the airport in horror? I had only met him once.... oh dear.

I went through immigration. "What is your reason for visiting Canada?" "To see a friend." "What presents have you brought for your friend?" "Well, I was going to buy him a bottle of whiskey, him being Irish, " I said, "but there were so many varieties, and I know nothing about whiskey, so I’ve brought him nothing at all. Perhaps I’ll take him out to dinner." The immigration officer smiles and says "That’ll probably be OK." and waves me through.

I wander through customs like an anxious lost soul, peering through the glass veil that separates the new arrivals from the inmates. Do I know anyone? A tall slim guy of about the right age wearing glasses waves frantically at me. OK - I’ll assume he is Tommy and go with him. Fortunately, he is Tommy and gives me a big hug and takes my big heavy rucksack from me, whilst I anxiously witter that he doesn’t have to, and is he sure, and, and, and... It is too warm to wear my new coat.

Tommy explains the subway system to me as we change trains. Having spent years on the London Underground ("Not a resistance movement, I looked it up!"), it seemed ludicrously simple, but hey, if something works why fix it. We get off at Christie Station, at the junction of Christie Street and Bloor Street. Tommy explains that Bloor Street goes all the way to the centre ("to infinity and beyond" even). We walk one block up Christie and then two blocks down another street parallel to Bloor Street.

Tommy’s flat is accessed up a dark stairway with no natural light. The house is a large one that has been converted into three flats. The owner lives in the bottom flat. Tommy lives on the first floor with his flat mate (not a hedgehog, the other kind of flat) called Mike. Mike is tall, with Amerind good looks and a very melifluous voice. He greets me in a friendly manner and then Tommy and I go out to eat.

As I had told the immigration officer, I treated Tommy to dinner. Interesting meal. Tommy and I barely knew each other and therefore had a "you can ask any question and I will answer as truthfully as I can - or not but you won’t know the difference" kind of conversation. We took turns. I find this kind of thing difficult, as people tend to tell me all about themselves without me asking usually. Brainstorming to think of things to ask brought some bizarre, but fascinating insights into each other - fun. We played a variation on this game a few days later with asking each other about "firsts" (ie, the first time you did x or y, etc). The weirdest question I came up with was "Tell me about the first time you won a game of chess against Attila the Hun." Tommy told me about the only time he played chess against Attila the Hun - and that he lost. Apparently, the conversations we had stirred up all sorts of memories for him and caused him to have some weird dreams. Both of these conversations took place in The James Joyce, Tommy’s local. It is an Irish pub and the staff know him by name and happily run a tab for him. (They what!?! - James & Mark)

After our visit to The James Joyce we moved on to another bar where once again Tommy is well known and liked by the staff. A live band kick off there with some good music which renders almost all conversation impossible. At the end of their first set Tommy regretfully takes me back home. I could stay up longer but it is now midnight-ish which is 6:00am back home and I have now been on the go for 24 hours.

I found myself mildly bamboozled by Tommy’s gentlemanly behaviour. Most of the men I associate with nowadays tend to treat me as an equal and therefore we take turns opening doors and wander down streets in whatever order we fall out of the pub. Tommy insistently and consistently beat me to it on the door opening front regardless of what he was carrying and must have constantly scanned the street for bad things to protect me from - he always walked between me and the traffic unless he spotted a drunk in a doorway in which case he would whip round to my other side. Sometimes it made me quite dizzy. However, it was quite pleasant to be "protected" in this way, for a change.

The next day I woke up at 13:30 - unfortunately, this was English time and therefore about 07:30 Canadian time. I sat around for a while, ate the last portion of Tommy’s breakfast cereal, had a coffee, read a book, checked with Mike that it was okay to have a shower (he seemed quite bemused by the whole concept of limited hot water supply and immersion heaters and electric showers. "You just turn the tap and hot water comes out," he said giving me that look which respectfully reminded me that I have three heads and come from Vulcan), had a shower, got dressed, read a bit more. Finally, about 12:30, Tommy materialised and set about having a shower and getting ready to take me into Toronto to show me around.

I must admit that by that time I was champing at the bit somewhat. I would have been quite happy wandering off and exploring on my own, but I didn’t know Tommy and didn’t want to hurt his feelings or upset any plans he might’ve made. So I greeted him with a cheery grin. "I’ve eaten your breakfast," I said and apologised with insincerity oozing from every pore.

We looked at the Parliament Buildings on Queens Park and wandered around downtown Toronto for a while. Tommy seemed a bit taken a-back by my utterly un-trendy "I am a total tourist" outfit, and the fact that I kept stopping and pointing at bits of architecture above eye-level saying "Oh isn’t that nice, you know, the way it squiggles" and other similar technical statements. However, he nobly bore with me and even joined in. We decided to go to the Tourist Office to get details on car rental for a trip to Niagara planned for Saturday (ie, the next day). Unfortunately, moments after we got the information Tommy turned white and green and had to sit down. I enquired about toilets - sorry, wash rooms - and was told "out the door, turn left, down the corridor, you can’t miss it". When I went back and asked for a plastic bag and began spreading newspapers around Tommy who was making interesting gagging movements, they relented and allowed us to use their facilities.

Minus the contents of his stomach, a much less green but still rather pale Tommy accompanies me to a few more buildings. I then suggested that I go see the CN Tower (open!) and Tommy return home for a rest as we were going out to meet fans that night.

The CN Tower is tall. You can see a lot from it. I couldn’t cope with the glass floor concept - an item to encourage children to accidental suicide if ever I saw one. I went on the simulator ride in the basement. The guide book recommends this ride entitled "Tour of the Universe". They don’t do that one any more. Instead, you get to experience the "joys" of a ride through a pinball machine. It was very bumpy and the only interesting bit was when it broke down. On the whole, I’d rather destroy the Death Star at MGM Studios or go Back to the Future at Universal Studios in Florida. I vote this experience a miss. Had a good burger in the basement for lunch, though.

I returned to Tommy’s without a hitch. I didn’t have his telephone number, but had I got lost I could remember his address and would have got a taxi, thereby making it someone else’s problem. No worries.

My worries were on a different sphere. Tommy had copied me his E-mail inviting some Toronto fans to meet with me at a pub that night. Mike expressed some doubts about me enjoying socialising with them. However, after listening to his descriptions of them they sounded pretty much like the usual mixture of people you get at any science fiction fan group meeting I have ever attended and so I felt no concern from that point of view.

What did cause me some trepidation was meeting a group of people who would expect me to be a fan, and a British fan at that. One of the major groups I socialise with were (not that long ago) the young, fun-loving, drink-a-lot-and-fall-over people sternly disapproved of by "established" fandom. We were (and still are) interested in having a laugh and didn’t give a wet slap about fannish tradition, etc. The group is, as is the way of these things, becoming more and more "establishment" (eg, two of them won Nova for best new fanzine at Novacon last year) going from maverick club and con-runners to respected pillars of (salt?) the community - old age is a terrible thing. Despite this progression we all still claim "neo" status, and one of the greatest compliments that can be paid is to be proved a "fake fan"; likewise, to be accused of being a "truffan" is a severe insult. My fear was that the Toronto fans would be expecting a British truffan with all that entails, ie, beard, weight problem, glasses, passionate interest in real ale, equally passionate interest in SF magazines of the 1950’s and a vast knowledge of fanzines and who wrote them. 1 out of 6 ain’t bad, I guess - if only I hadn’t waxed my beard....

Tommy seemed to be feeling much better and we set off to the bar. I had changed into one of my smarter outfits - oh, the fear of meeting strangers. After searching the ground floor of the bar, we located the group upstairs in the piano bar, sitting round the piano (which was not being played). To my relief things seemed pretty low key and I quickly got chatting to various members of the group. They seemed like a nice bunch of people, but I was sadly not able to hear as much as I would’ve liked of the conversation due to background noise - my brain unfortunately has a faulty filter system and my lip-reading is poor to non-existent. This was also a problem for Catherine who turned up later, and shortly after her arrival a number of us went back to her house where she kindly provided home-made beer, wine for me (beer is abhorrent) and a joint. It was a pleasant night and included a couple of piano solos from Richard, one of the other occupants. Tommy and I strolled away sometime after midnight through the slightly frosty night air looking at the stars and discussing comets. (NB: this was not the romantic, misty-eyed star-gazing of hand holding lovers, but the clear-eyed child-of-the-universe enjoyment of natural beauty - just in case anyone was confused.)

Saturday dawned fairly bright. Up at 07:30 - again. I had washed dressed and cleared away the sofa bed by the time Mike materialised. He suggested that I might have a long lonely morning ahead, to which I responded that I had already planned to go out. I wrote Tommy a note and set off to wander the mean streets of Toronto. I spent the day vaguely wandering, getting the feel of the city and eventually sauntered down most of Spadina Avenue from Bloor Street to King Street West. The tramps seemed to like my T-shirt (0 to Bitch in 4.5 seconds). I bought postcards and stamps and window shopped in China town. I sauntered back home, catching a bus some of the way as my feet hurt but feeling quite pleased with myself.

The house was silent but the door was unlocked when I returned at about 14:00. Tommy was still sound asleep. Mike arrived home and expressed concern at Tommy’s somnolent state. I went into his room and checked he was still breathing and that his colour was okay (through the gloom) and decided to leave him. Tommy surfaced about 17:00 feeling much better than the day before - obvious, really, with that fair skin, must be a vampire; how cruel of me to expect him to leave the house before sunset! We went out, ate, and drank a lot.

Sunday. A MIRAGE? Tommy was up around 8:30! And the hour had changed, too. Mike had re-set the clock on the video, but forgot to do his alarm clock. He had been going to stroll down to the car hire place with me on his way to work - as it was he booted me out of his still moving taxi as we flew by. Typically, the people running this place found I was English and instantly had to try to have a conversation about football with me. ("You’re from Sheffield? Do you support the Owls or Wednesday?" - Huh?) WHY DO THEY DO IT? I have no interest in football or any other sport whatsoever. I do not look like the sort of person who is interested in sports. What is it with these people? Never mind. They were very nice and gave me a lovely little car - I would recommend them to anyone (Rent-a-Wreck on Dupont).

Got back to the house, picked up a conscious Tommy (not with my bare hands, you understand - or in a dating kind of a way...) and off we went. The drive was fine, and we only got lost once - luckily I had Tommy to direct me, and therefore to blame when it all went horribly wrong. The sun shone. The sky was blue (definitely not the right weather for my new coat). As we crossed the bridge to get onto the Queens Express Way leaving the centre of Toronto I was struck by how closely the CN Tower and the Dome resembled pictures of the 1950’s concepts of the "City of the Future" - really quite beautiful - aesthetically pleasing, anyway.

It was sweltering by the time we got to Niagara Falls. Leaving everything but our cameras and money in the car we headed off to look at the Falls. It was lovely being splashed by the cool spray of the falls. And, my oh my, are they big ... very impressive .... what a lot of water ... hmm .... very white with ice bergs plunging over the top .... big and , um, very wet, indeed. After about half an hour I reached saturation point - if you’ll forgive the pun. The sort of waterfalls I am used to are smaller and pretty. You can climb up or around them and in some cases sit under them and get your shoulders massaged. There was no real way to interact with Niagara Falls, to make it real. After a few minutes of listening to the roar of the water and watching it fall and looking at the area of ice where the current from the two sets of falls met, it was like watching a documentary - but a rather boring one which had got stuck on Niagara Falls and forgotten to move on to other things. I hasten to add that this is my view and not that of my companion. Tommy was fixated. We had a good window seat in the restaurant for lunch, and then Tommy went back to the falls whilst I went down the tunnels. Then, when I finally dragged him off to do something else, we went up the nearest viewing tower which gave us a lovely view of the Falls (which were very big... and wet... and white...)

The next day I breakfast and waited for Tommy to rise from the dead, as we had agreed to go to the science museum together today to see, amongst other things, the Special Effects film in the I-Max cinema. Around 12:30 I faced the return of the living dead. However, the living dead did not want to go to the museum. Instead the living dead wished to go to the bar where he worked and organise replacing his holiday with work as he had now decided not to go to the UK for Nyree’s wedding. We set off together which meant Tommy could show me how to get the extra ticket that enabled me to transfer from tube train to bus, and parted company on the underground (suitable for the living dead, I guess).

Guide books are funny things. They tell you how to get to places but they don’t mention how long it will take. The book said you would need at least four hours to get round the museum, which closes at 17:00. It never bothered to mention that it would be 14:30 when I arrived. The film was showing at 15:30 and 16:30, so I opted for the latter to give me a little time to look around the museum, and ended up in my favourite place; human biology.

The great thing about this museum is that it is really aimed at children. There were so many buttons to press and reflex action tests and the putting of square pegs into round holes - I loved it. There were real bits of bodies, all injected and expanded with coloured plastic both to preserve them and to show how they worked. Brilliant! My favourite has to be the full sized photo of a girl whose face was openable. When you opened her face, she sneezed on you - utterly gross - to have done this at 8 years old with a parent in tow! In comparison, the film at the I-Max was a bit of an anticlimax, but quite enjoyable - I guess. I really felt it needed more of the films and/or more in-depth how they did the special effects and less of boring people talking - but this could just be the re-awakened 8 year old talking.

The next day was my last full day in Toronto. I went to see the rest of the science museum, which was fun. On the way I stopped off to buy a present for Tommy and Mike to say thank you for having me. I had been going to buy Tommy a bottle of whisky or something alcoholic, but had been unable to find a liquor store. Instead, I made do with a metal candle holder that looked like a waiter for Tommy, and a couple of glass candles holders for Mike and appropriate candles to go with each. I find it very hard to buy presents for people I do not know well, so I bought them things that I liked instead. Sorry, guys.

We had a great last evening and got home late again. Tommy set his watch alarm for me as I had forgotten to bring an alarm clock, and went to bed saying "Wake me before you go". I got up real early and stuffed everything into my rucksack with great difficulty (- great difficulty kicked and screamed and struggled, but I got him in eventually). I opened Tommy’s bedroom door and crept over to the bed. Stroking his cheek gently caused a deeper snuggling into the duvet, so I whispered goodbye and left his present by the bed. I put Mike’s outside his door and staggered out of the house to make my epic journey to the airport.

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