I’ve just had an unforgettable couple of weeks in Canada, with lots of new experiences.
My first time in Calgary. Not a beautiful city, all grids and skyscrapers and right-angles, but the friendliest people I’ve ever met. And I loved the way that people of all races, genders, and ages met my gaze equitably, smiled, and spoke to me as an equal. I hadn’t realised how depressing I find the suspicion I often encounter in England: from older people because I’m younger, from younger people because I’m older, from non-white people because I’m white, from some women because I’m the wrong kind of woman… no-one seems to do any of that in Calgary.
My first keynote speech, at a public multi-agency conference at Calgary Public Library, on Creative Research Methods: Finding Ways To Prove Impact. I will confess to you that I was really nervous about doing a keynote, but you know what? I loved it! I was afraid I might not have enough to say, but in fact I had the opposite problem (probably no surprise to anyone who knows me in person).
My first time teaching in Canada. I taught creative research methods to staff and students at Mount Royal University and the University of Calgary. They were gratifyingly keen to engage with new ideas, ask intelligent questions, and think laterally about how they might apply different methods. And they were so welcoming! I was taken out for breakfast, coffee, lunch, dinner – and given the huge portion sizes in Canada, I’m amazed I can still fit in my trousers.
My first time falling in love with mountains. I’ve been to the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Alpujarras, the mountains of Oman and Turkey and Greece, probably others I’ve forgotten, and they’re all beautiful and amazing but I didn’t love any of them and long to return. The Rockies, though, are a whole different deal. From the way they rise out of the prairie, to their pristine air and water – I lost my heart to those magnificent mountains.
My first time in an airplane window seat. I never flew till I was in my 20s, and to my surprise I was terrified. It took me decades to get over the fear, but I’m there now; nevertheless, I always choose an aisle seat. When I’d finished work in Calgary, I flew to Vancouver Island to visit a friend for a few days. I knew the flight would take in the prairie, the mountains, and the ocean, and was only 75 minutes long, so I plucked up my courage and asked for a window seat. It was worth it, too; I spent most of my time glued to the view.
My first time hiring a car in my own name. I’ve co-hired with my partner before, but never on my own, and I was a little nervous as I’ve also never driven in Canada. However, my friend who I’m visiting doesn’t drive, the public transport on Vancouver Island is all but non-existent, and we wanted to take a little road trip. I got a free upgrade, and I think the car rental person was expecting me to be pleased, but it just made the whole thing more daunting – though it all worked out OK.
My first time driving an automatic. With push-button ignition and push-button handbrake. That took some getting used to, and I was glad of my sister’s advice to drive six times round the car park before tackling the traffic. But by the end of the trip, I was a convert, and now I want an automatic of my own.
My first time visiting Quadra Island. A friend of mine in England grew up there, and has always spoken warmly of the island, but honestly, it’s so beautiful, friendly, and relaxed. The friend I was staying with and I rented a little hobbit house right by the water’s edge, a geodesic dome with living quarters on the ground floor and an attic bedroom above, and an extension with utility room and another bedroom, and a deck reaching out over the beach with table, chairs, and gas barbecue. We spent a couple of very happy days on ‘island time’, exploring the trails through forests and by the ocean, eating yet more delicious food, reading, talking, and laughing.
And of course in the middle of all this I got last week’s astonishing news that I’ve been made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. It’s been such a high-octane fortnight that I’m not quite sure who I actually am, but I expect it will all sink in over the next few days and weeks.