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The Annexe

The Annexe

The Annexe
The complete (all fourteen chapters) story in the 'Lower Methil Annexe' series!
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Ontario

After Niagara, our next stop was Barrie, Ontario. Never heard of the place, but it seemed to be conveniently located, so we booked in to the Quality Inn, Barrie. Usually, we stay at Motel 6, but there aren’t any in that part of the world. I was not impressed by the initial booking, because Quality Inn takes all the payment, up front, the minute you book. This is the only motel chain that has ever done that. Usually, it’s a deposit, or you pay when you actually arrive. Not Quality Inn! Grab money (months in advance). Cheeky.

The ‘Quality Inn’ was situated in the industrial part of Barrie, so hardly in the scenic part. There was a Porn Shop (Yep! Sleaze on the doorstep!) on the way to the conveniently located Laundrette, and Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen was just a little further!

The staff of the ‘Quality Inn’ paid very little attention to the ‘guests’. The ‘automatic’ door was blocked on one side with luggage trolleys, the other side had a door that jammed half-open, when you approached, and it was near impossible to get through with a luggage trolley without the assistance of a kindly ‘guest’ on the other side. The desk staff were too busy putting phone callers on ‘hold’.

Another joy of the ‘Quality Inn’ was the workman ripping off the roof guttering, just outside our room window. A diesel-powered cherry-picker (work platform) roaring away, did not help. “He’ll be finished by 5pm” said the desk staff. Nearer 7:30 pm, actually.

Another thing. Motel 6 (which does not claim to be ‘classy’ or ‘quality’ always sent us a survey email after every stay. ‘Quality Inn’ never felt the need. So, here is the survey …

‘Quality Inn’, Barrie, Ontario. Clean. Very noisy. Staff couldn’t care less. Hopeless, if you are in a wheelchair. Grabs all the cash up front. Convenient for sex toys, and within walking distance of a Coin-Op Laundrette. Star Rating. *

No pictures on this post, because it is slightly out of sequence. Just wanted to get it out of the way.

In the Wrong Order

I believe that the point of going on holiday, is to have a change, relax, from the hard grind of work. To get away from the trials and miseries that life throws under your wheels to deflect your purpose, and add a little discomfort.

Apparently, it doesn’t seem to work that way!

The holiday was, in most parts, enjoyable. The minor less-than-magical moments were far outweighed by the good bits. The intention when I came home, was to post a series of little postcards (with pictures, of course!), and get on with life. Refreshed, and ready to move on to new things. It didn’t work that way. October could well be described as the month that the calendar could manage without.

There is no point in prattling on, in detail, about the seemingly endless series of catastrophe. A simple listing will suffice.

Wife went to (expensive) dentist, for a filling before holiday. Filling broke during holiday. Another ($$$) trip to dentist. Tooth broke. Another ($$$) trip to another dentist. Several weeks of agony, before the bit of broken tooth (missed by dentist) finally came out.

Flat tyre on car. Flat tyre on car. (different cars). Here comes the $$$ again! Flat tyre no.1 was accompanied by a fist-sized dent on front wing, caused by careless parker, who buggered off without leaving a note. Guess what he/she will get for Christmas, if I ever catch them.

Appeal on Personal Independence Payment. What a farce. The Panel were in a rush to go home. I had spent weeks working on case, for wife, and the first thing I was told was “Don’t speak!”. The session never even looked at the reasons for appeal. Just a flurry of ‘leading questions’, ‘hypothetical questions’, and stupid questions. In a proper Court of Law, the Panel’s line of attack would be laughed out of court. When it comes to ‘Court Cases’, ‘My Cousin Vinny’ (recommended film) is held in far-higher regard.

General, all-round ailments, screw-ups with the credit card ($$$), etc. etc. etc. I could do with a holiday to recover.

Anyway, October has gone, and we are now in November. So the next posting will be our further adventures in Canada. Coming real soon.

The Mighty Waters

The drive up to Niagara, avoiding the Toll roads, meant that we never managed to find an eating place en-route. The Motel 6 provided a rubbish map of the town, which resulted in our walking the wrong way, desperately looking for a meal. Reluctantly, we tried the local branch of McDonalds. Never again! We spent 10 minutes, waiting for the staff to notice us, standing at the counter – then walked out. Desperate, but not THAT desperate!

We walked back to the motel, got the car, and went looking. First place was an iHop – which was closed. [The ‘closed’ theme will run repeatedly through this narrative!]. Then we found a nice little eating place – ALMacs Buffet – highly recommended. Perhaps it was enjoyable because we were tired and very hungry? We went the next day for breakfast – still excellent.

The Motel 6 was OK. The staff had to be prompted a bit, the key-cards failed regularly, but it was clean. They charged an outrageous $20 for parking – no mention when booking – but this seemed to be the norm. Niagara car parks charge anything from $10 to $30 (or more). Daylight robbery. Capitalism. All the market can bear …

The whole point – the only point – to Niagara, is the Falls. You can fight to get close (walk, drive – car parks!) – or do the sensible thing. Go to the Skylon Tower. 775 feet above the falls, so they say. Is that from the top or the bottom of the falls? Don’t know. We did the Day/Night Pass. Photos during day, then bag again after dark to see the illuminated falls and the surrounding view. OK, you have to add in the car parking, but it is still worth it.

Rainbow Bridge
American Falls
Horseshoe Falls
Casino
The Big Wheel – and more parking
The Skylon Tower
Big Wheel at night
American Falls
Horseshoe Falls
Casino

You may have noticed the Casino in the photos. We did not go in – the car parks were too much of a gamble!

Things we did NOT do. We never went to McDonalds. We did not gamble in the Casino. No loss. We did not do the Maid of the Mist – get drenched in a small boat sailing up to the Falls. Perhaps the next time, if we happened to be going that way.

Did we enjoy it? Yes. Worth the visit. Our holiday was starting to look up. We were in Canada. Time to head North. Next step – Barrie, Ontario. Nope, we’d never heard of it, either. But we had two days to see it …

An open or shut case?

This was our second visit to the township of Jim Thorpe – named after one of America’s athletic greats. The original name was Mauch Chunk, but Jim Thorpe’s widow allowed them to bury Jim, if they changed the name of the town. So, they buried Jim way up the road at the edge of town, and have been arguing over the name ever since.

Would they have been as keen if the great athlete had been named Richard Head? Dick for short. Possibly not …

Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe Parking
Jim Thorpe – weekends only!
Jim Thorpe – Repurposed junk.
Jim Thorpe Theatre
Jim Thorpe OR Mauch Chunk Theatre

As I mentioned in the previous post, most of the visitor attractions were either shut, or selling trendy arty-farty crap. The museum is worth visiting. We did that the last time – so gave it a miss, this time around. Disappointing.

Week of the Living Dead

One thing in life is certain – if you are travelling from motel to motel in the USA, then the WiFi quality will vary between slow and intermittent. Hence the delay in sending the next episode.

Lake Harmony. And Pennsylvania. Been here before. One Christmas, years ago. The place was nothing special, but the past few years have brought on a change. What was OK before, has faded into a grey non-entity. Restaurants that close after 3, and restaurants that do not open till 4. The Galleria ( the main resort centre) was dead as mutton. The gift shop was shut, and the only excitement occurred when the fire-alarm went off! When the gift shop opened the next day, the star gift appeared to be a (small) collection of fridge-magnets for anyone called kyle, robert or terence.

A visit to Pennsylvania’s prime tourist location – the township of Jim Thorpe – revealed that the shops were shut, or selling arty junk ( they call it “repurposed”). The train ride at the station was only running at the weekend. The excitement was bearable.

In desperation, we went to the Wyoming Valley Mall, in Wilkes-Barre. A long drive along a twisting, speed-limited with no passing places, boring road. The Mall would be familiar to fans of George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’. A dozen or so, shambling figures who wandered aimlessly around, pretending to be a crowd! They had a strange, walking-on-their-heels gait. As the News of the World reporters used to say “We made our excuses, and left”.

We did visit another Mall in Allentown – just past Bethlehem, near Nazareth ( look it up, if you don’t believe me!). Bought a few books, ate at one of those ‘All you can eat’ places. (didn’t eat a lot).

At last, the week ended. We set off to our next location – Niagara Falls. With the satnav set to ‘avoid toll’, we went on a meandering tour of New York State. We had prepared a mass of documentation for our crossing into Canada. A quick glance at our passports, $4.00 in cash for the toll, a smile, and we drove into Canada. Smoothest Customs and Immigration ever. 10 minutes later, we were at our motel. Would this be a memorable visit, or just another oversized tourist trap?

More to come …

Avoiding the Toll

A quick bus trip from the Terminal to the Car Rental office. We’d done well, so far, but car rentals are fraught with all kinds of disaster. Long queues, missing staff, missing cars – the list of screw-ups has a bizarre consistency. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and in ways unimaginable. Only car available found abandoned in a field, wrong type, charged twice, booking lost, being told to “just take one one of the cars ‘over there'” and hoping that the paperwork matches. Been there, had it done to me.

This time, it took about 30 seconds. No fluffing around with paperwork. Show driving licence, show credit card, “go collect car”. Even gave us a complimentary upgrade to a bigger car. My suspicious mind wondered … why? It was a one-way rental – were they offloading a lemon? Friendly guy gave me the keys to a Toyota Camry. “Have a nice day!” Would have been a nice thought if he had shown me how to switch on the lights. It was about 10pm.

Now for the fun bit. Boston Logan Airport is practically an island. Most of the access is via tunnels. With a Toll Charge. Clocked by camera or transponder. No cash option. They send the bill to the car owner (in this case, the Rental company, who take the toll from your credit card, and charge a hefty ‘admin fee’. A $2 toll can cost $20, after the Rental company has grabbed its chunk! No way, Jose!

I practiced for weeks on Google Maps and Street View. I have a TomTom satnav that can route around tolls. I drove through a busy international airport, late on a Sunday night. Took a service road, and a truck bypass route. Crossed a lift-bridge, and zipped through East Boston to Revere, and on to the Revere Beach Parkway. All by memory. Didn’t even set up the satnav until we were well away from The centre of Boston. Smug pat on the back!

We stopped to eat at a ‘Texas Steakhouse’. Huge portions, strange tastes, big crowd – obviously popular. The toilets were clean, but the walls, doors, and most of anything you could touch, had a disgusting, thick layer of tacky grease. Spare the oven-cleaner – spoil the decor. Never again.

The next few hundred miles, driving through the night, took us from Massachusetts, through Connecticut, New Jersey, New York State, to Pennsylvania. Very tired! Nearly ended up on the Massachusetts Turnpike (a toll road) at one point. Fortunately, we had been to our destination before (from a different direction) so we knew the slightly oddball, and wayward route to our residence for the week.

It took longer to find the night staff than it did to offload our baggage. Made it. Lake Harmony. Slept like the proverbial log.

The next day, the place looked familiar – but a few years have brought a few changes. See the next episode …

On the road

Well, here we are, once more, in the USA.

Planning has paid off! We left early enough, and survived an hour-long traffic jam on the M25. Why was the traffic stopped? Because the traffic was holding it up! No obstructions, no accidents, just slowing down because the traffic in front was slowing down. Makes no sense to me.

Gatwick was Gatwick. Walk huge distances to get to the Assistance desk. Walk huge distances to get to the toilet. Fight to get past people who were trying to get on the little trolleys, specifically there for disabled people. Just the usual.

Special mention for Wetherspoons. Almost impossible to get a table. Utterly impossible to get a meal. You can stand at the bar, trying to make eye-contact, wave menu, flash a debit card. Nothing. You can even ask, in a loud, clear voice “Am I f***ing invisible?”. No chance of getting served, as the staff chat to the visible customers. Thow menu on bar in disgust – nobody noticed , collect wife, and take another long, long walk to the other end of the terminal. Go to Wondertree. Food fine, service excellent.

Norwegian Airlines. Fare price good. Service fine. Seats cramped (787 Dreamliner). The meal was OK, the portions were tiny. The flight was an hour late (presumably, they arrived via the M25) – no explanation. Flight OK. Watched Avatar again. Landed in Boston. And waited, yet again, because a JAL plane was blocking the terminal slot. ( Perhaps if we had arrived on time … ?)

When we arrived in Boston on previous occasion, the experience had been dreadful. No wheelchair for the wife ( she was waiting to have her knee joints replaced) and we had to fend off a representative of the Boston Wheelchair Pushers Local (union), who used an old lady in a wheelchair as a battering ram, and who cackled in glee, because she had a key to the lift, and we did not. The wife had to walk down the stairs, while I carried a wheelchair and two cases.

This time, what a difference! We had a very helpful lady ( from the same local!), who was delightfully helpful, offered to carry cases, got us by all the queues, and immigration, and took us down in the lift to the baggage hall. If you ever have a moan about how long a lift takes to arrive, just think of us. We had to wait over ten years before that lift arrived!

This will do for the moment. I’ll get on to the car rental, and the drive to our destination, in the next episode. Will it be less of a shambles than the previous trip? Wait and see!

New text editor

B to A

They have changed the editor, so this is a bit of an experiment. Tried the preview, so it seems to work … so far!

New paragraph. Red text. Looks odd.

Back to black. Let’s try that.

Happy New Year

A Happy New Year to one and all!

Cara’s story

The previous post – “Spare a Minute” – is taken, without context, from a complete story that was written several years ago. It was a troubled time, and there were many moments when the future looked dark and miserable. The story was written, in four parts, exactly as it happened, with no guarantee how the next part would go. There have been many good times, and many bad times since then, and life does not come with a recipe or a list of ingredients on the tin.
But, we got through it.

If you want to read the story, click on this link – Cara’s Story

Writing the story got me through those days. There will be other days to come. I hope to write my way through those days as well. No guarantees, but it helps if you have a little company on the way. And it could be quite a long journey. I come from a long lived family.

Looking forward to the New Year. Hope that you have a good one.