There are all manner of clichés in my head about the passage of time at the moment. These letters have not been quite as frequent as I imagined they would be, nor have they been as much on the carefully planned topics as I thought they would be. Still, I’m writing them, so I’m getting something right.
As I type, the dawn chorus is chirping merrily outside the window behind me. It’s around 5 in the morning, and no civilised hour for doing this kind of thing. However, the truth is that with only a few days to go now, the realities have hit, and we’re both waking early, minds racing. Is it the amount of detail still to be covered which is waking us, or is it the mixture of fear and excitement at the prospect of what we are about to do? A little of both, I suspect, but however I look at it, this is not the ideal preparation for living in the Pacific time zone. In two weeks time, if our sleep patterns remain the same, we will be crashing out in the early afternoon, and waking mid-evening. Neither of us had planned on working night shifts, so this may turn out to be a little inconvenient.
With any luck, this will cause us to reach Vancouver still awake, and then sleep for 12 hours, starting the process of resetting our body clocks at the same time. Certainly, the final leg of the journey, a one-hour hop to Prince George, which we will do the day after we arrive in Canada, will go better if we’re a little more rested.
Prince George, then, is but an hour’s flight from Vancouver. This will, I hope, act as encouragement for those of you planning to visit us in the future. Those of you not planning to visit us will have all kinds of psychological pressure applied to you over the coming weeks and months until you crack, and we turn into a one-family tourist drive for the Northern Interior.
I hope that the simple fact of the flight time will put the geography in context for you. As I have been explaining to people over the last few months where we are going, I have almost universally been met with the response “Oh, Vancouver is lovely!” Well, yes, it is. However, it’s analogous to moving to northern Scotland, and continually being told how lovely London is. Although we will be an hour from one of the world’s great cities, we’ll be in a city of our own, a full day’s drive away.
I promised you an impression of Prince George in one of my previous letters, but never quite got round to it. I’ll do my best now, but be prepared for all my opinions to change once we’ve been there for some time.
If you research PG (as everyone seems to abbreviate it), the most common words you will encounter are ‘pulp’ and ‘mill’. This has the effect of setting up some particular preconceptions, which I think need to be tempered a little. If you research my home town, Aberdeen, you will keep turning up the expression ‘oil industry’, but there is a lot more to Aberdeen than oil, and there is a lot more to Prince George than wood.
Which is not to downplay the number of trees, because there are a lot of trees around the city. And as you drive towards it, the number of logging trucks on the road increases until it comes as something of a surprise to see any other kind of commercial vehicle. And yet, so much of the city’s needs must be served by road; I wonder if my impression is influenced by what I know of the place? Certainly, there are yards full of timber (or is it lumber? I will need to get the terminology straight), just as there are yards full of drilling equipment in Aberdeen. And then there is the other 90% of the city, which is not preoccupied with trees.
My immediate impression of the place, driving into it from the south, was that this is a working town. As with many places around the world, the outer edges of the main roads are filled with industry. It’s logical and inevitable, but it can colour one’s first impressions. However, as you descend into the centre (and you have no option but to descend; the city is often described as being in a ‘bowl’, and there really is no better word for it), things become more suburban, then more urban.
To the European eye, the surprise, I suppose, is the newness of everything. Yes, we have our shopping malls and modern houses, but the only things here which were not built in the 20th century were built in the 21st. And there’s an almost indefinable ‘North American’ feel to it – this is hard to explain, but given that by the arrangement of the roads, you couldn’t be in the UK, you equally couldn’t be anywhere in Europe, either. It’s just different.
As you drive around, you see the unfamiliar – hotel names, schools, shops – alongside the familiar; global brands which exist in every town in Europe as well as here. And you see things, like yellow school buses, which are iconic and familiar but only through film and television; there’s a strange sense of being at home somewhere although it’s all different.
The traffic is very North American, too. Slow-moving to those of us who have spent time driving in Italy recently, and big. Despite my preconceptions, there are plenty of what we would recognise as family saloons around, but there are also very many larger vehicles – SUVs, minivans, pickups, and other unfamiliar types – which are also family vehicles. We know about winter in these parts, but there really isn’t the sense that everyone drives huge off-road vehicles with studded tyres. Mind you, we were there in September; perhaps it’s all different in January.
The one thing I know for sure is that these impressions are all about to change. However, it’s useful to have a benchmark to come back to in a few months, when all will be familiar, and photographs from ‘home’ will begin to seem exotic and strange.
That’s it for preamble, friends. The next time you hear from me, we’ll be either in transit or in situ. In spite of the stress, we’re really looking forward to it.