When I was a grumpy pre-teen, tramping along behind my parents at Heathrow, waiting to jet off on another family trip to such exciting places as Tunisia, (home of handcrafted leather goods, handcrafted leather goods, and even more handcrafted leather goods), I used to gaze, wide-eyed, at the gap year students and other backpackers who strolled casually around the departure lounge, drinking coffee and looking worldly and confident. For a few moments I'd wish that I was about to jet off alone somewhere, anywhere, (though I'd usually picture a place entirely free of handcrafted leather goods).
Often at this point, I'd wake up from my daydream to find that my family were already queueing at the boarding gate having conveniently forgotten me, (accidentally, so they claim to this day. How they lie.)
It therefore came as a blow to discover after my long haul flight from Canada, as I wandered around the airport at 6am in search of the tube exit, (with all the sense of direction of a drunk squirrel, and adorned with dark circles which possibly extended past the end of my nose), that not all kids view gap year students in the same light.
Ro: *in a low, zombie like monotone* I need an espresso and your largest chocolate donut.
Cheerful Server: Oh, so you're a gap year student! I can read the signs. You're the first of the day!
Ro: *snatches coffee and attempts to walk out of the cafe whilst glugging it*
Small Child: *to an elder sibling* Look, that lady who just walked into the door and spilt her drink is swearing
Elder Sibling: *authoritatively* She's probably drunk. Or on drugs.
Canada was a lot of fun though, which goes some way to making up for it. I tried to keep it a bit quiet, (not wanting to completely freak out like I did last time), but one of my grandmothers had a stroke before I left. This prevented any major travel within Canada, because I had to spend at least a part of most days in the hospital, but I had a good time anyway, and my grandmother is slowly recovering.
Toronto seems to be filled with lakes. One fine sunny Saturday we drove down to a nearby one, where I promptly noticed that there were people canoeing, and entirely by chance, a canoe rental shop not far from where we'd parked.
Needless to say, a short half hour later my Cousin F and I were tentatively balancing on our seats, whilst she tried to instruct me in the proper use of a canoe paddle.
Cousin F: Right, well, it's not actually all that different from kayaking. You've been kayaking, yes?
Ro: Actually no.
Cousin F: But...the only reason my parents let us go canoeing alone in a strange place was that you said you'd been kayaking before!
Ro: Eh, kayaking, paddleboating, it's all the same. How hard can it be?
Five minutes later...
Cousin F: Good grip, just keep paddling on the right like you've been doing for the past few minutes.
Ro: I can do that! Except...When you say the right, do you actually mean the left?
Cousin F: *sighs the sigh of one who will shortly be driven to homicide*
Still, things weren't going too badly, I thought. That is, until a large ferry suddenly loomed up in front of us.
Cousin F: Hard left! Hard left! Your other left!
Ro: We need to reverse! How do we reverse?
Cousin F: You can't reverse! It's a bloody canoe!
Ro: My oar is stuck in the mud!
Cousin F: We're in a lake! The mud is several metres down!
At this point she looked down and realised that no, the mud was actually within oar-reaching distance, which meant that we were in water far too shallow for the ferry. It turned and swung around us and trailed off, and disaster was averted.
Unfortunately, we were so busy watching the ferry that we crashed into the shore instead. Since our canoe-renting-contract stated that we had to be 200 feet away from the shore at all times, this was a serious problem. The situation became grave when we realised that every time we pushed away from the shore we'd end up swinging back around in a circle and crashing again. Water flew everywhere, the boat rocked wildly, and I somehow managed to get mud in my hair. People walking past gave us pitying and amused glances.
Suddenly, my aunt appeared. (I have always referred to this particular aunt as Chachi even though I can barely say a word of most Indian languages, in true Indian-except-not-really style. My Paternal Uncle has always been Chacha, and my Maternal Aunt-by-marriage is Bhabi, (pronounced 'Barbie', which we found very funny as kids).)
Chachi: You guys have to take this contract, quickly!
Cousin F: ...We're sort of in the middle of something.
Chachi: But the canoe rental man is walking this way! Why would he be doing that unless he'd realised you'd forgotten the contract?
Ro and Cousin F: O.O
Cousin F: Hard Left! Hard Left!
Ro: Which Le-
Cousin F: It doesn't matter just paddle!
Luck usually seems to come when you need it. I discovered that by pushing my canoe paddle backwards, we could indeed reverse the canoe properly. By the time the canoe rental man arrived, we were at least a relatively safe 180 feet out. I waved cheerfully and was rather smug the whole way home. Cousin F bore it all very well.
So well that on my last night there, she invited me to go along to see 'Sex and the City' with her friends. I joyfully accepted this chance to find out more about my Canadian cousin's strange culture and ways.
Cousin F: There's just one thing. We're all dressing up as one of the characters.
Ro: Oh, okay then. Well, I haven't really watched the show much, and I didn't bring many clothes with me, so why don't you tell me which character wears scruffy jeans and t-shirts and can never be seen out of her much loved, well worn red trainers?
Cousin F: ...Well, why don't you go as Miranda, since we already have one of each of the other characters.
Going as Miranda, my Cousin F assured me, required very high heels, and a black top that she very kindly lent me.
Ro: Are you sure this is necessary?
Cousin F: Absolutely! You look fine!
Ro: It's just that you seem to be dressed relatively normally, except for all the pink.
Cousin F: *in a dangerous tone of voice* What's wrong with pink?
Ro: Nothing! Nothing at all! But...with my outfit...you can see all the way down my -
Cousin F: Oh listen, that's the doorbell! It'll probably be my male friend Techno Boy.
Ro: *waggling her eyebrows suggestively* Your "male friend"? I see how it is. Are you guys going to want some time alone tonight?
Cousin F: I doubt it. He's coming as Samantha.
Ro: I don't judge. You can be a girl who likes boys to be girls, who does girls like they're boys-
Cousin F: Stop. Please.
I was very sad to leave when the time came. I think Cousin F will miss me too. Happily, I don't have to hang around at home for too long, because I'm off to India very very soon, to volunteer at a school for deaf children. I'm trying to cram as much sign language as I can before I leave, but I've more or less given up on Hindi. It would turn out that the only Indian Language I can just about understand basic sentences in (Kutchi/Gujarati) is spoken exclusively in an entirely different region to the one I'm going to. I'm going to have to get by on English and hand gestures. This should be interesting, (and I'm just a little nervous), but I'm hoping that since other British tourists manage, I'll be able to as well.
I should be around for the next few days, but otherwise I'll see you all in a few weeks!