Howling wolf in Canada

16th August 1996 at 01:00
Monday: We set off, Rosaleen and I, with our son Tim and his friend Tom, for Toronto. We are staying on the outskirts of the city, where we have exchanged houses with a Canadian family. At the station we encounter one of those cultural nuances that amuse the outsider but seem perfectly natural to the locals. In Canada, for reasons best not dwelt upon, "park and ride" is known as "kiss and ride". I ask a railway official if the kissing is compulsory. He stares at me blankly.

Having spent the past three summers on exchanges in the US we are used to the hyperboles of "have a nice day" and "missing you already", but we are stunned into silence when, on settling the bill, the waitress says, "Thank you, you're very special". I didn't think it had anything to do with my credit card.

c2) = Tuesday: With the equipment that our exchange partners have left for us, we set off for a few days' camping in the Algonquin National Park. We end up in a private campsite behind a dubious truckstop. It seems to be populated entirely with extras from Deliverance and I listen nervously for the strains of dwelling banjos. The most popular souvenir is a tea towel depicting a large mosquito and bearing the legend "Algonquin Air Force". That night, and several bites later, we found out why.

Wednesday: We manage to find a beautiful place on the Lake Kearney site. We swim out about 300 yards to an island in the middle of the lake. It is deserted, apart from two women. They turn out to be British primary teachers just finishing a year's exchange.

I assure them that the long arm of OFSTED does not extend this far but offer to grade their suntans. The picture that they paint of teaching in Canada sounds so idyllic that I ask them why they want to return. Family ties, I can understand. The lack of pubs, is something that I wouldn't mind at all, although it is certainly true that the Canadians make it difficult for you to get a drink. You can't buy alcohol in supermarkets and buying a bottle of wine, a bottle of scotch and some beer can involve visiting three different establishments. I decide that I'm too lazy to become an alcoholic.

In the evening a "wolf howl" is to take place on an adjoining site. Up to 200 people gather and howl to attract local wolves. We laugh at the idea but the next day it doesn't seem so funny.

Thursday: In the early hours Tim is driven from his tent by Tom's snoring. He comes into our tent but is again driven out, this time by my snoring and ends up settling down by the picnic table.

As he is dozing, he becomes aware of what he thinks is a dog lurking. It comes across and tries to pull his sleeping bag away from him. It then scrabbles at his head with its paws as he tries to burrow deeper into the bag. He realises what it is but is too frightened to shout out. Fortunately, the wolf is startled by the headlights of a car driving through the site and runs off. Tim scrambles into our tent but we are sleeping too deeply to take much notice of something about a wolf and tell him to go to sleep.

When we get up some hours later, Rosaleen and I feel guilty that we didn't take him seriously, especially as there is a large bruise on his forehead. That night there is an electrical storm with torrential rain. We load the car and head back to Toronto.

Our exchange partners have left us tickets for the Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox baseball game at the Sky Dome, a new stadium with a roof that slides open in good weather. Unfortunately, it is raining. Most of the subtleties of the game are lost on Rosaleen and me, but the boys seem to know what's going on. We are just content to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the thought that we still have two weeks left.

David Meaden is an adviser in a London borough

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