UK Journal

What follows is a “journal” of my trip to the United Kingdom in the late summer of 1995. This contains the thoughts that occurred to me on the trip, as it happened. I have made NO effort to correct any grammatical or spelling mistakes contained in the document in order to preserve the feeling of freshness about the information.

  • Stephen Rice * Winnipeg, Manitoba September 10, 1995

The Prelude

Today I was in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and worked for about eight hours. I am looking forward to getting away from that project as I have been away from my home town Winnipeg since last November. I was quite busy and caught the plane to Saskatoon at about 4 o'clock. As is my normal plan, the stop- over in Saskatoon is about two and a half hours so I have supper and attempt to relax.

Saskatoon is an interesting place, far nicer than its nearest competitor in size, Regina about two and a half hours to the south. I find it to be very quiet and relaxed and yet it maintains an interest in that there is always something happening, some sort of festival or something. Quite often Peter, a co-worker from Winnipeg who is helping us out on this project, and I will drive to Saskatoon for a day of the weekend. Walk around downtown, have supper, go to a show, talk a lot. We, of course, use the company car as we feel that they owe us something for staying here so long. For someone who does not drink or smoke, Prince Albert is very boring. The local past time is drinking and, you guessed it, smoking. Here, quite opposite to what seems like the rest of the world is up to, smoking is predominant, restaurants seem to have few, if any, non-smoking areas. Peter and I have long since visited every restaurant in PA (as anyone who has been to, or knows about, Prince Albert calls it) and we have “black listed” about 90% of them, which leaves very few to choose from, mostly we stick to the chains as they are most reliable. Peter has taken to crossing off the restaurants that we have black-listed so that future users of our hotel rooms can benefit from our culinary excellence.

As I proceed through the security checkpoint to the gate, I regard this with dull interest as this has been my life for most of the last year. I have received “President's Club” membership with Canadian Airlines (a frequent flyer program that requires members to travel more than 25 flights before qualifying), a dubious honour in the torture that earned me this benefit. Every two weeks they send me back to Winnipeg for the weekend, three days, from Friday night to Tuesday morning. Tuesday's coming back from Winnipeg are the worst as the flights leave at seven in the morning which means I have to get up at about five. My involvement in the FreeNet movement in Winnipeg (an organization that seeks to provide free, community access to all citizens of Manitoba) dictates that my Monday nights are spent chairing the Technical Operations Committee meetings from about 7:00 pm to about 11:00 pm. This last week was even worse, because of my holidays and my taking Friday off to be in Toronto, I was sent back on Monday morning instead of Tuesday. From Friday night when I left on Monday I was running around with meetings one after the other for the FreeNet (Technical Operations was Sunday night instead of the normal Monday). I think they finally realized that I would not be around for a few weeks and wanted to soak me dry before I left. I don't know how much FreeNet work I will be able to do from England/Scotland…

Well, as I am waiting for the flight, the monotony grows so I turn on my laptop computer and start typing up the minutes for a Technical Operations Committee meeting a few weeks ago. This laptop is wonderful and yet a curse at the same time. I would not be without it, but with it my life has been so much busier. No longer do I have the excuse “there is no computer where I am so I can't help you” for work so they call on me to perform many tasks. Most of which, I will admit, date back to before I left. It seems that a lot of the jobs they give me at Online seem to last for a many years. A couple of the projects I have even now are two years old. It is not that my work is inferior it is just that they have come to rely on my ability to add functionality and provide quick turn-around for their requirements. The computer was a “gift” from work that I initially paid for but work gave to me after my last employee review earlier this year. I think they felt guilty. Not that I am ignoring this, I am milking this for all its worth. We all are, that is, those of us from Online that are working for Weyerhaeuser here in Prince Albert. We deserve it. We are the only contractors from Online that are away from the office. Even at our newly-opened branch office in Minneapolis there are a number of people there and a permanent presence has been established. Here, at the hotel, permanence means nothing. I miss my house and my sisters in Winnipeg. It is not as nice as I thought it would be to have someone clean your room every day and eat out all of the time. I don't know what I will do when I return to Winnipeg, maybe eat out more?

As I am pounding away on the rather flimsy keyboard on my laptop I get so involved I do not notice that an hour has passed beyond when we are supposed to leave. This startles me so I quickly get to a phone, hoping to catch my sister coming to pick me up before she leaves for the airport. The plane ride from Saskatoon to Winnipeg is about an hour and fifteen minutes long. I feel dread when the voice mail kicks in knowing that she has already left. I really appreciate her picking me up every time I come in to Winnipeg and, even more, her dropping me off on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 am. She is a good person and I miss her a lot being out in Prince Albert, there is not a lot to do when you are only in Winnipeg for three days out of fourteen. I do make an effort to take her out to eat at least once, her favourite (and mine) is Dim- Sum so we make a lunch out of it on Sunday. I like to know what is happening with her and sending her electronic mail just is not the same. She has really taken to the FreeNet. When she first got her account, she was using the computer system for about three hours a night, now, with her new boyfriend she has less time, but our room-mate, Lisa, still uses the FreeNet for long periods of time late at night. They have discovered the 'chat' feature and seem to want to always put it through it's paces, talking to people from all around the world.

I finally board the plane and spend the time aboard basically brooding and thinking about what is ahead. I arrive in Winnipeg about an hour later than normal, walking down the steps I experience a slight hesitation as I do not see Karin's smiling face which normally greets me at the bottom of the stairs. Gruggingly, I get my luggage and ponder my next move. After calling home to see if she is there and getting no answer, I decide to wait it out. If she does not show up in about 15 minutes, I figure, I will grab a taxi. Taxi's seem to have this “doctor pay schedule” aspect to their business that I think few people have stopped to think about. They make MORE than a doctor does in an hour, mind you, finding a passenger for all of the sixty minutes is not as easy as finding a patient. In Winnipeg, taxi's charge for waiting time in addition to distance travelled which makes rush hour take on a whole new sense of urgency.

After waiting a few minutes, Karin arrives and is quite upset. It appears that she was to have been going out tonight but my late arrival has put a crimp in her plans. I knew this would happen and I feel guilty for having caused her any problems. Her attitude on the way home is terse, it seems she has had a bad day. She gets in these moods every once in a while, but she never gets angry. Something I am envious of. I have always been very aware of how quick I can sometimes get angry and I have tried to control it or avoid the circumstances in which this can happen. Not much luck, I am afraid.

After getting home, the race begins to prepare for my flight tomorrow to Toronto. I have always liked running around downtown Toronto, there are a few discount computer stores (with some very interesting parts) and science fiction bookstores that I like to frequent. I refer to this wandering around downtown as my “regular route” as I like to visit the same shops all the time, they always have something different and interesting. Because of this, and the fact that the CNE starts on Friday, I have decided to spend overnight in Toronto. Where I will stay is another question, I have a ticket to a musical that starts at 8:00 and I should not count on being out before 10:00 or even 11:00 so I think that I cannot stay with my grandfather, who lives out about an hour away from downtown (by car), because I do not want to put him out in any way. I feel guilty about this though, I like to spend time talking to him, he has so few people to talk to now and besides, I love him too much.

I am happy to see that my parcel containing the various adaptors for phone and power have arrived so I can use my laptop in England. I was worried that they would not arrive and that I would be stranded without electronics in a foreign land (sounds like a movie, doesn't it?). I want to see that everything is being taken care of on the FreeNet, so I connect and spend the next two and a half hours, between doing my laundry for the trip, responding and sending electronic mail to ensure that the normal operation of the FreeNet is handled while I am away. On average, I get about 50 electronic mail messages a day. Some might argue that this is not a lot of mail but my answer to them is that every one of these messages requires my personal response. I have, over the last year and a half with the FreeNet, always tried to ensure that the issues in any message are dealt with before I remove it from my “Inbox”. This is made more difficult as I have to explain to people that I am going away and that they are going to half to took to others for this same support. When I turn off the computer at 2:00 in the morning I know there are some things that have not been addressed and I resolve that when I am in Toronto I will connect and deal with the day's messages as they arrive. An interesting side note is that, in my involvement with the FreeNet, I have obtained the ability to connect to the FreeNet from anywhere in Canada without long distance, or any charges. This comes in very handy when I am working on the FreeNet from my hotel room in Prince Albert for three hours a day. Not paying for it is also a benefit as I can only use the FreeNet at a very slow rate of speed using the hotel's phone lines. I don't complain about that.

I finish packing and the day's normal dosage of worrying so I get to bed at about 2:30 (closer to three). The next day is an early one, I have to be at the airport for a 7:45 am flight (that's 45 minutes later than my normal morning flight to Saskatoon).

⇒ Continue to Toronto