Big Question Marks

Monday, March 29, 2010

The St. Patrick's Day Massacre

There was no green beer to be had on St. Patrick's Day as we strolled into the emergency room at Toronto Western Hospital. The area itself is prone to 'interesting cases' to begin with, but we knew that going in - and I suppose we were early enough to avoid the Paddy's Day revelers.

I had put a nice half inch gash into my middle finger or "digitus medius" just under the collateral ligament of the 2nd phalanx. After the head, it's the fingers (or phanagis) that bleed the most, this is because there is an web of interconnecting veins that run through your hand called the dorsal metacarpal arteries.

Luckily for us my health care had kicked back in sometime in February, the odd thing is that after all those years travelling and paying for health insurance, it's now that I need to cash in on it (but for free). All that wasted cash - but better safe than sorry.

Checking in with the nurse, we'd glanced at the clock; check-in time 9pm.
In the waiting room there were a few odds and ends. An old lady who wore her sunglasses (at night), a roving alcoholic who was trying to check himself into rehab, and a little moaning Chinese girl with her parents.

It's great for comic situations or when you want to 'show' your boss your new injury, but soon turns equally embarrassing when you have to explain that while washing dishes the coffee cup that was in your hand suddenly transformed from a nice mug into a thousand shards of razor sharp blades. I'll never wash dishes again, I have a great excuse.

But after a few hours of waiting around, a quick look from the doctor, and an x-ray, everything came back okay, and I was superglued nicely. No stitches. Unless the cut is deep enough they just glue you up and send you on your way.

Other notable stories from the ER include: a man that had cut himself badly with some garden shears 12 hours earlier in the day - (they couldn't do anything because he'd left it so late), a kid with meningitis whose father wouldn't let the doctors test for it - (he was unsure about the side-effects of such a procedure, but seemed to miss the part where they mentioned his son might die from meningitis), and 2 suicide cases.

After I was discharged at 1:45am there was hardly time to seek out a green beer. I'd had my fill of tetanus boosters and Tim Horton's coffee.
On the up-side of everything - it's great to live 15 minutes walking distance from the hospital - and I'll be sure to leave the dishes until after the next big holiday.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Just Checking the Royal Emails...

It's not every day one gets an email from royalty. What started as a simple, quiet Saturday evening just became about 1000 times more interesting, and took us back down memory lane....

Our story takes us way back to our days on the road with Daisy, a little over a year ago now. We had been camping for a few days in stunning Cape Range National Park, a little piece of outback paradise set next to the beautiful blue-green waters of the Ningaloo Reef. It had been an eventful couple of days: drift-snorkeling the coral reef right off the shore of Turquoise Bay under the searing outback sun; veering around a lone brumby (wild horse) on the highway; shooing a six-foot snake that was trying to sneak into our van; eating dinner under a spooky pink globe of a sun (we learned later it was pink from the smoke of a massive bushfire burning up a cattle station a short way down the coast); finding our campsite taken over by giant scary crabs that would skitter around our van when the evening darkness set in. After seeing nearly the whole country and experiencing all the surrealness of Cape Range, we figured there couldn't be that many thrills left for us on the road.

So when we learned from some fellow travelers of a tiny sovereign nation housed within the borders of Australia, just a few hundred kilometres south of us, we had to know more! We questioned locals, who would laugh a bit, shake their heads, and confirm that yes, the Principality of Hutt River (formerly Hutt River Province), does indeed exist. Strangely enough, Hutt River (about the size of Hong Kong Island) was marked on some of our maps, but not on others. But the more we learned about the Prinicipality's history, the more intrigued we were: in a nutshell, in the late 1960s, the Australian government imposed wheat production quotas seen as ridiculous by a farmer named Leonard. He fought back, and found a pretty awesome loophole in the Constitution which allowed him to declare independence from Australia in 1970 with his piece of land. Eventually he took on the title of Prince Leonard (not King, as "kings speak to God" was his reasoning), and with his wife, Princess Shirley and the rest of the royal family, has been quietly irritating the Aussie government for decades. So of course we had to pay a visit!

After spending a few nights in the cute beach town of Kalbarri, we packed up Daisy and headed inland off the main highway. A few back roads later, we reached a sign: WELCOME TO THE PRINCIPALITY OF HUTT RIVER. We pulled into the driveway and there was no palace or moat: it looked like a your ordinary farm. Should we have called ahead? We had a bit of a wander around the dusty grounds (to our relief, at least there were signs welcoming in visitors) and eventually we were greeted by an elderly but lively man: His Royal Highness Prince Leonard himself! The Prince gave us the grand tour — though we figured by now he'd be sick of doing so — and he explained the whole secession story in detail, down to the law which allowed it, his special non-tax-paying arrangements with the Australian Tax Office (thanks to friends in high places), and his free trade agreement with Australia. We were awed at the fact that anyone — let alone a wheat farmer with a lot of land to tend to — would read legal documents and the national constitution for fun. But then, there probably isn't a lot to do out there. We were pretty impressed by the plucky HRH Prince Leonard's intelligence. We oohed and aahed at the royal gifts received from around the world, the photographs, and the spirit with which Prince Leonard carried himself. You could tell that, even after 39 years, he was still grinning at his big win!

The Prince later took us into the post office (yes, Hutt River has its own stamps and postal service — in fact, apparently in 1976, when Australia Post refused to handle the nation's mail, it was re-routed through Canada) and stamped our passports. We bought some postcards and even some Hutt River currency (awesome!). In the end, Adrian couldn't resist the notion of earning an official title in the kingdom — nor Prince Leonard's sales pitch — and became an Officer in the Illustrious Order of Merit (he keeps forgetting to add the O.I.O.M after his name on cheques!). We just couldn't resist contributing to the guy who's been sticking it to the Aussie government for the past 39 years!

Eventually, we shook hands with the prince again (the princess wasn't around that day) and he left us to explore the other royal buildings — including a chapel with some extremely frightening religious art to go with the royal portraits. We later mailed Adrian's O.I.O.M. pin home and have been waiting for the accompanying certificate to arrive from Hutt River since then. This week Adrian finally remembered to make contact about the missing certificate, and expecting a response from the kingdom's scribe or something, opens an email tonight from Prince Leonard himself — letting him know the Principality will reissue the missing papers. Long live the prince, we do say!

And with all that said, even though we couldn't have spent more than an hour or two within its border, the Principality of Hutt River remains close to our hearts. Whenever someone flips through our passports reading, "Thailand, Hong Kong, Taipei, Brisbane — Hutt River?? Where is that??" We can only laugh and tell our strange story. If anyone's planning to be near Perth next month, take note: Hutt River's 40th anniversary of independence is coming soon. Surely a good party! Mark April 21st on your calendars — we'll bring the fireworks.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Caffeinated Free-for-all

Last night, we had a silly idea. Prompted by the hype about the free coffee war which started brewing this month — McDonald's vs. Timmy's vs. Country Style*, etc. — we thought, why not spend our Saturday hopping about town, drinking a smorgasbord of coffees for free? We certainly love our coffee, and we love free things even more! What better way to enjoy the Saturday sunshine, really?

First stop was Second Cup. A few weeks ago, a flyer appeared in our mailbox that read "Get a Second Cup on us, 11 times." After reading a bit further, it appeared we'd received a buy-one-get-one-free coffee card for Second Cup (with the first coffee being free!). Without knowing anything of McDonald's free coffee scheme or the beginning of Tim Horton's Roll Up the Rim contest at the time, we'd put the flyer aside for later.

So, a little after breakfast (and the usual cup or two of our Maxwell House brew at home), we strolled into the Second Cup at the corner of King & Strachan Streets, in the heart of condoville. Since we only had one free cup to take, Adrian went for it and Dayle went for a chai latte (yum! which month do those go free?). Points to Second Cup for its comfy chairs, peaceful dining-room-style decor (earth tones and money trees), and good atmosphere for thinking and chatting. Drawbacks: Adrian found it a little hard to speak quietly enough as to not disrupt the peace, and Dayle burnt her tongue on the scorching-hot drinks. The jazz soundtrack wasn't really our thing either, but the general experience gets our thumbs up. Lastly, the paradiso blend coffee was good, but a wee bit strong. The only worry is that we set the bar too high for the coffee sampling to come...
Cost: $4.10 (for the chai latte)

Next on the list was McDonald's, who are offering free coffee all day, every day, from March 1-14. Now that's a lot of free coffee! We wandered the longest way possible up to Dundas and Bathurst, to try and process some of the caffeine and soak up some more sunshine.

As soon as we entered the restaurant, we found that the free coffee offer was no secret. The lineup to the counter nearly reached the door, and the coffee was flowing. After some scrambling to find a seat, we realized how spoiled we had been in the cushy Second Cup chairs-- here, it was all of that hard institutional seating that makes a trip to McD's a short one, helped along by the lite-rock soundtrack of Corey Hart and company (but luckily it was loud enough in there that Adrian had no qualms about singing along loudly). Tastewise, the McDonald's arabica coffee was decent, though perhaps we weren't at the top of our tasting game having burnt off our tastebuds in Second Cup--we had a giggle at the "Caution: HOT!" warnings on the cups of warm coffee. It's still uncertain if we'd go purposely to McDonald's for coffee if it wasn't free-- though we'll award points for the stellar people-watching at Dundas & Spadina (plus the added theatrical value of having three crazy people inside the restaurant). Unfortunately though, our visit didn't come totally free-- we couldn't help but be tempted by the fries. Ronald wins again!
Cost: $5.69 (free coffee, but no free fries!)

Next stop: good old Canuck staple Timmy's. Dayle had won a free coffee after getting a Roll Up The Rim winner this past week-- what luck! Although there was a Tim Horton's across the street from McDonald's, we thought we'd shed some coffee jitters with a lightning-speed walk through Chinatown to the next closest Timmy's (slow down, Adrian!).

However, even after a good long wander through Dragon City shopping mall, a lengthy grocery shop, and more meandering, we arrived at Tim Horton's and stopped in front. Lesson of the day: there is indeed a such thing as too much free coffee, our stomachs had taken their limit (and Adrian had begun to see through space and time). Our Roll Up The Rim winnings would just have to wait... but maybe we'll try our free coffee tour again next week!

Today's free coffee count: 3
Total $ spent ordering other things while getting sick of coffee: $9.79

*Country Style's giving coffee away on Wednesdays.