I was lucky enough to visit Nova Scotia three years running for 6-weeks at a time between 1981 and 1983 to do geological fieldwork there. Actually, I spent most of my time on Cape Breton Island in and around Sydney – a coal mining region as well as a little time in Joggins of which more later. I also managed to get to Montreal on one trip and Ottawa on another ostensibly to visit museums and examine specimens there.
The trip in 1981 will always stay in my memory. I had to hurriedly pass my driving test in the UK to go because I would need a rental car to get around. With just 3-weeks to take off, I failed. For undue hesitation I recall! The instructor might have considered my hesitation undue but the Mark 1 Ford Cortina I was driving simply didn’t go very fast and the hesitation wasn’t mine but my vehicles. Luckily, I got another test two-weeks later and passed no problem wisely renting my instructors car for the test.
The train journey to London Heathrow was exciting enough never mind my first flight in a plane. I was nervous. At Kings Cross, I jumped the underground out to LHR – it seemed to take forever and I did start worrying I would miss the flight. As the plane took off I didn’t quite know what to expect but within seconds of take off, we all lit up on our cigarettes and shortly sucked on our gin and tonics and all was well. I don’t recall the kind of plane it was but it did have a stand up bar with circular tables you could stand at and smoke and drink. How times have changed!
On landing, I was met by Professor McDuff, my supervisor and head of Applied Geology at Strathclyde University. We spent a week together looking at cliffs and beaches and hammering out fossils. I was then on my own for five-weeks..bliss. All of the work I was doing was so new it was more or less publishable and publish I did. Here is an example if anyone is interested. By the time I wrote up my thesis, I had published so much of it that no one would refuse granting me a PhD as it had already been ‘peer-reviewed’.
Cape Breton is amazingly beautiful. It has a sort of Scottish coal mining heritage mixed somewhat bizarely with north American culture. An interesting mix. Hamburgers and beer at the ceilidh! People were friendly and interested and the girls were bedazzled by the accent and the ‘look’. In those days, I dressed a lot like the Police. Spikey blond hair, tight leather or denim trousers, tight white T-shirt, ear ring in one ear. Sydney had seen nothing like it. They thought I was a pop star! I had a great time.
My visit to Joggins is also worthy of a mention as there they have the most amazing tides. Literally, the tide would come in as a standing two-foot or higher wave. For people like me who clambered about remote areas of coast line looking at rocks it meant that you really had to be vigilant or you could be in some trouble and danger.
The bus from Sydney to halifax airport took almost 6-hours meandering around and stopping everywhere. When I finally got to the airport and through check in (I don’t recall any security whatsoever come to think about it), I sat at the bar with several hours to wait. I soon got talking to another student also waiting for the flight and we got talking about all things occult and esoteric. We sat together on the plane and talked and talked all the way home. We swapped phone numbers and I duly never heard a thing from him. A year later, having taken the same bus and sitting in the same bar to our mutual amazement we saw each other again. Same routine but this time discussing what a coincidence it was….
My time in Nova Scotia created many ripples in my life. The biggest one was that I was in awe of that American culture. There was something magical about the place compared to Hull, Birmingham and Glasgow. I knew that one day, I wanted to return to north America and live there.