Diary

The Explorers

27 October 2008 | Diary

This time last week I was in Canada, visiting my new girlfriend: an illustrator and inventor of superheroes called Samara Leiberwitz. There is a cutesy picture of us on the left in the event that you would like to induce vomiting.

The trip concluded with Thanksgiving Dinner. Yes, it appears that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving too. In fact, my Canadian friends were surprised when I explained that we have no equivalent in the UK. “We’re very, very ungrateful,” I told them truthfully.

I don’t know how accurate a representation of Thanksgiving this was, being Canadian, Jewish and at least partially vegetarian but I enjoyed it tremendously nevertheless. I had been a little nervous beforehand. I had never met Samara’s parents before let alone the twenty-three members of her family who would be present at the dinner. That’s a lot of Leiberwitz.

After dinner, I stood smoking on the patio with Samara, her dad and various uncles.

Looking skyward, I noticed that there was a wooden balcony on the side of the house, from which a wall-mounted ladder extended onto the building’s flat roof. I had heard before of the legendary rooftop parties of Montreal and had been substantially titillated by the idea. Imagine that. A party on a roof. Whatever next? A barbaqueue under the sea? A square dance on the moon? Crazy.

Momentarily forgetting that I was supposed to be acting like a responsible adult in order to temper the unavoidable fact that I’d crossed an ocean in order to ravish Mr. Leiberwitz’s favourite daughter, I said, “Wow, I’d love to go onto your roof.”

To my surprise the idea was seconded and an away-team quickly established.

We were going to the roof.

Eventually, sense was seen by various uncles and only Samara and I were to venture roofward. Samara may be my girlfriend but she’s new to the job and has not yet adopted the role of “the one who reigns him in”.*

(*I don’t see this ever happening.)

We played it safe. We each took a battery-powered torch and each donned an upturned colander, as is customary in exploration scenarios. I didn’t tell Samara this, because I didn’t want to alarm her, but I also secreted a small spatula in my sock. Better safe than sorry.

In order to get to the balcony, we first had to cross Mr. and Mrs. Leiberwitz’s bedroom. Parents’ bedrooms, as anyone knows, are the last places in the world a kid is supposed to be. Especially other people’s parent’s bedrooms. I was told that we had permission to be there but the butterflies still did the hokey-pokey in my tum. When in parents’ bedrooms, anything is possible: Let’s make a bomb! We can’t. No time. The roof awaits.

From the balcony we see that grandma has joined the various uncles on the patio below. “What are you doing in your mum and dad’s bedroom!” she shouts, “No kinky business! You’ve got your own room for hanky-panky!”

Hanky-Panky, on this very rare occasion, was the last thing on my mind. I had a colander on my head and was suffering from the sense of exhilaration which can only be found by trespassing in the lion’s den of a parents’ bedroom. I was also busy remembering the fact that I am significantly afraid of heights. Such mortal terror is not conducive to either hanky or panky. Not to me anyway.

Samara takes to the ladder first. As I watch her unthinkingly ascend, lemurlike, I realise there is no turning back now. In Canada, I suddenly remember, I have no medical insurance.

Torch in hand, I follow her. Looking down, the patio seems to rotate. Faces of various uncles now look like a roulette wheel in which the ball is my head for heights and at which the croupier, deranged and thanotistic, is my own stupid sense of adventure. The croupier and I would be having serious words if we were to survive this.

Once on the roof, we are treated to a secret world of protruding pipes, one of them belching laundry-scented steam into the Montreal night. Giddy I go to sit on a joist. “Don’t sit there!” says Samara, “You’ll get your suit dirty”. I had almost forgotten I was wearing a suit. I must be the city’s best dressed rooftop explorer.

It would make sense to sit down for a while before attempting to descend the ladder. Just until the stars stopped spinning. But casting the torch around the roof I see that there is nowhere to perch. Some kind of party! I muse that it’s much like any other party I’ve been to: while everyone else is content to dance, I am far more concerned about whether there will be a seating area. When people ask me to come to their parties, the first question I ask is whether its a “dancy party” or a “sitty party”.

The novelty of being on the roof and among the pipes soon wore off, just as, I imagined, did the novelty of unpopulated Canada to those French and Catholic pilgrims all those years ago. But by then it was too late to turn back.

But turn back we did. As I backed down the ladder, I held two handed onto the railings (was my trembling visible?). In something of a Proustian rush, I was taken back to swimming lessons, Age 10. Our ghastly instructor, Mrs Saunders (who, if born in a different era would surely have been one of Goebbels’ Schutzstaffel) would have us leap into the water: something for which I never found the confidence and instead backed down, gingerly, as I was doing now.

When we were back in the company of various uncles I felt relieved.

This morning, back in Old Blighty, I get an email from Samara. She says that the balcony outside Mr. and Mrs. Leiberwitz’ bedroom collapsed in the night. All of the supports had rotted through. Uncles Various say its a miracle we did not die that night.

A cutesy adventure so nearly became our woody, splintery death.

Of course, we can laugh about it now.



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