Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Joe Barry's Reflections on his Canadian Tour

Strathcona Cup Tour 2013

When asked, upon our return from Canada to write a piece for the C and B  website, my response was ‘Sure, no problem’. However it proved to be more of a problem than I thought.

Whenever in the past I had asked former tourists about their curling trip to Canada, they would adopt a faraway look and say – well- very little. ‘A trip of a lifetime’ is about as much as you could get out of them. Now after returning from Canada I know exactly how they felt. It is impossible to convey such an intense experience in a few words or sentences and I will try to demonstrate why.

To illustrate how much is packed in, here is an example of a typical day on the East tour.

7am.   Morning Class. A gin based pick-me-up greets each member of the party as they gather in a hotel conference room before breakfast. The captain and courier will run through a brief programme of the day ahead. Teams that are standing down will be tasked with taking photos, keeping scores or acquiring any necessary provisions. The floor will then be handed over to the ‘judge’ who will replenish the kitty by levying fines on those guilty of misdemeanours the previous day.

7.30am. Breakfast, check out, then load onto the bus. On the journey to the first venue, gifts for the dignitaries such as ties, scarves, and pennants are prepared.

10am. Arrival at first curling club. The team may be met by a piper or an arch of brooms hoisted by their opponents. Coffee and biscuits may be served while the club president says a few words of welcome and gives some details of the mornings events. This is also an opportunity to take in the surroundings and appreciate the effort that has been made by the committee and volunteers to decorate the premises with flags, bunting, posters and displays of memorabilia and badges.

The curlers would change into their playing gear before gathering again, when the courier would then take the floor to tell the Canadian curlers about the format of the Strathcona Cup. He may explain how the trophy is awarded to the country with the highest cumulative score after three weeks of competition across the breadth of Canada. He would remind them that the Scots are at the top of the scoreboard and have last stone at the first end. The Scots would then sing their on-ice song.

All the curlers would then march out on to the ice in a pre-determined format and accompanied by a piper. They would then form up while a ceremonial first stone was thrown by anybody from the local mayor to a local junior curler. The teams would then take to their own sheet and meet their opponents where gifts would be exchanged and an ‘official’ photo taken.

Finally, we are ready to curl. A rapid assessment is made of the ice conditions as the first few stones are played. An attempt, usually futile, is made to try and assess the quality of the opposition. A quick look at some of their names to see if they correspond with the names displayed around the ice rink. Every hall has banners showing the names of teams from that club that have qualified to play in regional, national and international competitions. Above all, beware the ice-man if he is playing against you! After an end or two have a quick look round at the scoreboards of the other games.

After four ends it is time for a ‘refresher’ either on or off the ice before resuming for the second half. By then it is becoming more obvious who is up against it and who may win by a comfortable margin. Most importantly. Can you win your own game?

Then it is off for a drink with your opposition before lunch is served. There is always a top table whose members are introduced. A two or three course lunch, which has taken a lot of planning and preparation, is served by a friendly host of volunteers from the club.

A few short speeches are made, gifts are presented and a vote of thanks made by one of the Scots. There is usually time for the tour song and some fond farewells before it is time to embark on the bus once more where a quick de-brief is given by the captain. As the journey to the next venue passes, attempts will be made to look at emails and catch up on the scores from the two other Scots parties, some of whom are several hours apart. Stories from the morning will be recounted before a general quiet descends and an opportunity for sleep is grasped.

3pm. An hour or two later the process including the welcome, game of curling and drinks is repeated at a new ice rink. Except after the game, there may be a chance to check in to a new hotel, where one can contact home, wash some clothes or prepare gifts for the next day’s games. Then it’s time to get freshened up and changed into the RCCC blazer and tartan trousers before returning to the club for dinner.

7pm. An even larger top table seating local dignitaries and officials, curling club presidents and our own captain and courier will be introduced. A sumptuous repast, often including local dishes, will then be served by volunteers from the club. A round of speeches, usually short and light hearted, are followed by the normal exchange of gifts and a vote of thanks. Some entertainment may follow which will include an opportunity for the Scots to sing some songs, tell some stories or do a ‘turn’.

10.30pm.  Return to the hotel, tired but buzzing after the day’s activities. The ‘morning class’ room will be available for an opportunity to unwind over a drink. A light hearted reprisal of the days events will be recounted and likely candidates for the next day’s fines will be revealed! A few hardy souls may head into town for a nightcap but most folk retire to their beds.

It is easy to see that the schedule is hectic, packed and relentless and that so many experiences crammed into a short space of time are too much to take in.

However while I have painted a picture of what takes place on the Strathcona Tour

I have missed out the factor that makes this trip so endearing and unforgettable, and that is the Canadian people. Whilst the vast country impresses the visitor in all sorts of ways it is not looking its best in January and its winter plumage is fairly monochrome with only evergreen trees showing much colour. The same cannot be said for Canadians.

The people are warm and welcoming and very easy to get to know. Sure, we have the common bond of curling and the wonderful camaraderie for which it is famous, but it is surprising how well you can get to know and like people, after a few short hours in their company. Many individuals make lasting impressions which stay with you long after returning home. New friendships are forged, invitations extended, addresses exchanged and no doubt there will be opportunities to renew and develop these connections in the future.

So I hope you can see why it is hard to describe such an experience. One other expression that former Strathcona tourists said to me was ‘If you get the chance to go, you must take it’. I heartily endorse that.

Joe Barry

 

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