The Paternal Paean Bit

(Part of Ggantija Temple on the island of Gozo, Malta.)

“Saw much of character of Malta with all of its arid countryside, cactus, etc. Prehistoric ruins that were among the oldest ever discovered.
Difficult to understand lunch – nearly drank the olive oil!”

According to Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad: ”If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.”

I totally get this.

My very first blog post covered how a tween-aged me bought a diary, made precious few entries over five months, then never wrote in it again. Was I too busy at age 11? Did I lose track of it in my always messy room? Or did it just feel too much like homework? Probably all of the above.

Keeping a journal can be no picnic for grown-ups either. My most faithful efforts at it though have been while traveling – and if I had only moments to escape my home in an emergency, these precious trip time capsules are what I’d risk it all to save:

(Hey kids! People used to etch words in these with things called ”pens”!)

Not only are these my journals. Some are my dad’s from his travels to places like Alaska, Europe, China and Scandinavia – with his intrepid partner, my Mummy (“Nita”), of course! The quote at the top is actually from his journal of a Mediterranean adventure I got to share with them!

Dad called his writings “logs”, terming them “unembellished chronicling” rather than “poetic waxing” about his world roamings. I haven’t made my way through all of them yet – but I hope Dad wouldn’t mind (despite not being able to write the final polish) if I share some of what I’ve been tickled to discover so far.

Why did Dad undertake this “heartless and malignant punishment” while he was off on vacations? I wondered if I could figure that out. 

Some of his logs definitely showcase the data driven, practical side of my scientist father. They include careful lists of expenses (right down to coffees and doughnuts), and notation of miles driven each day. There’s even a whole log labeled “Gas Book”:

Have to admit I find these portions a little less compelling – but there’s evidence that eventually Dad did too:

Dad the Plant Pathology Professor also logged landscape features that might have escaped others’ notice:

St. John, NB, 10341 (256 mi.) Drive was very similar to yore, flat to rolling topo, hardwood forests with white pine admixture, car great, roads good to atrocious.”

But plenty of entries show that Dad was a man of many interests – and they clearly included coming up with singular turns of phrase for sights and experiences! Like he recorded feeling good after an 11 hour flight to England with the note: ”Beating lag is in the bag.” And could Dad just “start out” on a trip to retrace the Oregon Trail? Nope. He and Mum “sallied forth in fine fettle”, thank you very much!

Wish I knew Dad’s jet lag secret. And I don’t think I’ve ever had a grasp on the form or function of fettles – but glad the folks were in some fine ones on the day.

(“Hm. ’Having lag would be a drag?’ Nah…”)

Dad seems also to have taken his logging as an opportunity to record random – but always well-considered – observations:

Would have to say that Maggie Smith is the best thing I’ve ever seen on the stage.

A problem with B&B’s is squeaky floors – most places are old; trying to sneak off to the loo at 2:00am is like walking in the dark thru a house full of bicycle horns.

Today I learned that (1) if the scenery is better on one side of the highway, they will put the power lines on that side; and (2) the best spot to photograph a feature will be the one just beyond where you stop to take pictures.

For our entire stay in Ireland and Britain, a duvet has graced every bed – never a blanket and I think maybe once an additional sheet. The duvet leaves only two options: too hot or too cold. They might be suitable for mid-winter. Or perhaps Greenland.

Arles [France] breakfast was a farcical experience. There was a big bowl of eggs and a pot of boiling water in which one egg was boiling. I took the boiling egg and Nita took an egg from what looked like the bowl of hardboils. Well, when Nita cracked the egg into her plate, it was raw. Then I realized that the egg I’d taken was put in the boiler by another customer. So I had a stolen egg, Nita a raw egg, and we both had a learning experience.

In reading some logs, I have the added joy of having been along on the original adventure – which I now get to view through Dad’s inimitable lens! Some notes are terse, but still call the moment to mind:

Easy drive to Joensuu [Finland]. Big church. Still no peanut butter.

(D’oh! Not sure where in Finland this church is, but it’s lovely – and it’s big!)

Some provide delightful detail:

Another glorious day. Roads all good, just lost a couple of times. Saw two old castles (one a reasonably complete one, the other a ruined fragment), then the Rock, a hilltop church, fortress and likely a hill fort back in prehistoric times. Lunch too big! Dinner too big! Waist too big!

(Mum n Dad at the Rock of Cashel, Cashel, Ireland!)

And even for an ”unembellished log” that Dad was writing on the fly, some are just lovely:

This morn began with a rooftop breakfast in the shadow of the Acropolis. We dined al fresco at a table finely situated to allow frequent photos as varying shafts of sunlight broke through the cloud cover to illumen the ancient Parthenon. Truly a breakfast to remember.

(Mum n me – oh, and the Acropolis there!)

Yup – an unforgettable first breakfast in Athens! Dad may have had trouble hard-boiling an oeuf in France – but I think his joie de vivre really comes through in entries like this one about touring Scotland and getting in touch with his Clan Gunn roots:

What a day, mostly sunny in Scotland, inspiring vistas, glimpses of snow, easy driving, fought the Battle of Culloden, looked at the 3 varieties of Gunn tartans. Castle Urquhart is a truly noble ruin – saw circa 10 miles of Loch Ness, but no monster – Inverness is another city I could happily live in. From the window, I’ve been watching a fisherman on the Ness River – worst casting I’ve ever seen – what I could do with my Fenwick and a bucktail coachman! The austere, rugged, remote highlands just beg for a backpack – this is my part of Britain.

So what was behind Dad’s keeping his logs? Whatever the reasons, I’m grateful he did! Perhaps it was an “all of the above” thing. But just maybe too Dad put down his thoughts on the chance that one day his daughter’s eye might light upon entries like this one:

Summing up the trip:  The cruise, especially the history involved, was outstanding, especially the ancient ruins. Any trip involving Amy is an outstanding and delightful trip. Hope the cruise meant as much to her as it did our just being with her.

It sure did, Duddy – and all the feelings are mutual! It’s true that this last opinion of Dad’s might be slightly biased. But fettle-wise? It still makes me feel quite fine!


(**Apologies for any technical difficulties – still not sure I’m jumping the right way through new hoops…)


  1. Excellent post on generational differences. I used to keep a travel log, every time we travelled. Where the photo was taken, when the photo was taken, what time the photo was taken, where we stayed, what we ate, who we met. This lasted until about 1990. At that point, I relied on my memory after 2,000 I relied on the internet. It is important to practice these types of memory keeping. Blogging is my current attempt at this and avoiding Alzheimer’s or at least refreshing my brain in later years. Remembering events people and places is a worthwhile practice. Thanks for sharing Amy. Allan

    1. Thank you so much, Allan! And good for you – I think they’re finding it’s so important to keep our minds and bodies active to try and keep some of those awful illnesses at bay. My mom reads to me a lot and we play trivia and word games. And of course I’d like my posts to entertain – but I agree that blogging is a great way to preserve precious memories. Best wishes!

  2. Arthur H McCain · · Reply

    I really enjoyed this one.

    I think your Dad’s secret to avoid jet lag was not to fly.


    1. Aw, thank you so much, Art! And you’re so right! Avoidance was definitely Dad’s preferred strategy. Glad you enjoyed the piece, and so appreciate your being such a long-time gentle reader!

  3. I enjoyed reading about your dad’s travels!

    1. Thank you so much! (And sorry I missed your note until now…)

  4. Mike Bonomo · · Reply

    Another wonderful evocative blog from Amy. I’m so glad you have your father’s journals with you and that you have gone back to read them. I think you’ve definitely inherited his wit on paper. His story about squeaking floors while trying to go to the loo brought back a flood of memories. I was visiting my cousins in England back in 1981. Late on the first night, I discovered that I did not know how to flush an old English toilet. In my efforts to be quiet as a church mouse I slowly pulled the chain and nothing happened. So I slowly returned the chain to its original position. And then I tried again with the same result. At this point I had a laugh attack as I imagined my mother’s cousin or her husband going to use the loo in the middle of the night and finding it … fouled. I finally stifled my giggles and knocked on my hosts’ bedroom door and explained the situation. They had a good laugh at this Yank’s expense…not the last one. By the way, if anyone doesn’t know, you have to pull the chain down…..and then let it go! The resulting din announced to the entire household (in Dolby stereo) that a toilet was flushing. I’m still laughing.

    1. Oh my! Thanks as always for being a kind reader! And thanks for sharing the “bathroom humor”! I think in the face of conundrums like that, we do just have to laugh!

  5. I love the story of les oeufs, breakfast is perhaps one of the trickiest meals to wrk out when travelling. A lovely way to remember holidays.

    1. Glad you enjoyed Dad’s egg story! And yeah – breakfast may be a pretty universal concept, but how we partake sure isn’t!

  6. I can go along with many of your Dad’s travel observations. The one about taking photos is particularly apt, as is another about the siting of power lines. All good stuff. Btw, I also keep a mileage etc. log on my travels.

    1. Glad you could relate! I couldn’t help sharing a few of Dad’s notes because I think he does capture some “universal truths” about travel. Thanks for reading – and best wishes for logging many more travel adventure miles!

  7. Those logs are such precious artifacts. Lucky you to have them!

    1. Indeed – I’m so glad Dad took the day-to-day time to do them!

  8. Thanks for sharing your dad’s logs with us – I loved reading them! My grandpa kept meticulous notes of all his travel expenses whenever he went anywhere, but not much commentary on what he actually did. I wish he was as descriptive as your dad! By the way, I am definitely team duvet since moving to Britain – I do have a top sheet, but just a duvet on top, no blankets. I think a true Brit would probably not even bother with the top sheet, but I don’t feel cocooned enough without it.

    1. Oh, thank you so much! I feel really lucky to have these – and I’m delighted if people can relate! Yes, Dad’s take on duvets actually goes on for a bit. He talks about the dance you have to do, taking it on and off during the night. Glad you found a way to make them work – and so glad you enjoyed Dad’s log!

  9. Delightful reading! Wonderful that your Dad shares this with you. They showcase your Dad’s character.

    1. Thank you very much! Yes, I think you can see a lot of what made him tick there! Thanks again for reading!

  10. Thanks for sharing this.. and your Dad kept his interesting.

    1. Yes – he even saved all of his pocket calendars! Thanks for reading!

  11. Aw, that last journal entry of your dad’s must have brought tears to your eyes (like it did mine). What a lovely read. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Oh my, I’m so glad Dad’s words touched you – and yes, it’s a real gift to discover those little gems he left. Thank you so much for reading and for your note! Best wishes!

  12. Americaoncoffee · · Reply

    Ha ha.. they are unembellished chroniclings.

  13. I have carpenter thumbs, and have responded with my long and now thematically inappropriate comment to the wrong author. Please accept my apologies.

    1. Not at all! Appreciate your thoughts – and glad you take the same delight in passing family stories along!

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