Toronto Interlude – Southend

First entry for the ongoing Toronto blog in a while, and it’s about the time I wasn’t in Toronto, or even in Canada. That’s right, this entry is about my recent trip to my home town, Southend-on-Sea.

Where to even begin with this one? There was a lot I had to pack in during this week. Pretty impressive, considering I had to mostly keep quiet about it (I’ll explain why), so a lot of it had to be sorted out on the spot.

I suppose the best place to start is seeing the family again. That was definitely brilliant. Over a year since I had seen them last, it’s the longest time I had been away from them, by a long, long way. It was brilliant to come back to chatting while watching TV together and family dinners. (Especially to mum’s lasagna. Seriously, my mother cooks the best lasagna in the world.)

However, as much as I got to spend time with them, they were also really generous with just letting me do my own thing, so I’m super grateful to them for that. Because with so many places to go and people to see, it was great that I had as much free time as I did.

Railway, Revolution and role-playing

One place I had been eager to see was the Railway Hotel. Bloody hell, I had missed that place. It’s one of those places which generally has a great atmosphere and is perfect for meeting up with friends, or simply catching a day’s entertainment.

And a day’s entertainment was exactly what I got when I checked out a charity show, as organised by one of my friends from improv. A great mix of spoken word, comedy, live music and even burlesque! (I guess that last part is something my favourite place in Southend has in common with two of my favourite places in Toronto: Cherry Cola’s and The Royal cinema.) A perfect example of why I had missed that place.

On Tuesday, I got to meet up with several friends for a quiz at a place called Revolution, which I had never been to before. It was pretty fun. While I only really helped to give one answer during the quiz, (“What year was Skyfall released?”, an easy one as it came out during Bond’s 50th year,) it was great to not just chat with several mates, but also get talking to new people. This was something that would’ve been a lot more difficult, once upon a time.

Middle of the week, I got to hang out with one of my oldest friends from high school. Best part of that was being introduced to several of his friends while briefly joining them for their current role-playing campaign. While I’ve come close to playing Dungeons & Dragons before, that was pretty much the first time I actually took part in a session. It was fun. At times, it even reminded me of improv, as there were a couple of moments I had to think on my feet. Definitely something I should take part in more often.

On the night before I flew back, I got to meet up with several more friends down the Alex pub. Once again, it was good chatting to mates, especially over drinks. And I got talked into staying out a little later than planned, which admittedly was nice. (Not too late though, as my flight really was the next morning.) Not a bad way to round the week off.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned the highlight of the week. Something that I had been looking forward to for months, and in fact, helped me to choose that particular week for me to come back. Specifically, my best friend’s 30th birthday.

Planning for a surprise

It’s something that I more or less had been planning for for months. In fact, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t something I had thought about while I had been preparing for my move to Canada last year. Even while I was about to make a huge step with my life, I couldn’t help but feel that missing something as big as my best friend’s thirtieth just felt wrong. She’s someone who’s been a truly great friend to me over the years ever since high school, and I’ve always done my best to return the favour. However, with trying to sort out stuff like a job and a place to live in a new country, it was something that I decided to put to one side.

Cut to the middle of this year. Mum and Dad were talking about having me over for Christmas, or rather, an early Christmas at least, when the flights were more affordable. Initially, the first or second week of December looked like a good time. Early, but not too early.

Then I got to thinking about my best friend’s thirtieth. The more I thought about it, the more it just seemed too good to miss. Especially when she sent me an invitation. I explained to her that it was looking very unlikely that I’d be around that time, and she understood. More than that, she had pretty much expected it. But she wanted to keep me informed, at least. I think that’s when I knew that I was going to surprise her.

Props to Mum and Dad, they were very accommodating with helping me to arrange a trip for the end of November. It was soon after one of their own holidays, but they didn’t mind, which I’m super thankful for. And Mum even loved the idea that my friend had no idea I was coming back.

Over the next few months, the main focus was on getting the perfect birthday present. Something that would be unbeatable. This initially proved to be tricky. Over the past few years, me and my friend have been trying hard to outdo each other with presents. Last year, she gave me a Doctor Who waistcoat. Custom made. By her mum.

How the fuck was I supposed to outdo that?

Fan Expo

Thankfully, the idea for the perfect present arrived instantly while I was at Fan Expo, a convention in Toronto at the end of August. Of the many actors, writers and artists signing autographs, there was one person that significantly stood out: Nell Campbell.

While I had only seen Rocky Horror once and barely remembered it at all, my best friend has always been a huge fan of it. To the point where she has dressed as the character Columbia several times. So the idea of a personalized autograph from Columbia herself was too good an opportunity to miss.

I must admit, I was nervous about asking for it. Especially as the people in front of me were clearly huge fans, and had tons of stories to tell Nell. And there I was, with this image in my head of me saying, “Hi, I’ve only seen your film once and hardly remember it, but would you mind signing this autograph for a mate of mine? Cheers.”

Thankfully, that awkwardness didn’t happen. Particularly because Nell Campbell is super nice. Seriously, she’s clearly such a lovely person. The first thing she did was point out what I was wearing: the Doctor Who waistcoat. She asked me a ton of questions about the show, about who was my favourite Doctor, even about Sherlock. I answered quite happily, always conscious of trying not to go into too much detail. (As you can see from this length of this blog, I can really go on about awesome stuff.)

I made sure to tell her about my friend, and even show a pic of her in costume. Nell was really impressed, and not only signed the photo, but also took a selfie with me to show off to my friend.

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When I sent it to her, I received a mixture of emotions that started with jealousy and rage, before becoming super happy when I told her how much Nell enjoyed the costume pic I showed her.

Of course, she didn’t work out why I had gotten the selfie until months later…

A long expected party

Cut to late November. It’s the night of my best friend’s birthday, I’m holding her birthday present and card, and I’m heading in, feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement. There was no big entrance or an announcement of, “Surprise, muthafucka!” or anything like that. I’ve always been a fan of the quiet entrance, myself. So I casually arrived at the party, hoping that the months of secrecy would pay off.

It did. So, so fucking much. The look on her face when she saw me was perfect, and her reaction was even better than I had hoped for. She really didn’t expect me at all, and she absolutely loved the surprise. That reaction alone made every single mile traveled worth it.

In fact, as much as I went on about getting the greatest present ever (seriously, let’s see you try and beat that one), I think it was overshadowed completely by the fact that I had showed up at all.

The rest of the night was chatting and catching up with everyone, eating buffet food, and of course, karaoke. (Naturally, I sung the song that I not only always sing, but was absolutely perfect for the occasion: I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers. Definitely glad I got to sing that one!)

As I look back on my week back home, there’s a couple of things I’ve realized. First, that while I haven’t missed the town so much, I have missed the people. There are a lot of awesome people back home – so many, in fact, that I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to catch up with all of them – and they’ve been what I’ve missed most about the place.

Second, that the move to Canada was definitely the right thing. In a lot of ways, I’ve remained my ol’ geeky self. But in other ways, I’ve changed a lot. Toronto has been a fucking amazing experience, and I think that’s going to continue for a good while yet.

Lastly, I need to thank a lot of people. Thanks to Mum and Dad for being so accommodating and allowing me so much time to spend catching up with my friends. Thanks to all of my friends, especially those who had no idea I was coming back and therefore had to meet up with me at such short notice.

And of course, thanks to my best friend, a woman who’s given me far more faith, trust and friendship than I’ve ever deserved, and someone who really helped me to believe that I really could do anything. Giving you an awesome present and a nice surprise doesn’t repay that, but I hope I made such a major occasion just that little bit extra special.

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Canada: One Year On

On Thursday 14th September, I achieved my goal of living one year in Canada. If I’m honest, I still can’t believe I made it.

In the months leading up to before I left England, there was a part of me that wasn’t sure whether or not I’d have gone through with it. I knew myself too well, and I kept thinking that, as much as I had sorted out the work permit application, a part thought that I would chicken out at the last minute.

There’s an episode of Cheers that I caught a few years ago. In it, one of the main characters, Norm, had this brilliant realization when it came to his life, and decided to leave the country to make a fresh start. At first, the other characters were really proud that he made such a bold decision…until they found out that he chickened out before he got on the flight and had been hiding from them in shame ever since.

Throughout all the planning, that episode had been stuck in my head. There had been many decisions in life that I had backed out of before, some big, plenty small. I really wondered whether I would actually go through something like this.

And yet oddly enough, as time went on, it actually got easier. With a lot of support from my friends and family, I started planning for it bit by bit. The major turning point was when I said “Fuck it!” and actually booked a flight. Once that had been sorted out, I started getting ready for everything else.

Limited preparation

Accommodation was what I focused on first. That took quite some time, especially since, as I mentioned, only my application for a work permit had been approved, not the work permit itself. It wasn’t guaranteed that I’d actually get it, and I’d only know whether everything was completely ok or not when I arrived in Canada and went through customs. So, as you can imagine, it did make things a little difficult. Fortunately, through emails and a lot of applications, I was able to find accommodation, both short term and long term, before I arrived.

Everything else, though? I had nothing sorted out for a job (the fact is that I knew it’d probably be easier if I was able to actually show up to interviews in person); I had savings, but probably less than I should have done, and in terms of electronics, I was bringing with me just a tablet and a phone. To say that I was barely prepared would be putting it optimistically.

But when it came right down to it, when my mum and dad dropped me off at the airport, they asked me, just to make sure, if I didn’t want to just go back home with them right there.

I think even I was a little surprised at how quickly I said “No”. In some ways, I wasn’t nearly ready for it, but in my gut, I was more than ready.

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The hard part

I could say that getting on the flight was the hard part, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Once I got through security, waiting to get on the plane and then boarding it was pretty straightforward. I could say I was nervous about what would happen when I got there – like I said, my work permit would only be approved once I had arrived. But even that wasn’t too bad. Even if it hadn’t been accepted at the last minute, I would’ve been satisfied that I had tried as hard as I could, at least. Even heading into a new place on my own, at least for the short-term, wasn’t too difficult. I was too exhausted to worry at that point.

No, the most difficult part happened the next morning.

I was lying in bed, fully awake, when it suddenly hit me: I was in another country. Holy fucking fuck, I had actually done it!

That idea wouldn’t have been too scary, if another thing hadn’t occurred to me – I didn’t have an adapter for both of my USB chargers.

It’s incredibly silly to think about now. But during that first morning, I was really panicking. Both my phone and my tablet had some juice in them, but it certainly wasn’t indefinite. Without them, I would’ve been basically cut off entirely from the outside world. Job applications, contacting home, even just looking for a local bus route – none of it would’ve been available. I needed a new adapter, and here I was, lying in bed, living in a new country and having no fucking clue about the local area! I was thinking, Oh fuck, I’m not going to last one week here. I’m just going to end up panicking and call home and say I couldn’t make it last.

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That only lasted for an hour, maybe even less than that. But it definitely felt longer. Lying in that bed in a state of almost total panic was, without a doubt, the scariest moment I’ve had in my year of living here. Maybe even in my entire life.

Eventually, however, I just decided to say, “Fuck it!”, and head out and look around for an adapter. After an hour or so of searching, I finally found one, and got both my tablet and my phone all charged up.

Believe it or not, that was actually the most difficult moment I’ve had since I came to Canada.

The first 7 weeks

Everything else after that was piss easy by comparison. And it actually kept getting easier, too. Sorting out a new local number was the top priority, so job agencies and companies could contact me easily. Looking up the TTC and getting a good idea of public transport on my tablet was the next step. For the next couple of weeks, it was mainly applying on my tablet and setting up as many profiles as possible on job application sites.

After moving in to my new place for the long term at the start of October, it wasn’t long before I realized that, as much as I was able to get done on the tablet, there was so much more that I could get done on a laptop. Particularly with the feel of a keyboard under my fingers. (Thank you mum for pushing me into learning touch-typing at an early age. It’s certainly made writing articles and applications so much easier.)

So, I took a bit of a risk and dipped into my savings for a new laptop. Even for something cheap, it wasn’t the easiest of decisions to make. I knew that would cut on both my rent and shopping money considerably. But, again, that was something else I was pretty pleased with – that I was becoming someone who knew when to take risks rather than just lie down and hope that everything would work out nicely. Because I knew that, as many applications as I could make on a tablet daily, I knew I could send out ten times as many on a laptop, easily.

It was a gamble that paid off. During early October, I was regularly going downtown for job agency interviews. I must have been to four or five agencies within those first two weeks. On the next step, I actually started getting interviews for places that I could start working for. My sister also gave me a contact for someone who worked for an agency over here, which definitely helped.

On Halloween, I got two interviews. One first thing in the morning, the other some ways out of Toronto in the afternoon. I don’t know how I did on the first interview, but on the second? They told me at the end of it that I could start the next day. And I’ve been working there ever since. One and a half months. That’s how long it took me to find work over here. Considering the long, depressing gaps I had job hunting that had lasted for years back in the UK, that was definitely a relief. A relief and, honestly, a major confidence booster.

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One hell of a year

As for everything else in my life? It has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve seen Steel Panther live. I’ve been to comic conventions and met some of my favourite stars. I’ve watched hockey and baseball; seen my favourite old movies on the big screen; watched burlesque shows and got drunk as fuck while seeing amazing live bands play. I’ve physically met with people I had only spoken to constantly on the internet and made new friends. I’ve gotten out of Toronto and seen more amazing sights in Ottawa, Montreal and Niagara Falls.

And I’ve been ridiculously lucky when it comes to housemates. As someone who moved in with complete strangers for the first time, I was really lucky to meet some really nice and welcoming people. I even got to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter with a housemate’s family, all of which were really nice.

One more thing

On Friday, at work, all of us in my department were asked to see our department manager. I thought it would be for something like a regular team update, but I was wrong. It was actually the whole team giving me a couple of gifts. Along with a gift card from popular food chain Tim Hortons, I had also been given a mug signed by everyone in the department. It was a really sweet thing for all of them to do, and I barely had the words to thank them. Exactly a year before, I had been panicking in bed that I wouldn’t be able to make it here, and suddenly next thing I know, I’m rewarded by the people I’ve worked with in a really lovely way.

So here’s the important point. If there’s something you really want to do, then just fucking go for it. Don’t let fear hold you back, and just try as hard as you can. Even if you fail, you’ll be satisfied knowing you tried. And you might just surprise yourself by how much you actually succeed.

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Thank you to all my friends and family who have supported me in this. As much work as I’ve put into this, without your support, I’d have never have gone for anything like this, so thank you all. It’s been an absolutely fucking fantastic year, and I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for the next!

 

Toronto #30

Labyrinth, free live music, Mod Night and IT! Here’s the latest blog!

Sorry guys! Once again, with the exception of last week’s Dark Tower review (which, with over 1,400 views, gave me the highest number of views for a post ever!), and a review for the amazing Baby Driver, I haven’t updated this properly in a while. At least, I haven’t been informing all you lovely people of what I’ve been up to in Toronto lately. About time I rectified that, I think.

Last month, I saw a couple of films at the Royal. The first was Labyrinth, which remains a true classic. Not only was that one showing for free, but it also had a live band performance right before it. It was by Hannah Georgas, who I must admit, I hadn’t really heard anything of before. I definitely liked her music, though. Very indie, very honest, and very cool.

Oh, and the best moment? Hearing her rather unique rendition of ‘Magic Dance’ from the Labyrinth soundtrack. Seriously, ‘Magic Dance’ in a distinctly indie rendition was glorious to hear!

The next film I saw was a 50th anniversary screening of Bonnie & Clyde. This one I hadn’t seen before. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it. Violent, but also with a great sense of humour. And the ending is as beautiful and heartbreaking to watch as they say it is. (Even if one of the greatest moments in TV series Cracker is Robbie Coltrane utterly destroying someone by telling them how shit that ending was.) Glad I got to watch that one on the big screen. (And not just because it was part of the Ladies of Burlesque series of screenings, either.)

While I don’t go to Cherry Cola’s nearly as often, it is most definitely my other favourite place in this city. Like I said, I try not to go too often – if you’re drinking, a night out can get expensive real quick – but it was Mod Night last month, so I had to go. And as ever, it was absolutely bloody brilliant.

Along with a cool ska band that opened the night, there was also regular mod band Blackdog Ballroom, who were as amazing as ever. I’ve seen a number of cool local bands in my day. But I don’t think I’ve come across one that nailed the mod spirit quite as well as Blackdog Ballroom has.

Oh, and one great little bonus? On the ceiling, classic movies were playing. We didn’t get to hear them, obviously, but it was a nice touch. Especially as one of those movies was Quadrophenia, in full. I must admit, I always get a craving for that film after a good Mod show, so it was good to fix that craving at the same time as watching great bands perform live!

Aside from that, there’s not really that much to say. I mentioned seeing the Dark Tower movie, and I’ve made my feelings on that very clear. I watched the amazing Baby Driver again, this time with the housemates, so that was awesome.

Once again, reading wise, I’m very much in a Stephen King mood. (No prizes for guessing why that is.) I’m not reading the Dark Tower again, as it’s been mere months since finishing my third entire read of the series. But I am reading the mammoth novel IT again.

I must say, I’m reading it much more easily this time around. I think it’s because I’m reading it on the kindle, as opposed to the paperback copy I had last time. Usually, I prefer reading a paperback, but I absolutely hated how small the font size was in my copy. Seriously, for a relatively slow reader like myself, there’s nothing more discouraging than feeling like you’ve been reading the same page for about ten minutes. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem I haven’t been having with my e-book copy.

Anyway, as well as reading it more easily, I’m finding myself much more absorbed by the world and by King’s storytelling. I love how King tells this story of childhood, adulthood and the horrors of both in one epic story. While I certainly enjoyed reading it before, I think I’m loving it so much more now. Definitely magical when that happens.

Obviously, I’m looking forward to the new IT movie next month. I love that it’s split the story in two, with one film focusing on the kids and the other film focusing on those characters when they’ve all grown up. (Of course, the second half being made depends entirely on how successful the first half is.) Honestly, with how huge and epic the book is in scope, splitting it in two is the only way to do. I hope it’s a good film in its own right, anyway.

Until next time, folks!

Toronto #29 – Niagara Falls

(I should’ve just called this ongoing blog “Canada” instead of “Toronto”, shouldn’t I?)

There’s a lot I need to cover in this week’s blog. Starting with something that I should have mentioned in the previous one – I went to my first baseball game a couple of weeks back.

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It was a Blue Jays game (of course). I can’t remember who the other team was. The game itself was interesting, though. Much more relaxed than hockey. Certainly, much less violent. Me and my mate had a good chat over it, which you can’t really do with hockey. The last half hour or so was really cool, as the game wrapped up and the Blue Jays won. Another thing ticked off the Canada list.

Last weekend was really cool, as I finally got to see my first opera! Well, actually, not quite. Back when I was in primary school, we went on a class trip to see Carmen at the Cliffs Pavilion. I have no fucking idea why, though. We were all about 7 or 8 at the time. Hardly the right age to appreciate something as tragic as an opera, especially if it’s in a foreign language!

And that’s one of the reasons why the opera that I saw last weekend was really special. Because for one thing, while it was entirely based on Puccini’s La bohème, complete with the original music, the lyrics had been translated into English. More than that, they had been modernized and there were a few references specific to Toronto. (My favourite in particular was someone getting a job at BMV Books. Gotta admit, that really is one of my favourite places in Toronto.)

The place we went to was also a pretty cool bar, with the performers acting on a slightly raised stage that was right next to the audience. So the whole effect was much more intimate than watching it at a theatre. It almost reminded me of when I performed improv back home, the performers were literally that close to the audience. So in some ways, it’s very different to your standard opera experience.

At the exact same time, though, it was incredibly authentic. For one, those singers? They can sing. Really, really sing. Like, real opera level sing. (I even heard that at least one of the actors had performed in an opera on stage, which didn’t surprise me.) And it really was beautifully made.

Another thing I didn’t appreciate until afterwards was the fact that, despite being modernized and translated into English, it did stick to the exact plot of the original opera, as I later discovered when I read more about La bohème afterwards.

Overall, it was just such a great experience, and great to get my first taste of an opera when I’m finally old enough to appreciate it.

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Last, but definitely not least: I went to Niagara Falls Comic Con today. It was, I must admit, a very last minute thing. I didn’t bother getting tickets in advance, except for transportation, as I couldn’t really afford it until this weekend. Not to mention, there’s your standard last-minute anxiety that makes you think and think again about whether to go or not.

But I had to go. Literally had to. For one guest, and one guest only: Paul Fuckin’ McGann!

(Note: his real middle name is John, but to emphasize his level of awesomeness, “Fuckin'” just seems more suitable in this case.)

He was at the convention all weekend, but it was only today that he was doing a Q&A session with the fans. So being in the same room as one of my heroes and hearing a ton of great stories from him (especially with his voice – there’s a reason he’s my favourite Doctor, even mostly on audio) was too good to miss.

I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a journey up there, and I was afraid that I’d end up missing it. But I got there with just a little bit of time to spare, and in no time at all, I was sitting just metres away from someone who was literally one of my childhood (and adulthood) heroes.

I know what you’re thinking right now. “Never meet your heroes.” Because when you’ve built them up enough in your heads, meeting the real thing can potentially be disappointing. Certainly, it was what was going through my mind before he came on stage.

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But he was just brilliant. While I never asked a question to him myself, it was just so cool seeing how he spoke with fans. It wasn’t just that he was confidant and cheery, but he was really good at seeing if fans were a little nervous and helping with their confidence.

And he had so many good stories and great answers. He was friendly and really engaging with the fans. Even better was that he didn’t just answer questions about Who, but also about Withnail & I and 90s BBC drama The Hanging Gale. It was a really great, informative and entertaining Q&A all round.

My personal favourite moment, though? Getting an autograph from him afterwards and having just a very quick one minute chat with him. Yes, of course, I said he was my favourite Doctor (“I like you a lot!” was his response), but I also mentioned how great Withnail & I was. He was just a really friendly chap, and it really was just the coolest day. They say never meet your heroes. They never met Paul McGann.

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Toronto #28 – Ottawa

Hello again, everyone! Things have been quite busy since my last post. Particularly as I had my first birthday in Canada last week, and I got to experience my first Victoria Day weekend in a pretty epic way.

First things first: my epic birthday week. I got to spread a few things out over a few days, to really make it last. I bought myself some Doctor Who comics to enjoy (naturally), and I also sorted myself out with some Torchwood audios. The latter of which left me very excited for the upcoming season 5, although I’ll save those thoughts for Doctor Who Watch.

On the day itself, I got to have a late lunch with my housemates, which was pretty cool. Apparently, Ikea has restaurants. This was something I had no clue about. They do good food, anyway. The butter chicken’s especially great.

Later on during the day, I went to my favourite place in Toronto the Royal, and saw a little cult horror with Joan Crawford called Strait-Jacket. It was quite the interesting little film. At times, it was very melodramatic, but in between all the melodrama, there were also moments of sheer violence. It was interesting to watch, knowing it had been written by Robert Bloch, the same man who wrote Psycho. In some ways, they did share similar plots. As a film at least, Psycho is definitely superior, but Strait-Jacket was good fun to watch, at least.

The day after, I also got to watch Alien: Covenant. Definitely an improvement from Prometheus. Still not as great as the first two Alien movies, but worth a watch, at least.

Now, for the more exciting stuff! Monday 22nd was Victoria Day, which is a bank holiday over here in Canada for the Brits back home reading this. Me and the housemates got to take advantage of this by heading to Ottawa for the weekend.

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Overall, it was a really great time. I got to see a lot of sites, and I checked out a couple of museums. The Canadian Museum of Nature was pretty cool, which covered things from dinosaur fossils to volcanoes, but it was the Canadian War Museum that was the real highlight for me. I got to learn a lot about Canada’s rich history, particularly the events that lead to its birth as a country. Really informative and really interesting, I thought.

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And how was Ottawa, the capital of Canada and the latest city I’ve visited? Quite interesting, really. It really is a very bilingual city, equal parts English and French. Not surprising, really – not only is it right next to the province of Quebec, but having a mixture of English and French language would be especially important when politics is involved. It’s quite the contrast to both Toronto and Montreal – after all, both are much more aimed to one primary language. It’s been interesting visiting a city that has embraced both, really.

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Me and the housemates had such an awesome time. Along with the museums, we also got to go on a ghost walk. The stories were pretty cool, and it was a good excuse to see a little bit more of the city on foot. And we got to check out a couple of pubs as well, which is always important! It was just great to get away, explore and have some fun with my friends for the long weekend, really.

One more thing: I received some birthday gifts from my best mate back home. They were, in every figurative sense of the word, sweeeeeeeet. The Doctor Who Annual 2017 appealed to the kid in me, but the best one? A tea towel with the faces of the Proclaimers. As someone who always sings 500 Miles every chance he gets on karaoke, this was very much appreciated!

Toronto #27 / Montreal #1

Wow, what a weekend that was! After nearly 8 great months of living in Ontario, I finally got to see a bit more of glorious Canada by visiting Montreal. It was a long journey there – six hours by bus – but worth it. (Plus, I got to listen to quite a lot of Doctor Who and start reading Mr. Mercedes, so it passed by pretty well.)

Visiting Montreal was interesting. It’s strange to think it’s in the same country as Toronto, really. In a strange way, it feels more European. Not just because French is usually everyone’s first language over there, although that may have added to it. (Interestingly, I was told that apparently there are laws to actually ensure that virtually all public signs are in French. They do seem to love their French roots over in Quebec!)

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But there was also the city itself. From what I saw of it, there was a lot of great architecture. Whether it was something like Notre Dame or just a regular building in the right part of the city, there was a lot of really beautiful places to see.

It was was also interesting see how much the city changed. Sometimes, it unsurprisingly reminded me of Paris. But there were also times that, with its steep, cobbled streets and narrow roads, it almost reminded me of Edinburgh, too. Overall, you definitely couldn’t say that Montreal was similar to Toronto.

I got to see quite a bit of the city on Saturday, which was Free Comic Book Day. I got a couple of comics to read, including Doctor Who and Star Trek, which were pretty cool. There were a couple of cool things to see at the comic book shops – my favourite was seeing people dressed in full Star Wars gear, with one person dressed as a stormtrooper and the other as an Imperial officer. It was a gloriously geeky thing to see.

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We finished the day off with a visit to the Planetarium. It was really cool. Two different shows, both of which we got to watch on the domed ceiling with some commentary. It was really interesting stuff. One part of the second show was trippy as hell, but overall, it was really cool.

Sunday was spent exploring the city, particularly old Montreal. While I didn’t go into Notre Dame, I did get to see it from outside, and it looked really beautiful. We then went exploring a little more before checking out Mount Royal.

What a gorgeous view that was. Just absolutely amazing. You could see virtually the whole city. And it was a lovely sunny day, too. It allowed for some really great photos.

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Overall, it was a brilliant weekend. Partly because it was nice exploring somewhere new, but also it was nice to spend some great quality time with the person I’m currently dating. Honestly, it was just a really lovely time, overall.

 

Back in Toronto, on Monday, I got to watch the brilliant movie School of Rock. I actually hadn’t seen this in years. I had forgotten just how truly brilliant it was. I used to love it back in high school. I used to watch it again over and over, it was just such a great film. It’s one of those movies that could’ve come across as just another sickly sweet family movie, but you can tell that everyone involved had a really cool time making, and there was so much love to the genre of rock.

Seeing it again for the first time in so long was a pure blast of nostalgia, and it got me thinking about high school. About the boy I was all those years ago. High school wasn’t exactly the best time for me, especially in my later years there. This was less of anything external and more because of me, as I became increasingly unsure of what to do with my life and would eventually start to give up on it.

Still, as many mistakes as I made in high school, I did love it for one thing: the friends that I had made for life. I cannot begin to stress how important those friends are to me. They’ve stuck by me through thick and thin, and I’ve done the best to do the same for them. Those important friendships are easily the best thing I took out of high school.

As for my high school self? I wonder what he’d make of me now. I don’t think he’d have ever believed that he’d eventually do something as big and risky as move to Canada on his own for a couple of years. Mind you, he wouldn’t believe that he’d eventually try improvised comedy, or enjoy karaoke on a regular basis.

I felt really unsure of myself back then. In some ways, I still do. But I’m also feeling more confident than ever and really enjoying my life. It’s funny how you can be so certain how your life is going to be, and then find out that it’s not only so much different, but also so much better than what you expected.

Anyway, enough of that nostalgic nonsense. Let’s finish off with the School of Rock music video!

Toronto #26

Wow. A whole month with no posts. Sorry, guys. Either things have been too quiet for me to really write anything about, as I concentrated on work and such, or there has been so much going on at once that I haven’t found the time for it.

Well, here’s my first (and hopefully not last) post for May. To kick it off, here’s something I should have mentioned a blog or two back: The Book of Mormon.

The reason I need to cover this is not just because it was an amazing and hilarious show. It’s also very rare that I go and see a musical. Or even go to the theatre, other than for rock concerts. It had been a long time since I had been to the theatre, and the first time that I had been to a theatre in Toronto. Another small milestone checked off my list.

Of course, the fact that the creators of South Park had been heavily involved with it helped. As expected, it was incredibly offensive at times, but also genuinely funny. It also had a lot of heart to it, too. And, as a musical, it was genuinely well made. Overall, it was a really cool time with the housemates.

Speaking of theatre, I went to The Royal a couple of times. One really great time was on National Canadian Film Day, as I was able to check out Cube for free. For those of you who don’t know it, it was a low budget horror made twenty years ago. Focusing on a group of people trapped in a giant cube, we watch them navigate their way through many cubed rooms while trying to avoid some really nasty traps.

The traps were less the appeal of the movie though and more how tensions rise between the characters. Things rapidly begin to deteriorate, and it becomes clear that they are as much of a threat to each other as the rooms themselves.

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I was going to put a trailer of the film here, but then I watched it and saw how much it spoiled. Trust me: you need to watch this film while knowing as little as possible.

I had seen it once before. I was impressed then, and I was still impressed seeing it a second time, especially on the big screen and with a packed audience. When a film generates a ton of big and loud reactions from a huge audience, you know it’s definitely a success. Especially when we watched my favourite part. Without giving too much away, it was a brilliant shock that caused so many gasps.

Even better was that afterwards some of the cast and crew were on stage, taking questions from the audience. It was really informative, and it seemed like everyone involved enjoyed working on the film. It also became another reason why The Royal is definitely one of my favourite places to go to, as a movie fan.

Another film I watched this month was Tuff Turf. That wasn’t half as good, but honestly, it really does need to be seen to be believed. James Spader and Robert Downey Jr. star in one of the most over-the-top and gloriously 80s high school gang movies that I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely a very “what the fuck?” kind of film. I think a lot of my friends who were children of the Eighties would definitely enjoy it, though. Not as a good film, but certainly as something to watch together over a few beers. That’s my recommendation, anyway.

Easter was pretty great. Especially Easter dinner, which was nice. I learned how to make bread pudding! Must try and do that again sometime. I really got to stuff my face over those few days. Might need to try and find ways of losing weight. Still: totally worth it.

And for something that’s just a little more personal: recently, I’ve started dating again, for the first time in quite a while. So far, it’s been pretty good. Great, in fact. Meeting up with someone new over coffee or dinner is something I usually get nervous thinking about. And I’ll admit, on the first date, I was nervous. But not terribly so, overall. The second date was definitely nicer and more relaxed, and the same has been true of subsequent dates. It’s been nice, and I’ve gotta admit, I’ve been feeling more confident lately. I’ve been feeling good in general for the past year or two, but I’m not sure I’ve felt this good about myself in a really long while.

And that’s the end of this week’s blog. Perhaps I’ll realize that there’s a ton of things that I didn’t include that I’ll remember for next time. Certainly, I plan on writing another post very soon, as this month seems absolutely packed. Along with a game and a show to see, I’ve also got Montreal and Ottawa to visit at different points of the month, too. I’ll be sure to keep you guys updated. In the meantime, seeing today’s current date: May the Fourth be with you!