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 #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!

Toronto #24

It’s been over two weeks since my last blog, but this week’s entry is still going to be a short one. The truth is that things have been rather quiet the past couple of weeks.

Work at least has been going ok. In fact, I joined a few work mates for bowling just the other week. My social anxiety hasn’t been kicking in as much as I thought it would, so I didn’t actually feel like saying no when offered. That’s refreshing, I must admit.

Considering I’ve had plenty of free, quiet time lately, I must admit, I haven’t been reading or writing as much as I should. That’s something I need to fix, I think.

I’ve gotten out and seen a few films, at least. This weekend, I finally got round to seeing John Wick: Chapter 2 and Logan. Both great films. The latter especially was a satisfying end to Logan’s story. You can tell it was made for people who literally grew up with the X-Men movies, and not just because of how amazingly violent it was.

I didn’t go to Toronto Comic-Con last weekend. I had thought about it, but I didn’t have quite as much funds as I’d liked. That’s only partly the reason – I could’ve afforded a ticket at least, just not enough to get any notable souvenirs. The other reason was, after looking at the guest list, there was just no draw for me. No one I recognised from Doctor Who or anything like that.

Honestly, Niagra Falls comic-con in June looks set to be a lot better. Especially with the legend himself, Paul McGann showing up. (If you don’t know already, he’s easily my favourite Doctor, so it would so cool to finally go to a convention with him as one of the guests.) That’s something I need to save up for, I think.

One more point: last week, on Tuesday 14th March, I had officially made it to six months living over here in Canada. I still can’t quite believe it. When I first came here, I was filled with…well, perhaps not “doubts”, as such. Just aware that there were many possible outcomes to me coming over here, a few of which weren’t good. The scariest – because it was the most real one by far – was coming home after only a few months from not finding work and finding out that I really couldn’t make it on my own, after all.

Six months later, I’m settled in at both home and at work, I’ve made a few friends, and I’ve found a few places that I go to regularly. This is really working out even better than I had hoped for, and I look forward to discovering what I can do next.

Toronto #23

Due to a sudden and extremely strong head cold, this week has been considerably quieter than last. I didn’t even get to see one film at the Royal this week! However, that is something I plan on correcting for the upcoming week, now that I’m feeling much better.

And on the big fat plus side, if my week sucked, then Saturday more than made up for it. Once again, I met up with my fellow Canadian Tower junkie, and we headed down to Cherry Cola’s for Mod Night. I’ve mentioned before how Cherry Cola’s is currently one of my favourite places to go to, and Mod Night is definitely my favourite semi-regular night at my favourite place.

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Because any night where the advertisement includes an image from one of the greatest films ever made is BOUND to be worth going to.

After chatting over drinks and saying hello to the bands, the show began with Jack the Lads playing their set. Along with their really enjoyable original songs, which have a nice 60s vibe to them while still feeling modern, they did a really smashing cover of ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones. That’s a song that got a really great response from the crowd, which I was pleased to see. It’s a song I’ve certainly always enjoyed, so I was glad to hear it played live by a really talented band.

Afterwards, Blackdog Ballroom played their set. It has to be said, this band nails the 90s British alternative genre. That’s something I can’t say I’ve really experienced with other bands, but their songs really did remind me of classic bands like The Verve and Oasis. It made me feel really nostalgic for that period of my life when I’d constantly hear that music being played, while at the same time, made me super glad that I had traveled as far as I had for something like this. I’ve watched a lot of great live music played back home, don’t get me wrong, but it’s incredibly rare I’d find a band that would play the capture the feel of 90s nostalgia that Blackdog Ballroom does so easily.

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Along with some great original tracks, I also got to hear some of my all time favourite tunes. ‘Taxman’, ‘Paint It Black’ and ‘I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)’ were all brilliant, but the best one was definitely ‘Champagne Supernova’. A great way of ending a great set, and one that I spent the whole night dancing to (because seriously, as great as it is to listen to, it’s at least as important to mod music that you dance to it and that you have a damn good time).

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Pictured: a blurry image of yours truly having the time of his life while being considerably intoxicated by this point.

So that was a perfect way to balance out a rough week – great music and great times with great mates. I’ll be sure to write more about writing and reading next week. In the meantime, I’m going to round off this excellent mod weekend by sticking on the classic film, Quadrophenia.

Toronto #22

It’s official: as a movie buff, the Royal cinema is definitely one of my favourite places to go to in Toronto. I caught two films last week. One was Dark Star, an interesting early film of John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon. It’s a comedy, but it’s a very peculiar and strange one. I strongly suspect it’ll be one of those films that’ll grow on me on multiple viewings.

Different to both Carpenter’s and O’Bannon’s usual work, but still a good watch, especially for seeing the talent of the filmmakers when they clearly had no budget. I especially appreciated reading a note from O’Bannon presented at the start of the film, where he admitted that, since Dark Star wasn’t exactly popular as a comedy, he’d essentially take the same basic story and turn into a horror. Thus, Alien was born.

The second film I watched was one I appreciated a lot more: Barfly. Starring Mickey Rourke before he fucked up his face and Faye Dunaway long before she announced the wrong Best Picture (now there’s a timely reference for ya), it’s a black comedy that focuses on two people who aim to live in permanently drunken states.

There are some films that portray alcoholism and poverty in a completely negative light. This is definitely not one of those films. Keep in mind, that’s actually not a criticism. Watching Rourke’s character of Henry was really fascinating. Clearly, from his thoughts and his writings, he’s in some ways a very intelligent man. He’s never seen to be depressed, but he’s not motivated to “be something”. Neither does he learn a valuable lesson at the end of the film about how important that is.

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Pictured: not a representation of what this film is. At all.

The moment I saw a clip of Withnail & I – one of my favourite films of all time – shown before the film began, I knew I was going to love Barfly. (Especially as it has one of my favourite dialogue exchanges of all time on film, regarding “what’s-his-name”.)

I wasn’t disappointed. Barfly is one of those rare films that has no plot, but you love it for the dialogue and the characters that you’re spending the time with. I definitely need to look up the writings of Charles Bukowski, who wrote the screenplay. Interview clips with him were shown before the film, and he was clearly a fascinating man himself who seemed to just enjoy writing more than anything.

Speaking of which, I finished a short story last week. It’s only a few pages, and it’s really nothing more than to set a scene for a novel while exploring character writing. However, despite dreaming to be a writer for so long, it’s the first thing I’ve bothered to finish creatively since high school. It’s a small step, admittedly, but I’m glad I’ve made a step at all. Maybe coming out to Canada really is doing me some good and getting me more motivated. Writing in the journal is helping too, I think.

Back to Friday night – after seeing Barfly, I headed down to currently my favourite bar in the city, Cherry Cola’s. That was definitely an interesting night. While talking to complete strangers over drinks, we watched some decent live acoustic music that was then followed by something interesting called “Music for Murder”. It was performed on stage and reminded me of old-school horror soundtracks that had been mixed with Rob Zombie. It was interesting to watch (especially when it was shown with gore clips from horror classics like Deep Red), and a little strange too, but certainly not bad, at least if you’re a horror fan. Just a strange environment to demonstrate that kind of music.

At the end of the night, I watched some burlesque performances for the first time. Apparently, they’re a regular thing at Cherry Cola’s, but while I’ve been to the bar semi-regularly, either I had left before they started, or they simply weren’t having them that night. If Friday was anything to go by, though, they’re clearly done very, very well. There were several different performers, all with very different acts – some fun, some sensual, and some just fucking crazy. In all the examples, there was definitely a lot of planning and organizing done with their routines. I’ve gotta admit, I have a lot of respect for anyone who could do something like that. All through the shows, one thought popped into my head: “And I thought improvised comedy took a lot of guts!”

Sunday was quieter, and perhaps just a little more suited to my style, as me and a housemate headed out to a comedy bar to watch the Oscars. I don’t usually watch award shows, at least never in full, but I must admit, it was really fun to watch it as part of a small audience, especially with comedians commenting on stage. I was especially glad to catch that moment live: when Moonlight was announced as the correct winner for “Best Picture Award”, the reaction in the room was HUGE. Definitely glad I caught that live instead of reading about it on the internet, and with a crowd of people, too.

So that was my week. Films, music, horror, burlesque, writing, comedy and awards. Not a bad one, really.

Toronto #21

I don’t know whether having a journal is helping or not, but this past week, I’ve definitely felt more motivated to get out more, so there’s a little bit extra to write about for the blog this week when it actually comes to Toronto.

On Monday night, I headed down to a brand new part of the city that I had never been to before. While I had initially thought that it could be a night of getting drunk and potential dancing, it turned out to be a quiet night out, instead. Sometimes, when that happens, it’s can be a bad thing, but on that night, it felt completely right.

After checking out a new poutinerie (I’m not gonna lie – I’m currently making it something of a mission to try out as much poutine as I reasonably can while I’m here), I came across a cool little place called the Red Light. It’s a great little lounge that seems to specialize in serving great whiskeys and spirit drinks. As it turned out, I didn’t feel like having any alcohol that night, so I just had a coke while sitting down and just soaking up the atmosphere. The barman was kind enough to not even charge me for the coke, so I made sure to give him a tip before I left. I definitely plan on heading down there again sometime, especially if I fancy a quiet drink.

One thing I’m learning about living here is that, not only do I love exploring the city, but I’m also loving the long journeys. Strange, I know, but I just love how it just gives me time to read or listen to an audio story without distract myself too much. Spending a lot of time reading Hearts in Atlantis that night was a real bonus. I might have a quiet night out more often.

On Tuesday, I had quite possibly one of the best Valentine’s Days that I’ve ever had. Considering it was mainly heading down to watch a film after work, that might sound like an exaggeration (or alternatively, a rather sad comment on my dating life), but the whole experience was great. At the Royal, I got to see the original My Bloody Valentine on the big screen as part of a large audience. Not only was it a great 80s slasher, but it was a gloriously Canadian slasher, too. I wouldn’t say if it was a better Canadian horror than Black Christmas, (which remains one of my favourite examples of the genre, along with Halloween,) but it was, with its stronger accents and mentions of poutine, a more obviously Canadian film. It was a really great watch.

I was also glad that I had waited so long to see it, too. In the UK, the only cut on DVD was the theatrical cut (at least, since the last time I checked). What we watched on Tuesday was, thankfully, the director’s cut. Because the reinserted footage was of a noticeably lower quality than the rest of the film, it was obvious exactly where it had been originally cut, too. And all I could think afterwards was how much of a shame that so much had been cut in the first place.

Not just because the effects work was brilliant, and that it must have been disappointing for people who had worked on it so hard to see all of it completely cut out, but because it was clear that the film wouldn’t have made half as much sense without so many crucial scenes.

Seriously, half the time I was seeing the cut footage, along with, “Whoa, that death was nasty!”, I was also thinking, “Wait, what must have the audiences thought when they were watching the cut version?!?” The edits would have definitely created more than a few plot holes, so it’s a real shame they were made in the first place. I’m super glad that my first viewing of the film was something much closer to an actual director’s cut.

But the real highlight of the night was the fact that the director, producer and one of the actors from the film themselves were at the screening. Not only was it really cool that they got to tell some stories about the making of the film before we watched it, but I actually got to say hello to them afterwards and tell them how fantastic the film was.

The producer was even kind enough to tell me of what footage hadn’t even made it to the director’s cut, which sounded even gloriously nastier than what I actually saw. Overall, getting to see My Bloody Valentine on the big screen was super great, and I’m glad I waited this long to see the best possible cut of the film.

Friday was pretty cool, as I got to meet one of my mates from the Dark Tower message boards that I regularly post on. Out of all the fandoms I know, the Dark Tower community has definitely been the best and most welcoming, especially the people of thedarktower.org. I’ve met many friends from there already, and it was great to meet one more. Especially a fellow writer who’s actually gotten round to completing a couple of novels. It was good to talk about writing and books while at a second hand book store, I must say.

Saturday was mostly quiet, but I got to introduce one of my housemates to the brilliance that is Shaun of the Dead, not just one of my favourite British comedies but still one of my favourite British films period. Any excuse to watch that film is a good one, and getting someone to watch it for the first time is definitely a perfect excuse.

Last week, I made a personal aim of getting out more and trying to gain more experiences. I think I’ve achieved that somewhat this week, and I hope I can find a way of continuing that this week, too. But I’ve also noticed something else lately – I don’t take nearly enough photos. I don’t know why, it’s more a lack of a habit or simply allowing someone else to take them, but that’s something I definitely need to work on while I’m here. While I’m not quite up to living here 6 months just yet, it’ll be getting there very soon, and by the time I head back home next year, I really want to have as much to remember of these two years as possible. I’ll see if I can work on posting some pics for next week.