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?
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.
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.