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 #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 #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 #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.

Toronto #19

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m in a real Stephen King mood lately. Kind of fitting as I’m now on the nineteenth Toronto post. (For those of you who are unaware, 19 is a major number in The Dark Tower series.) As I noted last week, it’s partially to do with revisiting his Tower novels, but there’s also another key reason: he’s so damn good at what he does.

Last week, I had finished re-reading Black House, a particular favourite of mine. Well, one of my many particular favourites, anyway. Afterwards, I began reading the sixth Dark Tower volume ‘Song of Susannah’. Today, I finished it before making a slight start on re-reading Hearts in Atlantis. And, once I’m done with my third Tower read, I’m itching to re-read some of my other favourites, including The Stand and IT. Huge epics to read, despite the fact that I have many other King books to check out. (Not to mention that I still need to finish off George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. But then again, so does he, so I’m not too fussed about that.)

Throwing myself into these books has reminded me of something. Not just of how great a writer Stephen King is, but more importantly, how reading his books really made me want to become a writer, way back in high school when I read the second Dark Tower volume, ‘The Drawing of the Three’. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading his first volume, but it was the second volume that truly grabbed me, and in some ways changed my life, although I didn’t know it at the time.

(For more on my thoughts on how much I love these books, see here for a thought piece I did a couple of years back, the first (and currently only) post in my “Writers That Make Me Think, ‘Damn, I Wish I Could Write Like That'” series.)

Of course, that was considerably over a decade ago, and in the case of the writing department, I’ve finished fuck all. I’ve had plenty of ideas, but a lack of confidence as well as frustration has lead to a lack of actual development.

Very recently, there are two key things I’ve realized about myself. Firstly, I’m someone who prefers clear, visual results when it comes to my work. More than that, I like consistent levels of clear, visual results. I think this is one of the reasons why I went into accounting as opposed to, say, an English Literature degree, or something that could’ve helped me to focus on my creative writing.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret going into my AAT studies. To be frank, I’m not sure I’ll ever have what it takes to make it as a writer, and even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t earn enough solely through it. At least with my AAT studies, or at least my experience in finance, I’ve got a decent day job to help me through with that if I did want to take writing more seriously.

The second, and this is going to sound ridiculous, but it’s true, is that I hate being wrong. To an extent, that’s true of all of us, but I actually physically loathe it. There’s hardly anything that I’ve hated in this world so much as being wrong. To help me cope with this problem, I’ve usually taken the easy way out by avoiding the possibility altogether. This has taken in the forms of, in chronological order:

  • Selective mutism (because seriously, how can you get a question wrong, or even ask a dumb question, if you don’t say anything at all?)
  • Putting in so much effort into learning that it becomes actually impossible to fail. Of course, that plan, ironically and unsurprisingly, inevitably failed. Which of course lead to:
  • Not making any effort whatsoever. After all, how can you fail at all if you don’t even try? (This attitude was best summed up by George Lass in the opening scene of the brilliant television series Dead Like Me, and it really does perfectly sum up how I was back then. See below a clip of both the speech and a great story about how death came into the world.)

I’ve mentioned before how, through a combination of that last attitude plus long term unemployment (although in hindsight, it really did come down to having that attitude, more than anything), I went through a bout of depression, which I won’t go into here. All I can say is that my fear of being wrong has held me back over the years, or rather, allowed me to hold myself back.

Fortunately, many things have helped with almost overcoming this problem. First, there was getting back into studying and actually passing my studies. Then, a few years later, there was getting into improvised comedy. Trust me, nothing helps you face being forced to be wrong like fucking up in front an audience that usually consists of your friends and family.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there was deciding to move to Canada for a couple of years on my own and hoping for the best. I’ve recently realized that it’s now already just over a year since my application for a work permit was approved. It’s hard to believe that, after actually putting in the effort and taking one of the biggest steps in my life, I’m actually here, 1 year later. I think, as a result, it’s beginning to make other daunting decisions seem easier.

Take Stephen King’s non-fiction book On Writing, for example. You would’ve thought that, as an aspiring writer who was hugely inspired by the great sage and eminent author himself, that I would’ve read a book where he actually gives tips on actually writing much, much sooner. But I never did buy it, and I think I’m only just beginning to realize why.

Like I said, I hate being wrong. Reading a book by one of my heroes and having the risk of knowing that my method has been completely wrong? Hell no! No way I want to face that! Better to just ignore that book altogether and try it on my own. Or, you know, just put the writing to one side and don’t worry about it.

But rediscovering what made me want to write in the first place has proved to be too much to ignore that impulse to write anymore. And right now, I’m definitely not as afraid of finding out where I’m going wrong as I used to be. Which is why I finally purchased an eBook copy of On Writing today.

I had also planned on buying a decent journal to write down thoughts, ideas, or just the first fucking thing that comes into my head about anything. Another key thing I remember from improv was when my tutor told me that one of the problems I have, when it comes to making shit up on the spot (which is essentially what improv is) isn’t a lack of ideas, but having too many of them at once and not being able to pick one on the spot.

If I can have something to jot those down and find a way of organizing them – or simply just vomit them on the page – then it’s possible that it could really help. However, as of right now, I don’t really have that much money, so better to wait until payday before getting a journal that’s decent enough to write my thoughts in.

So that’s this week’s blog post. Not really much to do with life right now in Toronto, I know, but it did cover some of the things which lead me here, so I guess it’s kind of relevant. I’ll let you know how the writing goes in my next post.

In the meantime, I’m just going to make a film recommendation that’s been on my mind. There’s a movie from a few years back called Stuck in Love. The trailer makes it look a lot like Crazy, Stupid, Love, (which I also enjoyed,) and I’m not gonna lie, in some ways, it is a lot like that. But one thing I like about it is how it’s focused on a family of writers, with one of the characters being a big Stephen King fanboy. For fans of not just good romantic comedies but also writing and Stephen King, it’s definitely worth a watch.