Category Archives: Emigrating with Weasels

Posts that refer mainly to how my family and I are coping with emigrating to a different continent.

Blue Monday is through.

There are many great things about my job, but the craziest is that it means I love Mondays. Every other Monday is a day off, because I have a four-day work week. The Mondays when I’m at work are the one day of the week we don’t go out and do deliveries.

Don’t get me wrong, I like doing deliveries – it’s a great part of the job. But on a gray Monday in January, after hiking through the rain to the Skytrain, then on into the office, it’s nice to settle down at a desk, knowing you don’t have to leave again until the day is done. There’s always something to be done, and today I got to wrap up a whole bunch of tasks that have been nearly complete for a while. It was a day for sorting things out, for answering the phone, for crossing things off the to-do list.

I understand why this is often a hard time of the year – ordinarily people are coming down from the holidays, facing the financial realities of the New Year, and a long wait until the weather picks up, or the next break arrives. So I guess I should be grateful that our holidays were sub-optimal…The only way is up!

Wherever you are on your emotional calendar, I hope the sun is starting to show through the mist.

Waiting for the bounce back.

It’s 2023 – you probably noticed. It was all over the news. The internet, or at least the corner I wander through, has been filled with people rounding up their achievements in 2022 and setting out their intentions for the coming year. I explained in the last post why I don’t have one of those, and how our year got rounded off in a rather unexpected way.

There used to be a regular pattern to the end of one year and the start of the next. The excitement of the run up to Christmas (with three kids, you can’t avoid some excitement – it’s contagious). I’ve always had the kind of jobs where you don’t get a huge chunk of break over Christmas, and there’s no holiday allowance to book. That makes the days off more precious, and those weird in-between days, when I go back to work, but all the adults in the workplace are still away, fun and relaxing. In the Home Library Service, those days between Christmas and New Year are our Off Road week, where we don’t make any deliveries, but catch up on stuff in the office that we need time for – reorganisation, changing the shelving, looking at delivery routes and stuff like that. Again, it’s a quiet time in the library, and the senior staff often take the time off. It’s a fun time to be there, and low stress.

Then the New Year would kick off, and it would all be fresh and exciting again. So much possibility in those first few weeks, where whatever new routine I had assigned myself was still functioning, and the exceptions hadn’t materialised to spanner everything. I would be exercising, writing, planning… But not this year.

The Kidney Stone incident really knocked Christmas for six. I feel like I barely saw the kids when they came to visit, and I spent more than half the day in Emergency. Nobody got any real Christmas dinner. I got into work for one of the Off Road week days, but the stone kept me home for the rest of it, and then I got worried about Mrs Dim’s cold. She still hadn’t shaken it, so we took Covid tests. She and I were positive, Tiny Weasel was not.

So there we go, after nearly three years of dodging the bullet (you know, by getting vaccinated and being responsible and wearing a mask etc) we finally got it. Which meant I couldn’t go back to work on Jan 3rd, like I should. Worse, Mrs Dim didn’t get to do her first trial morning of return to work today, which she has been so looking forward to – it’s been a very long time off work for her.

So the beginning of this year feels like the inversion of all the others. It’s been a bit of a mess, a disorganised shamble to the finish line of 2022, and a rocky beginning to 2023. I’m hoping that means we get an inversion of the usual trope for January too, and we suddenly find things pick up, instead of falling apart. Fingers crossed.

That was 2022

About a month ago I had an idea to write a round up of the year. I think maybe the reason I didn’t, was that there isn’t a great list of successes and achievements. No matter how many times I try to revise my expectations, or review what I count as “success”, there’s still an insistence that I must produce new work every year, and by produce I mean “finish and publish”. This only applies to plays, of course, because I’ve given up on the notion of the e-books being anything but a way of storing information about my prop-building exploits.

But it’s the year end, and Spotify have sent out emails showing you what you listened to. Authors will be reviewing their favourite books of the year, there’ll be “Best Movies of 2022” articles everywhere, video games reviews and so on. All in all, it’s a strong incentive to look at our own achievements and put things in “pro” or “con” columns.

Mrs Dim said the other day that she’d found a note that said our word for 2022 was “Optimism”. You have to remember that, back at the start of this year, we had no idea how she would be affected by her stroke long term. There was no projected date for a return to work. There was a faint chance I could move up to a full-time position, but that turned out to be too long a shot to pull off. So we’ve spent the year being optimistic. We managed to buy the apartment, allowing the elder two Weasels to move out and still live within their means. Fluctuating interest rates have made that harder, but now we know Mrs Dim has the chance to return to work in January, our income may rise a little to offset that again.

My brother came through his health scare with some terrific new scars, but a working heart. My mum and dad have got through the worst (hopefully) of the UK winter, despite a Conservative government actively trying to kill off large sections of the population.

We went to Seattle and showed off Derek to an actual DOCTOR. If I ever need to smile, I just watch the video of Derek trundling around. He only got motorised this last summer! That seems incredible to me. I’m resigned to the fact that most of his renovation work won’t be completed by Fan Expo in Feb, but he MIGHT be talking…

Anyway, we were optimistic right up to Christmas Day. We had gather the kids together for a nice lunch and to open presents, when I got a resurgence of what I had thought was a grumbling appendix. When it hadn’t stopped grumbling after a few hours, we went into Emergency, and they finally determined it was a kidney stone. I came out with some medication, the advice to pee through a strainer, and someone else’s cold, which I then passed on to Mrs Dim.

None of this has made the last week of 2022 any more optimistic, but I don’t think it’s knocked us down either. I made it into work today, and I won’t need to come back until next Tuesday if I don’t feel up to it. Mrs Dim has a similar timeline before her trial return to work period starts, and it’s a graduated return too.

We’re aiming for “Stabilisation” next year. Mrs Dim finding her footing in work again, Tiny Weasel doing the same in her job at the library. The elder two weasels are wrestling with work and college still, and I obviously have health issues to work out. And Daleks to renovate.

Maybe we don’t have a laundry list of accomplishments for the year, but maybe we don’t need one. Maybe we can just stand on the mountaintop and appreciate the view before we start the next climb.

Silly Seasonal Traditions

It’s December, so we’re sat here watching seasonal movies. (Mrs Dim watched “Sleepless in Seattle” while I was at work, so we’re rounding out the Nora Ephron canon with “You’ve got mail”). I don’t know that watching seasonal movies counts as a tradition, because everybody does it.

Anyway, we do have some traditions that we chose to make our own. Christmas Eve afternoon, we have a “picky tea” – food you can pile on a plate and eat with your fingers – and we watch two very special things – Muppet Christmas Carol, and Simon Callow reading extracts from Dickens.

Again, maybe not wildly original, but something we have come to love doing.

And then there’s this:

I know it looks like a collection of crazy toys, but it all started with a beautiful Christmas village set that a friend gave us soon after we arrived in Canada. For several years,we laid out the fake snow material and put out the houses and bought the odd small addition – streetlights, raccoons in a bin…And then one year, I forget why, we decided we were going to tell a story about what was happening in the village. We would write one short installment each day on Facebook, and include a photo. We’d start December the first and finish on Christmas Day

Most of the stories centre on Boots McGee (she’s the one in the hat, next to the Minion dressed as a Napoleonic soldier). She’s a brave orphan who usually has to struggle against great odds to solve a problem of some kind. Some years there are specific themes or running gags. One year I tried to work in a line from a Christmas carol into every day without disrupting the storyline. Last year, we hid titles from festive movies in every installment – Boots McGee had taken up with the criminal shorty Gnome Malone, for example.

Over time, the original inhabitants of the village have been joined by Lego figures, Star Wars figures, a T-Rex skeleton, toy cars, and even a model of the van I use for my day job.

If you look closely, you might just be able to see that Boots is wearing a false mustache in this picture. She was in disguise.

But the big issue this year is more of a logistical problem than a storytelling one. Part of our house renos during 2022 was removing the living room fireplace and, therefore, the mantelpiece that went over it. We’ve gone from this:

….to this:

There isn’t room under the TV to assemble the village, so we’re probably going to be using the shelves…I don’t really know how it’s going to work this year, but we have to figure it out soon… The Nuns of St Frideswide have just set out from the niche in the hallway, intent on leading the donkey and camels they confiscated from the Three Kings with the aid of The Bad Batch from Star Wars back to Mantelpiece Village…

All this is a very roundabout way to say, keep only those traditions that bring you joy, or connect you to things or people you hold dear. Quite a few people seem to have found the phrase “Traditions are just peer pressure from the dead” this year, and I think that’s worth reflecting on. We’ve chosen traditions that bring our family together, that raise a smile. I hope we always will.

Halloween 2022 (and others)

If you’ve read more than a couple of these blog posts, you’ll know we like making stuff in this household. We are happy to put on crazy outfits for the flimsiest of reasons. Halloween is obviously a big deal for us.

For our last Halloween in the UK, we followed the traditional custom of having a party to which the Weasels invited their friends. At the time, the UK was just coming to terms with adopting the North American custom of Trick or Treating, so rather than patrolling the neighbourhood trying to finds someone who was prepared to hand out sweets, we hosted a crowd of kids in costumes.

Arriving in Canada was a bit of a revelation. People had LOADS of Halloween decorations. The shops were stuffed with special supplies of sweets, and giant inflatables. Since my first job in Canada was working at Home Depot, I got to see some of these crazy giant decorations up close…

So we have made the most of being here – we’ve added to our own collection of Halloween decorations every year, and although we don’t have an animatronic dragon (yet!), we DO have an animatronic witch who is quite creepy enough, thanks.

The last few years we’ve made a giant spiders’ web which stretches right across our driveway and supports a giant spider. Sweets get hung from the web and the kids have to pick them off. The advantage is that we don’t have to spend the whole night outside if it’s cold or rainy, just restock the web every now and then.

Now, I don’t know where this year’s idea came from, but it got settled early on that for 2022, we would have a pirate ship in the driveway. There’d be a hole in the side of the ship, and kids would have to go into the ship and find the sweets in the treasure chest.

It took a couple of false starts, but eventually, we ended up with the wreck of the good ship “Queen of Scream”, a firing cannon, five pirate skeletons, a cursed treasure chest, and a forty-five minute pirate soundscape (courtesy of Middle Weasel) that included some great pirate songs, creaking rigging, someone walking the plank, a pitched battle at sea, and a fight with the Kraken!

Walking with Magicians

This picture is from the TV series “The Magicians”, itself adapted from the books by Lev Grossman. It’s a series of books I like to listen to, and I very much enjoyed the show. The added bonus is that it’s filmed right here in BC. When one of the characters is in hospital, the entrance that they used for filming was one of the residential homes that I visit for work. And the picture above? It’s the main entrance to Brakebills College in the show, but in real life it’s at UBC, and so was I today:

It was fun to see a location I knew from the show, but it was more of a surprise to arrive at our intended destination (The Botanical Gardens, for UBC’s Apple Days Festival) and see ANOTHER location that I didn’t know was from UBC. In real life it’s the Rosaline Sturdy Amphitheatre:

But in the show, it’s the world between worlds, the Neitherlands:

We had a great time at the Apple Days Festival, but it was great to get a reminder that Vancouver really IS Hollywood North, and at any time you can find yourself in a film location.

You can’t go home again.

This has been a popular saying since Thomas Wolfe wrote his book with that title in the first half of the 1900’s (it was published posthumously in 1940). It’s one of those sayings like “You can never cross the same river twice” that is, on the surface, complete rubbish. Of course you can go home again. You can also spend all day going back on forth over any bridge you name, crossing the same river every time.

But these are not meant to be taken at surface meaning, like “When the leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears, it be time for plantin’…”* The home you go back to is not the same as the one you left, because both you and the people there have grown and changed in the intervening time. The river water you cross the second time is from further upstream.

Despite these linguistic caveats, I did recently return to the town I once called home. New Alresford, in Hampshire, England. It was Mum’s birthday, and my dad asked if I could fly over as a surprise. I took my Eldest Weasel, as she is calm, an experienced traveller, and she could pay for her own ticket.

I was very happy to be going to see my parents and my friends. I was less enthusiastic about visiting the UK in general, because the lackadaisical attitude to Covid precautions meant it was quite possible I would get infected while there. But we took masks and went forth!

The birthday surprise was great, and Mum was delighted, which made the whole trip worthwhile within 48 hours of landing. We caught up with friends and family at the lunch, and at Mum and Dad’s place afterwards, but the next day we got to stroll around my old hometown.

I left in 1996, and unsurprisingly, it’s changed quite a lot. The pub where I used to work has been rebuilt after it burned down. (I have an alibi. Not that I need one. I didn’t do it.)

The Post Office is now an Estate Agent’s, the Newsagent’s is now…well, NOT a newsagent any more. The Pizza Express has been replaced with something else that doesn’t do pizza, and my old school looks like a place that might provide a decent education, or at least place well in the league tables. The bookshop where I used to get deals on second hand books is still there, and I bought some second hand books.

The house at the top of this post is the one Mrs Dim and I first lived in when we were married. It doesn’t look wildly different from when we owned it – the windows are still the original drafty sash jobs, but there’s a skylight in the roof that must make the attic room more cheerful. The front yard has flowers in it, but the place is up for sale again, so the current owners must feel they need something more. (They can’t possibly be downsizing, unless they are hamsters or contortionists.)

As it was when WE put it up for sale…

I’d told myself I should be more positive about visiting the UK, and there were a lot of things to appreciate. The countryside is beautiful and green, despite the record-breaking temperatures, and it’s EVERYWHERE. From the moment we left the airport to the time we returned, green fields, trees, flowers, meadows, rolling hills and rivers made up the landscape.

The people we met were also positive and welcoming, even if they rolled their eyes while talking about the current political situation, or the handling of Covid, or the weather. The streets were clean, and when we went shopping with our crazy list of things to take back to Canada, we found all of them.

I don’t ever plan on returning to the UK to live. If I’d ever considered it, the opening times of the Alresford library made my mind up.

And yes, maybe Alresford only has 5,000 inhabitants compared with the 250,000 who live in Burnaby, but if you make it hard for people to visit the library, then they won’t go. And if they won’t go, you have “evidence” that they don’t need a library, so it closes. And people like Boris Johnson feel a little more secure, knowing the population has fewer resources.

So, despite Thomas Wolfe, I did go home again, spending good times with my parents, and catching up with friends at a local pub (didn’t burn that one down either. Or any of them. IT WASN’T ME!) I visited my brother and his family at their home, played tourist in my old hometown, told my daughter stories of the boy I used to be, and then….

I went home again.

*This is not true, and I do not wish to be held responsible for failed crops. Lucy Johnston said it once in college, and it’s one of the few things I heard in college that I can remember now.

Last of the High School Graduates

Some time ago (in the post I wrote here ) I mentioned that we couldn’t plan on returning to the UK after only a couple of years, because once the Weasels began their Secondary Education, it was best we let them see it through. With a three-year age gap between each weasel, that meant that by the time one was done, the next two would be well and truly in it.

Until this week, when Tiny Weasel became the latest to graduate from High School.

So now I’ve attended three North American High School Graduations, and I have to admit, I have questions.

To give you some context, I “graduated” from Perins Secondary school at the age of sixteen in 1988. Back then, that was the end of your mandatory education. You could choose, like I did, to go on to A levels at a college (Still called “Sixth Form Colleges”, though we didn’t have “forms” in the school), but you could also just go out into the workforce.

At sixteen I was studying nine subjects, and when I had taken the last exam, that was it. Since all my peers were doing a different mix of subjects, we all finished school at different times. There was no big leaving ceremony that I remember, and I did not feel that one was lacking. At the end of my A levels, the college had a “Leavers Ball”, but that was more about celebrating social status (it seemed to me) than about the end of college.

In contrast, all three of my weasels have had a big ceremony in some public forum. You have to have tickets to attend, and graduates have robes and hats which are regulated in terms of what you may or may not write on them. Each hat has a tassel which must be attached, and that tassel MUST BE ON THE LEFT as you come on stage for your moment in the spotlight, and YOU YOURSELF must move the tassel over to the RIGHT SIDE on leaving the stage. If you don’t….I dunno, maybe your graduation doesn’t count?

Yes, this was the first graduation we’d been to that didn’t feature that song from “Rent”…

(Not that it’s a bad song, but apparently it got used A LOT!)

No, this year we got the Coast Salish Anthem, which was appropriate for the venue AND the occasion, and the fact the we are supposed to be (at the very least) acknowledging the First Nations in everything we do.

Anyway, that was the right choice. And I like “Hallelujah” as much as the next guy, and the choir did a beautiful rendition of it, but was it a good choice for the occasion? They featured a verse I hadn’t heard before (there are something like fifteen actual verses for the song, though most people use three):

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the profane Hallelujah

I’m the first to admit that I’m picky about words – it’s a big part of both my jobs. But this verse is saying – what? That it doesn’t matter what’s said, it matters what the person saying it means? Or that it DOESN’T matter what the person saying it means? Because I have to say, these days we are all trying hard to get people to understand that WORDS DO MATTER. That what you say can be damaging to other people, that your intention does not negate the harm you can cause with the wrong words.

Then we got “Pomp and Circumstance”, which North Americans only know as The Graduation March, but Brits know as “Land of Hope and Glory”.

If you were aiming to De-colonise some North American traditions, maybe look at removing the tune that goes along with one of the most bombastic and imperial “hymns” out there? Oh, that’s not what you hear when the tune plays? Listen, I know this guy, Leonard Cohen? He says it doesn’t matter what you heard….

Why though, asks Mrs Dim, after the ceremony is done. Why that tune still? If the answer is “because we always use that tune…” then NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Try again.

Following the entrance of the Class of 2022, we had three speeches from members of the educational establishment. They were all different, but all said much the same thing, and yes, they were generally in praise of what these kids had endured under the crazy years of Covid restrictions. But three speeches is, as far as I’m concerned, two too many, especially when the night is getting cold, and we haven’t even gotten to the presentation of the thing they earned with their five years of school.

And there was longer to wait, because first you get the presentation of the Scholarships and special prizes. Kids trooped across the stage, sometimes more than once or twice, and one had to stand while the announcer detailed that she was getting this scholarship for being poor. (Ok, that’s not the terms they used, but we all understood them.) I don’t know how the other graduands felt, but my elder two in the audience felt lesser for not winning scholarships and awards, and they haven’t been in High School in years. Yes, this is an achievement that should be celebrated, but the scholarships are mentioned as the kid gets their scroll (actually NOT a scroll, but I can’t help myself) anyway, so why the need to announce exactly WHAT the scholarship is? Why not put that info in the programme?

Because, and this is the important part, there are FOUR PAGES of names for this graduating class. They all deserve their time on the stage, being applauded by families and friends, and I would not deny them that. But by the time that walk started, we had already been sitting a long time. The final few grads (my weasel among them) had waited upwards of two hours. And then they all have to sit down again and listen to the Valedictorian speech.

He did a good job, but as the voice of the graduating class, maybe he should have been further up the programme? After all, wasn’t this whole evening supposed to be about them?

This is the essential point of the whole question, I think. Who is this ceremony for? Mrs Dim says the robes and hats imbue some solemnity, and there’s the old argument that everyone looks equal with the gown over their clothes, rich or poor, cool or nerdy. The ceremony is not mandatory, she points out – if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.

That’s fair, but I think there’s a certain amount of expectation from the parents who had their grad in this style. The educational staff who have seen dozens of these ceremonies and know how they “should” go. The PAC members who fundraise for the events around graduation.

With Tiny Weasel’s graduation, we’re done with High School, so we don’t get a vote anymore. We didn’t join the High School PAC, so we didn’t get any input into the graduation (if they have any beyond organising the celebratory dinner dance.) I’m not going to start a crusade to change the culture of graduation in BC. All this pondering of the rights and wrongs will remain just that – pondering.

I’m glad Tiny Weasel got to have a regular graduation ceremony, something she’ll have in common with most of the people she’s likely to meet in her adult life on this continent. She enjoyed it, generally, and she didn’t trip over her gown or lose her hat. Perhaps it was a better send off to the years of school than my own quiet retreat, but I still don’t feel I’ve missed out. My school friends who were worthwhile are still my friends, and there’s nothing more I needed to keep of my school years.

My final school year. (Not actual size)

Packing it in before packing it up.

It’s not the last day of the holiday, but it was the last day at Disneyland. We’d thought we’d bought Park Hopper tickets, enabling us to spend some time at Disneyland and some time at California Adventureland, across the way. As it turned out, we could only visit one park per day, and since we’d spent the first two at Disney, we felt we should give the third day to Adventureland. However, Mrs Dim wasn’t going to have any disappointment on her watch, so our first stop on Thursday morning was the Customer Services booth outside the parks. They upgraded our tickets (at a minor cost of Oh My God How Much? No, Don’t Tell Me) and we skipped off to see how long we would have to wait for the Guardians of the Galaxy ride.

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The last time we visited Adventureland, they were in the process of converting the old Tower of Terror ride into this new one. We were eager to see how they had done, but were nervous how many other people were there ahead of us. And it turned out, not that many!

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The queuing system took you through the lobby of the Collector’s establishment, showing you some of his collection, as well as introducing you to the conceit of the ride (The Guardians have been captured for display).

Naturally, we saved all the Guardians through our amazing “Sitting strapped into seats” ability, then moved on to find a superhero to hug.

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Once we’d finished browsing the local web, as it were, we had to rush off, because Mrs Dim had set her sights high – we were going to get on the Radiator Springs Racers ride this year! Last time we came, we could not ride it, because the queue was so long and all the fast passes were booked up for the day. This year the line was long, but not as long as the one for Smuggler’s Run had been, so we toughed it out.

It was worth it.

This was awesome. We had already crossed two rides off our list that we had doubted we could even get onto! We rushed off to Pixar Pier to try our luck with the newly renamed “Incredicoaster”. (Used to be the California Screaming….)

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Once again, the queue wasn’t huge, and it was moving pretty fast. There were funny videos playing to distract the nervous, and we reached the gates before we knew it. The people in front of us got onto the coaster and the gates closed. Then there was an announcement and the gates opened again. The reluctant and confused people were ushered off the coaster and the WHOLE QUEUE was turned away. Something was wrong, and they weren’t going to let anyone ride until they figured it out. Fair enough.

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To make up for our first failure, we jumped on to the giant ferris wheel (which probably has a comedy name, but I can’t remember it…) Mrs Dim asked me and Eldest Weasel if we were ok with a swinging gondola. We shrugged and said “yes”. But, dear reader, we were not ok. The stunning views across the park were not enough to distract us from the hideous sensations and I have rarely been happier to get off a ride.

There was some good representation for “Coco” in Adventureland, and we recovered while listening to the Mariachi band, and filling out our own contribution to the “Family Memories” area in memory of Cousin Shaun, gone far too soon.

Two successes, two less successful ventures. Mrs Dim got her spirits back up with a trip on the flying chairs, and then we headed across to Disneyland. Middle Weasel and I agreed that we had come to terms with not having another visit to Galaxy’s Edge, but now the chance was here, we were both thrilled.

We walked in to Disneyland, just as a parade was setting off. That gave us a chance to snag a couple more character pictures.

Then, to save our poor tired feet, we hopped on the train to ride around to New Orleans.

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We walked into Galaxy’s Edge along the route we have been using to leave, and almost immediately bumped into Resistance heroine, Vi Moradi. This time we didn’t just see her, she came over to chat to us!

While she was asking us how we were getting on, she was interrupted by another familiar face who also wanted her photograph taken with us…

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When we had finally stopped being mobbed by famous faces, we strolled into the Smuggler’s Run ride for one last trip on the Milennium Falcon. It was great fun, yet again.

We emerged with the ship mostly intact, and went to try both Blue Milk AND Green Milk. Green milk tastes like soap, and blue milk is more like brake fluid, but they’re both very expensive.

While we drank, we saw Vi getting escorted to prison by two troopers.

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Less than a minute later, she came strolling back down the street.

“You didn’t even use your blaster?” asked Mrs Dim.

“Piece of cake” Vi shrugged and disappeared again.

We closed out our final day with a meal at Pizza Planet.

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Thanks to all our lucky breaks, the great rides, and the cast members in Galaxy’s Edge, this visit to Disney really has been out of this world. The drive home is going to be a long one, but it’s been worth every mile.

Taking a Disney break at Universal

We have tickets for three days at Disney, but we know from the last time we were here, that it’s possible to sneak in a day at Universal Studios and see the other kind of Parklife (damn, got that song stuck in my head now…) The difficult bit is deciding when to leave, because no matter when you choose to go, it’ll take about two hours because of LA traffic. The park opens at 9, and that’s when we left.

Obviously, I didn’t take any pictures while driving over there, and the kids were zonked out in the back, with Mrs Dim doing my navigating for me. We DID spot the Hollywood sign, way off in the distance, so cross that one off the list.

For some reason I was a little grumpy when we arrived. Might have been the driving, or that peculiar aggressive grumpiness that suddenly seizes people when they realise they have to share something fun with other, ordinary people. The last time we came to Universal we had a wonderfully strange stroke of luck, with impending bad weather keeping most people away, but never appearing. This time it looked like we were going to have to share, and worse, QUEUE. Then I dropped my phone and shattered the screen. Bother. BUT….

It was still a really good day. We kicked it off by heading over to Hogsmead. The snow looked ludicrous in the heat, but we snagged some cold Butterbeer and started to relax.

We were trepidatious about the main ride in Hogsmead, but the wait time was only 20 mins. This sounds rough, but after weathering a 90 minute wait in Disney, it seemed reasonable to us. Plus, the queuing system for this ride takes you all through Hogwarts castle, and the decoration is fantastic. The portraits are animated and talk, and there’s something happening in every room you pass through – in the Defence against the Dark Arts Classroom, for example, Harry Ron and Hermione are wandering around under their invisibility cloak. Items move, doors open and close and their voices are clearly heard. Turns out, 20 mins isn’t long enough to see everything before you reach the ride.

The ride itself is an amazing combination of physical ride and simulation. You move through actual environments like the Forbidden Forest and the Observatory, and 180 degree screens project the illusion of flight around the outside of the castle and across the Quidditch pitch. Sounds, light and physical interactions like hot air and water help sell the experience. It was great!

You’re helped off the ride and gently ushered into the Gift Shop, of course. Like Galaxy’s Edge, there’s not a lot to ride in Hogsmead – the Hippogriff coaster and the Hogwarts ride are the only two, but there’s the “wand-choosing” experience, which provides you with a wand that can activate a number of shop window displays when you perform the spell action correctly. This is an amazing thing for the kids (and adults!) All those times you have wished you could perform real magic, and here’s a very convincing simulation.

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At that point we had to leave before Eldest Weasel sold a kidney to buy yet another wand. We had to go all the way down to the lower lot to see the Jurassic World stuff. Dinosaurs, remember? (She did say the ideal thing would be to ride between the two lots on a velociraptor, on a broom, drinking Butterbeer and throwing amber left and right, with Porgs on both shoulders. Kids today, huh?)

The old Jurassic Park ride has been replaced with an updated Jurassic World ride. Although the essentials of the ride are the same (you ride in boats, get wet, and there are dinosaurs), the details are different enough that it felt like a new experience. And wet enough that we didn’t take photos. When it finished, Eldest Weasel shook herself and ran over to the Velociraptor Encounter (which was the only reason she came…)

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She was told the book was probably in bad taste, but Blue the Raptor didn’t seem to mind too much.

After that, the only sane thing to do was go on the World Famous Studio Tour, currently celebrating its 55th anniversary. We had ridden the tour two years ago, and weren’t expecting major changes. Of course, you get a different commentary each time you have a different guide, and Marcellus was a master raconteur. He knew a lot about the shows being filmed, even if we rarely recognised any of the ones he mentioned. We were thrilled to go through the streets used for The Good Place though, a show that didn’t EXIST two years ago…

The best bits of the tour are still there: the Bates Motel and house, the Jaws attack, the earthquake in the Metro station, the flash flood, and the two newest additions, the King Kong 360 3d and the Fast and the Furious “What the heck is going on, who are these people, what was that, why did it explode, please let it be over, why does Vin Diesel play anyone but Groot?” experience.

On a whim, we wandered into the Special Effects Show, which was short but punchy, and paid tribute to some of the less sexy areas of special effects, like the Foley artists, who deserve more credit and adulation. After that, it was time to cruise the gift shops once more and head out… Except that on our way we passed the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and opted to have an early dinner, rather than rush off to sit in traffic.

The decor was great, combining movie memorabilia with info and pictures from behind the scenes. Our server, Chris, was attentive and knowledgeable, and pointed out the sign on the table. It said “Run Forrest Run”, but if you flipped it over it said “Stop, Forrest, Stop”. If you needed assistance, you flipped the sign, and ANY server would stop to see what they could do for you. We ate great food, and Mrs Dim FINALLY got her cocktail.

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After a good meal and such a busy day, the ride back through LA wasn’t too bad at all, despite the reappearance of the Christmas songs in our random playlist. Still, if you’re driving through LA on a hot October evening after playing with Dinosaurs, why not do it with The Muppets singing the Twelve Days of Christmas?