Category Archives: Emigrating with Weasels

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

The Wizard of Oz and the 8th Canaversary

WP_20170310_001

Last night we all went to see Burnaby Mountain Secondary School’s production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Primarily, we were there because Middle Weasel was in the booth, working as Sound Tech for the show. It’s been a little surprising but very rewarding to see how she has thrown herself into the production, and the long hours she has put in with the rest of the cast and crew – all of which paid off last night in a great show to a packed Michael J Fox Theatre.

the-wizard-of-oz-burnaby-mountain

Photo by Jennifer Gauthier of the Burnaby Now

But we were also there to celebrate our eighth anniversary of arriving in Canada. Famously, Dorothy finds her way back to Kansas and Auntie Em by clicking her heels and reciting “There’s no place like home!”. When we told people we were moving to Canada, they were often worried that we would miss “home”, but years of RAF life had meant we were used to the idea of home being each other, not the building we lived in. When Dorothy has her revelation about home, she’s not misty-eyed about the farmhouse or the fields of corn, it’s her aunt, uncle and the farmhands that she thinks of. Her journey through Oz gives her experience of all kinds of things – danger, excitement, friendship, adulation and wonder, but all of this only serves to show her how much she had back at home.* Eight years in Canada have changed many things, but we still eat evening meals together more often than not, we still take time to hear about one another’s day, and even if we moan about it, we’ll gather for a family meeting to discuss major issues.

There was an element, that day at Heathrow, of “We’re off to see the Wizard!” We didn’t know, really, what we were going to find in Canada, only that we hoped it would be good for all of us. Like Dorothy, we’ve made plenty of new friends on the journey, and we’ve found out that there really is no place like home, whatever you believe your home to be.

*It doesn’t, of course, offer any solution to the problem she actually ran away from in the first place – Mrs Gulch using her corrupt influence over the Sheriff to get a legal order to euthanize Toto. Lucky for Dorothy, when she gets back she finds out Mrs Gulch has been struck by a falling telegraph pole and has broken her leg! Hooray! A senior citizen living by herself has suffered a terrible injury! What a relief!

Buy “The Great Canadian Adventure” ebook on:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.ca

Escaping to Fan Expo Vancouver

There’s little doubt that 2016 has been a grim year. We’ve lost folk heroes, rock stars, and a little bit of belief in the fundamental goodness of regular folks. But yesterday we set aside our fears and doubts, and dressed up as someone else for a day. We went to Fan Expo Vancouver 2016.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you’ll know we try to go every year. I always intend to dress up, and I never do. Time and again, the Weasels have outshone me with their brilliant outfits, and been photographed over and over.

This year, I was ready. Having spent only a short period of time building s Doctor Strange outfit for Halloween, I had spruced up the Shakespearean Vader suit that I built so long ago. I shortened the cloak so I didn’t trip on it. I added extra bling. I was ready.

wp_20161108_014-2

We didn’t rush in this year – there would be no queuing! Eldest Weasel had booked a photo shoot with her personal Doctor Who idol, Alex Kingston, and that wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so we had a leisurely drive in to downtown, and then we gathered outside the convention centre while Mrs Dim figured out how to exchange our tickets for the wristbands that would get us inside.

001

Eldest Weasel’s friend came along as Kaylee from Firefly, while Eldest herself had really gone to town on improving her Time Lord Headdress.

dscn9465

Middle Weasel was Quicksilver (somewhat ironic, given her tendency to avoid moving whenever possible) and Tiny Weasel was Frisk from Undertale. You know, Undertale? the Game? No, me neither.

Attending Fan Expo in costume was wildly different from going in regular clothes. For one thing, I was stopped quite often so people could take photos of or with me. For another, I couldn’t actually see very much. My breath fogged up the eyepieces after about four minutes, and Mrs Dim had to guide me through the halls. I was glad she’d chosen a white jacket for the day, as it was easy to follow the white blur. Only once did it turn out to be the WRONG white blur….

From an atmosphere of fear and hate (through the internet news and the reactions of friends and family) we found ourselves in a place of acceptance and encouragement. Fans can be sticklers for details, vocally critical of the film industry when details are altered for a movie, or when a beloved character is treated badly for plot purposes. But I heard no criticisms of any of the costumed characters at the Expo. There was open admiration, compliments, applause, and , of course, photographs. Prominently displayed in the convention centre and the nearby hotel were signboards with the “Cosplay is not consent” policy clearly laid out. Some female characters wear skimpy outfits, and those that chose to dress as those characters could have no fear that they would risk assault for that choice.

Respect. Inclusion. Honest fun. Pursuit of interests for the joy they bring, not the financial gain.

It was a delight to step into this world, and imagine the one we live in coming back to these values one day.

Halloween is coming

halloween-background

Lazy summer days are great, and fresh spring mornings can be wonderful, but I have to admit that autumn is my favourite time of the year. It’s not the crunchy fallen leaves, or the tang of snow to come in the air, but one night of silliness: Halloween.

As a child in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s, Halloween was not a big deal. There would be a party on the night itself, or the weekend closest to, I guess, and there would be costumes and apple bobbing, but no trick or treating. By the time I was at Secondary school, there were Halloween discos, and rumours of trick or treating in local areas, but these were always accompanied by horror stories of razor blades in apples and so on. We knew about North American Halloween traditions, of course, because we watched movies like “ET” and saw the parades of costumed kids going about collecting sweets. None of them seemed to suffer horrific murder as a result….

In our final few years in the UK, we were on RAF stations, usually behind the wire, where a small community made for safe trick or treating. Mrs Dim came up with the idea of making a huge cauldron of soup and some hot dogs and making a gather point for adults. We could see the kids working their way up and down the road while the adults took turns supervising and eating.

By 2008, we were hosting our own Halloween party out in the world of civilians.

The kids even got to go trick or treating around the local roads (with adults in attendance, of course.)

But over here, the sheer scale of Halloween is impressive. When my writing partners from TLC came to visit in our first year, they went back with a suitcase filled with Halloween decorations that were cheap over here, but non-existant at the time in the UK. I suspect that situation has changed in the years since, but there’s no denying that people go all out for  Halloween over here.

The last two years I have been working Halloween night, and I will be again this year. It’s a quiet night in the library, even though the staff dress up and the Librarians usually have some sweets for any trick or treaters who make it in.

 

The Weasels will also be dressed up, and some will be roaming the streets in search of sweets, while others will man the Witch’s cottage, or whatever scary house we set up to trap the unwary….

Finding Balance

WP_20160810_023 (2)

It’s been Summer Holidays for more than a month. Traditionally, it’s a time of year where I lose my mind, trying to fit in the demands of the irregular work schedule, my own writing desires and the various activities (or not) of the Weasels.

This year has seen a few changes, with Eldest Weasel leaving school and filling some of her free time with volunteering at the Vancouver Aquarium and the Pacific Northwest Raptor Centre.DSCN8839

Donte 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Weasel took a brief course that will help her if she decides to continue helping out on ice – she’s done her Ringette Ref training, and now is ready to help teach a new generation of Ringette players.

Tiny Weasel took two weeks of the school-run summer entertainments and we’ve all traveled with my parents who were over for a fortnight.

InstagramCapture_d4276280-0525-437e-a5ed-ef1b67c7927f

None of us are in this picture, but we were there – it’s Long Beach, Tofino.

What I have to relearn every year is the trick of balance. I’m not being denied my work time, or my solitude, and the kids aren’t being forced to go out and have fun. There’s time for writing, time for relaxing, time for exploring and time for socialising. There’s even, god help us all, time for watching brainless twits on YouTube blathering about the very latest thing that they found in their breakfast cereal….. I may be a little prejudiced about the value of YouTube as an entertainment delivery system.

Anyway, for every five minutes where I’m convinced we’re not going to get anywhere or do anything, there’s times like this:

WP_20160804_011

or places like this:

WP_20160810_010 (3)

or discoveries like this:

InstagramCapture_63bb6f6f-96df-4d13-a8ad-9c1960dea13e

I don’t know what state we’ll be in when we reach September, but most years we seem to have done alright. We’ve had fun, been to some interesting places, seen some good people and and spent a healthy amount of time outdoors, as well as getting in some good screen time. This year, I’m going to remember that Summer isn’t about what you can cram in, or what you worry about missing out.

It’s about the balance.

 

Slow progress all round

Workshop progress

There seems to be something of a tradition on this blog of not talking about Fathers’ Day until it’s done. Well, it was over a week ago, so I think we’re safe now….

This year I didn’t ask for presents. I asked for help. My workshop had reached crisis point, and it was so messed up, I couldn’t actually do any work in it. My latest project (Handles, from Doctor Who) has been mostly made in the kids’ playroom, and the bathroom reno has been carried out in situ.

WP_20160609_002

Handles still has a long way to go….

Anyway, the point of this post, apart from the opportunity to publicly thank my entire family for helping me sort out my crisis of a workshop, was to remind everyone that getting things done often means getting other things done first. With a tidy workshop, I’ve been able to get a whole load of pending things done, because I know where everything is (as opposed to “I know I saw that a week ago…”). Clearing out the junk meant I was doing a tip run, which means the other junk waiting got taken away.

Bathroom comparison

I like to think the bathroom progress is more noticeable..

Best of all, I feel things are possible again. I wish it was as easy to clear out the clutter from my brain, and leave only the useful, clean and modern tools. But if I can’t do that, I can be sure that the workspace I go to is ready for me to work in.

Graduation

WP_20160528_002

Seven years in Canada means there are now very few moments where we stop and say “Hey, that’s a bit different!”, but this week, there was a big one. Eldest Weasel has graduated High School.

*Puts on flat cap and lights pipe*

Back in my day, we didn’t graduate from High School. For a start, we didn’t GO to High School. Mandatory Secondary Education finished with the Fifth Year and G.C.S.E.s (I was in the first year to take these new-fangled replacements for the O levels). We spent May and June taking an assortment of exams (nine, in my case) and when you took your last exam, you were done. No more Secondary School. There was, I think, a final assembly, but I got sent out of that for talking, so I don’t know what happened in it.

As an avid consumer of North American film and TV, I’m familiar with the concept of High School graduation (though this one turned out very different from that Buffy Episode…). What I hadn’t realised was the ceremony is really worthwhile. Poor Eldest Weasel was consumed with nerves about the whole thing, which was a shame because this was a great way to mark the early years of education, the culmination of the time that this age group would spend together in school. From this point on, as was made clear by the statements read out for each graduate, they would be scattering to all kinds of different colleges, careers and ambitions.

DSCN8686

That’s not to say that the mood was entirely sombre. The Principal (who is also moving on to a new job) gave a speech that was upbeat and encouraging, inevitably quoting Dr Seuss, and making several jokes (some unintentional). There were catcalls and cheers for the students receiving scholarships, and many of the hats had been decorated by their owners, since they would be kept as souvenirs of the big day. It was a long ceremony, only broken twice by performances from the choir and the band, begun with “O, Canada” sung by one of the graduates and closed with “God Save the Queen” sung by another. The hats were thrown into the air after the Valedictorian’s speech (and you have to love Drama Students for stepping up when it comes to making a great speech) and the graduates filed out to meet the friends and relatives who had packed the arena.

Laurel brolly tweaked

I had come to the event believing it to be overblown and unnecessary , just one more stress to drop on a group of young adults already being pressured to decide their futures. But I came away feeling it had been exactly right – a celebration of the time and effort these students had put into their school, an acknowledgement of what it will come to mean to them in the future, and a reminder that the friendships they have made here can be carried forward no matter how far apart they may travel.

The Great Canadian Adventure is FREE!

Great Canadian cover

Yes! To celebrate the fact that it’s been EXACTLY 7 years, 2 months and 14 days since we arrived in Canada, I’m giving away my account of our first year here for FREE!

It’s filled with fun pictures and interesting facts! It’s an e-book, so people won’t see it on your shelf and ask why you bought it! It’s free, so you won’t regret spending money on it! And it’s an Amazon product so you can leave reviews warning others away from making a similar error!

(I may not be good at this marketing thing.)

You can get your copy from Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk . If you live somewhere else, check out your local Amazon site and see if it’s free there too!

And ok, yes, it may not be because of the timing, but because i haven’t given away any of my e-books in a long time. There’ll probably be other giveaways coming up soon. I’m busy working on a new play, co-writing the next pantomime, and there’s a side-project running over on Wattpad that I’m not convinced will be worth publishing, but is making me smile. Also, I haven’t made any kind of replica film prop for more than a week.*

 

 

 

*There may be a complete set of plans for a Cyberman head in the bottom drawer of my desk. I refuse to comment.

1985 on my mind…

We’re all hearing a lot about today being THE day, finally, when Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrive from the past. We’ve bemoaned the lack of hoverboards, the fact there isn’t a Jaws 17 in real 3d on at the movies. Surprisingly, there ARE still a lot of Deloreans kicking about.

But I’m looking the other way. I’m remembering what I can about 1985, wanting to remember what I thought the future would really look like.

Dim November 85

In 1985 I was thirteen. In my third year of Secondary School, and doing reasonably well. I was a big Star Wars fan, although I actually had only seen “The Empire Strikes Back” for the first time the year before, on VHS. (I’d seen “Return of the Jedi” several times, including once up in London as a result of winning a competition…)

the last show at Winchester fixed

The last days of Winchester’s cinema.

I saw “Back to the Future” at the cinema in Winchester, a relic from the glory days of the movies, sandwiched between anonymous buildings on North Walls. I likely saw the sequel there too. At thirteen, the cinema was a place I could suddenly go to with friends, not parents, and back then it was also within my limited budget.

North Walls today

What the cinema site looks like today.

It was obvious that the 2015 shown in “Back to the Future 2” was over the top, but thirty years was a long time. Look at the advancements we had made since 1955, after all – we had digital watches, space shuttles, a phone the size of a small briefcase you could carry around with you! Clive Sinclair was trying to get people to ride a three-wheel electric scooter, for Pete’s sake, surely we’d have hoverboards by 2015?

I think I missed the clear message of Back to the Future, though : that no matter how much times may change, people remain the same. If I could talk to that thirteen year old now, I wouldn’t tell him that we have a company making all-electric cars that can outperform most petrol cars, but people are still fighting wars over oil. I wouldn’t tell him that there’s overwhelming scientific evidence and vocal protest about climate change, but people are still putting profit first. I wouldn’t tell him that people are still fighting and killing over gods, over land, over ancient feuds.

I might tell him I carry a device in my pocket that can access almost limitless information and play movies and games. That my kids use computers every day and they are as common in schools as exercise books were in my time. That there are people like Malala who stand up to ignorance and cruelty, and a whole generation growing up who believe in recycling, renewable energy, healthy eating and are anti-bullying.

If you’re not sick of movies yet, try watching “Tomorrowland”. Near the beginning the heroine of the film is in class after class, being shown terrible images of the near future – climate change, over population, deforestation, animal extinction. The teachers are grim and despondent, and she raises her hand to ask “How can we fix it?”

That’s how we get the future we need. Not by aiming for hoverboards and shark movies, but seeing the problems ahead and asking “How can we fix it?”

Bard on the Beach 2015

A different configuration for the stage this year, but still simple, and able to represent numerous locations.

A different configuration for the stage this year, but still simple, and able to represent numerous locations.

Last year’s Bard on the Beach was a bust for us – we were ready to go and be entertained on Sunday morning, but it turned out we had tickets for Saturday afternoon. Oops.

This year we almost missed the boat completely. With visitors throughout the summer, it was always an option, but superseded by other events. Lucky for us, Middle Weasel asked about it with just days of performances left, and we ended up booking tickets for the final performance of the season.

The play we booked was “A Comedy of Errors”, one that none of us had encountered before. The production had transformed the setting into Steampunk, and we were all excited to see how that would work. As the photo shows, the set was all brass and cogwheels, with steam and clanking, grinding sound effects from five minutes before the start of the show. The characters wore great outfits – goggles, metal-accented limbs, eyepieces, Victorian styles.

The story concerns two pairs of identical twin boys, who are separated in a shipwreck, and are then amusingly mistaken for and by each other... over and over again.

The story concerns two pairs of identical twin boys, who are separated in a shipwreck, and are then amusingly mistaken for and by each other… over and over again.

It’s no surprise that the performance was excellent. The production values are high, and this was the final performance of the 26th Season of Bard on the Beach – you don’t get longevity like that with mediocre work. But it felt like the last night was giving the performance some extra zing. The actors were clearly having a lot of fun with their roles, and there was more than a hint of in-jokes being played throughout.

The Weasels try out a Steampunk look.

The Weasels try out a Steampunk look.

As always, I was mesmerised by the fact that a simple set – in this case a walkway above and two side entrances plus a central doorway – could be so many locations. I wanted to film the proceedings and post it on the Lazy Bee website to show other playwrights what is possible with a minimal set and a wild imagination. Of course, the person I should be reminding about it is ME.

The evening closed with a brief ceremony to mark the end of the season, with the Artistic Director inviting all the cast, crew and volunteers onto the stage. Each brought a candle, and the AD recited Prospero’s closing speech from “The Tempest” – the lights went down, and the candles were blown out.

WP_20150926_008

We’ll be coming back next year – Romeo and Juliet is on the schedule, and Middle Weasel is studying that this year. Come along to Vanier Park and see it with us – there’s no better way to see Shakespeare!

Life isn’t binary (or “Why I’ll probably like Star Wars Episode VII AND Star Trek 3”)

Binary Code. Thanks to WikiCommons.

Binary Code. Thanks to WikiCommons.

Since the late 80’s there’s been a vogue for things to be digital. Starting with watches and spreading throughout our lives; we watch digital tv, listen to digital music players, even make the tea with digital kettles.

But digital is a binary thing. On or off. Ones or zeroes. Life isn’t binary, but we like to pretend it is. If you don’t believe me, argue with a US Republican on the internet. They will reason as follows:

“Argument ≠ Republican THEREFORE : Liberal (insert insult)”

(This is, of course, a gross generalisation, and I apologise to the Republicans I have had reasonable discussions with. You both know who you are.)

There’s no degree of political engagement considered, it’s a digital, binary state of on/off, yes/no. And it’s not just politics either. This binary attitude crops up in the important things too.

star-trek-vs-star-wars

TREK OR WARS?

and within these there are binary choices too:

Star Trek                                                                             Star  Wars

Did you like the reboot?                                            Did you like the prequels?

Often we use this binary reasoning to find our tribe, clonking down the branches of a flow diagram where each path has only yes/no choices until we find ourselves at a point where there are no more questions to ask, and we know the people around us are sane, clear thinkers, because they agree with us on everything.

But lately I’ve been noticing the analogue side of life more and more. As the Weasels shuffled themselves into tribes (Whovian, Sherlockian and Merlinian), I felt bad that they felt there were areas they couldn’t go, fandoms that were closed to them because of their choices.

In an analogue world, you can just like something. Not a Facebook “like”, but a faint “It’s ok” with no more commitment than that. Not a ringing endorsement, not a lifelong commitment, not something that will trigger dozens of adverts for similar things… Just an admission that you think it’s ok.

I’m a Star Wars fan, but I like Star Trek. I like Voyager more than Deep Space Nine, but I also like the reboot movies. AND the original series. Come to that, I also like the prequel Star Wars movies, though yes, I can see where they are flawed. From a certain point of view. I didn’t like all the novels and comics, though, and I don’t think I have to.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy Episode 7, The Force Awakens, and I don’t think that’s a betrayal of anything, any more than it’s disloyal to go watch Star Trek 3 and like it.

Life shouldn’t be about binary choices, where the things you like automatically define things you DON’T like. We should be willing to stand up and be counted, yes, but there will be times when we’re not that fussed about standing up, and may just raise a hand. We just like it, that’s all.