The Weather and the state of the roads

If you’ve read the last post, you’ll know Mrs Dim and I took Tiny Weasel back to the UK for a couple of weeks, stopping off in Paris for a few days. Since we’re a talky family around our own dinner table, we warned Tiny Weasel that she ought to be a little more circumspect with her views in front of her UK elders. Mrs Dim offered Jane Austen’s advice “Stick to the weather and the state of the roads.”

Much the same advice is given to writers, actors, and artists of all stripes on social media, but only when those concerned don’t agree with the statements made. “Stay in your lane”, the Right Wing folks shout at Chris Evans (Captain America, if you prefer), but they cheer James Woods for presenting the opposite sentiment.

The general thought is that you should avoid alienating your potential audience/market by expressing political opinions that may upset people. The problem with that is, these days you have fans of concentration camps and forced exportation on one side, and fans of universal healthcare and free education on the other. I don’t WANT the good opinion of people who support or excuse Trump, thank you.

And so I come to the news from the UK. Boris Johnson falls into the role of Prime Minister, despite demonstrable incompetence and outright falsehood. He and his friends lied, over and again during the Brexit campaign, then they lied again by denying that they lied. Now he’s marching about, shouting that he’s going to “deliver Brexit”, as if he knows some secret that was denied to the government up to this point (a government he was part of while it failed to deliver Brexit.)

Part of me is curious. I genuinely believe that Boris and his cronies know that Brexit is a ruinously bad idea, and that they have been making money and influence off the chaos that the vote produced – Boris is, after all, Prime Minister now. He’s in an excellent position to hand out favours to his mates. I don’t think he wants to preside over the fall of the UK, so he’ll find some way to weasel out of the break with the EU. Most importantly, he’ll find someone else to blame for it.

If anyone actually reads this post, some may feel they have to point out the wretched “17 million” figure as proof that Brexit is the will of the majority. once again, I’ll just say that there was a 4% majority out of the people who were eligible to vote AND voted at the time. That’s not the whole population, it’s not even the whole voting population. And just the day after people were saying they hadn’t understood what they were voting on. Coupled with the lies told by the Leave campaign, it’s clear the referendum itself was no mandate for change. In two years, there’s been no clear plan for how to proceed, and Boris has given no sign that he actually has any PLAN beyond his usual nonsense bluster.

Though my family and I are safe in Canada, my parents still live in the UK, and as older citizens I worry for them. With his Etonian, profit-oriented, selfish worldview, Boris inspires no confidence that he can understand the problems of regular citizens, let alone have any compassion for them.

Jeremy Hunt would not have been any better, but appointing Boris is almost as big a mistake as Brexit itself.

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Paris in the Spring time…Wait, is it Summer?

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This is not a travel blog.

Having said that, my family did go traveling recently, and I’m about to blog about it. Huh.

It’s been six years since I last went back to the UK, so a return visit was overdue, plus my folks had moved into a new house etc etc. However, we knew from past experience that trying to visit all the people you want to see after traveling so far can be exhausting. y wife, always the smart one, programmed in a three-day hiatus in Paris so we could recharge.

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We Air BnB’d a small apartment in the 16th Arrondissement. (When I say “we”, I mean Mrs Dim did.) The place was small, but since we were only using it as a base for day trips, that didn’t matter. There were basic cooking facilities and more superior coffee-making facilities, so all was well. Each morning we had a five minute walk to the bridge pictured above, and from there we would walk along the Seine until we reached a Metro or the Bateaubus for the day’s activity.

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I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of our visit, because not everything we did will work for other people, and some things were just plain wrong, like trying to go to the Musee D’Orsay on the one day of the week that it’s closed. But maybe it’s worth noting in passing that there are still huge crowds flocking to Notre Dame, even though it’s (obviously) closed, and the streets around it are clogged with building supplies and trucks.

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The best view of it may be from the Bateaubus.

We loved strolling most of all, taking advantage of our flexible schedule to stop off in cafes whenever we felt like it. Tiny Weasel objected to the endless cigarette smoke, but they do at least attempt to keep it outside, even if all the cafe windows are wide open in the heat.

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Versailles was disappointing in many ways, but we didn’t brave the mighty queues to go into the palace itself, so maybe we’re just really critical gardeners, but for me, the high point was a tip we got from Richard Ayoade’s YouTube Series “Travel Man” .

In his visit to Paris, he mentioned that it was pointless to climb the Eiffel Tower, only to take pictures of the Paris cityscape without the Eiffel Tower in it. He recommended the Tour Montparnasse, so off we went.

It was BRILLIANT! No queue to get in, Europe’s fastest elevator taking us up 59 floors in less than a minute, and a wonderful 360 degree view from the top:

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Which INCLUDES the Eiffel Tower.

I enjoyed the trip a lot more than I thought I would, because of the company, the relaxed scheduling and the regular food and drink. It’s likely to be many years before I go to Paris again, but if I do, I’ll do it this way again.

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Talking a good game

My next book

Publicity is a tricky thing. A lot of social media is people carefully trying to sell you their stuff, without looking like they’re trying to sell you anything at all. Influencers call this “your brand”, or your “author platform”, and some people are better at it than others, like most things in life.

My own experience with selling my stuff (ie, plays, ebooks and whatnot) online is that I am not good at talking myself up. I like the things I have written, am often quite proud of them, but it just doesn’t feel right to shout “My stuff is great! Buy it!” without at least adding “Of course, you may disagree, and there’s lots of other great stuff out there which may suit your needs better, I would perfectly understand if you want some time to compare and contrast and make an informed decision…”

This is NOT a great advertising strategy.

The trouble is, if you’re going to build a brand online, you need to be consistent. If you’re going to be consistent, you have two choices. The first is to invent the person you’re going to be, and stick rigidly to that persona whenever you post ANYTHING AT ALL. The second is to be yourself, and admit that sometimes that might not be great for everybody. This is why we see actors or authors get slammed for having political opinions online. We think we want to get to know the real person, but often there are doors we don’t want opened, or illusions we want to keep intact.

Part of who I am is the self-deprecating, anxious, uncertain person who feels it’s wrong to brashly boast of your brilliance. Certainly you won’t find me quoting reviews of my stuff on Twitter where I refer to myself in the third person (I have seen authors do this, and it looks weird.)

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying, when I finally got “Even More Cosplay Disasters” fixed for the third time and published for the second time, I was all out of enthusiasm for doing any publicity at all. I’d done a little for the first publication, and luckily it had fallen flat, because the book had NOT been properly published, and anyone who bought it would only have been able to download the cover.

I thought I might try and interest the local papers, but writing a press release is really just talking about yourself in the third person again, so instead I wrote directly to the reporter for the local paper (Janis Cleugh of the Tri City News) and asked if she might be interested in the story of a playwright who builds strange helmets and props with his daughter. She was, and she came round to interview me and my Eldest Weasel, as well as taking a very nice picture. She was kind enough to mention the books, as well as being very thorough in her questioning (best of all, she didn’t ask “Why the hell do you bother with all this tosh?”, which is Mrs Dim’s favourite question.)

Here’s the online copy of the article:

https://www.tricitynews.com/entertainment/sci-fi-superfans-build-costume-props-1.23852723

Sales of the books have not gone through the roof, so as an advertising stunt, it hasn’t achieved its aim. On the other hand, I did take a positive step towards marketing, and it was a different one to the ones I’ve done before. We got a nice picture out of it, if nothing else, and the article seems to have spurred Eldest Weasel on to fixing up Derek the Dalek for the next Fan Expo.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe Re-watch

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Mrs Dim found a graphic very much like the one above soon after we saw the brilliant “Captain Marvel” at the cinema. Since, like everyone else, we were waiting for “Endgame” to end the misery following “Infinity War”. it seemed like a good idea to work our way through the movies again, following this sequence.

Captain America:

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We always liked the original Captain America movie, with Haley Attwell giving a star performance, and Tommy Lee Jones underplaying it brilliantly. Another family favourite is JJ Field, who the Weasels have loved since “Northanger Abbey”. I’m still amazed by the weedy young Steve Rogers, and while I know it was done with CGI, it hurts my head.

Iron Man:

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Like Captain America, time doesn’t seem to have affected this movie overmuch. Mrs Dim pointed out how much of a jerk Tony Stark really is in the movie, how unlikeable. His transformative event, the inciting incident of his storyline, really is traumatic and shapes his character for the upcoming movies as well as this one.

Iron Man 2:

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It seemed wrong to watch this movie next, with so many different characters to get through. Still, that’s what the instructions said, and we follow the instructions, no matter what.

There’s a lot of relevant parts to this movie, though I understand the criticisms levelled at it: At times the story meanders a little, and the logic of Tony discovering the element in a coded message from his father is…a reach, to be fair. Still, it underlines that Tony’s ego is unblunted, and causing trouble, something that gets dealt with in later films.

Thor:

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Thor always seemed an unlikely choice for a superhero, and I wasn’t that enthusiastic about seeing the movie. Chris Hemsworth is a great performer, though, and the movie is surprisingly funny at times. My family can’t get over Loki, of course. It’s fun, and it still looks good.

The Incredible Hulk:

I admit, we skipped this one. Mrs Dim wasn’t interested in watching it (I don’t know why) and I had seen it quite recently. I liked Ed Norton’s performance, I have a weakness for Liv Tyler and Tim Roth is always great value.

The Avengers:

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This is one of my favourites of the whole bunch. Whatever his failings as a person, I really like what Joss Whedon did with the challenge of bringing all these characters together and putting them through the wringer.

Iron Man 3:

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Tony’s journey is really the most interesting so far. This movie shows how dependent he’s become on his armour, the PTSD of his captivity compounded by the battle of New York. In trying to protect the ones he loves, he puts them in greater danger, and he has to rediscover the truth that he later tells Peter Parker “If you’re nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve the suit.”

Thor Dark World:

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One of the positive things about this sequel is that Jane Foster is at least an active participant in the proceedings. We’re introduced to the unlikliest Infinity Stone and get a bundle more comedy lines and the twistiest twist ending of all.

Captain America, Winter Soldier:

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The most memorable part of this movie is that it reveals Hydra infiltrated SHIELD years ago, and upsets the apple cart in a big way. We meet new allies, like Agent Carter’s niece Sharon, and discover that Bucky didn’t die after all. We also get our first hint that Cap\s personal view on right and wrong might lead him into confrontation with authority figures.

Guardians of the Galaxy:

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I still love the first Guardians movie, though I have heard the soundtrack way too much and loathe every single song on it. Thanks for that, James Gunn! It’s still a fun ride, with the bonus of underlining the whole Infinity Stones ultimate power plot.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2:

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Again, it was weird to be watching the sequel instead of bouncing off to a different group of characters, but it was nice to get a swift answer to that “Hey your father was a mysterious ancient being” line that is dropped casually at the end of the first movie. In terms of the greater arc, the only thing this movie does is add Mantis to the team and grant Nebula a step on her redemption arc. Also, I hate this soundtrack too. Really, the nostalgia for the music of the 80’s is overrated.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Tony builds on his “causing problems by trying to save the world” theme of Iron Man 3, and we get a brief introduction to Wakanda here. There are the first signs of fractures in the team,  and the addition of a couple of new recruits. My favourite part of this movie will always be Hawkeye NOT dying, despite the fact that he promised his wife he would come back to finish the renos. There was actually a groan in the cinema as he said it, and we were all wrong.

AntMan:

After the “world in peril” stakes of Ultron, AntMan feels like a real downshift. Sure, the Yellowjacket super-soldier could be a threat to world peace and whatnot, but really we’re concerned with Scott getting through the day without being sent back to jail. It FEELS like an origin story, and it feels late int he series to be introducing someone.

Avengers: Civil War

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This is the payoff for Cap’s conflict over Bucky and the fracture lines we saw beginning in “Age of Ultron”. We also get to meet Black Panther.

What’s interesting about this is understanding both sides of the argument – Tony wants some oversight, to try and prevent the guilt he feels over the innocent who suffer. Cap wants the freedom to do what he believes is right, what he’s “meant’ to do, since he has these strengths. I like that we get to hear just a small section of the story of those who are affected by the actions of the superheroes – not those rescued by them, or defeated by them, but the collateral damage. Every fight we have seen in the movies to this point has included massive structural damage, and it’s good to know that the writers think of the small people in their stories too.

Black Panther:

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Introduced in Civil War, Black Panther doesn’t need an origin story, though in the opening of the movie we do get a potted history of Wakanda and the people who live there. Like many, many people, I loved the colours and sounds of Wakanda, and though I have to agree with my kids (why didn’t he just tell Killmonger that he had been treated badly and accept him as part of the family?) I enjoyed the film immensely and have rewatched it several times.

Spiderman Homecoming:

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Spidey also got a cameo in Civil War, and one of the fun parts of this movie is how those events were shown from Peter’s point of view. There’s also a more realistic look at the problems of being a superhero : how do you find crimes to stop? How do you tell the guy locked out of his own car from the professional car thief? And, obviously, what do you do when you find out your prom date’s father is a supervillain? (I admit, I don’t know if prom and homecoming are different things, and have no interest in finding out…). Despite the struggles, the film is fun and bears many rewatches.

Ant Man and the Wasp

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This was the first sequel where I found myself telling other people “Yeah, you maybe should watch a few of the other Marvel movies to get the most out of this one.” You don’t HAVE to, but it does make more sense if you do.

I like this movie particularly because Evangeline Lily actually gets to do stuff, and it features Hannah John-Kamen, who is awesome (I’m a big “Killjoys” fan). From the trailers we’ve seen for Endgame, there’s a lot of significance in the plot of “Ant Man and the Wasp” with regard to the Quantum realm and time manipulation and stuff. Unless that’s all a red herring.

Doctor Strange:

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There’s a recurring theme with me and these Marvel movies: Characters I’m not interested in get movies, and I enjoy them way more than I thought I would. It happened with Thor, Black Panther, Ant Man and then Doctor Strange. Again, there was a sense of “Wait, we have to learn about ANOTHER new character?” but of course he’s tied to another one of the Infinity Stones, so we have to learn who he is and how he became the master of the mystic arts. I found the film enjoyable, despite the American accent Benedict Cumberbatch had to put on, though I wish Rachel McAdam had more to do in the movie.

Thor Ragnarok:

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This is THE family favourite. If there’s a three-way tie for the Friday night movie, we can always compromise with Ragnarok. The look of the film, the lines, the characters, and the story all work well for us. The only stain on the movie is knowing what comes next.

Avengers: Infinity War

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Which brings us up to date. One of the things I admire most about this movie is that it allows the heroes to succeed in every way but the vital one – they defeat the minor henchmen, they stay alive against the odds, they drive off threats, and yet even when they band together and Thor produces his special weapon, Thanos (spoiler alert!) gets all the stones and clicks his fingers. It’s a tough job to do: write a story where both the villains and heroes are capable, and the heroes don’t win by default, and the villains don’t win because of an unlikely error.

We’re hoping to go and see Endgame in the first week it’s out. I don’t doubt there will be spoilers galore, and I’ll do what I can to avoid them, but I spend a lot of time online, and some people delight in ruining these things. A few days before I was going to see “The Force Awakens”, someone posted a picture of Han being skewered by Kylo Ren. No words, just the photo, dropped into a timeline where people would not have a choice about whether or not they would see it. Because I knew it was coming, I spent a lot of the movie in a permanent cringe. These things matter. Don’t be a spoiler.

I enjoyed rewatching all these movies, and I think we’ll do it again another time. They’re all still good, despite the fact that it’s been a decade or more that they’ve been being released. It was a bold strategy, and I’m glad it paid off, but I hope it doesn’t become the accepted norm. Not everything needs an interconnected universe to tell a story, and it’s telling the story that’s the important part of every movie.

 

Our four-legged fiends

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I grew up a cat person. In the first house I remember, we were adopted by a ginger tom cat from the nearby shipyards. He was named Gideon by my dad, and lived with us for sixteen years and a couple of house moves.

Jools and Syd Bridge road

When I met my wife, she had a dog called Sydney. We didn’t get on at first, because Syd didn’t trust my motives, and I wasn’t sure how to treat a dog. Once we had figured each other out, we became good friends. Syd came to work with me at Uxbridge, and we would walk the station grounds together at lunchtime, and he would try not to catch the squirrels.

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Thanks to Syd, I became a dog person. He lived to a good age for a terrier, gained an honorary commission in the RAF and a permanent place in our hearts. When he died, there was no question of replacing him.

We continued dogless for several years, until we finally emigrated to Canada. One of the things we had been promising the Weasels was that, when we got a house, they could get a dog. As I’ve related often enough in this blog, we arrived in the March, and I was adamant that the dog would wait until the summer holidays. Moose arrived in June.

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For her part, Moose has always been a dignified old lady dog, except for the odd rip around the playing fields, or chasing squirrels. It was no problem at all to adjust to having a dog again, and Mrs Dim doesn’t like it when I settle down into a routine. She began to offer friends the chance to park their dogs with us when they went on holiday. This was good for Moose, she explained, but also good for me. The first couple of days are always chaos, but soon enough we settle down and having two dogs is quite manageable.

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Which of course meant that Mrs Dim went looking for a second dog. Frankie was a rescue, and she’d already spent three years on the streets, we think. She was nervous around people and savagely aggressive around other dogs. Walks became very stressful, and looking after other people’s dogs was right off the menu for a while. We took Frankie to classes, had one-on-one training, took her on pack walks with crowds of other dogs. Gradually, we started to get to grips with helping Frankie. So Mrs Dim started bringing in other people’s dogs again. Once that first day was over, Frankie accepted them as part of her pack, and everything was ok. Unless you wanted to cross the room, or eat toast in peace or something.

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This week, we’re playing host to two elderly Schnausers. The sheer amount of space four small dogs can take up is quite surprising, and the logistics of walking them, even when there’s two of you available for the job,are challenging. It’s nice, though, when you sit on a sofa next to three snoozing dogs, or when you fling open the front door to let all four go haring outside for the first time in the morning. It’s not been nearly as bad as I feared, which makes Mrs Dim smug. She’s doing this partly to knock Frankie’s corners off, and partly to knock MY corners off. She’s right, of course. Looking after the dogs has been a bit of a stretch, but stretching is good, and the next time I might not whine QUITE so much. Which is good, because the next dog that’s coming to stay is an enormous German Shepherd called Max….

10 years in British Columbia

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Outside the Rosellen Suites, our apartment that first month

10 years ago we arrived in Canada. It was night, and we barely made it through Immigration before the office closed for the evening. Some of our visas weren’t up to scratch and we had replacement photos taken, with our eyes red from the ten-hour flight.

Most of our belongings were in transit, crossing the Atlantic in a container ship, and wouldn’t arrive for another month. We had enough packed in our cases, hopefully, to last us that month. The taxi stand at the airport looked at our baggage and the travel-weary weasels and suggested we take a limo.

“It’s about the same price as a taxi big enough for all of you, and there’ll be room to spare.”

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We arrived at the apartment we’d booked for our first month. It was dark now, and cold. Whatever the real time was, we’d been up for around twenty four hours one way and another, and we just wanted to sleep. But the door code we’d been given didn’t work, so we had to call the Manager. Once we were in, we hauled our many cases up two flights to the room (finding out later there was an elevator…) Before we could collapse, however, there was one more thing – someone needed to go out and get supplies for breakfast. No one fancied the idea of waking up and having to dress and go out for food. I ran to the nearby 7-11 and picked up cereal and milk and bacon. That would have to do.

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Foraging for food turned out to be relatively painless…

From our perspective of ten years on, we look back on that night with a fondness and a vague horror. It was the biggest adventure we had ever considered, and the Weasels threw themselves into it with such courage. We were promising them a better life, new activities, a new house, a dog and all manner of great things, but the fact was we had no ACTUAL plan, beyond “Let’s get jobs and find a house.”

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That’s why this week we are trying to say thank you to all the people who have helped us in this first ten years. We got our jobs, our dog and our house, but we also found friends along the way who have done so much for us. We’re grateful to everyone who extended the hand of friendship and turned our crazy hopes of a better life into a reality.

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The night before we flew out, March 2009

 

Fan Expo without Derek, and getting helmet envy…

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Even though the last Fan Expo Vancouver was only in October, they decided to do it again in March. So, the chances of us renovating poor old Derek the Dalek in time were remote. I had already ceded the job to Mrs Dim and Eldest Weasel, but the latter wandered off to New Zealand for a month, and the former had great ideas but no time. Maybe we’ll take Derek along to Fan Expo 2020. MAAAAAYBE.

Anyway, I’d built a “Tobias Beckett” from “Solo” costume, including sewing the coat from scratch (well, from bedsheets, but you get the idea.) Eldest Weasel spruced up her Time Lord outfit, Middle Weasel made her own mask to go as SallyFace (Look, I have no idea, and every time she explains it, my eyes glaze over and I can’t bear it.) Tiny Weasel had two ideas she worked on for a month, then on the morning of the event, she changed her mind and chose Vanya Hargreeves from ‘The Umbrella Academy”. She looked great, too.

Time team

We arrived far too early (I was paranoid after parking trouble last time) so the halls were very sparsely populated. That made for excellent opportunities to check out the vendors, and as always there were some fantastic artists and creators there.

But this year I took the plunge and went and had my photo taken with the 501st. They have nice backdrops and awesome costumes (hence the helmet envy of the title). I don’t think I’ll ever apply to join – they work really hard for charities, and their outfits cost a lot of money, but they are a lovely bunch of people.

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As is traditional, I’ll close with all the other photos I took – just a fraction of the wonderful costumes people wore. Looking forward to the next one – with Derek in tow, I swear!