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

 

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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.

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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!

Why do you have unfinished or unpublished projects?

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You work hard on your manuscript. You produce anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words, right? That’s a LOT.

So why, why on earth would you NOT submit that completed manuscript to a publisher? And if you haven’t reached the end, but you know the story and you have the drive, why not FINISH the story?

A lot of authors who have made it (a term that covers so much ground it’s pointless trying to define it) will tell you they have complete manuscripts in their desk drawers (sometimes virtual desk drawers) that will never see the light of day. It can be an infuriating thought. Imagine, another Stephen King novel, or a Delilah S Dawson book that you can never read! Why would they do that? If a story is worth investing enough time and energy to type to completion, it’s worth reading, right?

The sad answer is no. Like Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is you telling the story to yourself”. Until that first draft is down, you have no idea, really, what the story is going to look or sound like to anyone else. And sometimes, you look at what you’ve got and you say “Yeah. That’s what I was thinking, that’s what I wanted to say, but it’s not good enough. It’s not right.” Sometimes that means draft two will come at the same story from a different direction. Sometimes it means you explore the same theme with a different story. Some of those drafts just go into the drawer.

Years ago, I wrote a complete screenplay. I used some bespoke software that doesn’t even exist anymore, I worked hard, and I got from “fade in” to “fade out”, and I was really pleased with myself. Pleased enough that I sent it off for some feedback.

What came back was a stack of notes. I began to re-work the screenplay from the notes, but it quickly became clear that the resultant story was not the one I’d written, and it wasn’t engaging me. If I didn’t like it, I wasn’t going to do a great job writing it. I still loved the original story, I was glad I’d told it to myself, but it went into the drawer.

Not every story you tell will be for everyone else. Sometimes, we are the only audience we need for our stories.

Start as you mean to go on…

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The start of a new year is a great time for new beginnings. We make resolutions, renew memberships, draw up lists. We pledge on social media to be better, to be more consistent, more productive. In the post Christmas calm, when work has shut down and we bask in the warmth of good food, gift-giving, family and friends, a new start seems almost inevitable.

Neil deGrasse Tyson upset some people on Twitter by pointing out that January the first is only significant in the Gregorian Calendar.

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I understand why people were annoyed, but I think he’s right. If we’re only prepared to make a new start one day a year, what good is that? The day before the new year began, I tried to load up the file for my latest book, but it had corrupted, and all the work I had done up to that point was lost. One day it worked, the next day it didn’t. So, here’s the new year, and I’m preparing to make a new start on a project I was a third of the way through. And once that’s done, there are plays to write, sketches to produce, DIY and craft projects to take on. Each one will require a new start.

Every day is a new beginning. Enjoy the next 365 fresh starts.

Living with Derek

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Back in February or March, my Eldest Weasel said “Hey Dad, can we build a full-size Dalek to take to Fan Expo?” It didn’t seem like a completely crazy idea, because the Fan Expo is usually in November, and with Eldest helping me, it would be a breeze.

Since my usual efforts in building don’t go beyond the odd helmet (some of which are very odd…)

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..Maybe I would have to actually…you know..do this properly. To that end, I got in touch with the Project Dalek Forum.

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The PDF is a great group of builders who make daleks from every era of Doctor Who, including the movies. They have plans that have measurements for every aspect of the build, and within a few days of registering with them, I had a complete set of plans myself. Yay! Here we go!

But I know me, so let’s start out simply, using cardboard. After all, building a life-size dalek is going to take a lot of materials, and I want to know I can get it right.

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Cardboard is easy, and it gave me a false sense of security. I knocked up the base and the panels in no time, and because they only had to be secured with duct tape, it was easy to do. Then we decided to make the real thing out of wood.

Oh dear.

I measured the base on a piece of wood. Eldest came home and measured it again, correcting my measurements. Then I checked hers and changed them again. Then we took an average of the three measurements and cut it out.

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Well, that looks fine. Let’s stick the wheels on it.

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Brilliant! Except, of course, you have to make the bit with the wheels on separate from the “skirt”, because the bit with the wheels on is called the bumpers, and it’s the widest. If you make it detachable, you can fit your dalek through doorways, which is important.

So we have to make another base for the skirt. But we don’t have another piece of wood big enough. Never mind, we’ll use these planks. There has to be a hole in the middle anyway, so Eldest can get her feet through and pedal.

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Yeah, not as pretty. Then we cut out the panels from some kind of plywood. It was not successful. We decided to ignore the results, and use foamcore board, which we could cut to size in place. And stick together with tape. First, we have to get the top of the skirt fitted at the right height. That involved math.

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Before we clad the skirt, I had a brainwave and installed a small seat, because who wants to shuffle around inside a dalek without taking a break now and then?

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Once the panels were on, it started to look quite convincing.

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Of course, the problem was that this was pretty good. And the next bit was the shoulders, which were very complicated. I needed a good whack of free time to build them, and yet the phrase “I need time to work on my dalek” cuts absolutely no ice in this household, I can tell you. I tried making a mock up in cardboard, but ended up making a muck up in cardboard. A lot of useful time passed.

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When the chance came along, I made the base plate for the shoulders, and the circular plate for the top. Then I had to cut out the four pieces that would delineate the slope of the body. I looked at the plans. I looked at the wood. I looked at the plans. I went away and looked in the fridge for more beer. When there was no more beer, I had to just go ahead and cut something out.

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And this, believe it or not, was the easy bit. Because the next bit was cladding the shoulders, and for that we had to soak two enormous sheets of hardboard, and then clamp them into place so they dried in the right shape. This was not easy.

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See those clamps? They are almost all the clamps I own, and the only ones the right size for doing this job.

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While I had been wrestling with the shoulders, Eldest Weasel had been adding the bumpers to the bumpers, so we could stack up the bumpers, the skirt and the shoulders, and stick a weasel inside. Not bad!

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That white blob on the skirt was a hemisphere of styrofoam. They are light, cheap, and easy to attach. But you can’t spray paint them, because they melt. If you coat them with, well, almost anything, you get the results pictured above. We needed to find sixty hemispheres that would NOT do this. But not right then.

The next job would be building the gun boxes. Some people build them as one unit, but because of the way I’d built the shoulders, it made more sense* to build them separately. My issues with measuring came to the fore again (or the three?), and required a lot of filling, sanding and re-cutting to try and get the gun boxes to be any kind of accurate. Since the next logical thing would be to cut into the now dry and shaped shoulders to fit the gunboxes, I decided to build the dome.

The dome is not a perfect hemisphere, so I got Eldest to cut multiple silhouettes and form the dome that way. Then we covered that with card, then paper mache, then wallboard filler. Later, we slapped some fibre glass on there too.

Now we had the dome, it became necessary to build the second most complex part of the dalek – the neck rings. There are three rings – one sits right on top of the shoulders, then two more are suspended by eight uprights, and the dome sits on top. At the intersections of each ring and the uprights are neck blocks – so, 24 of those. Cutting out the rings was tricky, as was cutting all eight uprights to the right length, but this was nothing – NOTHING – compared with trying to glue those uprights in place. because, you see, all three rings slotted into cutouts on the uprights, and the rings decrease in diameter as they go up, so you can’t put one on and then do the others. All eight uprights had to be glued to all three rings at once. How did I do that? I have no idea. And, unsurprisingly, there are no photos of me doing it because I didn’t have enough hands to do the job, let alone photograph me doing it. Here’s the damn thing done:

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Ok. So now we see how big the final thing is. And it actually looks like a dalek. In this picture, you can also see the upper collar at the top of the shoulders. Professionals used more damp hardboard for this and the lower collar, but I tried that. After being smacked in the face by damp hardboard three times in a row, I cracked and bought two camping mats from the dollar store and used them (they’re made from thin EVA foam, smooth to the touch and easy to glue.)

See the lower collar in place here.

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Now the lower collar was in place, there were no more excuses for avoiding putting the gunboxes in. And let me skate lightly over the process for that, because if fitting the neck cage together was the hardest thing ever, putting the gunboxes in comes a close second. It should have just been “cut two holes and slide ’em in”, but no, the shape of the holes got weirder and weirder to accommodate the gunboxes, and eventually I got them seated, but had lots of tidying up to do. The logical response was to paint the whole area with some spare housepaint to try and get it to look like one unit.

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I’d love to say that this was where we began to sprint for the finish, but the honest truth is that this is the point where we had six weeks of visitors, and dalek production slowed to a crawl. I mean, they were great visitors, and we even put some of them to work producing Derek’s ears:

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But it was slow going. We produced a lot of “slats” from EVA flooring foam, then glued them in place.

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We made lots of neck blocks and sprayed them the right colour.

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We bravely cut into the dome and built the “cowl” to house the eyestalk. The parts we needed for the eyestalk were too tricky to build ourselves, so we go them 3d printed and sent to us.

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That left putting together the two most iconic parts of the dalek, the plunger and the gun (or egg-whisk, if you prefer). The gun was hardest, requiring wire bending and stuff…

The plunger arm was an old shower curtain rod, or something similar, and I made the plunger itself from EVA foam. I don’t know why. Perhaps, by this point, I just felt the difficult way was the only way to do things.

And that was the main work done, right?

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Well, not quite – we bought a LOT of DIY Christmas Baubles from a craft store and sprayed them, and glued sticks inside them to attach them to the skirt. There is a rotation mechanism inside the dome, but it was rudimentary and did not work smoothly. The eyestalk was raised and lowered by means of ( I kid you not) a piece of string. Dalek dialogue and sounds were on an MP3 player with a separate speaker, and the ears lit up because they were LEDs stolen from two flashlights and wired up using Dim’s Patented Home Electrics Method (not recommended to anyone, ever, under any circumstances.)

Derek was ready for the Fan Expo, which was a good thing, because the Fan Expo was the very next day!

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So, we took him to pieces and stuffed him into the car.

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We got hm to the Expo and assembled him on the sidewalk outside and were immediately mobbed by people wanting to take his picture and ask “Is it real?” I honestly had no answer prepared for that.

Next, we decided to move towards the entrance and disaster struck. The front wheel snapped off. Derek came to pieces and got moved inside the convention centre, where we made repairs and people once more gathered around him.

When we went to move Derek further into the hall, the wheel failed again, and this time it could not be fixed. Derek stood guard just past the Prop Check area and made a lot of new friends. We have some serious repair work to do, but for now we’re proud of our newest family member, and glad to have had the chance to share him with Fan Expo Vancouver 2018.

*In as much as any of this makes any kind of sense.

As You Like It

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Let’s see – I’ve had a birthday, we’ve been camping, but school hasn’t started yet… It must be time for Bard on the Beach!

Every year we try to go (some years more successfully than others) and every year I am driven to blog about the experience because the productions are so good. Bard don’t need the publicity, I think, they’re doing just fine on sales. Tonight’s tent was sold out, and every seat occupied by an enthusiastic supporter of the arts.

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With no visitors, it was only Mrs Dim, myself and all the Weasels, settling into our seats for a performance of “As You Like It”, a play that none of us were familiar with. Well, that’s to say, none of us had seen a full production, but it’s the play that contains the “All the world’s a stage..” speech, and one of the scenes was used in the “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” Shakespearean Special ‘Pick Up Bard’ game.

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What really put the icing on the cultural cake for us this year, however, was a staggering coincidence. All this summer, Tiny Weasel has been obsessed with the Beatles. OBSESSED. She’s watched their films, documentaries, recited interviews and even purchased a cd! A Child of the Millennium, buying physical media! And this year’s production of As You Like It was going to feature 25 songs…by The Beatles!

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It was a toe-tapping extravaganza, with audience singalongs and plenty of sight gags, alongside the snappy dialogue. Mrs Dim’s favourite moment was

“She’s coming. Hide!”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Shakespeare!

Bard on the Beach must work very hard to make this all look so effortless. It proves there’s life in the old plays yet, as there were people of all ages in the audience, and they had no trouble following the plot or the language. I’m already looking forward to next year.

After the therapy

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I spent five weeks visiting the hypnotherapist (see the previous post for a full explanation). She was great, taking me seriously, talking me through the various issues I had around fruit and vegetables and exploring my attitudes and expectations on a variety of things. Each session would end, of course, with hypnosis, and I can’t tell you much about that because, duh, I was in a trance*. But the hypnosis seemed to be more about reinforcing the issues we had been discussing, and bolstering my resolve to try new things. We established that I don’t have to like EVERYTHING, I can still not enjoy things that don’t taste nice. But the options here are fairly stark – eat a better diet, or die early. I don’t want to die early. For one thing, I haven’t finished the bloody dalek.

I’ve always known my diet was unhealthy, and that heart attacks were the probable outcome. But when you’re in your teens, dying at forty seems impossibly far away.

In the months since the sessions ended, I’ve refused less. Mrs Dim has made fewer concessions to my pickiness, and we’ve found some things that work well. But I’m still reluctant, because it’s still me CHOOSING to add things I don’t like to food I would otherwise enjoy. Salad does not taste nice. No, not even with dressing on it. I have eaten some fruit, and I should eat more, but picking up raw fruit and taking a healthy bite is….unlikely, to say the least. Give me more soup, cook those apples into a pie, drown those bananas in custard, and then we’ll talk.

I haven’t been back to the doctor’s to check my blood, so I don’t know where I stand in the pre-diabetic stakes anymore. What I do know is that there’s nothing left to cut out, and I’m not adding very much in. The hypnosis was not what I’d hoped it would be, a chance to sidestep my natural (?) dislike of certain foods. More of a driving force is provided by the thought of how much money we spent on those sessions. It would buy a lot of bananas.

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*Was I? Most of the hypnosis stuff I’ve listened to explains that you’re NOT going to be unconscious, but I don’t remember the actual hypnosis sessions. I know I woke myself with my snores at least once.