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?

The first two days at Disney

When we visited Disneyland in 2017, they had just started building Galaxy’s Edge. Although it’s open now, there’s only one ride, with the major attraction of “Rise of the Resistance” not scheduled to open in California until January (it’s open in December at Orlando.)

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Our first day at Disneyland in 2019 was going to be a slow appraisal. We all had goals and objectives, but the ones I was interested in were going to be busy. I’d have to book an appointment to build a lightsabre at Savi’s Workshop, and the lines for Smuggler’s Run (where you actually pilot the Millennium Falcon) would be long, and there’s no fast pass available.

So, on Monday morning, we strolled.

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Disneyland is all dressed up for Hallowe’en – the shops, the decor, the characters – everything is spooky and scary (but not ACTUALLY scary, because kids.) This was fun because a: we like Hallowe’en and b: last time we visited was in March, so this was all new.

We sauntered up Main Street, ignoring the statue of Walt and Mickey (because we took THAT picture two years ago.) We were delighted to stumble across an area dedicated to Coco and the Day of the Dead.

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Once we’d taken this picture, Laurel spotted a good flower to photograph, and a hummingbird appeared to improve the picture. Just as we finished that, an osprey started circling the lake.

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True to form, the entire Trasler family ignored the attractions of Disneyland to discuss the origins of the osprey, and whether or not there was anything in the lake for it to eat. Took a while for us to get moving again. We couldn’t agree on whether or not to go into the Haunted Mansion, but we could agree that a one hour wait time was more than we wanted to take right then.

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Since there was less of a line up for the Jungle Cruise, and none of the party objected, we rode around the gentle river and admired the animatronics.

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As always, it’s the dry delivery of the dreadful jokes by the driver that make the trip worthwhile.

Ever alert for more thrills (and because Tiny Weasel is a huge Wind in the Willows fan), the next stop was Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.

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It’s very reminiscent of the old Ghost Train rides we used to have in the UK, with sharp turns and doors that snap open at the last second. It’s not wildly scary, but much longer than it looks like it could be from the outside.

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It was finally time to go through to Galaxy’s Edge. Even though we weren’t planning to try and get on the Smuggler’s Run ride, it was still a big moment for me. I’d read so much on the web, and watched countless videos on the design, building and finally the opening of the area. This was the closest I was ever going to get to being in the Star Wars Universe.

It was AMAZING!

The look of the place is right out of the movies. Within seconds the tourists look out of place. Everywhere there are tiny details that catch the eye and insist you’re in the Star Wars Universe.

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But of course, the centrepiece of the land is the Millennium Falcon, reproduced in 3d, life-size.

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It’s weird, seeing this ship that I have known almost all my life, finally here in the real world. It’s so familiar, but looks so strange outside the viewfinder of the phone camera.

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Though the second, and biggest, ride is not yet ready, there’s still a lot to do at Galaxy’s Edge. There are many different types of shops, and several places to get food and drink. Oga’s Cantina needs to be booked, so we plumped for eating at Cargo Bay 7. The food is themed, but much better than normal. Last time we were in Disneyland, they had “Star Wars” food that was regular chicken nuggets-style offering with space names. Here in Galaxy’s Edge, the food is Earth native, but with a twist. We ordered the Fried Endorian Tip Yips and the Braised Shaak Roast.

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These two dishes were recogniseably earth meats, but they had been cooked or prepared to alter the flavour from the expected (or usual) and they were definitely NOT the standard fast food park fare. The two were enough for the five of us to share, not being too hungry. The bowls they were served in were ceramic, the cutlery was metal, and the tray was metal. Good environmental points all round!

We ran into some familiar faces (or masks) during our first visit too:

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Outside Galaxy’s Edge, we even bumped into a famous Bounty Hunter.

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We’d seen a ton of stuff, and tired ourselves out, so we repaired to the hotel. I found us a nearby place to eat, and the Weasels attempted to double their bodyweight in pasta before they fell asleep. We turfed them out of the restaurant and back to bed, while Mrs Dim and I went back to the park for the evening firework display. We stood with hundreds (thousands?) of others in Main Street, until 9.30pm arrived and the lights, sound and fireworks came to life.

Tired, but happy, we stumbled back to the hotel. We had intended for the next day to be our “Magic Morning”, where we could enter the park an hour early, but then we found the park opened at 8am, so we’d have to BE there at 7am. Instead, we resolved to be at the park when the gates opened at 8.

We nearly made it.

This was the day to achieve the first set of goals, after all, so we went straight in and through to galaxy’s edge to queue for Smuggler’s Run.

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After twenty minutes of queueing through various areas, we reached this huge open backstage part, obviously utilised for large crowds. There were no ropes, just lines on the floor, but the crowds obediently shuffled back and forth, careful not to step over the taped lines. We shuffled on for an hour and a half before we reached the actual ride.

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An amazing animatronic of Hondo Ohnaka gives you the introduction to the situation and invites you and your crew to fly the Falcon for him, to grab some Coaxium for the Resistance. Through another set of doors and there were some very familiar surroundings.

I was surprised that we weren’t warned not to film or photograph during the ride, but it turned out that was because you don’t have enough hands! I was Pilot, and Middle Weasel was Copilot, with Tiny and Eldest Weasel being Gunners. Mrs Dim and a loaner crewmember were the Engineers. I could only control left and right, while Middle Weasel was in charge of up and down. The mission lasted longer than I thought it would, but it was still fast and furious and FUN! Definitely worth the wait.

There was going to be quite a wait between coming out of Smuggler’s Run and the appointment I had made at Savi’s Workshop, so we decided to take in another ride. We opted for the Matterhorn.

When we joined the line, there was a sixty minute wait time, but halfway through they made an announcement that there was some kind of issue. Time ticked by, and I began to worry that I might have to rush to catch my appointment after all. But then we were on the ride and ready to go!

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The Matterhorn Bobsled ride is fun, with scary Yetis lunging out at the carts as they rocket by. We yelled and waved our arms in the air, then stepped out with half and hour in hand.

I was allowed two guests at the building of the lightsabre, and Eldest Weasel came along to document it with her better camera (and I don’t have her pictures yet!), and Tiny Weasel was press-ganged by the guy standing next to me, who wanted to film his own build, but didn’t have a buddy!

The process is wonderfully theatrical, and it’s helped if you’ve read ‘Black Spire” by Delilah Dawson. I assembled the pieces of my lightsabre, but was embarrassed to find that it didn’t work when tested by the workshop supervisor. She disassembled it, replaced a part, rebuilt it, tested it – nothing! By the time I got “my” lightsabre back, it had been rebuilt three times!

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We closed out the day with drifting around the park, through shops, past parades, and getting Mrs Dim a coffee for her to sip watching the people on Main Street.

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Tomorrow we head out to Universal Studios for some non-Disney entertainment, before returning for one more day in the Magic Kingdom. I hope we can fit as much into those two days as we managed in the previous two!

 

 

On the road again.

The Pixar movie “Cars” was written as a way John Lasseter could revisit his memories of family road trips. A tip of the hat to some of the American towns that had grown with the rise of the automobile and were now in decline, if not gone.

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Trasler road trips are not like that. Most of the time, they’re just the most cost-effective way to get to a holiday destination. We want them to be PART of the holiday, but Mrs Dim has to fight against my ingrained “Don’t leave the highway for anything but fuel” instincts, and the reticence of the kids, who find being penned up in a small space with nothing but a phone screen for comfort to be perfectly acceptable.

We went to Disneyland in 2017:

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Mrs Dim’s goal that year was to drink coffee on Main Street (pictured) and wear her tiara (not pictured, but it happened). This year I have goals, centered around the Galaxy’s Edge attraction, naturally, but we were also intending to make the journey down more fun than simply blasting down the I-5 and staying in anonymous motels along the way. We were going to take the Oregon Coast road.

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The total route would be just over two thousand kilometers. In miles, that’s somewhere between “more than ten” and “less than a million”. Friends advised against the Coast Road because the constant back and forth, as well as the rise and fall of the road often makes passengers motion sick, and the driver doesn’t get to enjoy the view, having to cling to the wheel and actually DRIVE (instead of engaging cruise control and thinking about building a pedal-powered landspeeder, for example…)

Mrs Dim and I discussed it, and eventually I saw her point of view. And it really was a good idea. We’ve taken three days to get here, but the contrast between those first two days, driving down an admittedly winding but beautiful coast, and the last day of nothing but highway (except for the last bit in LA, which included lunacy, road rage and a terrifying lack of observance of road rules…) was incredible.

We headed out from Albany to the coast on day one. With three of us able to drive, we took shifts, enabling all of us to nap, sightsee or drive, depending on where we were in the car.

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I didn’t take any pictures en route that first day, but we arrived at Newport by 9.30pm. Although it was almost dark, we could hear the hooting and roaring of sea lions from the harbour. I crashed out, but Mrs Dim and the Weasels walked down to the beach, and figured out a route to the harbour for the morning.

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In the daylight, the beach was impressive, but not as impressive as the smell of the horde of sea lions on their floats in the harbour. There were even some out on the island.

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One of the closed attractions was this “Undersea gardens”. I have only the vaguest idea of what it used to be, but I know that young me would have loved it. Also, the octopus is not real. Probably.

We set out after a moderate breakfast (you pick a cheap motel, you get toast or yoghurt and you LIKE IT!)

We made good time, but luckily, Laurel was driving when we saw a sign advertising some kind of dinosaur experience. She had pulled over before most of us had finished reading the sign. Laurel likes dinosaurs.

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They weren’t all big and scary though:

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(This is a joke. It’s a chipmunk. A real one. Not a dinosaur.)

We dawdled, spent too much in the gift shop, and then made it to the next stop in time for lunch at Griff’s on the bay. (At Winchester Bay, which is funny if you know the Griff I’m thinking of.)

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The view from the table was probably a metaphor for something.

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Laurel pulled the last driving shift of the day, and really earned her stripes. She drove through insanely twisty roads, up and down through dark forest. She was amazing, spotting the roadside deer from a long way off, and slowing so none of them dashed out in front of the car. We DID scare up a bear, but Laurel was quick enough to avoid hitting him.

Our second motel was just like the first, even down to the room number. Better yet, there was a cafe just around the corner. No toast and yoghurt for the start of Day 3!

In fact, it was a REALLY big breakfast for everyone.

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But this was the back to the highway day.

Believe it or not, two of those photos include an aerobatic display that was going on in the distance. Don’t worry if you can’t see it, I may have been hallucinating by that time!

We rolled into LA almost twelve hours after setting out, having stopped only for fuel and bathroom breaks. We were sick of snacks, done with our audio books, and terrified of LA drivers. Luckily for us, Mrs Dim had outdone herself with the room she booked.

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I wasn’t enthusiastic about the walk that Mrs Dim suggested, but we stepped outside the hotel and the Disneyland fireworks show kicked off. We had a fantastic view, but I had left my phone in the room, so you so don’t get to see it!

Tomorrow is our first day in the park, but it’s also Columbus Day, I think, so it may be busy. We’re just going to stroll around, get Mrs Dim her cocktail and seat on Main Street (she already has her tiara ready) and I’m going to research booking my “Build a lightsabre” and “Fly the Millennium Falcon” goals.

Hope your week is as much fun!

Where’s the catch?

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In 1998, Peter Symond’s Sixth Form College hired an ex-student, Duncan Gale, to come in and teach the cast of the upcoming production to juggle. It wasn’t necessary, but the drama teacher (whose name I have completely forgotten, so sorry Dave…) thought it would be a good exercise. Since I could already juggle three balls, Duncan leant me a set of clubs and a catalogue from the main juggling supply shop in the UK, Pippa Tee’s.

All this ancient history was brought back to me yesterday when I spotted this book on the shelf in my library.

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I met Charlie Dancey in the summer of 1989, when he and his juggling partner Haggis McCleod came to the Winchester Hat Fair. I had been juggling for a little less than a year, but I had already formed a partnership with my friend Dougie (“Catch 22”, because we were stunningly original. Dougie hadn’t read the book, so he didn’t know it had nothing to do with juggling. In fact, he may not have realised it WAS a book….) In 1989 we went to the 3rd British Juggling convention and learned how much we still had to learn.

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And at the Hat Fair I watched Haggis and Charley’s routine and and set out to learn it. We straight up stole their “pick up to six” club passing routine, except for skipping over some of the more exotic passing tricks. We couldn’t match their finale, since we didn’t have six-foot unicycles, but we could pass fire, and that was a big deal for the types of crowds we drew at village fetes and church events (the only gigs we were getting, obviously).

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Haggis and Charlie’s show was blindingly good. They seemed half cocksure, half desperate. Tricks were pulled off with assurance, or a last minute effort, and their banter was hilarious and all off the cuff.

Except the next time I saw them, the show was almost identical. Aside from the little flex for changing circumstances, the lines, the tricks, the accidents and miracles were bang on. I learned that even the loosest-looking, most extemporaneous-sounding show can be planned in advance. These guys pulled off their great moves not because they were good (although they were and ARE exceptional jugglers), but because they had run through this show and those tricks a million times or more. The jokes landed in the right place just like the clubs did, not from a lucky coincidence, but by intent.

Doug and I never got to Haggis and Charley’s level, even when we were able to replicate all the tricks in their routine (including the six-foot unicycles…) We added members to Catch 22, which became the Juggling Fiends, because we (some of us anyway) were Shakespeare scholars, and it’s a quote, don’t you know?

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The Fiends had a good run, reaching seven members at our peak, and doing shows every weekend from May to September. We even appeared on TV with Toyah Wilcox

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(That was the year I had to stand in for Dougie and perform the crowd-pleasing stunt known as “The Bucket of DOOM!” Simply put, we announced that one of the team would stand on his head in a bucket of water, and the crowd formed, waiting to see what the trick was. The trick was, of course, that there was no trick. Dougie, or in this case, I, simply stood on his head in the bucket of water. It’s not hard, just uncomfortable, but people seemed impressed. It has never been of any use to me since, however. Don’t put it on your resume.)

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So, seeing Charley’s book brought back happy memories of stranger times, and reminded me that I’m juggling on September the 7th for the Burnaby Public Library Summer Reading Club Medal Ceremony. I won’t be doing the Bucket of DOOM, though. Sorry. Check out Charley’s book – it contains way more than just juggling tips.

https://www.amazon.com/Every-Trick-Book-Charlie-Dancey/dp/1468303430

 

 

In search of Roxanne

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Mrs Dim and I were big fans of the movie “Roxanne”, back when we owned a copy on VHS. Living in the UK at the time, we had no idea that the city where the movie is set really exists – Nelson, BC.

A few years ago, we decided to make the road trip out to Nelson from Vancouver, stopping in Osoyoos along the way. Sadly, that first night there was an apocalyptic rainstorm, and our tent was drenched. We didn’t fancy driving another four hours and setting up a wet tent and maybe having another wet night, so we packed u and went home. This year, with the weasels otherwise occupied, Mrs Dim and I decided we would get there.

Since she’s smart, Mrs Dim arranged for the overnight stop in Osoyoos to be in a hotel this time round. No wet tent.

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Road trips as adults without kids in tow are really good. We listened to music, to audio books, drank coffee and talked, talked, talked. The weather was fine, the roads were clear and the scenery was awesome.

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We were hoping to visit some of the locations in Nelson that were used in the movie, but we hadn’t had a re-watch before we left. Mrs Dim had made a couple of notes, but we were relying on the self guided walking tours that we’d heard were available from the Visitor Centre. And they may be very fine tours, but we couldn’t FIND the visitor centre. The signs said 1km, 3oom, then vanished altogether.

We walked Baker Street, the main drag, and had a lovely coffee in the Dominion Cafe (not featured in the movie). We eventually located the shop that was used as “All things Dead” in the film.

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But regardless of our abject failure in locating film spots, Nelson is a great place to visit. There are some beautiful buildings, quite old (by Canadian standards!)

We walked all the way up to the viewpoint and took in the whole cityscape:

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Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, Nelson is worth the trip. Also, you can stop in Osoyoos on the way home and pick up some Mooncurser or Nk’mip wines..

A project’s premature end.

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Building things is a hobby of mine, as you’ll know if you’ve read this blog or accidentally bought one of my ebooks on the subject. I’ve been building props (mostly helmets) since we arrived here in Canada and I got room to have a little workshop. Each time I’ve tried to build something, I’ve run into some kind of problem, and every time there’s a point where I almost quit. That “almost” is important. I suffer from the unfunded fear that if I fail to complete one project, I’ll never finish another ever again. This fear was the only reason I completed the disastrous Death Trooper Helmet.

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I took the lego model pictured above and set out on the biggest build since Derek the dalek: I wanted to make a life-size version of the model. That would have been huge, so I reconsidered, and based the final size on a couple of tubes I already had. I figured if the tubes would stand for the steering vanes, the lego man would be about three feet tall. That made the whole thing half life size, but it quickly became apparent that that was quite big enough.

I enjoyed building the speeder bike, but it was a very different process from the helmets. I couldn’t just grab five minutes here and there to do a little piece. Each work session had to be carefully thought out and done with attention to detail. None of those are my strong suit.

So I’ve struggled with measuring and finding time to do the job right, but I’ve had to admit that the remaining sections – the landing skids, mainly – would take an enormous effort. Having seen the project stall for weeks, I thought it was time to say I had achieved all I intended.

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So I’m going to stop, and disassemble the bike (but keep the lego man, I think). I’m glad I built it, and Mrs Dim s glad it’s not going to be cluttering up the basement any longer. I’m looking forward to taking on a smaller project next (though Derek is still being reassembled and is planning to make an appearance at the next Fan Expo).

Is this me learning?

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.

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.