Nothing says “Christmas” like Civil War…

Today marks the start of the last weekend before Christmas.  It brings shops filled with exhausted workers and frantic last-minute shoppers.  It brings TV specials, Advent services, holiday parties and, somewhere, in a little country elsewhere in a world filled with countdowns, festivities and frenzy, it brings a race to the annual Christmas Number One

Growing up in England, every weekend was an exciting time for music.  Friday nights were spent glued to the television for half an hour watching Top of the Pops, and Sunday afternoons to the radio, listening eagerly to the weekly Top 40.  I remember walking home from school, through the town centre, cutting through Woolworths just so I could check out the new singles chart, and often pick up a few on cassette tape with my £2 pocket money.  The music charts were a definitive part of Britain’s weekend, taking over the television, radio shows and shop displays, and in the leadup to Christmas, the chart battle for the number one spot took over the nation.

Bookies released the odds, bets were placed, and the nation held its breath during the week leading up to the Saturday before Christmas to see who’d hold the coveted number one position on Christmas Day.  Today, the UK finds out who their nation’s 2009 Christmas Number One will be.  But this year, it’s a little bit different.

This year, it’s become a full-out war.  Christmas charts of the last few years have undoubtedly been dominated by the winning single released from that year’s X Factor winner.  I have nothing against this – I love the X Factor, and this year have followed the journey of an absolutely lovely young lad who’s worked hard, won the heart of the nation, come from a humble background, and I’m excited to see him get the opportunity of a lifetime.  Previous years’ winners have gone on to break all-time records, or shoot to international superstardom, selling out faster than anyone in UK chart history, selling multi-platinum level albums and becoming three-time Grammy award nominees.  I love the show, and am thoroughly behind backing these kids who come from all walks of life, and giving them a shot at making it.  This year’s winner was incredible, brought tears to my eyes, a skip to my heart, and what’s happening to him this weekend makes me very upset.

The nation’s been split by a husband and wife team, who decided they were sick of X Factor taking the fun out of the race to the Christmas Number One, and set up a Facebook campaign to get an old Rage Against the Machine song to the top for 2009.   The band’s Killing In The Name track was chosen by the anti-X Factor campaigners because of its message of taking a stand against authority.  And the success has been staggering. The group’s membership has hit half a million, and alternative radio DJs across the country have spread the people’s discontent at the state of the music industry today.   “Fed up with Simon Cowell’s latest karaoke act being Christmas No.1?” the group asks Facebookers. “Me too… So who’s up for a mass-purchase of the track ‘KILLING IN THE NAME’ from December 13th as a protest to the X-Factor monotony?”

Unfortunately, the rebellion has divided the nation, with odds fluctuating drastically all week long, and what initially appeared to be a small internet campaign has taken over the country, with the story being broadcast across the planet.  This kid’s worked hard for months, spending time living in a house of strangers, having to learn musical arrangements and dance routines within barely a week, and living away from friends and family throughout the holidays.  And his shot at a number one single is being taken away by people backing a foul-mouthed, rap-metal US band with a single from years ago that has no place in contemporary British music charts!

With less than 24 hours to go, I’m reading all sorts of articles.  The odds are too close to call. Public opinion is divided.  But the X Factor winner has spent his first week of fame meeting soldiers home from Afghanistan, and sick children in a London hospital.  He says these visits have helped him put his chart battle into perspective.

“This week I have been faced with soldiers who have had their limbs blown off and children who are dying or seriously ill in hospital.  That to me is so much more important than getting to No 1. You just don’t know how lucky you are.”

At the end of the day, I guess it doesn’t really matter who’s at the top when the charts are announced this time tomorrow.  But I can’t help but root for this guy, who’s worked hard, and ultimately, with a journey of hard work behind him, his compassion and sincerity will go on, and I wish him every success in the world – but I’ll still be sitting here, halfway around the world, with my fingers crossed very tightly indeed.


Sometimes I just absolutely hate being a part of this world.  I try and fill my life and as many other people’s as I can with optimism and positivity, but when I see things like this I just about die inside.

I received the email from my PETA subscription, and I can’t even describe how hard it is to read about things like that.  I know animal cruelty goes on in this world.  I know people kick their dogs and tie cats in bags and throw them into the river.  I know chicks get their beaks chopped off so they can squeeze more of them into confined spaces without them pecking each other to death.  The thought of every one of these things breaks my heart and when I saw the article yesterday, I spent most of last night in tears, with my poor boy trying to console me.  

Last week we were driving down a residential street, and we saw what looked like a guy kick and hit his dog.  We couldn’t stop, but if I’d been driving I would have pulled a 180, got out of the car and started screaming at him.  Last night I was this close to booking a flight to Utah, with a mission of punching the asshole doctor condoning these horrors straight in the face.  Try injecting and jamming things into your own kids’ brains.

How can people live with themselves or allow this sort of thing to happen?  I try and do all I can to support people who live in extreme poverty and disease-ridden areas because they don’t have a choice in how they live.  I pick World Vision over United Way because I prefer to do something to help those who have no other choice.  And I feel and advocate for animals for the exact same reason.  It’s not their fault they can’t speak. They need looking after too. 

It’s tough to see the images and read the stories of what’s happening in the world.  Every time I read an email I contemplate hitting the unsubscribe button.  But it fuels my determination to do everything I can to try and put an end to this horror.  I’ve spoken to Sweet, and we’ve decided instead of wedding favours, we’re making donations to World Vision and PETA with little cards informing our guests of our decision, and why.  I’ve already signed up for next year’s 30 Hour Famine and we’ve agreed to rescue another cat from the Humane Society.  Once the snow’s been and gone, I’m going to start volunteering.  I wish I could go climb Kilimanjaro and raise millions for malaria nets, or model in a campaign to stop the fur industry like Christian Serratos.

I just wish I was in a better position in this world to be able to do more.  Sometimes, lots of people in this world really break my heart.

Some days, I’m extra proud to be a sci-fi geek

This weekend, I did something I haven’t done for what feels like at least a year.  And I did it two nights running.  Ladies and gentlemen, this Friday and Saturday, I went to the cinema.  In a world of video piracy and mass filesharing; actually deciding to go out and spend $20 on a film where you may get kicked in the back of your seat multiple times (and may end up hating anyway) hasn’t really been top of my list on a Friday night.  But this weekend, Sweet and I went for a couple of good old fashioned dates.  Friday, I got to pick.  I scanned the Free Press and landed on the one that I knew nothing about other than the fact it got numerous five star reviews from pretty reputable places, and it was written by Nick Hornby.

An Education held a lot of promise – a great cast (including Carey Mulligan of recent Doctor Who fame, the bad guy off of Flightplan, and Emma Thompson, who I’ve always loved dearly.  It was a nice enough story set in ‘60s England, about a girl with a strong academic background who meets a glamourous older chap, who takes her to Paris, proposes marriage and encourages her to give up school.  Relatively low-key, slightly underwhelming (the “bad guy” doesn’t even turn into a psycho stalker, and after dropping out of school she still ends up with a place at Oxford), but nice nonetheless.

But then we decided to do it all over again.  Saturday afternoon, like the old people at heart we truly are, we grabbed a couple of toonies and hit the cheap seats, where we opted for District 9.  I’d read a bit about it when it came out a few months ago; from what I knew, Peter Jackson had gone off to South Africa to film a Halo-based movie, but something had gone wrong with copyrights and that sort of thing, and he’d done a different movie instead.  What resulted was what I can only say was THE single best sci-fi movie I have ever seen in my LIFE, and for the next couple of weeks I request you ALL go and catch this before it leaves the big screens.

District 9

It was incredible.  With sci-fi movies (and television), my general experience is that big blockbusters with lots of special effects and generic good guys vs. bad aliens formulas have always won over mass audiences, while more “intellectual” storylines in Star Trek and X Files episodes are the nerd armies’ best kept secret.  Sci-fi that makes you think is generally thought of as “for the geeks” or turned into a cult classic, never reigning the box office or drawing in a nation on a Saturday night.   District 9 may just change everything.  It’s comparatively low budget ($30 million) to other recent sci-fi movie endeavours (Transformers 2 had $380 million to play with), and cast with a bunch of no-names whose lead actor has never before graced the screen.  There’s no outer-space warfare, or journeys to other planets, and the only things getting blown up leave you questioning your morality with a sense of enormous discomfort.

I’m not going to tell you what happens in the movie.  They cleverly omitted the major plotline from the trailer, which made for enormous surprise, and I think with good reason.  But I’ve never seen anything like this.  This is a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking political commentary, which, unusually, paints us as the bad guys.  It will tug and tear at your emotions as you feel for computer-generated characters who don’t actually exist, don’t render any sort of human facial expressions, and don’t speak.  You’ll fall in love with these characters based on nothing but subtitles, which in my mind, says a hell of a lot about the quality of the script.   This film is stunningly original and can easily put a good number of larger blockbusters to shame with its performance, intelligence, emotion and imagination.  It’s pretty gory, and I was definitely rather uncomfortable at several points, but anything that causes such a reaction based on raising questions of our capability to be so inhumane is fully justified. Plus, I’m a girl. I get squeamish pretty easily.  But I’ve never been so moved by what initially looked like such a boys’ movie.  I’ve never seen anything so action-packed and at the same time so reflective, so soulful, and so emotional.  I’ve never been prouder to be a sci-fi geek.  Bring on District 10.  I’ll be one of the thousands queuing up for advance tickets that’ll sell out faster than any Star Wars movie in box office history.

Advocation for Self-Education

Not normally one to write about politics or current events, I couldn’t help but hop on the H1N1 discussion. At work, I’ve somehow landed myself the position of Co-Chair of the Workplace Safety and Health Committee (yes, me, I know) and naturally, the topic of H1N1 and subsequent vaccination has been a bit of a hot potato in recent meetings. I’ve found myself very much in the minority when I decided to sit in at lunchtimes and continue to watch Torchwood, while everybody else bundled into their vehicles to hit the nearest vaccination “clinic”.

Shopping centres around the city have been transformed into mass vaccination hotspots; on Friday afternoon I had to make my way past a full news crew and endless winding queues just to be able to buy a book. We were told inititially that everybody should be vaccinated, that Canada had bought more than an ample supply of the vaccine, and there was most definitely enough for everyone. My coworkers started coming in with sore arms, proud of their premature innoculations, and satisfied that their families were now safe from the flu. But then the news started to turn. People not in one of the “at risk” categories were encouraged to hold off and allow those more needy to go ahead first. Doctors’ offices were packed with floods of people. And strange reports started coming in from around the world.

Having been raised on Star Trek and the X Files, any time the government decided to encourage mass injections of something into the entire world’s deltoids was always going to peak my curiosity. And being on the Health and Safety Committee, it was only right that I did my part to educate myself on the possible risks, right? I started seeing Facebook groups popping up on “Protesting the H1N1 Vaccination”, news articles from around the world on how the vaccine was never properly clinically tested – “so far, according to the Health Canada website, there have been no tests on children or those over 60 – for either vaccine. Instead, the federal government is relying largely on results from what Health Canada calls a “mock” vaccine based on an entirely different strain of flu.” The ingredients of the vaccine seem further cause for concern – the biological index of that vaccine includes chicken embryos, formaldehyde, squalene adjuvant, thiomersal (mercury derivative), polysorbate 80 (preservative) and aluminum adjuvant among others listed on the Biotechnology Information Institute website.

And then came the post-vaccination effects: the recently married cheerleader who can now only walk backwards following a freak reaction to the swine flu vaccine (I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video). The jab being linked to 25 deaths in the USA after a letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, telling neurologists to be on the alert for a brain disorder that could be triggered by the vaccine. And in a recent study published in the journal Neurotoxicology just last month, the researchers found that primates injected with a single vaccine containing thimerosal suffered significant neurological impairment when compared with those who received a saline solution injection, or no injection at all. Thanks to Marie for the link to that one.

It’s hard, when there’s so much conflicting information flooding the internet, to really know what to do, and it really comes down to a personal choice involving weighing out the pros and cons, and deciding which makes you more comfortable. Or uncomfortable. Of course, statistically you’re more likely to get swine flu than you are to get some horrible mutation/disease/die from the vaccine. And fear plays an enormous part in the decision. Which are you more afraid of? For me, it’s an easy decision. If I’m going to get ill, I’d rather it be from a natural strain of the flu than from a one in however many chance a man-made, untested “solution” going wrong. When I was a kid, people didn’t care about hand sanitisers or breathing masks or worrying what they might catch from being on an bus for 20 minutes on the way home from work. There wasn’t such thing as “correct coughing” into the crook of your arm. You put your hand in front of your mouth and nobody would bat an eyelid. Today, we live in such a state of fear that we’ll blindly inject things into our body if the newspapers and TV make us all afraid enough of H1N1.

Fire me from the Health and Safety Committee, but I’m not getting the H1N1 vaccine. I’ve spent too many hours watching shows that question the government, and recently, doing my research on the flipside of the H1N1 vaccination coin. If you’re debating getting the shot, I’d strongly encourage anyone to make sure you’re fully informed before succumbing and falling prey to the mass hysteria taking over today’s world. I’m going to close with one of my favourite songs right now, which just so happens to touch on the topic of not being controlled or forced into anything – and also just happens to sound kind of like the Doctor Who theme.

On blowing my bank account in Montreal this weekend

So this weekend was pretty decent. Unfortunately I didn’t get to hang with my favourite girls (as a result of a nasty case of sickness and exhaustion on both their parts – and a copious amount of hugs goes out to both of them!) but instead I went to a wedding social, which was actually tonnes of fun. I watched the X Factor, lazed in pyjamas, cuddled with the cat – oh, and I MAXED OUT MY OVERDRAFT HALFWAY ACROSS THE COUNTRY IN MONTREAL. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, today I was informed I was victim of my very first bank fraud crime – my access card number had been stolen along with my PIN, sent somewhere in Montreal, and almost a thousand dollars withdrawn. I was left, this lunchtime, with a sympathetic banker on the line in one hand and a pile of declined debit till receipts in the other, sadly looking at a salad I couldn’t pay for. I, naturally, in true to self fashion, immediately started crying in the middle of the food court (until I remembered my leftover cash from Saturday’s social, took my salad and ran). How awful is that? I went to get a new card, new PIN etc. after work, and was informed it could take a few weeks for the investigation to be completed and “proved” fraudulent before any of the money was returned, so that leaves me in a pretty rubbish position for the next couple of weeks. But I suppose that’s what Visa cards are for, right?

On an entirely separate note however, the good news is that the competition I was in from September – October, which so many of you faithfully spent chunks of your day voting for me MULTIPLE times, has finished Round 1. I think I might have made the finals – I’ll find out for sure in early November, but if I have, I’ll be in the December 14th issue of Wedding Bells magazine all across Canada, and have a one in seven chance of scoring a $5,000 wedding dress and an all-inclusive honeymoon to the Mayan Riviera (yes please). So I just wanted to let out a little SQUEEOMG – and thank everybody for their fierce and faithful support in getting me this far. I’m truly humbled to have had not only my friends but also people I don’t even know voting for me, and I’ll post more when I hear anything at all about the next round…

This week is going by at a crazy pace; I have deadlines, meetings, reports, training and my very own class to teach at the end of it – I’m whizzing through it fuelled by caffeine in the mornings, a glass of wine in the evening and the thought that at the end of this week, I will well and truly have faced my biggest fear in life having been crippled by it for the last few years – and once I get through it, I’ll get to keep going, teaching weekly and getting more and more experience standing in front of people and actually teaching. Yes, I’m definitely terrified. But I’m also excited. And I have a sneaky feeling everything’s going to be just fine… and this weekend will be a very celebratory one indeed.