TV Party Tonight – The Royle Family

theroylefamily

There’s some serendipity in how Greg and I came to find ourselves marathoning all three seasons and five specials of The Royle Family recently. We had been watching a UK series called Born On The Same Day, which followed three notable Brits who were all born on the same day. On July 2, we watched the episode that included Ricky Tomlinson, who played Jim Royle, only to discover the next day that series star and creator Caroline Ahearne had died of cancer on the 2nd. Greg found a torrent of the whole series, and having read many gushing recaps of the show in the wake of Ahearne’s sad death, we started watching.

Winner of many awards, much-loved by Brits since the show first ran in 1998, The Royle Family is a slow-moving comedy of the single camera variety with no laugh track and not much action. Much of the humour comes from the repetitiveness of the dialogue (mother Barbara asks her daughter and son-in-law what they’ve had for their tea in every episode), and the family dynamic of a council house family in suburban Manchester.

Billed as a slice of life of the typical low income family, the general appeal of The Royle Family seemed to be that the characters were so relatable. Stories abound of perfectionist Ahearne agonizing over ever syllable of dialogue, and accents, inflection and facial expressions play a big part in the humour of this show that is predominantly about a family sitting around watching telly. (more…)

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The Genuine Marriage Test – And Why I’d Fail

wedding
December 31st, 2007. Our friend John performs our wedding ceremony. I rock a wedding boa. Greg still has hair.

First, an upfront – my marriage isn’t technically “genuine” since Greg and I never bothered with a license. In Canada, common law relationships carry the same legal status as married, so there is no financial benefit to paying for the piece of paper if you are a Canadian citizen. So while we’d immediately set off flags if one of us was originally from another country, no eyelashes were batted when it came to the legality of how we chose to “wed”, and as far as we’re concerned we are married and have been so for over 17 years.

But according to this piece in the Toronto Star, if one member of the couple happens to be an immigrant, you’d best be sure that you: have an actual diamond ring, kiss in your wedding photo, have a big reception (not at a restaurant, pub or home), and take a honeymoon immediately after your ceremony and be sure it’s to some place far away… because not doing any of these could mean that your wedding is not about love, but that you’re helping someone to enter and live in Canada illegally.

I don’t need to outline why this is not only stupidly racist but also just really idiotic, right?

Here’s the thing, in 1997, my wedding to Greg cost us under $500. Were we not both Canadian citizens, we would totally have flagged Immigration Canada’s checklist.

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Fixing the Vote – or Why Toronto Needs to Find a Better Way to Choose Its Politicians

vote-ballot-boxIt’s the day after election day, and like most people, you’re probably exhausted and feeling full of ennui. After a 10 month campaign, Toronto finally got rid of Rob Ford (sort of, but not really) and chose that other guy, solely because he is not a Ford.

The problem is less about our actual politicians, however, and more about how we got here in the first place. This election has been full of chaos, drama, racism, misogyny, and assorted other clusterfuckedness that made the whole process horrific.

So here are my humble suggestions…

Make It Shorter
A shorter campaign duration would be beneficial to everyone; candidates and voters. A 10 -month campaign just drags out the worst parts of the process (debates, mud-slinging) and by election day everyone is just frustrated.

There would need to be a way to allow candidates to raise funds, so we could begin registration in July, but prohibit debates, etc. until after Labour Day.

Speaking of fund-raising, we should also look at tightening campaign financing rules. The City of Toronto will be writing large tax receipts to residents of Mississauga who donated to Rob Ford’s campaign. This really shouldn’t happen and there needs to be a rule that candidates can only accept donations from Toronto residents.

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The Mahvellous Bill Cunningham

Street fashion – and street fashion photography – is now ubiquitous in most cities. Online, there are even niche sites dedicated to older women, people of colour or particular style trends. But most of these blogs tend to simply record what’s out there, and what’s currently hot within mainstream fashion. Here in Toronto, where we’re definitely less adventurous than other cities, it’s not uncommon to visit street style websites, or even articles in our major papers, and see pretty young girls in the same trends – currently, cutoff jeans, brown suede boots and flowered shirts – from the typical fast fashion mall store.

But in New York, street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham of the New York Times doesn’t just record the fashions he sees on the streets, he takes an active part in setting trends and provoking stylish New Yorkers to follow suit.

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My Friend, Steven Davey, aka Frank

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image: NOWToronto.com

I first met Steven Davey, restaurant critic for NOW magazine, more than 10 years ago. I was running a monthly dining group called Gothic Diners in which Toronto Goths gathered for dinner at local restaurants, usually in all their black finery. Davey heard about our group through a friend of a friend and invited Greg and I, along with our friend Siobhan, to join him for dinner. He took us to the newly opened vegetarian restaurant Fressen, because it tickled his fancy to take a bunch of Goths (and our supposed vampire-inspired blood lust) to the one place where there would be no meat.

We hit it off and I soon found myself in “the rotation” – a group of Steven’s friends and acquaintances who were restaurant-positive, and who he would invite to join him for restaurant visits when he was doing reviews. That is, we liked dining out, enjoyed trying new things and could follow his detailed directions on what to order and how not to blow his cover.

He would book reservations under a false name, usually “Frank”, but on occasion he’d forget, and I’d find myself at a hostess stand, perplexed. No “Frank”. Or else I’d be seated, and watch him across the room, listing off the various names he might have used to book the reservation. One night I ran into him in line at the Drake’s BBQ take-out shop, and stood in line yelling “Hi Frank!” repeatedly until I had to walk up to him and poke him.

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Lucky Dip – Thursday, August 15th

rose-made-of-galaxies

I’m not much for Star Trek and all that stuff, but when space gets its galaxies together to make roses, that’s something pretty awesome. [Twisted Sifter]

Y’all know that the thing about carrots improving your eyesight was a lie to trick the Nazis, right? [Gizmodo]

Turns out it’s maybe not such a great idea to bury 6000 bodies under the huge stone floor of an abbey because those bodies eventually decompose and shift and such. So workers are disinterring piles of bones to rebuild the floor before the whole thing collapses. Of course, instead of reburying those bones, it would be even cooler to just decorate the place with them. [BBC News]

olinguito

The discovery of a new mammal is a rare and wondrous thing, and it really doesn’t hurt if the little bugger is adorable. Meet the Olinguito. [Huffington Post]

Speaking of cool animals, when visiting a zoo, expect to get what you pay for. If the admission is cheap and the “lion” looks remarkably like a dog, then it probably is. Never mind that you can probably buy a real lion for much cheaper than the average Tibetan Mastiff. [Gawker]

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Lucky Dip – August 14, 2013

kanako

Messy Nessy interviews Parisian artist Kanako. [Messy Nessy Chic]

I love, love, love this essay aimed at young oddballs, and wish someone had written it 30 years ago, when I was one. [NPR]

Speaking of awesome things I wish were around when I was a kid – Makies, the world’s first 3D printed dolls, are now for sale. And they’re named after famous scientists/computer programmers (including Hopper, for Grace Hopper who was the “creator” of the term computer bug after finding a moth in a mainframe.) [BoingBoing]

Free Rebekah! The raccoon made famous for dancing with a “hillbilly” has been seized by authorities! [Gawker]

40 totally cool world maps, Plus one even cooler map made with a spirograph. [Twisted Sifter] [BoingBoing]

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Abercrombie & Fitch, Marketing to Fatties and the Death of “Cool”

cool_joe“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids.”

Do you see anything wrong with that statement? I mean besides the obvious douchbaggery behind it? Mike Jeffries of Abercrombie & Fitch only wants young, attractive (thin), “cool” people to wear the clothes his company sells.

But are all popular, pretty people “cool”?

When I was a young teenager, which is presumably the target market for stores like Abercrombie, the “cool” kids were the ones who hung out off campus so they could smoke. The girls looked like Joan Jett, and jean shorts were only considered appropriate if you were washing the car.

The popular kids, the sporty ones, hell, the RICH ones, with a tennis court and a pool in the front yard and a 30 ft yacht moored in the back, they looked like the models in the Abercrombie ads. Very, very few of them were “cool”. They were pretty, had nice clothes, nice cars and were assured nice university educations, but their lives were too easy and too pretty for them to be cool. They were popular – they ran the student council, they were on all the sports teams, other kids aspired to be like them. But did they have that edge, that spark, that thing about them that drew people to them (as opposed to perfect teeth and shiny hair)? Nah.

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Let Them Eat Cake – On Women and Their Relationships with Food and Body Image

cake

Dear women of the Western world, please have some cake. That’s right, get up right now, and go get yourself something frosted and gooey and decorated to within an inch of its life. I implore you to treat yourself, just because it’s a crappy, cold, grey Monday.

However, if you go have cake, there are rules. First, no hiding the cake. No sneaking it back to your desk, or hiding in a closet while you devour it. Eat that baby out in the open, and to hell with what anyone else thinks! Second, you must eat the cake and then forget about it. No making yourself feel guilty, no calculating how many extra crunches you need to do to work it off. Third, no remorse, after the fact, when a skinny girl walks past you on the street, and you start thinking about how much closer you’d be to that “ideal” figure if only you’d not eaten that stupid delicious bit of pastry and frosting.

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Crazy Acorn Lady – Making Life Difficult for the Rest of Us

It read like an April Fool’s Day joke. Yesterday, the Toronto Star ran a story about a Woodbridge woman who wanted oak trees near her sons’ school cut down because her two boys are allergic to tree nuts.

The obvious rebuttals come to mind:

– acorns are not food, there’s no plausible reason for teenaged boys to be eating them
– they’re teenagers, not toddlers, and if allergic, should know enough to avoid oak trees during acorn season
– um… don’t roll around under oak trees?

On one hand, you’ve gotta feel really sorry for her kids who have enough stress dealing with real allergens (the article says they’re allergic to peanuts and their school – indoors – is nut-free), and now have to deal with being the spawn of crazy acorn lady.

But there’s also the risk now that the very real concerns regarding allergies – both of her kids and the rest of us – won’t be taken seriously because of the over-reaction and helicopter parenting of one woman who made the news.

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I’m so Sexy in this Pub

As a collector of pin-up art, and the wife of a beer writer, I am probably more exposed to, and less bothered by, cheeky and puerile beer labels and tap handles than other women. I don’t know if beer labels with cute (hot) cartoon babes actually sell more beer – that would be kind of a sad thing, actually – but they certainly are out there. Here in Ontario, we’re all familiar with Niagara Brewery’s Niagara’s Best Blonde, with the 40s era bombshell on the label. She is not scantily clad, mind you, in fact she’s downright wholesome, but I can see where some women would take issue with an image of a woman being used to sell and promote beer.

Of course, busty women have been a marketing default for beer companies for years, and it’s only lately, with the rising popularity of craft beer, that mainstream brewers have changed gears to be more inclusive of women, portraying them more as beer consumers and less as a set of tits in a bikini top, emerging from a lake to bring the man in the ad a crisp, cold one.

Oddly enough, the “sexy-making” in the beer industry has seemed to revert back to the little guy, with craft brewers, especially in the UK, using sexual imagery and innuendo to gain attention for their products in a market that is becoming ever more saturated with competition.

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Your Fat Makes Me Crazy

If you live in the western world, no doubt you’ve seen or heard about this video, created by a Wisconsin news anchor after receiving a letter from a viewer who was ostensibly “concerned” about her health and her ability to be a role model to viewers.

As a fat woman, I am fully supportive of Jennifer Livingston and her decision to turn the tables on her critic by taking to the air to rebut his passive-aggressive comments (according to the Toronto Star, the two exchanged emails back and forth but when contacted by Associated Press, the man claims to have deleted the email conversation.)

What is disturbing about all of this is that there are people out there who think they have every right to tell a complete stranger what they think of their looks.

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Seeing Red

If you watched the last episode of Mad Men this season, you may or may not have noticed a trend towards the use of the colour red strategically throughout the episode.  An article on Slate works on the theory that the red, used at some point to costume each of the female leads, represents female power, as Joan, Peggy and Megan all wear red as they move on to achieve goals or more important roles in their respective careers.

Studies show, however, that the colour red works in a very specific way on men (but not women) to make them amorous. To men, red is the colour of love (which might explain the marketing machine that is red roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on Valentine’s Day). Photos of women wearing red, as opposed to other colours, were thought by men in the study to be more attractive.

In the restaurant industry, female servers who wore red got better tips from male customers. There was no difference with female customers.

The initial study took place in 2008, and the restaurant study earlier this year. But the phenomenon likely started long ago.

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Bag Lady Redux

Let me tell you about my bags. I have many.

My black knapsack is my go-to bag for any kind of shopping. I bought it for $15 in 2003 in Chinatown during the SARS epidemic, half off because the shop owner was just so delighted that anybody was in his store at all. Nine years later, it’s seen better days – it’s faded, a couple of parts are broken, and I’ve had to reattach the straps a couple of times. I’ve started looking for a replacement because eventually this bag will die, but in the meantime, I use it at least a few times a week for grocery shopping, running books back and forth to the library and pretty much any other situation where I need to carry stuff. It’s stylish and I get many compliments on the ginormous zipper.

Being car-free (I don’t even have a driver’s licence), all of my shopping requires the process of carrying it home, either by foot or TTC, and in addition to the knapsack, I also use a couple of canvas bags. The Hudson’s Bay bag was purchased for $1 in 1991 and has been used at least once a week for the past 21 years. It used to have a mate but the bottom of that one gave out a few years back, so now I use this canvas bag that I got when I ran the food and drink website TasteTO. It’s not as roomy as the Bay bag, but it’s good and sturdy.

Those three bags are the backbone of most of my shopping expeditions, and I almost never use a plastic bag unless I have bought more stuff than will fit in my regular trio. For really big loads, I also have a shopping buggy, but it’s unwieldy and I try to avoid it if I can.

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The Processed Way of Eating

Despite my plan to avoid social media while working on my book, I’ve spent the earlier part of this afternoon over on FaceBook discussing meat glue (why yes, I am procrastinating, how did you guess?), and its implications in the greater food service industry, aside from its use in molecular gastronomy. Because it seems that there are a few restaurants and food supply companies that are taking chunks of stewing beef and mushing them together with meat glue to make what looks like a reasonable facsimile of a filet mignon.

These filet mignon, so far, seem to exist within the realm of large-scale lower-end food service – school cafeterias and catered weddings were two such examples given. I wouldn’t expect to see them at high-end steak houses or places that are known for the authenticity or terroir of their beef, but it’s reasonable to assume that they will eventually show up (unannounced, no doubt) on the menu of low- to mid-range restaurants across both the US and Canada.

(Note that the meat glue itself is perfectly safe. The concern comes from creating a “steak” out of various cuts of beef and then cooking it to less than medium well-done because of possible bacteria that may have been on the surfaces of the various pieces of meat that are now in the centre of the steak and might not be cooked to the appropriate temperature to kill said bacteria. A standard steak has no such problem since the centre is untainted and could not have come in contact with any kind of contamination.)

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Death by Turkey

I am spending this week watching holiday specials. Not the cartoons and tired old movies of yore (Come on admit it, It’s a Wonderful Life is three hours of tedious, sentimental schlock.), but holiday food and cooking shows, specifically of the UK variety.

As it turns out, holiday cooking shows are the big thing for UK chefs, and anyone with an existing series, or a cookbook, or a well-known restaurant, is there on the screen, setting fire to booze-soaked puds and making the holiday hassle look easy. But because there are so many shows, so many chefs competing for viewers’ attention, they’ve all got to do something different, to jazz up the traditional Christmas dinner in some way to make it unique.

Stuart Heritage of the Guardian sees the mass of holiday cooking shows as a as testament to gluttony in the “so… much… foooooood” vein. Because, he claims, it’s all about the watching and not about the cooking. But isn’t that really the saddest part? By which I mean, I bet that your Christmas dinner this year will be exactly like the Christmas dinner you had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that… there will be no trying of new dishes from Jamie or Nigella or Gordon. It’s fun to watch, sure, but hey, don’t fuck with Christmas dinner.

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