Nuts to that. I’m going to the movies.

Well, remember what I said about not having a lot to do? Well, ’tis also the season of trying to fit in visits with out of town folks, cleaning, and cooking up a storm. I have a million things to do and suddenly it’s the 22nd and three key presents I’ve ordered haven’t arrived and GAH!

I tried to stop at the mall on the way home (it’s kind of on the way to the bus home) and just kept walking. I couldn’t tell where the queues ended and more began. Horrifying. Tried again (briefly) this morning. Totally bought a cop-out present for my older brother. (I will put the gift receipt right in the box – or maybe just use it in lieu of a label.)

ANYway, I still have a lot to do. I have no power over the post office. So instead of fretting, I’m going to (mostly) shut off my brain and watch a very silly movie instead.

The Silly Season.

I might be the boss (kinda), but in many ways I am pretty superfluous this week. I’ve made it a goal to be here for no more than 35 hours this week (since I don’t get an actual vacation), but I am starting to think that if I make it to 30, it will be a miracle.

In THEORY, I could be doing a number of boring tidying or organization-related tasks, but yeah, I’m not. Even the shipping ‘crisis’ this week has been resolved and requires no effort on my part at all. So far today, I’ve signed paycheques, sorted mail, answered some emails, and…well, I guess I’ll go turn the butter machine on and tweet about today’s show times? And then, hm, I guess I could start updating the website for February? Yeah, I don’t know.

I would like the universe to note that this does not mean I want crises or sudden onslaughts of terrible things. No no no. I want to revel (in a bored fashion) in not doing much. So I can reminisce when the cinema world revives in the coming weeks and I’m run off my feet again.

Stereotyping myself.

(It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that a spinster with a blog will probably end up talking about her cat when strapped for other topics.)

There is absolutely nothing like a cat having a 3am floor show to make you miss out on sleep. Luckily, I got my revenge (kinda) by taking Hamish to the vet this morning.

He’s had a bump on the side of his face for a few days. A few years ago, he had something similar on his eyelid that grew quite quickly/grossly and was in danger of impairing his vision. Surgery was involved in the end, which was not a huge deal, but as a paranoid cat mother, I worried a lot.

So this time around, I made a vet appointment right away, fearing for the worst (both health and finance-wise). Couldn’t get one until this morning. Went in, the vet felt through the fur for the bump, and just picked the scab (!) right off. Little git had either injured himself or had a wee spider bite. And I had thought he’d need half his face removed if we didn’t act quickly. We were in the waiting room for 15 minutes (where he was a hit with the other worried cat parents – he can be good sometimes) and in the examination room less than two.

I felt awfully stupid. Still do. And quite concerned for the potential future with kids, that any time my kid has, like, red sharpie on his hand or scratches her foot more than usual, I’ll be running to the paediatrician suspecting bubonic plague or Guinea Worm and tying up the health care system in a nearly Münchausen by proxian way.

At least in this case, as hopefully in future, this doctor’s visit was free. Poor Hamish.

Santa blaus.

As creepy as it might sound to some, I really wish I knew more children.

I would love kids of my own one day, but I’m not in any kind of baby-making relationship at the moment, so that’s still a way’s off. And I could go on about the magic of Christmas yadda-yadda and how children are the real joy. But I won’t. I just want an excuse to go toy shopping more often.

Every year, we have a gathering with my mum’s best friends family, which now includes her four grandchildren. Every year, I panic slightly because I don’t know these kids super-well (even though I adore them) and worry that, oh no, maybe Sage doesn’t wander around telling people she’s really a fairy anymore or that Nathan cares not a whit for dinosaurs. But every year, I walk into Mrs Tiggy Winkle’s or Playvalue and just gawk at all the cool shit and wish I could do it more often.

Often times, the ‘cool shit’ is just new flavours of LEGO (not all of which I approve of – our lego was 90% rectangular AND WE LIKED IT) or Playmobil (I bought the Playmobil HAZMAT worker for a grown-up friend a few years ago). This year? I discovered Melissa & Doug.

I had not really heard of them before, being neither a parent nor a daytime tv viewer, but I guess they’re a big deal? And that I should have known that they are super fun crafty people? Even in the two small shelves I saw, there was tons of cool shit. Then, after I got to work post-shopping, I made the mistake of hitting their website.

Never mind that these are toys for infants to elementary schoolers, I want a sandwich-making set! Or a very muppet-y pirate puppet! OR A TRUNKI!! (SERIOUSLY, do they make this in grown-up size?)

Searching their website is slightly reminiscent of our old-school version of web shopping, circling what we wanted in the Sears Wishbook so that my grandparents could order and fetch them at the Sears pick-up office in their small town. Seriously, I nearly got a crayon to draw on my monitor.

Now this gentleman has done reviews of many of the 1980s Wish Books, for which I am grateful. They are a major trip down memory lane, though he is a bit more boyish than I was, seeing as I was a sometimes girly-girl. The Omnibot on that page, though, was my Biggest Wish EVER, but all I got was a Dustbot (a couple of years later) instead, which kinda kept my desk a little cleaner. I did have a Pound Puppy, though. And I was always fascinated by the rock tumbler, but I think my mum thought/knew they were a scam.

As fancy as the stuff in the Sears catalogue was (sometimes), the other thing I got to waxing poetic (a little) about were the cheaper, ‘retro’ toys at Tiggy Winkle’s. I very nearly bought Adam (aged 9) a set of balsa wood airplane gliders and/or some Silly Putty. Cheap gifts, but ones that would have got a helluva lot of use in our house.

They also had Mad Libs, cheap penny whistles, and ‘invisible ink’ maze books of the kind that older relatives used to buy at drug stores in hopes of keeping the car quiet for 10 damned minutes of a epic road trip. Sadly no Woolly Willies (heh), though.

Even though I was buying presents for ‘modern’ kids of an entirely different generation, I have a feeling that these kids (aged 3, 6, 6, and 9 – the six-year-olds are cousins, not twins) would have had a lot of fun with any of these things.

Three of the kids I was buying for live in a very creative house where video games and tv are limited. Their front room is used by a Waldorf school. So for all the kids, I try to get things that are a bit more cerebral, hence the Melissa & Doug gawking (and purchasing for some). But their parents remember how cool toys were when we were kids and wouldn’t have minded anything we bought as long as it wasn’t electronically, beepily noisy (musical instruments are A-OK – Sage, aged 6, plays the harmonica in her dad’s band sometimes). So maybe next year, I won’t go for the more educational options (the crystal-growing kit – also retro, also something I never got – or the puzzle or the paint-your-own-treasure-box). Maybe a Slinky, or a Jacob’s ladder, or a Moon Sand* will do.

(*I would never actually buy Moon Sand for the children of parents I LIKED. That stuff is pure evil and was quickly deemed an OUTSIDE ONLY toy after it got into the shag-pile carpet on more than one occasion. See also: Play-Doh.)

WASP fudge?!

(The title comes from QI. This recipe does not from QI. Nor does it contain wasps, though might cause anaphylaxis in some.)

So, the McLeod family is semi-famous for this fudge recipe which my mother would make for her best friend (whom we’re seeing tonight – we have a bit of a complicated relationship these days, so I am hoping she will accept fudge as a peace offering) and, well, pretty much everyone we knew/ow who doesn’t have a peanut allergy.

I offered this as a Holidailies treat a few years ago, so this is a bit of a cop-out, but I want to share the love with as many people as possible in tribute to my mum.

Suzan McLeod’s Ribbon Fudge
(origins unknown)

  • 3 cups of white sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 2/3 evaporated milk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1/8 cup whipping cream)
  • 6 oz chocolate chips
  • 7 oz marshmallow fluff (a jar is 7.5oz, but some of the goo just won’t come off the sides)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter

—–

  1. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan with butter or margarine.
  2. Combine 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 6T of butter (margarine), 1/3 cup of milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to a full boil stirring constantly.
  3. Continue boiling for 4 minutes. Keep stirring or it will scorch. This is not good.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in the chocolate until it’s melted, then add half of the marshmallow fluff and the vanilla  Stir until well-blended.
  5. Pour and spread into the pan as evenly as possible.
  6. Repeat steps 2 through 4, but with peanut butter instead of chocolate chips, and without adding vanilla. (I don’t bother to clean the saucepan in between times)
  7. Spread peanut butter mixture over chocolate layer.
  8. Cool at room temperature.
  9. While the fudge is cooling, scrape the saucepan clean with a rubber spatula, applying the fudge detritus to face in unladylike fashion. (Seriously, this is my favourite bowl/pot-scraping recipe of all.)

I actually failed, twice, at making this year, but my brother is a fucking guru at making this despite not being a master in the kitchen generally. I think making this in a hurry while watching Fry & Laurie might be to blame for my disastrous attempt this time. (Last time, I forgot halfway through that I wasn’t making a double batch. Doh.)

I’m off to ice some chocolate gingerbread, then heading to the country for an annual holiday party with the aforementioned Mum’s Best Friend’s Family. I got to shop for toys yesterday for the first time since last year, which was fun. Maybe I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Married to the job.

The trouble with customer service in this day and age is that customers want service, like, all the time.

I mean, I don’t have it nearly as badly as the poor folks who work retail during the Christmas/Holiday season, but this year, for the first time in quite a while, I have to work on the evening of Christmas Eve.

Why? Because the only Jewish manager has worked it 97 times in a row (approximately) and has asked for the night off (for her non-Jewish boyfriend’s family’s holiday dinner) and our other two weekend managers are of French-Canadian extraction and do their big family gatherings (aka Révellons) on Christmas Eve. And, really, I guess those trumps having Chinese food with my brothers, which is at least postponable until after work. I hope. Waiting for email confirmations on that. How Christmassy.

(Seriously, anyone else kind of longing for a Hollywood-y 1950s Christmas season of fancy parties, fabulous dresses, unattainable levels of domestic perfection, and plenty of tranqs?)

A dying breed.

I’m in my office, having one of those useless days due to things I am powerless against:

This is a very poor photo of Projector 2 with a tower reel, which is about five feet across and holds about two hours of film. Had to rewind one by hand during a blackout. It was not fun.

This is a very poor photo of Projector 2 with a tower reel, which is about five feet across and holds about two hours of film. Had to rewind one by hand during a blackout. It was not fun.

1. It’s guide delivery day. The cinema publishes a programme guide (in 16 page newspaper format) every two months. About 50000 copies were delivered to us this morning and all day, our delivery people have been stopping buy to load up their cars (or, in one case, granny cart, because he insists on doing most of his route on foot). I have been running up and downstairs to help them since I got in.

2. Related to this, I have to do a bunch of wee chores, like getting couriers to pick up more guides and promo stuff and making sure that businesses get their free passes for letting us make use of their stores to hand out these guides.

3. Our head projectionist and a outsider tech person are fixing the sound system on our projector. Again. “Bweeee bweeee bweeee bweeeeeeeeeeee” ad nauseam (almost literally). Even with closed doors, there’s no drowning that shit out.

This is the second time in about six weeks that we’ve had to re-align the sound reader laser thingos (I am all up in the lingo, yo). This is not because our projectors (all 35mm film still, BTW – more on that later) are olde and Frankensteinian (they basic bits are from the 1960s, but upgrades are made frequently), but, we suspect, because the very raucous construction of YET ANOTHER Shoppers’ Drug Mart across the street (on the site of a beloved and ancient deli) has been shaking the building so much as to throw the equipment off-kilter.

Fact: Even though I’ve worked here on and off for ten years, I have barely an iota of a clue how a film projector works. (This will become more and more apparent as you read on.)

Fact: In many movie theatre chains, the ‘projectionists’ don’t know either.

This is not just about upgrades to digital and running things off hard drives instead of film. We have big old reel-to-reel projectors, which

Not sure why we have this even. Its a platter reel. About three feet across. Holds, I believe, 20-30 minutes of film.

Not even sure why we have this. It's a platter reel. About three feet across. Holds, I believe, 20-30 minutes of film.

have become increasingly rare in the last 10-15 years. Instead of people who were apprenticed/trained (and, previously, licensed – Mike Harris did away with that in Ontario) to be projectionists, most multiplexes have a platter system. It uses a different kind of reel, mounted horizontally in slots in a upright rectangular system, and requires only that you hit ‘play’ and the machine does all the reel changeovers automatically. They are so simple that most booths, previous manned (or womanned) by a middle-aged veteran, can, for the most part, be run a high school student who has had a few hours’ ‘training’.

This is why a) sometimes a film at a multiplex will be out of focus for an extended period of time before it is fixed, because one person is in charge of a half-dozen (or more) projectors and may not know how to make the adjustments anyway and b) a film print we’re getting from another cinema today might not be ready yet (even though it played last night) because there might not have been a person capable of breaking down the film to its transportable size of reels on shift.

The digital thing makes projecting (or, as one of the minions here prefers, ‘projectioneering’) an even less skilled job. Pop in hard drive, hit play. Done.

Our head projectionist is, I believe, a third generation one, who didn’t pass on his skills to his sons because he knows the future is bleak. Our sub-projectionist’s father also dabbled in the field. They were both part of the union, both apprenticed for hundreds of hours, and are both very, very good at what they do. Both know their days are numbered.

These are the wee (18 inch?) 15 minute reels in their cans (the film is on that tower reel right now). We ship them in these containers. They are heavy.

These are the wee (18 inch?) 15 minute reels in their cans (the film is on that tower reel right now). We ship them in these containers. They are heavy.

Fact (at least in my experience): Since almost the dawn of time, all projectionists have been potheads. Back in the day, vent hoods for projectors were perfect for smoking under.

Getting this cinema up to date with digital would solve a lot of our problems, like being able to book some things not available on 35mm (a more frequent problem these days), not depending on ancient, brittle prints for classic film nights, and these expensive repairs to our sound readers. But they are fucking expensive (still), especially for independent theatres with limited capital (our cinema’s still doing fine, but dropping many tens of thousands of dollars when we are about to get a new roof would be ill-advised right now).

And, and this is my point, really, it would also mean that some of the most hilarious, kindest, and, craziest (in a good way) people I know out of work, with no prospects of finding it elsewhere. They are both grateful every day that they still get to do this job that they (mostly) love every damned day. You can’t fight modernization and mechanization, but this might soon become the first time I’ve actually been (almost) directly involved in job obsolescence. A very scary thought indeed.

The only advantage I can see is that Euchre Night (I play with the two aforementioned projectionists and one from another indie cinema) might not all be projectionist shop talk. But it might be all about applying for EI benefits and panicking about retraining in one’s 40/50s instead. And that is hardly an improvement.

I can’t predict the future, so who knows? Maybe my friends will be employed in film until they can retire. But, hey, if you live near a wee independent, old school, film-based cinema, why not visit it more often? It might help keep a few of these folks employed for a little while longer.

Spinster Orphan Christmas.

A short entry today, since I have oodles to do, but I decided late-ish yesterday that we (by that I mean my younger brother and I) are going to do another open house on Christmas Day this year. Last year’s was a low-key success and, besides, we have no where else to go.

One day, maybe I will have a husband and/or children and/or nieces and nephews to spoil on the big day, but for now, eating, drinking, and watching Die Hard with a few friends will have to do.

Pop Song 2010. (In which I endear myself to no one)

I’m (mostly) only truly cruel when it comes to weather wussiness. I’m not talking about the hundreds of people stranded on the highway near Sarnia who need helicoptering out (seriously, that’s a bad storm), but walking to the bus stop today in ankle-deep snow, the weather people on the radio announced a ‘high of -10°C’ and 5-10cm of snow. And I thought ‘No problem’. And I remembered (yet another) time I made an ass of myself.

It was late December and I was living in Birmingham, curled up with a discounted hot chocolate in a postgraduate lounge that I had only just discovered the existence of and reading my (again) discounted Guardian. And I overheard this:

‘They say it’s going down to -10° this weekend! -10°!’
‘Oh well, at least it’ll be too cold to snow.’

I very suddenly, and unexpectedly, howled with laughter, which, not shockingly, got me a bit of a curious look from the CLEARLY DELUSIONAL pair who, obviously, thought I might be mad as well.

By way of explanation, I offered ‘I’m sorry, but I’m Canadian, and that is absolutely untrue. I’ve seen it snow at -20°C with even colder wind-chill. It’s rare, but it happens.’

I don’t know think that my smug, know-it-allism endeared me to them in any way, so I hid behind my newspaper until they left.

Later that week, I nearly fell off my chair after hearing a newsreader on Midlands Today warning people of ‘drifts of up to an inch’ along one of the motorways. My flatmate knocked on the door to see if I was all right, but she was from Zambia and didn’t really get the joke.

Since then, I have been known to revel in poor weather in the UK, even though I haven’t lived there in six years. I find it bizarre that even a small amount of snow results in tabloid headlines blaming Siberian winds for their current ‘frigid’ (ie -8°C) temperatures. It does snow every year there, but it always comes as a shock (seemingly) and the country shuts down. I especially enjoy when headlines scream ‘TEMPERATURES HIT -18°C!!!’ and they are actually talking about the windchill at the top of Ben Nevis.

I understand panic when it’s an unexpected 10+cm because it’s a country of snowtirelessness, but a bit of slush shouldn’t stop people getting out and doing things, really. And I kind of understand hyperbole about weather, because we do it too. And we do share the British tradition of talking about the weather a LOT. BUT, the U.K. is a nation that excels at, to borrow a now-clichéd bit of propaganda, keeping calm and carrying on through wars and terrorist attacks and Thatcherism (okay, maybe there was less calm there). Why should winter always be such a catastrophe? Get some good boots, put on an extra sweater, and you can do almost anything.

The Morning After.

Well, I escaped the work Christmas party with only a headache and a sore throat for my efforts (the pub quiz generated A LOT of trash talking I had to shout over), so I consider that a victory of sorts.  The headache was more the result of mixing (beer, whisky, and gin & tonics? What was I thinking?!) more than excess. It does take quite a lot of booze to get me properly drunk and hungover. I can’t afford that, really, either health or money-wise.

A great time was had by most, if not all. My Secret Santa got me a new set of wooden tipped travelling chopsticks and a mint Ritter Sport and I scored two bottles of wine from the White Elephant-ish thing the boss set up for staff gifts.

My friend R wore a really suave suit, which yielded comments from almost everyone, including a mightily inebriated woman, married to one of our delivery people, who stopped him no fewer than three times to tell him how good he looked. She also tackled him with a drunken bear hug on her way out, while her husband rolled his eyes and kept walking. Hilarious. I wonder if she remembers.

The quiz was fun. I made it a bit easier this year, but there were still complaints; except for from the team that got 41 out 49 (yes, I made an addition mistake when I was compiling the thing). They were so loud and obnoxious on their victory that one of them (a former staffer) was (jokingly) banned by the boss from attending next year.

Anyway, this was the first year that I had to do quite a lot of research for the pub quiz (this was my third year doing this – all the knowledge that normally resides in my brain has been used up). Some things I learned:

1. Sherwood Schwartz would like to see Michael Cera play Gilligan should ‘Gilligan’s Island’ ever be made into a film.

2. 8 out of the Top 10 films at the North American box office (so far) this year are aimed at children or teenagers. (The only ones not are Iron Man 2 and Inception.)

3. The Blues Brothers held the record for most cop crashes in a single film (30), a record smashed by its sequel by (IIRC) a zillion times (approximately).

4. Cedric Gibbons, the man who designed the Oscar statuette, won 11 Academy Awards in the course of his career as an art director and was nominated for 28 more.

Yeah, so that last one actually came from an episode of ‘QI’ that I rewatched recently. Research is hard, yo.

After the party, we went to ‘our’ bar for last call. Our cab driver was so excited to have a fare on a rainy Sunday night in Ottawa (aka Dullsville) that he cranked up the Lebanese dance music (providing a translation, in rhyme, to Richard, who was sitting in the front seat) and created a faux strobe effect with the overhead light. Sounds dangerous, but I’d rather that then a cabbie who simultaneously talks on two cell phones. K and I laughed until we couldn’t speak.

Okay, so maybe I was drunker than I thought and this malaise I’ve been blaming on tiredness might be somehow related to that. Shuddup.