Guest Post: The Cost of Ignorance — How to Shop Ethically.

I personally have been making the change over the past couple of months, after ruminating on it for a year or so, to minimising waste and making sure the products I do use are ethical and animal cruelty-free (pro human rights merchandise is next on my agenda). I’m gradually ditching all my health and beauty products in favour of those from Lush, Natio, The Body Shop and (would you believe it?!) Bonne Belle. I’ve stopped using the household cleaning products of yore and switched to local ethical meat instead of the crap you get at the supermarket from who knows where. (I like meat too much to become vegetarian.) I think of myself as an ecotarian, but granted, it is hard to come to the realisation that pretty much everything you use or own has an unethical footprint. It’s also hard sharing a house with someone who doesn’t necessarily care about minimising waste or supporting ethical brands: cheap is best.

So when my friend Tess asked if she could publish something along these things on my blog, I jumped at the chance to have someone who certainly knows a lot more about being an ethical consumer than I do espouse her tips on how to become more aware of exactly what we’re buying.

I was borne of the consumer age and while my somewhat unconventional upbringing shielded me for a time from the alluring pull of capitalism, eventually and inevitably, as a person living in the western world, I am no longer immune. Modernity has yielded a bountiful array of things to consume, and even the strictest and most disciplined ideologist would struggle in this world to avoid all of the negative consequences of this reality.

Most of us feel the pressure of consumerism in one way or another: when we find out our new smart phone is no longer new, but is now an out dated model. Or when we realise our favourite sensible shoes are daggy and don’t go with any of the newest fashions. Or when we notice that people have the seen the same dress at many parties and always with the same boots. The pressure of consumerism comes in many shades: sometimes shame, or guilt, insecurity, embarrassment and sometimes depression, anxiety or even boredom. It can also be fun; most of us love a good shop. Like finding a dress that fits perfectly and looks fantastic, the satisfying weight of shopping bags when you’ve found not one, but two, or three brand new outfits to add to the wardrobe. Or a new book from a favourite author, a new CD, a new TV; the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, we also know that these things have a price; I am not just talking about the cost of purchase, of which the modern consumer is all too aware. I am talking about the ethical price. The social cost, the environmental damage. These things that loom about in our subconscious and not so sub-self-consciousness, the guilt we usually hide from, reject or ignore, the cost we do not know how to escape.

In first world societies, we can no longer truly separate want from need. If the world as we know it were to end tomorrow, I think most of us are smart enough to realise that what we really can’t live without are things like clean water, shelter, food, medicine and security. Of course, intellectually we realise that we do not need cosmetics, new clothes, or an iPad to survive. But try existing in the modern western world without these things. Without performing some sort of Into the Wild nomadic withdrawal and going to live in a tree house in the forest somewhere it is virtually impossible to escape modernity and therefore consumerism. You can take a stand, and try to avoid all things that are unethical or unnecessary. You can shop in op shops, recycle, dumpster-dive, buy soy candles and refuse to participate in the consumerism “machine”. But once you start looking for unethical things to avoid, you begin to realise the true depth of the problem. Food, shampoo, deodorant, clothes, cars, trains, books, electronics, ceramics, magazines, cosmetics, musical instruments, CDs, beds, linens, water bottles, plastic bags… Almost anything that you can buy, unless you are purchasing it from a 100% handcrafted local store where you can see every step of the production, is likely to be infected with something unethical. Something that you could not stand to watch happen, let alone fund with your own money if you had known, or had a choice, has occurred at some stage of the production process of almost everything that we own or buy. Even if you miraculously never ever buy another product again and make all of you own food, clothes and medicine from home grown produce, if you wish to have a job, or go to school, or visit any building, anywhere, you are going to be participating in an institution that purchases or produces things that are tainted with unethical practice. Slavery, animal cruelty, environmental massacres, toxic waste, child labour and pollution are commonplace in the consumerist world. As a general rule, the bigger the company, the more likely they have survived and succeeded by participating in these types of practices, and many more things that thankfully elude my imagination.

Thinking of the cost, the real unseen but heavily weighted price of many things that we who were born into and borne of the consumer age, simply cannot avoid, it is so easy and so natural to want to turn a blind eye, to turn away from the depressing and unappealing truth of consumption. Ignorance is blissful. But it is not helpful.

If you want to be helpful, modernity thankfully has produced some pretty amazing things as well. There are many small, simple things, that you can do locally which can have amazingly huge impacts globally. Things that take very little time, very little effort, and very little sacrifice on your behalf.

1. Download & Install the Ethical Shoppers Guide.

It cost $4.99 and your money gets you a cool little app and endorses a great non for profit cause, helping them widen their impact and lobby companies to improve their ethical practice.

When we spend money we don’t just purchase a product, we endorse the company that produces the item and we encourage their behaviour. When you hit the supermarket (hopefully remembering to bring your reusable green bags—I like the ones that fold down and fit into my every day bag so I don’t forget them) take your phone, and for the first few shops allow about half an hour extra time to look up all of the products you are buying.

The products on the app are rated with a green tick/red cross coded system. There are levels of ethical endorsement and there are also products which do not have much information. To begin with, aim for no red products and definitely no boycotted products. You can click on the information icon to find out what practices have earned the product its rating (i.e. animal testing, human rights abuses/environmental abuses). This means you can also choose to stop endorsing issues that matter to you personally.

At first it will be a little bit tricky. For example, you will find that some things like baked beans or tinned fruit do not have an ethical alternative. I suggest that where an ethical choice exists choose that option. Be brave and try new products, and don’t be a fussy first world whiner. Your tinned soup may taste a little different from your favourite brand at first, but you will adjust. And if you really miss the old product, then write to the company that produces them and ask them to change their policies. The app has simple steps to help with this. (There are so many tasty dips and cheeses that I am currently abstaining from and waiting to savour when the manufacturer gets with the program. I can comfort myself that should the company get on board, their products will taste that much better after not having them for so long.) Also, you will probably find yourself buying more fresh produce, which is better for you. However, it is a lot like dieting, If you become a strict crazy sergeant who deprives themselves with unflinching discipline to achieve a short term goal, you will probably get bored or fed up, and quit. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon; “a lifestyle change”, to borrow from the dieters phrase book. So start small and swap and substitute products to something with a higher ethical rating. As you get used to the changes you can work toward buying more green ticked products and avoid more crossed red products.

Be advised that some ethical products are cheaper and some are more expensive; some are better quality and some are lower quality. You will have to experiment with what works for you and this will take time and patience at first. However, when you think how easy it is to spend a whole day shopping for a pair of jeans or shoes, it’s not hard to justify spending an extra 30 minutes in the supermarket to avoid slavery and animal cruelty. Besides, once you find new favourite brands, it becomes quicker and easier to shop.

2. Live By Example & Spread the Word.

Recommend new ethical products to your friends, show them the app and how to use it, use social media or word of mouth to promote good ethical products, and encourage and reward companies for good behaviour. You can also challenge your friends to try to find the best ethical product for the more tricky items like shampoos or fragrances, to see who can find the best, most cost effective or hair-friendly product! Look around your workplace, too, as change can be employed in simple things like investigating stapleless staplers, or swapping the type of milk gets put in the communal fridge.

3. Keep Calm & Carry On Motivated & Do Your Research.

If you start feeling like being an ethically-minded shopper is too difficult remind yourself why you are committing to the change. You may feel deprived because you have to give up some things that you like and have become used to. But try to put this feeling of relative deprivation into perspective; ask yourself, are you really going without? Again, I will advise you to exercise caution here: it is very easy to get drawn into the I’m-not–doing-enough mentality or the why-should-I-sacrifice-my-things way of thinking. One will make you feel horribly and unnecessarily depressed and the other will make you—put it bluntly—selfish. If you have taken the first step and have made a commitment to utilise this tool or others to try and make better ethical choices, even if you are not always perfect or not 100% sure that you’re making the best choice, give yourself credit where it’s due. It is a good thing to be aware and mindful of how you are spending your money and what you are endorsing; most people don’t and won’t. If you support better practice you are creating a world where better practice is profitable and that will affect real, positive global change. And if you are thinking it is not your responsibility, well, it is, and you’re a douche. If you think your choices don’t have any real impact, I would encourage you to do a little research and become better informed about the power of consumers. Some good ways to do this are to look at the impact not changing will have and some of the more positive things you can do to keep up momentum. At the end of the post are a few great places to start your research.

Finally, have fun! Don’t make every shopping experience about doom and gloom. You can still enjoy almost everything you are already enjoying. I am encouraging mindfulness and awareness, not abstinence and guilt. So challenge yourself to become a better shopper.

Product Recommendation of the Month (originally recommended by the Ethical Shoppers Guide).

Great Ocean Road Dairy: Yummo! I forgot that this is what milk is actually supposed to taste like, having purchased watered down, chemically altered products for so long. It tasted like a memory from my childhood. And I feel good every time I use it, knowing that it is better for me, locally produced, and ethically endorsed. And it’s cheaper than most other brands. Winner!

—Tess Keane.

[Shop Ethical]

[Great Ocean Road Dairy]

[My Slavery Footprint]

[Carbon Footprint Calculator]

[Global Citizen]

To Live & Die in Brunswick: Reflections on Jill Meagher.

I’m not usually one to be so deeply affected by violent crimes resulting in the deaths of people I don’t even know, but there’s something different about Jill Meagher’s brutal abduction, rape and murder that has touched the hearts of many. Perhaps later this week or next I will attempt to unpack what Jill’s death and the litany of speculation surrounding it means to me, but first, I thought I’d ask a friend who lived in the suburb that Jill also lived and (presumably) died in for her experiences in Brunswick.

Laura Money is no stranger to guest posting on The Early Bird, just as she’s no stranger to the pitfalls of living in Brunswick, a suburb that both I and she, and I’m sure many other women, have experienced street harassment in. Maybe it’s not just Brunswick, as Laura asserts below. Maybe it’s just a Melbourne thing. Or maybe it’s what comes with the territory of being female in public.

*

Hi, I’m Laura and I’m from Brunswick. Sounds like a confession. In the wake of the rape and murder of Jill Meagher the idea of living in Brunswick has become hollow. I lived in Brunswick from 2009 to January this year after moving to Melbourne from Perth. It’s a similar story to Jill’s: her family are in Perth as well.

When I first moved to Brunswick I was so excited. My street had beautiful old cottages and Victorian-era terraces. Old people peered over their white picket fences to chat to one another. They gave me lemons and sometimes herbs. (Always legitimate!) It was a beautiful place to live. My boyfriend and I secured a one-bedroom unit you couldn’t have swung a cat in but we loved it. One of the reasons was its location: we were only two streets away from Sydney Road, where Jill disappeared. Pubs, bars, late night restaurants and enough kebab shops to ensure that your night out ended well and not regretfully.

Sydney Road was also a place where I felt pretty safe. I must have walked alone to get home so many times I’ve lost count. Until moving to Melbourne, though, I’d never really experienced much street harassment. Sure, I had a guy show up at my work every day to propose until I had to hide in the back room while my colleagues told him I didn’t work there anymore. I also had one guy decide he liked me that much he brought his whole family to my work to meet me, even though all I’d said to him was “hi”. My mistake, obviously, victim-blamers would decry. There was a creepy guy who requested I grow my leg hair for him and a couple of other incidents. But being harassed on the street was new to me, until Brunswick.

I’m not going to document everything but I will give you my top three not-feeling-so-safe-now moments. Firstly, I was reading on the train. I do this a lot. I was getting so involved in my book that I missed my stop. I do this frequently too! I got off at the next stop and decided to walk; hey I could use the exercise. It was about 6pm and the street was deserted so I decided to be a little cocky and keep reading while walking along the pathway near the train tracks. Hey, it was a really good book! I hadn’t been walking long when I noticed a small group of young men up ahead. As I got closer the cat calling started. I ignored it. They followed me. I ignored them. They postulated how they wanted to “shove that book up me if kept ignoring them”. I put down the book, placed it under my arm and told them to get lost. I then half walked, half ran to a tram stop and caught the tram the rest of the way. Walk home ruined.

Secondly, I was waiting for the tram. My stop was the first one, and the tram came empty from the depot so I always got a seat. As I was waiting, I was reading and standing next to the giant picnic bag I had. An old man came over and asked me for the time, presumably so he could look at the timetable, though I could have told him that it had been vandalised ages ago and you had to text for the next tram time. I told him the time and he asked where I was going. “I’m going to the city. I’m having a picnic with some friends,” I replied. “Oh, are your friends men? Are you married?” “No, just a few girlfriends. I’m not married.”

At this point I put my book back up and hoped the tram would hurry up. The tram came and I hoisted my picnic bag up, found a seat and continued reading. The old man walked up and down the tram before sitting down next to me. Seriously, he had the whole tram. I tried to keep reading.

“You must like that book, is it good?”

“Yes.”

“What’s it about?”

(Why did I answer?) “Oh, it’s just a detective series I’ve been reading.”

“So, are your friends single?”

“Sorry?”

“The girls you’re meeting, are they single?”

“Yes, it’s just a picnic in the park. Good weather, isn’t it?” I tried to change the subject.

“I’m single. Keep looking for a nice girl. I can’t go out with women my age, they’re all too boring. I need someone young, like you.”

At this point I start to panic and smile sympathetically for lack of another option.

“You don’t have to go and meet your friends. I’ve got a high-rise apartment in the city. If you come with me, I can give you a present.”

This on-sided conversation occurred throughout the entire tram ride, he even followed me when I moved seats and spoke like that in front of other passengers. A few of them laughed. I kept my eye out at the tram stop for him for weeks.

Thirdly, I was stalked home. I wrote a post a about it. It was pretty scary.

I know this sounds like Brunswick-bashing but hear me out. Despite all of these things happening, I just thought it was Melbourne. To a certain extent it is. These things happen anywhere. I’m back in Perth now and have already had a few incidents occur. My dad didn’t want me to move to Melbourne; he said it was too dangerous. In the first two months of me moving there there was a shooting, two bashings, a building collapse and a warehouse fire all within a kilometre radius from my dream-unit.  This didn’t stop me from living my life, though. I was often out late, heading home to my boyfriend. My mum reads and watches a lot of true crime. Because of this, I would call her or my brother in Perth late at night—time differences are great, aren’t they?— and say “I’m calling you while I ‘m walking home so that if I get attacked or something they will know my last whereabouts!” It was always a bit of a joke but I used to think that it was unlikely that they would attack someone on the phone because they’d get caught. When I saw the footage of Jill Meagher calling her brother in Perth shortly after talking to the man in the hoodie, I knew what she was doing.

To reiterate, my name is Laura and I used to live in Brunswick. I now live in Perth again and the harassment has slowed down. Actually it’s pretty much just at my new place of employment—gotta love that! For those who think, “if you felt threatened, why not just take a taxi?” Firstly, it’s only two blocks: so not worth it! Secondly, I used to get taxis after work f I was working late and the company paid. I got hit on in those taxis on most nights. Sure, I like a chat. I even chatted to a taxi driver so much that he remembered us later on when my friend left her phone in the cab. He was able to identify us because I’d been taking to him. By the same token, often when I got in the taxis from work, the male drivers would stare at my skirt. One driver focused the rear-view mirror onto my cleavage and one dropped the receipt onto my lap and groped around to find it. Fun stuff.

—Laura Money.

Related: On Stalking.

The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

The Harassed & the Harassed-Nots.

I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl: Street Harassment in CLEO.

Elsewhere: [Daily Life] Brunswick, Alone & After Dark.

[unWinona] I Debated Whether Or Not to Share This Story.

Image via Daily Life.

Guest Post: Feminism Respects Women More Than Anything, Including the Catholic Church!

Just over a week ago I was reading this here blog when I came across an article that shocked me. It was a response to a feminist blog that stated that the Catholic Church disrespects women. The response was supposed to demonstrate that “[the Catholic Church is] one of the few places in the modern world where women can find true acceptance and respect.” I almost choked when I read those words. Surely a Solidarity Salon or feminist society would be a more accepting place.

The Catholic Church has systematically stripped away women’s rights from the outset. Before people go asking for evidence, permit me to quote the Bible:

“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discrete, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” Titus 2:4, 5 (emphasis mine).

According to this, women are subservient to men, must marry, have children and behave in a particular way—chaste, pure, with loving eyes only for him. The most important point here, however, is that wives must be obedient to their husbands. This indicates that women are viewed as being unequal to men. I cannot see how we can possibly feel respected if we do not feel equal.

Women in the Bible, and therefore in the eyes of the Catholic Church, are always presented in one of two ways: the Madonna or the whore. The Virgin Mary (mother of Christ and most famous of all biblical “vessels”), Priscilla (devoted wife of Aquila who extended her hospitality to St. Paul when he was in need), Ruth (loyally took care of her sick mother-in-law) and Elizabeth (who bore a son, John the Baptist, despite being well past child-bearing age) are all examples of the Madonna; the virtuous woman in the Bible.

So some of the examples are a little stretched for goodness—I’ll gladly look after my mother-in-law but I doubt that alone makes me a good person. That is because women are painted as sinners and whores far more frequently in the good old pages of the Bible. A small list of examples include: Eve (duh, she started it all by defying God and eating some fruit), Jezebel (worshipped false gods and murdered her husband and sons), Delilah (betrayed Samson, lured him with her sexuality and maimed him by cutting off his hair in which his strength lay, effectively leading to his death), Salome (flirted and danced seductively for her step-father to persuade him to execute John the Baptist—at the age of thirteen! [Early Bird note: so the sexualisation of children isn’t just a raunch culture, Internet-age thing!]), Mary Magdalene (one of Jesus’ most reliable disciples, however she was painted as a prostitute until 1969 when the Pope recognised her as a true disciple). I could go on. Is it just me, or are the stories about the “evil” women just so much more fun? Now that we’ve had a who’s who of female biblical figures, I’d like to address some of the points that were made in the article.

The first point, predictably, is abortion. Apparently, because a high percentage of women having abortions reported using contraception and it failing “there is a huge problem with contraception—something the Church has said all along.” The Catholic Church is against contraception because they believe that every union between sperm and egg is a life and that only God has the right to give or take away life. Jennifer Fulwiler’s argument seems to be more centred on the science of contraception, an aspect of the argument that the Catholic Church has never really looked into being clouded with the morality angle. There were a few comments written in response asserting that if feminists want to be environmentalists as well, they shouldn’t pump their bodies and waterways with chemicals that inhibit pregnancy. Aaah, psedo-science!  As both a feminist and an environmentalist, I endorse the use of the Pill. All medication carries a risk, even aspirin. I received a very competent education on the menstrual cycle and how the pill works to inhibit the release of an egg by adding more oestrogen and progesterone, hormones that are naturally produced in the body, at a particular time in the cycle. If you are educated on how it works, you won’t be afraid of it. I would like to ask a question about sperm, though. If the church posits that the union between egg and sperm is a human being, do they believe that individual sperm and unfertilised eggs are also people? If this is the case, how can they condone the reproduction process, considering how many poor innocent sperm die in the hostile environment of the womb? [Early Bird note: Or in “masturbatory emissions”, as Elle Woods would say?! Oh, that’s right: masturbation is evil.]

The article goes on to say that—shock, horror!—women are having sex for pleasure, not procreation. Really? In 2011? I had no idea! This is blamed on being “bombarded with about a zillion messages a day that portray sex as… pleasure and fun” and that you only have to “turn on the E! Network or flip through an issue of Cosmo” to see this message being touted and lauded as positive. I must admit, I always go to Cosmo for the best sex tips! The hyper-sexualisation of society is something that religion in general often uses as a way of renouncing feminism.  In a Google search of feminism, the third option is a website called Feminism is Evil. Not only is the sheer ridiculousness of the “argument” against feminism laughable, the only evidence appears to be quotes from the Bible. Feminism is Evil also blames the media for the unfeminine behaviour of women:

“The television is about as false and misleading as can be nowadays… People are being indoctrinated, especially our youth, to have a false view of reality. Television nowadays is being used as a weapon to promote agendas that go 100% contrary to the Word of God; such agendas as homosexuality, feminism and abortion.” (Original emphasis removed.)

At one point, the site makes the argument that men are more pure than women because “not one man has ever had an abortion”! I still believe that the mainstream media presents a patriarchal, homophobic lifestyle as the norm. Whilst there may be more divorced characters on television, they still promote impeccable family values. In CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, I would argue that Catherine works extra hard on her relationship with her daughter, Lyndsay, insisting on things like eating dinner together at the table and having movie nights. If anything, she is the most family-oriented character on the show. Similarly, Glee deals with a gay character, Kurt, by placing him in a highly supportive family. He has a great relationship with his father and becomes integrated into a full family unit with the marriage of his dad to fellow Glee clubber Finn’s mum.

Whilst I am the first to discuss the objectification of women in advertising that portrays them as sexual objects, it’s strange how we actually agree on something but think that it’s wrong for completely different reasons. I still maintain that most adverts place women in domestic spheres. This is completely compliant with the church, according to Feminism is Evil, as “biblically a woman’s place is in the home.” If I have to see one more advertisement for cleaning or cooking products in which only women appear, or in which they are exasperated at the incompetence of their husbands (and they are always husbands), I feel I might scream! The media systematically proliferates society with these wholesome messages of propaganda for “traditional” gender roles as a response to the increasing feminist and homosexual rights movements. People just don’t see it, as the message is more subtle than the ads of the ’50s and ’60s.

Back to the article at hand, and Fulwiler falsely states that “secular feminists are not willing to stand up for all women.” This is a sweeping generalisation. She cannot speak for everyone, and neither can I, however I was offended by this statement. I, personally, am willing to stand up for all women, even ones who, like her, are victims of the patriarchy. I actually feel that women who have been indoctrinated into a repressive and unequal culture need to be represented more, as they have lost their own voices.

As the article goes on, however, I realise that I don’t represent all women, if Fulwiler is to be believed:

“Pro-choice feminism only respects women once they’ve reached a certain age, usually about 36 weeks; the ones who are younger than that are not considered worthy of consideration as human beings, let alone worthy of respect. The Catholic Church respects all women, no matter how small and voiceless.”

Oh, right, I see what she means. I could not disagree more. This issue is, undoubtedly, highly subjective based on when one considers a foetus becomes a person.

I am not speaking for any other secular feminist at this point but I don’t consider an aborted foetus a woman that I have failed to represent. This is not about neglecting women here; this is about terminating a pregnancy, not a life.  I believe that the person to focus on is the woman who should be given the choice as to whether she wants to continue the pregnancy and eventually give birth to a fully-fledged human, or terminate that pregnancy and not bring an extra child into the world. Each case is individual and should be treated that way, however, at the end of the day, the choice should only ever be that of the woman’s.

Once again, there is a misconstrued notion that the Catholic Church educates women on abortion better than pro-choice organisations or abortion clinics. I disagree, and I went on quite a few websites to discover what they say the procedure consists of. According to Better Health Victoria, two types of abortion are currently available:

  • Surgical abortion: a low-risk procedure most commonly used for first trimester (7–12 weeks) abortion in Australia. Known as suction aspiration or suction curette, it involves removing the lining and contents of the uterus (womb). A range of other surgical techniques are used for abortion later in pregnancy.
  • Medical abortion: a low-risk alternative to surgery used for terminating pregnancies earlier than 7–9 weeks (depending on the clinic). RU486 (mifepristone), also known as “the abortion pill/drug”, is the most widely known medication used for this procedure. It’s available in some clinics in Australia and is up to 98 per cent effective when used in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

This seems to be the general consensus on most abortion websites I visited. I did come across several problems, though, as most of the sites had been hijacked by religious pro-life propaganda. One website, called Pro-Choice.com, was full of pictures of foetuses and religious messages. If you can’t go to a site labelled “pro-choice” without it being corrupted by religion, where can you go?  I find it quite insulting to read that apparently the Catholic Church provides more accurate information on abortion. Women undergoing the procedure are given accurate and thorough information regarding the process just like any other medical procedure. The Church’s scare mongering and twisting of the facts are not scientifically- or medically-based enough to be considered “information.”

Now, Ms Fulwiler is not saying that “secular feminists intend to disrespect women”; she thinks we “mean well but are simply misguided.” How nice of her to be concerned!  She says she knows how we feel because she used to be the same until she found God was brainwashed. She then says that she started “questioning assumptions.” For someone who questions assumptions, she sure makes a few herself. the first being that the Catholic Church has moved into a modern world in which Eve and Jezebel are not real but allegorical so that women are really seen as respectable in the eyes of the Church. According to Feminism is Evil, even female ministers are going against the word of God and should get back to the kitchen!

The second assumption she makes is that women are being blindly led to the abortion clinic the second they get pregnant. As I stated earlier, every case is different and I feel that there is a tendency to sweep over that and assume that pro-choice women relish in the devilry of their abortive practices.

The third and final assumption is that God exists. I understand that this is a faith-based claim, as there hasn’t been an awful lot of concrete evidence that He has spoken to anyone of late, yet the whole church system relies on the fact that he’s real. If the assumption is wrong, as I believe, then the reasoning behind the oppression of women and the pro-life argument go completely out the window.

Oh, and one final assumption: that secular feminists care what you think.

—Laura Money.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] On Stalking.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] On Stripping.

Elsewhere: [National Catholic Register] Feminists Don’t Respect Women; the Catholic Church Does.

[YouTube] Legally Blonde Part 5.

[Feminism is Evil] Homepage.

[Better Health Victoria] Abortion.

[ProChoice] Homepage.

Guest Post: On Stalking.

I am standing at a tram stop in Brunswick waiting when a poster catches my eye. Someone has stuck it over the City of Moreland sign—a prominent place. Its headline screams: “Women Should Be Careful.” I’m hooked.

Upon reading the article I become increasingly angered as it goes on to explain how women should cover up and not expose their bodies to men as men can’t help but be attracted to that “provocative attire.” Not only should women expect to be sexually assaulted if showing skin, they are actually “asking for it.” I am outraged and start tearing the poster down but the man (I would assume and hope) has stuck it on with liquid nails. I manage anyway, throwing the wad of paper in the bin with a satisfying clunk. A woman is sitting on the bench near me also waiting for the tram. She turns to me and asks, “Didn’t like what it said?” No, I didn’t like it at all.

*

The idea that a woman is asking for it if she wears revealing clothing is repugnant. Not only is it outdated in 2011, it also allows men to get off scot-free. Whatever the length of my skirt, I refuse to be an excuse for a man’s behaviour. It is a common misconception that most women are harassed, attacked and stalked because of their provocative clothing or behaviour.

When I asked a group of friends to define the look of a stalking victim the consensus was a young (18–25) woman, thin, attractive, large breasts and, most importantly, wearing “slutty” clothing. It was also decided that most of these women will be stalked by men who had seen them out at a club/pub and followed home at very late hours. This profile is not true. According to California State University, 77% of female victims and 64% of male victims know their stalker and 59% of female victims and 30% of male victims are stalked by an intimate partner. This changes the image of a creepy guy hanging out in your garden after watching you dance at a party.

In a study by the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault it was revealed that only 1% of women surveyed were raped by a stranger. Clearly there is a different representation of this in the media. Still, even if most cases of stalking and rape will be carried out by someone who knows the victim, there are still instances when a stranger will take a shine to them.

*

I am on the train, coming home from work. I’m wearing a black dress, black stockings and a black coat and holding a bag of groceries. I sit down and accidentally knock the man in front of me with my bag.

“Sorry,” I say giving him a small apologetic smile.

“That’s okay,” he says, looking me up and down. “Are you coming home from work?”

“Yes.” I reply, not impolitely.

He then asks me where I work, what I do etc. I proceed to tell him, being polite but not particularly inviting. He then brags about working in an industry with a lot of money and invites me to join him at his work one day soon. I decline and then get off at my stop. He also gets off at my stop and I feel a tug at my bag of groceries. He offers to carry them for me and asks if I am married. I say no but that I have a boyfriend and he tells me that “we could always break up.”

He then asks where I live and follows me home. At this point I am pretty scared. It isn’t dark, it’s not isolated, I’m not wearing anything revealing… this isn’t how I expect the stalking story to play out. I panic and actually walk down my street before common sense kicks in and I stop two houses down from mine, pretending that it is my house, even going so far as to fumble with the letterbox pretending to check for mail. I get out my keys and ask him to leave. He then tries to invite himself in for coffee, then dinner, then a chat. I say no and am rude to him for the first time.

“Aren’t you going to go inside?” he asks, as if calling my bluff.

“Not until you are down the end of this street,” I say.

Then he says the words that stop me cold: “That’s ok, I know where you live. I can come anytime.”

The problem I had after this occurred was that I felt that it had been my fault. I shouldn’t have spoken to him, I shouldn’t have smiled at him, I should have been wearing a sack… all sorts of irrational thoughts went through my mind. Actually, the only thing I should regret is practically leading him to my door. That was stupid. When I told people, I was actually asked by one friend what I was wearing. Another told me I shouldn’t have used my “devastating” smile. The most common feedback I got, however, was that I’m just too nice. I shouldn’t be so polite and friendly to men because they take it as a sign that I’m flirting. This isn’t right! It just confirms what the poster said, that it’s the woman’s responsibility not to be stalked or get raped. I’m getting quite sick of men being blameless in these situations. It is the narrative that is constantly being touted by the media, in ads like the Razzamatazz stockings where you only see a woman’s legs in Razzamatazz and in the background are the men’s reactions to her sexy legs, implying they can’t help it. One of them spills a coffee, another trips over and a third is slapped by his girlfriend for looking. Unless ads like this stop then we will forever live in a sexist society that backs up the theory that the sexualisation of women is innate and part of our evolutionary journey.

At this point, I would like to say that I was living in fear every time I got on a train. I switched to the tram, I started calling my boyfriend to meet me at the station so we could walk home together and told all of my friends what had happened.

*

I am at work, re-entering the building after a break. He’s there in the foyer greeting me like an old friend. My colleague thinks we know each other, so walks ahead and leaves us alone. I am scared. I tell him I am busy and that I finish at 5pm. Why do I say that? The fear makes me irrational.

I try to tell him I’m busy after work and not to meet me, but he just smiles and says he’ll see me at five. I walk into the administration area, call my boss and start hyperventilating. Security sees me out at 5pm. I am flanked by two friends but I don’t see him. I can only hope that he is bothering another girl instead, then feel terrible for inflicting him on someone else.

*

I haven’t seen him since. I do live with the idea of him in that back of my mind, though. I just wish that other victims of stalking don’t blame themselves. Whatever I wear, wherever I go, yes means yes and no means no.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] On Stripping.

Elsewhere: [California State University Department of Police Services] Stalking, Threats & Annoying/Harassing Calls.

[Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault] Statistical Information.

—Laura Money.

Guest Post: London’s Burning—A Riot By Any Other Name?

Last month, London burned.

Rioters took to the streets and for five days, smashed, robbed and burned their way through a number of suburbs. News footage showed teenagers being robbed by groups of people pretending to assist them, restaurant goers being mugged over dinner by large mobs, vigilante groups taking to the streets for justice, and thieves trying on shoes before stealing them from looted shops.

Buildings which had stood for over 150 years were burned to the ground, and riot police were ignored or attacked by large mobs of young people who sacked the streets.

The riots, which caused over a billion dollars worth of damage, saw more than 1000 people arrested and left five people dead, have been blamed on criminal gangs, social networking sites and a lawless generation of young people who lack respect.

British Home Secretary, Theresa May, has denounced the riots as being acts of “sheer criminality.”

“The violence we’ve seen, the looting we’ve seen, the thuggery we’ve seen—this is sheer criminality,” she said, and by saying so she has, like so many others, simplified the issue to deal with it in the simplest terms possible. But these watery explanations about lawless youths do not fully address the issues of rioting and are rife with problematic reasoning and contradiction.

A perfect example of the problems with this type of reasoning can be found in an Australian publication which discussed the London riots. The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt took a similar approach to May, and attributed the violence that took place on the streets of London to a loss of family values in a contemporary world. (But let’s be honest here; what does Bolt not blame to a loss of family values?) Missing no opportunity to push his conservative agenda, Bolt claims that in the London riots, “What we saw was the kind of people hidden in the cavities of decaying society” and that these people, or at least what he refers to as its “underclasses”, are “lazy, resentful and greedy, being handed everything from the food on their plate to the plasma in the corner”.

He then gives a number of examples of the youths participating in the riots, documenting their crimes, and painting a picture of a generation of young people who are out of control. But herein lies the first contradiction; if young people are the main perpetrators of these types of crimes, as Bolt highlighted by giving examples of 11-year-old children participating in the riots, how can he object to them being given the food on their plate, or even a plasma television? (Not that I have ever heard of the poor being given free plasmas anywhere in the world, now that he has mentioned it). Since when do we not feed our children, or expect them to provide for themselves? And does it really seem logical to blame the riots on the poor for being spoiled with food? Doesn’t it seem more likely that there may be something more to this story? Rather than simplifying the issue by blaming riots on a loss of family values and a delinquent underclass, it would be better to engage with the complex history of rioting that exists across Europe and with the unique psychological effects of rioting, particularly on children and young people, who live in areas of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and who experience high levels of feelings of relative depravation as a consequence.

Relative deprivation is basically where someone feels as though that have been deprived, not in worldly comparison, but in comparison to affluence or privilege that surrounds them on a daily basis, and which they are unable to access. It is becoming increasingly common across the Western world, and other places, as the global division between rich and poor becomes wider and as wealth becomes more visible through the media. Relative deprivation is an increasingly important phenomenon, which has been linked not only to rioting, but to other acts of violence and civil unrest, including terrorism. The psychological impacts of relative deprivation need to be further studied and better understood, particularly when “blaming-the-poor” narratives keep appearing in articles like Bolt’s, potentially adding more fuel to the civil unrest fire by ignoring the phenomenon.

Having noted the importance of feelings of relative deprivation, it is also quite plausible that the deprivation felt by these young rioters, may not only be relative. The social and political changes which have occurred in London over the past 12 months, and which have had negative consequences for many Londoners, are also likely to have had a significant impact on the rioters. One of the most notable in this case is police violence.

Riots are not typically the acts of criminals, although criminals have been known to capitalise on them; rioting has been used since before the seventeenth century by groups and individuals to express civil unrest and negative feelings toward authority figures. Although usually triggered by a particular event, riots occur after ongoing and sustained civil unrest.

The catalyst which triggered the London riots was the suspicious police shooting of Mark Duggan, an unarmed civilian, killed by police. One witness has alleged Duggan was shot at close range while pinned the ground by the police, and although this account is far from substantiated, it is known the Duggan was unarmed at the time of his death and that the bullets which the police claimed were fired at them, came from a police gun. The riots began as a peaceful vigil outside a police station, where friends and family of Duggan gathered to demand police adequately explain the circumstances of Duggan’s death. Other people, not involved in the vigil or immediately known to the Duggan family, triggered the riots by setting fire to a police car when police refused to acknowledge the vigil or address the mourning family. From then on, the riots rapidly escalated and spread throughout the city, far removed from their peaceful beginnings, and without being condoned at any point by Duggan’s family.

It is important to note that although Duggan’s shooting was the catalyst to the riots, it was not an isolated case. Police violence has become an increasingly troubling problem for the English over the last few years, particularly since the introduction of tasers in 2004, and in the last 12 months alone London Police have been widely criticised for a number of violent acts, including the brutalising of a non-violent student protester with cerebral palsy by fully-riot-gear-equipped police officers, who dragged him from his wheelchair (his only source of mobility) and then hauled him across the pavement. Similar acts of police aggression can be seen even after the riots, in the deaths of Dale Burns, 27, Jacob Michael, 25, and Philip Hulmes, 53, who all died within the last month, following incidents in which police used either tasers or pepper spray. In each case, there were at least eight officers arresting a single person, and in Michael’s case, there were 11 police present after Michael himself called them for help. During his arrest for an unknown crime, he was pepper sprayed, pinned to the floor, handcuffed and then beaten for up to 15 minutes by all 11 officers before being arrested. Two hours later, Michael died in police custody.

The purpose of presenting this evidence of police violence is not to vilify police and champion rioters, but rather to demonstrate that the issues which have contributed to the civil unrest that led to riots are complex and widespread. It also highlights that there are significant policing issues which need to be addressed in the UK and which are, by Scotland Yard’s own admission, causing a “growing anti-police sentiment” which is marked by “fury” and that during the riots “there was an atmosphere of absolute hatred towards the police and the establishment—the government—because they feel abandoned, the cuts in youth services, the cuts right across the board.” The increase in police violence is, in turn, leading to an increase in civil unrest. It is no coincidence that one day after the death of Hulmes, a marked police car was petrol bombed while patrolling in North London; just as it was no coincidence that riots ensued after the shooting of Duggan.  The same thing happened in Tottenham in 1985 with riots against racially motivated police violence and it will happen again, if these issues are not addressed.

Police violence was a trigger for the London riots, but not the only cause of civil unrest in London. Other recent and highly inflammatory occurrences include the rising unemployment rate (just under 8% of the population cannot find a job in England, a figure which continues to rise), an openly corrupt media blatantly flaunting basic human rights and the law (see billionaire Rupert Murdoch and his cronies escaping criminal charges after deleting vital evidence in the murder investigation of Milly Dowler, where phone messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive.), the rapidly increasing cost of living (the cost of a loaf of bread has tripled in the last five years), and the extremely fast-rising cost of education (the cost of a university degree has also nearly tripled in England in the last year). These are but a few of the troubles ailing England; it is not surprising that young people might feel helpless and angry, or that they might not care if their actions disrupt plans for the Olympic games, or upset local diners and traders.

Furthermore, that the riots spread so far so fast doesn’t mean London’s “underclasses” are felonious criminals. It is well known that once a riot begins, individuals begin to exhibit pack-like behaviours in the heightened excitement and highly charged atmosphere. Young people and children are particularly prone to this psychological influence, which makes it very easy for them to be caught up in the activities of the crowd, and similarly, it can be difficult for them to associate their actions with concepts of right and wrong.

Yet little of the reporting that has taken place about the London riots has yet to examine rioting in London, and indeed the wider context of Europe, and to examine the social, political and psychological aspects of rioting, not to mention the economic considerations, which most certainly would have played their part.

England has a close history with rioting, which spans over centuries, and it is not now, nor has it really ever been, merely the acts of criminal groups who opportunistically pray on an unsuspecting society. Instead, riots reflect a much deeper and wider frustration, which in 2011 was triggered by episodes of police violence. The areas which were most badly damaged in the riots are those which have high levels of poverty, and relative deprivation, where the rich and the poor share spaces as neighbours, living in deep contrast of one another. Blaming the poor for being spoiled is like saying “let them eat cake.” It didn’t work for the French all those centuries ago, and it won’t work now.

—Tessa Keane.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Life Below the Poverty Line is a Horrible Place.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Not Quite Out of the Woods—The State of Australian Politics.

Elsewhere: [The Age] London Riots Spread as Police Lose Control.

[Herald Sun] Rioters Show a Nation Split & Family Values Gone Forever.

[CBC News] London Riots Erupt After Fatal Police Shooting.

[London Progressive Journal] Jody McIntyre: Victim of Police Brutality & Media Distortion.

[The Guardian] Man Does After Taser Arrest Near Bolton.

[The Guardian] Notting Hill Carnival: Tensions High After Recent Deaths, Say Police.

[The Observer] Notting Hill Carnival Curfew Plan is “Pie in the Sky”, Warn Police on Ground.

[The Guardian] Missing Milly Dowler’s Voicemail Was Hacked by News of the World.

[The Telegraph] London Living Costs on the Rise.

Image via Chi Movement.

Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

Open Doors (28/05/11–29/05/11).

For one weekend a year, here in town, over 150 buildings are opened up to the public for them to have a little look-see for the annual Doors Open Toronto. A lot of these places are not normally accessible to us mere mortals pedestrians. In order to be a part of this event the buildings must have been built before 1940 and you can look at any or all of them (if you have the time!) for free. [Early Bird note: Sounds a bit like Melbourne’s Open House.)

While this may not be something that everyone gets excited about, I am in awe of old buildings and enjoy perusing the architecture and sticky-beaking inside. I set out on my own on Saturday and my first stop was the Old City Hall building: by far my favourite building in Toronto from the outside, so I was very excited to take a look inside.

The building was designed by Edward James Lennox who also designed Casa Loma, another notable Toronto landmark, and about 70 other buildings around town.

These days Old City Hall is used as the provincial court house. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside but I did get to look at the amazing foyer, complete with murals, and an example of one of the court rooms. It even had the upstairs viewing area, reminding me of the court room used in the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird.

After that I was bound for a firehouse at the top of town, station 311, about an hours walk from where I was. Well, what was probably meant to be an hour turned into two, and a very sore body. I kept passing intersection after intersection, hoping the next street I would get to would be the one I was looking for. Eventually I found it and went in for a look around. It was rather dull in comparison to what my expectations were.

With no one there with me to take a photo of me behind the truck’s wheel or at least hanging out the window I was a little let down.

Since most of my Saturday was filled with walking I didn’t have much time and/or energy to go to any of the other buildings on offer,  but luckily there were some to look at on the walk back down the hill, homeward bound.

I had made plans on Sunday to go explore The Beaches with James but I decided to squeeze in a little excursion beforehand to the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre and the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto, time permitting.

When I got to the theatre there was a line down the block and I thought about just bailing. But seeing it as my only chance to look around inside, for free, I decided to just join the back of the queue and hope that I wasn’t too far down the line and would actually make it inside. Turns out they had a really good system in place. We all filed into the lower level, the Elgin Theatre, and all took seats. An older gentleman welcomed us and proceeded to give us a lovely rundown of the history of the theatre, being the only double-decker theatre (that’s one theatre positioned directly above another theatre), and some information about the kinds of things it had been used for.

After that we headed upstairs to the Winter Garden Theatre for yet some more history and an in depth description of the theatre’s construction.

Some interesting things that I learnt were that the ceiling over the seating in the Winter Garden theatre is decorated with approximately 80% real leaves that have been through a process to preserve them in a life-like state and that the ceiling of the Elgin theatre is actually floating, suspended from the floor of the above floor.

After the informative talk and a good look around the theatres we were invited to hang around to look at some memorabilia and perhaps purchase some wares, with all of the proceeds going to keep the theatre running. I got myself a badge for my collection and picked up the book, as well, as a memento because it was full of wonderful photos and ran through the history of the building. When making my purchase, the lady who served informed me that me that the man who had compiled the book was standing right behind me! I got him to sign my copy and thanked him for his informative speech and shuffled out.

I looked at my phone and realised I actually had enough time to squeeze in a trip up to the Arts & Letters Club.

I headed further up Yonge St (which for those of you playing at home is the longest street in the world and the same street I had spent what felt like all day schlepping up the day before!) and easily found the quaint building at 14 Elm St. I snapped a photo of the historic society sign out the front and was informed on the way in that there was no photography allowed inside. It was, of course, to protect the artworks but I really just wanted to take photos of the building. 

Having spent a little too much time exploring, I raced to meet James for our trip to The Beaches. He decided that, since we were in the neighbourhood, he’d like to take a quick look inside Old City Hall, too. So, in one weekend I got to explore it twice!

After another sticky beak we jumped on a streetcar out east. Thanks to James’ choice to sit near the front, we got semi-harassed by some crazy homeless guy who made inappropriate comments and felt up my leg. Eek!

When we jumped off the streetcar I saw another fire station, this one also open as part of Doors Open Toronto. James agreed to come take a peek with me and was very please to find an old style Pepsi vending machine where the cans were only 50 cents. Bargain!

This station, 227, was much like the one I’d already seen but I did get to enjoy a nice mini-tour with one of the fireman who filled me in on some history and the amount of call-outs they get a year. Pretty crazy!

With that, we made our way to explore The Beaches. Our journey started at the Kew Gardens where we looked at the Alex Christie gazebo and a few war monuments. We met a sweet little squirrel that a lady was trying to feed a mint. He took it, tried storing it in his mouth, then spat it out and decided to bury it. All of which I got photos of. Absolutely adorable!

Making Progress (30/05/11–04/06/11).

My fifth week in Toronto got a little bit quieter. With Sol gone (that’s right, he went off to camp. Did I not mention that?!), and the others having moved into their sublet, I was on my own again in the hostel. 

Luckily, I had my second job interview to distract me.

Again I was left with nothing to wear so I had purchased another H&M dress. This one was a pale pink, rather modest, and somewhat fitting for a job interview.

This time my interview was with the assistant manager of the store and covered some of the same questions, just a little more specific. Being a business running inside a hospital I fielded some questions on my experience with similar environments/experiences and felt like I answered them quite well. I got to know a little bit more about the job itself and the people I’d be working with.

Again, it was over pretty quickly but I felt fairly confident in my efforts. And who can complain about getting through to a second interview for the only job you actually applied for?! I just had to wait a few days to know whether or not I had the job. Fingers crossed!

Having not much else to do and only really seeing the others at night, I was quite delighted to be asked by the bar manager to pick up where Sol had left off in painting the tables for the hostel’s patio bar. So my week consisted of my touching up painting over the old flags that were on each table so they were all shiny and new again. This time they also had lacquer so I sealed them as well. It took me a few full days and a few hours here and there to get it all done to my liking. My work actually got me four free nights in the hostel, much to my surprise. Works out to be the same as being paid minimum wage here. Handy!

On the Thursday, when waiting for Sarah, as we were going to have lunch together, I got a call from the bookstore to tell me that I had been successful and that they wanted me to start work the following Monday! I was so excited to now have something to fill my days with. I shared the news with Sarah straight away. We also met up with the boys, Thomas and Declan, who congratulated me on my news.

Thanks to my new job I had to go pick myself up some new clothes to fit in with the dress code. After scouring H&M and other cheapish stores, I ended up at Sears where I found discounted black pants that fit me perfectly and a respectable collared black top to team with my black shoes. I also treated myself to a new warm jacket, since the weather was still miserable.

I had a job. Now the only thing left was to find a place to live!

(06/06/11).

Today marks my first day as an employee in a Canadian workplace! I can now officially say I work ‘in a bookshop’!

I am envisioning it being something like the show Black Books. I’d like to be Bernard but I know I’ll be Manny! No seriously, it’s going to be fun and a little bit hard since I really have no idea about books, but I am incredibly confident in my ability to serve customers so that bit is going to be easy. The book smarts can come later.

The first thing my new boss said to me was actually that he knew when he met me that he wanted me to work in his team, that I would fit in really well. He listed a lot of things that he identified in my from my interview. Some true, some not so true. Man I’m good at that bullshitting interviewing thing!

Summer Wonderland (08/06/11).

With the weather predicted to be 31 degrees (that’s Celsius, of course!), we decided it would be a good time to head to Canada’s Wonderland, an elaborate water/theme park about an hour from downtown Toronto, public-transporting it.

After all meeting up on the subway, we headed off.

 Arriving there we discovered the water park was only open on weekends, despite it being summer holidays, a fact the Internet neglected to mention! Our crew for the day—myself, Thomas, Declan, Sarah, Yann, Peter, Tanya and new recruit Gary—decided we’d just wander around the park, clockwise it would seem, and select rides that took our fancy.

There were a few in the bunch that didn’t partake in some of the rides due to their specific dislikes/fears: heights, the feeling of falling, the resulting dizziness or going upside down. I must admit to some degree I’m not okay with any of those but with the chances of anything going horribly wrong (à la Final Destination 3) very slim it was pretty irrational to be afraid of a ride. Gary pointed out all fears were irrational and, with that being a very valid point, I decided to overcome ignore my fears and go on all the rides the others suggested. Oh, and of course to preserve my dignity!

We spent the day going on pretty terrifying ride and, when we enquired about going on one again, we were told the park was closing. 

It was 6pm. The Internet had said the park was open until 9pm.

We had only made it about halfway through the rides and had missed the one we’d been building up to all day, the Behemoth.

Slightly morose, we headed back to collect our belongings and grab the bus home. As we were packing up it started to rain.

 Following that came a massive thunderstorm just as we were making our way to the bus. As we drove back to the subway station we watched the lighting crack all around us. So vivid. So close. So intense. Yann helped lighten the mood with his own rendition of Kiss From A Rose by Seal!

All it all it was a good day. I didn’t let the freak weather at the end sully my memory of all the crazy fun we had riding our way around Wonderland. I only hope we can go back again soon and check out the amazing water park.

I left the park bruised and battered, with a throbbing neck and very tired eyes but a very warm feeling in my heart.

—April Bonnick.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada: 19th May to 26th May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 2nd May to 14th May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 26th April to 1st May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 5th August 2011.

Related: [Explorational] Homepage.

Guest Post: Get Out of the City.

Recently I decided that I desperately needed a holiday.

I then realised I haven’t had a week off work in three years. I was shocked and promptly applied for annual leave. I wanted a nice, relaxing beachside holiday where I could read and get massages. My immediate thoughts were of Bali, but then I thought of Byron.

I’ve had a love affair with Byron Bay ever since I went on that Year 12 weeklong ritual known as Schoolies. I went up with a bunch of girlfriends for a week in November, and my Year 12 boyfriend also went up with his mates, and it was a week of partying, drinking, sleeping on the beach and more partying. The town was teeming with seventeen and eighteen-year-olds letting off some much needed steam after a year of hard work. I returned with a girlfriend and her sister six months later in the middle of winter and the place had a completely different vibe—less tourists, more locals and generally quieter and more peaceful. That time I stayed in a Tee Pee in the Arts Factory Village, about a ten-minute walk into the centre of town. The time after that was during the break between my first and second year of uni when I was nineteen. Ever since I had visited during winter, I said I would go and live there for four months over the summer. And thus, with my car full of the essentials—bedding, books, music and a shitload of clothes I cajoled my friend into making the trek up to Byron with me and off we went.

When I arrived I started looking for accommodation—and found it in the form of a zany English family—complete with kids called Tigger and Roo, a contortionist mother and a Valium-addicted father. I was desperate for any kind of cheapish accommodation so I took the room without a second thought. Even though baby Roo was teething and thus screaming the house down every night, I stuck it out until the end and met a few other backpackers along the way.

My next requirement was to find a job. I quickly got a job working as a waitress at The Rails, a pub located on the train line behind the bus stop that only the locals frequent. So my days consisted of lying on the beach during the day, and working at The Rails at night.

I left Byron at the beginning of February to get ready for my second year of uni with a sense of accomplishment. My first foray into living independently was a success! I returned in March with my sister and a few of her friends for the Blues and Roots Festival. The family I stayed with over the summer had enough room for us all to stay for the week, which consisted of music, drinks, party favours, TDK moments and cane toads.

I have wanted to return to Byron for a while now, but I always had some sort of excuse not to go. But this time around I was determined to. I found relatively cheap flights, along with affordable Balinese-like accommodation located ten minutes from the centre of town. I was set. When I asked my boyfriend if he wanted to go he said he couldn’t afford it, so I decided to go alone.

Whenever I told someone about my trip they always asked who I was going with, and when I replied that I was going alone to relax and do nothing but read books they all seemed jealous [Early Bird note: Especially me!].

I was on the early flight and as soon as I stepped off the plane and into the sunshine I instantly felt more relaxed. After I arrived at my accommodation, I then armed myself with two books, water and some sunscreen I wandered into town. I had been told there was now a Sportsgirl store on the main street so I was prepared for a bit of a commercial change to it, but I was dismayed to also find a Supre store alongside a Witchery, Just Jeans and Ice, sitting in amongst the ubiquitous hippie shops and surf stores! But not to be deterred, I found a lovely cafe to bask in the sun and enjoy a light lunch at, followed by a couple of hours of reading at the Beach Hotel. I have recently discovered the books of Sloane Crosley, and I have to say she’s one of my new favourite authors. She is one of those rare writers who can make me laugh out loud. I pretty much inhaled her first book of essays, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, in my first afternoon and promptly started on my next book, Last Summer by Kylie Ladd. By this time it was about 4:30pm and the sun was fading, so I wandered back to my room and spent the twilight hours reading and listening to Ben Harper, and then ambled back into the chilly breeze (why didn’t I pack any socks?) for dinner. I had a craving for a big bowl of Vietnamese pho, and it was this craving that led me to the new Japanese restaurant that had opened three days prior, Enso, which took he place of the Vietnamese one. I saw it as a sign to eat Japanese. The restaurant was up a set of stairs and kind of hidden away, which was perfect because it meant the tourists hadn’t sniffed it out yet. When I enquired about a wine list the waiter apologetically said they weren’t licensed, but then proceeded to pour me a lovely glass of champagne, free of charge. Sometimes it pays to eat alone. And thus, my first dinner of gyoza, cabbage salad and miso soup was one of the highlights of the trip.

Wednesday was pampering day. I awoke early to get a bacon and egg roll and a coffee from the local milk bar, Macs, before heading off to the Buddha Gardens Day Spa for a three hour relaxation session.

On arrival I was offered an herbal tea and was then transported to buff, scrub, polish, wrap, oil and massage heaven. After the treatments, I ambled back to the beach with lunch on the brain and got a generous serving of spud with extras and a Coke at Soul Bowl, and went and sat on the grass beside the beach and settled in for the afternoon. I polished off my second book and made headway on the third: Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil. It was nothing compared to Life of Pi, but it was still a good read. Once again, 4:30pm hit, and the weather turned a little chilly so I went home to put on more clothes and have a bit of a nap. For dinner I went back to my old stomping ground, The Rails. The owners may have changed, but their famous beef and bacon burger and the atmosphere sure hasn’t. After a feed and a beer, I headed back home for a good night’s sleep.

On Thursday I allowed myself a sleep-in—I was on holidays after all!

I set off around 11:00am after a coffee to walk to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, the most eastern point of the Australian mainland. My memory of the last time I walked to the lighthouse may have been a little skewed because I sure don’t remember it being that steep with that many steps.

Whew! After a few rest stops to catch my breath and marvel at the amazing view, complete with diving whales, I made it to the top, and that view alone was well worth the effort. After a light lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe I found a lovely spot in the sun to sit and read. I finished off Beatrice and Virgil and promptly started on the latest Sweet Valley High novel by Francine Pascal, Ten Years Later. You may scoff at the reading material but my sister taught me how to read when I was four using the Sweet Valley Kids series and we spent most of our childhood and early adulthood devouring these books, so there is a definite nostalgia element to reading this book. Don’t knock it until you try it.

After a while I thought I should make the trek back down to town. I got to the main beach and lay down on the sand and settled in for the afternoon. I headed home around 5:00pm to shower and then walked back into town for Sushi Train and a movie at the Dendy cinemas. I managed to wrangle myself a free ticket to see Bad Teacher through my cinema connections and had a crème brulee choc top. The choc top was good, the movie not so much.

Friday was my last full day, and I had booked in for another massage because I carried my bag full of books, a towel, water bottle and other assortments up to the lighthouse the previous day and my shoulders and neck suffered for it. I had booked in for 11:00am and after a breakfast of fruit toast and awful coffee—just a tip, don’t go to the 23 Hour Bakery for coffee—I received a phone call from the massage place saying they had to cancel because the masseuse was ill. Damn! There goes my peaceful relaxation. But, the massage place recommended a Thai massage place right around the corner that could probably fit me in straightaway. I hurried around to book it in and luckily I was able to get massaged on the spot. Forty-five minutes later I was floating on a cloud and I wandered out in a daze. The weather wasn’t as nice as the previous days so I wandered up and down the street before finding a sheltered place out of the wind to sit and read. I found a spot at the Beach Hotel for a couple of hours before moving on when the sun dipped behind the clouds and looked intent on staying there. Stomach rumbling I went to the famous Bay Kebab store for a delicious lamb kebab then to a cafe to have a cup of tea and do some more reading. Once the cafe closed I went back to the beach and sat in the park before heading home via In the Pink ice-creamery. That evening I stayed in my room reading and watching Juno on TV.

All in all, for anyone who needs a few days rest and relaxation, I would highly recommending taking off to Byron Bay with a suitcase full of reading material and massages booked.

—Sallie Butler.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley Review.

Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (19/05/11).

Thursday night brought my first real baseball experience. Okay, so that’s not entirely true. I saw Australia VS. Chinese Taipei play an exhibition game for charity but I’m talking real American baseball! I see a distinction, even if this is Canada.

The usual crew headed to the game, stopping for $1.50 hotdogs on the way. We arrived sometime around the 6th or 7th inning, much to my annoyance. Everyone else preferred to get their pre-drink on then get there on time. However, we settled in to watch the home team, the Toronto Bluejays, take on the Tampa Bay Rays.

With all sports I need to have a favourite player. Not too long after we got there a batter came to the plate, one JP Arencibia, who looked reasonably attractive so I picked him. After a couple of pitches he slogged the ball for a home run! In my books that’s a pretty good choice. I like my sportsmen the way I like my superheroes, able to save the day!

I’m not sure at this point that I totally understand the game and I do have the most terrible memory, but I think that the Blue Jays won this particular one. 

Sadly, I forgot my camera to catch any memories but please enjoy the above terrible photo, captured on my phone.

“Lions & Tigers & Bears… Oh, Museum?!” (24/05/11)

A seemingly boring day at the hostel was transformed into a mini adventure at the last minute.

Sol, like me, was sick of lounging around at home so he suggested we head down to the Royal Ontario Museum since it was free with our City Passes.

We didn’t get there until about an hour before closing so we grabbed a map, chose all the areas we wanted to see the most, and made our way around the museum. We figured if we had any time left after that we’d see whatever else we could squeeze in.

First stop was the natural history section. We looked at a lot of taxidermied animals. I was most excited about the local animals: grizzlies, polar bears, moose and the like.

I was devastated to discover that the battery on my camera was almost dead so I tried to conserve it and only take photos of the important stuff. I already knew the museum had a free afternoon so I figured I would just return at a later date to take in all the galleries had to offer and capture it in digital permanence.

Luckily, like me, Sol has a fascination with dinosaur skeletons, so we made a beeline for them. The prehistoric moose was a nice oddity!

With the very little time we had left, we had a gander at their elaborate geology exhibit. There were things in every colour, size and shape. Some of my favourites were precious stones, not usually seen in your average jewellery store!

Sadly, we got ushered out before we could see anything else but I definitely enjoyed what I did see and plan on finding the time to head back.

Working Girl (25/05/1126/05/11).

As I was walking home from Fort York, the birthplace of Toronto,  I got a phone call. It was about a job I had applied for the day before. After a very quick and super breezy phone interview, I was offered an interview the following day. Things were coming up April!

After only a day’s notice and lots of fretting over not having an appropriate job interview outfit, I decided on a new dress I had purchased from H&M and made my way to my meeting.

The job I was interviewing for was in a bookstore, inside a hospital. I got there nice and early and met with my potential future boss for semi-formal chit-chat. He said he wanted to get to know me and my work experience to see if I’d fit well in his small team.

The questions were kind of expected, the usual. I never prepare for interviews as I’m pretty good with coming up answers on the spot but I really should have planned ahead for the most obvious question: what books do I like?

Well, let’s just say I don’t think I answered it very well and didn’t even think to mention two of the authors whose catalogues I have read most of: Nick Hornby & Chuck Palahniuk. Or even get some cred for loving Shakespeare!

—April Bonnick.

Stay tuned for next month’s installment to see if April gets the job and what other shenanigans she gets up to in Old Toronto Town.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 2nd May to 14th May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 26th April to 1st May 2011.

Elsewhere: [Explorational] Homepage.

Guest Movie Review: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part II—The End of an Era*.

*It has come to my attention that I give away too much in my movie reviews, so the asterisk will now serve as a blanket *spoiler alert* from now on.

Ten years, eight movies, three mega-stars plucked from obscurity,not to mention the legion of fans that grew up reading an overnight literary success.

You have to be as dense as Stan Shunpike or living under a rock if you have no idea what I am talking about. (Shame on you!)

Beginning on Wednesday morning at 12:01, the final chapter of the Harry Potter saga opened to rapturous applause and tears all over the world, and I am glad to say that I was a part of it. Having grown up reading the books, lining up at 9am at the local Borders (back when they actually sold books rather than gave them away) and feeling a huge emotional connection to Harry, Ron and Hermione, it was only fitting to venture out on a frozen Tuesday evening to watch the end of an era and the end of my childhood.

An audible “eep” came from my fellow muggles (non-wizarding folk) and I as the Warner Brothers emblem appeared on the screen. It was met with applause and cheers as the cinema filled to the brim, like a steaming hot cup of butterbeer, and we settled in to watch Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part II.

The final two installments see the “boy that lived”, our hero Harry, stepping up as “the chosen one” and accepting his destiny. Before he was born a prophecy was placed in his name stating “neither shall live while the other survives” which pretty much means: he and the evil Lord Voldermort have to fight til the death of one of them and the battle of good and evil will be settled once and for all.

After Professor Dumbledore’s death in the sixth book/movie, Harry and his loyal best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (who are in love with each other but too shy to say anything until a climactic moment in this movie) are hunting the country side searching for horcruxes. These are objects of great meaning to Voldermort in which he placed a part of his soul to guarantee immortality. Destroying all horcruxes will ensure good will triumph and Harry victorious!

Part one saw the destruction of the third horcrux in the line of six (we soon learn its actually seven) with the last part of the soul to be destroyed lying in Voldermort’s body.

The eighth movie picks up where part one left off: Harry mourning the death of the loyal house elf Dobby, yet feeling more determined than ever to seek revenge for the numerous deaths Voldermort and his loyal Death Eaters are responsible for.

Harry and the gang break into Gringotts (the wizarding bank run by goblins) to find and destroy the Hufflepuff cup.

Why, you ask? Well if you haven’t read the books you have every right to be confused! Not once do the characters mention the cup, a chalice that once belonged to a founder of Hogwarts School of witchcraft and wizardry, let alone its importance to the story line. We soon find out that it’s a horcrux and evidently needs to be destroyed, but its significance, which is explained in book six, is clumsily stepped over by filmmakers. However Harry is able to hear the horcruxes whispering, which was not the case in the books, but is an innovative way of covering their mistakes. Rather than back-tracking and creating flashbacks to moments that previously didn’t exist, the filmmakers are able to quickly highlight the link between Harry and the objects and get on with the story line.

Discovering that old Voldy is aware of their plan to capture all the horcruxes, the gang realise that Hogwarts is their next (and perhaps final) destination. Arriving in secret, they are welcomed with cheers, applause and the unmistakable Harry Potter melody pulling at heartstrings in the background; and with it come the tears.

Soon the battle begins at Hogwarts, as the Death Eaters appear set to wreak havoc. McGonnagall, enchanting the stone soldiers to “do your duty to our school,” mutters one of the best lines of the movie, while the teachers are casting protection spells and members of the order arrive to join the ranks and lead the battle.

The children of Hogwarts who have always believed in Harry and trained under him when he established the secret “Dumbledore’s Army” defence against the Dark Arts classes back in year five, are also preparing to fight; the only problem is Harry is short a few horcruxes.

He seeks advice from the Ghost of Ravenclaw Tower and soon discovers the next horcrux in the Diadem of Ravenclaw (another object never mentioned until this point), and soon apprehends the object and destroys it. At this point, Ron and Hermione destroy the intact chalice. After feeling the power of Voldermort’s soul dying, Hermione and Ron throw themselves into each other’s arms and share one of the most romantic and anticipated kisses of all time! The audience cheered and clapped, reminding me that we are all so emotionally involved in the lives of these characters.

Harry momentarily stops to share a tear jerking, heart-rending moment with the ghosts of his parents and two “uncles”, all of whom he has lost. We the characters have lost so many friends and enough tears have been shed to fill the black lake that I wonder if my heart can break anymore. It does, as Harry realises he needs to make a sacrifice and without giving away the ending (okay, maybe a little) he walks to his death.

A battle to end all battles ensues between Harry and Lord Voldermort. The loveable yet unlikely hero Neville Longbottom defeats the sixth horcrux, Voldy’s snake, while Mrs. Weasley battles Bellatrix Lestrange (Voldy’s sidekick) and uses a few choice words that would see her send herself a howler!

Good conquers evil (Warner Brothers movie made from a kids book? Come on!), and we see a glimpse into the future with the nineteen-years-later epilogue giving fans a nice happy ending tied up in a bright shiny bow!

After the epilogue the credits roll and it is done. The lights come on and other fans are hugging and crying but all I feel in an overwhelming sense of finality. It‘s over; no more books, no more movies. Nothing.

I will miss the anticipation for a new movie, the excitement building as the date draws closer.

I will miss the midnight sessions and my subsequent debriefs until the wee hours of the morning with family and friends.

The Harry Potter saga will never end, though; it lives on in the well-turned pages of the books, the images of the actors growing before our very eyes and in the hearts of those who journeyed along, fighting dragons, learning spells and defeating darkness alongside the gang.

If you have read the books there is no question of whether you will see the movie and I am telling you: you will cry from half way in. You will laugh through the tears but ultimately bawl like a mandrake root. If you have only seen the movies, you may as well watch the last one to say you have completed the series, but I implore you to pick up the books and gain a well-rounded understanding of the Harry Potter universe. Like most, I will introduce my children to the wonder and literary genius of Harry Potter (the books AND movies) as it enriched my childhood and charmed my heart.

“Mischief managed.”

 

 

 

—Katie Blush.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Guest Post: Rihanna’s “Man Down”—Revenge is a Dish Best Served in Cold Blood.

Image via IMDb.

Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

Bienvenue à Toronto! (Welcome to Toronto!) (02/05/11).

I must admit I feel like I have squandered a lot of my time thus far in Toronto. I am yet to do anything incredibly touristy, unless you count walking the streets and taking photos of pretty buildings. Walking around everywhere has helped me to learn my way around the city and a lot of the street names, as well as find some hidden gems. I do intend to see the view from the CN Tower, get some culture at the Royal Ontario Museum and revel in all things the Maple Leaves at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Instead of acting like a tourist I’m at the point in my journey when I need pieces of home. And for me that means seeing my favourite band, Anberlin, who happen to be in town, and catching a roller derby bout next week. Not exactly Australian past times but they do equate to a relative state of normalcy for me. After Disneyland satisfied my love of shopping (and added to my collections of badges, Mr. Potato Heads and stuffed toys), Toronto alleviated my impulse to buy dresses. I got a super cute white and blue speckled summery number from H&M.

H&M also had a staff wanted sign up too, which brings me to my other mission while in Toronto: finding a job, and hopefully a house. I’ve seen a few signs around, which is more than I can say for the online classifieds. I also got into apartment hunting, mainly to see what is out there, but it all seems scarier in a foreign place. After only a few days here I deemed it responsible to extend my stay at the backpackers another two weeks. While living at the hostel I’ve managed to meet some good people, mostly boys. One I have nicknamed “Dreamboat”, a particularly charming and adorable man, who I have already written to my best friend, girlfriends and mum about. But being in a backpackers and talking to other travellers has meant I’ve heard many a travel/life story over beers, good old pub grub and games of pool. How very Australian!

“United Nations of Awesome!” (09/05/11).

So week two of Toronto life got a little more productive and a lot more exciting.

After chatting in the bar with a friend, James, I ran into one of my old roomies and another boy I’d met through him. Despite my lack of shoes, they tried to talk me into coming along on a pub-crawl. With a bit of arm twisting, and a mental self reminder to “roll with the punches”, I was recruited.

Being after midnight by the time we left, we only had a few hours before last call (which is 2am for a 2.30am close here in Toronto). With no real idea of where we were going we set off down the road and headed into a nearby pub. After having all our IDs checked and purchasing drinks, we settled into a large table, accommodating all 12 or so of us, and started to get to know one another. Everybody had some connection to someone else there, but most of us were new to one another.

With time against us, after downing one drink, we headed to our next location, a bar all of one minute from the last.

The second pub was much the same as the first. Everyone ordered a drink and we got chatting. We discovered that our little group consisted of seven different nationalities and after my flippant comment, “We’re just like the United Nations”, another Aussie, Luke, piped up with, “Yeah, the United Nations of Awesome!” A wonderful name that I will forever associate with that night.

CN Towerific (11/05/11).

The Toronto Blue Jays at practice. Break me off a piece o’ dat!

After the events of the pub-crawl, I managed to meet a great group of people.

With a lot of them either leaving or staying in different hostels, there weren’t many to be seen around the backpackers. However, I did get a new roommate, a New Zealand traveller named Hannah.

We were pretty friendly, pretty quickly. We talked about our travels and our intended travels, as well as life at home.

Later that night we ran into each other in the bar and got chatting again. We subsequently met two guys from the hostel,  another Aussie and an Irishman. After talking to them for a while, the suggestion of tequila shots came up. I passed but was obviously ignored as a shot was placed in front of me, just like the other three. This was to be my first ever tequila shot, at the ripe old age of 25! With free alcohol being supplied by the Irishman and his inability to understand the word “no”, I proceeded to drink another four tequilas and two vodka sunrises, to end up just a wee bit tipsy. However, I did not realise the alcohol’s affect on my senses until I tried to stand still for a little bit and could feel myself swaying. Quite an interesting experience as I rarely drink so much in such quick succession and have never even felt tipsy before.

Having lost Hannah to the company of another, I spent some time with my Irish friends from the pub-crawl. They reminded me of their plan to hit up the CN Tower the following day, so we arranged a time to meet up and I headed off to bed.

(If there was one thing I was excited about doing in Toronto it was seeing the CN Tower, a structure built to deal with the growing telecommunication needs of the city. There’s something about seeing a whole city from a bird’s eye view that makes me happy.)

The group consisted of myself, my new roomie Hannah, fellow Aussie Sol, the birthday girl Tanya, her boyfriend Peter, and their friend Sarah.

We made our way up the 114 storeys, 346m (1,136ft), to the observation deck. I spent a lot of time taking photos of every bit of the city I could see with my amazing camera. When everyone was done we headed down to the glass floor level.

This level is much like the one above but a section of the floor has been replaced with glass panels. The idea is to stand over the panels (they can hold the weight of four rhinoceroses) and look down at the plaza below. That’s 342m down! Being not afraid of heights, just a tad afraid of falling, and having done The Edge experience at the Eureka Skydeck back in Melbourne, I was very surprised to find myself feeling physically ill when I came within a foot of the glass floor. (I’m blaming the 5 shots of tequila from the night before!) It took Sol pushing me across the floor to get me on the glass panels and even then I couldn’t bring myself to look down. I snapped a few photos through the floor but could only stand there for about 30 seconds before I thought I’d lose my breakfast, which consisted of Tim Horton’s, naturally.

We did get a few rather good photos of our feet and our mugs as we stood over the glass floor. 

After some gift shop purchases (I didn’t earn the nickname Gift Shop Girl for no reason!) and an epic air hockey battle, with the birthday girl being the victor, we made our way back to the hostel.

Once home, we all settled in for another night of drinking at our hostel’s bar and our newest tradition, late night early morning McDonalds!

“I’m Niagara Fall-ing for This Place” (12/05/11).

My lovely roomie, Hannah, convinced me to accompany her on a day trip to Niagara Falls and so I obliged. Despite a little direction-related tiff between the tour guide and the bus driver, the hour and a half drive was rather pleasant and very informative.

The guide spoke about the history of Toronto, Hamilton, St Catharines and Niagara, as well as the significance of buildings or districts that we travelled through or past. I learnt about the Mississauga,  Etobicoke and Iroquois tribes and that the name Spadina Avenue (the road next to my hostel) originates from the Ojibwa word ishpadinaa meaning “sudden rise in the land”, and that Toronto was a Mohawk word meaning “where there are trees standing in the water” which, according to the tour guide, referred to the trees the natives used to tie their canoes to.

After my education, and nearly crossing the US border, we arrived in Niagara Falls to be hit by the extreme beauty and awesomeness of the falls and their surrounds.

First on the agenda was our Maid in the Mist experience, where you go on a boat down into the falls. Just looking at the falls from the bus, or even the road, was spectacular, but being down there, right in the falls, was incredibly awe-inspiring. We may have looked like giant, blue condoms but having the pristine water mist over you as you get a hands on experience was well worth the extra $16.

After taking too many photos, water logging our cameras and drinking our own piece of the falls (trust me, you can’t help but get at least a mouthful!), Hannah and I headed in the direction of food.

I wanted nothing more than a hot dog and chips and Hannah felt like ice cream so we found a hot dog stand right next to an ice creamery (!) and then took our loot to an amazing memorial park that overlooked the falls, escaping the mini-Vegas that is the main street.

It was the most picturesque way to spend an afternoon. 

With not much time remaining until our bus departed, we ran over to the Hershey’s store for a sticky beak. I discovered they make York mint patties, which I had been meaning to try since first seeing the ad on US television. Departing with a massive bag of them, and having had our photos taken with the giant Hershey’s Kiss character, we legged it to the bus stop, where we realised neither of us remembered what kind of bus we rode into town on. 

Finding other lost souls from our bus, we found the vehicle and made our way to Niagara-On-The-Lake, via the whirlpool, a section of the lake, which branches off but in the centre the churning water looks like a whirlpool. There we spotted a hot boy, a fellow Aussie who had gone unnoticed on our bus, who laughed along with me at Hannah’s reluctance to go anywhere near the cliff face.

At Niagara-On-The-Lake the first place I spotted was a store with stuffed toys in the window and a hilarious sign, “The Owl & The Pussycat, at the Sign of the Pineapple”. (I forgot to ask the cashier to explain said sign.) I dragged Hannah inside and found myself a hand puppet version of Red from Fraggle Rock! Han wasn’t too familiar with the show—let’s just blame her youth—but a lady in the street commented, “Oh, you’ve got yourself a Fraggle!” Glad to know the average Canadian appreciated my purchase, too.

Let’s Get Zoological (14/05/11).

The Saturday brought Sarah’s birthday, a bunch of rain and a trip to the zoo. After an hour and 45 minutes and one streetcar, a subway and a bus, we arrived at the Toronto Zoo.

Our group consisted of myself, Sol,  birthday girl Sarah, Tanya, Peter, Thomas and Declan.

Following consultation with the map we made our way towards the polar bear enclosure. We found one of the two bears swimming adorable laps of his pool. We watched and took amazing photos for about twenty minutes. He looked so peaceful that all I wanted to do was cuddle him. I could have watched him all day!

With that checked off my wish list I would have been happy to head home, as Thomas would probably agree. (He shares my love for polar bears!) Despite the miserable weather we soldiered on. We explored more of the tundra region, the Australasia area and finally the African region, finding many other animals along the way. We spent about ten minutes trying to get Sol a picture of a cheetah and roughly the same time trying to get a snow leopard to scale his fencing so we could get the perfect shot.

We decided after another downpour that we’d see a few more animals before heading home.

We checked off another tiger, orang-utans and eventually giraffes, after we located them hiding from the weather in a shed.

We had planned to check out the North American section, as I wanted to see a grizzly bear and the birthday girl was eager to see a moose, but we decided to call it quits just before closing time.

I made an obligatory pit stop at the gift shop (I didn’t get the nickname McGiftshop Whore for nothing!) and purchased myself an adorable hoodie—all white save for a couple of black eyes, a little black nose and the words “Toronto Zoo—Canadian polar bear in a snow storm”, which I had wanted since I first saw it in a souvenir store downtown. I also got a few badges to add to my ever-increasing collection.

—April Bonnick.

[Explorational] Homepage.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada.