5×5 With The Hook: Alan Doyle.

I still can’t believe the words, “5×5 With The Hook: Alan Doyle” appear above these.

As a good, patriotic Canadian lad I consider today’s guest a true Canuck legend. Of course, Alan would heartily disagree (as a Canadian, born and bred, being humble is embedded in his DNA) with my assessment, but his record speaks for itself.

As do his actual records.

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But back to how awesome Alan Doyle is: He’s a musician with more down-to-earth soul than most, an actor who never appears to be acting (so you know he’s good), an author whose work is easily-accessible to anyone and a true Renaissance man. To top it off, Alan set a 5×5 record: He responded to my queries within hours! And yes, that’s definitely worthy of an exclamation point when you consider some people keep me waiting months. (Though I only mention that to make my point and now that I have, I shall move on.)

Summarizing Alan’s career is like holding a fistful of sand or making sense of Trump’s tweets… It just can’t be done. Nevertheless, let’s take a brief virtual stroll across the landscape of Alan Doye’s existence so far, shall we?

Alan first entered this world in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, and truthfully, he never left. He carries that down home, salt-of-the-sea sensibility everywhere he goes and channels it into everything he does. Doyle met Séan McCann, Bob Hallett and Darrell Power with whom he helped to form Great Big Sea, while in university in St. John’s. Originally, they intended to form a Canadian version of the Avengers but since none of them had super powers and they all wanted to be Black Widow, they decided against it. (Is The Hook kidding? You never know, do you?)

Alan primarily plays electric and acoustic guitars, and the bouzouki for live performances, but he’s been known to play mandolin and banjo. Personally, I can’t even whistle. Or act. Or get a book published. Or get a role on Murdoch Mysteries. Man, if my wife ever meets Alan Doyle, I’m done for…

Music, like any form of art, can be deeply personal. When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down) by Alan and the boys in Great Big Sea has always held a special place in my heart. To me, it showcases my own manic behavior at times and I often listen to this track in times of trouble. You know, since I don’t have a Mother Mary in my life to speak words of wisdom like “Let it be”.  And if you didn’t get that one, we have nothing further to discuss….

When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down) was also a favorite song of a member of my family who has struggled with addiction over the years. The song deals with extreme behavior in human beings and so it speaks to this particular addict’s struggles and so on behalf of myself and my family, I’ll always be grateful to Alan and his musical family for creating it.

As a child, Doyle was been bitten by the acting bug, and appeared as an extra in the movie A Whale for the Killing based on Farley Mowat’s book of the same name, which was filmed in his hometown. In 2005, he composed music for the CBC comedy Hatching, Matching and Dispatching. In 2006, he worked on scoring the film Young Triffie’s Been Made Away With. Doyle has also produced an album for his sister, Michelle Doyle. I wasn’t kidding when I told you he was a Renaissance man.

Being Canadian, Doyle has never had any trouble making friends. His good pal, Russell Crowe (I think he’s a struggling actor) has two bands, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts and The Ordinary Fear of God, and Alan has worked with them both and produced and co-written several songs on Crowe’s album, My Hand, My Heart. In 2011 they released The Crowe/Doyle Songbook Vol.III.

After he lost a truckload of cash to Doyle in a curling match (that’s what I heard at least) Crowe cast Alan as Allan A’Dayle in director Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood in 2010. He played Dingy in the film Winter’s Tale with Crowe, Will Smith and Colin Farrell. I’m guessing Crowe advised Smith and Farrell against challenging a Canadian to any ice-themed sports.

16th June 2009. Russell Crowe is pictured on set filming the latest Robin Hood film. Also pictured, Scott Grimes. Credit: Ross/GoffPhotos.com Ref: KGC-96

Apparently Crowe is a stickler for authenticity in his films…

Doyle and Crowe’s friendship led to both appearing in an episode of Republic of Doyle on CBC, which was something of a big deal, to say the least. Alan appeared in three eps of Doyle in total and this lead to his coolest role to date, that of a character referred to as The Historian, on Murdoch Mysteries. I use the word “cool” because while MM has often flirted with themes like witchcraft and time travel, the show has never taken that definitive leap into the fantastical.

Until now that is.

The Historian appeared in two scenes of the MM tenth session ep,  A Murdog Mystery, where he alluded to the not-yet-built CN Tower and Canada’s 150th birthday. What the ep didn’t make clear was that Alan’s Historian is the focus of an ongoing MM web series, Beyond Time, available here.

This is by far the most intriguing MM storyline ever and a wonderful bonus for fans and newbs alike.

In addition to elevating MM’s pop culture standing, Alan Doyle has released a second solo album, (to be clear, nitpickers, it was released in 2015) entitled So Let’s Go, and is currently touring the heck out of it as well as his vast musical library. Alan even wrote a book, Where I Belong, about his youth in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Okay, so I’ll admit my definition of “brief” leaves something to be desired! What can I say? Having Alan Doyle on my blog is something of a milestone. At his core, whether it’s through the printed page, vinyl, television or film… Alan Doyle is a storyteller and an amazing one at that. And I respect and admire storytellers because they give us all hope.

And now, finally, take it away, Alan!

 

ONE)  To me, you embody all that’s good about our home and native land, Alan.  (Hey,a little sucking up never hurt anyone, right?)  Please finish this sentence, “The best thing about being Canadian is…”

The best thing about being Canadian is the harmonious, cultural mosaic of languages, races, religions, music, art and all the rest of the welcomed diversity from coast to coast.

And poutine.

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TWO)  As a musician you must feed off the audience’s energy; is it more difficult to bring your A-Game to acting, a profession that is disconnected from an audience as you’re performing?

I am a novice actor but my experience on set is that the crew, director and other actors become your audience on the day. You want to impress them just as much.

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THREE)  What was the coolest aspect of playing a time traveling, Canadian historian with the best head of hair on TV?  (By the way, as a hardcore nerd, your storyline had me jumping out of my seat. Literally. Scared the hell out of the wife…) 

What a fun character to play! So fun because he kind of needed to come off as a little crazy.  On the edge of madness.  Its difficult to not take it too far, though.  The challenge is to have the his sanity and madness constantly in question.

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Canadians know how to balance work and play expertly.  Plus, I’m guessing there’s an open bar on the MM set…

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FOUR)  You’ve appeared on the CBC a handful of times now, would you ever consider joining a show full-time?  Or is music and live performing too important to you to relegate to part-time?

Music and, in particular, concerts are still my fave thing to do.  But I love the opportunity to act and learn from the best in that biz, the cast and crew on Murdoch are exceptional.

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FIVE)  You’ve been “in the game” for awhile now (just how long is irrelevant) but in your words, “Like everyone, I have moments of self-doubt and worry if the momentum of it all has ceased to move forward.”  What words of wisdom can you offer to people out there who fear they’ll never achieve the fulfillment of their personal dreams?

(I don’t mean to be too heavy, folks, but Alan is the type of guy people really listen to. And Lord knows we could all use a little inspiration these days.)

Hmm.  Not sure I have many words of wisdom, ever.  But I often say, if you love the work, do the work with all your heart and soul.  That’s all that you’ll ever need.

(Told you he was amazing.)

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All right, I’ve kept you from your lives long enough. I’ll never be able to thank Alan Doyle enough for putting my blog on a whole new level – in my mind, at least. My thanks to all of you, of course.

See you in the lobby, kids. Take us out. Alan…

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Why I’m Proud To Be A Canadian Loser.

While it’s true that other countries aren’t exactly getting in line to poach my citizenship, I could always emigrate to some other foreign power – but I never will.

If I’m going to be a loser (yes, I’m in full self-deprecating mode) I prefer to do it north of the border, especially during Canada’s year-long 150th birthday celebration. Here’s why.

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ONE)  Workin’ Moms.  Yes, this is going to be a highly-personal and subjective list. (My blog, my rules.)  The truth is, Workin’ Moms is the best thing to happen to the CBC – and Canadian television – in a long time. This show has taken Canada’s network – which many critics have claimed was in danger of flat lining – and given it a shot of comedy cocaine Adrenalin right to the ole ticker.

Workin’ Moms is bold. There were completely-bare boobies onscreen in the first few minutes! Yes, you read that right… there were bare breasts on Canadian television at 9:30 on a Tuesday and they had nothing to do with a David Suzuki documentary.

Workin’ Moms is fearless. The F-bomb was dropped. The words “tits” was unleashed. Post-partum depression was a major plot point.

Workin’ Moms is innovative. The pilot featured the most creative use of a breast pump in the history of Canadian TV.

Workin’ Moms (in case you forgot the title) gives a hack like me hope that the CBC may actually be ready for a show like The Bellman Chronicles. Of course, I know it’ll never come to pass, but hope springs eternal and without shows like Workin’ Mom I’d be in my garage huffin’ exhaust fumes all the time instead just twice a week.

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TWO)  Controversy.  A calm, flat political/pop culture landscape is boring as hell. Fortunately, my home and native land has plenty of individuals who are willing to shake things up – mostly by accident.

Conrad Black is a convicted criminal and the greatest blowhard this country has ever produced. This guy’s no longer even a citizen but that doesn’t stop him from telling the rest of us how to run our nation. You gotta love it.

Kevin O’Leary has been a Dragon, a Shark and now, if we’re lucky, he may become a politician. One can only hope he throws his uber-expensive hat in the political ring. People are already calling him “Canada’s Trump”, but at the end of the day he has plenty to offer. Never underestimate the value of a loose cannon when pointed in the right direction, kids.

Canada’s current Prime Minister, young Justin Trudeau, is well on his way to becoming one of this country’s most polarizing leaders. Between all the selfies, glaring conflicts of interests masked as vacations with a Khan (not the Star Trek one) and selling out provincial leaders during town halls, Prime Minister Trudeau has kept political pundits busy. Good for him.

Canadians are all nice and boring? Yeah, right…

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THREE)  All of you! Being a Canadian blogger means few virtual feuds and plenty of friends/followers. I’ve had the pleasure/honor of communicating with some of the coolest souls on the planet through this blog and Twitter and every single one of them has influenced me in some way. If any of you ever need a kidney, I know a guy in Ottawa…

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FOUR)  People love Canadians.  There’s no simpler way of putting it. Canadian travelers don’t plaster maple leaf stickers all over their luggage by accident; Canucks are revered for their decency, genuine niceness and of course, our bacon. The turh is, chicks dig us, especially in Europe. Of course, many Americans think we’re all ice skating, igloo-dwelling, polar bear hugging schmucks who end every sentence with “eh?”… but we’re cool with that.

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FIVE) Tim Hortons town hall meetings.  If you ever find yourself in my country and want to really get the lay of the land, find the nearest Timmies, order a double-double, find a comfy seat with a bird’s eye view of the action and sit back and observe Canadians in their natural habitat.

Canucks love their Timmies,, it’s true – but they love sitting in Timmies while bitching about everything from how bad the Toronto Maple Leafs suck (two hundred on a scale of one to ten) to the government’s latest inane tax grab (the newest one, a carbon tax, is particularly disgusting and incomprehensible). Granted, most Canucks rarely do anything about the things that bother them the most (but they’ll burn Timmies to the ground if the server screws up their order). Still, we can bitch and moan with the best of them.

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SIX)  Canadians are very polite.  Some – mostly Americans –  view this as a weakness.

It isn’t.

Sure, we’ll still kick you in the nuts if you disrespect our culture or grab our fries or beer, but we’ll say, “Sorry I had to do that, but you grabbed my fries and beer while disrespecting Stompin’ Tom Connors… so I had no choice.” afterwards.

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SEVEN)  The possibilities.  My country may seem simple on the surface but Canada is like a still pond: Skim a rock across the surface and the ripples will extend for miles and underneath? Well, underneath the shimmering surface is where the real action is.

So look deeper when examining Canada and you’ll be amazed at what you find. In fact, there’s so much to explore and say about my home and native land that I can only cover so much in one post.

In other words, see you in the lobby and across the highways and byways of the Great White North, kids…

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Posted in Hotel Life | Tagged , , , | 42 Comments

Woof! A Murdog Mystery Review.

I know what you’re thinking, but when the episode title goes to the dogs (along with the entire ep) I can’t be held accountable for my wordsmithy actions. So there.

As for this latest season ten (MMX, baby!) installment of Murdoch Mysteries, what can I say? I was pleased as turn-of-the-century punch when I realized:

  •  Our good buddy, Daniel Maslany was returning.
  •  There were going to be dogs! (Who doesn’t love dogs, right?)

As for the other things I realized/feared:

  •  No Brackenreid? Again?
  •  A puppy may see its master’s slaying?

 

c2ttb5cw8aa1lbuCops and mutts: It doesn’t get much better, kids.

But let’s get right to the heart of the matter, shall we?

ONE)  More Crabtree!  I have to say, Jonny Harris has been sorely missed this season. Yes, he’s been around more than Thomas Craig (what’s up with that, anyway, Peter Mitchell?) but that’s not saying much!

Regardless, Crabtree was in classic form this week, pairing up with Higgins to form the most entertaining crime-fighting duo since Scooby and Shaggy. And to top it off, they lost a prime “witness” (temporarily) while meeting up with Canadian singer Alan Doyle of the super group Great Big Sea who gave them – and us – a history lesson. (More on Doyle later.)

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TWO)  Most murderous in show.  “Kenicide is not a crime, George.” Wrong, Detective Murdoch. Dead wrong. I have to say, I was skeptical of this week’s plot but it worked well, giving each cast member (minus the Inspector of course) a chance to contribute. MM is at its best when everyone is utilized. After all, Yannick can’t do it all, can he?

And we got the chance to reacquaint ourselves with Ruth Newsome in the process; she was worth her weight in comedic gold. As for Pistachio, the Wonder Mutt, it was ironic to see Yannick Bisson, a true dog lover, take some time to warm up to the concept of owning a dog just for the fun of it.

And did you notice Pistachio’s apprehending leap at the climax? The poor pup almost wiped out! But of course, in the end, Pistachio saved the day and won Murdoch’s heart in the process.

That’s a good dog…

c2vnuozwiaapf13Yannick and his pal, Duke. Told you he loved dogs…

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THREE)  The new crime-solving duo of Watts and Jackson.  I’ll say it again, Daniel Maslany’s Detective Watts is a revelation. Maslany puts so much work into Watts’ eccentricities and brilliant-but-wholly-unique detecting abilities that I cannot stress how much he deserves his own show. And we all love Slugger Jackson, right?

As for their missing persons subplot, it was fascinating, serious enough to balance the ep’s comedic nature, and best of all, ongoing, so we can look forward to more from this new team.

Outstanding.

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FOUR)  Alan Doyle as Doctor Who?  Not quite, but he did reference “Canada’s birthday” early on as well as the eventual shifting of Newfoundland’s non-Confederation status. And his mid-credits scene where he retrieved a sketch of the not-yet -built CN Tower was priceless.

c2uajvzvqaaoh3nGreat Big Pals.

MM has often flirted with the fantastical (witches, fake time machines) but this is the second time we’ve actually been led to believe true fantasy elements have a place in Murdoch’s world. Remember the voodoo doll killing a few seasons back?

This was an amazing surprise and I hope we see Doyle again. Exceedingly-well done, Peter Mitchell and Company.

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FIVE)  Beyond Murdoch, Beyond TV, Beyond Time!  After the ep ended, I realized Alan Doyle’s time traveler’s odyssey was actually going to lead to MM’s next web-based series. Sadly, I realized this after I had logged off for the night.

Yes, I suck. But not everyone does.

Point to you, Brian. The point is, Beyond Time is indeed a new MM web series. Here’s the official announcement:

Is time travel possible? And if it is, could it put the history of Canada and time itself at risk?

We’re excited to announce a new Murdoch Mysteries original online series starting TOMORROW. Don’t miss the new series “Murdoch Mysteries: Beyond Time” every Tuesday and Friday at 12:00 PM ET at http://www.cbc.ca/murdochmysteries/

As the kids say, “Isn’t that the coolest?”

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That’s it for this week, Murdochians. Log on to watch Murdoch Mysteries: Beyond Time starting today and until next week, see you in the lobby and on the CBC…

Posted in Hotel Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

5×5 With The Hook: Mark Ellis.

Today’s guest, Mark Ellis is a writer, producer and actor best known for Flashpoint and the CBC mega-hit series, X Company. He is married to his soulmate and collaborator, Stephanie Morgenstern.

That’s Mark Ellis in a nutshell. However, I don’t think it’s very comfortable in a nutshell (Austin Powers didn’t seem to like it) and so I’m going to flesh out Mark’s existence a wee bit before running his rep though the mill with my shall we say, “unique” interview style?

As an actor Mark’s done the short film, TV series/movie thing to great effect, but as a writer and producer he’s helped change the world. This may come off as hyperbole but television, when done right, can change people’s lives by enlightening them and forcing them to look at corners of the world and history they would have otherwise overlooked.

c10fke5xcaaxqwdMark’s smiling because it’s not work when you do what you love, kids.  Like offing Nazis, for example…

Flashpoint focused on a fictional elite Canadian police SWAT unit, the Strategic Response Unit (SRU), tasked to resolve extreme situations like hostage-taking, bomb threats, etc. The show featured the best of the best getting their hands and minds dirty so people at risk could go back to their lives in one piece. The series ran for five seasons and it gave us a wholly-unique point of view: that of the people who make life or death decisions in a split-second.

Flashpoint showed viewers things they don’t see in action movies or the usual TV cop shows. If you’ve never seen it, search it out and I guarantee you’ll be an instant fan, it’s that good.

And that brings us to X Company. Another winner created by Mark and his spouse Stephanie, X Company takes place during the Second World War and follows five recruits as they are trained as spies at a Canadian training facility near Lake Ontario and then sent out into the field. As the grandson of two souls who experienced the ravages of war first-hand (Grandma was a nurse in a German military hospital and Grandpa was a Polish resistance member who wound up as a security guard at a United Nations interment camp when the war ended) X Company holds a special interest. This is a period piece cut from a special cloth.

Mark Ellis creates fictional worlds inhabited by characters that viewers can identify with on an all-too real level. The CBC, and for that matter, Canada, are blessed to have one more season of X Company to look forward; the show spotlights a vital segment of history, having been inspired by the real spy training facility, Camp X, which was located between Whitby and Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

Yeah, that’s right, Canadians can James Bond with the best of them.

All right, so now that you know why I feel so honored to have Mark Ellis here today, we can segue-way to the 5×5 portion of our program.

 

ONE)  You’re partially responsible for two brilliant series; how does your brilliant brain box come up with such fully-formed, endlessly-intriguing- yet-oh-so-real television realities?

None of it arrives fully formed.  It starts with the scrap of an idea.  With a question.  A police sniper is tasked with killing a gunman at 9am in the morning.  What’s the rest of his day like? 

X Company started with Alfred’s character.  He’s inspired from a real life case study about a man whose senses were fused together, which gave him a perfect memory.  We wondered — “What’s the worst place you would want to be if you couldn’t erase anything you ever saw?”  War. 

We build with lots of research, interviews, and then we work with brilliant writers in a story room that make us look good.

c1brtpfwiaajxmwMark and his wife/lovely partner-in-TV-World-Building-crime, Stephanie Morgenstern.

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TWO)  Did you receive any feedback from real police officers while Flashpoint was in production? (Or even now?)

We found our first cop with the help of our good friend Constable Google.  Barney McNeilly was a retired senior officer lecturing on critical incidents.  He agreed to meet us but he was a little bemused, maybe a little wary.  After all, we two had no track record at the time and he had no idea what the hell we were trying to write.  But when he found out we were more interested in the human costs of wearing a SWAT uniform than the cool gack, he put us in touch with a policeman who’d just gone through a shooting. 

We toured Toronto’s ETF headquarters, met a bunch of the guys there.  And then, when we started filming the pilot, we met Jimmy Bremner, ex-ETF Team Leader, who was the first cop to speak truly transparently about the difficulties of that job.  Jimmy worked with us for 5 years and inspired many stories.  

I also remember getting called into Toronto Police HQ by some of the brass there.  They weren’t thrilled that we were showing some of the tricks of their trade onscreen.  I got the sense about half of them liked what we were doing and the other half – not so much.  But Hugh and Enrico became very popular in the cop community.  And there are some secrets we agreed to keep…

0-vjl5ezj9iichtsxqALL TEAMS… WE HAVE BREACHED THE HOOK’S BLOG! THIS 5X5 IS ALMOST RESOLVED!

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THREE)  I’ve been married 22 years and my wife still manages to fool me when necessary; does being married to an ultra-talented actress mean you can never beat her at poker? Can you ever see though her white lies?

Ha!

My wife doesn’t play poker.  And she never lies, which means I have to keep honest too.  She’s very respected by her colleagues for saying exactly what she thinks, while still being collaborative and open to better ideas.  Or now that I think about it…  She is a very talented actress.  Oh dear…

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FOUR)  What would you rather be: A cyborg or a vampire?  (It’s never boring in my reality, Mark.)

One of the great questions, and one I pondered in my formative years, driving the van for Holiday Inn Etobicoke, picking up bags and breakfast trays at 6am. 

Vampire.  Mainly for revenge reasons.

 (And that, kids, is why Mark Ellis is really here: he’s a former bellman and thus a compatriot of yours truly.)

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FIVE)  What do you find more enjoyable: Being an actor or a behind-the-scenes mastermind?

I don’t miss acting.  I’ve watched thousands of auditions.  Worked with some of the world’s best actors.  If I ever saw me on a screen now I’d say ‘what’s that guy doing there?’  Better to live vicariously, to mouth the words silently at the computer and then watch the pros make it better. 

When I acted I loved researching a character, trying to understand where he fit into the larger story.  Those are valuable things for an actor to do, but even better for a writer.  Stephanie and I get to shape X Company from first idea to final cut in the edit room.  It’d be hard to lose that kind of control over telling a story.  

web-screenawards-flashpointWell, I don’t know about you, readers, but I need a break after all that brilliance. What about you, Mark and Stephanie?

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My thanks to Mark for taking pity on a fellow hospitality wage slave and elevating my little slice of cyber-space in the process. Thank you for being here, friends.

See you in the lobby and on the CBC, kids…

Posted in Hotel Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Travel Tips: What Not To Do While Visiting Niagara Falls.

BEFORE WE BEGIN:  I was recently honored with a spot on Open Thought Vortex Magazine, a revolutionary website that is changing lives as well as entertaining. Click here to read my offering, entitled, My Grown-Up Wish List.

And now, onto the usual shenanigans…

Admittedly, I’m not a travel writer – then again, America’s President-elect isn’t actually a politician, so a lack of qualifications shouldn’t stop anyone from doing anything, right?

But back to business: If you ever find yourself in Niagara Falls (in other words, if you can’t afford Vegas) you might want to consider my advice before immersing yourself in all my fair city has to offer.

ONE)  Never ask, “What time do you roll up the sidewalks and shut off the Falls?”  Yes, I’ve touched on this myth before, but it’s too connected to my home to ignore so here we go for the last time. (Not really.)

Inflation and a lack of skilled labor have forced us to forego the usual practice of rolling up the sidewalks each evening. As for shutting off the Falls, everyone knows that would cause a back-up that would eventually flood the city and cost thousands of lives and millions of dollars in insurance claims.

What’s wrong with you people?

niagarafallsfrozenGo ahead and take a bathroom break if you need it. We’ll wait…

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TWO)  Don’t show up in July and say, “Where’s the snow? And I thought we’d see polar bears!”  While it’s the dead of winter in Niagara right now (like, the dead of Trump’s eyes dead) in July we enjoy sweaty swamp-butt-inducing weather just like many countries. As for the polar bears, where do you think we get the meat in the tourist district from?

 

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THREE)  Assuming all Canadians are pushovers can be dangerous!  Yes, Canucks are some of the nicest humans in the Multiverse. No, we are not spineless saps you can manipulate easily. Case in point:

BEWILDERED GUEST:  (While sweating and shaking in the elevator.)  Hey, buddy, can I ask you a question… on the down-low?

ME:  Well, to be completely honest, I have a blog, sir.

BG:  Oh! (Nanosecond pause)  Well anyway… the thing is… I hired a girl last night…

(This guy meant well, but I could’ve wrote this entire post before he finished his sentence. And yes, I realize now that that makes no sense. Shut up.)

and she was smokin’ hot! But when she went to leave, I asked if there was a discount if I ordered her again…

ME:  You asked her if she had a loyalty program? Like a “Pay for ten orgasms, get the eleventh free!” type of deal?

BG:  (Pondering for a second.)  Yeah, like that! You’re hilarious, Boss!

ME:  So how did that go over?  (As if I didn’t know.)

BG:  She was PISSED! I tried to explain, but she opened her purse and showed me a knife… a big one! What’s up with that? I thought Canadians were supposed to be nice! Isn’t that a law or something?

ME:  It’s more of a guideline, sir.

BG:  But I was paying her a compliment! I come to Niagara often for business and I could get any bitch.. but I wanted her again!

Charmer, wasn’t he?

ME:  And were those your exact words, sir?  Think carefully…

BG:  Yeah!  And she was still freaked out!

There was no point in continuing down this road. Plus the elevator reached its destination and so it was time to let this guy off the hook, so to speak.

ME:  Canadian chicks, man…

BG:  You said it, Boss!

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FOUR)  Stiff The Hook!  This goes without saying but I’ll say it again: You don’t need to take my assistance but if you do you’ll never forget it. Anyone can say they stayed at a hotel and were served by “Ben the Bellman”, but how many people can claim they visited Niagara Falls, Canada, and were served by a guy named “The Hook”?

This is also a perfect place to feature one of my favorite tweets of all time:

Peter Mitchell is the show runner of Murdoch Mysteries and terrific human being. As for my point – and I do have one – the service industry has become more hostile than ever in recent years. My fellow workers are just that; hard-working, decent folks who are paid low wages because they occupy gratuitous positions. So help ’em out if you can, won’t you? Trust me, we return the favor; no one tips as well as a waiter, waitress, bellman, etc.

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And as I often tell the wife, that’s all I have for you today. Incidentally, fellow blogger and uber-cutie, Michelle Terry recently commented that my posts have had more depth; wonder what she’ll think of this one?

See you in the lobby, kids…

Posted in Hotel Life | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

5×5 With The Hook: Sarah Sharratt.

Sarah Sharratt is a world-class cook, mom and an unexpected expat who resides in a breathtaking village in rural France, is at the center of a Canadian television production that only airs in the United States and Australia – and is now starring in her own 5×5 on my blog.

So she’s got a lot goin’ on for one gifted – and ridiculously-beautiful – human being, wouldn’t you agree? (Don’t be upset with me feminists; I stressed the “gifted” part first, but I refuse to ever apologize for paying a gorgeous woman a compliment.)

Seated in her living room in Southern France, UpRooted host Sarah Sharratt poses for a publicity photo.

sarah-sharratt-logoAnd for the record, I think her logo blows mine away.

But back to today’s victim guest: After graduating with a diploma in Cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu in London England, Sarah worked as a food stylist for food television shows in England before relocating to rural France in 2014 when Fate stepped. (Fate sends Sarah and her family to France and sends me to… nowhere but into the path of irate/zany guests. Fate sucks sometimes.) They had previously been living in a city in the south of Switzerland.

Yes, Sarah is one of those people who seems to have been touched by the hand of the All-Mighty, it’s true. But I’m sure she has a dysfunction or two hidden away somewhere. I know one of her hopes is to break into the Canadian television market:

“We hope to make it to Canadian television in 2017. You’d think it would be easier given it is a 100% Canadian production, but apparently not. Fingers crossed for 2017!”

At any rate, now Sarah lives in the countryside in the southwest of France where she wrangles 2 children, 9 chickens, 3 Bernese mountain dogs and 3 fish. And possibly a partridge in a pear tree.

Her show, UpRooted with Sarah Sharratt, airs on Cooking Channel US and is billed as Sarah Sharratt: My Life in France on Lifestyle Food, Foxtel Australia.

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My show, The Bellman Chronicles, airs… nowhere. Because it doesn’t exist. Apparently they only give shows to fascinating, talented people these days. TV, man…

As for Sarah, even a cursory glance of her cyber-home reveals a personality who redefines what it means to be a mother, wife, TV host, expat and a million other labels. Plus, it’s just plain fun. UpRooted taps into the fascination we all have with the struggle to fit into other cultures while maintaining one’s own cultural identity.

But enough of my virtual jawing, take it away, Sarah!

 

ONE)  As a former food stylist do you find yourself fighting the urge to redo others’ plates while dining at a restaurant? “Sorry, but this is all wrong, the broccoli clashes with the red potatoes…”

I prefer the understated side glance and eyebrow raise as opposed to flinging myself across the table to garnish a lackluster-looking dish.

I really do think presentation is important, though – it’s a well-kept culinary secret that most recipes have already been done a thousand times over. How you choose to style and present your food is how you make your recipes stand out in a world chock-full of roasted chicken and kale salad.

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TWO)  As an unexpected expat who’s been all over this world (England, France, Switzerland) do you have a particularly-memorable travel tale to share?  (As a blogging bellman I’m fascinated by travel stories.)

Just recently I was in Rocamadour, a medieval cliff-top village that overlooks the Dordogne Valley. It is absolutely breathtaking. We were filming an episode for my show, UpRooted. We stopped to do some filming in the town center before heading to a farm that produces the famous Rocamadour goat cheese. Many legends surround this town, including some that claim it is a place where miracles happen. As a result, the site is a popular destination for pilgrims traveling through Europe.

 The most devoted of these pilgrims climb the 216 steps to the chapel on their knees, stopping to say a prayer on each step. Naturally, there are not many people who do this, but on the day we visited we saw a group of about 50 people climbing the steps on their knees and praying. It was quite a sight to behold; a serendipitous moment – which are always the best when you are traveling.

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THREE)  You’re a mom and a world-class cook; does this mean your kids have hit the food jackpot or do they prefer “kid food” like sugary snacks and fast food? (Though I do realize you live in the countryside of southwest France and therefore they may not be anywhere near a Burger King.)

The kids are starting to come around on trying new foods. I totally credit this to living in France and not at all to my cooking. School lunches in France regularly consist of pâté de campagne, boeuf bourguignon, mussels, and beetroot salad… and kids eat it!

When my son was seven he had a new French friend over for dinner and a sleepover. Knowing that my broken French might seem weird to the little boy, I decided that dinner would be kid friendly. I decided on pizza and homemade chocolate chip cookies. About fifteen minutes into the meal the friend started to cry. He didn’t like the pizza and wanted to go home. I thought perhaps it was time to fast forward to dessert (who doesn’t like homemade choc chip cookies?). After a couple of bites, he handed it back to me and said he didn’t like it and still wanted to go home. Dinner was a disaster and the sleepover was aborted.

When the mom arrived, I let her know that he hadn’t eaten much pizza. I was told that he doesn’t really like pizza…mussels are his favorite food. I realized then that I had never had a chance!

(Wow. That kid’s in for a rough ride if he ever visits Niagara Falls, Canada.)

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FOUR)  My wife often laments my lack of culinary skills. (I eat like a champ though.) Can you give me a single tip to improve my pathetic standing in the kitchen before my wife starts whipping pans at me?

A single tip to improve cooking… that’s hard.

How about surprising her with a delicious (and I’ll say it again) gorgeously presented cocktail while she waits for you to finish cooking?  My current favorite is my apple delight cocktail (http://sarahsharratt.com/recipe/apple-delight/).  I bet a good cocktail will ensure you hear fewer complaints about the quality of whatever it is you end up serving!

apple-delightIt certainly couldn’t hurt, right?

 On a more serious note, these days I find there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. The internet has a ton of versions of just about any recipe. For me, success in the kitchen is about working with ingredients you are comfortable with and that you love eating. Keeping it simple but doing it well scores way more points for me than something super complicated.

A special drink, good conversation, some background music…this is what will help make a good meal for your wife.

(I told you Sarah was awesome, didn’t I?)

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FIVE)  You appear to be living a dream existence (though an unexpected one) but we all have dreams/fantasies. If you could be anyone else – fictional or real – for one day, who would you be for twenty-four hours, Sarah Sharratt?

Marie Antoinette – those dresses, that food, the castle… I know it caught up with her in the end, but she really knew the meaning of carpe diem. Plus, she was a fellow expat living in France and she really embraced the culture.

So as long as the 24 hours aren’t the ones where she’s stuck in prison awaiting the guillotine, I’d pick her.

(A bold choice. I like it.)

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 And that’s all the time/space we have for today, friends. I hope this culinary 5×5 has left you satisfied but not bloated. My thanks to Sarah Sharratt for being so gracious and generous. And of course, thank you for being here, gentle readers.

See you in the lobby, kids…

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The Devil Inside Murdoch’s Garden Party.

I have a confession: In spite of my age, I’m a huge fan of the late singer Ricky Nelson. His song, Garden Party, has always been a source of great inspiration and after watching The Devil Inside, this week’s episode of Murdoch Mysteries, I can’t help but recall two poignant lines:

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

Murdoch scribe, Paul Aitken appears to have no doubt pleased himself with this ep while attempting to do the impossible and please those fans who longed for villain James Gillies’ return while simultaneously satisfying those who longed for his irrefutable demise. Personally, I’ve never been bold enough to even attempt to please two parties at once… wait, I’m getting off-topic again, aren’t I?

Let’s get back to business shall we? My formula is well-known to all of you by now so let’s proceed.

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ONE)  Murder most foul – seriously!  Opening with a tense, chilling slaughter of two hapless victims by an apparent madman was smart, clever and effective. So far, definitely so good.

 

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TWO)  “He wants to speak with you.”  And with that, the true game – and the meat of this ep – begins. One epic name drop later, fan favorite baddie James Gillies returns? Or does he? We’re really not sure right off the bat if murderer/victim Mr. Foley is playing William and Julia – but we don’t care!

The possession storyline was masterfully conveyed by both the actor and the MM production team. Lowering the lighting when “Gillies” took over Foley’s body was a low-budget technique that worked brilliantly. Another victory for Canadian ingenuity.

 

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THREE)  Flashbacks are great – when utilized correctly.  Additional story and directing credits at the ep’s opening credits were a tip-off flashbacks were going to be employed but again, who cares? They helped fill in the infamous history between the Murdochs and their arch-nemesis – but they went on too long and were employed too often.

And since I’m complaining (not really) anyway…

 

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FOUR)  Where the bloody hell is Brackenreid?  The Christmas special brought the good Inspector back into our lives – and out of continuity – only to make him disappear again on his quest for glory and eternal youth with James Pendrick.

I don’t know about you, but between the lack of Crabtree, far too little Miss James and no Inspector, The Devil Inside felt a little bare.

Luckily…

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FIVE)  The return of Gillies was, in a word… AWESOME!  I know that word has no place in a period piece, but honestly, this was one of the best episodes of Murdoch Mysteries I’ve ever seen. Sure, it had its bumps, but overall it was an intriguing mystery loaded with show history (including a nod to Thomas Edison) tension, visits from old friends (hey, Roland!) and the usual brilliant MM formula dialed up a notch. Or ten.

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SIX)  Where does get those wonderful toys?  Why from the Monkey of course! Prop Monkey and his team of “evil” geniuses outdid themselves on The Devil Inside. Period. Digestible radios (icky good fun). Concealed guns (withe rubber bullets) and the usual MM tech made this ep even better than I could’ve ever expected.

c1xjcibveaaev1cIf this isn’t available for sale in the CBC store soon… I’m going to freak!

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SEVEN)  Gorey fun done right!  Make-up maven Debi Drennan and her crew shone bright last night – but their work speaks for itself, don’t you think?

c1xkylkxuaelws_Brains. Just like Grandma used to make.

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EIGHT) A quick – but satisfying – wrap-up.  Cutting to commercial just as William blasts Gillies (with a rubber bullet no less!) was smart, but returning with a flashback and then a super fast hanging felt a little rushed, truth be told. Still, hanging the horny little devil (William’s lucky Gillies didn’t find him when he was bound by Eva Pearce, right?) gave fans a definitive conclusion to his storyline.

Unless of course he has a few schemes set to unfold whether he’s breathing or not…

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NINE)  Hélène Joy is a delight to watch onscreen!  I’m sure she’s lovely off-screen too, but her performance in The Devil Inside was Oscar-worthy. She went from broken to triumphant in less than an hour. Honestly, the look of contentment on her face when she finally extracted Gillies’ brain was ingenious. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear Julia was the villain! On a side note, I loved seeing Ms. Joy’s accent slip out throughout the episode.

c1xrxdfxaaapkzbNEVER tick Hélène Joy off kids!  Ever…

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TEN)  Yannick Bisson’s typical-but-not-so-typical performance.  No review of an MM ep is complete without mentioning the Artful Detective himself. When William was faced with the possibility his arch enemy may have actually returned to “haunt” him we got to see just why Murdoch Mysteries has lasted for ten seasons. Yannick Bisson was born to play Det. Murdoch. Period. End of story review.

622efee57976c693997dce0c5505ef1aHmm… when will I be returning to The Hook’s blog, I wonder?

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And with that, kids, I return you to your usual lives. Until next week that is.

See you in the lobby and on the CBC, friends….

Posted in Hotel Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments