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Long time, no speak.

This morning, the topic of my blog came up in a conversation with my parents. I immediately googled “marmite to maple” to see when the last time I updated this thing was, and its been over a year since I posted anything. Landing on the home page was a strange experience; I barely recognized it as my own and felt more like an outsider stumbling across some else’s site. The blog was a huge part of my life when I first moved to Canada, and provided me with some much-needed consistency through my early months and years here. Unexpectedly, it also helped me meet a lot of people, and coffee chats or drinks with fellow Brits abroad were quite common for a while. Then as time went on, I realized that the original purpose of my blog was no longer relevant. I started it to keep in touch with friends and family back home, and to share advice for others thinking about moving to Canada. Almost eight years later, I’ve run out of ‘new Canadian things’ to post about and my experiences moving to Vancouver are now very much out of date. So, what now?

I’m not sure at this point which direction this post is going, other than that so far I’m writing about how I don’t know what to write about. Does anyone even read this anymore? I know Karl’s Mum does. Hi Karl’s Mum! Other than that, is anyone alive out there? In the blogosphere, no one can hear you scream. Anyway, moving on…

Let’s start with where the time has gone. 2017 was a big year, and part of my failure to blog is just down to lack of time. I  got married, hosted family and friends from across the world in Vancouver, went on an amazing honeymoon, applied for Canadian citizenship, celebrated ten years with the now-husband, turned 30 and spent my first Christmas with my parents in five years. Actually, that all happened in the final four months of the year, but there was a lot of planning leading up to it all. I guess I should share some photos with you (whoever “you” are), so here you go!

And then all of a sudden it was 2018. Another big year and one that I’m really excited about. I’m maximizing my 15 days of vacation to travel to three new places: Copenhagen at the end of May for what is going to be an amazing wedding (with whistle-stop UK tour en-route), Australia in September to visit the bestie who left Vancouver in January for a year of sunshine and surf (sad times…but I get to visit her, yay!) and Calgary, Banff, Canmore and the rest of those damn beautiful Rocky Mountains in October for my brother’s wedding! The latter has been on my Canadian bucket list ever since moving here and we just never quite got round to it, so I’m forever grateful to my brother and his fiancee for choosing such an amazing place to get married. Thank you! We’re also going to squeeze in a long weekend  in Cannon Beach in the summer, because that’s what we do and I really missed not being there last summer (damn wedding).

The other big thing happening this year is that I will officially become a Canadian citizen! The husband and I applied pretty much as soon as we were eligible at the end of August 2017, wrote our citizenship test in January 2018 (We both nailed it with 20/20, but that’s a whole other blog post) and just this week got our notification of our ceremony in March. In 27 days, we’ll be standing in a boardroom with a bunch of other newbs swearing an oath to the Queen and singing O Canada in English and French. Ooh la la! Three business days later, we’ll be applying for our shiny blue Canadian passports aka everlasting freedom from US visa waivers. (There’s a sarcastic comment about blue passports floating here somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is. The right blue passport? Blue passports seem to be trending? Year of the blue passport?) It will be a huge milestone for us and one that I definitely didn’t see coming when I rocked up to Vancouver for a working holiday in January 2017.

Tying in with the citizenship thing, I’m also in the process of changing my last name to the husband’s so that said shiny new passport will include my shiny new name. For some reason, a lot of people have a lot of opinions about my decision to change my name (mostly negative ones), but its 2018 and I’ll do what I want. So that’ll be something different.

Maybe I’ll leave it there for today. I will write a post at some point about the Canadian citizenship process as a lot of people are going through it now the rules have changed and it’s the one piece of knowledge I have that’s actually timely and relevant. Until then, enjoy your burrito y’all.

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Boat Trip: Vancouver from the water

Last summer my brother and his girlfriend very generously gave us a gift certificate for a motor boat rental as an engagement present. The rest of last summer was a blur of engagement celebrations, pre-planned trips and both sets of parents visiting, and the first part of this summer was a blur of clouds and rain, so we finally got around to heading out on the water a couple of weeks ago. Booking through Granville Island Boat Rentals was easy, and the best part is we could take Dave with us too!

When the day came, we headed to Granville Island after work feeling a little apprehensive about being trusted with a boat for an hour after having had zero experience driving one. The safety briefing was both essential and useful and included pointing to hazards on a map and getting in one of the boats for a demo. Suddenly, they were untying our boat from the dock and we were slowly making our way under the Granville Bridge and out to the bay.

FullSizeRenderIMG_7168IMG_7175We were lucky enough to go out on a boat in Vancouver for the first time earlier this summer for a wedding celebration where we went round Stanley Park, under the Lionsgate Bridge and around Coal Harbour,  so our initial plan for this trip was to head west along the coast of Kits and down to UBC. Unfortunately, when we looked at the map the whole of the area we wanted to explore was marked orange for ‘hazard’, meaning the water was too shallow for us to get close to the shore. Instead, we headed out into the bay where it looked pretty crowded with freight ships and other boats from the shore, but was actually fairly quiet when we got out there. I enjoyed scaring the man by zipping round the huge freight ships that looked even more daunting up close.

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By this time, the dog had gone from sitting up and watching where we were going to hitting the deck (the man’s lap) and hiding from the wind and the noise of the engine. It got quite bumpy whenever we got caught in a bigger boat’s wake, so we let him lie down in peace.

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After weaving in and out of the freight ships, we managed to swap seats so the man could drive, which is no easy feat with a terrified puppy pretending to be starfish. We headed over to West Vancouver and came back down the coast to the Lionsgate Bridge, then turned back out into the bay to follow Stanley Park back round to English Bay. It was at this point that one of the alarms we were warned about went off. It wasn’t the alarm telling us we were going to fast in a slow zone, it was the other slightly more terrifying depth alarm telling us that we were too close to shore and were at risk of hitting the rocks. We quickly turned back out into the bay and made sure to keep our distance for the rest of the journey back.

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We managed to time our hour’s rental with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in Vancouver this year. Coming back under the Burrard and Granville Bridges as the lights were coming on in the city was beautiful, as was looking behind me to see the sun setting over the water.

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The hour went by pretty quickly but it was a good amount of time for us, especially given the dog. If I was in a dog-free group I would definitely go for longer, as it’s possible to get as far as Bowen Island or up to Indian Arm with a 2 or 3-hour rental.

Thanks Chris and Holly for our awesome engagement present, what an amazing and unique Vancouver experience!

And then there was an earthquake…

Writing a new blog post has been on my to-do list since November. It didn’t budge by the beginning or even the middle of December, mostly due to lack of inspiration for an interesting post. I started this blog in September 2010 to document my experience moving to, and living in, Vancouver. It’ll be five years next week since I got on the place, and life here has gone from an extended vacation to…well, just life.

I used to fill my posts with of all of the funny cultural differences I was experiencing in Canada and what I missed about the UK. Five years on, those topics are pretty much done to death, I feel that much more displaced every time I go back to England and I can’t wait to come ‘home’ to Vancouver.

I went back for a week-long trip just before Christmas to attend an old friend’s wedding and catch up with friends and family. I spent most of the time wandering round in a bit of a daze noticing really tiny things about the UK that I’d never really considered before (those soft drink bottles really are TINY compared to the North American standard). On the outside I was a normal English person whose accent maybe had a bit of a twang, or then again maybe you were imagining it. On the inside I was screaming “you all think I’m like you, because I sound like you, but I’m not. I’m different and I have a whole new life and no idea how to function in this one anymore. How the hell do I respond to ‘alright?'”

So I didn’t write about that trip home, and I didn’t write about Christmas either. I used to to new year’s resolution posts but they were a bit pointless as none of the resolutions ever lasted longer than it took to proofread and hit ‘publish’. I had no idea what I was going to write about next, but knew I had to figure out something before the end of another month with no post.

And then there was an earthquake. If that’s not something to write about, I don’t know what is.

I tried to get an early night last night, but was woken up at 11:39pm by a quake ranging somewhere from 4.3-4.8. The shaking only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to mess with my suddenly awake senses and confuse the hell out of me.

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It was a pretty minor one in the grand scheme of earthquakes, but my panic in the moment was whether this was a pre-cursor to ‘the big one’, which could hit Vancouver any day now (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just google The Big One Vancouver). It wasn’t helped by my the other half running into the bedroom clutching our earthquake kit yelling ‘This is it! This is it!’

Turns out it wasn’t it, but we evacuated the building anyway, just in case. The dog embraced the freezing cold midnight walk round the park and I made a mental note to add a hat and scarf to our kit. After scouring Twitter, phoning/texting half of Vancouver and speculating with the neighbours in the lobby (all 10 of them who got out of bed), we headed back upstairs. Funnily enough, neither of us slept very well. It’s amazing how one little earthquake can also be one huge reminder about the very real danger of the big one, which will be about 1000 times worse than last night. And all jokes aside, will be beyond terrifying and totally devastating.

Anyway, the internet is full of some pretty hilarious Vancouver earthquake memes today (and I admit to feeling a little smug that we already had our kit prepared), but it does get you thinking. If the big one could happen when I’m fully clothed, wearing comfortable shoes and have my contact lenses in, that would be awesome.

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Things I learned from completing a 30-day vegan challenge

I did it! 30 days of no meat, poultry, fish or dairy. I wasn’t perfect and will openly admit that there were a couple of times I accidentally broke the rules (damn you Noodlebox and your fish sauce). But overall I was successful in completing my challenge and I learned a lot about veganism, food production and myself in the process. Here are a some of my reflections.

Overall, it was easier than I thought it would be. Vancouver is a great place to live if you follow a vegetarians or vegan diet. The Lebanese take-out restaurant with the delicious falafel, hummus and avocado pita on the next block saved the day many, many times.

But it was still inconvenient. It’s amazing how many bars and restaurants don’t offer a single vegan option. If they do, it’ll be fries or nothing.

EVERYTHING has dairy in it. A lot of veggie burgers contain cheese as a binding agent. Many types of bread contain traces of milk. Most dressings and sauces contain cream. It’s not as simple as ‘I’ll just have this without the cheese please’.

Homemade vegan mac & cheese with a vegetable and cashew nut sauce

Homemade vegan mac & cheese with a vegetable and cashew nut sauce

Veganism is much more than just not eating meat, poultry, fish or dairy. It’s a lifestyle based on avoiding all animal products and by-products in every area of your life. My 30-day challenge was the diet side only.

Meat-free hot dogs are one of the worst tasting things on the planet. Don’t even bother.

Veganism is a means to an end, but it’s not the end. It’s not about not eating this or that just to follow the rules, it’s about being aware of the outcomes of our decisions and making the best choices we can depending on our personal philosophy.

Panago offer dairy-free cheese as an option on all pizzas and one vegan (and gluten-free) crust. It doesn’t taste the same. Especially without the garlic dip.

Panago garden veggie pizza with Daiya cheese

Panago garden veggie pizza with Daiya cheese

There is definitely such a thing as too much (dairy-free) cheese. I’ll also be happy if I don’t see a chickpea for a while.

You can eat vegan without eating fruit or vegetables. I went two days eating nothing but oatmeal and vegan mac and cheese. Not a healthy option.

Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern and Thai cuisines are generally very vegan-friendly.

Soy milk does NOT taste the same as cow’s milk in coffee, even though everyone says it does. Neither does almond milk or coconut milk. I really missed lattes, but I saved a lot of money giving them up.

A veggie burger with salad and garlic fries from Meet on Main

A veggie burger with salad and garlic fries from Meet on Main

I enjoyed my meals much more when I swapped vegan versions of meat/dairy for plant based foods. Then it’s not ‘vegan food’. It’s just food.

I can be really forgetful, especially when it comes to snacks. I got part way through a pack of mini cheddars (my favourite British snack) before I remembered they contain powdered cheese (duh!). I panicked and hid them at the back of the cupboard. They were first thing I ate after the challenge was over.

There are some really great vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Vancouver. We loved The Black Lodge and Meet on Main. Yummmmm.

I don’t feel healthy and cleansed and full of joy and all those things you read about online that happen when you give up major food groups. I feel OK, but nothing magical.

A vegan B.A.L.T sandwich with coconut bacon, yummm.

A vegan B.A.L.T sandwich with coconut bacon, yummm.

I eat a lot of tuna. I put it in everything from pasta to pitas to sandwiches to jacket potatoes. Not eating it for 30 days made me realize how much I’ve missed it.

Some food that you think would be vegan, aren’t. Beer, sugar, vegetable soups, tortillas, pad thai and refried beans are on the list. It’s amazing how many processed foods contain actual dairy, not just flavourings (that’s good, I guess).

Some food products that you might not think would be vegan, are. Like Oreos, Ritz Crackers and Lindt dark chocolate.

Now I’ve finished the challenge I won’t continue with a strict vegan diet but I have no desire to eat meat or poultry any time soon, but I am craving cheese and fish. From here, I think I’m a mostly pescatarian who chooses vegan options when I can and still eats meat at Christmas.

A vegan BBQ burger from Tera V Burgers.

A vegan BBQ burger from Tera V Burgers.

Why I Just Started a 30-day Vegan Challenge

Yup, a 30 day vegan challenge. It’s happening. Why? The answer is the same as that of all of life’s important questions: Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, sort of. Leo recently came on to save (aka executive produce) a documentary called Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret that had just had its funding cut because its message was considered too controversial. Leo stepped in and worked with the filmakers to finish the film and secure global distribution via Netflix.

The manfriend and I were working through our regular post-dinner ritual of Netflix-browsing when we saw Conspiracy. It had five stars and an intriguing name, which was enough for us. This may sound a tad melodramatic, but this documentary has completely changed my perspective on agriculture, the food industry and the environment. I don’t think I could do it justice by explaining it in my own words, so here are some of theirs:

“As eye-opening as Blackfish and as inspiring as An Inconvenient Truth, this shocking yet humorous documentary reveals the absolutely devastating environmental impact large-scale factory farming has on our planet, and offers a path to global sustainability for a growing population.”

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Everyone has causes they are care about and advocate for and I will openly admit that the environment has never been top of my list. Sure, I try to recycle and only take plastic bags when I need them, but most of the facts and information in Cowspiracy were completely new to me. For example:

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction
  • Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all from raising animals

It also got me thinking about the food industry in general. I found out that:

  • Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption
  • 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries
  • A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people

It suddenly seems very, very weird to me that we live in a world where rainforests are cut down so that we can grow food to feed to animals for people to eat. Why not just give the food directly to people who need it? Aren’t there people in the world who could really use some of the 2,500 gallons of water it takes to produce 1lb of beef? Who knew that Leo would have still this much of an impact on my life 18 years after Titanic?

Don’t worry, I’m not going all preachy on you. This is a blog about my life in Canada (and apparently now about Leonardo DiCaprio), not about cows. Plus, I don’t want to give anything else away or it will ruin the documentary for you if you decide to watch it. You might not be moved by all of it, or you might have already known all of this and I’m just catching up. Either way, it’ll explain how this all ties in with me giving the vegan thing a go for 30 days.

The good news is, I live in Vancouver aka the Lost City of Dietary Requirements, which has no shortage of vegan sections in grocery stores. I’m actually looking forward to trying some new vegan restaurants too. The other good news is that I’ve decided to really focus on the reasons why I’m doing this and not get hung up on the small print. Did you know that white sugar isn’t vegan (it’s processed with charcoal that comes from animal bones) and that most store bought bread contains milk? I’ll be cutting out meat, fish, dairy and eggs and making good choices where I can on the lifestyle side (I can’t afford real leather anyway). More good news is that the manfriend is doing this challenge with me, so I have some moral support. The best news is that I already have a tried, tested and delicious recipe for vegan mac & cheese…yummmmm.

The bad news is pretty self-explanatory. No cheese, no greasy burgers, no drunk poutine and no throwing a can of tuna in anything and everything to make a meal. Something tells me that I won’t be a lifelong vegan after this experiment, but it will be interesting to see if there are any food habits that I do continue. I’m all stocked up on almond milk, vegan butter and cauliflower, so wish me luck!

2014: My Year in Travel

2014 was the year I finally saw some of BC, and then left BC and saw some of Alberta. I also saw a lot of other places too, some familiar and some new. I was a self employed contractor for the whole of 2014 which meant I could take as much time off as would fit around work, and I made the most of that flexibility. I did a LOT of things in 2014 (start a couple of new contracts, pass the Certified Human Resources Professional exam, invest in some personal development courses), but my travels have definitely been the highlight. Below is a snapshot of the 15+ cities I visited over the past 12 months.

My first trip of the year was just a day in Whistler at the end of January, but was still a little bit of a big deal. I hadn’t been on the Whistler slopes since a few hours’ skiing in April 2011, and I hadn’t ever snowboarded before. Even though Whistler is so close to Vancouver that it’s practically considered a ‘local mountain’, snowboarding there was still something to check off the bucket list.

Whistler Mountain

Whistler Mountain

February arrived, as did my parents. They came to visit for 10 days, the last of which I spent with them in Seattle (technically we’re into March now). I’d been to Seattle a couple of times before and never really loved the place, but this time I took a short ferry trip to sunny Bainbridge Island. It reminded me of Bowen Island and Gibsons, very small and laid back with some fun little shops and great ice cream. That trip made me want to give Seattle another shot. Hopefully I’ll get my chance this year.

Coming into Bainbridge Island

Coming into Bainbridge Island

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The first Vancouver snow of the winter!

I should have written this post two weeks ago, when the snow was actually here. Instead, I was mostly running around the seawall being really excited about winter and Christmas. I know it sounds crazy being excited about snow when I live in Canada, but when it comes to the white stuff I might as well be back in Southampton. We hardly EVER get snow, so it’s kind of a big deal when it happens. SO much so that I forgot to write this post. Then the snow went, December happened and life got in the way. Oooops.

It’s been weirdly mild this week (the temperature is back in double figures) and although the warmer temperatures are nice, it’s ruling out any chance of the current torrential rain turning into snow. There’s now less than two weeks until I’m back at the Washington State cabin for Christmas so it better get colder soon, at least south of the border, so we can have our white Christmas. Until then, I’ll remember the blissful two days when we had snow in November.

The (somewhat) snowy view from our building when we woke up

Dave and I by False Creek

Dave snug as a bug in his jacket!

James and Dave walking along the seawall

False Creek seawall in the snow

Clash of the Festivals: Reading vs. Coachella

As I write this post, my neon orange wristband is irritatingly tapping away on my laptop, like it’s been doing for the past six weeks; a constant reminder of the epicness that was Coachella Festival, 2014. This was a festival that had been on my bucket list ever since I first saw the pictures in the glossy pages of Heat magazine. Festivals were not new to me. From 2004-2007 I spent four glorious August bank holiday weekends at Reading Festival (and one at the more family friendly V Festival), fighting off the wind, rain and sunburn (often in the same day) and enjoying my first taste of teenage freedom.

When I flicked through the double page spread on Coachella, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A music festival, in California, in the desert, where it’s guaranteed to be sunny. What’s not to like? This year the dream came true, and I flew down to Indio for three days of sunshine with fellow celebrity lover, and all-round Bestie, Leah. I lost count of the number of times I bored Leah by starting sentences with ‘At Reading…’ so decided to stop saying everything I was thinking about the differences between the festivals, and write it all down in a blog post. Six busy weeks later, voila.

Classic Reading.

Classic Reading.

Classic Coachella.

Classic Coachella.

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Spring 2014: Visits, Vacations and Celebrity Stalking

As I finally open wordpress and go to write this post, I see that my last post was published on February 13th. Have I really not written anything in that long? Sorry all, it’s been a hectic couple of months, and the list of posts I have to write is growing by the day. Like most people who work in an office, I often find that when I come home from work the last thing I want to do is get back on the computer. So I go out and do fun things, which I then need to write about, but don’t want to. Thus, the circle continues. It’s hard to do anything creative when you’re not in the mood, but today the sun is shining, I have a spare hour and I remembered that I actually really like writing! So here’s what you missed since February 13th…

My parents came to visit!

At about the time of my last post, I was floating through my days thinking of nothing but seeing my parents come through arrivals at YVR on February 27th. I’m sure I annoyed everyone I spoke to, as most of my sentences started with ‘when my parents are here…’ This year I had someone to wait at the airport with, and my brother and I got there early and made a sign, as is our tradition. I hadn’t seen them since I went home for Christmas 14 months earlier, and this was the longest I’d ever been without seeing them. They stayed for 10 days and I was able to take a fair few days off work to spend time with them. It was their second trip to Vancouver to see me, but the first time they were here to see my brother. This meant we did some of the things that we did the last time they came (Granville Island, walks along the seawall) but also lots of new things too, like driving up to Squamish for lunch, hiking at Lighthouse Park, watching a Canucks game (we lost, obvs) and most exciting of all, skiing! My amazing and very talented ski/snowboard instructor friend gave the entire family ski lessons at Grouse Mountain, which I really enjoyed as I could finally show everyone my winter playground!

Exploring False Creek on the Aquabus

Exploring False Creek on the Aquabus

Olympic Village, False Creek seawall

Olympic Village, False Creek seawall

Extended family brunch @ Cafe Medina

Extended family brunch @ Cafe Medina

When the 10 days were up, I went down to Seattle with my parents for a couple of days, and then they flew from there down to sunny California to finish off their North American adventure. As last time, it was really sad to see them leave, but was helped by knowing I’ll be going back to see them again at some point this year. I just found a great cheap flight with Virgin Atlantic (yes!) for the first week of October, so will hopefully be booking that in the next couple of weeks!

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Why I’m going to WWE Wrestlemania XXX even though I’m a girl

Spoiler alert: This post has nothing to do with Christmas. Sacrilege I know, especially as it’s actually about something that’s happening in the Spring. Sunday April 6 2014, to be exact. A few weeks ago I purchased tickets to WWE Wrestlemania XXX, WWE’s oldest and biggest pay-per-view. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for Wrestlemania XXVI in Pheonix, Arizona, and will be joining 81,999 other fans (including the boyfriend) in New Orleans in April. I’m really excited about the trip as New Orleans is very high on my list of places to visit, but it turns out that when I tell people about my plans, they’re a little too hung up on the wrestling part to ask about the rest. And by hung up, I mean really, really, really struggle to understand why I watch WWE wrestling. So now I’m going to tell them. And you.

It’s a slippery slope…

The first time I heard the Monday Night RAW theme tune, it was 2007, I was 19 and had, until minutes before, been minding my own business watching a film on my boyfriend’s sofa. All of a sudden the clock struck 9pm, and in came his two housemates armed with chips, more chips, and their best heckling voices. The channel was changed to Sky Sports, and now we were watching a bunch of oily men run around a ring in speedos (there were women too, but best not to mention them). I promptly decided I was way above these sorts of shenanigans, and strutted off upstairs to watch whatever was on E4 by myself. I kept this up for a few weeks, before realizing that if I ever wanted to see my boyfriend after 9pm on a Monday, I was going to have to learn to stay in the room and put up with the various groans and moans (plus the noise from the TV). A month later I was singing along with the theme tune (God bless Papa Roach), researching 25 years worth of story lines, and choosing my own favourite wrestler, Shawn Michaels. Two years later I was screaming along to RAW and Smackdown live at the O2 arena in London, with face paint and homemade banners. Two and a bit years later I was hang over the barrier swiping at Triple H’s chest at the DX Invasion Tour. And yes I did made contact. Two and a half years years later and I was crying my eyes out at Wrestlemania XXVI watching my beloved HBK get retired by The Undertaker in one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. Turns out I didn’t have to worry too much, Shawn Michaels is still hanging around, working his way into storylines. Which was good news, because I was hooked.

James and I at the live taping of RAW in November 2009

James and I at the live taping of RAW in April 2009

My homemade Edge banner - "I'll be your Rated-R co-star"

My homemade Edge banner – “I’ll be your Rated-R co-star”

...and then we went back the next night to watch Smackdown! Here I am in my Edge t-shirt. And more face paint.

…and then we went back the next night to watch Smackdown! Here I am in my Edge t-shirt. And more face paint.

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