Overnights on ABC Local Radio – Update from Toronto

Here is the podcast from my interview with Sally Knight over the weekend on Overnights. I’ve been giving updates while I’ve been away and this time around we talked about Rob Ford, Bloody Caesars and all the festivals happening in Toronto.


St Vincent at NXNE

IMG_0982 IMG_0977

I’ve just returned from seeing St. Vincent out in the open, for free, at Yonge and Dundas Square right in the city. It’s part of the extravaganza that is North by Northeast (NXNE). She was preceded by Swans.

The array of artists is bewildering. It seems like the entire music world has converged on Toronto – and nobody’s complaining!

IMG_0979 IMG_0983

I love St. Vincent’s music more and more. It’s taut and sexy and sophisticated, but made full-blooded with licks of electric guitar. She did an impressive solo on stage, and peppered the set with mysterious monologues about childhood games. What a stunner.


At the CN Tower


“Everything changes after three weeks.”

So said the Englishman who had been here for six. That meant that I should have been two days already into the rest of my (Toronto) life. Well, let’s say you get a few extra days for the weekend. I thought about whether it was that particular evening, warmer than most of the ones I’d had before, that was going to be pivotal.

But it was the whole disappearing day, really, that was a little bit special. I had spent three weeks (and two days) in Toronto, and had very little to show for it. Up until my arrival, every few days held the promise of a new city and new people to meet. I had moved to a new city for real and now, it was all up to me.

As happens so often in life, I shouldn’t have worried so much. Although I didn’t realise it except in hindsight, it was indeed around the three-week mark that my new (temporary) life started to come into focus. My street and my home began to feel familiar. I made some friends and started having things to go to in the evenings. I started to memorise streetcar routes and subway stations. I was able to sleep.

I look at the CN tower every day. So far up in the haze above the streets, it often has a unreal quality to it.


If I was only staying in Toronto for a few days, enjoying one exciting day after another, I would have visited the CN Tower already. So I decided to go up.



My place is over there somewhere.

Even though I had to push my way through hundreds of squealing children, it really was beautiful up there. You can ever-so-slightly see the curvature of the earth, off in the blue distance over Lake Ontario. IMG_0943

It’s expensive, as you’d expect – about $35. Especially because I chose to pay an extra $12 to go up a few more storeys to the Skypod.


IMG_0948 What does this mean?

However, although it wasn’t advertised, the $12 includes some peace and quiet.


On the main level there is a glass floor. I was excited to stand on the glass floor, until it came to the point where I had to step on it. IMG_0957My heart was beating incredibly quickly. There were other grown adults who were obviously terrified, and I don’t blame them. The fear of plunging to our deaths from incredibly high buildings unites us all, I guess.

So I had finally visited the CN Tower. I had seen a Sight, and was determined to see some more. I wanted to be excited about Toronto, every day that I spent there. And it was that evening that I met the Englishman, and realised that he was right.

Ordinary things in Toronto

You know what the funniest thing about Canada is? It’s the little differences.

Forget the wonders of the world for a minute. Well, maybe the CN Tower can stay. These are some ordinary things that one can see in Toronto, snapped on my smartphone.


this way to my apartment


a beautiful house on Bathurst St (I think)

no automatic doors anywhere

no automatic doors anywhere



some Canadian football

some Canadian football

every second shop is Tim Horton's - coffee and donuts

every second shop is Tim Hortons – coffee and donuts

sugary, caffeinated Iced Capp from Tim Hortons

sugary, caffeinated Iced Capp from Tim Hortons

and those that are not Tim Hortons, are Second Cup

and those that are not Tim Hortons, are Second Cup

Canadian money

Canadian money

tokens for public transit - buses, streetcars, subway

tokens for public transit – buses, streetcars, subway

this dog is called Pepper and lives in my apartment

this dog is called Pepper and lives in my apartment

Canadian version of Fitness First

Canadian version of Fitness First

foodtruck - notice the varieties of poutine

foodtruck – notice the varieties of poutine

some Canadian beers blocking the World Cup

some Canadian beers blocking the World Cup

breakfast, lunch and dinner

breakfast, lunch and dinner

politics - watch for dreamboat Justin Trudeau

politics – watch for dreamboat Justin Trudeau

supermarket - notice that everything is in English and French

supermarket – notice that everything is in English and French

one of the squirrel community near my apartment

one of the squirrel community near my apartment

interior of the Toronto Eaton Centre mall

interior of the Toronto Eaton Centre mall

The CN tower, as it looked on my first night in Toronto

The CN tower, as it looked on my first night in Toronto

the city - just below is the Royal Ontario Museum

the city – just below is the Royal Ontario Museum

Monday Daily – From The Archives

I asked my wonderful producer Kim Williams to choose her favourite interviews from my time hosting The Daily every Monday morning on Sydney community radio station 2SER.

Oscars Buzz with Richard Gray – Monday March 3

The 86th Academy Awards were about to begin. Richard Gray from Geek Movie Club joined me to discuss the field and share his hot tips for 2014.  I started off by asking him if it might finally be the year that Leo DiCaprio won a gold statue. (Poor Leo.)


Peter Greste on trial – Monday March 10

Despite worldwide condemnation of the arrests from the White House down, the Egyptian government is pressing ahead with a trial that has already sparked global protests, with many seeing the new military government’s actions as a politically motivated assault on the freedom of the press.

I was joined to discuss both the Egypt case and the increasingly dangerous world environment for journalists by the Executive Director of the International Press Institute in Vienna, Alison Bethel McKenzie, who began by outlining the charges the Al Jazeera journalists were up against.

Unfortunately, the situation is pretty much the same now in June as it was in March.


How has the BBC handled claims of bias? – Monday February 10

By mid-February it had been a heady couple of weeks for the media following the ABC’s reporting of asylum seeker claims that the Australian Navy deliberately inflicted burns on asylum seekers.

The explosive story shone a light on the role of our national broadcaster: the line between its independence and duty to report the facts without political interference and its responsibility to report those facts truthfully and without bias.

The BBC is no stranger to politicians at times launching attacks on its objectivity, labelling it biased and calling for a review of its practices.

So how has it fared over the years in the face of such attacks? Angela Phillips, a reader in journalism at Goldsmiths University of London gave us her insight.

I began by asking her about an incident where London’s colourful mayor, Boris Johnson had a go at the BBC for being biased when during an episode of its hit show “Sherlock”, a mocked up newspaper flashed up on screen containing a story claiming the Mayor of London, in a hair-brained scheme, planned to turn the Thames into a motorway. Johnson wasn’t mentioned by name but he claims it was a thinly disguised attack by the BBC to portray him as dithering, incoherent and self interested.



Trampoline Hall

How do you find out what’s good to see and do in a new city? Surprise surprise, I’m using the internet. The internet pointed me to Trampoline Hall, a regular event started by Sheila Heti, the Toronto writer who now works on the great magazine The Believer. I’d heard of Sheila but not of Trampoline Hall. It seemed too exclusive an event not to be awesome – the night was already sold out and I apparently had to get to the venue a few hours early and secure a place in the line for rush tickets.

So I went to The Garrison on Dundas St West and got myself the ticket.


Isn’t it lovely?

People, mostly young and literary-looking, were very excited about the whole thing, and rushed in to get a good seat. I was very excited about the program.


Don’t forget your glasses

The programs and stage designs are organised by different people for each event. The program (as in, the curation of the night and also the paper form of it) was this time put together by Becky Johnson, and the stage design was by her improv group The Sufferettes. It consisted of pantyhose with all manner of objects stuffed down them. It was excellent.


At Trampoline Hall, people give lectures. They are not allowed to be experts on the topic but they obviously do plenty of research, because a key requirement is being able to answer a whole lot of follow-up questions. David Dineen-Porter told us about the “Northern Vowel Shift”, which was really fascinating. Did you know that regional accents are diverging around the world? And that American broadcast media speaks in its own accent entirely? No, neither did I!

Kalpna Patel told spoke with excitement about the extravaganza that is the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and Freddie Rivas gave a heartstringy account of a childhood lacking in material wealth, but not in love and laughter.

I get the impression that there are plenty of spoken-word events happening in Toronto. These people know what they’re doing. But Trampoline Hall is part comedy night, part public-speaking contest and, by putting its speakers on the spot, part performance art. The atmosphere was beginning-of-the-week festive and I met a whole bunch of interesting folks. It was the perfect introduction to a city full of thinkers that is about to burst into life for the summer. See you next time, Trampoline Hall.