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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Not the news

A lot of grim things are happening in the world, the sun was awol for much of January, and I succumbed to one of the season’s cold viruses last week. (And now Jean is complaining of chills.)

But hey, instead complaining at length about all that, I’ll list a few things that made me happy in the past few weeks.

1. KW Glee: Redux

Two years ago we were blown away by a KW Glee (show choir) + KW Symphony concert. This year they did it again. There’s just deep entertainment value in watching a huge group of talented, enthusiastic, and attractive young people sing and dance to popular songs, in costume, while accompanied by a full orchestra.

Last time I had mentioned that I didn’t know a lot of the songs performed—they were too current for me. This time they rectified that with a set from various eras. To the point where I felt kind of bad that they were played so little of of their own generation’s music, though there was one Imagine Dragons song and one by David Guetta / Sia, both very powerful performances.

Other highlights were:

  • That old Gap commercial come to life during “Jump, Jive, and Wail”
  • The outstanding youth singer (a girl—don’t know any names) wailing through the Jackson 5’s “ABC” and “I Want You Back”
  • The beautiful contemporary dance accompanying “Falling Slowly”, from Once
  • Not one, not two, but four different lead female singers proving they were up to the challenge of singing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”.
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Performed in full, featuring two lead singers, one male, one female, and treated not as campy fun, but as the somber piece it actually is. Outstanding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjgbj45yXmA

  • The virtual re-enactment of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” music video.
  • The youth choir’s 80s attire during one segment, some of which looked like it actually dated from that time. The “Frankie Say Relax” T-shirt was my favourite.
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Remember the 80s? These kids don’t, but they’re dressing the part anyway.

  • The youth boys running scared during “Ghostbusters” only to be have the youth girls toughly emerge, declaring that they were “Bad”.
  • The use of sign language during “Imagine”—very touching, somehow.
  • The terrific soul singer who performed “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)”. (It is great that so many of the participants get to try a lead, but with some of them, you do wish for more than one song!)
  • The reprise of “Hallelujah” that blew everyone away last time, performed by the same quartet, back from university for the occasion.

A Spotify playlist of their set list!

2. The Good Place

Holy motherforking shirtballs, The Good Place was good.

This is a half-hour, 13-episode, network TV show starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, debuted this year to very little notice—Jean’s the only other person I know who watches it.

But it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen. And I’m loathe to even say that much about it, as it was so much fun to go along for the ride. And it’s so full of twists! Also, hilarious! Week to week, it was the show I found myself looking forward to most.

I will give the premise. Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a not-so-stellar human being while alive, is surprised to find herself in “the good place” (yeah, that one) after she dies. They have somehow mixed her up with some good Eleanor! How does she stay in the good place?

Look, I know there’s too much good TV, no one can keep with it all. So I won’t say you must watch The Good Place. I will just point out that if you do, it might make you happy. And that at 13 22-minute episodes, it’s less time-consuming that many series. And that despite mediocre ratings, it has already been renewed for season 2, so you don’t have to worry about being left hanging.

If nothing else, you can watch this Season 1 trailer—just 2:20

3. Sandra Shamas: The Big What Now

We were in Toronto last weekend.

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And by the way, Jean won another photo contest recently. (Not with this photo. Just thought I’d mention it now.)

8875While there, we went to Sandra Shamas’ one-woman show about “climbing mount menopause”. Despite that intro and the predominantly female audience, it wasn’t all about the hormonal challenges of being over 50. She covered a gamut of topics from her life.

Having recently dealt with a series of similar plumbing issues, we could relate to the mix of disgust and determination in which she handled the events that started when she flushed her toilet and it “came up my bathtub”. I took (hypothetical) heart in her discovery—having failed to make herself lesbian (“turns out it’s not a choice!”)—via dating apps, that plenty of 20-something men will seek the attention of women in their 50s. (She can’t bring herself to take advantage. “Does your mother know what you’re up to?”)

I wonder if I, too, will soon be entering my “ranting” years. (“I always talked to myself. Now I do it in public. And I’m angry!”) And it was hard not to be inspired by how she made it through a serious ice storm two years ago: “I was without hydro for 8 days. But I was never without power.”

Toronto Star review of the show

4. Queen + Adam Lambert

They’re back! In North America, back! And they kicked it off with an appearance on the Late Late Show that soon went viral:

Front man battle: Adam Lambert vs. James Corden foronting Queen


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Let’s go to the Ex (whoa, baby)

When I expressed the desire to squeeze in a final summer holiday, Jean suggested Toronto as a place we could get to quickly enough to have time to enjoy with only minimal time off work (I took half a day).

“Hey, the Ex is on then,” I exclaimed. “Can we go?”

“Uh, I guess,” Jean replied, a bit mystified by my interest.

“The Ex” is the Canadian National Exhibition, an annual late-summer fair held in Toronto lo these past 138 years. Neither of us had ever been.

When I was a youngster back in Northern Ontario (from where one could not get to Toronto very quickly), the Ex seemed like coolest thing, based on ads like these:

The classic 1982 Let’s Go to the Ex commercial, with the cow

As an adult, admittedly, it seemed more like a site of cheesy entertainment and appalling-sound junk food (see: The Straight-Up Craziest Stuff To Eat At This Year’s CNE In Toronto). But, partly inspired by The Globe’s A guide to Toronto’s 2016 CNE, from someone who has been every year of her life, I thought we should check it out for ourselves. At least once in our lives.

Getting there was the first challenge. We aren’t experts on Toronto Transit, but the CNE grounds were too far for our usual “we’ll just walk there” approach to getting around in that city. The CNE website clearly listed the best transit options, but that didn’t stop us from messing up: Confusing the Dundas West subway stop(which had a direct bus to the CNE) with Dundas one (which did not). Taking a while to figure out that the “street” car stop at Union Station is not actually on the street, but below ground. And then some confusion about whether we were taking the street car in the right direction.

So we were well ready for lunch by the time we got there, and headed straight to the Food Building. We munched on completely un-weird fish and chips (Jean) and fish tacos (me), but when we walked around afterwards looking for things like the Bug Bistro and the philly sandwiches with whipped cream, we couldn’t find them. It pretty much seemed like any other food court.

Mind, we were rushing through a bit as we (well, I) wanted to get a seat at the popular ice skating and aerial acrobatics show. It featured Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette. She indeed did a lovely solo, but I was actually more impressed with some of acrobatics, and from seeing two male ice skaters skate together. And it seemed a bit rude that they didn’t introduce any performers other than Joannie.

Much of the CNE grounds is a really big midway / fair sort of thing, with rides and games. We didn’t partake of that part at all, beyond walking through it. We had planned to Ferris wheel together, but Jean got a bit overwhelmed with the crowds in those parts.

Instead, we visited a few exhibitions spaces—the farm, arts and hobbies, kitchen stuff (my favourite)—and concluded the day with the (also very popular) Superdogs show. That was so cute and fun, all these different types of dogs doing tricks or playing the clown. Was probably the day’s highlight.

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One of the Superdogs–from Toronto.com

After the Ex

The new Where to Eat in Canada had arrived just before this trip, so we took the opportunity to visit a couple of the listed places. We met some friends for dinner at Origin. I had been a bit pushy on this suggestion, despite never having been, so was relieved to find that:

  • The place was quiet enough for conversation
  • The food was very good
  • The prices weren’t outlandish

It’s one of those places with more of a tapas focus, and the servers were very good about helping us through our selections and bringing out items in a sensible order. We had the devilled eggs, a couple items from the raw (sushi) bar, a mozarella-based appetizer, a kale salad, and crispy calamari. (Who needs meat?)

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This kale salad was freakin’ delicious

The next day went to the ROM ahead of our reservation at Cafe Boulud. We had forgotten, however, that we were just there in February, and basically remembered the regular collection enough that we didn’t feel the need to look at it again. They had a Chihully exhibit, but having also been to his gallery in Seattle recently, we didn’t feel inclined to pay extra for that. Fortunately, we were saved by being time for a tour of their Egyptian collection, which was really interesting!

Cafe Boulud is a chi-chi poo-poo restaurant in a chi-chi poo-poo hotel. We were there for brunch, which is one of the cheaper ways of partaking in it ($45 for two courses with coffee). The wines by the glass were almost as expensive as bottles are in some others places, so we stuck with the $9 mimosa.

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Berries tartine and soupe de mais (corn soup) with our mimosa

The food was quite good, though, excluding Jean’s duck confit being more salted than he cared for. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Gorditas de papa con chorizo, but I quite enjoyed it.

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This is Gorditas de papa con chorizo

The rest of the day we wandered the streets of Toronto, the predicted rain never quite materializing. It was quite warm, so we stopped regularly for beverages of the non-alcoholic variety. We saw street fests and visited some favourite stores and burnt off restaurant calories.

On to Fall.


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Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty

Just because you find that life’s not fair it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change.

My interest in seeing the musical Matilda was mainly that the music was written by Tim Minchin, a comedian-musician whose songs often promote reason, science, and humanism. And also cheese.

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The show has also received a number of awards, though, and a great review in the Globe and Mail, so I was pleased when my sister and brother-in-law agreed to go see it with me while Jean was off canoeing.

The play opens with a chorus of children whose doting, self-esteem-boosting parents lead them to be believe they are special little princes and princesses. “It seems that there are millions of these one-in-a-millions these days / Specialness seems de rigueur.” By contrast, Matilda really is remarkable—a genius. Her thick parents don’t know what to make of her love of books and stories; they can barely stand to have her around.

In her big number, Matilda’s mother explains that “People don’t like smarty-pants / What go round claiming / That they know stuff / We don’t know / Content, has never been less important… You’ve just got to be loud.” (This is truly a musical of our time.)

School should be an oasis for such a child, but Matilda’s school is run by the authoritarian Miss Trunchbull. Played by a large man (Dan Chameroy), she cuts a ridiculous-looking figure, but is a terrifying adversary nonetheless—a bully who brooks no dissent, who cares little about fainess (once she decides you’re guilty, you’re guilty), and who favours cruel punishments.

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Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey. Photo by Joan Marcus, from http://www.mirvish.com

Besides the town librarian (delightfully played by Keisha T. Fraser), the only one on Matilda’s side is her teacher, Miss Honey, who calls herself pathetic for not being more effective at standing up to Miss Trunchbull and Matilda’s parents. Matilda, endowed with a sense of justice as deep as her intelligence, realizes that this is a battle she must fight for herself. (With a little help from her schoolmates.)

But nobody else is gonna put it right for me
Nobody but me is gonna change my story
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

Three young girls alternate the role of Matilda in the Toronto production. We got Hannah Levinson, who was dang amazing, delivering each line with such clarity and perfect timing that you never doubted her sharp, mature mind. She also had a lovely singing voice.

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Hannah Levinson as Matilda. Photo by Joan Marcus, from http://www.mirvish.com

With intermission, the play runs just over 2.5 hours. It moves along well, with none of the numbers seeming to drag—proving that Tim Minchin can write songs advocating intelligence, self-determination, justice, and education, without expletives in them. Much like the rest of his oeuvre, Matilda is often thought-provoking and moving—but still kind of fun!

Trailer for Matilda the Musical in Toronto


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The Who Hits 50 (or so)

The Who’s “long good-bye” tour was extended even further when Roger Daltrey came down with viral meningitis last year, forcing all fall 2015 shows to be rescheduled for spring 2016. For my Toronto show, this meant attending a year and four months after I bought the tickets. So I think the Who were really hitting 52 or so…

Who in Concert March 2016

Some of the Who trivia that played before the show started

But age is just a number, and Roger Daltrey’s changed to 72 on the day I saw him, March 1. They didn’t do anything especially special to mark that during the concert, other than mention it. And the fact he shared his birth date with “great Canadian” Justin Bieber (who turned 22). They then went on to dedicated “The Kids Are Alright” to Bieber.

The previous two Roger Daltrey / The Who shows I attended featured complete performances of Tommy and Quadrophenia, respectively. Much as I love both albums, it was fun to this time get more of run-through of their “greatest hits and B sides”. They came out swinging to “Who Are You,” then launched into “The Seeker” (which I suppose earns inclusion by being another CSI theme).

Who in Concert March 2016

They then addressed the crowd, with Daltrey joking about this being yet another “final” concert for them (“but we’re back in April”) and Pete Townshend making this cheeky comment:

I don’t know about Roger but a lot of good women have happened to me in Toronto. And a lot of good men … quaffing a beer in a pub. That was 22 years ago now. Anyway, we love your city.

They then featured a series of early singles that highlighted the great harmony vocals by their extended backup band. “My Generation” was especially fun, and played entirely without irony.

YouTube: My Generation and Pictures of Lily

We got a bit of Lifehouse material then, with the expected (but gorgeous) “Behind Blue Eyes” and the more surprising “Bargain”. How did Daltrey handle the especially high note in that? Via backup band, crowd singalong, and… just hitting it himself, once. The singalong continued with “Join Together”, then we got the Face Dances hit, “You Better You Bet”.

Who in Concert March 2016

Roger Daltrey and Zak Starkey

Of course, there’s no ignoring the rock operas, and each got a mini-set. Townshend sang lead on “I’m One”, and that was followed with the instrumental “The Rock” (complete with the “world events” background from their Quadrophenia tour, only now extended to include Paris), giving Daltrey a rest before he launched into “Love Reign O’Er Me”. He totally nailed that one, following up the very high note at the end of that with a vocal fill down to the very low end of his register.

You Tube: Love Reign O’er Me followed by Eminence Front

He got a standing ovation for that.

“Eminence Front” (first time I hear that live, I think) made a break before the Tommy set, that done in a rather excellent Live at Leeds fashion, featuring some serious microphone twirling.

The evening ended with the two-fer of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The show was about two hours.

I had actually managed to get floor seats for this performance. As a not overly tall person, I wasn’t sure how that would be.

Fortunately, my view was not blocked, except by the occasional filming cell phone or raised beer. We were in the 27th row, dead center. It seemed to me the seats in the first 20 rows or so were actually set lower than ours, which helped. People in the section do tend to stand the entire time, which I didn’t overly mind, though I did take a little sitting break during “The Rock”.

Of course, there’s always the big screens, too, but being closer, I found I didn’t attend to those as much as the actual people on stage. And it seemed a bit harder to get a good feeling of the crowd when you can’t really see them around you so much, because you’re all on the same level. Nevertheless, I sensed that Toronto gave The Who the usual warm reception.

This was the set list:

 

  • Who Are You
  • The Seeker
  • The Kids Are Alright
  • I Can See for Miles
  • My Generation
  • Pictures of Lily
  • Behind Blue Eyes
  • Bargain
  • Join Together
  • You Better You Bet
  • I’m One
  • The Rock
  • Love, Reign O’er Me
  • Eminence Front
  • Amazing Journey
  • Sparks
  • Pinball Wizard
  • See Me, Feel Me
  • Baba O’Riley
  • Won’t Get Fooled Again

 

 


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Pictures! Food, cities, people

Looking over Jean’s recent photos inspired me to write an activity update…

Toronto

We spent a weekend in Toronto at the end of January. We were blessed with unseasonably (though not unusually, this year) warm weather, which must have pleased these residents:

Things you don't expect in Toronto!

“New to us” elephant street art in Toronto

But people were still able to skate:

Things you do expect in Toronto

Isn’t this photo gorgeous?

And we enjoyed dinner at Ki Restaurant again—with the same great waitress as last time.

Tai with truffle oil and cranberry ponzu

Tai with truflle oil and cranberry ponzu

Party

Last weekend we were away for Jean’s company party. They always do an amazing job of this, not only offering dinner and dancing, but putting everyone up in a hotel. This was a big anniversary year, so we also had an Olympian (Gold medal winner, from Canada’s women’s hockey team) give an inspiring talk, anda  live band playing jazz. That gave us an opportunity to do practice some tango, jive, and quick step—with plenty of room, as we were the only ones on the dance floor! (Bit intimidating, really….)

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For once, Jean is in the picture

Berlin

Last night was supposed to be dinner out at the Naked Oyster with a friend, but he had to cancel due to illness. So, we took ourselves to Kitchener’s Berlin restaurant instead. Still a bit louder than we find ideal, but we had an excellent waiter (formerly of Langdon Hall) and the food was exquisite. Though Jean complained that I ordered the “better” option at every turn… Grilled squid over cheese appetizer, and then:

Roasted Duck Breast with Smoked Beets :)

Roast duck breask with smoked beets

over baked blue fish with duck confit gizzards; and then:

Hazelnut Puff Pastry like no other :D

Hazelnut puff pastry (so amazing)

over fruit crepe with cream.

But hey, it’s not a competition. (Even if I totally won.)


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Kinky Boots on Halloween weekend

October 19 wasn’t only Election day, but was supposed to be the day I saw The Who in concert. Said concert had to be postponed until March due to Roger Daltrey coming down with a nasty case of viral meningitis. As it turns out, I was glad to be able to watch the election coverage instead.

But, we were planning to also take in the Mirvish play Kinky Boots when in Toronto for the concert, and that show will not be continuing until March [correction; It’s just been extended til March 6. But that wasn’t true until recently.] So when its tickets went on sale, we decided to do a weekend in Toronto built around just that play.

We often go to Toronto in February, so I kept getting thrown off by the unseasonably warm fall weather. I kept bundling up to go out then getting pleasantly surprised. It was quite the nice weekend.

Winston Churchill statue in Toronto

October 31 also happened to be the day that a J.M.W. Turner exhibit was opening at the Art Gallery of Ontario. This is a painter Jean is interested in, so we went there on Saturday. We started with a slightly extravagant brunch at their restaurant, Frank.

Lunch at Frank

I had a hankering for sparkling wine, which inspired Jean to order the same (Henry of Pelham’s Cuvee Catherine)…

Then some friends joined us for the actual exhibit, which was handy, as their being members meant we got in free. It was an interesting collection of Turner work—watercolours with an “evocative use of light” that foreshadowed Impressionism,

Dinner was supposed to be at an Italian restaurant called Aria, but they called us Friday with the mysterious news that their building had to be evacuated by 8:00 that night, which might not give us enough time to finish dinner. Though offered reservations at their sister restaurant, it was quite the hike to get to, so we decided to book with Ki Restaurant instead.

We’ve been to Ki a number of times—It’s kind of our go-to before rock concerts at the Air Canada Centre, in fact. But this was our nicest dinner there ever. It was much quieter than usual (I think it’s just more popular during the week), and the waitress was very helpful at steering us toward the best dishes on the menu: Items like maple-tamari Binnaga with pine nuts and wasabi crème fraiche, roasted Cauliflower with sesame tare and shiso gremolata, and Tai with truffle oil and cranberry ponzu. Lovely balance of flavours.

Tuna with maple

One of the amazing Ki dishes

It being a Halloween night of mild temperature, we decided to then go check out the Church Street Halloween party! We were not ourselves in costume, so were merely attending as gawkers. We weren’t entirely sure at which intersection it occurred, and it did turn out to be a substantial enough walk, but there were some pretty creative get-ups. And the crowd seemed to be in a very good mood.

Halloween party on Church Street

A photo of the event by someone else…

We walked back to the hotel on Yonge Street. This featured more of the club-going Halloween crowd, who weren’t quite as cheery as they waited in line to get in.

Sunday, after an overpriced hotel breakfast, we had some delicious dim sum with my sister before our matinee performance of Kinky Boots. Which was a fun musical.

Though I have seen the movie, that was long enough ago that I can’t tell you what was different about the play—apart from the fact that the movie is not a musical. And that both are built around the story of a struggling shoe factory that finds new life in making, essentially, boots for men who like to dress as women. It’s a good cast, particularly the star, Alan Mingo Jr. as Lola, and KW’s own AJ Bridel as the luminous Lauren. It moves along well, driven by the songs written by none other than Cyndi Lauper.

Jean commented, and I agreed, that Charles’ second act outburst, that creates a rift between him and Lola, isn’t entirely believable. It goes a bit too far. Ultimately, though, that doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the whole thing. Something has to set up the triumphant ending.

Halloween 2015

Finally, apropos of nothing, Jean did dress up for a Halloween party earlier in the week


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Toronto in pictures

Our annual “weekend in Toronto in winter because Jean has a conference” wasn’t terribly eventful—we drove back before da big storm really hit—but it did provide some photographic opportunities.

We visited the very crowded, kind of expensive, but still pretty neat Ripley’s Aquarium.

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

The big draw seemed to be sharks swimming overhead.

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

But there were other interesting critters, too

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

Hello moray

We had some trouble getting dinner reservations Saturday due to (I assume) Winterlicious being on. But we managed to get in at Frank, at the AGO. Jean had their Winterlicious items while I ordered from the main menu.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This was the mussel appetizer.

I had a roasted squash salad. For mains, we each had a tuna entree, but prepared different ways—both good.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This was the Winterlicious entree.

For wine, we had a bottle of a Spanish white, an albarino, that was on special. Quite nice, and appeared to be low in alcohol.

For dessert, Jean’s had rum raisin crème brulée. Yum.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I had the Tres Leches Cake—not too shaby, either.

For January, the weather wasn’t too bad. It was partly sunny on Saturday, and not that cold, especially when not in the wind. So we did do some walking around, and Jean took some photos.

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Toronto City Hall

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Skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square

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View from our hotel

Sunday we had some delicious dim sum (no photos), then visited the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the ROM. It was more to my taste than Jean’s. Therefore, you must now prepare for a precipitous decline in photo quality, because the following ones are mine.

If you look at the next image through the camera of your cell phone, they’ll look quite different than they do with the naked eye. It’s really weird. (And if you actually take the cell phone picture, you lose the effect.)

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I don’t know what you do if you’re looking at this post on your cell phone.

The exhibit was very pop art-like. One set of paintings was of QR codes that bring up phrases like “Sworn to fun, loyal to none” and “I wait and I wait and I wait for God to appear”, that you can then text to your friends to confuse them. Another was a large installation of found objects, arranged to represent the four quadrants of the brain, and the cerebellum.

The following photos might help you judge how interested you might find all this. How many of these coloured squares do you want to read?

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I read them all.