Sunday, 28 October 2012

Windows 8 Launch Party

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What an exciting weekend! I was lucky enough to accompany Nathan to the Windows 8 Launch party in London. Since he has an app in the app store in time for the launch ( Interference)  he is now part of Window8 Elite and got an invitation - with two tickets.

I have never been to anything like this before - so I thought it would be interesting. For a start the place where it was happening was not some swish hotel or high tech office block - but an old school which has been transformed into into a designer work space, called Modern Jago   in the heart of arty Shoreditch. Walking there we went past numerous art studios, video suites and print rooms, until we followed the fairy lights and entered Modern Jago. We had to hand in our tickets outside and get our hands stamped with a J, first though.

 Then as we went through the door we were handed a cocktail. Not sure what they were but there was a choice of alcoholic or non-alcoholic - naturally we chose the one with a kick! There was an almost blank canvas on the wall by the entrance - the "Windows 8 Elite canvas" where we were invited to put our names and any little pictures we wanted to. I'm not sure where it will end up - but a few people had obliged already. I just drew a rabbit and wrote Bunnery - and later Nathan drew the Interference logo and put the web address for it on. :-)
As we looked around the rooms - there were three big ones with a few smaller ones off them, we saw that they had put quite a few distractions there for the guests. There was a scalextrix track - where they were holding a tournament - with the winner being awarded with an X-Box at the end of the night.

Design your own t-shirts!

The Windows 8 Elite Canvas

In the next room there was a free bar - where they were holding a Mixology Lab - you could learn how to make your own cocktails! I had spotted a side-room (which it turned out was actually their Boardroom under normal circumstances) where they were printing t-shirts, I dragged N in there and we discovered that they had screen printers set up with a variety of designs and colours and you could choose any design - or more than one - and put them anywhere on a t-shirt you wished. We had to have a go! There was a chap who gave you a plain white t-shirt, then you could ask the guys with the screen prints to put them wherever you liked. Then they were dried under a hot-air machine, before being handed over to you. 

I chose a cool red design for the front of mine - but N had designs front and back on his!

Cool coasters
As we looked around the space with its randomly-wallpapered walls and mix and match chairs, retro coffee tables and posh art magazines, we were offered drinks - beer or wine - at frequent intervals. We were also given food in the form of mini-meals! N had a mini sausage and mash and I went for the fish and chips. That was just three fat chips and a goujon of fish with Tartare sauce and a wedge of lemon. Also they offered mini-burgers, mushroom risotto and some kind of salad. Later they came around with mini chocolate cakes, each with a big fat raspberry on top.

One of the most exciting moments just after we got there was to see Interference on the giant screens around the room. They were cycling through some of the apps that the Elite had produced and Interference kept coming on. :-) :-)
We chatted with other app developers. We had met a few in the pub round the corner while we were waiting for this event to start at 4.30pm. N and they had geeked out - and I had had a very nice Cappuchino and understood about one word in ten!! I did ask a couple of them about their apps. One had produced a Font Selector app and the other a very useful School/Uni Organiser. From the look of it you could put in your timetables, when work was due in, revision, how far through modules you were. 
It was really interesting how varied the apps were! On the screen I saw word games, an anatomy app (quite gruesome!) and one called Nearly Weds which was a wedding planner. Some very talented people there!

My T-Shirt drying off :-)

Around 6pm someone rang a school bell and we gathered in the main middle room while Paul and another guy (sorry - can't remember his name) gave a presentation about Windows 8 and how many potential customers the app developers would have. He was encouraging everyone to build more apps! He also held a draw to give away 6 new tablets. He said that everyone's tickets had been put into the draw. A chap in front of us piped up that his wasn't in - before rushing up to put it in the bucket!

They had Cocktail lessons

Sadly we didn't win anything - but Chris from Lightwood Games (also based in Stoke-on-Trent) won one. And of course - the man who had just put his in the draw also won one!! After that the event began to wind down. There was more chatting and drinks, but then the main lights all came on and we took that as a hint to be on our way back to Euston Station!

It was a fun event - great for networking. N will be back there in less than two weeks for an even more exclusive event to meet Steve Balmer, the current head of Microsoft who is coming over from the USA for a special event - a showcase session showcase. Sadly I have to stay at home for that one.

Interference on the Big Screen!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Girly Weekend in Oxford

I had a lovely weekend with Janet in Oxford. We had said, months ago - while I was still having treatment - that when I was feeling better we would have a weekend away together. A bit of a girly one with shopping and cocktails and relaxation. Maybe a bit of culture too :-)

England's First Coffee House

Chaps in the Fudge Kitchen making chocolate fudge
I have only been there once before - so I was looking forward to going back there and exploring. We went on the train from Stafford which just took a couple of hours. When we emerged from Oxford station, blinking in the sunlight, we saw an Open-Topped Bus Tour stand.

We decided to start with that - so that we'd see all over Oxford and we could decided where we wanted to go and what we wanted to look at more closely! Once we'd managed to get the hang of the earphones - and found a seat that didn't deafen us - we enjoyed being driven around while listening to an expert on all the history and buildings. I remember her telling us where Mr Bean went to University and why Percy Bysshe Shelley got thrown out of his. (He wrote a pamphlet on Atheism)

 We stayed at the Randolph Hotel and check-in after our bus trip round the city. It was pretty nice, and Jan had been upgraded to a double room. Both the rooms were nice - hers was just a bit bigger. Once we'd dumped out bags we had a walk around. Went down to the Botanical Gardens, we thought it might be nice to have lunch in a cafe there. However - they didn't have one. The nice lady in the shop directed us to The Oxford Rendezvous, which was a lovely cafe. We had chicken wraps and gorgeous pancakes for sweet. J's were filled with cream and banana and mine had a melted Crunchie bar inside - and was covered in cream. It was after 3pm by the time we got out!

We had to do a bit more walking after that! In fact we found the Carfax Tower on the map and headed that way. It is the only remaining part of the 13th century St Martin's Church and for £2.30 you can go in and climb the 99 spiral steps to the top. This gave us amazing views over Oxford - we could see all the colleges and towers and spires. It was quite fun just looking down and seeing what was going on in the City centre. The pavement art. protests, buskers and charity collectors dressed as hedgehogs. It is a lively place!

We also had a look around the shopping centre (mainly because J needed a new battery for her watch!) We tried some free samples of fudge which were so delicious that we resolved to hunt down the shop where it was made - no matter how long it took us - tomorrow.

Morse Cocktail
 We returned to the hotel to have a bit of a rest and get changed for the evening. Our lunch had been so huge that we couldn't really face a heavy three-course dinner in the hotel. We had seen quite a few nice restaurants and pubs nearby - so we thought we'd try one of them. First however, we wanted to try out the hotel's famous Morse bar which has featured in Morse and Lewis ( their writer Colin Dexter still lives in Oxford). We decided to try the cocktails, J tried the Cheshire Cat (champagne and orange juice)and I went for the one they had invented - The Morse Champagne Cocktail, which involved apple brandy and vanilla with champagne.  I was very impressed when mine arrived with lemon rind wrapped all around the stem of the glass.

Then we tried to get in Jamie Oliver's Italian Restaurant - just so we could say we'd been there! The polite bouncer told us that we'd have to wait for 45 minutes - so we decided we weren't that bothered! So we chose one opposite which had an unusual pizza menu. Fire and Stone only made us wait 15 minutes - and let us wait in the bar! Much more civilised. The food was yummy - and my dessert was quite different. Crispy cinnamon dough sticks with some of J's honeycomb ice cream. Quite a tasty combination.

The next day we made it down to breakfast for 9am. it was in a gorgeous high-ceilinged room.
it had all the college plaques around the walls and the heaviest-looking mirror I've ever seen. There was a good selection of cereals, fruits, pastries and cheeses and cold meats. Then you could choose a hot cooked breakfast and toast. We were pretty full when we came outside at 10am and walked over the road to the Ashmolean Museum. We had a peaceful stroll round the exhibits before making out way up to the rooftop restaurant.We only wanted to look at the view from the outside terrace - but it was so nice up there we decided to have a coffee/hot chocolate and read the Sunday newspapers on offer. Very relaxing!

When we'd got our strength back we carried on with our trusty free bus map, to find the Bodlean Library. You know me - I can't resist a library!

Coming out in 2013!
However, as we approached the street where it was located, we saw that the road was closed off. There was a big crowd looking down there - but we had no idea what was going on. Then we saw some people in Victorian dress and shiny black carriages on the street. The double yellow lines were covered by soil. There were cameras on booms all over the place and catering tents and editing suites. They were making a film!

People still dress like this in Oxford you know...

One of the doors into the Bodlean Library
 During breaks in filming they let people through the streets - but you had to keep moving and couldn't linger!

Inner Courtyard of the Bodlean
 We got to the Bodlean and managed to get inside to look at the Dickens Exhibition and the shop at least. Were were stopped going into the courtyard by more filming.

It looked very intriguing - we'll have to look out for that next year.

Yummy scones :-)
 Later in the afternoon we had decided to have a cream tea. I had read about one place that was meant to be Chelsea Clinton's favourite place - the Grand Cafe on High Street. We found it - and it's window declared that it was the first coffee house in England. It was very quaint - lots of mirrors and high ceilings once again.
More wandering round the streets - we saw Oxford University's Korean Society putting on a demonstration of their drumming skills.

Then we sought out and found the Fudge Kitchen where we saw chocolate and seasalt fudge being mixed, melted and poured out onto a marble table to cool. We tasted a few more then bought some of the divine chocolate one we'd tried the day before.

Good job there isn't one near where we live - I'd be getting fatter by the day!

The only way to travel in Oxford

Pretty soon it was time to grab our bags from the hotel and catch our train back to Stafford after a fun weekend. It's nice to get away - but nice to go home again :-).
Jan in the Ashmolean Museum

The newly Refurbished Ashmolean

Jan outside the Ashmolean

Relaxing in the Famous Morse Bar

Logical Place to be

Inside the Grand Cafe

Up Among Oxford's Dreaming Spires

Even the taxis are educational in Oxford :-)

Friday, 19 October 2012

VIPs at The Library - Part 2

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On Wednesday there was even more excitement in The Library as we hosted a visit from world-famous poet, Simon Armitage. We are not usually open on a Wednesday but the Keele Poets - who use one of our Meeting Rooms for their class every Thursday - had asked if they could change their class to Wednesday for one week.
Simon had agreed to do a poetry reading at Keele University in the evening - but as a special favour to Caroline (their tutor) he had also promised to do a session just for them in the afternoon in Silverdale. Caroline was instrumental in organising his latest adventure - walking the Pennine Way earlier in the year using his poetry to barter for the things he needed - like food and beer and socks :-)
I was delighted to open the library for them!
Caroline and I were there from 2.30pm moving furniture and sorting out crockery. Some of the other Keele poets arrived early too - with cake and cookies. There was some delicious, dark fruit cake, sugar-topped shortbread and chocolate chip cookies - all home-made. We boiled water and made tea and coffee as the other poets arrived, as well as some specially invited Keele MA students.
I only had to deflect one customer who thought we were open for business as usual and tried to get on a computer.  
Coffee and Cake in the Library

Around ten to four Simon himself arrived. he said he wasn't sure where he was - but he was here! He tried some cake too before everyone went into the meeting Room. He was introduced by Caroline and sat at the front for the session. he said he didn't really want to talk for an hour - he'd rather have a discussion and we could ask whatever we wanted.

Library Café :-)

He had given us handouts as he wanted to talk about the poets that had influenced him and how his own style had developed.

Simon pondering

He is actually a big fan of Tony Harrison from Leeds as he has been a pioneer of using ordinary, everyday language in poetry - including slang and swearing. Also he comes from near Simon, who hails from Marsden in Yorkshire.

He asked for volunteers to read the poems that he had brought along - although he did read his own himself - which is good as that is going to be the way they are meant to be read!

I loved Timer - by Tony Harrison, and Simon told us how he'd seen the man himself read this while he and the audience all sobbed.

He read his own At Sea and some from his own translation of Sir Gawayn and the Green Knight, from the Middle English. It is an intriguing story of the youngest of King Arthur's knights who took on a challenge from a mysterious green knight, then had to go in search of him. It is not known who wrote it originally but it is generally thought that the author may have been from maybe Staffordshire/Cheshire. They can tell by the dialect words and the places described.
What do you call a room full of poets?

Someone asked him if he wrote poetry everyday. He told us he didn't have time anymore so he has a roomful of elves who write it for him now. He just says yes or no to what they produce! Seriously though - he can go three or four months without writing a poem - but he does try to write something everyday - even if it is just a paragraph in his journal.
The hour actually flew by and pretty soon he had to be on his way to get ready for the reading at Keele at 7.30pm.

Nathan and I were lucky enough to have tickets for the evening event (Thanks Caroline!!) It was a bit of a rush - as I had to go home - then co0me back to the Library to open up for another meeting before handing over the the keys for them to lock up. Then we just had time for a bite to eat before driving up to Keele University.

We bought raffle tickets - in the hope of winning the Poet Laureate's sherry - but sadly we didn't win it :-(  It took place in the Westminster Theatre in the Chancellor's Building. It was pretty big and really full. He is very popular!

He concentrated on his new book Walking Home - so he read some passages out of it and then made us laugh when he gave us a slideshow entitled "What I Did on my Holidays by Simon Armitage"
Caroline and Simon at Silverdale
Poster for Keele Event

His new book
 He was very funny and is genuinely nice. I don't know what I was expecting a poet to be like though! I know Nathan was expecting someone wearing a beret and smoking like the ones he's seen in The Simpsons. :-)

It was a lovely evening and he dedicated his final poem to Caroline for all the help that she has given him. How nice is that?

Afterwards you could go and get your book signed by him.

If you fancy reading more of his poetry - we have lots in the Library! Come in and try it.
He signed mine!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

VIPs at the Library :-)

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Friday was a very exciting day in my Library. We had a visit from the Children's Laureate - Julia Donaldson!  Her term runs from June 2011 until June 2013 and she follows the six previous CLs: Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Anthony Browne.
She arrived a 9am with her husband Malcolm. They met while at University and he was a medic. They have had quite an exciting life together, they live in Glasgow now, but did live in Paris where they used to busk on the streets.

Julia Donaldson arrives at Silverdale
 Lots of media people arrived early too, including someone from Radio Stoke, 6 Towns Radio, The Sentinel and Liz Copper from BBC Midlands Today - with her camera crew. They interviewed Julia, Malcolm and some of the children after the event. Even I was interviewed for some online page - I'm not sure where that would appear though!

Liz Copper drinking tea in my Library!
Julia looked pleases by the display that Tracy and Silverdale Primary had put together. There was lots of the children's work, photographs and they had even made crowns for Julia and Malcolm to wear. They did oblige at the end of the session and were photographed in them, with the teachers.

Malcolm had brought his guitar and a huge suitcase full of props - we wondered what kind of performance we were about to witness!

The children from two classes (about 60 of them!) arrived just before 10am, excited and chattering - but extremely well-behaved when the teachers asked them to do anything. They formed them into rows facing down the library, a teacher plugged in a boombox and when Julia had been introduced by Patrick Corfield - a Cabinet member from Staffordshire County Council, they sang a song for her that they had learned specially. It was from her book "Room on the Broom"

Julia and the grown-ups listening to Room on the Broom
 Some of them had costumes and masks and Julia was particularly impressed with a cat-shaped cauldron bag that one of the teachers had made. In fact she wanted to take it home and use it as a handbag - but she did give it back at the end :-)

Then it was time for Julia to talk to the children. She asked them how much they thought it would cost if she took a book home for her baby brother (Picking one out of the kinder box), and horror story for her teenage sister (taking one off the shelves) and another book for herself. (Taking one of her own books off the display)

Lots of hands went up - and the first guess was £10. "No" she said "It's cheaper than that! Another hand up "£8?" "No - it's cheaper than that!" This went on until we got down to 10p. "Even cheaper than 10p" she said. At last someone put up their hand and got it right "Nothing?" - "That's right! Nothing!" Then she asked me and Tracy how many books they could take out and she was amazed when we replied "As many as you want!" It was great that she asked how many of them had library tickets - only about half put up their hands though. Maybe we'll get a few more recruits after this event!

Monkey Puzzle in action!
 She then taught the children a new song of hers called "The Breathing Song" while Malcolm played guitar and we all did the sound effects. She then got everyone on their feet pretending to be animals so that she could pick out children to act out the story Monkey Puzzle. In fact one of the teachers turned out to be the best elephant - so she got the role!

Julia is passionate about getting kids to act out the books as well as just read them. They had a monkey puppet  as well as a butterfly and the performance really brought the book alive. There was lots of chance for audience participation too! Eventually the little monkey was reunited with his mum - so there was a happy ending.

The display by the children
 My favourite story was The Wrong Kind of Bark, which involved a boy called Finley who didn't listen to his teacher properly. Julia asked the teachers who among the classes had a good strong voice. A little boy called Harry was chosen and he was great! He found the story absolutely hilarious and really played it well. What a star!

Some of the others got to play children in the story too. Julia was pretending to be the teacher setting up a nature table in the class. She changed the main character's name to Harry just for today :-) The first day she talked at length about flowers and then asked the class to bring in any kind of flower the next day. When she asked Harry what she had just said - he could only remember the last three words "kind of flower"
So the next day the children bring in pretty flowers (supplied by Malcolm behind the scenes!) and Harry come in with a bag of flour! The teacher asks him what on earth he's brought that for and he says "You said "any kind of flour!" That was our cue to say "But that's the wrong kind of flower"
The next day it is nuts - and Harry brings nuts and bolts, "That's the wrong kind of nut!"
and the final day it is meant to be something from a tree like "a kind of bark" Children bring in an apple, a twig and some bark - then along comes Harry (in fits of giggles by now) with Malcolm on all fours with a collar and lead on - barking. "That's the wrong kind of bark!!"
There was uproar at this - and everyone was laughing! It was very funny :-)
Then she taught them another song where they all had to wander round the library pretending they were pushing supermarket trolleys. It was great!

Personalised book
 She then got Malcolm to put another chair next to hers - which she called "The Question Chair" - and invited the children to come up if they had a question to ask her. There were some very interesting ones - she was encouraged to write by her parents, her teachers and especially Malcolm, She has written 165 books! We also discovered that her favourite book from those that she had written were the ones featuring Princess Mirror-belle, because she is a bit naughty!

After that she signed books for everyone who had bought one, which took a good half an hour. I got one for Nathan - Tabby McTat.  Tracy bought one too! Then the children got back in their pairs and crocodiled off back to school.

Malcolm entertains the children as they wait to leave

Julia and Malcolm then did some more interviews including one with Liz Copper that appeared on Midlands Today later in the day. They had filmed quite a lot of the performance so were excited to find out how much they would show on the telly. You could catch Tracy and me behind the counter during some of it!

She posed for more photographs then around 12 noon she left to go to Macclesfield to meet the mayor. The next stop on her country-wide tour.

Malcolm gets interviewed too!

Julia signing books

Talking to Radio Stoke
Filming for Midlands Today
What a great morning it was - and quite a coup for Silverdale. Well done to the children of Silverdale Primary School for writing such wonderful letters that Julia chose to visit here.
The display in all its glory :-)

She was such an inspiration.It is a day that none of us will forget in a hurry!

Now we are looking forward to our visit from Simon Armitage, the poet, next Wednesday :-)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Check-ups, Birthdays and Festivals :-)

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I had the faster EVER appointment at the hospital on Monday. We got there a little early - so sauntered down to the ENT Main Reception - there was no-one in there! Handed in my ticket to the Receptionist, who told us to sit down and look out for our number on the screen. We sat down and I looked on the screen and our number was already there - instructing us to go to Sub-Wait 1.
So we went round the corner - and there was one couple in there - usually there is nowhere to sit.

We sat down once more and Nathan got his Kindle out - read three lines and the nurse came out and called my name. We went in to see Mr Uppal, who is lovely and cheery, and he said "I bet you've not seen it like this before, have you?" We confessed that we hadn't - it wasn't even 11.30 yet - our actual appointment time.
We asked him what was happening and he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't know. "I came through for the morning cancer meeting and it was like this - it's usually like a railway station out there!"

Anyway - he got back to asking me how I was feeling (fine), if I had any strange symptoms (I didn't) and then had a feel around my neck (all good). I didn't even need to have the camera up the nose this time - which is always a bonus when it happens :-)

He asked about my energy levels as most patients in my position complain about tiredness and lack of energy. I told him I had lots of energy and felt great. I see him again in 4 weeks time on 29th. We got out in less than five minutes - and it was still before 11.30am.

Must be a record!

As it was also Sarah's Birthday  (my niece) L and I went over to Cheadle to see her in the evening. Took her presents. Sadly N was working. He has a deadline of Friday for his Microsoft Windows 8 project - so really has to get his ap ready and perfect for verification on Friday. Having just had four days in London, he hasn't got much time left!

L and I had cake though - Sarah loves games too. Look what kind of cake she had:
Yes - a Batman Cake - yummy :-)

We had bought her a present from Eurogamer 2012 - can you tell what it is?Ten points if you said a Turret from the game Portal (and indeed Portal 2) She pronounced it "adorable" and went off to put it in her computer room.
Impressive - I'm sure you'll agree!
What a Weird Thing to Buy as a Present

On Tuesday night we'd forgotten that we'd got tickets for an event in Stone's Food and Drink Festival. It was a "Manger A Trois" which was something that only Stone does apparently. It involves going to one restaurant for a starter, then off to another for your main course , followed by a  little walk to another place for a sweet.

They are on all week and the one we chose was a "Musical Meander" which meant that all three venues had live music too.

We were told to be at Granville's at 7pm prompt to begin our exciting evening. There were 28 of us starting at Granville's - and similar numbers starting at the other 2 venues. We were given a menu so that we could choose our starter, main and sweet, and the couple who were organising us during the evening went to take our choices to the other restaurants.

Then we were served with a glass of champagne and our chosen starter and entertained by a rather energetic Irish band called "Murphy's Marbles" - they were good and played jigs and reels and some Irish folk songs that we knew.

Nathan enjoyed his chicken terrine with pickles vegetables and I loved my smoked haddock on horseradish potato salad. it was in fact delicious - even though n thinks horseradish is the work of the devil. :-)

Then we were told we had ten minutes left before we had to put our coast on and walk down the main street in Stone (Good job most of these places are pretty close together - as it was raining!) Our next port of call was The Lounge Café Bar, where I was served salmon as my main and Nathan had pork loin in peppercorn sauce. We were given loads of veg, roast potatoes and chips to share with our fellow diners.

Here we were entertained by a solo singer with an acoustic guitar who performed gentle songs by people like Damian Rice, David Gray  and Ed Sheeran. It was really nice, but they had definitely saved the best until last!

We were then whisked off to Stone Steak House in the Crown and Anchor Hotel. here we had out sweets, in n's case it was a HUGE chocolate brownie with ice cream, while I'd opted for the cheese and biscuits. Four kinds of tasty cheese, from Stilton to smoked to soft and creamy. There was some sweet and tangy fruit chutney to go with it.

In the corner was a man - in his 60s at least - dressed in a German Umpah-style clothes. You know the type - lederhosen, braces and Alpine cap with feathers in. he was sat holding a huge piano-accordion in front of a microphone.

Now by now some of our group had consumed a few drinks and were feeling decidedly merry. (I was feeling merry - but I wasn't drinking as I was driving!) and our entertainer struck up with some German drinking song and had us standing up, sitting down, leaning back, and forward, linking arms. Then he launched into some Elvis and Beatles songs and we all joined in. Then he got progressively sillier and sillier until he had us singing "She'll be Coming Round the Mountain" and even "The Wheels on the Bus" It was so funny - everyone was helpless with laughter. he just kept on all night and everyone just kept asking for more.
Our fellow diners and the Music Man in the Corner

"I am the Music Man" was another - and a rousing rendition of Sweet Caroline went down well too. Can you guess what we were singing in the photo below?

Singing in the Rain - indoors???

We had such a brilliant night - well done to the organisers. It is a great idea!