Monday, 23 December 2013

Festive London and Hint Hunt

Hares made from Hair Dryers

Turkeys made from Towels

We were really looking forward to spending a day in London just before Christmas. Nathan had booked for us to have a go at Hint Hunt - the most popular attraction in London at the moment - according to Trip Advisor. The idea is that you get locked in a room and you have 60 minutes to get out. You can only get out though by solving clues leading you to finding a way out.

They understandably don't want us to reveal too much detail - as it would spoil the experience for everyone else. Basically, we were in the "John Munroe Room" - which belonged to a private detective, who had himself been murdered.  It is great fun  and quite pressured - and the 60 minutes absolutely fly by! We were told that only about 50% of the groups who try actually manage it - and the record time was 53 minutes. Our team consisted of Martin and Tama (whose wedding we attended last year in Slovenia) their friend Jodi and Nathan and myself.

The Baku Bandits :-)
Tama, Martin and Jodi all work together in Baku, Azerbaijan - but are back in the UK for Christmas.

We were so ecstatic when we actually got out - with 3.45 minutes to spare. It was a great feeling and the guy in charge said that we were very calm and collected - unlike some teams who rush around like crazy! The escapees get their photos taken - so here is ours!

It was so good we want to go back again some time and do the more difficult Zen Room. We would all recommend it to anyone - good fun for friends, family or work teams!

Oxford Street
Before we did that we had a lovely time walking around London, looking at the festive lights and the shop displays. John Lewis's windows were especially inventive! We also had a good time sampling spirits in Selfridges.:-) They had a bottle of rum - in it's own cupboard for £699! We didn't buy any - but we had a taste of another one a little cheaper.

John Lewis Window - Polar Bear made from Wii fits
We had lunch at The Phoenix - a pub we'd tried before. After the Hint Hunt we had time to have an evening meal with the other bandits before we had to get our train back to Stoke.

It's great now that Virgin have a later last train back - it used to be 9-something. But now there's one at 10.50pm. Much better - as we couldn't stay over as I had to be at work the next morning.

 It worked out perfectly and we were back in Stoke by 12.30am.

Owls made from Kitchen Utensils

Work has been pretty quiet in the run-up to Christmas - so me and Eeyore are managing okay so far. He doesn't chat as much as Tracy :-) - but at least \I don't have to talk to myself! He has been sitting under the \Christmas Tree with his present - a balloon in a jar. Not sure if he likes I - but he doesn't look too unhappy.

We only have half a day to work tomorrow - then it's Christmas!! Hope you all have a very \happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year. Here's to a Fantastic 2014!!

Eeyore with his balloon

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Embrace the little blue bird!!

New to this? Check out the First Post
I hadn’t been to a staff conference for a couple of years – I think the last one was when R J Ellory, the crime writer, attended – so I was looking forward to this one. Mainly because of the theme – Changing Opinions: Using new media to challenge old perceptions
I love social media! I couldn’t wait to find out how people are using it to make libraries in particular, more relevant to modern life. I have been dying to have a Silverdale Library twitter account - but we are not permitted to do that.
The conference was opened by our MC, Andrew Baker from Stafford. He introduced Janene Cox, our Commissioner for Tourism and Culture at Staffordshire County Council and also President of Society of Chief Librarians. She stressed the importance of our services contributing to the three main outcomes that SCC is committed to -which in a nutshell are health, wealth and happiness.
In these tough economic times, which are likely to get worse over the next few years, it is vital for us all to make sure our work contributes to these outcomes for our customers.
Our keynote speaker for the morning was Nick Booth, a former BBC political reporter and now owner of Podnosh an organisation that wants to change the way the public and the public sector talk to each other. They offer social media surgeries and encourage groups to get together and change things.
He talked about building a “stockpot of social capital” by building communities of bloggers, doing podcasts, creating groups of like minded citizens who want to change things and help each other. He gave a fascinating example of how one group, by using the website which is a platform for crowdsourcing investigative journalism – managed to get Birmingham City Council to admit that their eagerly awaited new website had taken 4 years and cost £2.8m – and still wasn’t ready. They did say that when is was unveiled it would be worth it – but when it was revealed many people were not impressed. So, they arranged a “hackathon” where several of them met up for one day and made a website for BCC. The results can be seen here: It is a much clearer site and easier to navigate and only took one day and a few volunteers!
Nick was then joined by his colleague Steph Clarke, and the theme turned to the “hyper-local” This is the part I found the most interesting as I could see how it could be used by individual libraries to build on social media (and other) communities in their immediate vicinity.
He showed us a series of hyper-local websites, such as the very successful which Nick helped Jamie Summerfield to set up. Steph has helped set up a local website in her area – Wednesfield. She shared her favourite story with us, about how there was a house fire that destroyed the home and possessions of a family. After an appeal on their website they were inundated with people offering everything from accommodation to school uniforms for the children.
The basic rules for a successful hyper-local websites are:
v     Be useful – e.g. show school closures for snow or local road problems
v     Be open
v     Share
v     Collaborate
v     Relax and empower – people may use you site/group for other things – let them!
v     Nurture niches
After the coffee break we played the Social Media Game. Using various methods, Facebook, Twitter, Websites, Local Groups - we were encouraged to build a campaign to solve a problem. In my group’s case it was how to get more 13-21 year olds into libraries. Another group looked at getting more people into libraries. We decided on using Facebook, free WiFi, Blogs and Listening i.e. checking other groups/Fb pages/blogs and linking to them from our own sites. I tried to argue that Twitter is far more relevant to young people than Facebook, where their parents and grandparents can see what they are up to  - but was over-ruled!
The other library group identified the need for culture change within the organisation that would allow more library staff to have their own library Facebook pages and twitter accounts as, at the moment, there was no local feel to the social media we have. It is all done at a corporate level, individuals have to submit material to the designated person in their area – and the stuff may not appear for a week or more. It needs to be immediate and spontaneous!!
If we could make more local sites we could link in to other media in our area to create a community and take part in all that is happening locally. We could also put online some of the leaflets and posters we have displayed in our library as well as linking to other professionals and departments. We need to promote each other! Maybe a little relaxing and empowering may need to happen before we can use what we have all learnt today. As Nick said “It’s a conversation – you can’t control it!”
We had a lovely lunch followed by the first of our chosen workshops. My first one was E Services with Ease starring Tim Keeling of ACL. This was an enjoyable romp through downloading e-books, audio books and e-magazines through the library web page. We all need to be completely clued up about how this works in order to promote these free services to our library users. I had emailed Tim many times before – but had never met him in person. I never realised how funny he is – he really should have a side-line on the Comedy Club circuit. He had us all laughing as he showed us how easy these resources were to access. Click here if you fancy having a go! 
The final workshop of the day was from Lynda and Wendy from Devon Libraries with the intriguing title 50 Shades of Devon Libraries: the potential of social media. This was the one I had been really looking forward to!
They decided to try a Twitter campaign last February with the aim of:
Celebrating libraries
Encouraging people to join
Experimenting with social media.
They launched on National Libraries Day with the intention of trying to get 1,000 new people to join the library on the day and 3,000 over the month. They had very clear aims:
They wanted it to be a conversation (something Nick had also emphasised during the morning session) not just a series of press releases banged out one after another.
They wanted to evolve a tone of voice that was fun and quirky – not corporate.
They wanted to drive people to the website
They wanted to showcase their services
They wanted to get more staff to use social media
They did this by linking to influential tweeters both in the library realm and celebrities and by having fun hashtags such as #funnythingsusedasbookmarks
#strangebookrequests and #howmanyunclaimedumbrellas and encouraged people to join in! They used it to promote free WiFi, Ancestry websites, e-books and magazines.
The results were amazing! They got local media asking to be involved when they tweeted about the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey – the local BBC Radio station wanted to know which area of Devon borrowed it the most (Tiverton!) They had a one of their councillors on the radio to talk about it – and it was great publicity for libraries.
They had well over a million impressions on Twitter and they were trending nationally. Over 1000 joined in the first week. Over the month there was a 30% increase on last year. They are being asked by other councils to come and talk to staff at conferences like ours.
They stressed the importance of your campaign having clear aims and evaluation, having a national hook (e.g. World Book Day?) Having a clear call to action and the skills and confidence in your staff. There has to be commitment as many of these social media interactions happen after hours. They were wonderfully enthusiastic and gave us all a lot to think about. I would love to be involved in something similar!  
It was a really well organised conference and the theme was very timely and the speakers and workshops complimented each other perfectly. Congratulations to all the staff behind the scenes who organised it. I really enjoyed it and am buzzing with new ideas!
Lost Eeyore
Even cake doesn't cheer him up
Steph Clarke did say that if we are not yet allowed to officially do our own thing yet - there are other creative ways around it. I have been giving this some thought. maybe I could set up a Twitter Account for  the sad Eeyore, who got left behind in my library years ago.
Watch this space :-)


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Don't feed the Trolls!!

New to this? Check out the First Post

Wow all kinds of changes happening recently.

The biggest of which was that Tracy, my colleague and friend who I have worked with at the library for six whole years has gone on to pastures new. She has got her dream job - and from this week is driving M1 - that mighty purple beast, around the villages of Stafford and beyond. She loves it!

Our last day together was Saturday and I have to say there were quite a few tears! We have been through a lot together. The customers are going to miss her too. I know it won't be the same without her - I shall have to try to keep everyone's spirits up.

Listen to Snow Bunny!
 It's almost Christmas and I have some brilliant books on my festive displays. I just love new Christmas books. The one below comes with a QR code inside which downloads the book onto you phone and reads it to you! It is very cool! I love technology!!!

Librarian - the original search engine!
Tracy has promised to pop in every three weeks when she is on the run going to Keele, and have her lunch with me. I'll be able to keep her updated with all the latest library gossip news!

I was very happy that she liked the clock I bought her for M1. Maybe it will remind her of happy times :-)

This first week of being singled-staffed hasn't been too bad so far. They are easing me in gently! On Monday I had the lovely Jo for the whole afternoon. Then tomorrow I am going to the Staff Conference in Stafford. I love our conferences - a few years ago we had the crime writer R J Ellory, who was totally inspiring. This year the theme is social media - which is going to be fascinating. Not only is it useful for work - but also I'll be able to pass on their wisdom to Nathan for his businesses.
Can't wait!

Also, in this very same week, I handed all the Parish Council files over to the new clerk. Our home office is suddenly very empty. It's brilliant - we can get our own stuff on the shelves now. Nathan is very happy. More room for Interference and Jigsaw School Apps I had some very nice flowers from the council - and a card. I did the last meeting on the Thursday night. It was nice that they got me a card too - and some of them even signed it!

With my spare time, now that I don't do clerking - I can help out a bit more with being a Moderator for Interference. We've had a problem with trolls recently - not sure whether there were several or if it was the same person with multiple accounts. It was horrible though and they really upset some of our players. You may know - the game involves drawing things that you see a written description for. I am sure that you can imagine the sort of things a puerile troll was drawing instead!  They did take some tracking down and stopping. They were very persistent

Why do some people just spend so much time and considerable effort ruining things for others? They could be using all that talent for the power of good! He/she/they were a pretty talented artist!

I am quite excited also to have been invited by Nathan and his business partner Darren to come along to the Bett Show 2014 in January. They are going to showcase their newest school app with some revolutionary new features - don't want to give away any industrial secrets here. It is going to be great though! I shall be making myself useful by handing out leaflets and enticing people to their stand. Hopefully! I like doing new things :-)

Our other office :-)
Meanwhile,  today we walked into town and set our laptops up in our alternative office for the afternoon - the Lymestone Vaults. They had a roaring log fire and some very festive decorations. Nathan tried the newest beer from the team - the very hoppy Abdominal Stoneman. A little too bitter for me - but he liked it. It is pretty strong at 7% though.

I like Wednesdays!! :-)

Best place to be on a cold December afternoon.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A la recherche du temps perdu

New to this? Check out the First Post

Just like Proust, I had an episode of "involuntary memory" last week. It wasn't the taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea that brought memories flooding back - it was a song I heard while I was in Wilkos buying some finings to clear my plum wine.  I heard this song on the radio. It got into my head and I knew that I knew it from somewhere - but I couldn't think who it was. It took several days of it going round on my head before I googled it and tracked down exactly what it was.

It went "She comes in colours everywhere, she combs her hair, she's like a rainbow" The internet kept telling me that it was a Rolling Stones song - but I knew it from the 1990s as it was bringing back memories of working at the Leek Road Library of Staffordshire University around that time. Then, at last I tracked down the version I knew and loved back then - by World of Twist - via the Guardian who were reviewing the band's debut and only ever album Quality Street (from 1992) - which has now been extended and will be re-released on November 25th. How strange is that? I have it on pre-order now :-) How could I have forgotten how wonderful it was?

I remember sitting in the work room, just by the counter, at break times every Wednesday, avidly reading the NME and loving all the Madchester bands. I even got to see The Happy Mondays and The Fall. I was the Counter Supervisor and had around 13 staff to organise. it was a wonderful place to work and such a fun time :-)

Later, when I qualified as a Librarian I went to work at the Stafford Campus. It made me a little sad this week when I read that they may demolish the Nelson Library in 2015 and build a primary school in its place. I had such a lovely office in there, when I was Engineering Librarian - dual aspect, looking over the grounds. I loved going in early, in the summer - and seeing bunnies running around on the grass before the students got there. Seems they are going to move the library over to the Octagon. I guess it makes sense - seeing as so much information is now accessed via computers anyway. I liked the Nelson Library though - very roomy, lots of study spaces and a great place for a Christmas Party :-)

In more recent news - I've been to the Vue Cinema in Newcastle twice his week. The first time to see the new Thor film in 3D - which was pretty enjoyable. We have been watching all the Avengers films in order - so we are completely up-to-date now. The other occasion was the polar opposite. We went to the first ever live simulcast from the RSC in Stratford to cinemas round the world. It was Richard II starring David Tennant - which was a sold-out production so we had no chance of seeing it in the flesh. This was a pretty close second though - from the moment we got into the cinema we could see and hear the audience in Stratford. It made us feel like we were there. Of course we had the added advantage of close-ups during the action and interviews with the director and principal actors before it started and during the interval. It was fantastic!
Richard II

The three and a half hours flew by and at the interval we were even served with glasses of red wine with peel-off lids in the cinema :-)

I had LOVED Ben Wishaw's RII in BBC2's Hollow Crown series - but DT was equally as good, although very different (Cool hair extensions - he had longer hair than Thor!) . It is strange that I had never seen or even read Richard II before - and this year I've seen it twice. Love the poetry - it is becoming one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Magical Weekend!

New to this? Check out the First Post

What a fun weekend it's been so far. On Friday night me and Laura and Nathan went into Newcastle for a Thai meal at the Art of Siam. That was very nice - they do coconut rice almost as well as the Blue Chilli. Then we went over to our favourite nightspot the Revolucion de Cuba - the rum bar, for teapots of rum cocktails! Half the place was cordoned off for a private party - and lots of people were in Halloween fancy dress. Wish we'd known - we'd have made the effort :-) There were some amazing outfits but the one I LOVED was this one:

Walt (aka Heisenberg) and Jesse from Breaking Bad
Nathan and I are currently watching the whole  series of Breaking Bad (I know - we are really up with the times - we start just as the whole thing finishes!) I couldn't believe how good these two looked - just like the two main characters Walt and Jesse.
I made N go over and ask if he could take a photo. They seemed very happy about that! I don't know who they were - but fantastic effort chaps!

N and his duck fans :-)
Saturday we were determined to go for a walk despite the wind and rain! We went over to Westport Lake and popped into the Visitors' Centre to purchase some duck food. We'd read on the website that bread isn't good for them so we wanted to keep them healthy! Armed with our two paper bags of pellets we walked all round -I kept my hood up all the way! Whenever we stopped at the edge we soon gained an army of duck fans eager to see what as in the rustling bags in our hands. Eventually they were swimming round the lake following us - to see where we stopped next.

Coots galore!
I have to say that Coots really are not nice to each other. There was so much fighting and pecking of eyes! Why can't they just share? One took so much time chasing all the other Coots away that he let the Mallards and Seagulls snaffle all the food. Silly Coot!

Nathan on stage
We were very excited about Saturday night - as we were going to see Morgan and West - those amazing time-travelling magicians we saw in August at the Edinburgh Festival. We were so happy they were calling in at Stafford on their Autumn Tour. I think it is their first tour  hopefully the first of many. I cannot stress enough how much you all need to see them!

They were fab in Edinburgh  and they did fool Penn and Teller on their Fool Us challenge. I wasn't sure if we'd see some of the same tricks - but no! It was all completely different stuff.

The place was pretty full with a good mixture of ages. Lots of children and some grandparents too. The announced that the show was interactive and if they liked the cut of our jib they may well ask us to come on stage to help out with the magic. Sounded intriguing!

N with Mr Morgan and Mr West after the show.

I have to say that Mr Morgan and Mr West are thoroughly nice chaps.
I was very impressed with their biscuit index - where they called people on stage and asked them to write down their favourite biscuits. They guessed them all right - even the ones not in the index. I have no idea how :)

 I won't spoil any of the show for you in case you get chance to see it for yourself sometime. Nathan was very pleased to be called on stage to help with one trick at the end of the show It was quite mind-boggling and he is STILL trying to puzzle out how they might have done it. No success so far though...

Check out their website to see where you can catch them yourself :-)

I'm back to work tomorrow - just one more treat before I go back. We are off to a new pub quiz tonight. It is at the Cricketers in May Bank - and thee are cash prizes. Wish us luck!!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

A Welcome Break

New to this? Check out the First Post

Hi - how are you doing? It's been a couple of weeks since I've blogged. Life is so busy! At work me and Tracy made a Poet Tree - for the poets to hang poems on!

Caroline came up with the idea a few weeks ago - and I saw a branch had blown off the tree outside the library - so I went out to rescue it. We took the dead leaves off it and Tracy added some of her knitting groups' crocheted and knitted leaves. I printed out some pictures of autumnal leaves to scatter around. We think it looks quite effective!

Poet Tree :-)

Caroline also wants to encourage people to write their own poems and add them to the tree. So she is going to put the letters

on the back of a leaf - and let people complete them in the form of a short poem. We might use
too. It will be interesting to see what happens! If you want to write one and send it to me - I'll put it on for you :-)

Still smiling after 50 years!
Meanwhile N's parents have celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary this month. congratulations to them!! That is an awesome achievement! I'm happy to report that Nathan's dad is feeling great after his operation. I think he is pretty much recovered.

Congratulations Colin & Dilys!
They are still going out and about and I'm very jealous that they have been to Birmingham on the train and seen the brand new library before I have! It is pretty amazing by all accounts. They say people are going in there just to ride the escalators. I can't wait to see it for myself.

My mum is on the mend too - she only has another week and then she can get the cast off her arm. She will be very happy when that happens!

I've had a couple of weeks off work! It is so nice to have a break and have a breather. Also, for reasons too complicated to go into here - I have resigned from the Parish Council. This means I will get some leisure time back - and most of my spare room!

Yes - we actually went on this!
I also need a bit of time to rest and brace myself for Silverdale Library becoming single staffed - i.e.-  just me! I am NOT looking forward to this at all. I will be missing Tracy dreadfully and trying to keep everything running. Wish me luck - I'll need it!! I know we are lucky that the library is staying open - and that's the most important thing. :-)

So, what have we been up to while I've been off?

 First of all we went to the Mayor of Newcastle's Firework Display and Funfair - which despite being a wet night was brilliant fun! We went on some very scary rides which made me scream - which I think is a good thing once in a while!! N also won me a BananaMonkey - which is very cute.

The fireworks were pretty impressive too! There were plenty of people there - so hopefully they made lots of money for the Mayor's charities.

We had a Business Lunch on Tuesday as N and his partner at attending the BETT Show 2014 in January and we needed to talk about marketing and other strategies. It should be quite exciting and hopefully will bring in even more orders for Jigsaw School Apps

On Thursday N and I travelled up to the East Riding of Yorkshire to visit my brother Damian, his wife Jan and their daughter Zoe. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the scenery was just beautiful. Despite being delayed by no fewer than three accidents - meaning having to go a very long way round - we really enjoyed the drive. Allerthorpe is a lovely village. There is even a Grade II listed K6 telephone box on the main street!

I liked the Ghost one myself :-)
It was really nice to see them and catch up a bit. They haven't been here fro very long and it was the first time we had seen their new house. It is great - all open plan downstairs - but the huge Aga makes it all very cosy.

We even got to pick Zoe up from school and she took us to her favourite Outlet Mall - she wanted to buy some pink Van shoes for the next day - as it was non-uniform day. We also had ice-cold milkshakes in the Café Nero. It was fun. Damian had cooked some very tasty lamb shanks in the Aga and Jan had made her (now) famous Guinness Chocolate Cake. It was all very yummy. It was a shame the next day the weather had turned very wet and windy - as we had planned to have a look round York. We decided against that in favour of a late breakfast and more chatting. We had a very nice time :-)

N was very impressed with the Yorkshire beer too!

So, I have another week off. I really need to get on with the final editing of the book - so I can get it into the Kindle store by Christmas.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Check-Up Time Again

New to this? Check out the First Post

Bronze sculpture outside British Library
NEWTON' after William Blake by Eduardo Paolozzi 1995

This week I had my bi-monthly check-up at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire. My department was quiet and I got in there in no time. I saw Mr Hughes himself and he decided that I didn't need the camera down my nose and throat this time. Yeah! In fact he said that he doesn't know why they do it at all really as, since I had adenocarcinoma, this isn't found in the head and neck usually. What he treated were the secondaries - the primary as we know was never found. He said there's nothing they can really do - but they will do anything that makes me feel better about it. They have to keep an eye on me for five years - so he suggested maybe an x-ray or scan every six months might be better. Probably won't do anything - but at least it is something. I said that would make me feel better! Also he wants to see me every THREE months now - which is good news :-)

I asked him if much research is being done on CUP - and he shook his head. There's very little being done for head and neck cancer or CUP - although they are trying to set up a Head and Neck group at Stafford and Stoke. He mentioned a doctor who had said in the papers, that most funds are directed to research in breast cancer - as that gets most publicity, who was then shot down for saying it. I think he may have been close to the truth though.

That's why Jo's Friends: Cancer of Unknown Primary Foundation is so important - they are raising funds for their own research projects. I really must get some more pins to sell - and if anyone is looking for Christmas cards - they do sell them on the website - here.
Mum with her cast on

Nathan tries it out
I'm not the only one to have been visiting hospitals recently either.

My poor mum has broken her wrist and has had to make several visits to get the cast right. She fell off her bottom stair - can you believe it? This made my dad call the Stannah people and get a stair lift installed right away. They were very quick! We've all had a go in it - it's great fun!

While we were in London Nathan's mum and dad went round to visit my mum and dad - to male sure they were okay. They even took over some cottage pie and trifle to keep them going? Isn't that lovely? My parents were very happy! We were pleased that someone was checking on them while we were away!
Nathan's mum has a go too!

Then when we got back from London, Nathan's dad had to go into hospital for a small operation. They kept him in overnight to make sure there weren't any complications - and I'm pleased to say he is now home and recovering well. While he was in the hospital he didn't ask for flowers or chocolates or even grapes - he just said "Bring me a pie for when I wake up - steak or pork will do!" So N took him a pork pie - and I brought him a steak one next day. I think they aided his swift recovery :-)

 Hopefully he's not lifting any dishwashers or refitting his bathroom just yet...

Back at work a crisis is looming - Tracy has applied for a job driving the mobile libraries. I have a feeling she will get it - she passed her HGV test just so she could apply! I'm not sure how I'm going to cope without my favourite (and only) colleague. (Sniffle, sniffle...) Silverdale Library will never be the same again without her. She set up the Knit and Natter, Crochet and Chatter Group. Look what they have been working on for the Innocent Smoothie Big Knit campaign:

Hats for Innocent Smoothies

Raising money for Age UK

How cute are they?

Sorry to end on a sad note there. I do think Tracy will make an AWESOME trucker though - one of Albert's Angels :-) Look out for her in a mobile library on the roads of Staffordshire.

Here's a little something to cheer us up - well it made me laugh anyway. It's an advert for some Fentimans soft drink - that I picked up in London:

Looks innocent enough..
...until you put your fingers where instructed :-)

Friday, 4 October 2013

Eurogamer Expo 2013

New to this? Check out the First Post


Sarah and Laura at Eurogamer

 Last week we made our annual pilgrimage to Eurogamer Expo - at Earl's Court. This time our group had grown - as well and Myself, Nathan, Laura and Mawb - this year we were joined by Jo (Mawb's significant other ) my brother Dom, his wife Sharon and daughter Sarah. All keen or budding gamers!

We managed to find a hotel even closer to Earl's Court than last year. In fact when you stood on the front steps of the hotel you could see Earl's Court at the top of the road. The rooms were small (like last year) but the staff were always there, very friendly and would help you with anything. I think a lot of gamers were staying in the hotel - as Jo and Mawb were kept awake the first night by five likely lads enjoying vodka and singing along to Britney Spears.

The hard-core gamers among us had super-duper blue sparkly wristbands that allowed them in an hour earlier EVERY day of the Expo. The less experienced had an afternoon wristband for Thursday and a full day on Friday. We had a day off on Saturday - and packing-up duties Sunday morning!

It wasn't too busy when we first got there on the Thursday - after the fast train down from Stoke Station. After telling Sharon how interesting the Developer Sessions in the lecture theatres were - we went to the first one for The Evil Within - the latest in the Resident Evil franchise - and nearly put her off for life. It was extremely graphic and gruesome - the highlight being someone being disembowelled by a chain saw. Nice.

Lau and Sar playing Tearaway

Luckily the following day we saw a presentation on Tearaway -  a very cute game available on the PlayStation Vita. Made by the people who made Little Big Planet - it is just my kind of game. Puzzles, challenges, music, art and a story. I will have to borrow Nathan's Vita so I can buy a copy!

Another interesting one is Beyond: Two Souls - which is a psychological, movie-like game where you get to live someone's life and make their decisions. it is from the people who brought us Hard Rain last year. I did play that - very badly - and got quite a traumatic ending. That's the thing with these games - everyone gets a different ending. This one looks intriguing and beautiful. it as made with real actors - Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page, who spent three years making it. The characters do look very like them. We listened to David Cage, who made it, talk about his labour of love. We are all looking forward to trying it. Hopefully I'll be able to keep my characters alive a bit longer this time!

There were a lot of people there is costumes from various games. There was a whole Cosplay (as this is known) competition running throughout the Expo - and we watched a couple of the events on stage. There were some VERY impressive outfits - there are some very talented folk out there! Nathan was particularly impressed with a chap in shades, a purple suit wielding a large purple weapon (!) from Saints Row.

I don't know enough games to recognise everyone - but they were very pretty to look at. There were also a lot of zombies around (yes - they let them in Earl's Court - no problem). Sharon got stalked by one - but managed to shake him off before she got bitten and turned into one herself! Well, I don't think she got bitten....

Visiting the Queen

On our day off, Dom and Sharon wanted to see Buckingham Place. I took them off to Hyde Park Corner on the tube and we walked through Hyde Park. It was a glorious sunny day - very warm for late September. There were tame squirrels running around and digging in the ground - oblivious to tourists taking close-up photos of them. We walked down The Mall and admired the Canada Gates outside the palace. We saw the Union Flag flying - and found out later that Prince Edward was at home.

Horseguards Parade
There were lots of people milling around - and a group of foreign film-makers in various military uniforms who seemed to be making some kind of movie outside the gates. We watched for a while and tried to work out what was going on - but I still have no idea what they were up to!  Then we saw some soldiers in red jackets and highly polished helmets on beautiful horses trotting over the road. We followed them through St James Park, past the lake with the pelicans, to Horseguards Parade. After watching them face down another group of horseback soldiers in blue jackets for ages,  we wandered off to see what else we could find.

Sharon on top of the World
We walked past the Downing Street, but a machine-gun toting police officer put us off trying to have a walk past Number 10. We went over to Trafalgar Square and saw the fourth plinth with its huge blue cock by German sculptor Katharina Fritsch I was telling D and S that it changes every so often - but didn't know how often exactly. I do know that the next one will be there for 2014/15 - once it is chosen. They have a shortlist already!

Seeing the London Eye in the distance Dom said he wanted to go on the London Eye. We headed in that general direction - then crossed the Thames over Hungerford Bridge. There was a Food Festival going on down the South Bank - there were some gorgeous smells as we walked towards the London Eye booking office. There was Korean, Japanese, French and many other kinds of food. Even a marquis where Jamie Oliver's chefs were going to give cookery demos.

We saw a Duck Bus - and I was telling Sharon what fun they were - taking you round the streets of London to see all the sights then drive right into the Thames! Sharon seemed quite keen - so we said if the queue for the Eye was too long we'd go for that instead.

In the Victoria and Albert Museum
Luckily we got on the London Eye  - as the next day we saw on the news that the Duck Bus had burst into flames while in the river and everyone had to jump off into the Thames! That would have been a trip to remember :-)

The Eye was fun - we enjoyed the entertainment in the queue - especially the clown using a banana to phone his mum! The views were wonderful - although it did go a little misty and cloudy when we got up there. After that we tried one of Tom's Pies - from a pop up street stall and walked over to Embankment so that we could get the tube to Harrods. We got there, via the Victoria and Albert Museum, where we had a look around the Jewellery exhibits.

A bit of retail therapy later we arrived back at the hotel tired and ready for a sit down before our night out.
Beer at Belgo's

We had some great meals out. The first night it was Belgo's - the subterranean Belgian bar where you get served by monks. They have a massive selection of continental beers (my personal favourite is Floris Honey Beer) and does great sticky chicken, moules and frites. Jodie - who used to work with Nathan and me at Leek, came along too - with his lovely girlfriend Clare from California. it was nice to catch up with them.

The second night, Friday, we went to Pearl Liang, a Chinese restaurant in the heart of Paddington. It was a great choice by Mawb - we all enjoyed the food and the table had one of those lazy susans so the waiter put down the food and we turned it round until it got to the correct person. I went for sweet and sour chicken with pomegranate seeds. Also it was the night that Sharon learned how to use chopsticks! We have the evidence!!

Talented News Review Team

Then after food we had a very pleasant walk over to Little Venice, down Regent's Canal and then to the Canal Café Theatre to see the News Review there. We saw it last year - so we had to bring everyone to see it. It changes every six weeks, and it had different people this time. We were sat right at the front - and it was hilarious! A mixture of jokes, sketches and songs.

Friends Reunited
On our last evening we went down the South Bank to the Founders Arms. We have been there many times - but it is always good. Si came along too - although Heidi was feeling under the weather and stayed home to watch Strictly Come Dancing. :-) We took this photo - not realising that the chap outside was getting in on the act! I believe it's called photobombing :-)

Then all too soon it was Sunday morning. We had  our final continental breakfast in the Lord Jim and packed our rucksacks ready to go to the station. Nathan, Sarah and Laura went over to Earl's Court for a final hour at the expo - before we had to head off home. We had a short stop off at the British Library Piazza and then lunch at the Euston Flyer before catching our train back to Stoke.

We are already looking forward to next year....

Fun on the tube :-)