Geek 2015 – Margate, Kent, UK

Los Angeles has the Electronic Entertainments Expo; PAX stretches from Massachusetts to Texas; San Diego is home to Comic-con; London houses the MCM expo every year; and then there’s the small seaside town of Margate in Kent. Although don’t be put off by the apparent David amongst Goliaths, GEEK (which stands for Game Expo East Kent) is the hugely popular exhibition of everything related to ‘play and games;’ a celebration of classic and modern video games, board games, card games, cosplay and stalls packed full of merchandise, memorabilia and crafty novelties. We certainly couldn’t afford to miss out on the greatness that was practically on our doorstep. Nerd is the word…

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Nestled in the Winter Gardens on Margate’s seafront held between the 19th and 21st of February, the three-day event that is GEEK 2015 accommodated a plethora of old and new gaming consoles from around the world. Set into different zones, there was a chance for paying members of the public to play different types and genres of games. From action, sports, simulations, shooting, fighting and puzzle games spread over all generations of Nintendo, XBox, PlayStation, PC and Sega systems (to name but a few). It was hard not to be spoilt for choice on what you wanted to have a go on next. Ever wanted to play on a Nintendo Famicom with a mouse? Never got round to playing a Dreamcast? Want to know all the fuss is about with the new Call of Duty? Felt the need to show off your battling prowess in Pokémon against real players? All of these questions could be answered. With the main hall featuring the massive selection of gaming consoles, another full of exhibitor’s stalls with a secondary stage set up for interviews and a final Chill zone complete with niche indie games and mood lighting, there was always something worth your time.


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Starting with the exhibition hall, you could get all your game and pop-culture related merchandise from this opening hub allowing you to purchase retro games, character prints, and mugs, wallets t-shirts or even classic sprites made out of Hamma beads. You could also pick up your copy of the Geek Gazette – a useful souvenir guide full of articles, interviews and information on all that was happening over the weekend. Set to the other side were board games and players teaching others the ins and outs of their favourite past times. Another hidden gem was the simple computer arrays made of old egg boxes and some that replaced input devices with forks and knives. The stage headed the front of the space which held informal interviews with YouTubers and indie developers as well workshops with cosplayers and the Saturday afternoon’s cosplay masquerade (other days held talks about video game narratives, a showcase of the Unity gaming engine and storytelling workshops over the weekend). On the upper gantry, more board gamers were set out and there was also an opportunity to meet with the previously mentioned YouTube personalities and ask them questions one-on-one.

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The main hall held the meat of the event; a vast room full of the consoles before and during our existence. We jumped straight onto Puyo Pop Fever on a GameCube – a colourful but crazy falling blocks game – and although we had no idea of the controls, we picked it up very quickly and were battling it out to see who could get the highest score. Saturns, Mega Drives, PlayStations, NES’ and SNES’ caught our attention the most as we played through some well-known titles such as Clockwork Knight, TOCA 2, EA Hockey and Yoshi’s Cookie. The sixteen XBox 360’s playing Halo deathmatch tournaments centred the room; Hearthstone had a few machines dedicated to its own mini-contests and newer blockbusters such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, WatchDogs, Far Cry 4 and Need for Speed Rivals on current generation consoles were contained in an 18+ area for obvious reasons. Having never played some of these on a newer system, this gave us the opportunity to try them out. It was also good to see some of the greatest and newest indie titles such as Fez, Thomas Was Alone, Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, I am Bread and Screamride hold their own against the likes of FIFA 15 and Halo’s Masterchief Collection. Although no-one could compete with the greatness of Minecraft. It had its own special area with a queue to get in and its own tournament. Not hard to understand as it’s one of the biggest selling and most popular games. Another selection of stalls then sold modified Gameboy’s, figurines, cartridges and table top games which included our personal favourite, Rory’s Story Cubes (review imminent).


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And if you wanted to take things a bit easier and remove yourself from the scale of the event, there was also the Chill Zone filled with ambient lighting and independently developed games that reflect on the cool and calm. Whether you wanted to jump from cloud to cloud as you drift through the storybook world of Castles in the Sky; explore as a rolling cube in a geometric domain in Cube and Star: An Arbitrary Love; sore over Journey’s sand dunes; float through the neon-rainforests of The UnderGarden or simply watch a projection of someone else wander through a world of beautiful glowing particles in A Light in Chorus. This zone also became a small theatre later on in the day as it showed the 2012 documentary, ‘Indie Game: The Movie’; a nice change of pace from the hectic Main Hall.

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But of course this was only the tip of the iceberg since we only went for the Saturday. Earlier that morning there was a Guinness World Record attempt to beat the quickest time in completing Bricking It in Time Splitters II. There were different retro gaming tournaments running throughout each event too with a Sonic challenge each day, a Mario Kart 64 challenge on the Friday, Street Fighter II on the Saturday and finally a Super Smash Brothers Melee closer on the Sunday with prizes from each awarded to the best player. With enough differences each day to warrant a subsequent visit it made for a very unique day out. We had missed the early ticket sales online but on they were reasonably priced at £15.50 on the door and you definitely got a lot for your money. Friday and Sunday were slightly cheaper but only by a pound or so but with it being the start of the weekend, it was easy to see that the Saturday was priced the way it was. Either way, no matter what day you could have chosen, you wouldn’t have felt any less out-of-pocket.


Getting around was fair also; the map included in the guide was clear but having a list of what was on offer from the off would have been a great way to go around and essentially tick off our favourites or finding something that sounded good. Luckily a lot of what we played was found with our eyes and that was probably and arguably a better way of discovering. A few machines did cease to work but that’s only understandable when a twenty something year old console is running throughout a day of a busy play through and lots of play styles. On the other hand, seeing older Master Systems and NES’ continue through it all just shows how they can continue under pressure.

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And so our time at GEEK 2015 was a pretty epic trip down memory lane, reliving some of the nostalgic games we used to play and also getting a chance to try something different which may have otherwise been overlooked. We have both been avid gamers for a long time and so this event has given us a taste of gaming exhibitions; something neither of us has experienced before but it’s something that we would wholeheartedly recommend to gamers and pop-culturists alike, no matter what the scale. Although compact, GEEK 2015 offered us a new insight into one of the world’s biggest and best mediums. Hopefully we’ll get chance to go to the event in 2016. It certainly beats sitting inside and playing video games all day.

Words by Jimmi and Kat

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Robot Wars Live – Glow at Bluewater, Dartford, Kent

In 2004, part of my childhood died. Such an inspiring opening… I was furious at the decision made to take Robot Wars off the air. Robot Wars was bordering on ‘unhealthy obsession’ ten years ago. All my pocket money was spent on the pullback replica robots; I watched the show live twice and fully decorated my room with yellow and black warning stripes and posters. Robot Wars was a huge part of my life. What hasn’t changed is that it still is… rwheader Every Friday evening was the same. BBC Two would go on at six in the evening for The Simpsons. That was followed by fifteen minutes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and was finally topped off by three-quarters of an hour of recycled appliances with minds of their own go at each other with ferocity of force 9 hurricane. The house robots Sergeant Bash, Matilda, Shunt, Sir Killalot, Dead Metal, Mr Psycho and Growler would patrol the battle arena as homemade robots tore each other to bits. It was superb, bloodthirsty, relentless and fantastic! I remember watching Hypno-Disc – A shiny machine with a huge flywheel – annihilate the weak armour of the lesser Stealth. I remember Chaos 2 effortlessly throw competitors around and out of the arena with its powerful flipper. I remember the elegant Razer finish off Bigger Brother in the series 5 final. Then after 6 Championships, 2 series of Extreme, various special events and World Championships, the BBC sold the rights to Channel 5. This was not a wise move. It was still Robot Wars been but the majority of the bigger names had gone, Phillipa Forrester had been replaced by Jayne Middlemiss and some of the finesse seemed to have been lost. But, it kept me happy. Jonathan Pierce still commentated on the brutalities with glee and Craig Charles still fronted the show; a new house robot had been included in the roster – Cassius Chrome – and it now ran for an hour. And then it didn’t. After one series on Channel 5, it was cancelled. Don’t think this is a nostalgic post about how much I miss Robot Wars because it isn’t. Robot Wars is still alive, kicking and screaming and last month, I got the chance to go see and relive the robo-carnage all over again! DSC_0638 The rights to Robot Wars lie within Roaming Robots – a company that is responsible for putting on live shows and workshops for the general public. Bluewater’s Glow was big enough for the new arena. All the hazards were there; the pit, the floor flipper, flames and a new, bespoke house robot – Major Damage. It retained all of its appeal. This was proper Robot Wars with and underground edge. It did not disappoint.

Let the wars begin...

Let the wars begin…

The auditorium was full and the lights dimmed when the countdown reached 00:00:00; the arena was set for the opening exhibition battle; the robots were waiting. The famous “3… 2… 1… ACTIVATE” bellowed out of the sound system and the warriors attacked. There was no holding back as robots flew through air, smashing and crashing into one another. Flames rose out of the floor and the audience cheered as metal slammed against metal. It was exactly how I remembered. These competitors were as persistent as ever; fighting back, unaffected by their short fly or harsh crash. 3 minutes on “CEASE” was called and the calm returned.

Don't mention the words 'Wheely, Big or Cheese' near Axe Awe...

Don’t mention the words ‘Wheely, Big or Cheese’ near Axe Awe…

The show featured an array of battles from the heavyweights which included Eruption with a stupidly powerful pneumatic flipper; the unique double flippers of Maelstrom; the sword wielding Saint and the German Luzifer. Not only that but previous all-stars Behemoth and fellow Lincolner, Stinger graced the arena to show their power and prowess to prove that they are still as destructive as they ever were made me smile. A melee of featherweights then entered the arena with a replica of the original Matilda. Watching tiny robots destroy each other with the savagery of the big boys was just as entertaining. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I felt like a kid again; like Robot Wars had never gone. There was an air of pantomime behind it all that made it feel more engaging and the two presenters did a fantastic job of warming up the audience for every battle.  Shouting ‘eezzay, eezzay, eezzay’ across the auditorium to the other half of the crowd every time our side won a battle was just good fun, just like what it was when I was part of the audience when it was being filmed. Having R2D2 come out in the interval was a nice surprise too although, having R2D2 fight Major Damage would have been a better surprise, but that’s just me.

Major Damage eats Pepper Pigs for breakfast

Major Damage eats Pepper Pigs for breakfast

It was immense fun and for £16 a standard ticket (or £26 for a VIP ticket which includes a tour of the pits and the arena), a cheap thrill too. I have missed Robot Wars a lot since it was cancelled (to the point of being unable to function in day-to-day life) but what these people do setting up events that travel the country and the globe is not only phenomenal but inspiring and exciting all at once. Seeing people in the audience who had grown up with Robot Wars was fulfilling. Every seat in the house was sold that night. This shows that robot combat is a popular as ever and having the event organiser come out and asking whether we wanted the show back on TV to hear the tremendous chorus of yells and screams in agreement makes me believe that one day, Robot Wars will return. Maybe not the same as what it was but as long as there are people building these machines, there will always be people there to watch them wreck it up.

Words can't describe how overjoyed I was to see Stinger alive and fighting

Words can’t describe how overjoyed I was to see Stinger alive and fighting

I have no doubt that there is something for everyone. There’s just something about watching things get demolished; it’s the main reason why demolition derbies are so popular. This ticks all the boxes; it’s entertaining, it’s cheap, it brings in the crowds and it gives you that bit of nostalgia from the late 90’s and early 00’s that I and a lot of people miss. Robot Wars never went. But, in whatever form, I’m glad to see it is not disappearing without a fight – it seems it’s here to stay CEASE  Words by JimmiDSC_0651

Check out the Robot Wars website for information, tickets and videos Follow Robot Wars on Twitter @Robot__Wars Like Robot Wars on Facebook

Race for Life Rochester 2014

A week ago I did something I never thought I’d be able to do: I ran 5k for charity. As a person, I liked sport and played lots of different sports at school. However, distance running was never really my forte. Last year I managed to complete the Couch to 5k programme (which I highly recommend!) and run for thirty minutes (roughly 4k for me) three times a week. This year I wanted to build upon my achievements of the previous year.

This wasn’t my only motivation. Last September, a very close friend sadly passed away after battling a brain tumour for several years. I wanted to do something to honour and remember him and raise money and awareness for a cause he would have approved of.

Enter the Race for Life. For those who are unfamiliar with Race for Life, they are events run by Cancer Research UK across the country to raise money. People can take part in 5k, 10k or muddy (assault course) races and you can do so by running jogging or walking. Currently the event is a women-only one though male children under 13 can take part with a parent or guardian.

I chose to run a 5k Race for Life in Rochester. Training started way back in February/ I had let my running from the previous year lapse a little so I decided to repeat the Couch to 5K programme then go beyond and build up to running 5k. By the beginning of May I was running 5k three times a week. Then I had to make some adjustments. In my earlier training, I mostly ran at night as I was at university or placement during the day. As the Race was during the day, I needed to be able to run then too and endure the different conditions.

I am so glad I did! The temperature on the day was sweltering and everyone was sweating before the Race had even begun. The heat was oppressive and as I jogged my way around the course you could feel the sun beating down on your back. It was about the only time in my life I have ever wished the sun would go away.

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On the day, we arrived at Rochester Castle, the start and finish line. All participants did a Zumba-style warm up before lining up and setting off on our journey around Rochester. The route was lovely and scenic, going through some lovely areas of Rochester. People who were taking part often smiled at each other and encouraged where needed. The spectators along the route were amazing and I especially want to thank the little girls who were handing out water just before the high street at the end of the race.

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I completed the Race in about 37 minutes, a little above my average but I had never run in such heat before. Charlie’s parents and my friend Alex were waiting at the finishing line with my mum, my brother and Jim. It was lovely to see all of them and show them my medal.

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So far, I have raised just over £500 for Cancer Research, a total which is not only vastly more than the £150 I thought I might manage but humbles me incredibly. People who don’t even know me, but knew Charlie, have sponsored me as well as family and friends and it is amazing how many lives Charlie has touched.

I’m so glad I did the Race for Life and it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life. I would definitely take part again in the future, maybe with some friends.

For anyone who wants to sponsor me, my JustGiving page is:

http://www.justgiving.com/kathrynwigleyraceforlife2014

 

And information on the Race for Life can be found at:

http://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/index.html?gclid=CMbHpom7x74CFSEOwwodjTwASw

 

 

Kat

The Pangolin Diary by David Stanley: 52 in 52 Book #19

The Pangolin Diary

Considering my profession and my passion for related books, fiction or otherwise, I’m surprised by how long it took me to read a midwifery-related book as part of this challenge. However, I’m glad this is a book I chose to read and took time to read and enjoy. Whilst it took much of my Easter break to get through due to academic demands, it provided me a few pages of solace when I was in the depths of dissertation attributed despair.

The Pangolin Diary is David Stanley’s autobiography describing his time as a midwifery lecturer in rural Zimbabwe. Just reading that description in the blurb had me hooked. Two things I love in one book: midwifery and Africa. This book was no disappointment. It took you from breech deliveries on a labour ward to driving through the African bush trying not to hit errant chickens. Descriptions of the vibrancy of life contrasted against the hardship of daily existence.

I don’t want to describe this book in too much detail as I hope people will go and read it themselves. There’s friendship, death, loneliness, joy, achievement and despair often all just a page turn away from each other. The book keeps you going, tempting you with a snippet of another tale.

To all those, like me who devour their midwifery related novels, this should be on your reading list. For those who enjoy novels that describe African life and existence, that applies too. For those who enjoy both, you must read this book. You will not regret it*.

 

 

Kat

 

* Once you have read this book, if you enjoyed it I also recommend Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway.

MINI Festival – Brayford Pool, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

Red phone boxes, tea and scones and the Sunday Roast are all things that are quintessentially British. But none are arguably more iconic than the MINI. Built as a basic motorcar for the masses, this spritely little road runner is one of Britain’s most famous and most notable engineering feats. I have always loved MINI’s, be it from the humble original Morris MINI right up to the almighty BMW made Cooper and the world has held it in high regard too. Paul McCartney of Beatles fame owned one. Supercar company founder, Enzo Ferrari had one. Steve McQueen possessed the tiny car too. Three of them hurtled and screeched through the streets of Turin loaded with gold in the 1960’s car chase epic, The Italian Job. Mr. Bean was noted for owning a lime green one with a black bonnet. It was the offspring for many variants that included race cars, rally cars, vans, estates, saloons and pick-up trucks. This highly influential little car has created a huge following and today, MINI still continue to make high quality runabouts that are adored by many.

Brayford Wharf in Lincoln hosts the annual MINI festival organised by the Trent Valley MINI Owners Club and Lincoln’s Business Improvement Group and I was lucky enough to get a chance to finally go. Every time I have seen it advertised, I have always been busy and not able to make it. This time however, I was adamant on getting over there to check it because it was long overdue. I was not disappointed.

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Apparently more than two hundred different MINI’s ranging from the original right up to the brand new were on show along Brayford Wharf waterfront, just off the town centre in Lincoln. Lined up on the modern waterside, none of them looked out-of-place despite the majority of them coming from the swinging sixties. The sun was shining and the chrome gleamed and the paintwork sparkled.

Brayford Pool’s waterfront is fairly lengthy and MINI’s were stretched from the bridge at one end, to the bridge at the other. They came from all over the country with certain owners and enthusiast representing their respected clubs, showcasing their metal. We had the Lincs MINI Friends and Owners club, the Robin Hood MINI owners club, Bomber County MINI owners club and even the RAF’s own MINI club.

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The Royal Air Force show us their other mean machines

And because this was a free event, young and old alike could come and take in the sights as they pleased. The relaxed atmosphere of it all made it a pleasant event to witness. Take a long look under some of the hoods and revel in the finer details or simply dawdle through, the choice was yours to make.

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Big Engine, Big Wheels, Still a MINI

The calibre of MINI is staggering to say the least and the event had a good number of them. Vehicles ranging from those that had been restored to their former glory right to the over-the-top customised hot rods, there was something for all manner of tastes.  A lot of these motors clearly had hours of work and effort put into them and each and every one of them was different; none of them were identical with their full body kit conversions, extra foglights or simply chequered race flags, Union Jacks, and sports stripes. It was an amazing spectacle to see all these cars in one place at one time. 850’s, Coopers, Riley’s, Moke’s, Clubmans, Wosleley’s, Park Lane’s, a Marcos Mini, Metro’s – you name it – it was probably there. But not all of them had to be exuberant to be noticed. The MINI’s that had been well looked after were indeed just as eye-catching in their own right, slinked up next to ones that had chopped roofs or thick dragster tyres. Without sounding too poncy, there is something elegant about a MINI with smart aftermarket wheels, a white interior and a complete engine overhaul. It makes you think ‘wow. A car of this age can still hold its own to this day.’ It looks like a MINI in every detail but with some of the modern-day mod-cons splashed here and there; it verifies that this retro car can go on for what seems like, ever!

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But of course, there was room for the purists complete with original fittings and fixtures from the engine to the interior were an impressive insight on how much people hold these cars to high acclaim. Keeping each one to a near-mint condition for any number of years is an arduous task in itself and to these owners, I doff my bowler hat. Owners and Lincoln’s own ‘Soper’ dealership showed off their newer MINI’s such as their John Cooper Works and Cooper Coupé powerhouses up to the not-so-mini Countryman to show that even though the MINI has moved into the 21st Century; the original cars are just as influential and the heritage (albeit covered in Germanic overtones) is still buried deep inside the heart of each of these cars. They send out a clear message; they are still just as fun and as vibrant as they used to be; something that I don’t see changing anytime soon.

I have always liked MINI’s and I don’t really know why. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re small and cute yet have that quirky British charm. Or maybe it’s the fact that each one can be tailored to anyone’s personal preference because they were cheap, affordable cars and bits and pieces could be added and taken away when the mood seemed right. It could even be that they are just great little cars that are fondly remembered in the same league as great Aston Martin’s or great Lotus’ of the era. It could be that the MINI is ageless and that it will never grow ‘old’ per se. It will age but it won’t become old-fashioned. Or possibly (with the exception of maybe the Fiat 500 or the younger Volkswagen MK1 Golf) it’s that there hasn’t really been another car like it. Maybe it’s all the above, but what’s more, it proves that no matter how small or simple things can be, they can rub shoulders with the big boys and be just as incredible!

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Post by Jimmi

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