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

Leeds Castle – Maidstone, Kent, United Kingdom

Nestled away off the M20 outside of Maidstone lies Leeds Castle, described as ‘The Loveliest Castle in the World.’ Dating back to the 1100’s, the castle is shrouded in history. From Edward I to Henry VIII right up to Lady Bailey’s private ownership in the early 20th Century, this magnificent building has become one of Kent’s best and most attractive tourist attractions.

Leeds Castle in all its splendor Photo Credits: KS. Wigley 2013

Leeds Castle in all its splendor
Photo Credits: KS. Wigley 2013

We have been a few times – we’ll come to a reason why shortly – and have been impressed by its spectacle and grandeur. With its beautiful and vast five hundred acre gardens, moat and lake, it is impressionably quaint, especially around the spring and summer months when the flowers are in bloom and the resident peacocks are in feather. Around autumn, it evolves with the browns and oranges as the trees get ready for the cold, turning the once green foliage into a burning secret gem. What is magnificent is that it still holds a lot of charm no matter how the weather is. You can appreciate the best of the grounds even if it’s incredibly cold or blisteringly warm.

The peacocks actually own the house. Well at least they think they do... Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

The peacocks actually own the house. Well at least they think they do…
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Spring and summer are best suited to castle and gardens as it is the perfect time for picnics with a fantastic backdrop of the castle. And the geese. And ducks. And swans. And many, many peafowl. Due to the warmer climes a botanical wonder also beholds any who enter the grounds with many beautiful and brightly coloured flowers in bloom to delight and amuse you. The gardens hold a serenity that not a lot of places can match. They are well kept throughout the summer and you can wander at your own leisure. As for spring and autumn, parts of the grounds are kept sealed off so the plants and flowers can be replaced without interference. The lakes are linked up by small streams that run the course of the gardens. At one end, there is a summer house and a traditional Japanese-styled zigzag bridge that crosses one of the ponds. At the other is a waterfall that feeds the lower lakes from the larger moat that surrounds the castle itself. The expansive garden also has its own hedge maze, which is as fun as it is frustrating. You start and you can see the finishing point; a raised concrete mound at the centre. You just have to find the route. It’s a fun little time-spender and out of the times we have been, we still haven’t known which way is the correct one. We still recognise specific parts of the maze but don’t know how to get there. Once the middle has been reached, you can see the entire maze to retrace your route and see the correct route you should have taken instead of aimlessly drifting through the hedges, which is what we did the majority of the time. Getting to the middle was just pure luck, we feel.  Once you’ve finished going over your failed route, you exit via an underground grotto, complete with carved stone statues, eerie lighting and this ghastly face…

As if the grotto wasn't creepy enough! Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

As if the grotto wasn’t creepy enough!
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

When you’ve had enough of the gardens (or indeed the rain) you can wander around the castle itself and learn all about its history. The walk past the water cascade to the gatehouse hits home that when you see the castle, you realise that this wasn’t built as a defence. There are no portholes or secret nooks for soldiers to hide in, battlements only look decorative, cannons don’t line the front garden, and the castle itself is not belligerent; this was purely built as a place to live. It just so happens to have a moat. With a choice of an audio tour or simply making your own way, you get to explore the majority of the rooms. Starting out in the wine cellars on the lower floors, you work your way up and around the grand building learning about its colourful history as a royal residence and under private ownership. Some of the rooms have encapsulated the Tudor splendor very well and the furniture, decorations and awnings have remained.

Elegant yet tasteful Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Elegant yet tasteful
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Other rooms have a more modern décor from the turn of the 20th Century; with the bold colours and striking but simple lines. You make your way through into the different rooms, laid out in a labyrinth style, which is somewhat confusing if you don’t know where you’re going. This is an over-thought though as you do make you way through rooms such as master bedrooms and down corridors, peering into servant quarters, the music room, drawing room, the spectacular bathroom and various exhibition spaces. The grand marble staircase brings you to the end of the tour. The castle also features a courtyard; a magnificent spiral staircase made out of one large tree; period art works; historical artefacts and sizable library full of old books.

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Mostly about birds
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Although not as big or even as spectacular as some royal palaces, Leeds Castle is still an eye to behold. It’s quaint within its surroundings which suites it perfectly.

Leeds Castle does also hold special events in its grounds. We visited during a St. George’s day festival and on a plot of land, overlooking the castle, an arena had been set out and various skilled recreationists took part in jousting challenges. Crowds gathered around, cheering and booing for their respective knights in shining armour; watching on in awe as they stormed down the track on horseback; charging at each other with lances, only to continue their battle on-foot with carefully choreographed swordfights. The castle has been known to hold special open air concerts, guided garden tours and photo walks, a supercar showcase, hot air balloon flights, fireworks displays and Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. These events are rather limited and can be somewhat quite pricey in their exclusivity but on the more down-to-earth front, there are regular occurrences that do take place also.

Moses watches his dinner Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Moses watches his dinner
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Falconry displays are held at specific times and if you have time during the visit it is worth it. You get to watch the birds of prey dive and swoop whilst a trained falconer talks you through the stories and the procedures of being a falconer and how these winged hunters work. If birds of prey aren’t your thing and you prefer water-bound birds, there is also an opportunity to feed the swans and ducks that reside in the lakes. There’s also a children’s play area where you can let your kids burn themselves out to their hearts content if you so wish. And then there’s the…

If that's your thing, you're in luck! Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

If that’s your thing, you’re in luck!
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

And once you need a break you have a choice of a Costa coffee café, the restaurant that serves hot food, a snack bar selling chips and the like or, our personal favourite, the ice cream parlour that sells delicious frozen Kentish diary treats! There are also a couple of souvenir shops that sell gifts such as personalised fridge magnets and key rings so you can immortalise your visit forever.

Leeds Castle is a unique place to visit. It’s fairly hidden away but it is a highly recommend place to go. Unfortunately ticket prices aren’t cheap and this may come as a downside – an adult ticket costs £21 – something that when cash is hard to come by, will turn people away, especially if they have . However, what you get for the price is as many visits over the course of a year. Perfect if like us, you live only thirty minutes’ drive away, which is why we’ve been as many times as we have. Not so perfect if you plan on only visiting once. If you are local, you can of course behold the castle in all its splendour. Take a picnic and enjoy the views. Take a raincoat and enjoy the house itself. Or merely take yourself and wander peacefully through what the gardens and grounds have to offer and realises why they call it ‘The Loveliest Castle in the World.’

Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Jimmi and Kat

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