June 2015 NET Worth

Credit

Cash – £4.46
Santander 123 C/A – £35.13
Halifax C/A – £238.86
Credit total – £278.45

Debts
Capital One C/C – £374.84
MBNA C/C – £3,650.53
Santander C/C – £2,716.19
Virgin Atlantic C/C – £103.48
Debt total – (£6,845.04)

Net worth
£278.45 – £6,845.04 = –£6,566.59

The Weekend #41 with Travelodge UK

No rest for the wicked eh? Last weekend I had the utmost privilege of visiting Birmingham in association with Travelodge and Talented Talkers. Now I’ve been to Birmingham a couple of time for conventions but I’ve always stayed around the NEC area and haven’t ever ventured in to the city itself. I didn’t know what there was to see and do (except Cadbury’s World of course) so didn’t really know what to expect when I hopped on the train Friday after work.

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It was quite late before I made it in but thankfully the Birmingham Central Travelodge which would be home for the next two nights was just a quick fifteen minute walk from New Street station. Check in was a breeze and I was soon settled in to my room on the top floor which has some pretty great views.

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Saturday morning I sadly woke up with the start of a cold but I wasn’t going to let that deter me from my trip to Cadbury World. Travelodge very kindly included a breakfast box which I took with me and ate on the train. With cereal and milk, a nutrigrain, mini muffin and a bottle of orange juice full of vitamin c it was just the right way to start off the day.

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Once at Cadbury World I opted to pay an extra pound for their audio guide which turned out to be a very good decision as it told me so much about the company that I wouldn’t have found out otherwise. It’s not a factory tour for health and safety reasons but instead a mix of interactive exhibits , videos and demonstrations. It’s a really fun day out and I ended up staying there for a total of four hours!

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I returned to the hotel pretty tired thanks to the combination of my cold and my fun morning so I decided to chill out in the room for a while before grabbing some dinner. Now it’s a well-known bugbear of mine when posh hotels charge for wi-fi but I fully expect it from a budget chain like Travelodge. Impressively they give you 30 minutes free of charge and then you can pay for more if needed. I paid £3 for 24 hours but they also have longer options available. The wi-fi was fast and more than capable of streaming from YouTube so I was very happy snuggled up in bed watching old episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

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Now the Travelodge I was staying at was located on Broad Street the main nightspot in Birmingham so it was actually pretty hard to find somewhere to eat but I was able to grab dinner at a pub called The Brasshouse at the end of the road where I had the most incredible king prawn, smoked bacon and asparagus risotto before calling it a night. I did discover that Birmingham has its own Walk of Fame with these paving slabs along the street.

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After a great nights sleep (Travelodge beds are some of the comfiest I’ve ever slept in) it was time to check out and explore a little bit of Birmingham with the time I had left. Luckily the sun was shining which made my meandering all that more pleasant. One thing that I found really interesting about Birmingham is that is has more miles of canals in the city than Venice!

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It was incredibly picturesque. I also came across this lovely little church in the jewellery quarter before heading towards Victoria Square, where the town hall and museum are, via Birmingham Cathedral.

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What I really loved about the architecture in Birmingham was the juxtaposition of old and new buildings. It reminded me of London in a way.

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I was due to meet a friend who lives near to Birmingham for lunch so headed towards the Mailbox, a luxury shopping and office development where I had an incredible roast chicken dinner at Penny Blacks and several hours of catchup chit-chat to round off my trip.

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Despite being sick I had a really fun weekend and I can’t thank Talented Talkers and Travelodge enough for the opportunity!

How was your weekend? Any exciting plans for this one?

*Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Travelodge
My stay in Birmingham was complimentary in exchange for writing this post.
The above opinions are still my own and not influenced by this in any way.

The Generation of Z: Apocalypse

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It is 2015. London has fallen. The deadly Z virus is transforming the global population into a rabid horde of the infected. With societal structure collapsing, humanity is faced with a desperate battle for survival. The Generation of Z: Apocalypse is the immersive live experience that puts you squarely into the dark heart of a zombie massacre.

With chaos unfolding around you, prepare to be thrust into your very own action movie, where your choices directly influence the story’s narrative and outcome. Forget sitting down; this is multimedia storytelling on steroids, with no fourth wall and no interval. Every choice is life or death and survival is in your hands.

So as I mentioned previously Rob came along to Apocalypse: The Generation of Z with me a couple of weeks ago as I was too much of a wimp to go on my own. Generation is yet another immersive experience this time centered around a zombie apocalypse and I have to say it’s pretty damn good.

After being dutifully early we were the first group to go through safety briefing and entered a holding area where we were advised to wait. This was the worst part of the entire experience as we had no idea what to do, some of us looked around whereas others just stood there taking in the surroundings with no idea what was going on. Eventually another group joined us and we realised that we had to wait until everyone was in place before things began, so if you do go along don’t worry about rushing to be in the first group.

Once things actually got going it was much, much better. A lot of people were asked to complete tasks so it’s a proper hands on immersive experience and it is entirely likely you’ll get blood on you. As the story progresses you’re split into first two groups and then four each with a different leader (very much reminiscent of Alice Underground) which does mean that there are very different plot lines depending on which group you end up in.

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The show lasts just over an hour but goes by in a flash before you all meet up again for a very spectacular conclusion and the chance to take selfies with the wonderfully talented zombies! By the sounds of the blurb your actions can actually change the narrative although without seeing this more than once it’s difficult to know whether this is true or not but I do know that on at least one occasion we were given a choice of what to do so it’s definitely possible.

I rushed to see this before the end of May because they were offering discounted £25 tickets for the first few weeks and they’re now priced at £35 each but there are discounts for groups of four or more. The Generation of Z is running until Dept W (69-89 Mile End Road) until the end of August and I’m hoping to be able to catch it at least once more myself before it closes!

BitBS Rating – ££

The Weekend #40

Last weekend I ended a lovely trip to Europe with my first European convention (yes, that means I attended three events, three weekends in a row – not my finest hour but definitely worth it!)

The 12th Precinct Convention was the first ever event in Europe being held to celebrate my current favourite television show Castle which is why I had to go. Sadly the main star of the event had to cancel due to filming commitments but it proved to be a fabulous weekend without him, even in spite of some pretty shoddy organisation. The guests who were in attendance were Jon Huertas who plays Javier Esposito, Seamus Dever who plays his sidekick Kevin Ryan, Juliana Dever who is both Seamus’ real life and on-screen wife Jenny as well as the magnificent Penny Johnson Jerald who plays Captain Victoria “Iron” Gates and also the role of Sisko’s wife in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

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Now I’ve been doing events in the UK for a number of years now so I generally know what to expect but despite having put on other shows before it seems like the organisers didn’t have this experience. On the Saturday morning Jen and I tried to register but struggled to find any information on how to do so, doors to the main hall were supposed to open at 9:30am but it was much later than this before they actually did and the process of being fed it was particularly slow. They had no one assigned as moderator for the panels until a volunteer took over this and of course everything starting late had a knock on effect on the entire schedule.

Not having a lot of money to spare meant I only opted to buy a duo photoshoot with Seamus and Jon as well as a photo/auto combination pack for Penny due to her role in DS9. After seeing the schedule I realised that this was actually a good thing as otherwise I would have missed out on a number of things due to the fact that the timetable was jam-packed! Having paid 85 for a weekend pass I wanted to get my money’s worth.

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Jon kicked off proceedings with a rendition of Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk which really set precedence for the weekend. All of the actors seemed really happy and relaxed being at the event which was great. All of the talks were a real highlight for me even though some of the questions were predictable and later repetitive (some of the guests were on stage on four or five separate occasions over the course of the weekend while Juliana didn’t even get her own panel which I thought was a shame as I really wanted to ask her about her travel blog Clever Dever Wherever) it was really nice to have a particular allocated seat too (depending on what type of pass you bought and how early).

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The biggest surprise of the weekend was the amount of love shown for PJJ when just days prior to the event she discovered that she would no longer be a part of the show (the show has new showrunners and obviously feel the Gates character is no longer required to bring the show to the next level) which is a very difficult thing so hopefully she was buoyed by her fans and the adoration we have for our captain! I had my photo taken with her and was able to tell her how much UK fans want her to come visit so hopefully we can make it happen.

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I was also due to have my duo photoshoot with Seamus and Jon on the Saturday afternoon but due to lack of time they had to turn a LOT of people away and ask them to come back the following day when the group photoshoot was planned. This was problematic for me as I had to leave at lunchtime in order to catch my flight back to the UK so I was pushed to the front of the queue only to be denied access. After explaining the situation I was told to come back the following morning between the times of Jon’s solo shoot and Seamus’ solo shoot and they would squeeze me in.

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To close out the Saturday there were games with the guests instead of a party like we would have here in the UK. It was a bit weird, they each asked a question and the first person to answer all four questions correctly won a prize – it was nice for me to see all of the guests on stage at the same time though as due to flight times I would also be missing the group talk that was to take place on the Sunday afternoon – note to self; next time book the Monday off work!

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As it was the last night of our holiday we treated ourselves to dinner at The Spitzhaus which we could see from our room at the top of the hill behind the hotel complex. I was able to taste the local wine and have a delicious meal to boot which was the perfect end to our holiday.

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Sunday was a lot more chaotic than I had hoped; I was due to get an autograph with Penny as well as the aforementioned dup photoshoot. The queue for Penny was insane and I ended up giving up to wait in the photo queue as I was instructed. At first the girl on the door didn’t understand what I was saying but once everything was explained I was told to just wait. And wait I did for quite some time before I had the best moment of the weekend as I had pretty much a one on one meeting with both of the guys where I got to talk to them for a few minutes before getting my photo taken with them. I even managed to make Seamus laugh! Sadly I can’t share the photo with you yet as they haven’t been sent out but I’ve been told that we should have them by Monday. This is the first ever event I’ve gone to where you don’t get an actual physical print out before you leave the convention so it’s a bit weird but I have my fingers crossed that the photo turns out OK.

I was able to catch glimpses of some panels in between queuing for Penny’s autograph (yet again) and I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t get her in the allotted time she had but Penny understands fandom. She understands the money we spend to attend these things and what it can mean to someone so she signed way past her timeslot to make sure we all got her autograph before leaving. I have to say that although the boys were the reason I went, Penny ended up being my guest of the weekend! She was totally adorable. Sadly it was time to end our trip and head to the airport, I was able to keep up with the fun thanks to Twitter but I missed some incredible moments which made me pretty sad.

Despite the stress and disorganisation I would definitely do this event again, hopefully they’ve learned a little from this one and will make improvements. Rumour has it there’s going to be a second one in Europe next year too!

How was your weekend? Any exciting plans for this one?

 

The Ceremony of the Keys, Tower of London

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A couple of weeks ago I was very lucky to attend the nightly ceremony of the keys at the Tower of London thanks to my friend Jen. Her original +1 couldn’t make it and I was more than happy to be second choice. We started our evening with a cinema trip to see A Royal Night Out which while fun was a bit farfetched but made a great start to our own royal night out.

So what exactly is the ceremony of the keys you are probably asking? Well, the ceremony of the keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London and has taken place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years. The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant because, although the Monarch no longer resides at this royal palace, the Crown Jewels and many other valuables still do. Tickets to the ceremony are free of charge (I think there may be a £1 booking fee per order) but are booked up many months in advance – currently the next available date is the 3rd January!

You can read more about the actual ceremony here but it really doesn’t compare to being there. Our warder was the only female currently situated at the tower (Did you know that families actually live in the Tower of London?! I didn’t and am still absolutely blown away by this fact every day – how do they get pizza delivered?) and while she was quite clearly very serious about her job had a great sense of humour and kept us all entertained as well as informed on that cold night. I loved the little snippet that the ceremony had only ran late once in its history when a bomb landed inside the castle grounds during a second world war air-raid. There is a letter from the Officer of the Guard apologising to the king and a response advising that he was not to be punished as it was due to enemy attack.

There is absolutely no filming or photography allowed during the ceremony and I for one was quite grateful for this as it gave me the opportunity to switch off and enjoy the historical ceremony taking place in front of me instead of watching it through a sea of iPhone screens. I’m still yet to visit the Tower of London during the day and this made me more intrigued having seen inside a little bit.

BitBS Rating£

Wine Bluff to Wine Buff with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust

A couple of weeks ago was London Wine Week and after seeing a post on The Mayfairy that completely summed up how I would usually select a wine myself and Emma decided to join Frankie for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s (WSET) educational course Wine Bluff to Wine Buff. Tickets were just £20 and included three wines as well as nibbles to complement them which I thought was a great deal. The event was held at Hixter Bankside basement bar which was a much bigger venue than I expected.

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Upon arrival we were greeted with a sparkling wine and cherry cocktail which was probably my favourite wine of the evening (maybe not something I should admit to) and introduced to wine connoisseur Michelle who I’m pretty sure knows everything there is to know about pairing wine with food.

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I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that of the three wines we would be tasting that evening two of them were red which I just do not like. That said my palate has definitely changed over the last couple of years so I was interested to try some and see if it had changed in that respect too.

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Before that though we were instructed to peel a grape setting the skin, stem and fruit aside separately before tasting each part. The fruit was of course very sweet and juicy, the skin slightly more bitter and finally the stem absolutely disgusting – there was no point behind this part whatsoever other than Michelle getting a good giggle over people doing exactly what she tells them haha.

Having made us look pretty silly once she then proceeded to do it again, this time getting us to place a small paper strip in our mouths. This actually did have a purpose and was an indication of our taste-buds tolerances. If you hated it you probably weren’t too keen on strong tastes but if you were like me and didn’t mind it you had a much stronger taste tolerance.

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Finally it was time for the wine and first up was the only white on the list a Tramshed Chardonnay, Domaine d’Antugnac, Limoux, France. Naturally this was my favourite and I could happily have drained my glass right there and then! But I was there to learn about how wine interacts with other flavours so I paced myself. Next we were asked to try the same wine but only after placing a little bit of lemon in our mouths. The difference that this made to the wine was amazing, the flavours completely changed and it was a great example of how a well chosen wine can compliment a meal. We did the same again with salt which was particularly interesting to me as I see it as the opposite of what should go with wine.

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WSET had also teamed up with Hixter to provide us with food pairings to complement the chosen wines and we were given some delicious potted smoked salmon on Corrigan’s soda bread to go with the chardonnay. I really enjoyed this and could really see how the light, crisp wine complemented the salmon.

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Next up was the first of the reds; Chianti Classico ‘Retromarcia’, Monte Bernari, Tuscany, Italy which I’m sorry to say did not change my views on red wine in the slightest. The flavour was slightly improved by the addition of salt on my tongue but I still wasn’t a fan. The Spiced Sillifeild Farm sausages with mustard on the otherhand got a big thumbs up!

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Something strange happened with the final wine, a Malbec ‘La Flor’, Pulenta Estate, Mendoza, Argentia. When paired with the buttermilk chicken wings with holy fff… mayonnaise (and another does of salt) I actually found this to be drinkable. That’s not to say that I enjoyed it but more that I didn’t hate it and that, in my limited experience with red wine, was pretty impressive. It was quite a heavy wine, almost creamy so you wouldn’t want to drink too much of it at once.

I headed straight back to my chardonnay to “cleanse my palate” of the red wines as Michelle gave us some final words of wisdom; choosing a great wine isn’t about knowing all of the different grapes, brands and places but knowing what flavours you personally enjoy. I like a sweet wine preferably rosé and I love White Zinfandel in particular, sometimes if I’m in a restaurant that doesn’t offer this (or shock horror doesn’t offer ANY pink wine whatsoever) I’ll have a bit of a panic when actually I should just trust in the knowledge of the sommelier – after all that’s what they’re there for!

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It was a really great night not least due to some great company. I’m not going to be drinking any more red wine any time soon but it was a nice affirmation of the fact that I really don’t like the stuff and to be honest I’ll probably still be picking my bottles based on the price and whether or not there’s a cat on the label. You should also read Frankie and Emma’s accounts of the evening given that they actually blogged about the event in a much more timely manner than I did!

BitBS Rating – ££

The 39 Steps, Criterion Theatre

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Follow the incredible adventures of our handsome hero Richard Hannay, complete with stiff-upper-lip, British gung-ho and pencil moustache as he encounters dastardly murders, double-crossing secret agents, and, of course, devastatingly beautiful women.

So the show we went to see to accompany our meal at Inamo as part of the LastMinute.com £24 deal was The 39 Steps. Probably not something I would have raced to see above others if it hadn’t been part of the package but I’m very glad that I have seen it. I vaguely remembered reading the book at school for English class (90% of the books we studied were by Scottish authors) but I recalled very little of the story.

Now I’ve never seen Hitchcock’s movie version of this classic spy thriller but I believe that it is quite dark whereas this stage version is the exact opposite. Funny and lighthearted (well as much as you can be in a play about murder) it’s comprised of a cast of just four actors whom, all bar the main actor, play multiple roles throughout the show. It’s a really incredible feat of co-ordination and talent and the time flies by because of how fast paced it was. Sadly it wasn’t quite fast enough to prevent my bum from getting numb as the seats aren’t the most comfortable. I was also pretty disappointed with our seats. We were front row in the upper circle which was more than amazing for the price that we paid but almost the entire dress circle and half of the stalls were empty which seemed like a bit of a waste.

It’s very difficult to know how to rate this show price wise as there are a multitude of deals available especially through LoveTheatre.com (no I’m not being paid by them I promise) like the top price stalls ticket with complimentary glass of prosecco for just £28.50 but if you weren’t aware of these and paid full price (£50 + booking free) direct from the theatre I think you would most likely be disappointed.

BitBS Rating – ££

Inamo, St James

Y’all know I love a good deal so when LastMinute.com were offering a combined deal of a meal and a ticket to a show for £24 I couldn’t help but add it to my birthday week celebrations list. To be honest it was the choice of restaurants that swayed me on the deal more than the show as Inamo was somewhere I’d wanted to try in a very long time due to the fact that they have interactive ordering at the table.

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I arrived early and grabbed a cocktail at the bar before my friend Jen arrived. To keep things simple I paid for my drink separately rather than having it added to the bill and was a bit surprised to find that a service charge was automatically applied! This is one of my bugbears at any restaurant but for this to be applied at the bar I thought was particularly cheeky.

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Jen arrived and we were seated towards the front of the restaurant where the waitress talked us through using the system. As we had a set menu we didn’t really need to use this except to order drinks and request the bill which was a bit of a shame as it was good fun to mess around with. The system is meant to free up staff to clear tables and bring food and there is no mistake with orders however this does mean that you can’t customise your request.

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We had a set choice of a vegetarian or non-vegetarian bento box which I can’t seem to find on their menu anywhere so I’m not certain as to how much this usually costs. Jen and I both went for the non-vegetarian which started off with a delicious miso soup.

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There were three parts to the bento; beef sashimi, chicken wings and salmon fillet with an edamame side salad. The food was very, very average which was a huge disappointment. I’m not sure if it was meant to be but everything was cold including the wings and nothing really had much flavour and the salmon was very much overcooked.

Annoyingly we only discovered the games section of the system after we’d requested the bill but were able to get in a quick game of Battleships before we left. The interactive ordering system is what draws people in but its good food that keeps people coming back. I’d like to see if the main menu is any better but it’s not a cheap place to eat so I’m not sure I’d be willing to risk a return visit when there are so many other places in London to try.

BitBS Rating – £££

May Reading

I’m really, really sorry for my random blogging hiatus. It really wasn’t planned at all but it seems like I needed it. After three cracking conventions and a holiday to see Prague and Dresden I am feeling refreshed and inspired which will hopefully mean better content! I have a whole bunch of posts I need to write but first I thought I’d update you on what I’ve been reading this past month.

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As I mentioned in my last reading update I broke my #TBR20 book buying ban and bought Raging Heat. (It’s now £2.39 so I defo made the right decision ;) ) I absolutely loved this book and it’s one of my favourites of the series although I can’t really pinpoint why exactly. I don’t really read a lot of the murder/mystery genre so I can’t really say if these books are well written but I love the fact that they are so easy to read and tie in to one of my favourite ever television shows.

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After my encounter at Alice Underground I decided that the 150th Anniversary year was the perfect time to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which for some reason I never have before! I can only describe this book at completely and utterly bonkers. Even the writing style is haphazard but I did enjoy this classic tale and I’m glad I can now tick it off my list!

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I bought another book this month too as fellow cosplayer, Lucy Saxon’s, second novel was available early at MCM Comic Con a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! I really enjoyed her first novel Take Back the Skies and this was set in the same world but a different country with a whole different set of characters. Once again I was gripped and I have to admit I actually liked reading about Aleks’ adventures a whole lot more than Cat’s! I feel like this was much better paced than her first novel and you can see Lucy’s writing style developing. Roll on Book 3 of the Tellus series!

I’d like to say I won’t be buying any more books for a while but my friend, David Lord, is getting his first book published at the end of June which I’ve pre-ordered for Kindle. I don’t think I’ve pre-ordered a book that wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling before so if that’s not a compliment I don’t know what is! I can’t wait to read it but it does make me a little envious. After my birthday when I realised that I only had a year left to complete my 30 by 30 list I set myself a goal to write 1000 words per week so that hopefully I would have finished at least one of my eleventy million novel ideas – sadly I haven’t kept this up so far but I’m pretty motivated by a few things at the moment so I’m hopeful that will change soon. I may have to post a monthly work count on Twitter or something to keep me in check!

BOOKS READ THIS MONTH: 3
BOOKS READ SO FAR THIS YEAR: 10
BOOKS READ FOR 30 BY 30: 26

The Weekend #39

Another weekend another convention. Last weekend I was at Inva5ion. I’d booked to attend a while back and sadly the main guest cancelled fairly short notice so it ended up being a quieter convention that I am used to from Starfury.

The guests for the weekend were Robin Thorsen and Sandeep Parikh from The Guild, Aaron Douglas from BSG, Paul Blackthorne from Arrow and Jena Malone from The Hunger Games and one of my favourite movies ever.

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All but Jena had been to a Starfury event before but as I missed last years I hadn’t yet met Sandeep or Paul so I was looking forward to hearing more from them. I like to get my moneys worth at these kind of events so always like to sit in on the panels no matter if I’ve heard the person speak before. Aaron in particular has the most amazing stage presence and story telling ability that he just captures your attention.

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Questions were a little on the sparse side due to the size of the event and the fact that most people there were regulars but the responses were still interesting nonetheless. Paul was a complete trooper, plowing through the weekend despite the fact that he had hurt his back while chasing a frog and Jena was the most positive, eloquent, inspiring person who was very interested to know what we get from conventions and what keeps us coming back.

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The restaurant in the hotel had recently changed to a Steak & Lobster and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to indulge in a whole lobster with unlimited fries and salad for just £20. I had all too much fun with the different implements I was supplied for getting the meat out of the shell. I popped back to the room for a nap before the fancy dress competition but woke up feeling pretty rough and after seeing who the winners were decided to call it a night. Rock n roll Saturday or what?

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Thankfully I was feeling a LOT better on the Sunday morning made all the more fun by the fact that most people were tired and hungover while I was fresh as a daisy. The day followed much like the previous one only this time after the talks were done I was able to meet the guests and get their autographs on a special Inva5ion poster. It was a fairly quick process but it was nice to be able to say something to them one on one. Afterwards it was off to the Pheasant for one of their epic Sunday lunched before the closing ceremony and the Sunday night party.

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I’m happy to say that I made it to the end of the night and was able to take part in the infamous survivors photo (taken by the wonderful as even Grant) as well as a couple of rounds of Cards Against Humanity before retiring to bed.

Despite being ill it was a great weekend and as always over way too soon but I had lots to look forward to as I was headed off on my holibobs the very next day!

How was your weekend? Any exciting plans for this one?