Days Out · Sports Thoughts

Para Athletics 2017

On Sunday we travelled down to London to go to the Olympic Stadium to go to the evening session of the World Para Athletics Championships. I bought the tickets ages ago, during last year’s Paralympics, so our anticipation levels were really high. Buying the tickets was really easy – the website highlighted which of the Team GB stars were competing in which session, I chose the Sunday evening session so that we could see Jonnie Peacock compete in the men’s T44 100m.

We got to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in plenty of time, after a quick trip through the gift shop we went and found the Hero Village. This had some stalls running activities, but more importantly was home to the Medal Plaza. No medals are actually being presented in the stadium during the session they’re won in, instead they’re presented later at the Medal Plaza. Just as we arrived they were presenting the medals from the previous evening’s men’s T42 200m final, for GB a gold to Richard Whitehead and a bronze for David Henson. It was very cool to get to see it, but at the same time felt like a shame as we realised that we wouldn’t get to see the medals from our session actually presented to the athletes who won them.

Getting into the stadium itself was so easy, the security was efficient and the entry system had clear instructions to make sure you entered the stadium in the right place. We were in our seats very early when there was hardly anyone else in the stadium.


It soon filled up though, there were over 30,000 people there – the biggest crowd so far in the tournament. It was brilliant to see the crowds including loads of families with children, lots of them clutching their cuddly toy version of the competition mascot Whizbee.


The sport was brilliant. We saw such a variety, from our seats we had a fantastic view of the long jump as well as all of the track events. Most of the throwing events were a little further away so I found myself paying a little less attention to them, but there’s so much going on that you can’t possibly watch all of it.

There was so much good sport to watch and enjoy but the highlight was of course seeing Jonnie Peacock race. His heat and his race were both highly tense, even if they did both only last just over 10 seconds! Seeing him set a new record, and win the gold medal was absolutely brilliant.

We had such a great evening. I came away definitely wanting to go and watch more live sport. I’d gladly go back to watch more at the Olympic Park, but also plan to investigate some other venues – locally we have the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham which hosts major athletics competitions, and also other sports – after both London 2012 and Rio 2016 we said we’d love to go and watch some cycling at a velodrome and I don’t want to get to Tokyo 2020 and still not have done it.

Days Out · Life

Hunting Bears and Gruffalos. 

Today has been a day of literary hunts and it’s been brilliant. 

This morning I went with my friends and their young boys to the Bournemouth Pavilion to see We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. It’s the first time I’ve been to see a show aimed at young children since I was one myself, and I was so impressed. They had taken the book and translated it to the stage in an engaging show filled with catchy songs and entertaining performances. The length was just right, it felt like you’d got your money’s worth but wasn’t too long for young attention spans.

This afternoon we followed it up by heading to Moors Valley to follow the Gruffalo Spotters Trail. These can be found in woods across England, they’re about 1 mile long and have clues all the way along them as to which character from the book you’ll find next. There’s a free app you can download, at each character’s location there’s a sign to scan that then uses augmented reality to display the character in the woods where you are and allows you to take photos. 

The trail was great, well sign posted and easy to follow. The idea of the app and the augmented reality is brilliant and when it worked it was great. We did have a lot of moments where a child ran between the phone and the sign that you had to scan for the augmented reality which blocked the signal, when the link was re-established you had to watch the character’s little animation again before you could take a photo which meant you ran the risk of losing your cute photo opportunity. It would be good to have an option to skip straight to the photo taking bit. 

At the end of the trail we also found two large scale models of the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo’s Child which the boys loved and allowed for some easier last pictures. 

Everyone’s exhausted now but we’ve had such a happy, fun day. It’s been great. 

Craft · Days Out

The Handmade Fair – Midlands edition

On Sunday I went to the Handmade Fair, hosted at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire. It was the third Handmade Fair I’d been to, in 2015 I went to both the regular Hampton Court one and the Christmas themed Manchester one. I’d enjoyed them both so was really excited to see that there was going to be a Midlands one shortly after I’d moved back home.

The three days (it ran Friday to Sunday) were hosted by different people – Friday was Kirstie Allsopp, Saturday was Liz Earle and Sunday was Patrick Grant. We didn’t see much of Patrick, he wasn’t involved in any of the sessions we went to, though we did seem him wandering around at one point.

One of my favourite things about the Handmade Fair format is that as well as your admission your ticket gives you access to a pre-booked Grand Make, Skills Workshop and Super Theatre session. The Grand Make is a half hour workshop where you’re one of a large group all learning a quick craft. We did one where we made a coaster using precut wooden shapes, decorating it using ink pads and Chiyogami paper. It was fun, and gave me ideas for other projects, my coaster looked like this by the end of it:


The Skills Workshop lasts for an hour, and involves a slightly smaller group so you can get more guidance if you need it. The one we went to was called Watercolour Modern Botanicals, it aimed to teach you to paint a rose by the end of the session. I’m no artist, but I’ve learned from previous Handmade Fairs that it’s a really good way to try something new and so it felt good to step outside of my comfort zone. The hour was challenging (and not made any easier by the fact that whoever had used my paintbrush in the previous days’ workshops had somehow prevented the brush from returning to anything remotely fine line worthy) and by the end of it my rose wasn’t very rose like but I’d thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating it. It certainly hasn’t put me off trying a little more with watercolours, though I don’t think I’ll be aiming for anything realistic.


The final session we went to was the Super Theatre which is a 45 minute long something to watch – whether a demonstration or chat or similar. We went to the Mollie Makes Mash Up. They take two different crafters, give them the same challenge and 45 minutes to complete it. We saw H & Sammy take on Francesca Stone, they were given a white polystyrene wreath and had to decorate it while also being interviewed by the Mollie Makes editor. It’s a great session format, it’s very entertaining watching people making things against the clock.

Alongside all of the workshops, the Handmade Fair also offers shopping opportunities. There was a large Shopping Village marquee filled with people selling their handmade wares, and companies selling things for you to use in your own crafting. I’m always slightly underwhelmed by this side of the event, the number of stalls selling things other people have made always exceeds the number of stalls selling things I want to buy for my craft. At this event there were so many jewellery sellers, and while their products all look lovely I’d much rather have seen a few more stalls selling fabric and yarn.

Comparing the event with the two I’d been to before I would say it fell in the middle. The Manchester event was poorly attended, and the experience suffered as a result – we attended it on the Sunday and many of the traders who’d already had two days of poor sales just didn’t seem interested in being there any more. The Hampton Court event on the other hand is much bigger – the Shopping Village takes up two of the marquees for starters – and is an established event. I’ve seen that the dates are already set for Ragley Hall for 2018 so I have high hopes that it will be growing and will soon match it’s southern counterpart.

Craft · Days Out

Wandering around the V&A

After a few false starts yesterday me and my mom ended up at the V&A for the afternoon. We started off by working our way round the fashion exhibits, chatting about the vast array of garments – the fabrics, their construction, the skills required, similar items my mom could remember. One display cabinet had a couple of waistcoats, to my great delight they were decorated with cross stitch.

Once we’d finished with the fashion we wandered a little further and headed upstairs to the jewellery exhibits. Again we chatted our way round, the beauty and skill on display was vast. This time for me a memorable piece was this one, knitted with wire using the feather and fan stitch I’m so familiar with after knitting four baby blankets in it.

I always love looking at anything handmade with my mom. This time it was a real boost for me to be able to point out things I’ve learned recently, and to be able to realise how much more I’m learning about my craft now. 

Days Out

Visiting the fishes and penguins.

Last week my brother had some time off work so he and my sister-in-law came to visit, and then I went with them to the National SEA LIFE Centre, Birmingham. Me and my brother last went just after it first opened, so about 18 years ago. I’d had a couple of trips to visit more recently planned but they’d both fallen through so when they asked me to go with them I jumped at the chance.

I went armed with my camera, as usual, and snapped away as we walked round. I also took a few pictures for Instagram as we went – turns out my phone camera found the odd lighting, magnified and curved tank walls easier to cope with than my camera. Things that I saw and loved included (click on pictures to embiggen them):

My whole set of photos is here on Flickr.

The things that were top of my list to see were all of the Finding Nemo related fishes, and the gentoo penguins – they only arrived in Birmingham this spring. I had forgotten that they had giant sea turtles, but fell completely in love with the one swimming around the glass tunnel. I lost track of time whilst standing, watching it gracefully glide around – that tunnel was the most relaxing place I’ve been in a long time. The biggest surprise of the visit was the jellyfish area, watching them move was a completely hypnotic, and again relaxing, experience.

I was fascinated whilst walking round to read about all of the conservation programmes that the centre is currently involved with. They’re doing a lot of really good work, it was nice to be able to read about the successes they’re having.

It was a lovely day spent with people I love, doing something a little different. Something to do more of I think.

Blog News · Days Out · Life

Starting Over.

I logged in to write some sort of catch up post thinking it must be getting on for a month since I last blogged here. I’m entirely shocked by the fact it’s actually almost 2 months… I don’t even have a good reason. Rather than trying to cobble together some excuse no one cares about reading anyway I’m just going to talk a bit about what I’ve been up to in the last couple of months, and then make sure I’m back regularly again so I can escape this loop of catching up I appear to have got myself stuck in!!

One of the more significant things that happened over the last couple of months was my trip, with my parents, to Aberystwyth for my graduation ceremony.

The cap and gown means its all official and no longer a dream.
The cap and gown means its all official and no longer a dream.

This was the symbolic culmination of the four years of hard work it took to achieve my degree, and whilst I went along thinking it was really more for the parents’ benefit than the student’s I came away feeling really good about what I had achieved. The day was hot and sunny – exactly what you want when you’re wearing a heavy gown (seriously, what do they put in the shoulders of gowns to weigh them down?!) and clingly cap. A record number of students attended graduation ceremonies at Aberystwyth this year meaning everywhere was packed and queues were long. Never have I been so glad of my tendency to arrive everywhere early – I was at the very front of any queue I needed to be in.

The ceremony itself was long, I was the 11th person to do the whole walking across the stage bit which was nice because it meant I very quickly didn’t need to worry any more about being the one who tripped midway. I didn’t, and neither did anyone else, it was an entirely uneventful proceedings. The highlight of the whole ceremony for me was seeing Baroness Kay Andrews awarded a Fellowship. The two departments graduating in the ceremony were the Deparment of Information Studies and the Department of Law and Criminology. Her work meant she was entirely relevant to everyone sat listening, and her speech was interesting, rousing and downright inspiring.

I also made another trip to Bournemouth, spending nearly week with my friends and their lovely little boy. These visits always allow me to recharge my batteries, the combination of a change of scenery and switching focus to be toddler centric is incredibly soothing. I love having the chance to stop and play, and it seems like every time I go there’s some lovely new thing to discover on CBeebies. This visit’s discovery was Bing!


The show is really cute, its based on a series of books by Ted Dewan (they’re slowly being re-issued by HarperCollins) and I just fell completely in love with it. There’s limited merchandise available at the moment, though licenses are being granted, but there is apparently a long tradition of people making their own Bings – I’m planning on joining this tradition.

Much of the rest of my time has been pretty quiet. I’m plugging away at job applications all of the time. It’s a long, and at times really hard, process. It’s very easy to get discouraged after submitting another load of applications and not hearing back from any of them. I spent yesterday chatting about a lot of it with Gemma, my oldest friend, and woke up this morning feeling entirely re-energised.

Those of you who are also reading Juniper’s Jungle will hopefully have noticed that I’ve now got a consistent posting schedule going. I’m currently running 3 reviews and 1 picture book review post each week. My brother has done some lovely graphics for my to use, and I’ve been working on a couple of non-review based features that I’m looking forward to including. I’m so glad that I took the decision to get it going again properly, I take a lot from it and love putting it together – I just hope it’s useful and interesting for others.

I’m confidant that now that’s all going to plan I’ll be back here far more – I have lots of craft projects and new gluten free things to talk about if nothing more!

Book Stuff · Days Out · Life · Music · University

Catching up.

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged! I’ve been thinking about the need to do a bit of a catch up post for a few days now, so this afternoon I’m finally writing it whilst I watch some of the tennis.

Some of the lovely cakes I ate - a congratulations on finishing present.
Some of the lovely cakes I ate – a congratulations on finishing present.
I submitted my dissertation, the final piece of my degree, on 10th May. This was the very last bit of a very long few months of studying – towards the end it felt like I was even breathing my degree. The next few days involved doing not very much at all, though I did seem to eat quite a lot of cake!

The weekend after I sent my dissertation off I went to Birmingham for Asylum 12, a Supernatural convention. It was the same one I went to last year, it seemed a little unbelievable that they’d sold even more tickets (the number I kept hearing quoted was 1,800) – the room where the guest talks were held was not actually big enough to fit everyone in. Both mornings started with some combination of Misha Collins and Jared Padalecki, understandably they were a big draw to everyone and both mornings saw lots of people having to stand round the edges of the room because there were no seats left. After the stresses of last year I decided I wasn’t going to get any autographs and instead just enjoy the talks, this was a great strategy – the timetables all went to pot but it didn’t matter ‘cos we could just stay put and enjoy whoever came on stage whenever they appeared.

Following this I spent just over a week and a half with some friends, Sarah and Al, first they were holidaying near where I live and then I went back with them and spent a few days in Bournemouth where they live. We had a few lovely days out, we went on the Severn Valley Railway, visited a farm park, went up the Weymouth Sea Life Tower, and visited Sandworld. The latter was a really lovely visit for me – Sandworld is home to a set of giant sand sculputres, each year they choose a theme and the 2014 theme is books and authors. Strolling around I was thrilled to see lots of books I hold dear featured, and the fact they’d kept the Doctor Who themed sculpture from last year’s science fiction theme was the icing on the cake. I took lots of photos, like always, they’re here for anyone who wants to see.


The original reason my trip to Bournemouth was arranged was because Sarah and I had tickets to see McBusted at their final Bournemouth date. I’d wanted to see McFly live for a while but their tour dates had never worked out well for me. After watching them perform as McBusted on last year’s Children in Need we decided we wanted to see this new supergroup, after they released a second set of dates we managed to get tickets. The evening was an interesting one, mainly due to the antics of other audience members, but most importantly McBusted were brilliant. Their energy seems to be boundless and they were clearly having an amazing time which meant that we had an amazing time too. It was my first live music event like that for a couple of years, it won’t be anywhere near so long before the next time – I’m off to Hyde Park in a couple of weeks with Gemma, McBusted are headlining along with a whole host of boybands (both ones we loved when we were teens and new ones too).

Once I got home again I realised very quickly I needed to do something to keep myself busy – I spent over a week systematically going through all the posts on Juniper’s Jungle, changing categories and adding or improving tags. All that sort of background stuff that takes forever to do. I’m really pleased with how it’s all turned out, there are now menus to guide you to reviews of books aimed at a specific audience or in a particular genre and other things like that. Next week will see me going back to a full blog schedule over there – here I plan to blog more often than I have been, but still on an as needed basis.

Doing all of that only put off the inevitable emotional drop that came from finishing my degree. I did pretty well, filling my time for a few weeks after everything was handed in, but once I’d run out of distractions the realisation that it was all over and I’m now in a transitory phase hit. It’s odd, for nearly 4 years my identity has been dictated to a certain degree by my status as a student, now that it’s all over I’ve felt a little lost. I’ve been job hunting for the last six months or so, being a distance learner meant that I would have been able to start working whilst still studying if I’d found a role. I haven’t had any luck yet, but now I’m shifting into a far more active job hunting mindset – the more applications I send the sooner I’ll find a great job and get to move to London. Rumour has it that tomorrow will bring my university results news, maybe having a confirmed classification will be just that extra push needed towards my next step.

Days Out · Geek Stuff

WFC2013: A ramble.

I thought I’d leave it a few days before I wrote my post World Fantasy Convention blog, partly to get over the fatigue it induced and partly to give myself musing time. In the meantime countless posts have been written by people in far more coherent and considered accounts than mine has any hope of being.

I absolutely had a wonderful, highly enjoyable weekend. I think though that this was as much about the people I was with as it was the event itself. For starters I got to spend the weekend with my awesome friend Liz and see first hand the buzz around her debut novel Banished – ARCs of the book were at the event and getting to see her sign her first… second… and a fair few more copies was truly wonderful. I also got to spend plenty of time with other friends including ones I’d met before, ones I’d only had the chance to interact with online, and ones I’d never had any interaction with before but absolutely will have now.

There was, as there should be at all good events, a good sized dealers room with plenty of browsing opportunities. There was also an art show that included all manner of fantasy related art, including some gorgeous cover art and Lisa Snelling’s lovely Poppets. I was very good and kept my limited budget in mind the entire time, it’s probably a very good thing that the Poppet I fell for was already sold – I think it would have been pretty hard to resist! I did pick up a few very exciting books courtesy of the tables in the registration area, my ARC of Banished is already situated on my shelf of most highly prized items.


There was a wide range of panels on offer over the course of the weekend, I only made it to five of them though. Sadly two of the panels (Fangs for the Memory: Have Vampires Lost Their Bite? and The Mainstream and Us) suffered for having one very dominant voice and we didn’t get a chance to listen to a range of views on what should have been interesting discussions. The two YA focused panels, Not in Front of the Children: How Far Should You Go in Young Adult Fiction? and Are All the Best Genre Books Now YA? were wonderfully entertaining opportunities to hear from some very brilliant YA authors and whilst neither necessarily had anything new to say I enjoyed them both (I took detailed notes at both of these and will put them up once I’ve had a chance to tidy them a little).

The highlight of the panels I attended, and probably the entire weekend, was called 2013 Life Achievement Recipient Susan Cooper in Conversation with Neil Gaiman and delivered just that – two utterly wonderful authors in conversation, the only criticism any of us could levy at it afterwards was that we wanted another hour or two of the conversation!

I also attended one additional event that didn’t come from the main programming. The Popup Pirates set themselves up a few days before the convention to organise a few additional sessions – I went along to their Saturday evening reading to hear my friend Mark H Williams read from his debut novel Sleepless Knights (I reviewed it earlier this year). There was a good range of readings, Tom Pollock’s reading of a scene from the third book in his The Skyscraper Throne trilogy in particular left me wanting more.

In addition to all of the organised, both official and unofficial, aspects of the weekend that I went along to were many, many more that I didn’t. It was great when chatting with people to be able to compare notes about what we’d each seen and heard. The unscheduled part of the weekend though, the time sat chatting with people, was absolutely brilliant. I’m a pretty quiet, shy person really, once I know you I’ll chat away forever but before then I’ll generally keep quiet. The large scale side of the event did leave me feeling overwhelmed a few times, but chilling out with friends completely made up for this (escaping the convention hotel to go to a nearby pub on the Saturday afternoon felt a bit naughty, but most welcome).

The most unexpected aspect of the weekend was how inspired to keep writing I felt by the end of it. I’m sure I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy talking about writing and with writers, for the first time I had actually got a concrete, well underway, work in progress to talk about, and the hugely friendly encouragement I got from the friends I chatted with gave me a huge boost. I’ve come away refocused and with a much clearer understanding of what I’m writing, who I’m writing for and probably most importantly why I’m writing. That in itself was well worth the trip.

Days Out · Geek Stuff

Blogdate 2013.

Well, I completely and utterly failed at blogging every day in October didn’t I? I must admit, once I’d missed a couple of days I did think about just slinking away until it was November and then reappearing as if I hadn’t been away. But that’s not my style, and I have read some great books so have a couple of great Recent Reads posts to write.

The one thing I have been completely remiss in is not blogging about my visit to the Magical Books exhibition at the Bodleian Library, so that’s what I shall do now. Sadly it’s finished now so I can’t encourage everyone to go, but I can instead recommend everyone keeps their eye on what’s coming up exhibition wise, I’m sure they’ll all be equally worth the visit.

I first heard about the Magical Books exhibition on a email discussion group and thought it sounded brilliant. This was the description:

The Bodleian’s exhibition takes as its theme the work of some of the foremost modern exponents of children’s fantasy literature, members of the group of writers informally known as the ‘Oxford School’: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner and Philip Pullman. From its unique holdings of these authors’ papers, the Library will display a selection of Tolkien’s original artwork for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; C.S. Lewis’s ‘Lefay notebook’ and his map of Narnia, and manuscripts of novels and poems by Alan Garner, Philip Pullman and Susan Cooper. Also featured in the exhibition will be some of the books and manuscripts that contain the myths, legends, and magical practices on which these Oxford-educated authors freely drew for inspiration. This historic material is housed in the Bodleian where the Library scenes in the Harry Potter films were shot.

I visited last Sunday along with lovely friends Emma, Liz and Mark. After a wonderful lunch at Bill’s (their gluten free menu offering probably justifies a blog post of it’s own) we found the Bodleian and went in.

Being perfectly honest when we first walked into the exhibition my heart sank. The room it was in was far smaller than I’d imagined, we’d all travelled a long way for it – were we going to be leaving disappointed? After a quick glance around the room I spotted the display cases were numbered, I located number 1 and walked over.

Display case number 1 absolutely, completely made the journey worth it. Amongst the various documents it contained there were two pages Tolkien had created for The Book of Mazarbul – written, coloured and then burnt with his own pipe. Standing there looking at this piece of creative process, thinking of the man who had committed so entirely to his works, I couldn’t have felt more inspired. A couple of cases later came the maps, hand drawn maps of Middle Earth, Narnia and Lyra’s Oxford. I’ve always had a thing for maps in books, I think it was probably this map

Picture from here
Picture from here

found in the front of the Milly-Molly-Mandy books I adored as a young child that established this love affair.

The rest of the exhibition was equally wonderful, we learnt that Alan Garner has the most beautiful handwriting, that without Beatrix Potter we may not have had C.S. Lewis, and got to look at all manner of beautiful illustrations that ranged from the since to the comparably recent.

Since visiting the exhibition I’ve found my thoughts returning to it frequently. They have produced a lovely looking book which I shall definitely be adding to my bookshelves at some point in the future, I will only be able to look at photos of the wonderful pieces we saw but that will be enough to remind me of the inspiration the visit gave me.

Days Out · Life · Theatre Stuff

A day in Stratford.

In yesterday’s post I explained how I was planning on spending my day in Stratford. The shopping was decent, though my role in it was purely one of encouragement with a bit of window shopping as we went (I’m so ready to find someone willing to employ me in a full time role so I have money for nice things).

The Mop Fair it turns out is simply a large funfair that takes over a number of the town centre streets. It is incredibly noisy, blocks the view from the street so it’s hard to spot where the shop you’re looking for is, and seemed to be causing lots of disruption for little gain – with the exception of a few children’s rides and the dodgems we didn’t really see anyone taking advantage of the rides on offer.

imageThe whole reason for going to Stratford was to see Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Last night was the last of three preview nights and it was an almost entirely packed out theatre. We sat in the circle for the first time, having previously watched a few productions from the stalls. It was also the first time we’d sat on the side, we were actually in the seats closest to the stage – for some sequences they used a gantry that ran from the side of us across the stage to the other side of the audience giving us one of the best views in the house.

The cast was, in general, strong with new and experienced company members alike. Sadly the actor playing the somewhat pivotal role of Bolingbroke was not as strong as the rest of the cast, this proved quite a disappointment. David Tennant in the role of Richard II did however completely satisfy, having previously seen him as Hamlet and Benedick we had been looking forward to seeing him in another Shakespearean role. His take was entirely convincing and provided a really nice contrast to Ben Whishaw’s BAFTA winning performance in last year’s The Hollow Crown season.

The whole day was lovely, and punctuated by regular stops for delicious food. A very nice way to spend a Saturday.