Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Smith Catch Up V3

Well, well, well, what a busy couple of week we have had. In fact what a busy 5 days we have had.

In the past 5 days we have been to Reading x 2, Windsor x 2, Stafford and London and packed in a lot in what has been a pretty hectic time. Thankfully as Birmingham is in the middle of England it has been a pretty convenient base to come home to.

It was my Dad's 60th birthday on the 12th of August and in honour of the occasion we planned plenty in. Celebrations started with Windsor Races, my Dad loves the races and with my family - including cousins and Aunt and Uncle- all making the trip it was a great celebration. There were no major losses in the betting so everyone had an enjoyable time, even if it got tense at points. In fact we all managed to pick quite a few winners but that mainly covered our betting fees so no-one got rich but it was a good night all in all.

Windsor Races is great over summer as the evening races all end with a music act allowing you to dance into the night. Our act was a Queen tribute band who were actually very good. The crowd was full of all ages belting out the hits and we stayed to the very end as my Mum had packed prosecco and birthday cake so we had everything we needed to keep us dancing.

At the end of the evening we had a 2 hour drive back to Birmingham to be ready to start the working week.

The week flew by and on Friday evening we found ourselves returning to Reading. This time to catch up with one of my dearest friends, Lisa. We met in town and enjoyed a Zizzi's while catching up. It was another late evening as we chatted so late that the restaurant was closing around us. I think we someone how managed to consume 3 courses each so we rolled back to the car.

We stayed with my parents on Friday evening as Saturday was a jam packed day.

Up bright and early the first stop was Laura's Nan in Windsor. She recently had a fall and we wanted to make sure she had enough shopping to save her making unnecessary trips out. Laura's Nan is amazing, even after the fall she was ready and raring to hit the shops. We spent almost an hour checking out everything the food store had to offer and left with an large amount of cakes and ice creams as well as all the meal stuff. I want to be just like Laura's Nan when I am 91.

After taking all the stuff into Laura's Nan's we hit the motorway to Maidenhead to pick up my sister and her boyfriend and then head to the Madjeski Stadium - home of Reading FC. My football club of choice and where my Dad has spent most of his Saturdays over the past 20 years. Reading were playing Brighton (my Dad's childhood team) and we had secured hospitality as a surprise.

Hanging out with the locals Kingsley and Queensly
Mum had gone to the game with my Dad and hadn't mentioned that we would be joining. An hour before the match Laura, my sister, her boyfriend and I walked into the hospitality suite and my Dad's face was a picture. It was the final part of his 60th birthday and he wasn't expecting it at all.

The suite allowed us to have a pre-match meal and drinks while watching the ground fill up. We then had comfy seats (padded instead of hard plastic) to enjoy the match from. Reading put in a great performance against a skillful Brighton and the match ended 2-2. A fair result and my Dad was happy as he wanted both teams to do well.

After the match we headed back to my parents to enjoy cake and a game of pictionary. Laura and I won and the energy helped us through the journey back to Birmingham.

Sunday was V Festival. The drive to Stafford took just under an hour and we timed it just right. There was no traffic and the only queue we encountered was the one going into the grounds. We arrived at 12 and managed to survive until 12.30am.

It was Laura's first festival and the British summer made sure that she got to experience all weather conditions. If you saw any of our day on Snapchat or Instagram Stories you'll know that when we arrived it was glorious sunshine but by the end we had been in torrential rain for over 3 hours.

The day started with DNCE and MNEK, we had a break to wander around the stands and ended up in a Cadbury's fun house where we were given so much chocolate, thrown in a ball pit, made to race using hoppers, slide down a massive slide and in my case perform 'the worm' and in Laura's case 'dress up like a rockstar'. Not your average Sunday!

We then saw Zara Larsson, Foxes, Jess Glynne and Rik Astley, who we enjoyed while stuffing our face with noodles. The evening was spent seeing Bastille, Sia and Justin Bieber. Overall the day was amazing. Our highlights were Zara Larsson (I didn't know I knew so many of her songs) and Bastille. Bieber was interesting - the hits had everyone dancing and singing along but the miming and incoherent chat about pop tarts and work outs grew annoying - maybe it was the fact that when your standing in rain you're not that bothered about how to heat up a pop tart?! He did sing 'Baby' though and that meant he was almost forgiven.

An accident on the motorway home made our journey a long one and we eventually arrived home just after 2am. Neither of us our sure how we made it through yesterday but I can confirm that I made up a few hours napping on my train to London today.

And there you have it - I am exhausted just typing this and it's only Tuesday!

How have your weeks been?!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Review: The Old Crown, Digbeth, Birmingham

We were lucky enough to be invited to check out The Old Crown in Digbeth, in central Birmingham by The Custard Factory. It's not often we get invited out to dinner at a 14th Century Inn- Birmingham's oldest Inn at that.

In fact the pub is celebrating its 648th birthday on the 26th of August 2016!

We had walked past The Old Crown when attending events at the nearby O2 Institute and Custard Factory, we had even planned on getting a drink post Digbeth Dining Club but ran out of time. This time though we went with the sole intention of enjoying a meal from their new menu and going on a Monday meant the pub area was fairly quiet so we easily got a table to relax at.

My Queen with her crown
The outside of this pub belongs in a country village, it's quaint and traditional and makes you long for simpler times when the main event of the week was a drink at the pub. The inside was more of a surprise, with every turn the place seemed to get bigger or open up to a new room. At one end is a traditional pub complete with bar while the other end is a coffee shop by day with a cosy feel. Somewhere between the ends is a room that looks like someone's lounge with armchairs and a coffee table.

Keep your eyes peeled and see if you can spot a bookcase with a room behind it!

If you make your way to the back of the pub you are greeted with a different venue altogether. The back yard is filled with tables made from massive wooden wheels and all kinds of chairs. There are bench areas perfect for groups and a telephone box should you need to call a taxi (I kid I think it's purely decoration :))

The back yard has more of a Digbeth feel - it's where the cool, alternative kids hang out and would be great on a warm evening.
Pic courtesy of http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/
Our choice was the pub area where we were served by a lovely bar man who was helpful with advice on checking out the menu. While not a vast menu there is enough choice - as with most pubs there was a burger selection, including a veggie option, and you could choose between regular chips or sweet potato fries.

I went for the Brum Pie as it sounded different - a chicken tikka curry in a pie! Served with a side of mash and honey roasted veg I was in heaven. This combo of food had so many of my favs that I can't believe I left it this long to try it. At first I was a little disappointed the mash wasn't quite melt-in-your-mouth as I like but mixed with the curry I soon realised that was a good thing. Mixing the curry and mash was DIVINE! And it wasn't just me who thought so - Laura had a fair bit of my meal too!

Laura went for the Crown Burger and while the flavours were far more traditional - burger + cheese and bacon - it was still delicious. Laura prefers her burgers a little less well done but the huge amount of tasty bacon made up for it. Oh and the sweet potato fries were SO GOOD! And most importantly really hot when they arrived - seriously the amount of cold sweet potato fries I have sent back is significant!

We also admired a fish and chip portion from the distance and the speed at which the man consumed it must have meant he enjoyed it too.

Conveniently the pub is also right by two Pokestops - not that this should matter but it certainly is no bad thing! (Want to know what Pokemon Go is all about?!)

After a break and finishing off our Old Mout cider - a perfect accompaniment to almost any meal if you aren't an ale drinker, we decided to attempt dessert. As with the menu the choice wasn't vast but there was enough for both of us to find things we liked. Laura opted for a sticky toffee pudding - which we highly recommend - and I went for a sundae filled with brownie pieces and my two top ice cream flavours - strawberry and vanilla. There were also some delicious strawberries thrown in for good measure, which took me by surprise as I tucked in.

While our meal was free we did checkout the prices and thought them very reasonable. All burger meals were around £9, the pie was around the same and the most expensive main was £12. The desserts were a bargain though, each was around £4 and for the portion size that was a good deal.

So if you are in Digbeth, or central Birmingham, and fancy a yummy meal or drink in a place that surrounds you in history and makes you feel like you are in the middle of the country The Old Crown is for you.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Pokemon Go - Going, Going, Gone?

You've heard of it, right?!

Even if you haven't played it, chances are you know someone who has.

It's a modern day addiction or affliction or exercise craze.

It's a cross-generational phenomenon.

It's an app that encourages strategic thinking and exercise while pitting old against young, new against pro, and it's hard to avoid. Or maybe that's just the people playing it who have a tendency to walk with their head down perfecting a zombie-look.

After various conversations on the subject and a long train journey, I thought I would put together this post.

I was slow on the Pokemon Go uptake, my phone memory didn't have enough space to download the app and so I watched from the sidelines, joining Laura on her hunt. The concept is simple. The app puts Pokemon (creatures of all sorts) into our world, but they are only visible when using the app. That's why people are wandering the streets searching for nothing that the naked eye can see. Spot a Pokemon and the game begins, you have to catch them by throwing Pokeballs at them and once caught they join your Pokedex - a list of every type of creature caught. Each Pokemon has a combat power score, the higher the score the better they will be in a battle. Oh and there are Pokestops all over (landmarks) where you can get Pokeballs and other game assets. The battles take place at PokeGyms - where players gather to 'take control of the Gym'.

It's not necessarily a game where the aim is to race to the finish and catch them all, it's a game where strategy and game play is more important - if you catch them all, that's just icing on the cake.

The other clever inclusion is that you can collect eggs at Pokestops and to hatch those eggs you have to walk - there is a speed cap so you can't go over 15 miles an hour, otherwise the tracking stops - so you actually have to move in order to reveal what's in your eggs.

The game makers, Niantic, are clever. This game is revolutionary. Bringing together real world activities with a game scenario is powerful. In the last few weeks, our local Pokestop - a nearby church - has drawn a crowd of young boys, parents and kids, couples - a whole range of people. I'm not sure what the church thought was going on the first few days but now they seem willing to accept that there are Pokemon players wandering around almost permanently.
The Pokemon Zombie effect

In Birmingham city centre we witnessed community at its best. Around the cathedral were tons of people of all ages putting 'Lures' on; Lure's make Pokestops more appealing to Pokemon and therefore more likely to appear. It means that players were essentially helping out other players. We were there for almost an hour. Furthermore, there were actually people wandering around asking if we wanted any tips, sharing advice on where to find rarer Pokemon. These days, not many things would bring strangers together like that!

In fact on Facebook and other social media people are organising Pokemon Go meet ups!
Sadly we couldn't make it to this one in Sydney!
For me personally, I am loving the fact that Laura is eager to head out on walks. It's normally me suggesting dog walks, but since this game we have had plenty of extra walks - Bisbee is both overjoyed and confused simultaneously.

Then there is the addictive side. I actively avoid anything that I could potentially become addicted to. The gene is in my family and so I am wary of computer games of any sort - Minions can easily suck hours of my life when I switch on for 'just one game'. I once got fully obsessed with 'It boxes' in pubs, and though I'm sure in the end I got out more money than I put in, it led to a lot of time and pound coins wasted. There have been signs this game could go the same way. On at least 2 occasions we have gone for a drive to see what Pokemon are available and we extended our journey back from my parents just to hit up more Pokestops.

Although, again, Niantic are clever - you have a bag to keep you balls and assets in and that bag has a limited capacity (unless you pay for more) so there is no point just driving around.

The Pokemon game does a similar job to pedometers by encouraging walking - with the need to walk 2km, 5km or 10km to hatch an egg, combined with the sentimentality of a childhood game - I mean I was too old for Pokemon but Laura and her brother played the Gameboy games and collected the cards growing up and the challenge of collecting all the Pokemon is nostalgic. It taps into our inner child and that is really powerful.

The last time I was in London I went on my own Pokemon mission and came home proudly displaying a new array of Pokemon- the other benefit to this was I discovered a bunch of new areas and streets - and even a new Pret to visit!

It's not just London though, as the Pokestops are landmarks they tend to be things you would walk by but never really see. In Birmingham we have seen sculptures and plaques - including one noting Shakespeare's Birmingham residence - that we never knew were there.

We haven't dared brave the public parks at night, though there are so many lures on, it may sound dramatic but who knows what kind of people are hanging out in dark, open spaces. We did hear a story that a group of men were using the game to lure players into a park just to rob them! I mean wandering around with your phone in plain sight is not exactly avoiding a robbery.

We're fighting the Pigeotto's in our house!
We are almost a month since the game's launch and the interest level is still high but I can't wait to look back on this in a few months and see if it has staying power or if we'll be on to the next new thing. I predict this is the future of games - entering characters into the real world and making video games something you no longer do only in your room! Next, how about a Harry Potter version?? We'd be all over that!

Are you playing?