Top 10 Books I’ve Read in 2017

This is a little different than my films and albums of 2017, in that it’s the top 10 books I’ve read in 2017, rather than top 10 books published in 2017, as I tend to just pick something from my to read list rather than pick up new books all the time. I’ve made a few rules, such as only allowing one book per author, and I haven’t included any graphic novels or trade paperbacks, which may end up being a separate list in itself.


As expected, this list has a few Star Wars titles, as being a period of resurgence for the franchise there are many canon books being released. I read 41 books this year according to Goodreads, but that number would be more if I included reference books too. Unlike my other end of year lists, these are numbered 1 to 10 but are not in order, that would be way too hard to decipher. As always, any recommendations are always gratefully received.

Merde in Europe (Post Brexit Edition) – Stephen Clarke
Still Whispering After All These Years: My Autobiography – Bob Harris
Origin – Dan Brown
Star Wars: Rebel Rising – Beth Revis
Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis
Star Wars: Thrawn – Timothy Zain’s
Star Wars: Ahsoka – E K Johnston
Never Go Back – Lee Child
Dinner At Mine – Chris Smyth
Lost Boy – Christina Henry

Top 10 Albums of 2017

I’m writing this at the house of some friends, on my iPad, so much like my Top 10 Films of 2017 there will be little in the way of discussion, and it may not even publish, so I could, not for the first time, be taking to myself. Also like my films list, there are many albums I still need to get, most notably the 2 latest Chris Stapleton efforts. There are also some that have been firm favourites of mine this year, but were actually released last year, like Hero by Maren Morris, which I played for most of the summer, and beyond. So without further ado, here’s my top 10 albums of 2017:

1. Peach – Larkin Poe


2. Wrangled – Angaleena Presley
3. All American Made – Margo Price
4. Younger Now – Miley Cyrus
5. Love & War – Brad Paisley
6. The Last Jedi Original Soundtrack – John Williams
7. Reputation – Taylor Swift
8. DCX MMXVI: Live – Dixie Chicks
9. Rule 62 – Whitney Rose
10. Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life

Top 10 Films of 2017

Top 10 Films of 2017

Last year I only managed a Top 7, but in 2017 I’ve seen more new releases, either at the cinema or on DVD/Blu-ray. Unlike last year, however, I don’t have time to write about each choice, and as much as I always dissuade unsubstantiated lists, it’s all you are getting this year! So, on with the best of 2017, and a predictable #1 for this blog.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

2. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
3. The Fate of the Furious
4. Baby Driver
5. Wonder Woman
6. Justice League
7. Kong: Skull Island
8. Logan
9. Spider-Man: Homecoming
10. Descendants 2

It was never going to anything other than The Last Jedi at #1, and after seeing it for the second today time it has cemented itself at the top spot by an even greater margin. I’m still not completely on board with the Canto Bight scenes, nor the portrayal of Captain Phasma after she was built up so much in her standalone book, but overall I love it. Places 2 to 9 could interchange at any time depending on my mood. Baby Driver is a late entrant as I only watched it last night, but what a great film with a wonderful soundtrack, and use of that music throughout. Descendants 2 may raise some eyebrows, but that was another I watched yesterday with my son Lucas. It’s a fun film and seeing how much happiness it gave him certainly raised its for stock me.

Biggest Disappointment: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I’m an absolutely huge fan of the first three films, the fourth is garbage, and this latest instalment didn’t do it for me either. I need a second watch on Blu-ray, but coming away from the cinema I didn’t care a lot for the new characters, not the storyline.

Still To See: Thor: Ragnarok, Dunkirk, The LEGO Batman Movie, Cars 3, Coco, War for the Planet of the Apes, Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Blade Runner 2049

Restaurant Review: Table for One at Nando’s, Stevenage

There was a time in my past where I wouldn’t even consider dining alone, for fear of being judged as to why I’m not with anyone. Would they think I had no friends, or that I am wasting a table that could accommodate more than just I? Whatever the reason, it’s not something I did, until I stopped caring. I didn’t stop caring about everything, just about certain things, and a table for one is something that stopped giving me those dreaded feelings of anxiety.

So this brings me to today, Wednesday 27th December 2017, and with my car in the garage for its MOT I found myself with some time on my hands and the Nando’s in the new Stevenage Debenhams about to open. I almost uttered the phrase time for a cheeky Nando’s, but managed to stop myself, and instead question why having a Nando’s is cheeky, and what made a trip to Nando’s cheeky, or are all visits cheeky? Anyway, on entering said Nando’s I was greeted by Wayne (it tells me so on the receipt) who I think was the manager, while the rest of the team sat around a table near the counter. He made me feel very welcome, and didn’t give me any so why are you alone? looks. I scored a nice table for 2 equidistant from the counter and the condiments/cutlery/drinks area – result.

Restaurant Review: Table for One at Nando's, Stevenage

I’m a fussy eater, so when menus change I get plunged into a minor panic, but I’ve always been able to to find something I like on the Nando’s menu, and today was no different. Feeling brave I went for a brand new offering called the Fino Pitta, and this how it is described:

Indulge in a toasted pitta filled with two flame-grilled PERi-PERi chicken thighs, grilled halloumi cheese, caramelised red onion relish and wild garlic aioli mayonnaise, topped with lettuce.

Halloumi and caramelised onion I adore, and the absence of anything such as peppers made this an easy decision. I am relatively new to chicken thighs though, as in the past I’ve not wanted anything other than breast meat. The slightest sign of pink chicken meat usually sends my head into an unrecoverable tailspin, but in the past 2 years I’ve gotten past that and can appreciate that some parts of the chicken are a little pinker, and not due to them being undercooked as I always imagined. Ordering was easy and quick, and so back at my table I had time to look around the restaurant which was very clean, well laid out, and not too bright, so that even though it was big, I didn’t feel like I was sat alone in a vacuous space.

Restaurant Review: Table for One at Nando's, Stevenage

Restaurant Review: Table for One at Nando's, Stevenage

My food arrived in mere minutes and looked delicious. The pitta was full to bursting with great hunks of chicken and the caramelised red onion relish was oozing out invitingly. I first thought to pick it up but that was never going to work, not unless I had suddenly been granted the ability to unhinge my jaw. Biting into the first mouthful I could taste the relish, combining really well with the medium strength sauce I had chosen. The halloumi was melted just right and was not too thick so it didn’t overpower the chicken itself. With the fresh coolness of the lettuce, I’d say the Fino Pitta was a pretty perfect taste combination for me. I had chips as my side, which were all cooked well and with an accompaniment of vinegar and ketchup, finished things off beautifully.

Restaurant Review: Table for One at Nando's, Stevenage - Fino Pitta

Unusually for me, I went for am unlimited refills Diet Coke, which I took advantage of twice, glugging down three glassfuls in total. I say unusually as possessing the world’s smallest bladder* I don’t usually drink much aside from water when I’m about and about. I had spied a salted caramel brownie on the menu, and whilst it’s become almost mandatory for eating establishments to offer something that is salted caramel flavoured, I don’t mind as I’m a big fan. It has to be done well though, as some proport to be salted caramel but I’m left wondering if they have ever seen the flavouring, let alone used it. Well, Nando’s salted caramel brownie does live up to the name and was beautifully moist too, just the way I like my brownies.

Restaurant Review: Table for One at Nando's, Stevenage - Fino Pitta - Salted Caramel Brownie

Fino Pitta and Chips – £8.95
Unlimted Refills Diet Coke – £2.60
Salted Caramel Brownie – £2.50

Total Cost: £14.05

Three glasses of Diet Coke, a main meal and dessert for £14.05 – I’d consider that great value for money. I left absolutely and completely satisfied, so much so that I left a tip, which gave me the opportunity to send some coins down the counter located helter-skelter, as is their mechanism for collecting such gratuities. I live in a small market village in North Hertfordshire, so when Debenhams opened in Stevenage, just a short drive from me, it was big news. On finding out it had a Nando’s too, well let’s just say excitement levels rose substantially. It gives me great pleasure to come away from my meal today, with the knowledge that Stevenage Nando’s excelled in every area – service, food and atmosphere, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone in the area.

*Not a proven fact.

Gig Review: Angaleena Presley & Danni Nicholls at The Borderline, London – 20th July 2017

I was supposed to see Angaleena Presley back in July 2015, twice in fact, on my birthday and then the day after too. But due to family sickness that didn’t happen, and in the meantime, and with a second album under her belt, my admiration for Angaleena’s music and desire to see her live have only grown. Fast forward to 22nd April this year (yes I do know exact date thanks to never deleting emails) and the opportunity to buy tickets for a 2017 tour arose, and without hesitation I booked them. Fingers crossed we’d atually make it to the gig this time.

Last Thursday, July 20th 2017, and I made my wife Denise queue outside The Borderline for 30 minutes before doors opened, and we weren’t even at the front. Once inside we went straight towards the stage and managed to get front and centre. Aside from a risky venture to the bar at about 7.20pm for water, that’s where we stayed for the next 3+ hours. At the start of the evening it wasn’t Densie’s preferred place to stand, very still, and wait, but that would change. Seeing just a microphone and guitar stand on stage I was excited for the upcoming performannces, and very glad we were positioned where we were.

Danni Nicholls

Going into this gig I didn’t know Danni Nicholls, but that has is no relection on her standing in the music scene, more of me not being as up to date as I was back in the days when I ran 4000 Miles to Nashville, and incidentally interviewed Angaleena for here. Danni came on stage, guitar in hand and smile on her face. She spoke confidentally, but humbly, and at this point I wasn’t sure what to expect, but her demenor had certainly endeared her to us. Then she started to sing, and play, and with that rich voice, full of soul, accompanied by dexterously enviable guitar skills, I knew I’d disovered a special talent.

Danni Nicholls - The Borderline, London - July 20th 2017

I could be wrong, but I think it was Mary Gauthier at the Maverick Festival in 2014, who said that Americana is hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you hear it. That’s what I felt with Danni Nicholls, as her storytelling both through her songs and in between, is clever, honest and at times heart breaking. I mentioned before about Danni’s guitar playing and during her third song, which you’ll have to excuse for me not remembering the name of, I focused entirely on her hands, and marvelled as the left hand had fingers floating around the fretboard almost independently, whilst her right hand strummed and plucked with ease. This wasn’t an instrumental, so add in vocals, sung with the same heart and palpable emotion is her whole set, and I was in awe.

The only negative is that her set was just a little over 30 minutes, leaving me wanting more of that velvety smooth voice. I have a feeling what I saw of Danni Nicholls last Thursday was only the tip of the iceberg, and I’ll be keeping an eye on that tour that she mentioned when I chatted to her later in the evening. I spent all but the last penny I had in my pocket, and Denise’s wallet, getting Danni’s Mockingbird Lane album, that she happpily signed (getting things signed, in person, is a big thing for me, so being able to add more such items to the collection is always a thrill), and which has been played more than a few times over the past few days. Doing a bit more digging I see that not only does she have her debut album which she told us about at the gig, but she has this year released a live album too. I’m a HUGE fan of live music recordings, when done right, so on the top of my to buy list is now Danni Nicholls ‘The Vintage TV Recordings’.

Meeting Danni Nicholls - The Borderline, London - July 20th 2017

Angaleena Presley

At just a few minutes past 9pm on Thursday 20th July 2017, Angaleena Presley took the stage at The Borderline in London, and what followed was an hour or so of raw emotion, sung flawlessly by the one person I’d wanted to see more than any other in the last 3 years. Angaleena’s two solo albums are amongst my absolute favourites, full of songs from the heart, covering topics what she wants to sing about and in the style she wants to perform them in, undeterred by industry trends. Angaleena wasn’t shy about sharing her thoughts on the mainstream country music scene, and I and many others I’m sure, wholeheartedly agree. This was highlighted hilariously by Country, the 4th song on her recent Wrangled album. On said album it’s a heavily produced song, purposefully in the style of the music she is deservedly mocking, but it took on a new life with just her and her guitar, and had me smiling and whooping from start to finish.

This is what makes Angaleena Presley stand apart from so many others in the music. Aside from the fact that she has a silky smooth voice and is one of the best song writers around, her sense of humour is unrivaled, both in song and when she chatted to us in between. It was like being at a one woman songwriters evening, as she had us all in stitches regaling stories of her life and family, and using enough self depreciation to fit right at home here in England. It’s that personality that kept us enthralled even during a two minute period where her guitar strings just would not tune, refusing like petulant children to play ball.

Angaleena Presley - The Borderline, London - July 20th 2017

Thanks to Country to Country and the eagerness of many US country stars to tour in the UK, coupled with an ever increasing number of home grown talents, I have had the privelage of seeeing many country artists perform over the years. However none, and I mean not one single one, can hold a candle to Angaleena Presley. She really is the total package on stage and has certainly raised the bar of expectation for me now. I can still see her wry grin as she swaggered through a guitar solo, not missing a beat as she returned to the mic, to once again fill the venue with her beautiful voice. Thankfully one last song turned into two, as Better Off Red (I think) rounded off a spellbinding and soul enriching performance.

As it was announced that she would be coming to meet fans after she’d finished playing, my focus went from being at the front of the stage, to being as close to the front of the line and at the back of the venue as I could. If you want the full experience you have to be prepared to put in the effort, even if that does mean having people invade your personal space far more than is usually acceptable. Already owning a signed copy of Wrangled on CD I bought a copy on vinyl, which she signed as we chatted more about Country to Country and her previous tour, while I gushed about her performance that night.

Meeting Angaleena Presley - The Borderline, London - July 20th 2017

What a night. Not only did I finally get to see Angaleena Presley live and it exceeded even my lofty expectations, but I now have Danni Nicholls’ career to follow with keen interest. This will go down as one my absolute favourite gigs, and one I’ll remember fondly for a very long time.

My Name is Steve and I Love Prawnies

Rewind roughly 13 years to when my wife and I walked into Exeter town centre, where we lived at the time, and we visited a continental market one sunny summer Saturday (10 house points for the alliteration). Amid a cornucopia of smells one stood out, that being garlic, to which I am drawn to like the antithesis of a vampire. That’s the day I discovered Prawnies, as they were advertised, though I believe they may actually be lobster tails.


A Prawnie, as we still to this day call them, even though we have never seen them called that since, as Prawn seems to suffice, is a lobster tail / prawn cooked in a big open pan with garlic, chives, olive oil and paprika. Now anyone that knows me will tell you that I have a love bordering on obsessive for paprika, so combine that with garlic and prawns / lobster tails and you have my heart, and my stomach.

Bringing us back to the present day and a walk into our current home town, that being Hitchin in North Herfordshire, to visit the French Market, and what did I smell, and then spot? You got it – PRAWNIES! Of course I skillfullly and excitedly made my order in French that made the actual French guy serving proud, or laugh inside at the rueful attempt. Definitely one of the two, and my ego would like to think it was the former. Back on track, and once that cup of Prawnies was in my hand, and after I’d done the obligatory snapchat video, I began to devour one of my absote favourite treats in the known universe.

Prawnies at Hitchin French Market

The good thing about Prawnies is that their incredible taste belies their relative ease to make, so the taste itself doesn’t vary a lot, meaning these were every bit as yummy as the ones I had back in 2004. Of course once my wife has violently stolen a couple (that part my have been embelished for dramatic effect) I had to go back for another portion, and some garlic potatoes too – it’s a slippery slope. In a very proud moment, and after many protestations that he wouldn’t like them, even my 9 year old son tried Prawnies, and declared them to be delicious.

Until the next time I see Prawnies for sale I will just savour that exquisite taste from earlier today. I’m not sure I should try making them myself, as a failed attempt may put me off. It also wouldn’t be the same as buying them from a real life French person at a market and eating them from a plastic cup with a Lilliputian plastic fork. Ahh Prawnies, I do love you so very much.

Review: Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

As a family we have become veterans of the Haven holiday scene, having been countless times over the last decade and twice a year for the past 4 years. Saying that, we have only ever stayed at one resort, Combe Haven in Hastings. We are creatures of habit, and liking both the resort and the location, we never saw any need to change. On the one hand we might find something better, or at least equally as good. But on the other, it could be worse, much worse, and then we’d spend the whole week wishing we were back at Combe. That’s me to a tee, though I am trying to change, and my if it ain’t broke don’t fix it mentality needs to veer more towards an Adventure is out there one. 10 points for your house if you can place that latter reference.

Back on track and it was our friend Kelvin who made us choose Seashore over our beloved Combe Haven, as it was he who moved resorts. To cut a long story short, we met him at Combe Haven a few years ago where he was the entertainments manager. After 2 years he moved to Seashore, and so we decided to follow him, such was our faith in his ability. Oh go on then, add in the soppy bit about wanting to see a friend too if I must. Thanks to consecutive Friday and Monday inset and occasional days (no, me neither) at my son Lucas’ school, we were afforded our annual long weekend break in June, so on Friday 23rd off we trundled off to Norfolk.

Haven Seashore – The Caravan

We booked a basic caravan for a number of reasons, money being one, and the expectation that as it’s summer we’d not be in it much, being another. When we arrived the caravan did say basic on the front door, but on further investigation it seemed to offer much more than we were expecting. From a third bedroom, to the unused central heating, and plush decor to extra width. Whatever the level of the caravan, it was really nice, so clean and very comfortable. But don’t just take these written words as testament, take a look at this video tour and photos, which I insisted on doing before anyone could enter and unpack. The people of YouTube needed to see this caravan more than the ham and cider needed to go in the fridge, maybe.

Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk Caravan at Haven Seashore in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Haven Seashore – The Site

Proximity to the beach couldn’t be better, as you walk out of the back entrance of the Mash and Barrel bar straight down some stairs and onto a sandy and stony beach. The beach is all sand when you walk along the coastline towards the town / pier areas of Great Yarmouth, but the stones aren’t big near Haven Seashore and there are little patches of just sand, so very manageable. Between the back entrance to the bar and the beach is an outside seating area, which at night is lit up by some overhead fairy lights and looks quite magical.

Haven Seashore Mash and Barrel Outside Seating

Haven Seashore Mash and Barrel Outside Seating Haven Seashore Mash and Barrel Outside Seating Haven Seashore Beach Haven Seashore Beach

The aforementioned Mash and Barrel is a big bar set out in a big L shape, with more than enough tables and chairs for even the busiest days. It houses a soft play area for kids, a small selection of amusement machines and even 2 pool tables. The Mash Barrel is home to karaoke a few nights a week, which of course partook in, or practically took over in my case. I blame that last Gin! It also has access to the pool area which consists of 2 indoor pools, one 4 lane slide into it’s own runoff area and an outdoor splash area. It was never busy when we were there and the water was warm, as were the changing rooms. The slides were great fun, and unlike at Combe Haven where the slide is outside, these can be used all year round, and by children of a younger age too.

The Live Lounge complex is where the main entertainments take place and also has a bar and a shop selling Haven branded goods. This seemed a lot more modern than at Combe Haven ad the TV screens certainly helped when it came to the various bingo games. The stage can be seen from all over the room thanks too the incline from front to back, and we saw a variety of live acts including 4 chaps from Britain’s Got Talent, apparently. Between the entrance to the Live Lounge and the actual entertainment room are a big variety of amusements, plus a Burger King and Papa John’s Pizza bar.

Haven Seashore Live Lounge Haven Seashore Live Lounge Haven Seashore Climbing Wall Haven Seashore Mini Market & Bike Hire

That’s not all, as there are several parks, a climbing wall, mini golf, go karts, a well stocked shop and laundry facilities. There’s even a bike hire centre which we did actually make use of when Lucas and I took a two seated 4 wheeled peddle powered vehicle out for a 30 minute tour of the site – great fun, and only £4 for 30 minutes. Everything is set out along the beach, and while walking from one end to the other may take a little time, it makes things far easier to locate when it’s basically in a straight line.

Haven Seashore – The Staff

Having this plethora pf facilities is all well and good, but manned by staff who don’t enjoy their job and don’t make customers a priority would be a disaster. Thankfully there was no such thing at Haven Seashore, in fact quite the opposite. As I said earlier, I had faith in Kelvin as an entertainments manager, and that was rewarded with a great team of Funstars (think of a modern more energetic version of the yellow coats from Hi De Hi) who worked exceptionally well as a team and had everyone entertained each evening. Lucas even managed to get pulled up on stage for one game, and won, but this is the first time in years he didn’t get the chance to take me up too, and embarrass me in some way. I’m fooling nobody with the I’m just too act cool there, of course I love going up on stage and partaking in whatever silly antics are thrown my way – next time! If I have spelled names wrong then I apologise, but thank you to Kelvin, Karla, Amber, Rafe, Joel and Lou for making us feel very welcome and doing the Funstar name proud.

Haven Seashore Characters Haven Seashore Karaoke Haven Seashore Funstars Go Live Haven Seashore Funstars Go Live

Though the Funstars tend to be the face of the company, the rest of the staff play just as vital a role, and did so with just us much pride. From the poor girl who had lost her voice on the pool reception, to the lady on the shop who made sure I had the correct coins to fit in the parking meter on the seafront. From the bar staff in the Live Lounge who humoured my attempts to remember the correct name for Rekorderlig each night, to their counterparts in the Mash and Barrel who had to put up with my singing, which even went as far as me fetching a bar stool to perform Extreme’s More Than Words. Yes, I am that embarrassing Dad/husband/friend, but it’s all in the name of having fun. I’m trying to recall and I can’t think of one single occasion when we weren’t treated with smiles and the appropriate help, and on most occasions aid that went above and beyond.

Haven Seashore – Great Yarmouth

I intend to go into more detail in a separate article, but suffice to say that as long as you stay away from the shopping centre part of Great Yarmouth, then you’ll find a seaside resort with lots of old fashioned charm and the entertainment to match. Sticking our heads through wooden pictures for photos and trying to shoot a bullseye with an air rifle were just 2 such things we enjoyed on the pier. There were even donkey rides on the beach, and while Lucas recoiled at the idea I am 50% over the weight limit (and 10 times the age limit?) for such an experience, fortunately for the donkey. There are amusement arcades as far as the eye can see, but don’t go thinking you’ll come out with buckets full of plunder, these are tough machines where winning is but a pipe dream for most. It’s still fun trying, and we took our 6 month supply of 2p coins which Lucas used to win enough tickets for a small packet of wine gums and a football magnet that has since been left in the bottom of his bag.

Great Yarmouth Great Yarmouth Great Yarmouth Great Yarmouth

One expert tip I will impart on you is to not eat at the first fish and chip shop you see, which in our case was on the pier. My wife Denise theorised that the quality may not be as good as they didn’t have to try as hard and boy was she right. The next day we did some exploring and found the Lion & Herring Fish & Chips Shop off the main strip and were rewarded with cheaper prices, friendlier service and far superior food. I’d go back for their Scampi alone.

The main action is only a short drive, longer walk or fun train ride away. Train you say? Yes indeed, as there is a land train that runs every half an hour between Haven Seashore and Great Yarmouth Pier. It takes about 5 minutes and costs £2.00 for adults and £1.50 for adults…one way. So it’s not cheap if there are a few of you and you use it both ways, every day. We did the return journey on one day and the drove the next, as parking on the seafront was cheaper. The train is fun though, but be sure to hold on to your hat, as it goes faster than I expected. Speaking of faster, Joyland is a the charming jewel of Great Yarmouth, and one that I will be talking about a lot in that future article I referenced earlier.

Haven Seashore – The Verdict

We were back only a few days before we booked to return at the end of August. I think that gives you an idea of how much we enjoyed our stay at Haven Seashore. As much as we liked many visits to Combe Haven, we all feel that Seashore takes it to another level in almost every way possible. It’s also set in the most wonderful surroundings and whilst we like Hastings, Great Yarmouth is a far easier location to have a proper getaway and escape the normality of everyday life. We had a wonderful 4 days away, spent time with some precious friends, and fell in love with Haven Seashore and Great Yarmouth…and that delicious scampi!

Official Website: Haven Seahore

A Day at MCM Comic Con London and Why I Love It So Much

Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Tours t-shirt? Star Wars Rebel pilot backpack or classic Star Wars courier bag? Slip on Star Wars scene Vans or lace up Stormtrooper Vans? That last dilemma was easily solved as I couldn’t and still can’t locate that particular pair of Vans – just why do things go missing so often at home and where do they go? Fellow comic con attendees will recognise these kind of decisions, because even though the venue will be full of people with eye catching slaved over cosplay designs, it’s also very important I choose to wear the right thing. You never know, there could be another fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland Paris or another Disney Park at the con, and it also ties in with the release of the latest film on the ongoing series. The backpack also got the nod in case you were wondering. No point agonising over which is the perfect t-shirt just to have a big strap covering the design.

MCM Comic Con London. May 28th 2017. Stormtroopers

I usually go with my son and sometimes my wife if she’s not working, but with both of them away visiting relatives for half term, I took a friend to his very first comic con experience at the Excel, for MCM Comic Con London. On a really hot day it was thankfully pretty cool inside the venue, never more of a relief than when we had to queue for 20 minutes until general entry opened and we were constantly told to shuffle up. Personal space be damned. Once inside there’s the usual sensory overload as I try to decide to which of the 17 things that has caught me eye to head towards first.

Much f it essentially like a huge market, with rows and rows of stands selling a plethora of anime, film, comic, and video game related merchandise. For someone that lives in a small town in Hertfordshire it’s one of the few opportunities I get each year to feast my eyes on such wears, and while I may not want to buy all that is on offer, I’m always amazed at the skill and effort that has gone into producing the hand made items, and the factory produced ones too, but to less an extent. It’s also the only time I get to see so many different One Piece (my favourite anime show) items, and a leather wallet with Luffy on the front was the first thing on my maybe list. If we are talking effort, then it’s the incredible cosplay creations that take center stage. The amount of work that goes into some of these is insane, and way beyond what my artistically challenged mind can comprehend. I don’t recognise the characters portrayed in a lot of them, being unfamiliar with a lot of anime and almost the entire video games world, but that doesn’t stop me marveling at how stunning they look. Some of these are beyond film accurate and look better than what we see on the big screen. Multiple tails seemed to be a bit of a theme this year – no idea why, but they looked cute.

MCM Comic Con London. May 28th 2017. Harry Potter Funko Pop

MCM Comic Con London. May 28th 2017. Bo Peep

Though we hadn’t booked any photo opportunities, we walked past KJ Apa who plays Archie in Riverdale, the original Hulk Lou Ferrigno, Verne Troyer of Austin Powers fame and Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, and many more. I’ve met David before, and none of the others on offer tempted me enough to pay and queue to meet them, but having these opportunities is always great. At last year’s Star Wars Celebration in the same building I, along with my son and wife, met Mark Hamill – a surreal dream come true.

Throughout my life I’ve always loved to submerge myself in fandoms of various types; Pro wrestling, Star Wars, comics, Disneyland Paris and a variety of TV shows to name but a few. MCM Comic Con gives me the opportunity to be amongst like minded people, all celebrating our love and appreciation for these art forms, with unashamed exuberance. In a world that every day seems to be more full of hate and evil, for those 5 hours spent at at MCM Comic Con I can escape all that, and allow myself to be consumed by all the fantasy and fun. The people are always so friendly, and I often find myself chatting to complete strangers like I’ve known them for years. When asking to have photos with people in their great costumes I’ve never had anything but positive and enthusiastic responses, and so have captured some fab photos over the years. To all those I had photos with yesterday, and at events in the past, thank you.

MCM Comic Con London. May 28th 2017. Randy Savage

MCM Comic Con London. May 28th 2017. Guardians of the Galaxy

On the way out I asked my friend if he’d consider coming in costume next time. Of course what I was really saying is I REALLY REALLY WANT TO COME IN MY JEDI COSTUME BUT I’M TOO NERVOUS TO DO IT ON MY OWN, PLEASE SAY YES AND I’LL BE YOUR BEST FRIEND FOREVER! I’ll optimistically put him down as a maybe, but my son and wife have agreed, and thus in October Jedi Steve will be making his MCM Comic Con debut. That’s unless I figure something else out by then, and after finally starting to watch Cowboy Bebop after years of wanting to, I’m thinking spike would be awesome to cosplay as.

I never found that One Piece wallet again, but maybe all things really do happen for a reason, as on the very last stand I visited I found and bought this incredible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wallet, which I much prefer. AWESOME!
MCM Comic Con London. May 28th 2017. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Wallet

More info: MCM Comic Con London

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes

I’ve wanted to eat in Yo! Sushi for years, but my 8 year old son never seems keen and childless days are few and far between. Well today that changed, as I had a day off of work and my wife Denise doesn’t work Mondays, so off we went to The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. After asking for recommendations last night on Twitter I was told of Blue Mondays, where 45 dishes are just £2.80 each, a significant saving for many – great time for our inaugural visit then. I should add that this was to be the first time we’ve eaten sushi in a restaurant since we visited Japan in 2001, only having had a few bits from the supermarket since then, and maybe some at a train station quick service outlet whose name alludes me.

I’d studied the menu at length last night, and even though I’m one of those people who likes to know what they are having ahead of time and being a creature of habit who often eats the same meal, repeatedly, I planned to do things differently. You see, at Yo! Sushi you can order from the menu, but you can also just grab dishes from a conveyor belt that runs past the seating areas. Making impulse decisions on food would be massively outside my comfort zone, but I was going to try. That was my intention anyway.

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes

We approached Yo! Sushi at midday, in spite of wanting lunch since 11am, and were greeted warmly, taken to a booth and explained the ordering process as we were newbies. Ultimate refills of water for just £1.30, from taps that are actually on the very table you are sat at? I was already in some kind of thirst quenching paradise before the food had even entered the equation. Now onto that food, and my intention to be spontaneous. Let’s just say that a combination of not knowing what things were and not wanting to miss out on the absolute best sounding dishes that I’d decided upon after my menu study session yesterday, meant that after just 1 conveyor belt choice I pressed the button on our table. Within seconds a member of staff was at our table and ready to help.

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes

That initial dish of tuna sashimi was nice, but probably my least favourite if our meal. I’m someone who orders chicken and asks for it to be cooked well done, just to put things into context. Duck Gyoza, Prawn Katsu, Chicken Katsu and Dragon Rolls made up our first round of ordered dishes and all were fantastic. The Katsu and Gyozas were some of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted and we had seconds of all, along with some Spicy Chicken Rolls which had a nice bite, but weren’t too spicy. The Chicken Katsu came on a bed of cabbage which covered in Katsu sauce was amazing, and gave me 1 of my 5 a day, so I told myself.

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes Dragon Roll

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes Chicken Katsu Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes Duck Gyoza

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes Spicy Chicken Roll

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes Prawn Katsu

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes

After 10 dishes we decided it was time for dessert, where Denise chose Custard Dorayaki and I had the Chocolate Mochi, the latter being the only thing we ordered that wasn’t a Blue Monday item. We shared, and while I don’t usually like custard, the Dorayaki (custard in a pancake with a sharp raspberry dip) were actually really nice, but the Mochi (Sweet rice balls with a rich chocolate ganache centre) were a little slice of heaven, and so we had seconds. At that point we decided we’d better stop, to save our stomachs, wallets and dignity.

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes Chocolate Mochi

Restaurant Review: Yo! Sushi at The Centre:MK in Milton Keynes Custard Dorayaki

Throughout the staff were brilliant – attentive and friendly, offering to take photos and guiding us where help were needed and being chatty but not oppressive. The food was super tasty and very fresh, and seeing it made in front of us and then put on the conveyor belt was both a fun novelty and very reassuring to see. At a little over £37 it was pretty reasonable, for 2 people eating a lot of food and with 3 dessert dishes. One thing I love about the Yo! Sushi system is that within mere minutes of entering the restaurant you are eating, and for someone as fussy as me, it’s great being able to try lots of different things. After waiting so long to experience it, today’s Yo! Sushi was so good, that I’d without hyperbole say that it is now my first choice place to go and eat. I can’t wait to return, try more dishes and indulge myself with Chocolate Mochi.

A Day at West Ham – Two Boys’ Dreams Come True

I’m a bad West Ham fan, in that after decades of supporting them, until this month I’d never seen them live, let alone at their home ground, which is now the London Stadium, home of the Olympic Games in 2012. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that thanks to some great friends, I got offered that chance, something that thrilled my 8 year old son Lucas and I greatly. We chose Swansea as the game to see, or more correctly Lucas chose Swansea, as a couple of months ago he decided they’d be a team we’d (we being West Ham) definitely beat. Leading up to that game on April 8th I wasn’t so sure, as we could hardly get a draw, let alone a win, and that was against teams we should be beating handily.

A Day at West Ham – Two Boys’ Dreams Come True

On that Saturday we set off for London, Lucas in his full West Ham kit and me in my West Ham cap, spotting other West Ham fans along the way. We were blessed with a glorious sunny day and approaching The London Stadium as it stood out in the sunlight, elicited gasps from the both of us. 1 game day scarf, 2 programmes and a copy of Blowing Bubbles and we were ready to enter the stadium and get to our seats. We ended up entering via the wrong turnstile, which wasn’t actually our fault, but thanks to some friendly staff and security we were allowed to walk around half the stadium to get there – on the inside! That meant we could see the famous Bobby Moore Stand, that was our destination, from some way away, and stare lovingly at the hallowed turf as we walked around.

A Day at West Ham – Two Boys’ Dreams Come True

At our seats we were high up and in the corner, but with a fantastic view of the whole pitch. Well I looked at the pitch and all the stands, while Lucas read the programme, gaining some last minute insight before the game started. When the players came out Lucas excitedly told me each and every one of their names, and I have Match Attax cards to thank for his encyclopedic knowledge of the West Ham squad. We were disappointed that Andy Carrol wasn’t in the starting lineup, and even more so that he never actually played at all, but thankfully Lucas’ favourite player Manuel Lanzini played, and pretty well too.

A Day at West Ham – Two Boys’ Dreams Come True

The game wasn’t a beautiful display of football, but we were sitting in The London Stadium watching our team, with thousands of other West Ham fans. The atmosphere was incredible and Lucas spent the whole game literally on the edge of his seat, until just before half time, when Cheikhou Kouyate fired off a thunderous strike into the corner of the Swansea goal to put The Irons up one goal to nil! We both leapt to our feet and joined all the Happy Hammers in thunderous applause and cheers. Bear in mind that the last time Lucas saw a whole West Ham game was on television in the FA Cup when Manchester City put 5 past us. At last, a West Ham goal, and we were in the lead!

A Day at West Ham – Two Boys’ Dreams Come True

At half time the guy in front turned around and said how much he’d enjoyed Lucas’ commentary for it’s innocence and honesty. It was non stop, and continued all the way through the second half too! At one point Lucas shouted with excitement and then looked sheepish and up at me as if to say sorry. I had to reassure him that showing your passion, however vocally that may be, at a West Ham match was not only allowed but encouraged. He certainly took that to heart and enjoyed cheering West Ham, and admonishing the referee at times too. No, not by singing that song, though give it a few years and I’m sure he will.

A Day at West Ham – Two Boys’ Dreams Come True

Though Swansea gave us many causes for concern in the second half, West Ham managed to hold on to the lead and win, their first victory in quite some time, and since. What a way to experience West Ham live for the very first time, because any other game recently would have had our emotions ranging from disappointed to bitterly disappointing. Everyone around us was great and we saw nothing but well natured fans on both sides. We had a truly magical time, and it was one of those special father and son days I’d hoped it would be, and have we’ve even talked season tickets. Earlier in the afternoon on the way to our seats Lucas had looked up at me and said this is a dream come true. It was one of those moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life as it melted my heart. Me too son, me too.