Review archive

Stardew Valley (Nintendo Switch): First Thoughts

When I first heard about the Nintendo NX — later announced and released as the Nintendo Switch — my curiosity was piqued. Although I don’t get time to play games as much as I used to the Zelda preview videos looking absolutely stunning, and the idea of an open-world version of this iconic game made the expense for this half-hearted hobby sound doable. For me to then find out that Stardew Valley, quite possibly my favourite PC game of all time, was getting a Switch release? Mind blown.

Despite a short month in September leaving me in my overdraft I did the sensible thing on yesterday’s release date and purchased it minutes after it became available in the eShop. A short download later and I’ve barely put the game down since: I’m not far off Summer in the first year, I’ve grown almost every Spring crop, I’ve done a bunch of Community Center tasks, explored over 20 levels in the mine and I’m on my way to wooing the lady I’d like to be my wife (Leah fans unite!)

Having spent so much time on the game already I’m pleasantly surprised at how intuitive it is on the console — particularly as I’ve tried it on the steam link previously and not enjoyed the controller experience — and how few bugs I’ve come across. There have been a few incidences of me pressing a button and it not doing anything in game, and one where I pressed the button once and hammered the crap out of everything with my pickaxe, but these are likely communication issues with the console (playing docked) rather than the game itself.

Aside from this, the only other glitch that I’ve encountered is a task set from Clint where, upon asking for Coals [sic] and indeed the task being completed with 10 coal (which spoilers! you can still fish out of a chest one by one to complete) you are thanked for ore, and the conversation is identical to the ore-themed quests on the PC. You can see an example of the wording mixup in the journal:

Nonetheless… the familiar music, the adorable graphics, the storylines and character arcs are all there and all exactly as I remember them from my last stint on the PC version. I am in love, and this was well worth waiting for.

ETA 15:43 GMT: Spotted another one…

Currently Loving…

With recent posts over here all a bit glum and gloomy, I thought I’d make September (or what’s left of it..!) a bit more chipper, starting with the things I’m loving right now.

String & Velvet’s Vintage Maxi Dress

I absolutely adore Zara’s Vintage Maxi Dress on String & Velvet. It’s not my size so I can’t snatch it up, but the splashes of colour are so fucking awesome; who doesn’t want to wear rainbows? String & Velvet is a new online store focusing primarily on plus size vintage.

Nintendo Switch

I had a really good month in June and after putting some money aside for bills, debt and taxes (urgh) I was able to stick enough money in my ISA for a Switch, which Tesco released stock of shortly after. I couldn’t afford any games to go with it, because that would be too lavish(!) but Gaz being the gentleman that he is bought Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2-Switch.

I have already sunk hundreds of hours into Zelda, getting basically nowhere because it turns out when you don’t play serious games for 10+ years you actually lose all skill.

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Still fucking awesome though.

This AMAZING burger

The Kreme De La Kreme burger from Severn Social in Shrewsbury:

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DIVINE. I am reliably informed that this is what’s known as a “Luther Burger” – a hamburger or cheeseburger with one or more glazed donuts in place of the bun. In this case, triple stacked burger, American cheese, streaky bacon, mustard and ketchup all sandwiched between a Krispy Kreme donut bun. These were supposed to be limited edition but were so popular they added them to the menu.

Severn Social recently opened up as a “dive bar”, replacing Biggies Diner. Live sports on various big TV screens, a fantastic menu with a variety of burgers, wings and hot dogs (and a token veggie option) with REALLY good prices for what you get. I’m not easily impressed when it comes to food, and the previous incarnations of restaurant in this location were all a bit pants, but I’m a big SS fan.

Double Chocolate Cookie Mocha Thingymabob

So in love with Costa’s double chocolate frostino thing it actually hurts.

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However, there’s two problems with these bad boys: One, they don’t come in a super huge “in a bucket” size. Two, each barista seems to make them differently and I’ve had a couple where they’ve missed the cookie bits and a couple without the chocolate sauce on top and URGH why bother if you can’t have ALL THE GOOD BITS?! Sort it out, Costa.

Fnnnghhh I want a bloody frostino now.

I bought a Dell XPS 15

I’ve been trying to justify buying a new laptop for nearly 2 years. Despite it being the only thing that allows me to earn an income, I have been stuck in this “the old one still works” mindset: even though it’s slower, heavier, and has approximately 6 minutes battery life these days. Given the Acer’s approx value at purchase was circa £400 and that’s my daily rate, I’d paid for it through work several hundred times over; I was holding on to it because I’m a miserable scrooge.

So, after convincing myself that it was a sensible business decision to invest in some faster / better tech at some point, I had to decide what to buy. I read review after review for lots of top spec laptops: HP Spectre series, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4s, and various Dells including the Dell XPS 15. The only problem was the price tag: the build I wanted was £1500. My car is worth less than that.

Towards the end of June, on a whim I checked out the Dell website again and noticed that they had a series of offers on: £100 off certain laptops over £1000, £150 cashback on laptops over £1299 bought before 5th July AND Dell are on topcashback, which I knew would recover about £75 which would bring the final price down to just under £1200. Probably still worth more than my car, but enough of a saving that — combined with my recent celebration of 5 years in business — sealed the deal. One Dell laptop, in the bag.

(Not my photo, soz.)

It is a fucking beast of a laptop, with tech specs as follows:

  • 7th Generation Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700HQ Quad Core Processor
  • 15.6″ FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display
  • 16GB, DDR4, 2400MHz; with support for up to 32GB should I feel insane enough to upgrade
  • 512GB PCIe Solid State Drive
  • 97WHr battery with estimated 19hr use
  • NVIDIA(R) GeForce(R) GTX 1050 with 4GB GDDR5(!!!)

First off, I have to state that the 19hr estimated use on the battery is optimistic at best. That said, I can do a full working day of heavy dev running XAMPP, Photoshop, PDF reader, Microsoft Word etc and only just start to worry about charging at the end of it. I can get a good 12 hours out of casual web browsing.

It’s a surprisingly lightweight laptop for the spec (I was expecting it to weigh half a ton) at approx 2kg, albeit heavier than some of its competitors, but 100% looks the business for it. With a smooth aluminium chassis and massive screen filling virtually every bit of space available, it looks every bit as expensive as the price tag it carries. Unfortunately the palm rest and internal casing let it down a little as it picks up grease from my fingertips like woah.

Visuals aside, the laptop hasn’t faltered yet. I’ve thrown a heavy workload at it from the get go (things are busy right now) and it’s hit the ground running. On Friday I was running Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator simultaneously while working on a CSS3 heavy website with multiple instances of Chrome open, as well as the various dev tools in the background. To top it all off, it wasn’t plugged in so running on a reduced power mode and I hadn’t noticed: there was not even a stutter from the processor. I honestly think I have outdone my personal needs here, and would love to see what this thing can truly handle.

It’s the quietest laptop I’ve ever owned, although that’s not necessarily hard given the old acer sounded like a plane taking off if it got in the slightest bit stressed.

I’ve previously expressed my concern about laptops shipping without e.g. CD drives (admittedly, back in 2008!) and the XPS 15 is one of them but I’m prepared to eat humble pie: I can’t remember the last time I used the CD/DVD drive on my Acer & I’ve yet to miss it on the Dell. Admittedly, growing USB drive capacity and “cloud” back-up services are the main reason behind that, with media streaming being my main source of music consumption a close second.

Aside from the case marks I touched upon earlier, my only other complaint is that I sometimes struggle to open the lid. It sounds silly but if I don’t have my fingers in a very specific placement, I find it difficult to get enough grip on it to get it open. Nobody mentioned this in any of the reviews I read prior to purchase, so that might just be me being a total bellend.

I’m also led to believe that the built in webcam is not positioned particularly well, which could lead to some interesting chats with my clients, but if I ever double up as a cam girl might produce some interesting chest shots ;)

All in I’m really pleased I finally took the plunge in buying some new hardware and I like that the Dell has offered me so far. I only hope it’s more reliable than my bloody car.

An evening with Circus Funtasia

I was recently invited to pop along to see the travelling animal-free circus “Circus Funtasia” as they’re in Madeley, in nearby Telford, for the weekend.

Circus Funtasia have visited Madeley on several occasions, and each time we drive past the signs the kids will pester and badger about going along, I’ll promise we can go and then promptly forget until after they’ve already left town. Determined not to make the same mistake this time, we set the date for 3rd March and popped it in the diary.

Now, somehow I’ve managed to get to the age of 31 without ever visiting a circus, so I had no idea what to expect… although I assumed there’d be some creepy clowns?

There were no creepy clowns, and any expectations I did have were met and then some.

The show was split into two halves with a 15 minute interval – perfect opportunity for small bladders (mine and the kids ;)) to get some relief – with each half made up of a series of different acts interspersed by the closest thing they had to a clown (but without the creepy make-up and giant red shoes). Each of the acts seemed to be designed to shock, awe or prompt laughter (and some managed all three).

With jaw-dropping aerial silks and ropes, a fast paced roller-skating duo and one lady who seemed to manage wire walking, epic hula hooping and pre-show/half time face painting the whole cast were clearly a multi-talented bunch.

The ‘pièce de résistance’ for me was a death-defying motorcycle globe act which featured three riders racing round and around and upside down in a surprisingly small metal globe, all without hitting each other or falling off.

Parking was a squeeze and the popcorn was a bit bland but you don’t go to the circus for gourmet popcorn and I had no other complaints.

Circus Funtasia are in Telford until Sunday. Tickets can be booked online or by calling 07706168507 – booking is recommended.

All photos taken by Gareth Griffiths © 2017 (badly edited by me)

Opening night at Novello Lounge, Telford

For a large town, Telford has a pretty poor nightlife. With an estimated population of 155,000 (according to Wikipedia), which makes it the largest town in Shropshire, it beggars belief that we Telfordians have to travel to Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury and beyond if we want a few cocktails and some decent music to start a night out.

When I found out, via the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Facebook page “We want bars and nightlife in Southwater Telford”, that ‘The Lounges’ were bringing a lounge to Telford and that as well as being a “friendly, informal café” they also served good food and most importantly — cocktails — I was beside myself with glee.

So, imagine my excitement when I found out that Telford’s new Novello Lounge was opening on Wednesday: the school night that the kids are with their dad. Seizing the opportunity I unsubtly hinted to Gaz that we should check out the launch:

and post-run (I know, Gaz… running!) we drove over to check it out.

It was gone 8pm by the time we got there, and the venue was already packed. The people of Telford were clearly making the most of the novelty of this new café-cum-bar.

I’ve never been to one of The Lounges before so hadn’t really got a clue what to expect. Not disappointed: the interiors are cosy and eclectic, somewhat reminiscent of my Nan’s living room with its over-sized lampshades, art-packed walls and random mix of chairs (Novello Lounge, not my Nan’s living room. My Nan has been dead a while.)


Despite being very busy, we were immediately shown to a suitable table and after ordering food and drinks at the bar, it took virtually no time at all for our ‘starter’ of some bread and oil to arrive (post-run carbs!) The bread was warm and my request for butter was met with a generous handful of little packets. I’d already been won over at this point: I was glad to receive soft butter, rather than the little yellow hardened blocks you often get in pubs and restaurants.


Bread demolished, I nipped up to the bar to order a couple more cocktails (I would traditionally order one of everything “to try” but I’m skint at the minute) and while I was away from the table the main course arrived. Gaz and I had both plumped for the Steak Frites: 8oz 28 day-aged Black Angus sirloin steak with garlic butter, wild rocket & parmesan salad and fries.

I ordered my steak rare, and rare it was. You wouldn’t believe the variety of well-done-ness I’ve hard served on my plate masquerading as rare before, but this deliciously pink piece of meat ticked every box. The garlic butter was laden with garlic and packed a punch and the fries were crisp and delicious. No complaints here.


On several occasions throughout the meal we were asked if everything was OK with the food, drinks etc by multiple members of staff, which was impressive given how many people were in. While it was beginning to get a little annoying (is it just me, or do people always ask how the food is when you’ve got a massive mouthful and can’t possibly talk?) towards the end I will forgive it as first night enthusiasm. It’ll be interesting to see if the staff are as attentive in a few weeks time!

The cocktails were tasty, with the Cherry Bakewell in particular going down well, although I found the Honey & Orange Cosmopolitan a little stingy in its size (see below) and the Espresso Martini only had one shot of vodka, which is an offense to vodka lovers everywhere (AKA me). Neither complaint enough to stop me ordering them again (and again) mind you.


All in all I was pretty impressed with the Novello Lounge on its inaugural night, and look forward to popping back soon to sample more of its delights.

Apologies for the low-light photos, I only had my phone on me and the lounge was dimly lit.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review

I tried to make a call to a website client of mine recently, and my phone — a Samsung Galaxy Core I8262 — spent what felt like half an hour thinking about what it was supposedly doing before locking up and rebooting. I am usually fairly patient with my technology but when a phone can’t do the one thing it’s actually designed for without spinning its wheels and throwing a fit, it’s time for it to go.

Strangely not put off Samsung in general, a cursory glance at their latest tech offerings had me ogling the Samsung Edge and the even newer Samsung Edge+. I ruled out the Edge+ straight away. It’s massive size would be far too big to handle in my dainty lady hands (this is bollocks: basically I couldn’t financially justify it) but the Edge had me intrigued. Boasting an octa-core 1.5GHz CPU and 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM, the phone tops a variety of benchmarks. There’s no way that was going to freeze trying to make a phone call.

I found the phone cheapest on Simply Electronics who I’ve ordered through before and had no problems, but their delivery times are always super looong so if speed is your bag you want to go elsewhere.

When I finally got my shiny new phone — and shiny it is, with its aluminium and gorilla glass casing — I couldn’t believe how light it was compared to the old Galaxy Core I8262. I weighed it up in my hands against Gaz’s iPhone 6 and in my unscientific opinion it was lighter than that too.

I was a little worried about the lack of a microSD memory slot in the Edge but checking my old phone I realised that I’d used only 8GB of the space available on the 32GB card I’d put in that, so with 64GB space on the new one I think I’ll be set for a good while yet (I’m barely using that much space on my laptop!)

As a self-confessed selfie queen I was impressed to discover that the Edge has a 16 megapixel rear camera with some kind of image stabilisation magic and a super fast f/1.9 lens. I can’t blame my dodgy selfies on a bad camera any more: if I’m looking rough, it’s all on me.

Phone hardware aside, some of my favourite features are because of the improved OS. From basic UI improvements like adding 0-9 on the standard keyboard screen to stop me from having to flick back and forth if I’m e.g. entering in a password, to more iPhone-esque sorting under Apps allowing me to sort my apps into folders (and indeed it comes with some — like “Social” — pre-sorted). Can’t help but gratefully cheer for the A-Z sorting too: that appeals to the organisation nerd in me. I think Samsungs still come massively bloated — the first thing I did when I switched on the phone was disable a bunch of bundled apps — but apparently this has improved over other modern Samsungs.

I’ve not bowled over by the fancy wraparound edge-y screen, which seems more of a fad than something particularly useful, but I’ve only been playing with the phone for a few days so I could be converted yet.

All in, it’s a lovely phone experience, but given what I’m used to I’m sure virtually anything could have been an improvement.

Am I being unreasonable? (Poor customer service)

Gaz and I picked the kids up from Karl’s earlier today a little later than I would normally do so, so we decided to head out for some lunch. I left the decision up to Gaz as I was feeling a bit dodgy (self-inflicted, don’t ask .. or look at Instagram) and so he drove us out to the Two Henrys near Battlefield in Shrewsbury.

I have a bit of a soft spot for The Two Henrys. It’s a generic chain pub but it’s where Gaz took me on our first not-a-date (which obviously went quite well). Since that not-a-date date, we’ve eaten there a couple of times. However, the last time (prior to today) that we went to The Two Henrys, we only nipped in for a post-walk drink and so went straight to the bar. It was relatively busy so we expected a wait, but after what felt like roughly 20 minutes where several waiting staff walked past and completely ignored us, we walked out.

Unfortunately our experience earlier today was much the same. We were seated relatively quickly (it wasn’t busy), but then completely forgotten about. In the time we were waiting, three other groups were brought in to nearby tables, seated and had their drinks order taken (one also placed their food order). After about 15 minutes — during which Olly was getting progressively more silly because sitting still is a big deal for a 3 year old boy — Gaz went to the bar and asked when we would be served. We were reassured that the waitress would be along shortly. Another 10-15 minutes passed before we gave up and walked out (and ate at Frankie & Benny’s instead). The biggest irony was that as we were seated, the waitress told us she’d need the tables back by 2pm because there had been reserved, so serving us quickly would have been quite important.

Am I being unreasonable to expect our drinks order to have been taken as we were seated (or shortly after)? To have had some crayons provided (as it is a family-friendly pub)? Or indeed to have any sort of service at all?

Either way, I think despite my emotional attachment to the place it’ll be a long time before we go back there.

Friday Night Treat: Peepo Pizza

I treated Gaz to some pizza on Friday night at one of our favourite local food places — Peepo Pizza, in Bridgnorth — to celebrate finally invoicing some jobs that have been on my list for a while (note how I say invoicing… cross your fingers they actually get paid!) Anyway, I rang and booked a table for 7:45 (and it’s usually advisable to book) and off we went.


After we arrived we were seated promptly (which I have to admit, doesn’t always happen even with a booking) and an eager, cheerful waitress asked if we were ready to order some drinks. She was happy to give us time while we ummed and ahhed, returning swifty to get our choices and a food order shortly after.

I ordered an Italian Stallion, 9″ calzone style (no olives) and some sweet potato fries, and Gaz had the Mucho Meat (no cheese, no jalapenos, with pineapple). I’d like to tell you this is a refined choice after many varied visits, but it is in fact what we have Every. Single. Time.


Having placed our orders, I couldn’t help notice the stream of young girls in party dresses buzzing back and forth to the nearby toilets, seemingly just finishing up a birthday party. Now, I’m not one of these adults that thinks kids shouldn’t be seen in public, and I certainly don’t have any expectations of a pizza joint (however upmarket compared to the likes of Pizza Hut et al.) being childfree BUT I think it would have been nice if the person who took my table reservation had mentioned on the phone that the place would be hosting a kids birthday party around the same time as I may have chosen to book a later table.

I know, I’m being utterly, ridiculously harsh here.

Small children aside we were given complimentary bread sticks and “truffle hummus” which, to my untrained palette, basically tasted like… well, hummus. Oh well. Hummus and breadsticks consumed, our meals arrived quite quickly and I was keen to dive in as quickly as possible:


Unlike the last time we visited, they remembered to not add the olives to mine this time (although this isn’t a complaint, I got that pizza free!) and it was — as it always is — delicious to the last bite. Generous toppings, rich italian meats, just the right amount of gloriously gooey cheese. Gaz seemed to enjoy his too but I was too busy stuffing pizza and fries in my mouth to ask.

Pizza devoured, we decided we’d indulge in pudding too. I asked for a Tiramisu off the specials board (one of my favourite desserts) but they were unfortunately all out, so instead opted for a Bailey’s Cheesecake. Gaz had chocolate fudge cake.


The cheesecake was delicious. Not too heavy after the richness of the pizza but with a thick biscuity base that gave me something to sink my teeth into. I thought that it was a bit light on the Bailey’s, but I imagine it’s tailored to a broad range of tastes rather than those who like a tipple or 12. Either way, I would’ve probably had a second piece if I hadn’t already been stuffed.

Plates cleared and bellies full, I paid the bill and we made our exit. Another pleasant visit, and no doubt we’ll be back soon.

Best Chips in Shropshire: The Bell Inn, Cross Houses

I don’t often blog about my experiences eating out, but there are times when I’m so surprised (either positively or otherwise) by what I’m eating I can’t help but give it a mention. This is one of those times.

I have recently had the pleasure of dining — twice, in fact — with Gaz at The Bell Inn, in Cross Houses, Shrewsbury. The Bell is not one of those pubs that looks ridiculously pretentious from the outside — although it has recently had new signage — it’s just a typical “friendly local” type pub. This ‘theme’ continues inside where the decor is cosy and clean.

The pub is split in two halves as you enter, with the main bar through a door on the left and the dining room on the right. I’ve not been in the bar, but I imagine it’s probably full of local gentlemen nursing their pints and talking about how things were back when they were a lad. (Isn’t that normally what happens in local pubs?) The dining room is quite small, but there has been room for Gaz and I on both occasions we’ve visited.

I am fairly predictable in that, when I go out to eat, I generally always order sirloin steak (rare). I am generally always disappointed because very few pubs and restaurants manage to deliver a truly rare steak. In fact, having eaten in upwards of 15 pubs and restaurants in Shrewsbury and Telford I can only count two who have actually delivered what I’ve asked for. Some pubs seem to think it’s OK to slip a rump steak onto your plate (and assume the diner won’t notice) and some just can’t seem to grasp the concept of what rare actually is.

The Bell is an exception. On both occasions eating there my steak has been deliciously, perfectly rare. Seasoned “just right”, those steaks melt in the mouth and are full of flavour. What’s more, they are served alongside the best chips in Shropshire. Yep! I’m making the extraordinary claim that The Bell Inn serves the best chips in Shropshire (but I’m happy to be proved wrong if anyone knows of better!) Alongside the steak and chips is a nicely dressed crisp salad complete with croutons, which are a nice (and often over-looked) touch and fab onion rings.

I think we’ve definitely found a well kept secret in The Bell, but I can’t keep this one to myself. If you’re local to Shropshire I definitely recommend checking it out.

The Bell Inn is located in Cross Houses, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY5 6JJ and has a large car park, bed & breakfast facilities, as well as space for caravans and campers.

De-stressing / chillaxing / “me” time [insert other clichés here]

You’ve probably been able to tell from my moaning on twitter and facebook that I’ve been a bit stressed lately. What with Isabel starting school last week (and the tantrums started by day #2), lots of stuff going on at work, money issues (a bloody great big tax bill) and general life chaos I feel like I just haven’t stopped and sat down.

Now things are settling into a new routine and I seem to have a handle on what the heck I’m doing day to day (honestly, I stress about stuff far too much) I can start to unwind. This coincides nicely with some candles sent to me by House of Fraser recently, with the intention being for me to “relax and have some ‘me’ time”.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been one for scented candles and all that jazz, and my ‘me’ time is spent minus children with a certain gentleman (at which point, candles are the last thing on my mind) but nonetheless I thought I’d give them a whirl.


I used the first one with company here (which incidentally, is one of my favourite ways to have ‘me’ time… albeit not just with me, obviously) to make my guests think I’m posh and because I figured that Plum & Black Amber would smell better than the musty I-don’t-clean-enough smell which usually pervades my house ;)

The general consensus was that the packaging was fabulous and the candles themselves would make a fantastic gift (I can think of a couple of people I’d buy these for), but I’ll be honest: I just couldn’t smell the candle despite everyone else protesting that it smelled lovely! Certainly I think the candle contributed less to my enjoyment and relaxation than the 11 bottles of Smirnoff Ice I consumed that night, but I probably shouldn’t admit that publically.

I had much more luck with the second candle, scented with Rose Blossom & Cassis (as pictured above). Not to help me relax at all, that’s what vodka was invented for, but it did make my living room smell lovely… at least until Fudge vommed his wet food all over the floor.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t really do ‘me’ time, and if I do I wouldn’t generally be lighting candles to help me enjoy it, but the candles ARE very pretty and at least one of them smells nicer than hairy cats and half-potty trained toddlers.

Our Day Out in Birmingham

It was Karl’s birthday on Saturday (I won’t tell you how old he is because he might throw something at me) and because he is the most awkward person in the world to buy for, I didn’t buy him anything; instead we went for a day out in Birmingham. Considering I have always lived within an hour’s drive of Birmingham (2nd biggest city in the UK, according to Wikipedia), you’d imagine I’d visit quite often but this was only the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve ever actually been! I’ve lived a sheltered life ;)

Our destination for the trip was The National SEA LIFE Centre in Birmingham, who had kindly offered us (free) VIP access to the centre to preview the new Penguin Ice Adventure attraction which opens to the public today (7th April).

We had to be there for 11am and so decided to take the train from Telford Central station to Birmingham New Street to avoid traffic. Not being a frequent train user (by which I mean I’ve been on about 4 trains in my whole life) I reserved the tickets online in the week prior through & I’m glad I did because the train to Brum was absolutely packed. We had to turf a couple out of our seats, although it turned out that we shifted the wrong people (oops). The kids loved being on the train and Izz chatted the whole way there about everything she could see out of the window.

Although the SEA LIFE Centre is a short walk from Birmingham New Street, we took a taxi; I didn’t fancy dragging the kids along an unfamiliar and very busy road/route and with Karl’s dodgy knee it seemed like the most sensible solution. For some reason, the taxi journey was the highlight of Oliver’s day and he won’t stop going on about it, I have no idea why. It was £4.60 to get from the station to the SEA LIFE Centre.

Once at the Centre we were greeted by a friendly chap who didn’t have a clue who I was because for some reason I introduced myself with my full name, rather than just Jem. Brief moment of confusion sorted out, we were shown to the Penguin exhibit. It was nearly 11am and there was a short queue at the main desk. The staff at the centre were very welcoming and we got stuck straight into checking out the penguins. I have never seen a penguin up close before, and for some reason had this idea in my head that they would be quite large. However, these penguins were all fairly small, probably around 1-2ft high. Oliver was fascinated, and took great delight in teasing two young penguins through the glass with his VIP pass.


The penguin enclosure has a sprinkler-style system installed which, at regular intervals, delivered a brief simulated rain shower which caused the penguins to get quite animated — even the fat looking ‘boss penguin’ managed to stir himself on his rock for his half-hourly shower.

When we’d finished checking out the penguins (and the kids had stopped helping themselves to the free VIP pastries & orange juice ;)) we set off round the Centre. Oliver loved peering into each tank to watch the fish moving around, and particularly liked trying to spot which fish was the biggest in each tank. Isabel was getting a little over-stimulated by the sights and noises and started to get stroppy as we walked around, but was won over by the seahorses and enthralled by the jellyfish in their colourful lit-up tanks (I thought the jellyfish were particularly well done). She spent quite a long time taking pictures of each tank and asking questions about what was in each one.


One of the things that worries me about any attraction containing animals is that their welfare needs are met, and the SEA LIFE Centre is no exception. I don’t know a lot about fish and their requirements but I know from fish loving friends that, like many other pets, they are frequently housed in tanks that are far too small for their needs. However, I was reassured that the Centre is helping to to tackle this problem — they have a prominent sign at the beginning of the ‘tour’ which talks about some of the “tank buster” fish they’ve taken in because their old owners could no longer accomodate the fish — and it encourages potential owners to do their research before buying. Welfare of their own fish aside, I was pleased to see lots of information dotted about the place talking about over-fishing, the use of shark fin etc.


The Centre has a 4D cinema playing a Spongebob Squarepants film, but we didn’t go in because they warn against it for easily startled children (I was grateful for that) and we weren’t sure how Izzy would react… Spongebob really isn’t my thing anyway! Instead we went down into the shark tunnel and watched as the sharks and giant turtle swam around above our heads. At the end there was a soft play facility, although I shoo-ed the kids out of the door before they spotted it!

All in we spent around an hour and a half to two hours walking around, not including the time spent looking at the penguins. That could easily have been more time if we’d stopped to read every sign or had taken part in the kid’s side activities (neither of mine were particularly interested on the day). We bought a couple of souvenirs from the shop because they were reasonably priced (compared to other touristy places where you feel like you’re being ripped off)

After we’d finished at the SEA LIFE Centre, we spotted a burger place — ‘Handmade Burger Co‘ — and had a great lunch at less than £40 for the 4 of us. Not quite as cheap as your average McDonalds but considering the burgers were the sized of a good steak, and that included 4 lots of meals and drinks I didn’t think it was a bad price for a treat day out. The customer service was stellar, food arrived quickly despite the place being absolutely packed and a queue out the door, and they were happy to accomodate requests for a highchair, leftovers being bagged up etc. Looking at their website now I can see they have a large variety of menu options to cater for those with allergies which I know some of my dairy free readers will appreciate :)

Post-burger, we walked back towards the SEA LIFE Centre to try and find a taxi and I spotted the queue, which was by that point spilling out of the front entrance and halfway up the street.

If you were planning on go to Birmingham, I’d say you’d want to dedicate a whole morning or afternoon to the SEA LIFE Centre and definitely take the train, because having seen the traffic around there I wouldn’t want to drive in it. Tickets to the SEA LIFE Centre are £20.95 for a full paying adult or child over 3 although you can save up to £8.50 by booking online … and given the size of the queue on Saturday I would definitely recommend booking online so that you can use the fast track entry thingy.

My awesome t-shirt

Did you see my boobies on twitter recently?

No silly, not on show, in my awesome ‘Jem’ logo t-shirt.

I recently had a mail from a chappy called Martin at T Shirt Printing .net asking me if I wanted to review one of their printed tees and I said sure, because (as my oldies will remember) I have a bit of a thing about t-shirts.

I sent him my uber cool logo from Lilian, which will eventually also feature in a cool portfolio layout by the said same designer because she is my go-to chick for snazzy shit, and Martin printed it up on a personlised t-shirt (it might not have been HIM that printed it, obviously, but certainly he did the important talking-to-me stuff). And here it is… here I am in full colour glory:


Shame about that flash though, eh? (And the very visible chicken curry I ate beforehand, mwahaha)

The t-shirt itself is good though. Nice, soft cotton and the print has been washed several times since it arrived in October with no visible damage to the lettering. I asked for an XL and it fits quite snug since washing, coming up a bit smaller than some of the other tees I own, but as you can see there’s plenty of room in there for chicken curries (and the boobies).

Now I just have to chat him up to get a hoodie, because I am getting a bit chilly in just my t-shirts at this time of year. ;)