Monthly Archives: October 2009

Free Hugs!

MCM Expo“Tell you what, Dad, why don’t we go down to Expo in London for our birthdays?” asked Cat a couple of months ago. I’d never heard of the thing, but Google was my friend and I discovered that what she was talking about was MCM Expo – a convention, or extravaganza if you will, celebrating all that is good in Movies, Comics, Video Gaming & Anime.

I’m game for anything, and so Cat and I set out for London early on Saturday. The day got off to a good start with an ever-so-sexy Metrolink tram announcer’s voice. “This is a Victoria service” she purred, but sadly neglected to complete her announcement with “Are you going all the way”?”

All the way to east London, dearie, and the huge Excel exhibition centre. The walk from the station at the end of our journey to the ticket queue was wonderfully decorated by hundreds of happy smiley people in fantastic costumes, mostly based on manga and movie characters. My Goodness but the women were pretty!

The queue to join the ticket queue The queue was immense, and wound up and down, around and around a huge hangar. It took us ninety minutes to reach to ticket office, but the time passed quickly admiring costumes and chatting to peeps – one Star Trek fan in particular, who was only there for the Terry Farrell.

But when we got in… oh, the crowds! Oh, the magnificent costumes! Oh, the gorgeous women! Oh, the sheer number of things to look at! Comics!games!steampunk!movies!music! And seemingly everyone offering “Free Hugs”. My poor descriptive powers can’t possibly do it all justice, so I shall simply post a string of photos in apathetic attempt to impart a little of the flavour of the day.

Skitty Kizzy!Cat had skilfully created her own costume, and wasted no time becoming a Pokemon Skitty. (Google it if you want to know more). For reasons related to crazy, random happenstance, I took her photograph outside the Tardis. Shame you can’t see her tail, which completed her outfit with a flourish.

Here’s a couple of costumes that impressed me early on – Fai, from the manga TsubasaFai

and a Ninja swordy cool guy: Ninja There were stalls selling a vast variety (a vastiety?) of goodies, from Pokemon plushiesPile o' Plushiesto rather awesome (and I use the word literally) swords. Very pretty swords which I desired. Swords

Cat’s Sally and CatBest Friend Forever, Sally, turned up after a while (see left, aaaah!), so I left them to do their own trendy, young things, and went in search of more mind-blowing wonderfulness. Also, did I mention the huge number of pretty women?

Tucked away in a surprisingly quiet corner, I discovered the legend that is Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor. This was a chance I could not pass up, and I engaged him awkwardly in conversation. We talked about beer in Manchester, of all things. TomWhy didn’t I ask him about his times on Dr. Who, FFS? Cos I’m an idiot, that’s why.

Around the corner from Tom was a “Steampunk Museum” – a collection of Steampunk artefacts made from everyday objects – it was very impressive.

SteampunkAlso, did I mention the pretty girls?Socks

Hang on a sec…… sorry, just admiring the knee socks on the girlie in the yellow skirt there….. This blog really should be called “Sad Old Perv”.

Orc Above the heads of the thronging punters lumbered a…. well, what? I want to say “Orc”, but who can be sure? Whatever, it was big, mobile, and advertising the rather wonderful magazine, SFX. Corsets What’s this coming along the blog now? Oh yes, here’s a photograph of a Corset Lady, selling corsets. From a corset stall. Crikey, they were expensive, plus they probably didn’t have one in my size.

I steeled my courage enough to have a go on a dance machine, at which I sucked big time and amused several young ladies with my pathetic lumbering. DSC07074 They were kind enough to applaud faintly for the sad old git for his failure, although it sounded like cows with diarrhoea. However, I WASN’T brave enough to follow this guy on the Lego Rock Band stand – he was so magnificent in his rendering of a Nightwish classic that I simply must post his photograph. I have entitled it “Tribute to An Air Guitarist”.

Meandering on, with a slightly cheesy happy grin, I noticed a charming young lady working at the speed of Mach 5 rearranging her stall, and with thoughts of a cool picture of blurry hands, took this photo, which completely failed to capture her speed – DSC07076“No no no no no!!” she cried, in a (I think) Polish accent, “You did not let me pose! You must let me pose!” So I let her pose. Charming creature –DSC07077 There were talk panels throughout the day; DSC07081 sessions with various alumni of film, comics, games, or animé. One of Cat’s heroes was on one panel, and she made sure she and Sally nabbed a front row seat for the talk. And here he is –

DSC07086Mike McFarland (left), director and voiceover artist extraordinaire, together with another voiceover actor Troy Baker. Mike McFarland voiced one of Cat’s (and my) favourite characters in Fullmetal Alchemist, Havoc.

DSC07092After Cat’s encounter with her hero, I had an encounter with one of my own – Bryan Talbot has for decades been one of my favourite comicbook author/artists. His presence had not been advertised, but OMG it really was him! I went all geeky, and immediately talked to him about his early work (Luther Arkwright – check it out) and his latest book, Grandville. We had a great chat, and he signed a copy of Grandville for me which I shall treasure forever. Page 20, DSC07140by the way, features… a wombat.



I could hear the sound of drumming, and so made my way DSC07104towards it, through the Comics Village to a far corner where a troupe of drummers were putting out a fascinating syncopation of (I learned) traditional Japanese pieces. They were the Kaikyo Taiko drummers, and they were just magnificent, creating waves of sound reflecting harmony, contrast… and stuff. “Kaikyo” means ‘the echo of the sea’, apparently.

I was extremely tired by now, and went in search of Cat and Sally, coming across a girl perfectly dressed as Ichigo, from the first manga Cat read – Tokyo Mew-Mew:DSC07112I also photographed this jedi, as proof that you don’t have to be young, attractive and slim to join in with the cosplay. DSC07113 When I found Cat, she was chatting with a girl DSC07117playing Riku from D.N.Angel – apparently, Cat was one of the few people who had recognised her character. They were getting on like a cliché on fire.

Did I mention how many pretty girls there were?SDC12352Before we left we also saw this creature from FMA (one of my favourites, I have to say), SDC12339and a very well turned out Princess Zelda and Link (if you have to ask, shame on you). SDC12343

Cat said she had been asked by several people to pose for a photograph, including a couple of other SDC12346Pokemon cosplayers – a pair of Bidoof (yes, I had to ask Cat, cos I didn’t know either).

It was a magical day, and OMG I forgot to mention how surreal the “new” tilty trains are on the mainline from Euston to Manchester! You gaze out of the window and see a canal at a forty-fvie degree angle seemingly defying gravity. Most unnerving. Our day was nicely bookended with another odd Metrolink tram announcer. This one appeared to be from the 18th Century. “Tis a Bury service”. A stonkingly good day.

Grange over grass

promFor centuries, like Ulverston, Grange over Sands was only accessible by crossing the sands from Lancaster by coach or on foot. Virtually untouched by Britain’s industrial revolution, the local fishing community remained quietly alone until the railway came in 1857. Wealthy businessmen from Lancashire and Yorkshire settled here taking advantage of the bracing air and wonderful climate. These men built some fine houses, hotels and grand terraces.

The River Kent used to flow past the town’s mile-long Promenade. But subsequently the river’s course migrated south, away from Grange. The “sands” (mudflats, in truth, with dangerous quicksand at uncertain points) became a grass meadow now frequently grazed by small flocks of sheep. More recently due to sustained easterly winds in the early part of 2007, the river has begun to switch its course back across the bay, and it remains to see whether the ‘sheep-meadows’ survive.

liz Why the history lesson? Why, because Grange was the target of our latest Good Day Out, where we had arranged to meet my BFF from hundreds of years ago (left), and blogger extraordinaire, Liz. A fine day was called for, but bloody buggery arsehole, it was lashing down as we hoiked Ben, the big yellow dog, into the back of Monique the Meriva and heaved it up the steep hill out of the village.

Ninety minutes later we were easing along country roads into Grange-Over-Sands in bright sunshine. Hoo! And even Ray! Pootling along the main street through Grange, some sixth sense told me to point Monique down a steep, windy street as tight as a gnat’s chuff. At the bottom, we found a car park where the Pay and Display machine was out of action. Score!

DSC06957 Liz always was reliably unreliable, so she turned up the expected thirty minutes late with OH Phil. “Oh look! There’s a tunnel under the railway line! Let’s go and look at the beach, the famous ‘sands’ under Grange” we all cried in unison. You see, at this point my history lesson had not been learned, and naturally I assumed that any place with ‘Sands’ in its name and described as a Victorian resort was, well, sandy. DSC06960 It isn’t, as you can probably tell from the surreal photo at the head of this blog, and this photo of my beloved Lady Raby and Liz strolling along the prom prom prom. We had decided to circle the town, so we strode out along the promenade between the railway line and the grassy beach. There were no brass bands, but I hummed “”Tiddely-om-pom-pom!” nonetheless, cos that’s the way I roll. DSC06965 Between the railway and the promenade itself were pleasantly, imaginatively arranged and well-kept flower beds, and plenty of benches for the sitting down. The cast iron benches were interesting, featuring squirrels eating what appeared to be grapes. Or just possibly squirrel intestines, which would make the benches a tribute to Zombie Squirrels. There’s a movie just waiting for the green light.

We passed the ruins of the old pier, jutting out into the grassy beach, then at the West end of the promenade, we discovered a strange, curved tripod structure. “iPLAY” it announced, as if that made everything clear. Ben worked out that it was designed for weeing up, but we were canny, and read an instruction board. Aha! Twas a game! DSC06972 An activity, designed for “fun and exercise for children of all ages”. Mentally nine years old, the lot of us, so of course we had to try. Phil, Liz’s hubby, was first to try, and scampered about like an eejit, while the tripod legs shouted at him his next instructions, and the rest of us laughed nervously while trying to work out how we were going to do it while avoiding looking like middle-aged divvies. Notice, in the above photograph, how excited Ben isn’t.

DSC06977 Now Liz had a go, bounding about with great enthusiasm. “iPRESS!” yelled the machine gleefully, “iTURN!”, “iPULL!”, “ YOU HAVE LOST A LIFE!” Liz achieved much the same score as Phil, and now it was the turn of my Mary.

DSC06981 Mary was leaping and hopping and sprinting. The machine cried out –
“iPUSH!”, “iSTAMP!”, “iPUSH!”, “iTURN!”, “YOU HAVE REACHED LEVEL TWO!”. What??? There’s a level two?? Oh yes, matey, and Mary went on to show us there was a level three as well. She was most impressive. That’s my girl! Sadly, no-one photographed my own lithe athleticism, but suffice to say thet the machine cheated me. I did not reach the much-vaunted so-called level two.

DSC06986We sauntered through the town, which was most delightful with some fine looking houses. We came upon a pretty bandstand. No band, sadly, but it did have a feature rarely seen on bandstands – a moat. By now, Ben was getting tired, and we were getting tireder, so we looked for a pub, eventually stumbling across The Lancastrian, right in the middle of town. Good pub – the beer was fine, the staff and landlady extremely friendly, and the dinner was GIGANTIC. DSC06996 Seven quid, yeah, but GIGANTIC. Also, they happily served the delicate ladies with “child’s portions”. Phil and me are tough men, so we imediately went for the GIGANTIC.

After no little time, we left the pub and walked off a little of the weight of the food, although Phil undermined the benefits by spotting The Chocolate Shop, and deciding that it simply must have his custom. The park, actually the NORMANDY VETERANS MEMORIAL GARDENS, was really pretty, and like everything else in this likeable town, was well-tended, tidy and clean. A large variety of amusing and exotic ducks inhabited the large pond. DSC07001Also in the park we found Picklefoot Spring, which a plaque told us has never run dry. It also told us that the name Picklefoot came from the walnut pickers who frequented the spot in days gone by.

Along Windermere Road there was a plaque describing
the history of EGGERSLACK TERRACE, an old terrace of stone-built houses. As Mary was reading aloud the plaque to the more illiterate of us, an old dear emerged from the house next door and engaged us in what turned out to be a fascinating conversation. Her family had lived there for centuries, and she regaled us with delightful tales, including a scary description of how, before the coming of the railway, the tide occasionally would flood all the way up the street past her house, which was easily several hundred yards from the “front”.

DSC07006 And finally to the station – a pretty station, in fact, with an unusual addition. A second-hand bookshop was tucked into the end of one platform, the cosy interior heated by an aromatic, crackling coal fire. DSC07012We purchased some aromatic, crackling books (including an Arthur Bryant about Pepys) while Ben sat prettily on the platform and waited patiently. Then finally we sauntered back along the promenade, and said our farewells.

Grange Over Sands – a wonderful, surreal place, Get there if you can.

And finally – Mary has just found a photograph that proves there DID used to be sand at Grange:2842854783_4ef1424544

Cat on Tour, Saturday 10th October 2009

UWE Bristol. “Can you smell fish?”

boweraston-722507A three hour motorway drive, during which I only fell asleep once (no, of course not), got us to the leafy Bower Ashton campus of the UWE School of Creative Arts by midday. The immediate difference between this campus and yesterday at Birmingham came even before we were out of the car: DSC00584 we were immediately directed to a convenient parking area, and found plenty of people in red T-shirts happy and willing to help. All through the day, in fact, we were looked after well, and kept informed of what was available to see and when to see it. It was a bright sunny day, which showed the green and rural nature of the campus off well. Forested hills cosy around the campus, which itself is dotted with trees and plenty of greensward. And the occasional giant letter.

I attended a Welcome Talk, while Cat waited in the sun to meet her Bristol-based friend, Vay, who was popping in to see her. The number of attendees meant that the talk had to be handled across two rooms with a common slideshow, but it was extremely competently done. As we were told – “Art & Design doesn’t need a large lecture theatre, so we don’t have one”.

DSC00610 Bower Ashton is in the grounds of Ashton Court Estate, and the house can be seen up the hill across the deer park (oh yes, there’s a deer park alright. Right next to the campus, and open for students to wander in, and presumably draw some deer). Although extremely rural, it is just ten minutes from the city centre. Many of the buildings are new. The School of Creative Arts has, in fact, four sites – the three others are used by the various disciplines. Students studying Illustration, Cat’s particular interest, also have a space in the historical Bush House, which is by the river in the centre of Bristol.

Resources are open to the whole faculty, so there are no confines to how students want to develop their work. Resources include an Art Shop, library, SU shop & bar – the faculty has strong links with Tate Modern, Aardman Animations, and the V&A among many others. Their deadline date for UCAS applications is January 15th, although interviews will be much later to give applicants several weeks to complete their portfolio.

DSC00591 Cat and Vay (for she had arrived while I was being impressed by the man with the disembodied voice) sat in on the following Welcome Talk while I poked about – everything was clean and orderly, with informative signage, including where to wait for coaches to see other sites, and what times they left. There were many bicycle racks – a student we chatted to told us that cycling was the best way to travel between the various sites, as there were dedicated cycle paths throughout Bristol.

We ate a tasty meal in the Refectory (where the food was rated with a traffic-light system according to how ‘healthy’ it was), before the time came for the Illustration talk. Now, Vay eats at the speed of a tiny bird. A dead one. She therefore had a whole fish yet to consume when the time came for us to move. We persuaded her to wrap it in napkins and eat it on the move, like a, well, wrap.

DSC00596 The talk was a little dry in its delivery, but the information we got was interesting and useful, although I did not feel inspired to take photographs during the talk. I shall therefore jazz up the information with a couple of pictures I took at other times in the day. The talk particularly lent itself to being presented in a blog via bullet points:

  • Animation kicks in at level 2, and could be an added option.

  • Working illustrators and agents visit often.

  • A degree consists of 360 credits. Students have to get 120 a year.

  • The year runs over two semesters: SEP to JAN and FEB to JUN. There is an additional two week break between the semesters. Extra hols, yay!

  • Year 1: Skills & Idea Development (printmaking, painting based on a theme, life drawing, location-based reporting, narrative, visual culture (a written module)

  • Year 2: Professional Working (how image gets to the page, text-based illustration both fiction and non-fiction, option modules)

  • Year 3: Students negotiate their own programme of study, receive live briefs and enter competitions, production of one major work or a number of short pieces, degree show in London, tutorial based: tutor assigned depending on choice of specialism.

DSC00599 At this point, several people (OK, me) began asking “Can you smell fish?” However, our presenter soldiered on, telling us that at interview, the chappie said, be prepared to tell them why you are applying; what is driving you. You should show an interest and knowledge of Illustration, and of the world in general (display that you have read widely, for example, watched films, know some current news etc). Your portfolio should include plenty of drawing (showing enquiring interest in ideas). Portfolio bullets:




Applicants do not need to have done a Foundation year, as they feel it achieves not-much-at-all.

DSC00603 After saying farewell to Vay, who sadly had to go to work, we were taken on an Illustration-centric tour of the campus by two chatty and knowledgeable Illustration students. Damned attractive gels, too. The picture on the left is Attractive Gel Emily enthusing to us about the library, which was a very-large-indeed library. It stretched around three sides of the building. DSC00606 I immediately found a book I wanted to read, and cannot resist sticking a photo of it here. There it is, look, on the right. Look where I’m pointing. We were shown, as well, various print shops with gorgeous views over the deer park, photographic and animation studios, and several fabrication workshops. Oh, and also where the new life-drawing studio will be situated.

Next, a trip on a charabanc! The attractive gels gathered with us to board a coach which took us into Bristol to see Bush House. The journey took us past SS Great Britain, the suspension bridge, and all-in-all served to show us what a beautiful city Bristol is. Fountains and art everywhere.

DSC00615 Bush House is a historical building by the river in the centre of Bristol, the fourth floor of which is for the sole use of Illustration students. First Years are given a desk and a locker, and by the third year students have their own work room. DSC00617 The rooms felt inspiringly artistic, the semi-circular windows giving fascinating views on all sides. According to attractive gel Emily, the best way to travel between the sites is on the ferry across the river, followed by a ten minute walk, although the cycle path is along the river and also very pleasant.

Finally, we were taken to an accommodation block, which was fairly average. We did not get to see any en-suite rooms, as these were all on a different site.

All in all, UWE was a resounding success with Cat, who rates it highly – perhaps on a par with Loughborough. Bit far, mind.

Cat on Tour – BIAD, Friday 9th October 2009

DSC00583The Arts and Design campus, known as BIAD ( Birmingham Institute of Art & Design) is one of several dotted around Birmingham City Centre. After ninety minutes of motorway driving, parking seemed unnecessarily difficult (no signs), until we spotted a bloke in a yellow vest way down a side street. Yep, he turned out to be the incarnation of parking signage. Once out of the car, our first impression was that the building is (in Cat’s words) HUGE! The photo up there is just the front bit – it goes back for ages. The setting is urban in the extreme, with few places where students might sit and relax on sunny days.

While we were queuing to register (see below), we amused ourselves trying to work out what courses other visitors were there for – Illustration, Architecture, Textiles, Jewellery. We were consistently correct, as is the way of things when its all in your head.

The Open Day was badly organised. It was not obvious where we were supposed to go once we got in, other than mill around aimlessly, and the place was a bit of a warren. DSC00558 However, we stumbled across the Student Union stand eventually, where two happy students were extremely friendly and helpful (if a little blurry – the drawback of using the phone camera). We also discovered the Art Shop, which was very well-stocked at reasonable prices. Cat bought a couple of sketch books.

Back in the canteen it was packed with rabbiting punters waiting for various tours, with the consequence that it was impossible to hear announcements as the “guides” all spoke softly, although they carried no big sticks. We managed, more by geographical happenstance than by judgement, to latch on to the correct crocodile of people for the Visual Communications (or VisCom, as they have it) tour. Pleasantly, we found that the walls everywhere were covered with students’ work, and impressive work it was too. In another “arty” touch, the floors, rather than being numbered (first floor, second floor etc), were referred to by colours.

Many of the rooms are open access, for the use of any student regardless of discipline. We saw a computer room full of iMacs for students to use for work, for browsing, or even for personal email. However, the bloke showing us round was at great pains to stress that in design, not everything is computer-based, and in this light we were shown a Print Room for all sorts of practical hands-on printing. DSC00570 We also inspected a well-equipped Photographic Studio where I took an Arty Photo (see left), a small Theatre (all black), and a Green Screen room (all, erm, green). In each area, a technician is always available to assist and teach students in the use of equipment. There was also a studio of desks for more traditional artistic work, given natural light through windows in the roof. Guide Bloke told us – “Good drawing skills are essential and greatly encouraged. Drawing is the basis of everything else”

Then a short lecture by George Hart, Illustration tutor, which covered the following points. Birmingham has three Universities. BCU has six faculties, including BIAD which dates back to 1843 and is the largest Art & Design educational centre outside London. DSC00561 The degree in Visual Communication has four strands – Graphic Design, Illustration, Moving Image and Photography. The course description was over-detailed for what we needed, but it boiled down to this – the course starts as a very broad-based learning experience, with much cross-discipline work. Specialisms (is that a word?) develop over the three years of the course until eventually the student is assigned a tutor appropriate for their particular field.

Students build a portfolio, making a Reflective Visual Journal (RVJ) – they keep everything: sketches, storyboards, research documents etc. In year 2, exchange visits are available to Hong Kong and Thailand. Visiting speakers appear from time to time.

He also gave advice on interviews and portfolios –

  • show a range of media, a range of ideas, a range of working sketches and/or models

  • bring sketchbooks as well as finished work

  • show passion and interest (Who do you admire in your field? What was the last exhibition you went to?)

  • it is more an informal chat than an interview – don’t be nervous.

He finished by saying that the degree is a team effort between student and tutor, not just tutors telling students what to do.

DSC00578 The accommodation we saw (reached by coach) was very plush, and included on the ground floor a gym, a jacuzzi, and a swimming pool (which are also used by members of the public). It was a tall block on a busy road in the middle of Birmingham, and I imagine it would be likely to be quite noisy. We weren’t told anything about student reps and security, unlike on other Open Days.

Cat quite liked the sound of the course, and will likely choose it as one of her five on the UCAS application. On the way out, she took a photo of a poppy in one of the few spaces where students might relax:DSC00582

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