Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Well, what a day! We’d set today aside as being our day for getting thrown round curves, spun through loops and generally rushed from start to finish on the rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and we certainly got our money’s worth. The weather felt a little uncertain at first, but by the time we’d walked down from where we’d parked, behind the Sea Life Centre, the sun was making a valiant effort to break through. The queue to get in to the Park just had to be seen to be believed though. I tweeted while I was there that I had never had to stand before in a queue that entered a building, wound through it, back outside again before looping back into another entrance.

To be fair, it moved quickly, and the customer service all the way through was faultless, especially given how we’d arranged the wrong date on our pre-booked tickets. A supervisor was quickly and discretely grabbed and the correct date amended so we could get in without any fuss. This attention to customer service, mixed with bizarre planning and layout decisions really became something of a hallmark of the day.

Rides and rollercoasters are tightly packed in a limited space, running round through or over each other – it can be a bit of a sensory overload – but what the Pleasure Beach seems to manage to do is keep alive the brassy spirit of the traditional British funfair rather than attempting to become a Theme Park. The minute you bear that in mind, the whole site seems to click into focus and make glorious sense.

Of course there’s chaos, of course there’s noise – it’s being honest about wanting your impulse purchases and  rapid transit through the rides – and that is part of the stripped down fun of the fair. You are expected to be capable of looking after yourself rather than needing to be spoon-fed the whole time. There are some who can’t stand Blackpool, but I have to admit I love the whole tarty, brassy, bold mess. And the rides are fantastic. After the Big Dipper, our favourite was Infusion:

Oh – and my daughter is feeling a lot better too. Which is the real icing on the cake.

Rushing Around

Sunday saw us leaving the house about six in the morning and heading north to start our holidays. Already fatigued a little by all the zipping down to the coast and back, I was a bit cranky as we started – a mood that wasn’t particularly helped by the torrents of rain that swept down on us as we hit the M1 motorway.

Fortunately, by the time we got to Alton Towers, the clouds had cleared, both in the sky and in my head, and we were able to use our Merlin Passes to get early access to the rides. This is yet another reason why we’re counting our passes as one of the best purchases we’ve made this year. An hour’s free access to most of the top rides at the UK’s biggest theme park before the general public whenever we want it? Hard to argue with. We did some rough calculations a month or two back, and we think that we’ve probably made a good couple of thousand pounds worth of visits to theme parks and sea life centres that we otherwise wouldn’t have made.

We may get teased by friends about being addicted to roller coasters, but I would argue that the confidence that all three of us have gained from facing fears, looking critically at the designs and appreciating the engineering of these rides is as big a gift as the silliness, adrenaline rush and cheap weekends that have ensued.

To give some indication of the extent to which we’ve been looking forward to returning here, my daughter is currently fighting off an unpleasant infection that has manifested in a sore infection of her mouth and gums. Even though she has been in great discomfort from it, she was resolutely determined to enjoy the day to the best of her ability – especially when we finally got onto the new ride at Alton Towers: The Smiler

We have another new favourite…

Having rushed around the park all day, we then carried on further north to stay with my parents at their place near Blackpool. Good cheer, good food and the promise of extended games of Mahjong now fill our days and evenings for the rest of the week, and I’m glad to at last be able to stop travelling for a bit. So yesterday we mostly… slept..

If There’s Rain, It Must Be A Bank Holiday

Short update today, just home from seeing friends on the South Coast where we had a barbecue. Being a Bank Holiday Saturday, this of course meant that the heavens opened, and I ended up standing with an umbrella, sheltering the cook.

It was a small gathering: our friends and their young daughter, one of my brothers and his daughter, and of course Lady M and my daughter were there too. All very gentle, and not at all a disappointment as the conversations and company were good.

An early start in the morning, so going to wrap it up here for the night…

Preparations for a Holiday

This is somewhat strange, I’m not used to taking holidays, and here I am pottering about the house trying to wrap up loose ends before I’m away for a week. The weather forecast seems to be good at least, so I’m mostly going to be travelling light – but on the other hand I am heading to the coast, so the evenings will be cooler – better pack a couple of hoodies for reserve I guess.

This is, I think, my first holiday in about eight or nine months, since I last headed north to see my parents. It is however the first holiday I’ve taken where the library has still been open (I last travelled during the Christmas break), and its felt a bit odd. I’m still not used to this mix I have where I’m working for a regular employer for about half my time, while still self employed as well.

As a result I’m finding myself stressing over making sure that I still cover my committments on the writing front while I’m on holiday. This, despite reassurance from my wife that it will be alright if I’m antisocial and typing away in the evenings on my laptop. After many years of regular gainful employment I’m still used, in the back of my mind, to this concept of stopping all work for a holiday. This then is the thing that no one tells you about being self employed – you are never really off duty. There’s always an ear out for the next bit of work and a worry about a deadline, even when you’ve arranged things to have a quiet day.

I think in part that comes from the stresses of being unemployed and the mark that’s left on me as an insecurity about money and where the next paycheck will come from. Perhaps then that is what I need to focus on during this holiday – recognising that there is a balance I can strike so that I can relax and let my blood pressure drop, without compromising on the commitments I’ve made.

Busy day yesterday

Wednesdays are usually pretty busy at the best of times, so I tried to get my head down and plough on with articles. That side of things was relatively successful, but then my daughter and her cousin dropped in after seeing City of Bones at the local cinema.

They’re definitely both growing into confident young ladies with more than a slightly gothic spookiness to them that doesn’t cloud the gleam in their eyes.

Between their glowing enjoyment and reviews I’ve seen calling it gloriously bonkers I do think I’ll have to see if I can catch it at some point.

With conversations then rambling between graphic design, animation courses, roller coaster design, world mythology recycling, Marble Hornets, Minecraft and the costs of graphics tablets there was no way I could carry on doing anything sensible, and by the time I’d fed and watered them and dropped them home I was too tired to stay up and catch up… So guess I’ll be slogging away at deadlines for the next 36 hours…

Testing Roll20

Many, many moons ago – about 1990 or so, I GMed a group that met every week to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. We played through the meat grinder that is The Temple of Elemental Evil, we endured the Slavers series of modules, and ran the gauntlet that was the GDQ supermodule: against the giants, the drow and eventually the Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Other games.followed, including Cyberpunk 2020, Vampire, Mage, Amber and In Nomine, before life, marriages, careers, children, gender reassignment, military service and the criminal justice system conspired to send us all in widely disparate directions.

Tonight I sat down with one of those hard bitten veterans to test the service provided by the Roll20 website for a return to tabletop gaming…

Ladies and Gentlemen, we may be in business…

EVE update

So I’ve been bibbling around doing mostly industrial and trading things in EVE lately. I’m pretty much running around on a casual basis, but I’m making enough turnover to cover corp office costs and a handful of tens of millions in profit along the way.

It’s not bad, but long term and more involved players are probably already raising objections that there are easier/more exciting ways to play. They’re right, for the most part, and that’s fine, even though their approaches largely rely on being part of larger groups.

I’m mostly a solitary player these days, and that’s largely down to disliking everyone’s insistence on using voice comms when I’m usually playing either with other people in the room, or while I’m writing on a separate machine. I’m contrary, awkward and stubborn, with a fast typing rate; so the minute someone starts insisting on using ventrilo servers I switch off.

I also seem to be a rare breed of player in EVE in that I’ve only once used PLEX to gather additional funds. The healthy ISK balance I currently have has come from a slow but steady, largely trading-based approach over the last few years while Real Life has been turbulent. I didn’t have time to trade shots and insults online while trying to fend off banks, bailiffs, lawyers and the fallout from a painful divorce and recovery from mental illness pretty much all at the same time.

Today though, something pretty rare happened, in one of those emergent gameplay moments that makes EVE so fascinating. I turned away from my laptop this afternoon while quietly mining and lost my Mining Barge to some player pirates who were having a gentle rampage through Domain today. (The link to the killmail is here, btw, and I just noticed one of them got tapped by one of my drones, so I’m on his killmail – here)

The old instincts kicked in and I bounced my pod from bookmarked location to location while the player hostility timer ran out before finally docking up. I chatted with the guys in local while I did it and we got chatting about Faction Warfare as an alternative income route.

It’s something I’d toyed with when it first came out, but didn’t really pursue for the reasons given above, but I have more time now, and the implication of more casual pvp has a certain draw. With promises to consider it and offers of introductions to militias of choice flooding the local channel I signed off so I could go pick up Lady M from the station.

Let’s face it, a good chatter with fellow gamers is far healthier than any sulk over a lost ship, because a) I don’t fly anything I can’t afford to replace, b) It’s only an internet spaceships game, even of it is serious business, and c) it’s my own fault for not keeping an eye out and it did, after all, give me a nice unexpected adrenaline buzz…

The rest of the weekend

Well, with better weather, we roused ourselves and toddled over to Thorpe Park for what seems to have been the busiest day of the summer season so far.

We didn’t let that stop us, and we ended up getting front seat rides on Colossus and Nemesis, giving Lady M’s new contact lenses a good stress test. A couple of selective Fast Track tickets helped save us some time, coupled with some opportunistic diving on to  shorter queues.

A busy day with the girls then, and now Monday awaits. What joy… On the plus side all the discomfort from the vaccinations has passed.

The Weekend Begins

Woke this morning – well, stiff and uncomfortable, and not in a pleasant way – the vaccinations did a bit of a number on me, and this morning felt like aches and shocks all through my kidneys, liver, back, upper thighs and arms – which made driving Small to her riding lesson a bit of an adventure.

view of the TopGolf range with target zones visible
A view over the range

With rain forecast for the afternoon, we opted not to do anything too outrageous and so decided to treat ourselves with an afternoon at TopGolf, just outside Addlestone in Surrey. Being mostly under cover – at least in the driving range – we could ignore the gathering clouds and get on with our games.

The exercise, and flow of soft drinks, seem to have helped me shake off the lingering grimness at least – and being the competitive souls that we are, no mercy was offered or granted – with Lady M winning her fair share and all of us getting a little bemused at some of the flukes that we managed to pull off between us.

As the rain and stronger winds kicked in though we called it an afternoon and went home. Geekery won out as ever, with PCs and consoles seeing heavy use until the early evening – I’m working my way through Dishonored on the XBox – where we reconvened for food and recorded tv. Tomorrow’s forecast looks a bit brighter, so not sure where we’ll end up. My money’s on somewhere with rollercoasters (surprise, surprise)