We only bought our tickets a week ago - we decided to go because we found out that some of Emma's friends from home (Judy and Helen) were going, and we were going to meet them there. We had tickets for the 10:30 Anthony Worral Thompson theatre show so we turned up in plenty of time to wander through the hall and start sampling the food and drink on offer.
We took our seats in the theatre, only to find Helen and Judy sitting behind us, just a few seats away. The cookery demonstration wasn't as destructive as last year, with no kitchen equipment falling apart. Gordon Ramsay did get mentioned a few times. AWT referred to how he doesn't dislike Ramsay and considers him a good chef, but since it isn't reciprocated he referred to him as a bit of a prat.
There were other celebrity chefs doing public demonstrations in the halls. We saw Paul Rankin and James Martin at various times but didn't hang around to watch. There were too many free samples to go after.
It wasn't all free food though. We did buy some things - a few bottles of cider, some 'nairns' oat cakes, some 'seabrooks' crisps, an assortment of Hersheys chocolate/Reeses peanut butter sweets, and some cooking oil. It was a lot to carry around with us by the time we were ready to leave.
This morning's journey to work took about three times as long as it normally does. The journey was ok until the approach to Birmingham International where the train sat motionless for a few minutes before pulling into the station.
After a short wait an announcement was made telling us we had to leave the train and board a different one on another platform. Everyone dutifully trudged over to that platform and started to cram themselves onto the train but it soon filled up and left, with half the people still on the platform. The 'paddle waver' (who seems to be there to indicate to the driver whether anything's trapped in the door) had made a swift departure and had gone into hiding so there was no-one to ask what was happening.
I went up to the concourse to wait, but that proved to be almost as cold and draughty as the platform. There was an announcement that all trains to New Street had been cancelled. A few minutes later we were told to go to another platform and board the train there. We were warned that due to a trackside failure the train would proceed slowly to New Street. Then about a minute later we were told that the train was out of service and to return to the concourse for further news. The train driver did admit that the delays were caused by an overhead power line failure though.
Eventually we managed to get onto a train which was bound for Liverpool. This stopped at most of the local stations on the way to New Street but at least it was moving. The whole sorry comedy of errors meant that I got to work about an hour late.
The German Market is back in Birmingham for the run-up to Christmas, in it's usual place at the Victoria Square/New Street area. Last year I bought some really tasty candied macadamia nuts from one of the stalls so I decided to get some more.
I popped down during my lunch break. The first 'nut stall' I got to, there was nobody manning it but there was a 'Help Wanted' sign. They must have gone to lunch. The second stall was up and running. The bags of macadamias were 50p cheaper at this one but I decided to get the larger bag of assorted nuts instead.
We've had a couple of foggy days this week, with today being the worst. From the top floor in work you couldn't see much of the city.
Looking towards Broad Street in Birmingham
I noticed the Flower Dalek on its side on friday morning but I didn't take a photo at the time. It was still there this morning but the council had put a barrier around it.
Located a couple of miles from the city centre, this is a small zoo next to Cannon Hill Park. They had a good range of animals, including the obligatory Lemurs, a cute selection of rodents (including the Striped Mice pictured below), and their latest star exhibits - some Red Pandas (which kept themselves hidden while we were there).
We arrived nice and early so we could get our moneys worth and go on as many rides as possible. In fact so early the rides hadn't started yet so we had a look around the zoo, which was quite impressive in scope. We had a look at the penguins, lemurs, wildcats, meerkats and reptiles.
What surprised me about Drayton Manor was how quiet it was - it's much more compact than Alton Towers but still manages to cram a large number of rides on the site. Even so, the queues were much shorter than I'm used to at such places.
We started off on the Buffalo Coaster which is advertised as one of the children's rides but it's fairly good for a non-looping coaster. We did see a very frightened baby rabbit run away from the tracks as we thundered overhead!
We managed to go on all the major rides at least once. Towards the end of the afternoon the queues on the 'basic' rides (such as the Buffalo Coaster or the Cable Cars) were getting quite long but the queue on G-Force was non-existant so we went on that a second time.
Click on the thumbnail to view the image
There were Pot Noodle Miners in Birmingham city centre this lunchtime. They were giving away samples and vouchers. I waited around for a free sample (chicken and mushroom flavour) and I must admit that it was tastier than I remember pot noodle being.
The train was ready to leave Birmingham New Street when the announcement came on to say that the departure was cancelled and we all had to go over to platform 1 to board the Bournemouth train. Something to do with a failure with the overhead lines causing other trains to be cancelled or diverted. Anyone travelling to London would have to change at Birmingham International and hope for the best. Thankfully the Bournemouth train stops at Coventry so I was ok.
The train was a bit over crowded with many people standing in the aisle and by the doors. On arrival at International, the London bound people got off and a few other people got on. There was one unfortunate chap who was standing on the platform, arms were full of various bags and holdalls. He was also carrying a cup of coffee which he set down in the doorway of the train as he got his bags ready. Just as he was about to climb aboard the train, the doors closed. He was still there on the platform clutching his luggage as his coffee sped off into the distance.
It was very busy on the train this morning. A lot of people got off at Birmingham International (presumably for Crutfs at the NEC), including a woman with a huge fluffy white dog.
This was a trip organised by the University of Warwick Biology Society and the Cheese and Chocolate Society - I went because they needed a minibus driver and nobody in the Biology Society was old enough or had held a driving licence for long enough. I took the University minibus test last month so I was able to drive for the trip. The best thing about that was that as driver, I got into Cadbury World for free.
The first thing we noticed on leaving the minibus was the sweet smell of chocolate filling the air. Our first free bars of chocolate were given to us at the very start of the tour, just before we went through the jungle based exhibition about how the Spanish first encountered cocoa.
Other parts of the tour (in no particular order) included the history of Cadburys and the Bournville site, a viewing of the factory where we could see bars of chocolate being wrapped. It was after this section (and the viewing of a 3D film about the robots who do the packing) that we got out next free chocolate. We also got to see the set used for the 'Sponsored by Cadburys' opnening sequence used for Coronation Street.
Part way through the tour there was a tasting room. On our way in we were handed small pots of melted chocolate to taste. We also saw chocolate being set into shell shaped moulds and lumps of fudge being dipped into liquid chocolate - these were then made available for tasting. We came out of this room into the next area but couldn't see any other members of our party, so we ducked back under the barrier and went back into the tasting room - this was only to try to find the other. We had no intention of eating more chocolate. Honest.
Possibly the strangest part of the tour was the car ride through the Cocoa Bean Village. This was bizarre, with the beans in various settings from quaint village life through to skiing. A lot of the scenery was animated with flowers swaying from side to side.
The tour ended up in the Factory Shop, where anyone who hadn't become fed up with chocolate could buy more.
We decided to go shopping in Birmingham by bus instead of train. We both have travel passes which allow us to travel anywhere in the West Midlands by bus so it wouldn't cost us anything to go. Unfortunately the bus takes around 3 times longer than the train. Not worth it just to save a few quid (so we took the train back home again).
We had a walk round the market, getting some fruit and veg and some less healthy chocolate-coated strawberries. We went to Selfridges to get some of their so-called mini onion bhajis, which are fairly huge but terrific value at only 50p each and taste great. Lunch was at McDonalds - only because we had a b.o.g.o.f voucher for a value meal, otherwise I try to avoid the place.
This was a great day out - lots of free samples of food and drink (but mainly drink). The ticket cost includes one of the 'theatre' shows. We decided to see Gordon Ramsay. I would have been disappointed if he didn't swear, since that's what he seems to excel at.
He was demonstrating a 3 course meal starting with a soup. All was going well until he tried to liquidize the soup. He lifted the jug off the liquidizer base and it came apart, dumping the soup all over the worktop.
In the main hall there were more cookery demonstrations. We caught a glimpse of Anthony Worral-Thompson doing one of them. But the highlights were Gordon Ramsay's soup and the huge number of free samples we managed to obtain. We did actually spend some money though: 2 bottles of a decent sparkling wine (we made sure we sampled some first) and 12 big bags of kettle chips.
It was very warm and sunny today so rather than stay in the office all day, I decided to have a walk along the canal, from the Mailbox to Brindley Place (and back again). Here are some of the photos I took.
They seem to be having a few problems with the departures boards at Birmingham New Street. I took this photo last night, but it was also showing this interesting variant of the Blue screen of death last week. They seem to have sorted it (or simply rebooted) because it was working ok today.
The above looks more like a Bios screen which you see when a computer starts up. Here is a 'proper' blue screen of death, on the same screen.