The Best of 2019

Happy New Year, readers!  And welcome back to Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub – the web’s number one virtual location for soaking in warm, relaxing waters and enjoying my virtual adventures.

What a year 2019 has been.  I’ve been to Comic Cons; written album reviews for Ever Metal; indulged in another traditional Halloween Horror Fest – and finally managed to get to a few gigs.  Food and drinks reviews, as well as toy and tat blogs, have also made a comeback.

But what have been the most popular and widely read blogs in the last year?  Let’s rewind the clocks and take a look, with a good ol’ countdown from ten to the number one spot…

10. Little Shop of Halloween Horror Fests

At last!  Some Halloween Horror Fest love, with my final set of reviews breaking into the Top 10.  A first for my horror movie reviews, as far as I remember.  A triple bill of The Wolf Man, Little Shop of Horrors and Lust for a Vampire.

9. New Deck 2019 – Death Skateboards Richie Jackson

All about my latest skate set-up, including sexy pictures of a very fine skateboard.

8. Ewok Village Playset

My vintage Star Wars Ewok Village playset made a welcome appearance.  I must feature some more of my collection in the future.

7. That Beer Place

Very happy to see such a cool local beer emporium prove so popular.  Well done, That Beer Place!

6. Liverpool Comic Con 2019 – Part 1

A great day out, and the blog didn’t fare too badly at all.  No sign of Part 2 in the countdown, though…

5. Death by Tacos, Chester

The number one food place in Chester makes a justified appearance in the Top 5 most popular blogs.  Awesome food and service.

4. Tat Trek Update #8: Jo Guest Strip Pen

Miracle of miracles – an item from my Tat collection rockets into the most popular blogs for the first time ever!  Perhaps the saucy nature of the Jo Guest strip pen is to blame…

3. Wales Comic Con 2019

Always a great Comic Con, with fantastic guests and most importantly – as evidenced by this blog – amazing cosplay.

2. MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2019 – Part 1

The first part of my visit to the NEC for Comic Con made it to the number two spot.  Few words but plenty of brilliant cosplay.

And now – announcing the Most Read Blog of 2019 at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub.  What could it be?  Why it’s…

1. MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2019 – Part 2

Only a couple of views more than Part 1, but Part 2 takes the crown for the most popular blog this year!

It’s great to see a variety of different topics be successful this year.  Comic conventions, food and skateboards always fare well, but I’m very happy to see Star Wars toys and a bit of tat break through for the first time.I’ll endeavour to deliver more in 2020 – who knows what we’ll see?

My thanks to all my readers over the last year – I appreciate every single view, like and comment.  I wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2020.

That Beer Place

The indoor market in Chester has had a confident resurgence in recent times.  Still the home of many familiar local traders and stalls, the market has now grown to accommodate a whole new and vibrant concept.

A number of excellent eateries have sprung up, offering food of a wide variety of styles.  To compliment this, That Beer Place has also established itself as a central attraction for beer lovers.

I wanted to write a brief appreciation of That Beer Place – and spread the word if possible – for a fantastic enterprise that deserves success.

There’s a huge selection of beer to choose from, both on tap and in bottles or cans.  Whether traditional or unusual, local or from a far flung locale, there’s so much variety that there’s sure to be a drink to suit all tastes.

Staff are helpful and able to advise, if the magnitude of choice threatens to confound.  There are vegan, gluten free and more options; plus cider, gin, wine and non-alcoholic beverages too.  It’s easy and fun to experiment and discover a new favourite.  I’ve been doing it for a while…

Whilst never raucous, there’s definitely a buzz about That Beer Place that makes it a great place to visit.  It’s friendly and welcoming, with a cool vibe that makes it a crucial part of the revamped market.

Good luck to That Beer Place and Chester Market too (not forgetting another favourite,  Death by Tacos!) – make sure you pay them a visit next time you’re in town.

That Beer Place

Unit A19, Chester Market, Chester, Cheshire
01244 941990
Find That Beer Place on Facebook and Twitter.

Death by Tacos, Chester

It’s been a long time since I wrote a food blog.  However, I’ve dragged myself out of self imposed food critic retirement, to plug a new local eaterie that I’ve become a huge fan of.  That establishment is Death by Tacos, in Chester market.

Anyone who knows me, or has read previous blogs, will know I’m a big fan of Mexican food.  So it’s no surprise that I love DBT.

On offer is authentic Mexican fare: freshly made, soft corn tortillas filled with a choice of various fillings and mouth watering dressings.  So far I’ve tried the chicken and the chorizo, and I’m working my way through the menu.  Both dishes were fabuloso!

There are also some amazing sounding sides available, like brisket loaded tortilla chips, that I want to try.  Plus with some groovy cocktails and beers, this is Mexican food heaven.

Sitting in Death by Tacos, I was right at home: a couple of skateboards on the walls and classic tunes (Black Sabbath and Smashing Pumpkins were on the playlist on my last visit!).  Plus the staff are friendly and helpful, making the whole experience a real joy.  Oh, I got a sticker and a badge too, wahey!

Chester market has been revamped over recent months, and now features various places to eat and drink that are worth investigating.  On Friday evenings they’re open till 9pm, and there’s a real relaxed and fun vibe that I can recommend.

Death by Tacos is worth your time to experience, trust me.  Great food, cool surroundings, what more could you want?

PS: this review ain’t going on Trip Advisor, ‘cos everyone knows Trip Advisor is for FOOLS.

Death by Tacos, Chester Market, Chester CH1 2HH. 

07791 068464

https://www.facebook.com/DeathByTacos/

www.instagram.com/deathbytacos_ 

Skateboard Museum: SMA Jim Thiebaud

Come with me as I take a roll down skateboarding memory lane, ollieing the cracks as I go…

Santa Monica Airlines Jim Thiebaud

This classic deck dates back to the late 80’s, I picked it up in 1989 if I remember.  At the time the Chester branch of Milletts, the camping and outdoors shop, were stocking skateboards for some reason or other.  They had some pretty rad stuff, too.

When the time came to replace my worn out deck and get a new one, I saved up my pennies/swapped vinyl records and got myself this Santa Monica Airlines deck from Milletts.

At least I think that’s where it was from, I can’t remember.  Either way, I didn’t support a skater owned shop on this occasion, to my shame.

SMA

SMA were really blowing up at the time, and Jim Thiebaud had been on my radar since I saw the (criminally minimal) footage of him in some of the Powell vids.

Thiebaud was – and is – a supremely cool skateboarder with a smooth, rad style.  He was one of those original street pros that I really admired.  Along with Gonz, Natas, Guerrero and Vallely, JT was a bona fide street skating pioneer and innovator.

The shape was perfect for me at the time, exactly how I wanted a skateboard to be.  It’s still a classic shape now, I really like it. Nice size tail, comfy wide deck – but not too wide.  Great street deck of the era.

This deck also had the cool comic book style superhero graphics which I loved.  I’ve always been a big fan of superheroes.

However I wasn’t cool enough to get on this particular wave of popularity earlier.  If I had, I might have picked up the previous variation on the graphic, which featured a bad guy designed to resemble the Joker.  The Batman movie was out around that time, so I guess the whole theme was prominent back then.

So the Joker version had to be scrapped due to some issue with DC Comics, I believe the story goes, and I ended up with the purple suited thug instead.

No matter – cool graphic or not, this deck was to be skated.  I transferred my Indy trucks and OJII wheels and was ready to go.  Well, when I’d also added the Powell Rib Bones as well.  Not to save the graphic, mind – in those days the received wisdom (at least amongst my friends and I) was that the rails helped you slide better.

This particular set up was particularly long serving and loyal.  It was like a magic carpet that seemed to respond perfectly to my wishes.  Honestly, I remember learning tons of tricks on this finely shaped beauty.  Footplants and Boneless variations were (still are) major tricks in my arsenal and I learned several on this very set up. 

Biggest of all though, was the kick flip.  We called it an “ollie kick flip” back then, and it was a pretty desirable trick to own.  I learned kick flips on this gorgeously wide beast and was unbelievably stoked.  I still remember that first one.

It was well skated – in fact the tail is worn to a sharp and splintered point – but this set up is still skateable.  It’s still around as it was replaced with thinner decks and trucks as shapes evolved; thus I never swapped it.

The SMA Thiebaud is still on the garage wall, still looks great, and still gets a roll every now and again.  Classic.

Take a close look at the photos and you’ll notice some interesting features:

  • Madrid Fly Paper grip tape (note the fly shapes cut out)
  • Rad SMA top graphic
  • Santa Cruz Cell Block riser pad
  • A couple of cool stickers from back in the day still hanging in there
  • The trucks are fitted with Grind King reversed kingpins, there’s even a sticker on the front hanger…
  • You can see some of the bands I was into at the time from the grip tape art, which I did with Tip-Ex…

Chester Comic Con – The Director’s Cut

Chester Comic Con

Sunday 24th September 2017

OK – so remember when I wrote my blog post about Chester Comic Con a while ago?  I ran out of memory space on my WordPress site and couldn’t post all of the photos I had taken.  Almost all made it, but not quite.

Then came Halloween Horror Fest, and although the space issue was solved I didn’t get chance to complete the images taken from Chester.

Until now.

Here, in true George Lucas style, I have re-visited the event and present for your enjoyment, the missing shots taken on that day.

Most of the these bonus pics simply weren’t used due to lack of space; some here are alternative versions of shots used.

Either way, I hope you enjoy.

As well as fantastic Cosplay costumes and various stalls selling all manner of wonders, there were also a few vehicles on display…

As I mentioned in the previous Chester Comic Con blog, I saw a great Q&A session with Martine Beswicke, Caroline Munro and Madeline Smith.  Best thing of the day!

Well done everyone at Chester Comic Con – it was a fab day!  Looking forward to next year.

Chester Comic Con

Chester Comic Con

Sunday 24th September 2017

My buddy Dan acquired some tickets and I was off to my first Chester Comic Con.  Amazingly, it was held at that den of drunken depravity, Chester Racecourse.  So for once, that almighty dignity vacuum would feature some actual culture.

To be fair, the racecourse was a pretty good venue.  There was plenty of space, with the indoor stalls surrounding a courtyard where numerous cosplayers, fans and geeks of all types could gather.  As it was decent weather, this outdoor section was a handy addition as it got fairly crowded indoors.

The stalls were many and varied; it was good to see a large number of merchandise stalls selling all manner of collectable paraphernalia.  There was plenty to drool over and spend hard earned cash on.

I picked up some comic books and Lego figures for presents, incredibly managing to resist adding more Funko Pops to my collection (there were lots).  As always with these events, however, there was tons I regretted not picking up later!

The cosplayers at the Con were superb.  There was all manner of fabulous creations on show, as seen here.  You’ve go to admire the dedication, hard work and creativity that goes into making these costumes.  I also think they’re also very brave, it takes some guts to proudly display your geek pride.

Well done to all the cosplayers – costumed heroes, every single one!  And thanks for letting me take your photo for this blog.

A highlight of the day were the Q&A sessions.  I caught a very interesting talk with Christopher Fairbank, who discussed his roles in film and TV from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet to Guardians of the Galaxy – and tons of other stuff.  His recollections provided loads of fascinating insights behind some of the many projects he’s been a part of.

Later on, there was another Q&A with Martine Beswick, Caroline Munro and Madeline Smith.  I’ve met these wonderful ladies before, but it was great to hear them talk about their experiences with Bond, Hammer and beyond.  The session was light hearted and lots of fun, with some genuinely interesting stories. All three came across very well; they were warm and friendly and really happy to be part of the event.  Superb, my favourite bit of the whole day.

All in all, Chester Comic Con was a total success.  It was a great day out and I’ll definitely be repeating the experience next year.  Let’s hope that 2018’s Con is expanded to two days!

The Chester Comic Con website is here.

Well folks, there you have it – for now.  I have a few more photos from the event to share, however I appear to have reached my limit for images with WordPress.  So for now, this is it.

In fact, this may be the end of Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub.

We shall see…

Hanky Panky in Chester

Hanky Panky Pancakes, Chester 

Not that type of hanky panky, you bunch of deviants.  I’m talking about a great new pancake emporium in the city of Chester.  It’s a laid back, homely place with literally tons of tasty grub – all featuring pancakes in some form or other.

The Platinum family visited Hanky Panky pancakes recently whilst on a day trip to Chester.  If you know the town centre at all, you’ll know Commonhall Street.  For the uninitiated, it’s tucked away off Upper Bridge Street, but very easy to find.

We popped in for a mid afternoon break, and were happy to find a novel and delicious base for a spot of nourishment.

Basically, at Hanky Panky anything you can think of related to pancakes will be found.  Different types of pancakes, served either savoury or sweet – your choice.

On this visit, it was mid afternoon so I opted for something sweet: the amazing Rocky Road.  This consisted of pancakes adorned with chocolate chips, marshmallows, rocky road ice cream and chocolate sauce.  As an irredeemable choc fiend, this was pure ecstasy!

I enjoyed a Fentimans Cherry Tree cola with my treat, which was very good.

The rest of the family also enjoyed sweet pancake joy, though I can’t remember what they ordered.  Mine was the best, anyway.

Our trip to Hanky Panky was really appreciated by all of us.  We hope to make another trip soon – maybe next time I’ll go earlier and opt for a savoury choice.  The “El Matador” (chorizo and sun dried tomatoes) sounds incredible.

All in all, recommended for a different family treat food-wise in Chester, that you’ll want to visit again.

Hanky Panky Pancakes, 20 Commonhall Street, Chester CH1 2BJ.

01244 319225

The Hanky Panky website is here.

Star Wars Figures – the Next Wave

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Actually, it was just a few months ago that I wrote a blog about my collection of original Star Wars figures.  Last time I looked at the initial run of 12 figures; this time here’s a piece about the next wave to come along.

I hadn’t managed to collect all of the first twelve before the next batch of figures were released (sadly, this would be a recurring situation in my figure collecting).

After the phenomenal success of the first toys in the Star Wars line, additional figures were introduced to provide fanatics like me with further material for our mini universe.  This development would introduce hours more fun recreating classic scenes from the movie, or indeed inventing your own.

 

Most exciting was the introduction of four creatures from the Mos Eisley cantina – always my favourite scene from all of the movies.  Although in those pre-home video days, I can remember having trouble recalling where some of these characters actually appeared…

Greedo – who was sometimes referred to as “Green Greedo” on some card backs (I always found that a bit daft) was easily recognisable.  Scouring my Star Wars story book revealed an image of Hammerhead, and repeated rewinds when the video finally materialised revealed Snaggletooth too.  Though this was a real challenge when watching the cropped for television version.

Walrus Man was a bit of a mystery, however.  Who was this strange, orange swimsuit wearing individual?  It wasn’t until years later that the chief suspect was confirmed, he was supposed to be the cantina bully who picked on Luke (later named Ponda Baba).

The detail of these aliens was variable – Greedo was, and still is, awesome.  Hammerhead and Snag were also very cool.  Walrus Man, on the other hand… 

No matter, I was a sucker then for obscure alien characters and I probably always will be!

I can clearly remember that the first figure that I got from this set was R5-D4.  He was from the Toy and Hobby shop in Chester.  The last one was Power Droid, who took me ages to find.  I think that figure finally turned up on a family trip to Skegness around 1982.

Death Star Droid was another nice replication, though repeated video viewings revealed that this silver version of the droid was seen on the Jawa Sandcrawler; a shiny black version appeared on the battle station.

Luke in his X-Wing Pilot outfit was the first time a character was re-released in a new outfit.  A great figure, I collected a few over the years to be additional Rebel pilots.  Like a lot of fans, my original Luke X-Wing was often recast as Wedge.

The great thing about this wave of figures was that it added minor character to my collection.  This went a small way towards recreating the world of Star Wars, with its hugely imaginative population of droids and creatures.  Populating my own mini scenes from the film was a major reason I kept collecting.

Finally, I must mention Blue Snaggletooth.  For those not n the know, the blue variation of this character was the first version produced and included in a US Sears exclusive set.  The toy manufacturer, Kenner, had scant resources to refer to (no lower body reference) and so produced a regular height figure, with kitsch silver space boots.  Lucasfilm then decreed that Snag was short and had hairy feet, so the version produced for the mass market was somewhat different.

To my knowledge, the blue variant was never released in the UK; I was unaware that this toy even existed till I started collecting again in the mid 90s.  I found this version in a comic shop in Rhyl, and after some soul searching, spent my savings and snapped him up for £90.  This is the most I have ever spent on a Star Wars figure, even the ultra rare toys were fortuitously bought for a couple of quid whilst still in the shops, years earlier.

I’m so, so glad I got him though!

A nice coincidence: the red Snaggletooth, always a favourite, was bought from a toy shop in Rhyl around 1979.  His blue cousin came from the same town twenty years later.

Never, ever, underestimate the wonder of Rhyl.

Ye Olde Kings Head – Mostly Haunted

Ye Olde Kings Head

Chester

Would you dare to stay a night in a 300 year old pub, in one of it’s most haunted bedrooms?  Sound like fun?  I wasn’t 100% convinced, but that’s what Mrs Platinum Al and I decided to do recently.

You’re familiar with Most Haunted, right?  Where Yvette Fielding and her intrepid group of paranormal investigators visit aged buildings to discover what ghostly goings on they can find?  Well Ye Olde Kings Head in Chester, was featured on the programme not too long ago.  We watched the programme and were intrigued by the various strange occurrences the team observed.

So Mrs Platinum Al decided she wanted to stay the night there.  In the room that was supposedly the most active with things that go bump in the night…

Not like that, you smutty lot!

Ye Olde Kings Head is a wonderful looking building in the Tudor style – dark wooden beams highlighting the architecture.  Inside, the pub also has a real Olde Worlde, traditional style with plenty more wooden beams, comfy chairs and an open fire.  It is indeed very charming – you would swear you’re on a film set if you didn’t know better.  There’s also a well stocked bar, live music and a friendly welcome. 

We were staying in Room 1 – supposedly the most active in the paranormal activity stakes.  The room featured an enormous four poster bed and antique looking furniture.  There were yet more old wooden beams visible, these ones a bit lower – OK for any headless spirits.  An excellent spacious bathroom completed the impressive amenities.  All very cosy and not at all spooky, I wasn’t nervous at all.

Now I’m not necessarily a believer in the supernatural.  There’s usually a plausible real world explanation for most weird events.  However I’m not a total nay-sayer either; I’m certainly interested, and if something truly bizarre occurred I’d accept it.  But it would have to be pretty out of this world and happen right in front of my eyes.

After a few drinks and a top notch evening meal, we retired to our room to begin our own paranormal investigations.  With a glass of wine (or two) for Dutch courage, we waited to see if anything would happen.  We closely observed everything in the room to see if any objects had moved.

In true Derek Acorah style, we attempted some “calling out”.  You  know, all that “Is there anybody there?” malarkey.  No, I can’t believe I did that either.  I assured our ghostly hosts – if they were there – that we meant no harm and were only curious if they would like to make contact.

Unfortunately, nothing happened.  No otherworldly voices, no items moving of their own inexplicable accord.

Although just as we were falling asleep, the television switched itself on.

Now that occurrence might be explainable in many ways: a faulty TV for one.  But the fact that the same thing had happened on the Most Haunted episode had us intrigued.  I’m not saying I was convinced, but it was an interesting coincidence.

I then fell asleep in the giant four poster, easily the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.  Happily I slept right the way through; my main concern of this visit was having to go for a wee, in the dark, in the middle of the night.

In the morning we had a great full English breakfast and were ready for a new day.

Our investigation at Ye Olde Kings Head didn’t deliver much in the way of ghostly goings on, but we definitely had a brilliant time.  We were well looked after, with the food and drinks being excellent.  Both the pub and the room we stayed in were really warm with an almost magical ambience.

We’ll definitely visit again, and attempt some further paranormal investigations.  Perhaps it was a little disappointing that we didn’t experience anything strange.  But we both had a relaxing break in a really good pub, and that’s good enough for me.

The website for Ye Olde Kings Head is here.

The Facebook page for Ye Olde Kings Head is here.

Ye Olde Kings Head, 48-50 Lower Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1RS

Tel: 01244 324855

Food Quest: Piccolino, Chester

Piccolino, Chester

It was a hard slog of a shopping trip, but luckily there was a safe haven awaiting us.  Despite the crowds outside, a warm welcome would be found at Piccolino; a chance to recharge and enjoy some great food.

I’ve been to Piccolino before, but not for a while, so this lunchtime treat was very satisfying.  The staff were very helpful and we immediately felt relaxed.  All four of our party – including a six year old with fussy tastes – were looked after very well.

Here’s a brief over view of the food I enjoyed.

As it was lunchtime, we didn’t bother with starters as such, but ordered some garlic bread to share.  This Pane All’Aglio was served with tomato and basil – essentially a tomato sauce – and was delicious.  Especially popular with our youngest member.

For my lunch proper, I ordered Fusilli Puttanesca Con Pollo – a pasta dish, with chicken, tomato, olives, chilli, anchovies and capers.  I was looking forward to this dish, and I wasn’t disappointed – it was superb.  Not just any old thrown together pasta meal, this was exquisite.  I was very impressed, even better than expected.

Mrs Platinum Al ordered a pasta dish also – Farfalle Al Salmone (probably just because it had my name in it).  Joking aside, this was also very good – I had a sneaky try to confirm.  I would happily order this meal myself on my next visit, if not for the fact that my Fusilli Puttanesca Con Pollo was so damn fine.

The little ‘un had a cheese and tomato pizza – that’s a Margherita to us professionals – and she destroyed it.  The pizza proved very popular indeed.

I’d had a cheeky beer (Moretti La Rossa – excellent), and decided to splash out on a dessert.  This was not a mistake, no sir.

I was tempted by some ice cream, and made a radical choice.  Despite not being much of a fan of coffee, I chose the Affogato – Amaretto, espresso and vanilla ice cream.  This was presented more like a cocktail than a pudding, with the ice cream covered in Amaretto and a shot of espresso to pour over the top.  This was an amazing dessert – I still have dreams about it now! img_20161008_143441512

A fabulous time was had by all of our party at Piccolino.  The food was divine and service perfect.  To top it all, our little girl had a great experience and we’d happily return for more family fun.

Food Quest Test

  • Food: Enormous choice and delicious
  • Drink: Plenty to choose from, need to try more next time!
  • Service: Professional, friendly, hard working
  • Cost: Very good value for quality food

Piccolino, 33 Pepper Row, Pepper Street, Chester CH1 1EA

01244 312123

Check out he Piccolino menu here.