Inktober

The second half of September had two Coxon family visits in a row.; first George and Kathryn came down for a brief visit which involved pizza and beer and Into the Spider-Verse. The following weekend John’s parents came to visit, met the cats, and were kind enough to take us to IKEA not once but twice.

As a result I have a corner desk and a kallax unit and my habitat is a bit more unfucked than it was. It’s almost, dare I say it… nice? I thought the storage would be the best part but honestly I didn’t even know how much I really needed a new desk.

Now John is off on his annual trip to the wilds of someplace or other (Herefordshire? Surely not, that sounds made up) and I am trying to hunker down and focus on getting fans done for World Fantasy. On the plus side I am getting extra cat time, which is nice.

And then there’s inktober, which I’m participating in for the first time at least partly as an effort to not spend my weekday lunches at my desk. It’s only sort of working so far, but it’s early days so we’ll see. I am enjoying how the prompts are deceptive, the easy looking ones turn out to be the absolute worst.

Weekends!

The last few weekends we’ve stayed in Southampton, but managed to have nice mini-adventures regardless.

The last weekend in August Michael came over and we wandered across the bridge to Riverside Park and Trifest, a new crowdsourced neighbourhood festival. We arrived pretty late in the day, so we missed the food, and it was pretty small, but for a first year crowdsourced event it was solid, with musicians all day and some local arts and crafts, as well as a couple of local charitable organizations. I bought some upcycled jewellery from Sylvie Leost and some duck feed from a charity. Unity had a beer stand, so we had a half pint each and enjoyed talking to a friendly but confused drunk guy.

After the festival, we walked along the river down to the Unity Tap room to enjoy more beer and some very good food from Hibiscus Mexican Kitchen. Turns out the tap room now has a different food truck on site every Saturday! We walked back, hoping to feed some ducks on the way, but saw no waterfowl at all due to the low tide. The rest of the weekend was board games and chillin.

Then last weekend Anna and Hogg came down from London to visit for the weekend! We saw Criminal Ornamentation at the City Arts Gallery, which was excellent. I also finally had a chance to have a look at the Perseus Series by Burne-Jones, which had been on loan last time I was there.

We got breakfast at La Baronia and then walked into town for donuts and and coffee, and then walked back home along the river, this time there swans but I had no food for them. We spent the rest of the afternoon fighting unspeakable horrors in Arkham and eating delicious brownies cooked up by Anna. Then we ordered Nigerian delivery from Afritopia, the menu stumped us at first since most things were labeled as “soup”, but Anna helped puzzle some things out and we ended up with a really delicious meal.

On Sunday I made pancakes for breakfast and we played with the PSVR set that they had brought down with them, I had skipped my turn the night before because I am entirely useless at flying games, but this time it was Beat Saber, which is much more my speed. I enjoyed it immensely, though I don’t know if I’d want to spend that much money on the hardware. Though I do see No Man’s Sky is an option…. hmmm.

We finished off the visit with a massive lunch at 7bone (do they do any other kind?) and enjoyed the sunshine on the walk home. John popped into Argos for a sorely needed new wifi router, and once Anna and Hogg left for their train home he promptly went to work setting it up while I finished my chores for the weekend.

By evening we were still full from lunch, and too tired to do much more than veg, so we watched This Is Spinal Tap, enjoyed the speedy new wifi, and got to bed at a sensible hour for once.

A wedding

The weekend after we got back from Dublin it was time to head up to Peterborough for Kathryn and George’s wedding!

We got a ride with John’s Aunt Jennifer, and arrived in Peterborough in time to get a few hours in at the Beer Festival with John’s brother David and his partner Becky. I had a few nice beers and one or two not-great ones, and we ran into Andrew Ellis which was nice. We chatted and drank for a few hours, won a couple of bar mats in the tombola, and then it was time for dinner at the Blue Bell with the bride and groom and their families. It was a good meal, and we were seated near Kathryn’s brother and his partner, who actually live close to us and gave us a ride back on the Monday.

It was held at the The William Cecil, a lovely building in the beautiful stone town of Stamford. The ceremony was outdoors, with the wedding breakfast in a tent directly after, followed by a couple hours for people to relax and change if they wanted to before the evening’s disco and hog roast. It was a lovely ceremony, followed by a reception in a tent. The food was good, though it was far too hot that day for me to want any wine, by the evening things were much more pleasant and everyone seemed to be having a lovely time.  

Monday was a bank holiday, so we had a lie in before the long ride back south.

After Worldcon

After Worldcon we’d booked a late flight, so we’d be able to relax and play tourist. We had optimistically gotten 10:30am tickets for the Book of Kells, thinking that would give us time for a little lie in and breakfast. Of course, we had stayed late at the Dead Dog, so we still had to pack, check out of the AirBnB, and find a place to store out luggage! We managed by choosing to consider donuts as out breakfast while walking over to Trinity College.

We’d been warned that The Book of Kells exhibit would be crowded, and it was. The layout cleverly funnels the crowd so that you get a good overview of the history and the art form before you get to the actual book. The best item by far though is a medieval poem about aPangur Bán the cat, I dearly wanted a copy but the gift shop sadly had none. The Book itself is displayed in two volumes (the original tome having been rebound into four volumes) one open to text and the other to illuminations. 

After the room with the book you are funnelled up some stairs, where there hangs a beautiful linen set by Greg Whelan.

And then you enter the Long Room, which is the Platonic ideal of library basically, famously not the inspiration for the Jedi Library according to Lucasfilm’s lawyers. It smelled exactly like a room full of ancient and important books should smell, and it even full of people it was wonderful. It must be practically a religious experience to be in there when it’s empty.

It was starting to drizzle when we got out, and we were starving, so we walked back for one last meal at Dollard’s. Even sober the pizza was great, and I got to try Pomegrante San Pellegrino which I hadn’t seen before. We then made our way to Christ Church Cathedral, mostly because it was nearby. We booked a tour, which allows you to go up the bell tower and ring the bell! The tour guide was a character and had a smooth patter peppered with atrocious puns, so it was worth it anyway, but I highly recommend ringing a church bell if you ever get a chance. The tour ended in the crypt, which is huge and contains the gift shop as well as some treasures, plus a display of costumes from The Tudors. The tour guide endeared himself to me by pointing out the costume worn by Peter O’Toole by declaring him the greatest actor Ireland ever produced. Damn straight tour guide, damn straight.

We stepped back out into rain, which typical of the time we were there looked torrential but was actually not too bad once you were under it. We’d arranged to meet up with Liz, whose flight was also in the evening and whose suitcase was stored at the same place. She was there getting her stuff when we walked in and we got to hang out on the ride to the airport and for a little while in the food court before it was time for her to head over to the other terminal.

The convention was now truly over, but we did manage to squeeze a hot chocolate as one final treat before leaving Dublin.

Worldcon 2019 in Dublin

Waking at the crack of dawn got us into Dublin city centre by nine-thirty am on Wednesday August 14th. Too early to check into our AirBnB but a fine time for a hearty breakfast at The Bakehouse, right by the Ha’penny Bridge, and a wander through Temple Bar with a quick stop at Forbidden Planet and a look in at Gamers World. At eleven we collected the keys and dragged our suitcases up three flights of stairs. It was bracing, and even less fun at the tipsy end a long con day, but otherwise the place was fine – roughly a half hour walk to the Convention Centre Dublin, or a fifteen minute tram ride on the LUAS red line.

It was too early to get much done convention-wise, so we unpacked, had a lovely ninety minute nap, popped over to Tesco for coffee, milk, and emergency snacks, and finally headed over to the CCD to get out badges. We had the first of many donuts along the way, ridiculously rich confections from Rolling Donut, which basically substituted for lunch. We got our badges, and John also got snazzy Hugo Finalist (and guest) ribbons. The CCD foyer has benches along the sides which were a perfect vantage point to sit a minute and let the world come to you. Which we did, and the world did, in the form of multiple Bay Area folks including Chris Garcia and Vanessa Applegate, and the inimitable Chuck Serface.

Before we knew it it was 6:00 p.m., time for the Martin Hoare Memorial Pub Crawl. The first stop was a nearby pub called the Brew Dock, conveniently located and offering members a 10% discount. It was wall to wall fen when we got there. Despite the crowding we got to chat to Tobes for a bit, and Nelly Petrov, and at 19:15 we raised a glass to Martin’s memory. After a couple of drinks there we met up with Christopher J. Garcia and Vanessa Applegate and popped over to Temple Bar for an Indian meal at Sitar, followed by one last pint at the first not too tacky looking bar we could find on the way back. Then John and I got a relatively sensible early bed, a feat that would not be repeated.

Thursday as the first day of the con proper. We had a comparatively healthy breakfast at Panem, with spinach and everything! John ran off to do a panel while I walked the extra fifteen minutes to Warehouse One in Point Square, home of the Art Show. When I got there I was a little taken aback, the Odeon building was pretty much entirely, and there was almost no signage so itt was difficult to figure out if you were even in the right place. I was pretty bummed about it at the time, but on subsequent visits it became obvious that there was a fair amount of traffic after all. Nowhere close to the crowds at the CCD but there were folks going to panels and queues to register for various bits of programming, so it wasn’t quite the wasteland I had feared. Still, this year had no Artist GOH (three Featured Artists, to be fair), no art show booklet, no docent tours, and even now there isn’t a list of participating artists on the website. The art show staff were fantastic and ran one of the smoothest art shows I’ve participated in, they had good equipment and lighting, and the art on display was wonderful – but as a segment of overall programming it felt second tier this year.

After I finished hanging my fans, John joined me for a walk through of the excellent art on display this year. I bid on a Sara Felix piece but didn’t win, and we gazed wistfully at many other beautiful things. I should have taken notes at the time, since I can’t remember the names to go with many of the wonderful pieces I saw, hopefully once the convention posts the list of artists on their website I will be able to find them again. A few of the stand outs included two beautiful hand painted shawls, Didier Cottier’s cyberpunk mixed media pieces, the aforementioned Sara Felix, and Sana Takeda‘s prints.

Besides the art show and print shop, Warehouse One was also housed several cool displays and craft items. There were half a dozen large scale lego constructions, including a massive Star Wars one by James Shields, a Community Drawing Wall, and a wall of art by Irish artist, including some Steve Dillon comic pages and Ian Clark’s wonderful Dublin 2019 artworks. There was programming in the Odean movie theatre screen rooms, and next door at the Gibson hotel, and some of it looked quite good. But ultimately when deciding what to see I factored in the walk there and back, and unless there were two items one after another there just didn’t seem worth it – by the end I attended no programming at Point Square excepting the art show and artist reception. In retrospect the 7-day LUAS transit pass would have been a good idea, but we didn’t see that option in time.

Opening ceremonies was in the main CCD auditorium, and therefore a wristband event which we didn’t have the time/energy to queue for. Instead I popped into town, nominally to look for shoes for Hugo night. I did regret that a bit when we learned that Alice Lawson received a well deserved Big Heart award, while Bradford Lyau taking the Sam Moskowitz Archive Award, but I had a nice time wandering Temple Bar and beyond; vintage clothing, boutiques, murals and street art, and eventually resting my feet with a cheese toastie. When I got back John was stuck in the Mark Protection Committee meeting, poor thing, so I had a wander around the CCD to see what was what. I found the Fan Lounge, which was frankly less an lounge and more a handful of tables, and eventually ended up in the social heart of the con; Martin’s Bar. I found part of Team Journey Planet there, and had a nice chat with Vanessa about art and iPads until my next panel attempt. Martin’s was also where the flyer and freebie table was located as well, which I understand but probably should have been duplicated in the Dealer’s area where the fan tables where since I suspect a lot of the membership never thought to go to the bar.

Line management at this juncture was a bit chaotic, panels quickly filling up and no obvious queueing order, things were a bit shouty and stressful. Happily, the convention took note and by the next day there was a system in place, including volunteers supporting the CCD staff, people with clipboards of the programme grid for the day proactively directing folks, and taped out sections on the floor marking the queue for each room. There was also a Line Management Cyborg deployed to the Liffey Level, who quite rightly received a Hero of the Con award. The newsletter did a pretty good job with updates, tips, and relevant information.

For dinner we met up with Tobes and headed to Temple Bar to for a tasty burger at Bunsen, bookended with pints at Porterhouse and Underdog respectively. Then it was back to the CCD to check out the parties. The party floor was in the Wicklow floor panel rooms, and were somewhere between your traditional Worldcon party held in a hotel room and the London model of shared convention space. Separate rooms helped them feel distinct, but the rules of the venue meant limited drinks available and no decor permitted on the walls. Mostly they managed pretty well within these constraints, and it had the general vibe of a party floor to me. The Japan party was full most of the evening, and we investigated China and Nice, but spent most of the night in the DC in 2021 bid party room, which had red ale and stout and good conversation.

Friday we had breakfast at Dollards, a deli/restraurant/late night pizza joint which in retrospect may have been the best thing we found on our visit. Both of us went to the ten am (whhhyyy?) panel Apollo at 50, which had astronaut Jeanette Epps, Mary Robinette Kowal, Geoffrey A. Landis, and David Stephenson and was pretty good. At noon I went to 2019 in Film which veered almost immediately into a general discussion of dystopia, so I cut my losses. For lunch I went over to the Broadway New York Eatery, which should have been terrible based on the name/theme but was a pretty solid Italian American style diner experience, and quite reasonable to boot. Meatball sandwhich. I joined John for the last bit of a panel about tie in novels, which seemed enjoyable.

The artist reception was on at 17:30 in Warehouse Two, beside the art show. I guess it was sensible not to be around the art (though galleries manage) but I missed being able to wander the show and chat with folks about it while sipping wine. Still we had a nice chat with Meg Frank, Jo, wine and popcorn, fancy nuts. Ran into Sean and Tempest, whom we only saw for a brief second over the course of the weekend, Worldcons are funny that way. For dinner we joined Anna, Hogg, Emily, and Andrew for a meal at a place called Captain America’s. It’s an odd place, the decor is about 10% Captain America and 90% music memorabilia, the highlight of the latter being a plaque outside declaring that Chris De Burgh played piano there after leaving college. Friday’s parties were DC, Nice, Japan, and China, along with a private party at the end of the hall a book launch, I think. DC had more beer, and China had sweets and shiny panda pins, Japan was was packed and we didn’t actually make it inside.

Saturday’s first panel was at 11am, still too early, but doable. Titled Artemis: Apollo’s Big Sister, it started pretty general but got interesting in the second half as things got more specific about the plan to get humans back on the moon in 2024, and use that to go on to Mars. There was a lot of overlap with the previous day’s Apollo panel. Afterwards John went off to his panels and I found myself accidentally adjacent to some Journey Planet plotting, which I barely escaped with my wits intact. I queued for Masquerade wristbands, then found John for a quick lunch at BNYE before the Fan Funds Auction, which I was late to. It did well this year, with some nice bits of fannish ephemera going for tidy sums. I got outbid on some Star Wars swag for John, but snagged him a Lucasfilm baseball cap.

The Masquerade started on time and ran smoothly, with Ric Bretschneider serving as MC. The overall quality of the entries was very good. Some standouts in no particular order; Captain Marvel and Skrulls had a skit had very good costumes and a solid skit with a funny ending, likewise Raven and Reaper gals, two sketches that used light effects were at almost at opposite ends of the spectrum, the charming Twinkle Twinkle and the dramatic Best in Show winner, From the Dark – a stunning glow in the dark kelpie – though that last one almost gave us a collective heart attack when it came close to walking right off the edge of the stage.

We watched Mary Robinette Kowal absolutely smash Powerpoint Karaoke while the judges deliberated, and Chris Garcia do a more than passable job himself. But the party floor called to us, so we left before the judges returned. The parties were New Zealand, Memphis, Chicago, and Glasgow – all of which were jumpin’, but I spent most of my time in the Scalzi Dance Across the Decades, which was simultaneously too hot, to packed, and in far too small a room, and damned near perfect. Eventually they kicked us out, so I found John and we got some pizza at Dollard’s on the way back to the flat.

Sunday we got up late and took it nice and easy, starting with a full Irish at Panem, it was tasty but strangely came with friend banana. I had a wander through the Exhibits area and creator’s alley, the former had a cool Brazilian art display, and introduced me to the term AmazoFuturism display which was pretty awesome. An art credit had been added to the wonderful Cartoon Saloon Brian Boru banners, I had been baffled by the lack of credit the day before. I ran into Rina Weisman at the Tachyon table and it was nice to catch up a bit. Finally at 2pm John and I went up to the panel entitled The Golden Age of Animated SF, which was nominally about the fact that we are in such an age but spent the first twenty minutes on such topics as “what is animation” and “what is genre, does it even exist” so I ducked back out.

The big event of the evening was the Hugo ceremony, and of course John was nominated as part of Team Journey Planet, so I headed back to the flat a bit early so I’d have plenty of time to get changed. Of course John had the key to the AirBnB so that was no use to anyone, I sat and had coffee until he arrived and we both got into out evening duds.

The reception was fun, with an open bar and very nice snacks, It was also just nice as a party, getting to chat with folks I might not have managed to run into over the weekend. TJP and associated guests had a table to ourselves basically, I suspect it’s actually a pretty good way to experience the event. Chris and Vanessa, Chuck, Alissa and Andrew, and Alissa’s dad – who was fun to chat with, we chatted and snacked and admired the outfits – I have to say in the past decade or so fandom has really upped it’s red carpet game. Jeanette Ng had a peacock fascinator whose tail could open and close, the multi-talended Sara Felix looked stunning in an amazing space age dress she painted herself, Vanessa had made a beautiful headress which I lusted after in my heart, etc. Of the people I didn’t know I especially remember a fantastic zipper dress and a fantastic metal crown. It was all fabulous and extra, and Garcia even wore a jacket!

The ceremony itself was good, not too long, though not quite Picacio-on-rails. Afua Richardson was a charming and heartfelt presence, she had several costume changes, each more stunning than the one before – I loved the silver outfit especially. Turns out she can also sing beautifully on top of everything else. Michael Scott was an affable but professional presence, smooth but equally charming in his own way. The speeches ranged from heartfelt, to impassioned, to light and funny, and I agreed with the voters in most categories. Except maybe Fanzine, but I’m biased there.

We left the auditorium and boarded a bus in front of the CCD to head over to the Guinness Storehouse for the Hugo Losers party. We were among the first to arrive and were greeted with trays of something called a Black Velvet, which was prosecco and stout in a champagne flute. Then we were treated to an energetic drummer, followed by Irish dancing, and then Irish music for the rest of the evening. Which was fine, if not quite my cup of tea. Some folks enjoyed it immensely, and at least one grumbled continuously. The food was very good though, with a couple of hearty stews, a hot dog and carnitas roll stand among other threats.

I chatted with some folks I had missed earlier, the place filled out but was far from packed so it was surprising to hear people queuing outside had not been let in due to the venue being at capacity. Someone pointed out that in previous years we were on the ground floor so the fire marshal rules were probably different. There was a speech by GRRM, which fun but a bit dismissive of the problem, I wonder if the habit of hosting something close to the convention centre – where people have the option of just popping next door to the next party or evening event made it less obvious how inconvenient the situation actually was. We headed out early, and by then there was no one waiting outside, and took a taxi to get pizza with Dave O’Neill, Dollard’s betrayed us by being closed, so we went to the place across the street, which was more New York style. As we were chatting and eating our slices we froze in our seats when a bouncer walked up to Dave and asked “Where are you from?”. Dave launched into an explanation of his relative Irish/British/American-ness, but turns out the guy just had some dollar bills he figured would be more useful to an American.

And then it was Monday, the last day of the convention. We joined Anna, Hogg, Emily, and Andrew for a delicious and cheap breakfast at Loving Spoon. It was also pretty massive so the walk back did us good, the gang got more donuts on the way back but I was pretty replete. John and I headed to a The Good Place panel, it consisted mostly of everyone being happy that the show exists, which was perfect. John’s was on a Star Wars pane afterwards which was a fun and lighthearted way to end the con. We skipped closing ceremonies and wandered the dealers one last time, where I ran into Nicholas Jackson for a bit, and then Tom Becker who I had managed to miss all week!

For our last dinner in Dublin we met up with Tobes, Dave Oneill and his brother at the Brew Dock, which turned out to have very good food, and then all that was left was the Dead Dog. I got to chat with Bay Area folks, a few of whom I hadn’t really had a chance to see over the weekend, which was good. Then I suddenly realized that in my excitement at having sold all my art I forgot that there were some unsold TAFF pieces to pick up! After a bit of running around that got resolved and I ended up with some groats to boot, so I had a beer anda fun chat with someone who was at their first convention and trying to get a handle on fandom as a concept. I started fading a bit and was advised to fix it with another beer, but turns out a gin and tonic was exactly what I needed! We attempted to convince Liz into running a Thai Wordlcon, she refused our £20 but muttered about having to build a local convention fandom first, which isn’t a no so you heard it first here folks. Eventually it was midnight so we said our last round of goodbyes, got lesser pizza on the way home and collapsed in an exhausted but happy heap.

Kittens! (And some less fun stuff)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, starting with the fact that Cats Protection finally contacted after three months waiting and we now have an adorable pair of black kittens who we’ve named Quentin and Alice. They’re very well socialized thanks to the nice lady who was fostering them, and despite her claim that they are “naughty kittens” they’ve adjusted very quickly, seem very comfortable with people, and only climbed up the curtains that one time.

Around the same time of the above we got some much sadder news, that John’s grandfather had died. He was ninety-nine, just a couple of months ago the family had started to plan for his hundredth celebration, so it wasn’t entirely a shock.

In more mundane matters, I managed to have my wallet stolen, which wouldn’t be a big deal what with online banking and card freezes nowadays, but did cost me a couple hundred pounds because my BRP was in my wallet – on my list for next month is getting some other form of photo ID to carry for basic purposes. The replacement process is more opaque than it should be, and very stressful, but luckily it’s also reasonably fast and I should have a new card by next week.

So yeah, that’s July so far and it still has a solid week to go.

Pupper, snek, etc

The last week has been very warm in the UK, even to the point I’ve been okay with it starting to drop back down again. Still, the sunshine allowed us to have our second barbecue, on a Thursday this time so shorter but with 100% more dog (Elda, a dorbs Westie).

Shortly thereafter John headed off northwards for a conference, which means a week of letting the laundry pile up and letting my eating habits slowly deteriorate, hurrah! Also binging shows that we don’t watch together – Big Little Lies y’all! The first couple of episodes of The Bodyguard, which I’m not entirely convinced by, and then back to Killing Eve which should get me to Tuesday.

I also went to a birthday party that had zero dogs but one ball python, which I got to hold until it got bored. So not a bad weekend all in all.

Kent!

On Friday the 14th (not quite as ominous, is it) I had a nice lunch with an old co-worker who now lives in Sweden and then after work John and I headed up to the Unity Brewing Taproom, which we had intended to go to for ages. Turns out it is moving near St. Mary’s stadium soon, so I’m glad we got to see the old digs before that. Back home we packed and got in a good night sleep in preparation for the weekend adventure exploring Kent. John’s parents got in around 9:30am and after a hearty full English at Miss Ellie’s Café in Bitterne Triangle, we hit the road.

It was early afternoon when we got into Margate, and after checking into our AirBnb we immediately walked down to the beach. It was a bit windy and overcast, but generally nice. We bought jellied eels in the spirit of experimentation, and agreed that while not as gross as the name suggests they are probably something we don’t need to have again. A soft serve ice cream palate cleanser followed shortly, then we explored the little cluster of boutiques, which had some really fantastic vintage clothes as well as other cool stuff. John and I had a cheeky snack of soul food chicken wings from the Smoke Shack at the Old Kent Market, a delightful gallery of food and shops which we meant to re-visit but didn’t quite manage. Then we met up with his parents and had a pint at The Lifeboat (not a Brewdog) before a proper dinner at a nice Caribbean place called Olbys

Sunday morning we drove to Whitstable for a walk on the beach. But first we checked out a quirky micropub called The Black Dog, a dark wood venue covered with cool art and serving very nice beers. We walked along the beach trail all the way to Herne Bay, the wind made the walk a bit more tiring that it would have been otherwise, but it was fun to see the traditional rows of colourful beach huts along the way. By the time we arrived back at the car it was time for our next beer, but sadly the place we had planned to go was closed on Mondays so instead we headed back to Margate and a tasty meal at a Sri Lankan place called Riz. We had dosas and a curry with an entire crab in it, which was messy but good, bet was the mutton. After dinner we went to Fez, an even quirkier place than the Black Dog, and then one street over to The Two Halves, which was much plainer inside but made up for it with an seafront view. I was pretty tired by the time we got back but we did manage to squeeze in one game of Railroad Ink.

The flat we were staying in was cute and well located, but a bit warm – so I the next morning I started off a little bleary-eyed, though to be fair still far chipper than if I had been going to work. The plan for the day was heading first to Ramsgate, where John made his traditional pilgrimage to the local board game shop followed by a nice walk on the beach, which had more dead crabs than expected but was otherwise very nice. Then we drove over to Deal to check out Deal Castle, which is more of a coastal fort but pleasingly rounded and full of proto-stalactites. We had a walk along the waterfront and then drove over to Broadstairs four our last microbrew of the weekend, The Four Candles. Then it was back home for a dinner of fish and chips while watching the sunset.

And then it was our last day, we packed and put everything in the car with the plan to get some pastries at a bakery we’d spotted in the Old Kent Market. When we got there they only had some sausage rolls in the display case, so we walked down to The Coffee Shed, which had lovely pain au chocolat and au raisin, plus some delicious nata tarts. As we dug into out pastries, Ruth spotted the baker from the Old Kent Market bakery delivering a batch of fresh pastries, so it turned out we got exactly what we wanted anyway! 

Our last bit of sightseeing in Margate was the Shell Grotto – which is a truly wonderful mystery. A strange underground cavern/temple/folly/grotto encrusted in intricate shell patterns, built at some point before 1835, by persons unknown for reasons that seem likely to be religious but really who knows? It was great. The gift shop is pretty on point with its theming too, so I enjoyed the whole experience immensely.

We said goodbye to Margate and headed to our last adventure of the holiday; Canterbury! Or more specifically Canterbury Cathedral. Ruth and Charles had already seen it so they wandered the city while John and I spent the next couple of hours in the cathedral. It is currently undergoing renovations, because that’s what cathedrals do basically, and therefore there was quite a bit of scaffolding and whatnot, but it is a massive building with surrounding grounds and structures so we had plenty to see; the sculpture memorializing Thomas Becket’s martyrdom, beautiful stained glass, ancient murals in the crypts, plus Victorian graffiti. We even ran into someone who recognized John from Eastercon, because fandom is everywhere.

Eventually our eyes and brains were full and all that was left was the drive home with a stop for unexpectedly delicious Italian food at La Campania in Arundel.

Ytterbium – Eastercon 2019

This year, Eastercon was at the Park Inn Heathrow, right by the airport. My very first Eastercon was also at Heathrow, just down the road at a different hotel. That year I was incredibly jet lagged, which seriously affected my enjoyment of the con (and let’s be honest, the con’s enjoyment of me). I’m happy to report that the Park Inn experience was vastly superior!

John and I arrived early afternoon on Friday and as soon as we stepped of the bus we ran into Hanna Hakkarainen, also on her way to the con, always a good way to start a convention. As we crossed the road to our hotel, I noticed a few people in badges wandering past.

Choosing to not be at the main hotel is always a bit of a risk, but it worked out nicely; the Renaissance was nice and the ten-minute walk entirely reasonable.  What really made it work, though, was that there was a small group of us staying there, so we had an excuse to start each day with breakfast together, which is not only fun but a good incentive to start the day promptly at 9am (gosh).

We unpacked, tidied up, and hustled over to pick up our badges. The Fishlifters were staffing the reg desk and soon we were chatting and perusing the Readme. The con provided pretty rainbow lanyards with no specific branding, which I rather liked, but we’d brought our lightsabre lanyards from Star Wars Celebration. (I’m happy to report convention made a point of collecting their lanyards at the end of the weekend to donate to another con). There was also a table of buttons for pronouns, invisible disabilities, and approachability levels (green, yellow, red – the green ones ran out almost immediately). 

A good UK fannish tradition is having the souvenir book and the Readme as separate documents. The Readme has all the relevant information; hours, maps, code of conduct, etc. We skimmed that, checking for nearby restaurant options and trying to puzzle out the hotel floorplan. 

Like many UK con hotels, the Park Inn is a warren of corridors splitting off at angles. Entering the lobby from the street, the hotel bar is to the right; tall tables, some couches, and lots of good nooks and crannies for a quiet chat, but this space is ignorable for all other purposes. All the con space is on the right, in what the floorplan calls the Orbiter Center; just past the hotel restaurant a short corridor leads to a widened hallway containing Info, Registration, and Fan Tables – toilets conveniently located right there on one side. This little hub is nicely placed to spill into as long as people keep it moving (and everyone mostly did). A few steps further on; Art Show, Dealer’s Snug (more on this later) on the left and on the right the Fan Bar. 

The excellent Eastercon fan bar is a selection of real ale (plus a handful of ciders) brought in by the convention with the help of the hotel. In this case the beer boxes lined half a wall of the large room while another side was occupied by a basic hotel bar to purchase drink tickets and get a pint glass from (plus sodas, snacks, etc). As mentioned above, the main programme room/ballroom doors open out onto this space – so if you attended any of the main events, or if you wanted beer (most British fans do), or just a place to chill, you would eventually find yourself here. For me conventions work best this way, when there is one spot where if you wait long enough eventually you encounter every member of the con (except perhaps some hardy souls toiling away in Ops).

Finally, between the lobby and the main con space one long corridor heads deep into the interior of the hotel to the Aviator Centre. Along the corridor are rooms containing a one to three dealers each, a clever supplement to the smallish Dealer’s “Snug”. At the end of the corridor, past all the dealers you can find Ops and the Green Room, and then to the right it widens into a space surrounded by additional programming rooms.

One cool thing about the Park Inn is the aerospace theme, as you may have sussed out from the names mentioned so far. The Orbiter Centre rooms are all named for shuttles; the Dealers Room is in Endeavour, the Art Show in Altantis, and the big programming room Discovery. Meanwhile in the Aviator Centre the space theme continues with Armstrong and Johnson, but also includes early aviation; Wright, Earhart, and others are represented not just by room names but by colourful murals – which sadly I failed to photograph.

Our first order of business was Opening Ceremonies, where the guests were presented with very snazzy bedazzled tee shirts of the Ytterbium logo. The other highlight was the UK in 2024 Worldcon bid announcing Glasgow as its venue, and a very cool new logo.

The rest of my weekend was entirely open, but John was scheduled to be on multiple panels each day, including one Friday afternoon. We had a nice little wander through the art show and dealers, and then I left him in the Green room and I headed off attended a talk by Val Nolan about director Neil Jordan. Turns out Jordan is also a novelist; I was entirely unaware of this part of his career and look forward to checking out his novels.

I popped back to the room for quick nap and changed for the evening, then after some confusion joined the Renaissance gang back to the hotel for a pretty decent burger and a beer. Some folks stayed for dessert, but I was eager to head back for the first night of the con. The primary danger of a second hotel is lingering comfortably and letting the convention slip by without you.

There was a DJ dance, and as usual I popped between dancing and chatting. Apparently, the Dublin and DC 2021 Wordlcon bids took over the real ale bar and Discovery ballroom, though to be honest it was a bit hard to tell that was what was happening unless you were paying attention, which I wasn’t. 

Around 1am I packed it in for the night, drunk-hungry as I walked back to the hotel. I texted John on the topic and he suggested kebab… I was already back at the hotel by this point, but that word made me u-turn right back to the Park Inn. I met him and Tobes there and we determined the closest kebab was closed. I shamefacedly admitted that, actually, I was tempted by McDonalds. John has never been happier as in that moment, he’s been waiting close to a decade to hear me say that. It didn’t change my mind on the topic of their food quality, but it was a nice bonding experience all the same.

SATURDAY

Saturday morning we tried and failed to get to the Science in Movies panel by Rachael Livermore, I caught the end of it, and maybe even learned something, even if it was just that the good science isn’t always where you expect it (but the bad science mostly is). John got roped into staffing the Glasgow table for a bit and had some gaming panels after that, I went to the one about collectible card games and it was a lot of fun.

We both went to see Scalzi be interviewed by Emma Bull. Bull’s approach is a good fit to the loose charming Scalzi interview style. He’s always a good guest, consciously approachable, not humble in the traditional sense but self-effacing in that his confidence is also self-aware – and with an interesting breath of knowledge from his years as a film critic and later as president of SFWA. 

We saw him again shortly afterwards for the Paranoid Politics and Fantasy panel, which was good, but as I kind of expected it was much more about the politics and a lot less about the fiction. 

At 7pm it was time for the FAAAN FUND AUCTION, the highlight of Eastercon (probably). This year it was in an odd little nook, the Tereshkova room; right at the end of the corridor just past the main reg/art show/fan bar section. It worked out really well though, with just enough seating, a layout that permitted a bit of moving around, and a door-less space so folks could drift in and out without commitment. The auction was a lot of fun and raised over a grand for the various fan funds. I took home a Croatian SF Con tee shirt and a pavlova making kit. John got a whole bunch of Star Wars swag.

We met up with Tobes again and ventured offsite for dinner, aiming for fish and chips but landing on a pub called The Pheasant, which was very good indeed. I had a rack of lamb while John enjoyed a luscious pie the size of his head.

After the dance slowed down I decided to pop over to the film programme, I had meant to go earlier and wish I had now, but I did catch a decent low budget Nigerian zombie movie called OJUJU –  it started a bit slower and talkier that I would have liked, but once it got going I enjoyed it. The director, CJ Obasi, also has a newer short film called Hello, Rain which is based on a Nnedi Okorafor short story and an upcoming project about a water spirit, so definitely someone to keep an eye on genre-wise.

SUNDAY

Sunday’s first panel was Sydney Padua’s GOH interview by Tade Thompson. Padua is another delightful guest, full of anecdotes, and ebullient when speaking on topics she is enthusiastic about. I was vaguely aware that she worked in animation but not that it is her main career, or that she started out on The Iron Giant. 

The next panel I saw was about African/Afro-Caribbean SFF, Geoff Ryman moderating with Sharon Lewis, director of the Nalo Hopkinson adaptation Brown Girl Begins, and author Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso. It was interesting in general and specifically touched on an aspect of breaking into English-speaking (and other language generally) markets for translations that I had not considered; even if an author writes in English or has a work translated, you still ideally want editor familiar with the origin language/culture to spot typos or errors. Zen Cho later made the same point on a different panel later, mentioning a typo she made in a Malaysian word which of course her English editor couldn’t spot before publication.

I was back in the room shortly after for a talk; ‘A Brief History of the Ancient Worlds of Greece and Rome in the Cinema’ by Dr Tony Keen., which was the BSFA lecture. The original lecturer had been unable to make it, no official reason that I can find but apparently, enragingly, something to do with the hostile environment policy.

On a happier note, the substitute talk was quite fun; aside from a fun overview of an aspect of film history it did illustrate an interesting point by the lecturer; cinema goes to the Romans for history and the Greeks for Myth. I suspect there are many reasons, but he suggests one in particular which I kind of agree with; the fashion. That is, most ancient men in this climate region wore skirts, and to the modern Western eye that doesn’t quite look right. With Romans we make up for it by being over-the-top masculine, focusing on the warlike and sexually aggressive gritty historical. For the Greeks we have to go full fantasy.

A wander through the Dealer’s Snug yielded another two used paperbacks; Geoff Ryman’s The Warrior Who Carried Life and a replacement copy of Richard Adam’s Shardik – a book I used to re-read every few years, and was recently reminded of after seeing some wonderful Tehani illustrations inspired by it.

I met up with John and we headed to the Mechanical Computing, with Padua, Susan Stepney, Tom Briggs, and moderated by Nicholas Jackson. It touched on the Antikythera mechanism, the Colossus machine, and of coyrse Babbage’s Anatlytical Engine. Padua has some fascinating Maia illustrations of the machine, which she pointed out is actually the good one – the Difference Engine being much simpler but having the cooler sounding name.

By the end our brains were full but our stomachs were empty so we met up with the Fishlifters and a couple of friends, and headed across the road for a pub dinner at the Three Magpies.

The pub is notorious for consistently underestimating fannish crowds and running out of things. This year was no exception, plus the poor chef came down with something, so we were the last order to get served before he had to go to the hospital! We took our chances but to my knowledge it wasn’t contagious. Dinner was decent, not as good as the Pheasant but better than McDonalds, for whatever that’s worth.

Afterwards the gang headed back to the Park Inn while John and I popped back to the hotel to freshen up for the night, the big event being Robin and Kylie’s Wedding & Disco. I took longer than John, as always, and got back in time to see the first dance, which was lovely – the couple looked radiantly happy.

I danced on and off for the next few hours, popping in and out to chat with folks, and generally had a good ol’ time.

MONDAY

Monday we woke up for our last 9am breakfast buffet with the gang and planned our day. All of the 11:30 panels looked good, so I picked the Chrononauts, primarily because Zen Cho was on it, and her Sorcerer to the Crown was one of my favourite books of last year. It was fun, aptly moderatd by Virginia and with a nice selection of panellists with different perspectives and approaches – from the more serious minded Stewart Hotston to Cho’s thoughtful but fun-loving approach and Patrick Samphire focusing on the younger set. 

John joined me for the Future of Space Opera, with Scalzi, Aliette de Bodard, Zoe Sumra, moderated by Mel Mercer. It was good, though it didn’t delve much into the actual future. 

We grabbed curry at Sovereign, a corner market cunningly hidden behind a billboard, so despite it’s proximity and inclusion in the restaurant guide I had entirely missed it. Which is a shame, because they had a deli counter with sandwiches and excellent cheap curries, plus a few tables should you want to eat in. This on top of the actual grocery selection (and obligatory wall of London souvenirs)

We hurried back for Closing Ceremonies, which was packed. The guests were thanked, the Doc Weir award for excellence in volunteering given to Jamie Scott, and the festivities culminated in a standing ovation for Judi Hodgkin, who was the original chair of the convention before life circumstances changed everything and who is moving to Australia. It was very emotional.

We all filed out and started the traditional slow round of farewells. We found most, but not all, of the people we wanted to say bye to, made promises to see folks at Novacon/Satellite/Eastercon/Worldcon and then stepped out into the sun.