The 68th British National Science Fiction Convention, better known as Eastercon, was held in Harrogate up in Yorkshire this year.
Yorkshire is very beautiful, and I had previously visited York and Halifax, as well as the Bronte Parsonage up in Haworth, but was not familiar with Harrogate. It turned out to be lovely. During the Georgian era it was a spa town, and you can tell it was a destination for the wealthy; every hotel was a lavish old building and even the Wetherspoon has a grand staircase.
Upon arrival Friday afternoon, John went directly to the hotel while I detoured on some errands. It made me a bit late for check in to the art show but did give me a nice idea of the town’s layout and the location of all the charity shops. We were staying at The Crown, a ten minute walk from The Majestic, which was the convention hotel. The Crown was pretty nice, but the Majestic is a grand building up on a hill. At night they light it up, cycling through the colours, and the effect of the red light was pretty dramatic in an Overlook Hotel sort of way.
On the inside the Majestic has a wide rambling layout which makes it easy to get lost but also allows lots of halls and corners for conversation groups, chill out spots, and serendipitious encounters. I rather liked it, although there were issues with the elevators, and they appeared understaffed. Lots of folks were at the Premier Inn, which incongrously seems to have been built on what used to be part of the grounds of the Majestic? It’s a strange layout but convenient.
Once done with art and registration I found John and we headed to a Turkish restaurant, Konak Meze, Alissa joined us and we shared some very tasty meze platters. By now it was nearly 9pm and time for my first and only panel, on different perspectives of Eastercons from people who had first attended in different decades. I was the moderator, and tried my best to make sure things didn’t get too contentious and everyone got roughly equal time. It was a bit strange though since I was by far the newest Eastercon member, but hopefully that lent an outsider perspective.
The other panelists where Bill Burns and Greg Pickersgill, both of whom started going in the 60s but who are pretty much at different ends of the spectrum in their perspectives, Christina Lake, who started in the 80s, and Tilly who has “only” been going since the 90s, but that’s because she is a second generation fan who has been attending since she was a baby.
And then I was free for the rest of the weekend! The evening was the usual drinking, and meeting up with folks you haven’t seen in ages. I put on my onesie for pajama party shenanigans but mainly spent the evening chilling in the lobby until it was time for bed.
Saturday started with an excellent hotel breakfast, and then John was off to panels. I went to John’s panel about the PhD process, which was pretty fun, but for the most part our schedules didn’t overlap much. There were a bunch of good art and craft workshops but I had dithered about signing up for them in advance so missed out on all except the open life drawing one. I’ve always meant to do a life drawing class but run into either scheduling or budget issues so this was a great way to give it a go, and I enjoyed it a lot! Then was the Kim Stanley Robinson Q&A, where he talked about his work but also told anecdotes about the late great Iain Banks.
John had dinner plans with a bunch of folks so I bowed out and headed into town to get some food and get changed. Harrogate turns out to be quite busy on a Saturday and most places seemed to be full, even the Crown hotel restaurant had an hour long wait, so I reluctantly ended up at the aforementioned Wetherspoon. Finally fortified, I changed into evening attire, sprayed my hair teal, and got back in time for the disco. I danced almost non-stop, as did Anna, Rae, Liz, and a many of the other usual suspects. The highlight was definitely Total Eclipse of the Heart, but the playlist was pretty topnotch most of the night. I broke a shoe and the room was warm enough that I ended up taking off my stockings as well, I was a happy mess by evening’s end. When the music ended we joined John and Hogg, who were one room over playing Star Wars: Destiny. We all hung out there for a bit and then John and I went back to our hotel with a quick detour for fried chicken.
We got a slow start on Sunday, unsurprisingly, and then went our separate ways for most of the programming. I sat in on the first part of the Clarke centenary talk but it took a long time to ramp up so I skipped back out and took some time to check out the art show and dealer’s room, both quite good this year even though I ended up not buying anything. Then there was an excellent Harryhausen panel where Matt Brooker looked at the stop motion effects giant and his impact on the art form and industry, with lots of good slides and clips.
The Mad Hatter’s Tea Part was next, which was a mixed bag. The basic idea was sound; an hour of entertainment and music by a mix of performers from the membership, while being served tea and scones. However the sign up had only mentioned the tea and scones part, so it was quite a surprise to not be able to chat during the proceedings, and the popularity of the event meant that seating, service, and portions, were all affected negatively. On top of it, one of the performers thought it would be amusing to call out our table for being on our phones (we were texting each other because it would be rude to chatter during his set) which honestly pissed me right off. I don’t appreciate being chastised like a child, especially under the circumstances. In any case, it was a all a bit tiring, and we skipped out early. That said, I do hope they try something similar again with a bit more clarity beforehand and a little tighter organization during.
A bunch of us then went into town for dinner, ending up at a place that John found, called the Blues Cafe Bar. It was around the corner from our hotel and served Yorkshire tapas, which sounds dodgy as hell but turned out to be completely delicious. The cocktails were also good and the service very friendly, it was a very pleasant surprise! We picked up desert at the famous Betty’s Tea Room next door and made it back in time for the Fan Fund Auction, which is always a laugh.
The rest of the evening was more beer (or wine in my case), and more conversation. I found myself chatting with the newly minted Campbell nominee Jeannette Ng and her friends, then with Tom Becker and Douglas Spencer, at whom I pitched a musical idea to with drunken enthusiasm. Tobes dashed by sporadically, looking dashing in a snappy outfit, and John disappeared for suspiciously long time to do some SMOFing. At some point we moved over to the comfy couches and I remember chatting with Rae for ages. John came back at some point and we staggered off. We attempted to get chicken again but ended up with kebab, which was still good but not the same.
And then it was Monday; last breakfast, packing up the suitcases, lugging them to the Majestic, which kindly stored them for us. I caught a Nnedi Okorafor reading, which was excellent, then a KSR reading, then part of a panel on Le Guin followed by more KSR in the form of his talk on the life and work of Galileo. Robinson is one of those people who is so passionate about the things he loves that you cannot help but become engaged. We had to skip out before the end because of our train tickets, though.
We found Alissa, who was coming down to Southampton to visit for a few days, and said as many goodbyes as we could manage before scurrying off to the train station, conveniently located about a ten minute walk from the hotel.