Misc entertainment update

Going to see if I can’t get back in the habit of small updates rather than waiting for big epic weekends full of stuff to write about.

Aside from an unhealthy obsession with the news, which I don’t really feel I can be blamed for at the moment, I have managed to lift my eyes up from Twitter long enough to peek at a few other things.

I’ve started reading the Discworld series from the start, after having jumped around the canon over the years, I swear I had read The Colour of Magic before and found it middling but have no memory of any of the plot and rather enjoyed it. The Light Fantastic already shows his writing getting stronger imho and has hints at the end of those emotional blows he can land. Lots to go.

Taking a short break from that to finish the second of the Southern Reach trilogy. It’s good, though maybe not quite as fascinating as the first book. Part of that is on me for having read it in fits and bursts, eeriness doesn’t stand up well to distracted reading habits I suspect.

Visually John and I have been speeding through Steven Universe, which aside from being marvelous is the perfect length to squeeze in here and there when schedules are tight. We’ve just begun season two and the plot is getting thicker and deeper. The DCU (DCTVU?… okay Arrowverse I gueeess) is also continuing to entertain; Supergirl, Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow-the last of which is exactly as fun as it should be and even more so in season 2 if you ask me. Is it nonsense? I guess, maybe-in the same way some of the best comic books are… and it addresses race in a time travel context more directly than any other show I can recall (aside maybe from Quantum Leap but well, that’s a whole other discussion). Only tangentially related to genre, we also have Boston Legal in the rotation for some good Spader/Shatner bonding. Which reminds me, I really do need to go back and watch everything James Spader ever did, because damn he’s good.

 

Isle of Wight

We have been talking about taking the ferry over to the Isle of Wight pretty much since I got out to Southampton, so we used our anniversary as an excuse to do just that.

We made a loose plan that gave us a couple of destinations to aim for without trying to pack too much in and decided to go on Saturday to have more time. I spent quite a while reading up on the Isle, which turns out has quite a lot of points of interest, definitely more than we could hope to see in one day without even counting outdoor activities better saved for the warm weather.

The Red Jet passenger ferry service to West Cowes takes about 25 minutes and was much more comfy than I had expected, my only previous ferry experience being the one to Corsica. The ferry runs every half hour for most of the day and then hourly for the last few, so we have a lot of flexibility. And as a happy bonus we crossed paths with one of the feeder vessels I often book cargo on from Spain, the UECC vessel Autostar, it was very cool to see it up close. We also passed what looked like a Polish military vessel festooned with bunting, which was a bit confusing.

On our end ferry terminal is around the corner from where I work, very easy to get to, and on the Cowes end it is right in town as well-so it is almost surreally easy to pop over to the IoW. In any case, we spilled out of the terminal and once past the first row of tacky souvenir shops we emerged into a very pretty little town. The first thing we noticed was the red and white flags everywhere, which John pegged pretty quickly as Polish flags since we had just seen that polish boat, which makes sense except that it doesn’t without some reason so I figured must be the IoW flag or something. We argued about it until google confirmed that it was indeed the Polish flag and that this was the 70th anniversary of the Defence of Cowes by the Polish warship Blyskawica.

East Cowes is clearly a tourist oriented place but in an relatively upscale way, lots of sailing and fishing gear shops, several nice looking restaurants, and boutiques. We had a little wander and visited some charity shops before popping into a place called Sails for some breakfast to get us started. Afterwards we caught a bus into Newport, which is the main town on the IoW in order to check out the local comics and games store, Cheap Thrills. As luck would have it May 6th was Free Comic Book Day so it was the perfect time to visit and we came out with some free comics as well as some Star Wars: Destiny cards for John naturally.

Next stop was Carisbrooke Castle, about a half hour walk away. There is also a bus but it would have taken us about the same amount of time so we just pointed ourselves towards the castle and followed the signs. We still managed to get a bit lost since the driving and pedestrian routes are not quite the same, but eventually we did make it to the castle more or less intact and only a little irritable.

Carisbrooke Castle is stunning, high up on a hill and surrounded by deep ditches and earthworks. It must have been a very disheartening sight to attacking armies. It’s a motte and bailey castle apparently, primarily 13-16th century but with a Norman Keep and lots of later modifications and additions in accordance with its nature as a working fortification. Charles I was imprisoned there before his execution and Princess Beatrice lived there as governor of the Isle.

I had expected about an hour or so of good stuff maybe but in the end we spent a good three hours exploring. There is a rather eclectic museum  with an interesting World War I exhibits among other things, we didn’t walk the walls of the castle but climbing up to the Keep was rewarded with really stunning views of the surrounding countryside. And then there were the donkeys, which I guess the castle is famous for. Once upon a time they were used to bring water up from the well using a 16th century treadwheel. Now they still have short demonstrations but are no longer required to raise the full heavy barrel. Our donkey was Jill, clever and a clearly loving the attention.

Eventually we had seen everything and after a quick stop in the gift shop where John bought some bookmarks and we got to taste some ginger wine, which I had never had before but is very nice indeed. On the walk back we went down through a footpath called The Shrubbery apparently, which sounds modest but is actually a deep path lined with tall trees that filter out the sun but let in the light, it’s a cool green space and fittingly romantic.

We got back into town not quite hungry enough for dinner but ready for a pint and a bit of a sit down, but as we researched likely pubs John saw that there was a comment on one of  the photos I had posted of us in the Castle. Turns out an old friend of mine from the SF Net days lives a couple of miles away! We arranged to meet him at the Bargeman’s Rest and spent an hour or so catching up before we had to leave to make our dinner reservation back in Cowes. Not only is it pretty wild that someone from back in the day now has a place so nearby, he had actually only gotten back the night before and was still jet-lagged, so it was the purest of chance that we happened to both be around at the same time in the same place.

At Joliffes we had nice steak which we cooked at the table on a hot volcanic rock. It was very neat, and the steak and accompanying stilton sauce were both lovely. The best thing about the place though is the old Art Nouveau building that houses it, with the original stained glass and signage. We had a leisurely meal and caught the ferry back in time to be home by midnight.

America After the Fall

The Friday after Eastercon we headed up to London to visit with Jo and Meg before having a Saturday out in the city with John’s parents.

The Friday was a relaxing hangout of red wine, delicious burritos, and too many snacks. We talked fandom and art, and I terrified John a bit by enjoying the trampoline far too much. There was a cat named Fart and general merriment until the wee hours when we staggered off to bed. In the morning we woke up relatively early to catch our train and did our best not to wake anyone up, but Jo’s hostess sense tingled and we got to say our whispered goodbyes before heading out.

I was miraculously un-hungover and able to enjoy the bustle of the Borough Market. It was Raw Cheese Day, so we had a lot of samples of raw cheese-all of them delicious. We had scotch eggs and wandered looking at all the delicious choices, it was very difficult not to bring home bags of food but we restrained ourselves and only ended up with a piece of Cabrales cheese.

After the market we walked along the waterfront to the Royal Academy for an exhibition called America After the Fall. The exhibition was of American art from the Great Depression; Ed Hooper, Grant Wood, Georgia O’Keefe, etc. The central piece was American Gothic, but what I took away was an appreciation for Ed Hooper that reproductions hadn’t elicited and some artists I was not previously familiar with, most notably Morris Kantor. It was also interesting to see an early Pollock, before he was doing that Pollock thing.

After the exhibition we went over to Camden to have far, far too much meat at a place called the Blues Kitchen. It was a full day well spent.

Eastercon 2017: Innominate

On Good Friday we started our day with a solid Novotel breakfast buffet, which is a good way to get into convention headspace. We had plenty of time before our train so we packed up and then popped into town for an hour or so, visiting the local Forbidden Planet and then to the station to catch our train to Birmingham for Innominate, the 2017 Eastercon.

The train to Birmingham was uneventful, though the second one was so packed we had to hop on different cars just to squeeze in. Still, we made it in one piece and the shuttle to the Hilton made up for the indignities of public transit. Once settled into out room we picked up our badges, hung our art, and headed to the bar for our first beer of the weekend, in that order.

The art show was a good first impression of the convention; busy, well attended, and full of cool stuff. John had brought art donations to raise money for Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund, some of them rather nice and a couple of questionable quality but high entertainment value. I had brought a couple of old pieces, a handful of new ones, and four of the fans originally created for The Dark Market. I am happy to report that my sales were the best I’ve had and I went home with only two of the ten pieces I hung. TAFF did pretty well itself, selling three pieces of art but raising nearly a thousand pounds in the Fan Fun auction to be shared with The Get Up-and-over Fan Fund and the Lazlar Lyricon effort to bring over some Brazilian Douglas Adams fans.

Attendance this year was just over 900 people and the layout of the facilities was good, with everything radiating out from the central hotel lobby/reception, making the the con feel full and vibrant.

Across from reception was the fan bar, British conventions famously center on the bar and encourage this by bringing in a local brewery to run a real ale bar. This year it was from a place called Purity Brewing, and although the selection was good the pints did run £5 each which was a bit rich to rely on for the whole weekend. Instead we picked up some beer and some vodka in a trip into town and alternated with the ale.

Behind the real ale bar was the actual hotel bar and lounge area, which was in use more as a quieter place to have a coffee or food and relax in comfy seating. Directly in front of the entrance to the hotel, between the reception and bar was registration, with the fan lounge behind it and programming down the hall to the right. All right there and easy to triangulate, with the added advantage that finding anyone mostly meant heading to the lobby and looking around a bit.

The fan lounge was in the con suite model in the sense that it was a large room with large tables for people to shit and chat. The hotel had set up a row of “street food” stalls along one wall, with baked potatoes, Indian, Caribbean, and British food on sale for relatively reasonable prices, and drinks at the end. It was a very convenient arrangement and relaxed enough that people could bring in other things from elsewhere without fuss. On a couple of occasions there was even delicious surprise birthday cake.

Being a holiday weekend there were several other events going on nearby, the Insomnia 60 gaming convention at the NEC convention center and a Boyzlife concert in our wing of the hotel. This last was new to me but I am told that it is in fact a frankenband composed of members of Boyzone and Westlife. The former meant that there were a fair amount of people about in nerdy shirts that were not in fact part of our convention while the later was just a bit confusing. We only really noticed the outside world on our brief trips to dinner and one excursion into Birmingham, where we kept it nerdy by visiting the really cool Nostalgia Comics and the world’s most labyrinthine game store location.

I had intended to volunteer a bit over the course of the weekend, but the couple of times I popped by to check in there didn’t seem to be much need so I ended up pretty free and clear aside from needing to take my art down at the end of the weekend. I didn’t attend a ton of programming, but opening ceremonies were good with Pat Cadigan’s energy kicking things off nicely and Dr. Emma J. King‘s explosive presentation following on its heels.

Also a blast was the Pyjama Disco by Jo Playford and fan GOH Colin Harris, it was well attended and the room had surrounding tables for people to chill when not dancing. I spent several hours on the dance floor with intermittent excursions to the fan lounge for cake and conversation. The setlist was nicely varied, with a fair amount of fan favourites but a good range from old school to current.

After the success we had with pre-arranging dinners with friends during Gally, we made a point of deploying the same method again in order to make sure we got time with some of our busier friends. This involved two excursions to the NEC adjacent food mall, which is basically just full of chain restaurants but in a weirdly impressive setting. We had Nando’s with some of Third Row and the next evening Pizza Express with Claire and Mark, the latter in particular I feel we never get to spend as much time as we think we will during the convention. We did get to hang out a fair bit with the inimitable Tobes, and I got some American time with Dave McCarty when he wasn’t busy smoffing – we primarily talked about our mutual love for Mexican food IIRC.

Meg Frank was there but I felt her presence more as a passing breeze of glam and glitter, sensed and then gone in the night. Anna and Hogg we got some quality time with on and off, never as much as one would wish for but luckily just enough to plot some plots for Helsinki.  We squeezed in a too brief chat with Fran Dowd at breakfast and saw Doug and Julie mostly in passing as their busy schedules permitted.

Oh, and I got roped into running the Fanzine Lounge at Helsinki, so that’s bound to keep me out of trouble for a minute.

Cardiff

The last two weeks were a flurry of activity, some more successful than other.

We had planned on meeting up with Jade and Eric during their visit to the UK, specifically when they popped over to Cardiff to visit the Doctor Who Experience. However we managed to completely misunderstand each other as to dates. Our plan to spend Thursday in Cardiff before heading off to Eastercon was perfect… except that they were in Cardiff the previous Thursday and flying out by the time John and I would be there. Nevertheless our tickets and hotel were booked so we had a little mini-holiday instead.

We arrived in Cardiff early afternoon and dragged my massive pink, sparkly suitcase to the hotel. It was just ten minutes from the trains station but we had loaded the bag with my art as well as stuff for TAFF and in so doing managed to obliterate one of the four spinny wheels on the poor thing.

By the time we go there we were a little tired and grumpy, but nothing cheers one up like a clean and quiet hotel room. We freshened up, unpacked minimally and set off in the direction of town with enough time for a little wander and a bit of lunch before our Doctor Who Experience ticket time.

Downtown Cardiff is a warren of arcades, which confused our map apps but delighted me. As is traditional when in a new city (or any city really) John made a beeline for the friendly local game store. Located in the Castle Arcade it is called Rules of Play and turned out not only to be a great little shop with but also next door to a very nice delicatessen called Madame Fromage. Now that may not sound terribly Welsh but it had a menu advertising Welsh Rarebit and Lamb Cowl. We ordered both and were very happy indeed with the results, the coffee helped quite a bit as well.

Fed and coffee’d we were ready to make our way to the waterfront. The bus that was supposed to take us up to Discovery Quay actually stopped a few blocks short due to some construction going on. Luckily it wasn’t much of a walk but we were a few minutes late and had to go in the next timeslot to the one we had booked which gave us a bit of a breather to relax and look around a bit, and to notice how it seemed pretty busy for a place that is going to close down. Subsequently I looked it up and it turns out that it is less a popularity problem and more that their lease is up, so here is hoping they find some way to keep it going.

When it was out turn we joined the queue and were given lanyard badges with embedded crystals that glowed when stuff was happening. The conceit of the beginning is that something is attacking the timeline and you have to retrieve three time crystals for the Doctor, large overhead screens at each juncture display recorded videos of Capaldi communicating with the guide and the group from his TARDIS console room. The monsters along the way include most of the current favourites and all in all it is cheesy fun with a couple of solid scares along the way.

Once done with the adventure part you enter into a reproduction of the original console room, perfect for photo opportunities. There are a couple of other consoles from different eras, a Dalek Invasion of Earth corner, and even some period BBC studio sets and props. This section ended with a green screen area where visitors could don a fez or scarf and ham it up a bit.

Upstairs is the costume and props section, separated roughly by type: monster, companion, Doctor, villain, etc. Seeing the evolution of some of the recurring monsters side by side is a treat, and there are a couple of interactive bits. At the very end are costumes from the most recent season (which I have not seen) and a couple of bits from the then-upcoming Season 10.

And of course there is a little shop as you exit, and a pretty good one. It has a fair number of items I haven’t seen elsewhere as well as many of the usual suspects you would expect. As a bonus there is a little gallery/waiting room adjacent to the shop which doesn’t seem to have any signage but turned out to be full of wonderful Chris Achilleos art from the Target Books novelizations.

I bought things and gawked at things and eventually we set back out into the world. We headed back towards town but did so via Mermaid Quay, which is of course home of the Torchwood Hub entrance. We were pretty tired by this point so we mostly saw that in passing and continued on past Ianto’s Shrine (which was surprisingly impressive but could use a little love) and so back into town.

Back at the hotel we took advantage of the pool and sauna facilities for a couple of hours, which really hit the spot after the long day. Then back into town for some really frikkin’ good burgers from The Grazing Shed. So good. So so good. No idea what “tidy” means in the local lingo but it is not tidy in the American sense, juicy and messy and delicious burgers plus actual fountain root beer by some miracle. It was entirely satisfying.

We got to bed early and slept the sleep of the just.

 

Gally

The culmination of our February trip was of course Gallifrey One.

There were multiple reasons I was excited to go; I missed last year, I hadn’t been to a proper convention in a while, and of course it would be my first trip back to California in a year. But I was also excited to have John attend his first Gally.

The morning  in Santa Monica started with a bad omen, a broken statue of Mercury, god of travellers. But perhaps because a replacement was procured speedily her was a forgiving god and our trip to the hotel went smoothly, as did our eventual plane ride home, although we did get lost between the bus and the LAX Marriott… so take that as you will.

At the hotel we found we only had one bed and had to get a rollaway, which was a bit annoying-I wish they would guarantee that somehow. Beds sorted we went and  stocked up on supplies for the weekend; snacks, beer, and a couple bottles of wine. By the end of this I was pretty pooped and needed a shower and change of clothes to get into convention mode so John went off to participate in the traditional In & Out burger run that kicks Gally off while I puttered about getting ready.

As it turned out I had misunderstood the description and the burger run was an actual outing where the entire group walks to In & Out and orders individually, which frankly seems like a terrible idea. But John had In & Out, which is a rite of passage, and got a ribbon out of it to boot so all’s well that ends well. He also came back with several new Pokemon, as the new expansion had just launched. Luckily the hotel had five pokestops of its own so they were pretty thick on the ground all weekend.

Fed and cleaned it was time for the ice cream social, which is a con event but technically takes place before the convention officially starts. There were good ice cream flavours and by this time Palle had arrived and Bryan and Mette where running around as well. They introduced us to some of their friends, and I ran into a few people I knew pretty quickly. We finished off the night mixing questionable drinks in their room, including a pint glass of a surprisingly good irridescent green drink.

Friday was the first official day of the convention and we started it with a Denny’s breakfast. Previous years I have occasionally ventured out of the hotel for food but didn’t realize there even was a Denny’s nearby. Probably I would have been less excited about it when I lived walking distance to a diner, but breakfast food is one of the great American traditins so that was nice.

Back at the con it was time for the Opening Ceremony, which may or may not have been replaced by Radio Free Skaro interviews. I thought it had but someone later said that there is still a more traditional guest intro kind of thing later. In any case the interviews were good but not the right energy level for a con kick-off so we left after a while and spent the rest of the day in a variety of panels. I enjoy behind the scenes stuff so always get a kick out of the classic actors telling war stories and/or current folks discussing the industry-and I got plenty of both during this Gally, as well as a top notch interview with first time guest Lalla Ward and a hilarious Naoko Mori and Gareth David-Lloyd joint interview.

The Friday evening event this year was The Idiot’s Lantern. Basically a series of comedy sketches centered around Doctor Who, ranging from really clever and funny to pretty silly. Annoyingly there were some people sitting behind us who did not like the show but also seemed to forget they were free to leave, thank goodness they eventually remembered. The best bits were probably Tony Lee as Captain Kirk and a silly but amusing Kylo Ren sketch with a surprise Rick & Morty twist. After the show I assume there was drinking, it’s all a bit hazy tbh.

Saturday is the big day on any convention, and we kicked it off with a visit from Andres who swung by and took us to have breakfast at The Coffee Company which was jam-packed but worth the wait.

After that the usual blur of panels took, chatting, and costume gawking took us to the afternoon where we managed to squeeze in a quick recording for the Geek Girl Crafts Podcast up in the room before heading down to Latitude 33 for our first hotel dinner of the weekend. We joined Jade, Erik, Jean, and Chris and there was a lot of Star Wars geekery, primarily between John and Jade. Like, a LOT. We were seated near the entrance so got to say hi to various folks as they came in, reminding me a bit of the good old days at the Coffee Garden.

Saturday’s centerpiece is of course the Masquerade. This was the first year no one I knew was participating, but it was still an enjoyable show with Tony Lee as MC. I may be mistaken but it seemed like there were also fewer Master division entries than usual. But there was definitely some good stuff up there all the same. And like at most conventions there was a halftime show while the judges, including Jude Hudson herself, went off to deliberate.

Normally the halftime is some sort of gameshow, but this time was a bit of a surprise as we got a band instead, called Awesome City Limits. Its no secret that I love it when conventions expand their usual repertoire, especially in regards to live geeky music which has experienced such an explosion of variety and talent in the last decade. And this band was pretty great so I was quite a happy camper.

The judges came back with their decisions, most of which I agreed with entirely, and then it was off to get some alcohol in my system in order to be ready for the Night of the Living Dead Discotheque. I had been excited to experience the DJ skills of Paul Condon, who was in charge two years ago and had been listed initially in the schedule, but Shawn Crosby did a fine job in his stead and I got a lot of dancing in. Once that wrapped (sadly early) there was a certain amount of running around culminating in the lobby, of course, where some people where running this all-night ribbon contest that was strange and confusing to my poor drunk and tired brain but all the same very entertaining.

There were no interesting early panels on Sunday thank goodness so we staggered off to Denny’s and generally had a chill day of watching one panel after another in the main room, partly because they were the most interesting ones and partly because of inertia. Then it was time for closing ceremonies, sad but always a bit of a love-fest. We left before next year’s preview in order to have dinner with Leigh Ann and Leo at a joint Italian and Persian place nearby. It isn’t fusion, but rather has the two cuisines separately. We chose the Persian and had some really amazing dishes including a pomegranate based one, fesenjan I think.

Sunday evening at Gally means drinking the last of the booze, trying to talk to everyone you have missed, and generally sucking the marrow out of the convention. We spent time in the smoking area watching the cool kids compare ribbon trains, and in the lobby getting increasingly maudlin, and we made facebook friends with a Gally fellow-traveller who happens to be local to us in Southampton. And then, sadly it was bedtime. But Gally always saves that last bit of magic for you, and we had a brief but lovely encounter with the luminous Lalla Ward on our way up to our room, and a final late night chat with the charming Simon Fisher-Becker.

And that was it, Gallifrey One was over for another year. Monday morning we ran some errands nearby, got back in time to say goodbye to friends, and then boarded our plane back home.

California

The last few months have been dispiriting to say the least, and for a lot of people I know one of the side-effects on a personal level a has been a distinct lack of enthusiasm for creative endeavours. Everything seems small and trivial when the world appears to be falling apart at a global geopolitical level.

So it was with mixed feelings that I made plans to travel to California for a two week visit culminating in attending Gallifrey One. The planning had happened in the run up and just after the election, and there were times when I seriously wondered if it wold be better to just cancel, but seeing the post-election protests and organizing did help a bit.

So on Feb 5th we flew into LAX, first to spend a few days with my sister in Santa Monica. We arrived to rainy weather which lasted most of the two weeks we were there with the exception of two lovely sunny days. The rain was the end of a decade long drought in California so one can’t complain too much, but on the other hand it also caused massive flooding and damage to the Oroville Dam, so it wasn’t a drizzle either.

While in SoCal we squeezed in as much as we could in a short time. The first thing we did though was check out the local Pokemon, because first of all Tauros but also as it turns out, big cities have waaaaay more Pokemon and Pokestops than small ones and LA, Santa Monica, Oakland, Berkeley, and SF are all pretty big. So many Pokemans y’all.

On the first morning John had some errands to run so after a nice big breakfast Ashley and I went to see the excellent, infuriating James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro. I have never read any Baldwin and expected a biographical look at his life and work, which it only sort of is. More than that it’s about the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Baldwin’s thoughts on race relations in the US. The short takeaway is his quote that “white is a metaphor for power” .

After the movie we met up with John and headed downtown on the new Expo line, which is finally up and running, to visit The Last Bookstore. I had not heard of this place before but it is a wonderfully sprawling space filled with new and used books. The upstairs has an excellent science fiction section as well as a row of artist galleries and we spent a happy couple of hours exploring. Then it was back home where Andres cooked up a tasty pasta dinner and we tottered off to bed embarrassingly early.

Tuesday Ashley had to work so we headed out on our own and after pancakes at IHOP hopped on Expo to see the California Science Center where the Space Shuttle Endeavour is on display. We spent a couple of happy hours visiting that exhibit, which is already pretty great but apparently in the process of being upgraded till it was time to meet up with my brother, who picked us up and whisked us up to the Griffith Observatory for even more science.

I’m pretty sure I have been up to Griffith once before but found it closed on that visit, because I don’t remember the interior at all and it is pretty spectacular. We saw a show in the planetarium and then ran around looking at the various exhibits and the beautiful art deco building. One of the standouts for me is along the Cosmic Corridor down to the lower level along which 2200 pieces of astronomy related jewelry are displayed in a glittering ribbon.

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Being Los Angeles, the drive home was long and full of traffic, so we arrived with plenty of appetite in time for a delicious steak dinner and some drinks before once more retiring at a sadly reasonable hour.

Wednesday my brother picked us up and kindly took up to a good old fifties diner called Pann’s where John had chicken and waffles and I had an excellent hot link breakfast.

We flew into Oakland rather than SF and caught more Pokemon (hella Magnemites) before getting BART to the Sunset where we were crashing with my old roommate Palle for the next few days. The first order of business was cuddles with Harold, who has gotten even rounder and fluffier since I saw her last. Cat soundly cuddled we walked up to El Burrito Express for a burrito and settled into mainline some Better Off Ted. It was a good, relaxing way to spend our first day in SF and culminated with a late night excursion with Mr. Joe Price to get milkshakes at Orphan Andy’s in the Castro, just like the good old days.

Thursday we’d planned to head into the city but right after our first breakfast at the trusty Tennessee Grill the skies opened up and a deluge of biblical proportions ensued. Umbrellas were useless and neither of us had brought waterproof shoes, much less proper raincoats, so we were soaked to the bone in seconds. We retreated to Palle’s and spent an enforced lazy day hiding from the weather. This allowed me to subject John to The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Terror of the Autons in preparation for Gally. When Palle got home we ordered pizza from Cybelles and mainlined a bit more Better Off Ted. Not the best use of holiday time but enjoyable nontheless and given my continuing post-airplane sniffles probably about right.

Friday we headed to the East Bay and our first stop was Games of Berkeley, which has moved to new digs. I was a bit worried that the move was bad news but am happy to say the new location is if anything superior and the store looks great. Done with that we stopped by Rasputin and Amoeba looking for a few things that are hard to get in the UK and popped into one last game store called Eudemonia in John’s epic quest for Star Wars Destiny boosters. Miraculously they had some! John was very happy indeed and we left Berkeley triumphantly after a well deserved beer and pizza. Next stop, Oakland.

We got off at the 12th St. Oakland station by the wonderful Tribune Tower, which always looks fantastic at night. We had an hour or two before meeting up with our friends Anthony and Deb for drinks so the next order of business was some slightly more substantial food to lay down a base for those future tiki drinks. We Yelped a few options and I found a likely looking place called Abura-ya which proclaimed itself to be Japanese Friend Chicken. It’s a counter service place with relatively little seating so we snagged a couple of stools facing the window and ordered ourselves eight pieces of chicken in two excellent sauces, one some kind of bbq and the other wasabi based. We spent some time chatting with the guy sitting next to us, who seemed charmed by John’s Englishness, before heading back out into the night.

We arrived at Longitude a bit early and were lucky to snag a booth in the corner. The easy way to describe the place is as a tiki bar, but it really is more explorer/adventurer themed. We ordered blind and am honestly not sure what we got, the drinks were delicious all night but the service was a little vague. Once Ant and Deb arrived it didn’t matter because Anthony could guide our drink orders and the company more than made up for any lapses in waitressing. It has been ages since I got to spend any real time with these two and it really did my soul good to see them again. Best part of the trip hands down.

Saturday was our last full day in the city and it was a good one too. We had a really nice lunch and caught up with Palle’s parents, who are really just the best. It was one of the nice weather days of our visit so afterwards we walked over to Haight to see my friend Steve. We passed some older folks playing a banjo and hanging out in front of their house with a protest sign, probably from that morning’s  Ocean Beach protest. We stopped at the Haight St. Amoeba store, hoping to find The Middleman but coming up empty handed. We did locate a copy of Better Of Ted season 1 for cheap, so that turned out okay. We also took a brief detour to Gamescape on Divisidero because John really can’t help himself, and then we headed to Steve’s place. We hung out and talked till we got hungry, then popped across the street to Sushi Raw for some really great food, before wrapping up the evening with Saturday Night Live (Melissa McCarthy killing it as Spicer) and beers. We arrived back at Palle’s tired but happy.

The next morning we woke up appropriately late, grabbed one last breakfast at the Tennesee Grill, squeezed Harold one last time, and then headed off to catch Caltrain to San Jose where Bryan and Mette picked us up at the station.

Before heading back to their place we grabbed dinner at a strange but good Vietnamese place called Bò Né which is outfitted like a nightclub from an early 90s low budget cyberpunk movie; led tables, murals of angels and fairies, and what I assume was a stage for karaoke. I didn’t quite understand it but the food was good and I don’t guess the decor was particularly aimed at me anyway.

The next day we went into San Jose for a bit to visit a game store, where Mette and John wandered about happily looking at all the things, and then downtown where we managed to run into Derek McCaw, who was also attending Gally this year. We had a chat while eating some chicken wings, then got Psycho Donuts and got back to the house in time to go get dinner at a Salvadorian/Mexican place called Chalateco which was loud and crowded but had pupusas and burritos and really good agua fresca, among other things.

I had originally had some grand ambitions of heading back into SF for Hubba Hubba/Death Guild and some last visits but the on again off again not-quite-a-cold that had been dogging me since the plane flight came back with a vengeance so we watched a strange and really dark early Mads Mikelsen film called Adam’s Apple before calling it a night.

Tuesday was up and out at a reasonable hour in order to make good time down to the LA area. Nerds that we are we spent most of the trip playing trivia games and listening to stand up comedy, although John nailed multitasking and managed to read an entire book at the same time. We stopped for food and insanity at Bravo Farms and made nice time most of the way down. Bryan and Mette dropped us off at an Expo Line stop and headed to the LAX Marriott while we toddled off back to Santa Monica again to get some laundry done and catch some Pokemon. We also lucked out and found the local Sears was having a closing sale and managed to find some really good deals on Levi’s. Round up the night with some good NY style pizza and colour us happy.

Although the convention official starts on Friday, Thursday is the official unofficial start so we had the hotel reserved from then, which meant that Wednesday was our last day of adventuring. We rejoined Bryan and Mette for it in Universal Studios, the original plan had been for Andres to join us as well but he got called into work at the last minute unfortunately. We got there early and spent the first couple of hours at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was really very cool. The design of the place is top notch and although I didn’t go on the ride itself I walked through the waiting line sections which are worth it all on their own. We also spent a bunch of time in Springfield and had a Krusty Burger. We took the Studio Tour as well, which started off a bit rough because of the super loud rattling sounds coming from the back of our trolley but redeemed itself with several highlights including a very good Norman Bates, a couple of silly but amusing rides, and most of all the bit where we went through the set for The Good Place, a show we just finished watching a few days previously.

We ran around looking at things and being nerds until around 3pm by which time we were pretty tired. We managed to run into several Gally folks by that time though so John and I left Bryan and Mette to hang out with them while we headed back to Santa Monica. We repeated our pizza experience, repacked and weighed our suitcases, and got one last night of proper sleep in preparation for the start of the convention.

English Christmas

Chistmas in Peterborough was lovely as ever. No snow this year but the traditional mince pies, Xmas stockings, and carols on the green with John’s family. The pantomime this time around was Dick Wittington,  which I had never heard of but seemed well known to everyone else, but as the actual panto story is always basically the same I don’t feel I missed out by not being au courant with the source material.

For NYE we headed up to Leicester and had a chance to visit with folks there before heading out to 33 Cank Street, same as two years ago. This time it was just John and myself without Ruth and Charles, which meant there was no one to stop us from the delicious but not entirely wise decision of having an enourmous barbecue feast at Grillstock before our night out. It took us a bit to ramp back up to speed but the cocktails were delicious and the band high energy so were up and dancing in time for the countdown.

Some memorable moments from the evening include stepping outside shortly after midnight to gets some cool air and seeing a Hare Krishna parade dance past, also being outside when the bar was insufficient to contain the conga line which spilled out and swept us up, and John winning us a free round of cocktails by posting the photo below.

@futuriana going more sinister at @bar33cankstreet…

A photo posted by John Coxon (@johncoxon) on

 

Almost Xmas

We’ve been at the new place for four months now, and it is overall an improvement despite a few quirks like weirdly shallow closets and hardwood floors that react somewhat alarmingly to the weather.

Highlights from the last few months include several visits to Winchester, which is a really pretty place with a fantastic cathedral. I went there with John for a pub crawl and with work colleagues for the famous Christmas Market, and also with my brother Raul when he came to visit. During his visit we also played tourist in Southampton itself (Old Town mainly) and spent a day in London seeing everything we could in the British Museum and ending the night going up the London Eye.

There were other visits to London during this period, to see the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the Tate Modern and then again for Star Wars: Identities on John’s birthday, both very enjoyable in different ways.

And now its cold and rainy and the town is looking pretty, with a German Market in the town center and a generally festive air. The English do Xmas quite well.

Goodbye Bridgewater Court

This past weekend John and I said goodbye to the old flat and moved into a new place a little further up Shirley. The old place had a lot of good stuff going for it but the landlord decided to move back in so there wasn’t much to do about that, luckily we managed to find a place that is overall nicer despite a couple of odd quirks. Luckily the bathroom is far superior to the old place, which for some incomprehensible reason had a separate toilet room which was too tiny to contain even a sink.

So after a couple of weeks of stressful packing, cleaning, moving, and unpacking, we are now for the most part settled into the new place saver for the usual fussing around finding the right spot for things and getting a few new items like our own television set. The neighborhood is nicer as well, a bit more suburban and quieter but the same distance to work for me and a nicer walk. John is closer to his work, which is nice, and we’re only about five minutes further away from our favorite kebab shop. Pretty much the only disadvantage is we are twice as far from the train station, but even that only comes to a twenty minute walk.

Best part might end up being our new proximity to the Southampton Commons, which I’ve been meaning to explore since I got here.