Portsmouth and Hythe

The first weekend in May was a busy one, thanks to the bank holiday falling on our wedding anniversary. John got back from his trip to Berkeley on the Saturday but still had enough energy to pop over to a friend’s birthday party for a couple of hours.

On Sunday we hopped on the train to Portsmouth for their first ever Comic-con. It was held at the Guildhall a couple of minutes walk from the train station. It was very well attended, with a solid main dealer’s room and artist alley. We wandered the main hall and made a couple of modest purchases and then checked out the artist alley. There John got very excited when he spotted multiple Star Wars artists. It ended up being a slightly expensive but very enjoyable visit, which we capped off with dinner at 7Bone across the street.

On Monday it was the bank holiday and our actual anniversary date, so in keeping with tradition we took a ferry, this time to Hythe. The ferry and the town were both more modest that last year’s Isle of Wight trip, but suited the weather and our energy. They have a market on bank holidays and we found matching earrings and cufflinks. We got a sausage sandwich from one of the stands and then sat in the park by the water reading in the sunshine, it was a very relaxed afternoon.


After Follycon Alissa stayed with us for a few days. Southampton being what it is, we soon ventured a bit further afield for sites of interest.

Since John had to go back to work but my new job wasn’t starting yet, I decided this would be a good opportunity to check out Bournemouth. John and I went there once last year but didn’t do a lot of exploring, but I figured worse case scenario we would visit Mary Shelley’s grave and have a pleasant wander.

We did start off there, Shelley is buried (along with her family and Percy’s heart) in the graveyard of St. Peter’s church. The church is worth a visit as well, with some lovely stained glass and the usual sort of interesting art and architectural bits you might like if you re so inclined, which I am. Should you be uncertain you are in the right place, the Mary Shelley Wetherspoon directly next door features Boris Karloff as the monster on its signage.

Having paid our respects our afternoon was free, we looked up a likely looking food joint but found it closed. As luck would have it though, it was right next door to a little goth apparel shop, so we had a poke around in there. Alissa found a skirt and we got a recommendation for Naked Coffee across the street, which had very good sandwiches.

Rested and refreshed we headed over to the Russell-Cotes Gallery and Museum. I knew they had some pre-Raphaelites in the collection but didn’t really have any expectations beyond that. It turned out to be a beautiful building full of amazing art, with great views and a wonderful backstory. The gift shop was very good and staffed by very funny and engaging volunteers. Soon our senses were overwhelmed by the sheer size and variety of the collection and we called it a day, but I seriously need to go back again soon.




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.



March was a good month, bookended by two big events. At the start of my month is my birthday and at the end of the Month was Eastercon.

For my birthday John had gotten us tickets to Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. We made a day of it, heading up reasonably early and spending a few hours kicking around Camden looking at all the cool shops (and some of the tacky ones too). We had some coffee with ginger, which was surprisingly nice, and then for lunch shared a bagel and an arepa, both lovely.

Having gotten our enjoyment there we had time for one bit of sightseeing before dinner. Now, I’d jotted down a half dozen options in the general area we were heading, some more involved than others, but on the day the one I picked I did mostly because it seemed a bit of a lark that we would be unlikely to make the detour for otherwise but would also be fast. And so we went hunting for the statue of Hodge the cat. I am happy to report it is utterly delightful. As it turns out it is a talking statue, which is to say there is a QR code on the side and when you scan it you get a recording of Nicholas Parsons as the voice of Hodge telling his story. I can definitely say this is the best statue in London.

We had enough time for a leisurely dinner at Cookhouse Joe before the show, also recommended, and got to the theatre nice and early, though not early enough to find anyplace to sit in the waiting lounges. Still, we admired the newly refurbished building and bought some merch, then put in an order for some halftime G&Ts before it was time to take out seats.

The show was really great; I had purposely not listened to the recording for a few weeks beforehand in order to go in as fresh as possible and it seemed to do the trick. We had a great Burr (John liked him more than Odom, Jr.), and outstanding Washington and King George. I really liked our Angelica as well. I felt our Hamilton was less charismatic than Miranda, though probably a better singer overall, and Lafayette/Jefferson I only really liked as the latter. But it was really interesting to make the comparisons.

Eastercon I will save for the next write up!

10 cities and counting

I’m up to ten cities on the Nerd List so far, with varying degrees of accuracy and completeness. Plus London, which I’m splitting into boroughs for manageability, and which I am getting some help with.

It’s about half major cities and half cities near me, since I may as well see whats around here. Turns out the South Coast has some cool literary history, including Tolkien’s favorite holiday spot and Mary Shelley’s grave (with bonus Percy Bysshe Shelley heart!).


This was a weekend of people visiting us this time, John’s brother George and his girlfriend Kathryn were over on Saturday and Sunday. We ran some errands in the morning before they arrived late afternoon, and our plan was basically; play games, head to 7bone for dinner, then probably more games. I enjoyed the first two parts of that but had to excuse myself after dinner for a mildly stressful but ultimately not-actually-urgent and in fact rather boring, out of hours visit to the hospital, which is I suppose exactly how you want life’s little emergencies to turn out.

I got back home a bit late but got a full night’s sleep and in the morning we had a nice big breakfast hash and, you guessed it, played more games. It was hailing at one point, so we were disinclined to venture outside and it ended up being a nice relaxing Sunday. After they left John made a tasty chorizo pasta and we continued to catch up on season 6 of Game of Thrones (so much happening!) and generally chill.

Pottering at the Library

John and I went up to London again this past weekend, just for the day this time, to see the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition at the British Library.

We had tickets for the evening but took the opportunity to spend the day kicking with Hogg before then. We met up at Fabrique, Swedish bakery next door to The Orc’s Nest which has delicious cardammon rolls. Then we did a tour of the local nerd spots; Orc’s Nest, Orbital Comics, and Forbidden Planet. At that last one they had Fred Gambino and John Harris art books on clearance for five pounds each, so we nabbed those and made our escape otherwise intact.

Hogg left us at the Library and we had just enough time to check our coats before it was our ticket time. The exhibition was a good size and explored the parallels and differences between the magic in the Potterverse and the history of magic in the real world, primarily but not exclusively in a European setting. It was divided roughly into sections focusing on objects, medicine, herbs, witches, and so on. The Potter and the other artifacts are intermingled in these sections for context, a good idea even if it was clear that for the most part the Potter parts were far more popular.

Some of the art and historical objects on display were world class; John William Waterhouse’s “The Magic Circle” for one, a favorite of mine and nice surprise. Also on display, an astonishing 16th century alchemical scroll describing the Philosopher’s Stone. The real-world artifacts range from purely fantastical to scientific, with a solid section belonging to both worlds in the form of alchemy and early science. One of my favorites there was an illustration by 18th Century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian of a bird eating spider, which was apparently dismissed as too fantastical by the established science community when she published originally.  A nice touch as well were a handful of objects from modern practitioners, mainly from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall, which looks worth a visit.

The Potter artifacts were primarily in two categories; original notes and drawings by Rowling, and Jim Kay sketches and illustrations. The former were sometimes a little overblown (did HP “change the history of publishing forever”?) but generally quite interesting and occasionally very charming,  for instance the handwritten review by 8-year old Alice Newton, daughter of the head of Bloomsbury who convinced her father to publish the first book in the series. Also nice to see were Rowling’s illustrations, which are not bad at all and show how vivid the world and characters were from the get-go. Bu the Jim Kay illustrations were probably the best part, lovely pencil sketches for the most part, standouts included a simple portrait of young Harry, a wide view of the storefronts of Diagon Alley, and a big sketch of Hagrid, whom Kay describes as his favorite subject, a “mass of scribbles with eyes”.



Last weekend we went up to visit Anna and Hogg and try out a 3D experience thing. John was very excited about it, and while it sounded neat I only half paid attention to what it was all about. I’d watched him try out a 3D demo once, it looked okay but not anywhere near worth paying money for. But we were doing it for Hogg’s birthday, and it’s Star Wars, so I was happy enough to go along and see if things had advanced.

It is Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and as it turns out, it was pretty amazing. While the graphics are still a little on the clunky side, mostly in synching player movement to each other or surrounding, but the overall effect is completely convincing. I don’t know if I would call it “hyper-reality” (as The Void marketing department has chosen to brand it) but it is a very cool immersive 3D gaming experience for sure.

You and your teammates are strapped into backpacks, a chest piece, and a visor helmet. All necessary equipment, of course, but these all also help you feel “suited up” so to speak. Then you are herded into a small room, you flip your visor down (after adjusting the focus) and the adventure begins.

It’s a fairly basic crate grab mission in an enemy base, but the effects of movement, distance, and interactions are all smooth and you are quickly in the action. Several parts take place very high up, and my fear of heights was utterly convinced. Blaster hits were conveyed through haptic feedback, while sounds, temperature changes, air blasts, and smells, are all used to help flesh out the environment. It works beautifully.

What surprised me the most is how quickly you adjust to trusting the visual space in front of you in spite of knowing your eyes are completely covered in what amounts to a blindfold. After the first ten or twenty seconds I don’t think I once worried about walking into anything, though there was a little bit of smacking into other players now and again.

In any case, well worth the visit. It looks like they’ve done Ghostbuster adventures in the past, and it will be neat to see what they come up with next.

The rest of the evening primarily involved moderate-to-heavy drinking and science fiction trivia, and Sunday we lazed about and generally recovered out strength for the train ride back to Southampton.





Nerd List UK

I’ve started a new project in over at thenerdlist.wordpress.com

Basically, it is an extension of a habit I already have; obsessively looking up all the nerdy, sftnal, or weird stuff in any city I plan visit even briefly. Coupled with John’s encyclopaedic knowledge of board game shop locations it seemed a bit of a waste to do this research and not share it.

So far, the format is loosely; a) actual nerdy places like comic book stores, b) bookstores, and c) nerd-adjacent things like HMV or science museums. The idea being that if you are in an unfamiliar city, say a day early for a convention or needing an afternoon off from visiting relatives, this is the sort of list that might help find something to do.

I will add places sporadically and recommendations are welcome. For now it’s a UK only project to keep it manageable.