Art and Reading

John got back on Friday but only long enough to unpack before we were both on a train together to London for the weekend.

Between weather, strikes, and track work, travel was a bit slower and less fun than it might have otherwise been, but we made it up to Croydon to stay with Anna and Hogg and they were kind enough to feed us some delicious barbacoa which warmed us up nicely.

The next day we all got breakfast together and then John and I took the train into London and met up with his parents for a day of museums. First was the exhibition El Greco to Goya at the Wallace Collection, which is a stunning private house museum. The collection is enormous, and each room has a different colour of silk wallpaper, which is striking. The Spanish exhibition was good, with a couple of rooms with highlights like a Greco and a Goya, and then a list of pieces in the main collection, primarily Murillo who I was only passingly familiar with but find I rather like.

We rested and had some tea and a scone, which was very nice indeed, before walking over to the National Portrait Gallery for Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell, which was a nice overview of an artist who I mostly knew superficially from the dancer paintings, there were some gorgeous pieces and a few that were actually kind of creepy.

We rounded off the night with dinner at the India Club, which has good food, an interesting history, and very friendly patrons (the table beside us shared their whiskey). Afterwards John’s parents went off to catch their train back to Peterborough and we went back to Anna and Hogg’s place where after about forty minutes we found ourselves falling asleep where we sat. We had to be up early in the morning anyway, so we called it a night.

The next morning it was snowing! We caught the train to Reading and there John went off to play in a Star Wars: Destiny tournament while I wandered through the snow till my feet were too cold. Once he was done we had a lovely burger at 7bone before facing the mess of weather/strike/track work disrupted train service back home.

Oxford

John has been on his annual getaway, where he and some friends rent a cottage and play board games for the week. Which means I started Horizon Zero Dawn which is very pretty so far, and marathoned all of Bojack Horseman which stars off okay and is just fantastic and devastating by season 4 (but also very funny!).

I decided on a daytrip in his absence, to avoid cabin fever. Plan A was a visit to Watership Down, but despite its proximity as the crow flies it’s difficult to reach via public transit from Southampton. Plan B was checking out cheap Megabus tickets, and Oxford was a mere £7.10 roundtrip! Another bonus is that Liz Batty lives in Oxford, something I knew but had completely forgotten, and was kind enough to offer herself up a tour guide.

I arrived at the city centre at 9:30am and my bus back was 5:25pm, giving me a solid day to poke around. My knowledge of Oxford is minimal; I knew there were famous museums/libraries associated with the University and about the Inklings, but little beyond that. I figured that for a short visit with a local to show me around I could dispense with my usual obsessive researching.

I started with coffee and a croissant at a place called Morton, which advertised a real log fire. It was tasty and comfy and prepared me for the bracingly cold day. Then a look at the map suggested the Covered Market was on the way to the Ashmolean, so that became my plan for the morning.

The market is a nice mix of shops selling crafts, gifts, and food. There was one long stall with jewellery by a bunch of different people and I saw about a dozen things I would have bought on the spot had I the cash. There was a traditional butcher with entire boars hanging outside, and a very tempting cheese stall. I had a happy mosey through the stalls before continuing to the Ashmolean.

I had till twelve thirty before meeting up with Liz, so I started on the top floor and had a freeform wander from one interesting bit to the next. I saw the Alfred Jewel (or a replica, the real thing was on loan) and a bunch of artefacts from early English history, and then a lot of European art. As noon approached I made my way to the Pre-Raphaelites room. The highlights for me there were the two big pieces of furniture; The Prioress’ Tale Wardrobe painted by Burne-Jones and the Great Bookcase painted by multiple artists from the brotherhood.

I went back down to the ground floor and waited among the Roman statues for Liz to arrive. This gave me the opportunity to spot what is now my all-time favourite museum caption;

Neither of us had eaten lunch so our first stop was at Natural Bread, where we both had a warm, delicious chickpea stew and I bought a massive sourdough loaf to take home.  Then we wandered through the Christmas Market to look at all the pretty things and say hi to a friend of hers with a stall there. We each bought a book at the Oxfam charity bookshop and then proceeded to the Bodleian. They have a very clever set up where there are two smallish exhibitions side by side, one a rotating selection of from their permanent collection called Treasures of the Bodleian, and the other a special exhibit of some type. Each takes probably half an hour to see, maybe an hour if you’re thorough.

Treasures has a fun conceit; it displays major items from the collection, a Magna Carta, a First Folio, a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, each paired up with another item. The connections can be quite whimsical; the Magna Carta has small holes from where mice ate bits of it over the centuries and is thus displayed beside a tiny manuscript so small it is worn as a pendant, and whose owner worried it might be “carried away by a mouse”. Other standout items; a wonderfully illustrated Letter from Father Christmas by Tolkien and a personal letter from Mary Wollstonecraft to her future husband.

The temporary exhibit next door is called Designing English and it looks at early English language in its written form, primarily how it was designed and laid out. It was interesting to see it first show up in Latin texts as very much the poor relation, mostly as a necessity when transcribing folk songs or recipes that didn’t make sense to translate. I was amused to find the Alfred Jewel on display here, as an example of English text appearing on objects rather than manuscripts.

There was also a bonus exhibit in the lobby, called The Full Picture: Oxford in Portraits which is a nice glimpse into the institution. Top notch giftshop too, with some nice designs based on items in their collections.

The plan next was to tour some university buildings, but most were hosting holiday events so instead we took advantage of the remaining light to wander between them outside. “City of dreaming spires” is a very apt description, even on a cold, gray afternoon it’s a beautiful city.

By now it was nearing the end of my excursion, so we popped into Blackwell’s Bookshop whose Norrington Room is apparently the largest single room selling books in the world and then went to The Eagle and Child, famous as the watering hole for the Inklings. I couldn’t very well go to Oxford and not stop in, despite being worried it would be a tourist trap. But in fact, it’s a pretty cozy traditional pub with real ale, nice looking food, and hardly any exploitation of its famous associations.  It was packed to the gills, but someone was vacating their table and kindly pointed us towards it, so we had a nice pint and chat for the last half hour before it was time to get my bus.

A little art, a little comedy

We had another busy weekend, first up to Peterborough again –  this time for John’s father’s retirement party. It was a ceilidh, a Scottish barn dance basically, and it was a lot of fun though very tiring. Considering I cannot partner dance I went in with some trepidation, but John did a good job leading when needed and having someone shouting instructions does take some of the guesswork out. Would definitely do that again.

Our other big adventure was a trip onto London to see John Finnemore be interviewed by Rufus Hound for his show My Teenage Diary. As you would imagine, the concept is he gets a celebrity to read from their diary as a teenager and uses it as the basis for a conversational interview.

Before the show we had some time to kick around so we visited the Erte exhibit at Grosvenor Gallery, which was excellent. We walked from there to the venue, window shopping and enjoying the Christmas lights up all over town.

The venue was pretty full when we got there so we shared a table in the bar area as we waited to go in and had a nice chat with a couple from Rugby. The show itself was funny and engaging and just a bit of a different way of seeing a comedy favourite, and I was glad that it was gentler than I had anticipated. I had been worried it might be a bit  arch and cringey, but there was a good balance between laughing at the inevitable teenage-ness of the diary and gaining perspective on one’s past self.

Novacon 47

This was my first Novacon, and I didn’t really know what to expect. John had warned me it was small with a single track of programming, and it was that, but it was also well designed for the space it occupies so despite being around 200 people it never felt constricted or claustrophobic.

The Park Inn has seen better days but still manages to be friendly and comfortable, and has the advantage of being on a street with multiple pubs and restaurants in reasonable walking distance for most folks. I didn’t get to see a lot of Nottingham on this trip but there are some gaming and comics shops also a short distance away and the city looked worth adding a day to next year’s trip for some exploration.

We arrived at around 4:30pm, a couple of hours before Opening Ceremonies. This gave us time to unpack and hang art, John had brought TAFF donated art and I had some new flat pieces as well as a few folding fans. The show was larger than I expected for the convention size and I ended up selling a fan and two pieces, so that was a pleasant surprise.

One of the advantages of a smaller event is you get to actually spend time with just about everyone you want to. By the evening I had at least said hello to everyone I already knew who was there, but as I am still a newcomer to local fandom there were plenty of folks to meet for the first time, or to have my first proper conversation with.

John and I braved the cold to get supplies from the Co-op down the street, then enjoyed some wine at the book launch party for Dogs of War, the new book by GOH Adrian Taichovsky. We stood around, chatted, and drank wine until we got peckish, then popped down the street to a place called The Cod’s Scallops. It’s a very cute upmarket fish & chips place decorated in a retro English seaside resort theme, all striped cushions and saucy postcards. They had a table service section but the prices are higher there so we chose to head back to the hotel with a ridiculous amount of battered fish (monkfish for me, seabass for John), a huge portion of chips, plus some extras like scallops, cockles, and fried black pudding. Our little hotel room smelled of fish for the rest of the night but it was worth it and we were well fortified for the ensuing night of drinking.

We chatted with the usual suspects in the bar till around eleven thirty when we started to fade and seriously considered going up to bed, but we ran into Jo Playford who helped us rally a bit longer so we eventually got to bed at a sensible but not embarrassing hour with our dignity intact.

Our first hotel breakfast on Saturday was pretty good despite truly terrible coffee, bad enough I didn’t finish my first cup. Like many hotels the Park Inn has installed those little coffee machines that produce bad coffee and do it slowly, inconveniencing both the customers who have to stand in line and the staff who has to manoeuvre around the people blocking the floor, and maintain the stations as well as take care of tables. (I dislike them, in case you can’t tell)

Still, it was a good breakfast and we got in some quality chat time with Fran Dowd as well before heading off to check out the art show and the dealer’s room. The former had a few tempting pieces and a lot of artists I am not personally familiar with, which is always nice. The later was mostly books and convention tables, plus a cool jewerly vendor.

At noon there was an excursion to a nearby pub called The Lincolnshire Poacher, which was warm and cozy with a nice beer selection. We spent an hour or so there and then left folks to their pub lunches while we took advantage of the hotel pool and sauna.

Then it was time for the first programming item I was excited about; The Rise of African SFF

Moderated by Geoff Ryman, editor of 100 African Writers of SFF it had three authors on it; Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso, Masimba Musodza, and Nick Wood. Tosin Coker was also listed but did not appear, sadly making it an all-male panel. But it was a good one all the same, Chukwunonso in particular had some interesting points to make about afrofuturism, African SFF, African diaspora SFF, and how they relate to each other – there was a lot to chew over there and some points I had not considered. There was a handy printed reading/resource list provided by the African Speculative Fiction Society, and after the discussion ended the authors all did short readings.

The next stop was the bar for conversation and beer, of course. We chatted till dinnertime, then found Claire and Mark and attempted to find Tobes – who ironically turned out to be on a panel about food! He promised to join us once that wrapped up so the four of us headed over to Royal Thai down the street, it was the only place that had a table for five available but fortunately it also turned out to be really good. Tobes joined us eventually and we had a nice relaxed meal.

Back at the hotel I got changed and made it back down just in time to take advantage of the free bar generously provided by some mysterious anonymous fan. Then it was time for the Pub Quiz, which was a lot of fun, though by the end of the two hours it had gotten rather chaotic and I had stopped remembering little things like book titles, author names, my own name. We eventually spilled out into the bar and spent the rest of the night chatting. I switched to wine until the bottle ran out and then as the bar was long since closed, the resourceful Ellie Winpenny provided vodka. At around three am I left the remaining souls and staggered off to bed.

In the morning John literally dragged me out of bed for breakfast, which I put down to the inferior quality of the duvets at this hotel and their inability to really get a grip on when you need it. Still, breakfast was necessary and I eventually forgave him. We vaguely considered attending programming but ended up at the pool instead for another lovely soak and swim.

Thus refreshed we packed our suitcases and left them at reception so we could enjoy the last few hours of our convention. Follycon hosted a tea party, with biscuits and muffins as well as far superior coffee to what the hotel had provided so far. Afterwards we picked up our remaining art and the cash for our sales, one of the things I love about UK conventions is the fact that they pay up on the spot rather than after the convention.

The last hurrah before we left was Doug Spencer’s Recycling The Redshirts talk. It was about ST:TOS, its unfortunate death count, and also cannibalism. It was both informative and odd, and a pretty good way to end the convention for us.

We said what goodbyes we could and then disappeared into the chilly Nottingham night.

October (mostly)

October was a busy month, which I neglected to write about at the time and am therefore backdating now.

We went to Winchester twice. First with some friends who are moving away soon, we did a bit of a pub crawl and saw Sofie Hagen do her new show ‘Dead Baby Frog’. The second time was the astronomy group’s usual Winchester Pub Crawl which had more drinking and less (intentional) comedy. Both times we had dinner at new places, we tried out Piecaramba, which was good and suitably nerdy, and then Overdraft’s new location in Winchester, which serves scrumptious tacos.

In between those two local outings we had a couple of bigger adventures;

We flew out to Jersey in the Channel Islands to visit Tobes! This was a trip planned for literally years and postponed multiple times, but it was well worth the wait. Jersey has a unique history and culture, half English and half French and we lucked out with lovely weather during our visit which made it feel that much more Mediterranean. We did a lot of sightseeing, with Mont Orgueil Castle as the highlight; besides being a very cool castle it was full of art exhibitions related to its history including The Wounded Man, The Dance of Death, Witches in Hell, and the somewhat eccentric Medieval Wheel of Urine.

Grosnez Castle was on the other hand was little more than a ruin, but the scenery it inhabits is truly stunning and more than makes up the lack of an actual castle.

Tobes was an excellent host and we gave us the full tour of the island – which is just beautiful. We walked along the beaches, ate well and drank quite a lot. Dinner on Saturday was at La Taverne with some charming friends of his and then Sunday we were served a truly bounteous seafood feast in his home, prepared by his equally charming mother. On Monday we should have been back home but apparently the apocalypse was on! Fires in one place, hurricanes in another, and a sky that looked like Cthuluh’s own welcoming party. In any case our flight was cancelled, so we ended up having pizza at a cute Italian place and then watched Paint Your Wagon back at the house.

The weekend after we went to London to do the Harry Potter WB Studio Tour, courtesy of John’s parents. It was very, very impressive. They’ve kept everything from the making of the movies and it is all beautifully made and expertly laid out; costumes, props, sets, tons of information, and plenty of opportunities to get very close to things. As it was near Halloween at the time they had bonus Dark Arts things around the place, like Bellatrix Lestrange’s costume and some Death Eater appearances. One of the nice things was how broad the coverage was, with displays focusing on specific areas such as the prosthetics room, which I suspect a lot of my costumer friends would have been fascinated by.

And finally, we went to Peterborough to visit John’s family and see Ed Byrne do his new show ‘Spoiler Alert’. While this was technically at the start of November I am too lazy to make a separate post for it. This was the second time I’ve seen him and it was a very good show, and after the show we even ran into another Peterborough fan, Cardinal Cox.

DefCon 6, YCPAN

Last weekend was pretty chill, John was freshly back from a work trip to Irkutsk and a little jetlagged so we mostly took it easy. On Sunday we took the train down the road a short distance to Totton and had a look at Defcon 6, a little comic-con which we also visited last year. It’s a one-room affair held in the Empire Hall there. A bunch of dealers selling random stuff, some local groups hosting tables and showing off their dalek and R2-D2 builds and so on.

We bought a couple of small things, checked out some excelled cosplay, and generally enjoyed being nerdy for a couple of hours. Sadly this is their last year, I guess the city council support hasn’t been great.

The rest of the day was chill, John was still pretty jet lagged, and then on Sunday we went to the Festival of the Spoken Nerd: You Can’t Polish a Nerd. It was fun, more science than pop culture – which was very much right for the audience. I enjoyed the recursive video experiments and objects of constant width.

Halifax, etc.

After Worldcon we sleep-walked through the workweek and then John’s parents came to visit for a nice calm weekend at home. We spent Saturday wandering about Hillier Gardens in Romsey, which had something called Art in the Garden on. The sculptures in question were all works for sale and ranged basically cute garden decorations to some really stunning works of art. I particularly liked the Stan Jankiowski wind sculptures at the entrance, there was a carved wooden ship and a silver kinetic rocket sculpture, and dozens of others.

That evening we were too tired from all the walking around to do anything terribly exciting, we had dinner at Lakaz Maman and played games till bedtime.

The following week John went back to Peterborough for the Beer Festival and I mostly played videogames and neglected chores, which was rather nice. On the weekend it was Southampton Price which I had signed up to volunteer for. It’s only their second year and although things behind the scenes were weirdly lackadaisical in some spots, overall it was well put together and lots of fun for the attendees.

Josh visited us the following weekend, which mostly means lot of gaming happened in the living room while I mostly stayed out of it and crafted. I did join in for a very fun, and very silly, card game called Bears vs. Babies.

And then we had another full week of vacation! We went up to Peterborough and then to Halifax to John’s grandfather. Halifax is lovely, went saw the Bronte Parsonage, checked out two excellent pubs, wandered the newly renovated Piece Hall, and visited an amazing interior design/salvage store called Andy Thorton. We also had an excellent Italian dinner at a place called Julio’s.

On the drive back to Peterborough we stopped at Bletchley Park, which has a fantastic museum dedicated to the WWII codebreakers. We spent a couple of hours exploring it in depth and could easily have spent another hour or two, there was an entire section we didn’t get to see at all. Luckily the ticket allows entry for a year so we may go back and see the rest next time we are in the area.

End of the convention

Somehow, we had arrived at the last full day of the convention, unbelievably. John ran off to a bunch of panels while I spent some time in the Lounge watching the WOOF collation happen.

I left a cluster of faneds happily buzzing around a table of contributions and joined the John and some other Fan Fund types over in the ballroom for the Fan Fun Auction. I admit I spent most of it in one of the shockingly comfortable bean bags spread around the hall but we did come away with some bits and bobs. From what I understand they ended up raising a couple of grand across the various funds.

Afterwards Alissa joined us to some Hesburgers in the convention hall, which is suspiciously like McDonald’s except I actually enjoyed it. I had to go back into town to get changed and got caught it a massive storm that hit just as I got to the train station. It was a bit alarming as some places in the region got their roofs blown of people were being advised not to travel, but those of us huddled at the train station entrance witnessed a truly impressive display of lightning almost directly overhead and it was awesome in the purest meaning of the word.

When it calmed down a little I scurried to the AirBnB and got changed for the evening. Then on the way back to Messukeskus I stopped at a place called Friends & Brgrs to pick up dinner for John and myself.

The big event for the evening was the masquerade but I missed that entirely, though there were a few good costumes about. When I got back to the convention centre the party celebrating Dublin in 2019’s win was in full swing, though. That’s gonna be a good one.

Eventually a bunch of us staggered off back to the karaoke place. We were worried it would be packed being the weekend but it was actually super quiet, so we were able to grab two tables easily. Someone requested We Are the Champions and we went up as a group, which gave me enough courage to sing along, the first time I’ve properly done karaoke!

Sunday, Last Day of Worldcon

We woke too early, had one last lovely salmon breakfast, and packed. Messukeskus is closer to the airport than the flat plus we had to check out so they could get it ready for the next guests. Luckily we could leave out stuff in the lounge so that was no worry.

The usual last wander of the exhibit hall and dealer’s room to spend our groats turned up a Worldcon Nice bid shirt and a Doctor Who mug plus various bits and bobs from one of the Chinese fandom tables, And then it was time to say goodbye. We donated our remaining booze to the dead dog and boarded our train to the airport. All that remained was to send some postcards and buy far too much chocolate to take home.

Helsinki Worldcon Day 3

With half a night’s sleep under our belts we managed to get up at our usual time on Friday, and even a couple of errands on our way in to the convention. I did my usual Lounging and then actually made it to a panel that wasn’t full! It was a boisterous chat about the DC television and film properties.

By afternoon I was flagging though, so I headed back to take a nap and then got changed for the Hugos. I was running a little late on the way back which meant going in a side entrance to the auditorium and getting lost trying to find John and the gang, but eventually I made it and enjoyed an almost shockingly smooth and professional ceremony. The format was a bit different than usual; there were couches onstage and Karen Lord, the Toastmistress, conducted short little interviews with nominees and presenters at various intervals. It was an interesting variation that worked well, I think. The winners list was overall excellent and there were several good, funny, and moving speeches. All in all it was a jolly good time.

After the ceremony we were lucky enough to have gotten invites to the fabled Hugo Losers Party, a first for me. The venue was Steam Helsinki, a beautiful steampunk bar in the city centre. As we poured in there was a lot of oohing and aaahing at the décor and admiring of some of the bettwe outfits, and then immediate queuing for the open bar. It was a bit chaotic initially but the socializing during the wait was half the fun, I got to chat with one of the charming finalists and we shared our utter horror at one of the line cutters, always good for bonding. In their defense the staff was rushed off their feet the whole night and remained cheerful throughout.

As is my habit I spent my time flitting between places and conversations, while John mainly spent his happily ensconced in one spot. Bryan, Mette, and Warren were outside, along with Alissa and usually Kevin and Andy, while folks like Anna and Ian Stockdale were mainly inside. In true TAFF spirit the Purcells seemed to be everywhere at once.

The losers got cheers as they came in and the winners were booed and made to wear funny hats. There was a steady stream of delicious hors d’oeuvres, and after quite a few gins there was even a little bit of dancing. I fangirled briefly at Ursula Vernon and at Daveed Diggs, and generally enjoyed and excellent party till around 4am.

John and I could not resist the call of the burger truck once again, the weekend crowd outside the station was busier but also more entertaining than previous nights, there was even someone playing Spanish guitar. We slept the sleep of the righteous and well fed that night.

Helsinki, Worldcon Day 2

I woke up feeling fine, so after another delicious husband-cooked breakfast we headed out. The previous night John had figured out where to catch the train proper to Messukeskus, instead of the tram. It’s very simple once you know and much quicker, we were onsite in ten minutes instead of thirty. The convention provided every member with travel pass good for the week, which meant there was never any hesitation about just popping into town; free, fast, and frequent is hard to beat.

I spent a few hours in the Lounge, had a wander through the Trade Hall and exhibits, then headed to the AirBnB to do some laundry. And here we ran into the one disadvantage to the AirBnB situation, one that most vacationers probably won’t run into but which we managed to confront twice; we had one key for two people. I didn’t notice until after I’d stopped at the supermarket and gotten some flea market bargains, so I parked myself at a café and waited for John to come rescue me.

I got back to the convention in time for the very end of the Clipping concert, basically just the encore. I hadn’t rushed back since by all accounts the room was full, but I’m glad I decided to poke my head in to catch the encore. Daveed Diggs legendary speed rapping was on display and I enjoyed the brief glimpse I got.

Worldcon 75 did not have room parties, which has been the case at all the non-US conventions I’ve been to thus far. I dearly miss them, and the lack of them at Loncon was one of the things I thought really did not work. But in Helsinki what they did was set aside a couple of areas near the lobby for parties in the evenings. It wasn’t quite room parties but it was a decent alternative under the circumstances.

One was a largeish room, while the other was a hall area near the entrance bar and café seating. The result was essentially three areas, two of them designated to a different party each, plus the seating from the café.

This meant that the alcohol available was mainly from the bar, with some of the parties offering tokens to exchange for libations. It wasn’t quite as nice as room parties, décor was limited and the same space was of course used on multiple days, but it worked reasonably well. One advantage over the Loncon fan village model was that it wasn’t in a massive high-ceilinged conference centre hall. It was cosier and the atmosphere more party-like. Having a separate space from from the daytime convention activities also meant that it felt more properly like an evening treat instead of a very long extended day.

Talking it over with John we agreed that the main advantage was the feeling of possibility, having everything all in one space feels limited, it becomes one big stream of sameness. Different and separate spaces add expectation; you go to see what’s up and check out the room next door, the potential just seems greater. Knowing you could easily head out to a bar in the city definitely helped as well, it just felt more dynamic and fun to me.

This night the party hosts in the hall were San Jose 2018 (Worldcon 76) while Chinese fandom had the room; we spent a few hours hanging out and chatting, then a bunch of us got the train into town to check out the Tractor Bar which some folks had had dinner at the night before. It was a combo restaurant/bar/nightclub in a farmhouse theme, including a real, fullsize tractor right there on the dancefloor. We drank some nice local liquors, at least one terrible one, and at one point a Polish fan taught us some Socialist worker songs.

Afterwards we went to a terrible little club called Lady Moon which we spotted lurking up a seedy looking alley, we were super drunk by then so we managed to have a pretty great time anyway. John caught up with us at the Black BBQ burger truck outside the station and we staggered home about 4:30am, a trend that continued most of the con.