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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.

Helsinki, Worldcon Day 1

I got up early Wednesday since the Lounge and the art show were still pending. John got up at the same time and made toast and eggs with fish from the supermarket, plus of course coffee. He did this every day we were there, on most days we had this amazing smoked salmon that I really miss now.

We took the tram up to Messukeskus, and while John went to get his badge I headed to the Exhibits Hall. Once again it took a while to find someone who knew how what was what, but eventually I managed it and checked in with Clare Boothby. The Lounge was pretty much set up already thanks to industrious volunteers so I did some minor rearranging before going to hang my art.

The art show was impressive, with a lot of artists that I had never seen before as well as some familiar ones. I was positioned beside the delightful Lisa Konrad and had a pleasant chat with her as we both puzzled over the lovely but intimidating plain white panels. We’re both accustomed to the traditional convention pegboard. Eventually we armed ourselves with the hammers and nails provided and just went at it. I am happy to say it was a very successful art show for me and I sold 10 of the 12 hand-painted fans I brought.

Art and Lounge all sorted, it was time for my first cosplay of the convention. Bryan and Mette had organized a group costume as the Scandinavia and the World webcomic. My choice was King Europe and John was England, natch. I had a lot of fun in my crown and moustache and John seemed disturbingly at home with his monocle, I was please at how many people recognized my costume even without the rest of the group.

The convention center had a pretty decent selection of food options, none were cheap but neither were they much more expensive than the rest of the city. I had a really tasty jacket potato filled with a shrimp mayo mix for lunch and afterwards attempted to hit some panels but they all had insane queues and filled up quickly. The convention did its best to handle the situation and got extra space on subsequent days, but attendance was definitely higher than anticipated and they restricted at-the-door sales to just day passes, with limited amounts available each day.

Towards evening a few of us decided to go into town for dinner, to a place called Naughty Brgr about ten minutes from our AirBnb. By the time we got to the restaurant I was feeling unwell, very similar to how I felt that first night in Stockholm, in fact. I left the gang to their own devices, took my burger to go and went back to the AirBnB to have a lie down. Given the previous experience I decided it was wisest to call it a night. Doing the math, I realized both times I’d had a shrimp meal I was knocked out, so I reluctantly decided to give shrimp a miss for the rest of the trip. The evidence is anecdotal but I had no further problems, so there is that.

HELSINKI – WORLDCON, DAY ZERO

We arrived into Helsinki on Tuesday morning and caught the tram to our various destinations; some headed to the Holiday Inn near the convention center, others to Hotel Sokos Vaakuna by the central train station, while John and I had opted for an AirBnB a fifteen-minute walk from downtown.

It was a cute little place on Eerikinkatu, comfortable, with plenty of light, and most importantly; a kitchen. We were around the corner from Hietalahti Market Square, which has an indoor food market and a flea market outside. We had our first meal in Helsinki there, the first of many delicious hamburgers the city served up for us. Afterwards John relaxed and read his book while I looked around the flea market, and then we hit the nearby supermarket for groceries and mixers.

Although the official started of the con was on Wednesday, a reception was planned on Tuesday evening and John had wrangled an invite. We had a couple of hours before that was due to start and I still had to check in on the Fan Lounge and also hang my art in the Art Show, so we figured we may as well figure out public transit to Messukeskus.

Luckily John noticed right before our tram arrived that the reception was in fact taking place not at the convention center but instead at City Hall, a five-minute walk from where we were standing. As a consequence we got there half hour early wandered about till other early arrivals started milling in. We mustered our best fannish social awkwardness and elbowed our way into a random group of Finns and Swedes. Luckily, they were a friendly bunch and we chatted happily until the doors to the reception opened.

After a nice speech by a local politician we were free to mingle facilitated by wine and a lovely food spread. The salmon salad was particularly good, though the locals were obviously amused by our delight. Several Bay Area people were in attendance, a smattering of UK folks, plus a whole bunch of other assorted fans local and otherwise. From what I understand the invites had been at least partly as random lottery, but clearly an effort had gone in to spread the selection over a range of groups to encourage a good mix of people. It was fun chatting with local fandom and getting to see everyone in their finery.

When the reception let out I left John to the tender mercies of Finnish fandom and caught the tram to Messukeskus alone. The tram takes about thirty minutes to reach the convention center and wends through town. The sky was tinged pink with the sunset and as we crossed the river a colorful hot air balloon drifted lazily overhead, the effect was quite magical.

Upon arrival, I was able to pick up my badge but there was no information about staffing matters and the folks at registration didn’t seem to have any idea about ConOps or how I should proceed. They assured me the facilities would be closed at 8pm anyway. A bit skeptical, I hung about a while trying to figure things out, but eventually gave up for the night and headed back into town.

John was merry from drinking with the Finns and had been told about some karaoke thing happening that evening. We set out to find it, which was trickier than expected due to the fact that a lot of places in Helsinki seem are inside and/or underneath other places. We must have looked utterly lost because a random pair of women obviously on their own night out even stopped to try and help.

Our destination was a place called Kaivopihan Karaokekellari, a cavernous basement bar already packed with early bird fans when we got there. Third Row was ensconced in the back, our Stockholm travel group was already too, and it was just generally a heaving mass of drunken fandom. I didn’t sing myself but did enjoy watching fandom belt ‘em out till I called it a night.

Ferry to Helsinki

The Silja Serenade is apparently a cruiseferry, which is a term I wasn’t familiar with but which perfectly describes her. Sort of a plush ferry or downsized cruise ship whose interior has that casino feel and rows of cabins looking inwards. There was shopping and restaurants, a couple of bars and night spots, and even a casino with a live band, the casino was tiny but the band was exactly as cheesy as you would hope for. Most importantly there was a duty free, so we bought some gin to buffer us against the even higher Finnish liquor prices.

The best part by far was the deck; we all spent the first few hours drinking beer and enjoying the view. Sweden is basically a series of archipelagos and we watched them go by, first lots of them covered in houses with small boats all around, then still lots of islands but more trees and only the occasional home or small dock peeking out between the foliage. We watched a police boat go past and a couple of guys on jet skis play in our wake for a good half hour, but finally we were in the Baltic proper and there was almost nothing but trees and water as far as the eye could see.

We had a burger for dinner and then went out on the lower deck to see the sunset and watch the wake of the boat for a while, the white noise of the motors plus the fractal nature of the churning foam was mesmerizing and soothing. After a certain amount of running around and missing each other we ended up in the British pub with the gang. It had terrible service but was otherwise pretty alright, and there was even a group of Swedish fans in a corner booth who spotted John’s Helskini bid hoodie. We took over the booth beside them for a while, bar hopped a little, and eventually ended up back on the top deck, this time to watch the moon. I managed to spot a fallings star at one point, and it was all just generally pretty great.