All posts by admin

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.

Stockholm

The Helsinki Worldcon was many years in the making, so it feels a bit surreal that it finally came and went and is now just a memory.

Loncon 3 had been my first Worldcon outside of the US and now Worldcon 75 was to be my first one outside of the anglosphere. Having never been to northern Europe I was delighted when Bryan and Mette invited us to join in their plans to fly into Stockholm and then take the (in)famous ferry to Helsinki.

Altogether there were eight of us in our little group; Mette and Bryan, our intrepid local guides, Kevin and Andy, SMOF powerhouses girding their loins for the last Worldcon before chairing San Jose next year, along with Kevin’s sister Kelly and of course Warren from Vancouver.

John and I flew in Saturday morning, a few days after the rest of the group had arrived and made our way to the hotel, the Haymarket Scandic, an Art Deco palace which started out as a trendy department store where Greta Garbo worked in the 1920s and launched her career by modelling hats.

The flight from London was uneventful and transit into the city delightfully clean and efficient. We found the gang, dropped our suitcases off, and went to find our first Swedish meal! In this case an expensive (the whole place is expensive) but delicious repast of sandwich cake and an open-faced shrimp mayo kind of thing. Afterwards there was just enough time to freshen up before heading downstairs to get a beer and watch the Stockholm Pride Parade go right past the hotel windows. We had a prime location on the lounge level and it was a fantastic way to start the trip.

When the parade ended we wandered into the crowds and ended up at the Mosebacketerrassen at Södra Teatern, a terrace bar high on a hill overlooking the city. The view was spectacular, and although we got rained on a bit we did also get to see some vintage biplanes fly by, close to our own height.

We were driven back down to sea level by hunger but found most places packed with Pride revellers, and eventually descended further to a basement tapas bar. It was warm and had available tables so we settled in, but unfortunately the food was just okay and the service slow. The wait did allow us to marvel at the oddest bachelorette party entertainment I have ever seen, a magician/MC/stand-up maybe? There were haphazard costume changes and it was all closer performance art but trying to puzzle it out passed the time nicely. By the end of the meal we were falling asleep in our seats and I was feeling a bit unwell, so took the train back to the hotel, I crashed hard and slept until morning.

On Sunday morning after a lovely breakfast buffet we all went to Djurgården, which is basically an island full of museums.

First stop was Skansen, an open-air living history sort of place with buildings from different eras in Swedish history. A row of workshops at the start house at work, while further on the residences have guides in period costume who will explain the history and customs.  We got to see a glass blower making cunning little turtles, an 18th century blueprint printer (think of the fanzines you could print off that!), and learn a bit about linen processing and Sami culture. We also got to see reindeer with their calves, a pair of moose, and some trained seals in the indigenous animal enclosures. At midday we split the group, most opting for lunch while John and I walked over the to the Vasamuseet which the rest had already seen.

The Vasa is a 17th Century warship that sank on its maiden voyage barely out of port which was rediscovered and raised whole in the 1960s. Even realizing it was a flawed vessel, it’s a breathtaking sight; a massive oak ship, covered in ornamentation and bristling with cannons. The museum covers every part of its history starting with the context of its construction all the way to its preservation today, including an interesting look into the salvage operation. If you see one thing in Stockholm I doubt you can do better than the Vasa. We grabbed a little snack at their outdoor café to tide us over till dinner and watched the nearly tame, fat little sparrows that clearly live primarily on tourist snacks.

We rendezvoused with the group and took the ferry back to Gamla Stan, the crossing is short but fun and gives a better perspective of the archipelago that is Stockholm. We arrived just in time for our reservation at Aifur, a Viking restaurant!

Aifur is also a basement restaurant, with arched ceilings, decorated to evoke a Viking longhouse. We ordered a pitcher of mead for the table and for myself I got a lovely perch in a hazelnut sauce. John ordered boar meatballs, also delicious. The ingredients and recipes were period appropriate, the mead was great, and soon we were all happily tipsy.

And if one Viking experience is good well then two must surely be even better. We poured ourselves out of the restaurant and headed directly to Sjätte Tunnan (The Sixth Barrel) an bar attached to the Here we had lots more mead including some that resembled beer and a delicious blackberry one, and enjoyed listening to the revelry in the restaurant below where they loudly announce incoming parties in the manner of a medieval court.

By the end we were feeling very happy indeed, we had a little wander through the night streets and saw Stortoget plaza, scene of the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520. On the walk back to our hotel we passed a group staging a sit-in to highlight refugee issues and joined them, though all too briefly, when we passed the next day they were still there fighting the good fight.

Our ferry was on Monday afternoon, so we had the morning to explore daytime Gamla Stan. We visited their excellent SF Bookstore, purchased Cuban cigars, tried some softserve ice cream with outstanding chocolate sprinkles, bought some honeycomb candles, and generally wandered about being touristy until it was time to make our way to the ferry terminal.

Back from Leicester

John was off in the US for the better part of two weeks, meaning I caught up on my own tv shows and played a lot of Fallout 4. He got back just in time for me to join him in London and us to take the train together to Leicester in order to attend his friend Lianne’s 30th birthday.

For a change we stayed at a hotel, a little place called the Castle Park Hotel right in the middle of town. A well located, reasonably priced, and friendly place that has clearly seen better days but had a nice big room and a pretty good continental breakfast. There was no elevator and we were up on the third floor, but that also meant we had a little extra distance from the sounds of the street and Firebug next door.

We arrived in Leicester around lunchtime and after getting settled in he went off to touch base with University people and I wandered around town checking out what has changed since our last visit. Most obviously the site of the old indoor market is now an open plaza, which looks like it will end up being an interesting zone as the businesses around it adapt. There seems to be a lot of redevelopment going on and the effects of the Richard III center on the city’s approach to tourism definitely seem beneficial.

I found  a place that does pizza by the slice (a thing I miss) and had lunch there, then in the evening met up with John again on London Road and had some very nice Nepalese food at Mumbai Spice, a place we visited during the reception last year based on someone’s recommendation.

Saturday we got up in time to have the continental breakfast at the hotel, which is always a crapshoot as to whether it will be enough food. This one was a pleasant surprise, nothing fancy but just what we needed. The birthday tea was at 2pm at the City Rooms, a place I have been curious about as you often see dressed up people filing in for some event or other. It’s a pretty venue, obviously very well located, and they did a very nice cream tea. I also got to meet a couple of people from John’s old gang who I had only previously heard about.

Afterwards we went back to Alex & Lianne’s for the rest of the evening, drinking g&t’s and tinto de verano in the back yard and eventually ordering some much needed curry in order to not fall over on the spot. We got back to the hotel around midnight and had no trouble getting to sleep regardless of club noises.

Sunday was for breakfast at the incomparable Bar Dos Hermanos – the full monty is still the best breakfast in Leicester, maybe in the entire of the UK. Then a long and exhaustingly hot train ride home almost did us in but we rallied after getting into the nice cool flat and finally checked out the beer garden in the Blue Keys hotel down the road from us. It was friendly and tasty and we will definitely be back.

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.