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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.

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.