On Good Friday we started our day with a solid Novotel breakfast buffet, which is a good way to get into convention headspace. We had plenty of time before our train so we packed up and then popped into town for an hour or so, visiting the local Forbidden Planet and then to the station to catch our train to Birmingham for Innominate, the 2017 Eastercon.
The train to Birmingham was uneventful, though the second one was so packed we had to hop on different cars just to squeeze in. Still, we made it in one piece and the shuttle to the Hilton made up for the indignities of public transit. Once settled into out room we picked up our badges, hung our art, and headed to the bar for our first beer of the weekend, in that order.
The art show was a good first impression of the convention; busy, well attended, and full of cool stuff. John had brought art donations to raise money for Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund, some of them rather nice and a couple of questionable quality but high entertainment value. I had brought a couple of old pieces, a handful of new ones, and four of the fans originally created for The Dark Market. I am happy to report that my sales were the best I’ve had and I went home with only two of the ten pieces I hung. TAFF did pretty well itself, selling three pieces of art but raising nearly a thousand pounds in the Fan Fun auction to be shared with The Get Up-and-over Fan Fund and the Lazlar Lyricon effort to bring over some Brazilian Douglas Adams fans.
Attendance this year was just over 900 people and the layout of the facilities was good, with everything radiating out from the central hotel lobby/reception, making the the con feel full and vibrant.
Across from reception was the fan bar, British conventions famously center on the bar and encourage this by bringing in a local brewery to run a real ale bar. This year it was from a place called Purity Brewing, and although the selection was good the pints did run £5 each which was a bit rich to rely on for the whole weekend. Instead we picked up some beer and some vodka in a trip into town and alternated with the ale.
Behind the real ale bar was the actual hotel bar and lounge area, which was in use more as a quieter place to have a coffee or food and relax in comfy seating. Directly in front of the entrance to the hotel, between the reception and bar was registration, with the fan lounge behind it and programming down the hall to the right. All right there and easy to triangulate, with the added advantage that finding anyone mostly meant heading to the lobby and looking around a bit.
The fan lounge was in the con suite model in the sense that it was a large room with large tables for people to shit and chat. The hotel had set up a row of “street food” stalls along one wall, with baked potatoes, Indian, Caribbean, and British food on sale for relatively reasonable prices, and drinks at the end. It was a very convenient arrangement and relaxed enough that people could bring in other things from elsewhere without fuss. On a couple of occasions there was even delicious surprise birthday cake.
Being a holiday weekend there were several other events going on nearby, the Insomnia 60 gaming convention at the NEC convention center and a Boyzlife concert in our wing of the hotel. This last was new to me but I am told that it is in fact a frankenband composed of members of Boyzone and Westlife. The former meant that there were a fair amount of people about in nerdy shirts that were not in fact part of our convention while the later was just a bit confusing. We only really noticed the outside world on our brief trips to dinner and one excursion into Birmingham, where we kept it nerdy by visiting the really cool Nostalgia Comics and the world’s most labyrinthine game store location.
I had intended to volunteer a bit over the course of the weekend, but the couple of times I popped by to check in there didn’t seem to be much need so I ended up pretty free and clear aside from needing to take my art down at the end of the weekend. I didn’t attend a ton of programming, but opening ceremonies were good with Pat Cadigan’s energy kicking things off nicely and Dr. Emma J. King‘s explosive presentation following on its heels.
Also a blast was the Pyjama Disco by Jo Playford and fan GOH Colin Harris, it was well attended and the room had surrounding tables for people to chill when not dancing. I spent several hours on the dance floor with intermittent excursions to the fan lounge for cake and conversation. The setlist was nicely varied, with a fair amount of fan favourites but a good range from old school to current.
After the success we had with pre-arranging dinners with friends during Gally, we made a point of deploying the same method again in order to make sure we got time with some of our busier friends. This involved two excursions to the NEC adjacent food mall, which is basically just full of chain restaurants but in a weirdly impressive setting. We had Nando’s with some of Third Row and the next evening Pizza Express with Claire and Mark, the latter in particular I feel we never get to spend as much time as we think we will during the convention. We did get to hang out a fair bit with the inimitable Tobes, and I got some American time with Dave McCarty when he wasn’t busy smoffing – we primarily talked about our mutual love for Mexican food IIRC.
Meg Frank was there but I felt her presence more as a passing breeze of glam and glitter, sensed and then gone in the night. Anna and Hogg we got some quality time with on and off, never as much as one would wish for but luckily just enough to plot some plots for Helsinki. We squeezed in a too brief chat with Fran Dowd at breakfast and saw Doug and Julie mostly in passing as their busy schedules permitted.
Oh, and I got roped into running the Fanzine Lounge at Helsinki, so that’s bound to keep me out of trouble for a minute.