And thus endeth the weekend of my first large UK convention. I decided it would be nice to blog about it.
Things started off on the wrong foot. There was quite a bit of chaos before we left. The books were too heavy and very difficult to pack properly. The bookmarks I ordered didn’t come in right, and we had some last minute change of plans. Flying standby always stresses me out, even though this time I wasn’t as worried as other times. There were so many flights going, and a few of them were still on ‘green’. When you fly standby, flights come in color codes to see if it’s wise to book them. I think the colors mean this: Green still has available seats. Orange is fully booked. Red is overbooked.
None of them are any guarantee to either the positive or the negative. Our flight from Atlanta was overbooked, and we had about 8 other people, besides us three, flying standby with a higher priority, yet still Elora and I got on board. But you can easily not get on board on an orange flight because everyone shows up. Or a green flight can suddenly fill up because people missed their connection. It’s Russian Roulette, it’s stressful and I hate it. But… it’s so much cheaper, it’s worth the misery. We had already spent enough for this weekend, so I had to live with flying standby.
I was on edge when we left for the airport, but I tried to shake it. We parked the car at Daan’s work, and took the bus to the terminal. Our weekend of public transportation had begun. I’ll tell you that it’s not easy to walk around with a suitcase of over 20 kg (I think that’s about 45 pounds?) Suddenly you become aware of crappy roads and sidewalks. Lifting that thing is a pain.
We found the Hall we needed to be in, but we ran into snooty ground stewardess who didn’t know what she was doing. To make a very long story short, she kept sending us to the wrong place and making us stand in line a lot for no reason. By this point I was just grumpy. I don’t like standing in line, especially not crowded ones.
But, luckily we finally got to check in our bags. I asked the lady checking our bags how the flight was looking and she said: “There’s one seat left.”
This should have been a foreboding of what to come. I was a bit shocked because that one seat had been eight seats about an hour ago. These puppies were going fast, and people could still book their flights.
I decided to let it go. Either we would get on, or we would try and catch the next flight. Luckily for us, we DID catch this one. We had the last two seats. Someone hadn’t shown up, so that was fortunate. The flight was fine. Not too long, and not overtly uncomfortable.
By the time we had landed, I was starting to be giddy again. I was in London and about to head to my first international convention. This made me laugh and be silly. So one of the security staff who organizes the line laughed at me, and told me I was a troublemaker. I told him I was just there to make his day a little more wacky fun. He was lovely.
All the staff we’ve encountered this weekend on Heathrow Airport have been very nice. We really like this airport.
We got our bags rather fast, and I have to admit, I was very nervous about using the subway. The last time in London we didn’t have a good time with the public transportation. Granted, it was mostly the trains we struggled with. They kept changing platforms which were really far from each other and it was dramatic. I remembered the subway being extremely crowded and hot, and I was not keen on repeating that experience. In reality… the subway was absolutely fine. We found it easy, we didn’t have to get on another train, and it wasn’t that hot or that crowded. We made it to Hammersmith in a jiffy. The road to our hotel was straightforward too, though it was a pain getting the suitcases up the uneven pavement. Daan was a real champ in helping me out. We found Hotel 65 without a problem, though I was gutted to see that a hotel had so many steps leading up to it. Not that considerate for guests with suitcases… which should be a lot of them. I had booked what I thought to be an affordable, but not too cheap, hotel. I didn’t go for the really cheap ones, because they looked shabby. This one was advertised as having a friendly staff.
Whoever their friendly staff are, they must have had a break that weekend, because all we saw was this surly young man, who wasn’t at his post half the time. The numbnuts gave us the wrong wifi code too, so we had to get back to him on that later on. He told us we needed to go further down the street to go to our real hotel, since they had several buildings. Yippy, we had to drag the suitcases down the steps again, and further up the street.
Inside hotel 45 (I shit you not, that’s what it was called. Just the street number) we found that there were more freaking stairs in a really narrow corridor. These were high and steep. Lovely…
There was this bizarre ‘fire door’ in front of our room. It wasn’t an actual fire door, because it had gaps everywhere, so it was complete bullshit. It did remind me that if there was a fire down stairs… we’d be fucked. There was no fire escape to be seen anywhere.
When we opened the door to our room I thought someone was having a laugh at us. I have never in my life seen a hotel room this small. NEVER. Not even on the really shitty cruise that we once took. It was incredible.
A double bed stood pushed against the window. There wasn’t a wardrobe… let alone a chair and a table you would find in any other hotel room. NOTHING WOULD FIT. We barely fit our suitcases in there. My student rooms used to be bigger. I didn’t think it even had a bathroom at first. What I thought was a cupboard (it didn’t even have a full sized door in it) was our bathroom. It had a very small shower, a corner sink (I didn’t even know those existed and a tiny toilet inside (You were actually lodged against the wall if you sat on the loo) It was so small, it would have been cute if I didn’t have to stay there.
Aside from small, it also wasn’t clean. If I hadn’t been so tired, and Daan hadn’t told me it would be fine, I would have walked out. At that moment I was just mad, I couldn’t see the funny side yet. We just paid 205 pound (which is over 300 euros) for 3 nights in that place. Any hotel that’s over a 100 euros a night should be fairly decent. Not a freaking broom cupboard. It was under the stairs too, so we now call this our ‘Harry Potter experience’. Anyone who would walk on the stairs (and we were the bottom room, so everyone walked on our stairs) would disturb us, we would later find. Above us the rooms had to be like a clown car, because they were filled with loud German kids, playing terrible music and shouting at each other.
Daan and I escaped and went to have dinner. My mood was a bit toxic at that point, so a nice meal would do. We ended up in a French restaurant (basically because we didn’t want to wander too far, and everything else we saw looked a little dodgy.) The food was nice, the service was friendly but they didn’t know what they were doing. It took about an hour and a half for our food to arrive.
Afterwards we went home and didn’t sleep for the loud noises, lol. The designer of the room had decided white flimsy curtains were the way to go, so by the crack of dawn I had no chance at sleeping anymore. I didn’t mind being awake. At 11 we were going to meet Stuart at the convention.
It wasn’t too difficult to find the Olympia, though again, it was a pain to drag the suitcases there. Daan did most of the work, I’ll admit. He was my freaking rock star. The organization of the con was a bit of a nightmare, and we ended up getting one less green wrist band (which meant you were at a stall) than planned. This was inconvenient, to say the least. It made me panic a bit at first… how was I going to set up my stuff without a band? But I managed to blag my way inside that first day, and all was fine.
Meeting Stuart was awesome. He’s a lovely guy, and I kept apologizing to him for talking so much.
We were at the back of the first floor, in a place where there wasn’t a lot of traffic. So it was very quiet for us. The table was nice, and Stuart and Matt had made it look really good. Setting up was easy, and I decided I would just stick around, rather than go stand in line.
To my great pleasure Katherine found us too, and she and I chatted for a bit. She showed me her stall, which was lovely and tickled my inner geek. It’s a shame we weren’t nearer each other. We also had two wonderful Dutch girls next to us, who were fun too.
I met Matt later, after his meeting. It was great seeing him in person. He too is a fantastic guy. Meeting people really has been the highlight of my weekend. Steve Shaw stopped by to liven up our afternoon a little, and he stayed for a chat. It was great.
Daan and I left early that day to go to the Phantom. This time we didn’t have suitcases to carry around, which left us a lot more free. At the station we shared a fajita together, and we took some macaroons for the show. It wasn’t too difficult to find the theatre, and I was really over my fear of public transport by then. Everything went very smooth.
The show was lovely. I had opted for the cheaper tickets, so we had a restricted view. It really wasn’t that restricted, and we enjoyed it all fine. I wasn’t too happy with the fact someone had thrown up in the row behind us. Several people told the staff at hand, but they just didn’t bother cleaning it up. They were too busy preventing people from taking photos during the break. Because that’s more important than the comfort of your guests #sarcasm.
Luckily it was far enough away from Daan and myself that we weren’t too uncomfortable, but it was still pretty rank.
We went back home at around ten and decided to stop at this kebab shop we found on our way to the station. The people were so nice, and we got this HUGE kebab to share. Since we didn’t eat that much for dinner, we decided it would be okay. We ate it in our cupboard under the stairs and had a good laugh. Daan decided to check how the flights were looking for Sunday, and he gave me a ‘Houston we have a problem’ look. All flights on Sunday were red. All of them. That meant that they were all OVER booked. If too many people show up, they bump them to the next flight, so if we wanted to have any chance of catching them, we would have to leave really early in the morning, and it would still be risky. I asked him what the flights on Saturday looked like, and he told me it still had one green and two orange flights. After much discussion, we decided to leave a day early. Daan couldn’t miss another day of work, and he has an important meeting on Monday, and we didn’t want to leave Elora with my parents another day. It pained me, but it was the best choice.
We didn’t want to make it a late night, because the next day we’d have to stand in line to get into the convention. I still didn’t have a green wristband (the organizers were very rigid in some places and completely chaotic in others) I had made peace with it, but it meant getting up early.
I couldn’t get to sleep because people kept walking around. The room was so hot, we kept the window open. It didn’t make it that much cooler, but it DID make it a lot more noisy. It was dreadful. Slightly before 3 AM I dozed off, when suddenly a bright blue flickering light filled the room, waking me after about 5 minutes. It was the TV. I don’t know why it was doing that, I had never seen that happen before. Daan ended up unplugging the whole damn thing, because we couldn’t get it to stop.
I was wide awake. People were still going up and down the stairs (god knows why) all night, and the sirens wouldn’t stop. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that many sirens in one night. I didn’t sleep a wink, and by the time we were heading towards the convention, I was frazzled.
The line was already ridiculously long, going all the way around the corner. It was also pretty hot and sunny, even that early in the morning. In the end the line was great. I didn’t think it would be, but we met some nice people and had a real laugh. We were there for over an hour and a half, but it felt much shorter. We even met Robert… which I still need to tweet about. Poor Robert probably didn’t know what hit him, but he was very famous in our line.
We noticed an increase in crowds, but the traffic at our stand was still very low. Because this was a wider place, people used it as resting area. I can tell you that there is a special place in hell for people who block the path to a stand. It’s really cruel.
My overall view of the convention: These big conventions aren’t for me. I’m an attention whore, and I need social interaction. We didn’t get a lot of that here. I also don’t like large crowds, so I didn’t even really walk around and explore. It was just too overwhelming. Most people didn’t even browse our stand. I don’t mind people not buying stuff, that’s part of life… but a lot of people just completely ignored us all together. They didn’t even look. Also, I think I was scaring people. Making eye contact or talking to them didn’t seem to go down well with A LOT of people, and after the first day I didn’t know how to act anymore. I am only good at being me, and I’m very outgoing. So I started getting insecure. When I do that, I start to gibber, and poor Stuart had to listen to my crap. After a while I even got quiet. Apparently people worry when I get quiet, and I look miserable, lol.
What helped me was a few people who showed an interest in my work. A few even bought some books, and that was lovely. Though it was talking about writing and my work that really lifted my spirits. It helped balance it all out.
I’m glad I did this. I loved meeting the people I met. Not just facebook friends, but also the kind visitors and the people we met in line. That was really the highlight for me.
Despite the fact that ‘things didn’t go smooth’, I had a great weekend. And we certainly have stories to tell.