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The wrong side of the Pennines

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Eastercon this year took place in Manchester, on the other side of the Pennines. I very much prefer Eastercons when they’re outside London, and even more so when they’re relatively close – and Mancunicon was only 55 minutes away by train. Having said all that…

Every Eastercon begins with travel woes, and Mancunicon was no exception. I’d booked a taxi in plenty of time to take me to the station, giving me 40 minutes before my train left. But at the time the minicab was supposed to arrive, it didn’t. And continued not to arrive… until eventually appearing 15 minutes before my train was due. This was because the current minicab operating model has a central dispatching office put out jobs for drivers to bid on. And if they don’t receive any bids, or don’t accept any of those they do receive, then you don’t get a taxi. And they don’t bother to tell you. This is not helpful. The cab driver who eventually turned up told me he’d bid on the job earlier but his bid had been rejected – otherwise he’d have arrived much sooner.

As it was, I managed to make train, although it was close. The trip was uneventful, and I then had a ten-minute walk to my hotel. Not normally a bad thing. But it was a warm day, I was wearing a coat and carrying a box of Whippleshield Books to sell. So I was knackered and soaking wet by the time I made it to my hotel room. I then met up with Tobias, who’d flown over from Stockholm, and we headed across to the Hilton Deansgate, the con venue. I sort of liked the hotel, but I’m not convinced it was an especially good con hotel. Most of the programme rooms were far too small, meaning you had to get to them really early to get a seat. The dealers were split across two rooms, which didn’t work. The hotel had only three lifts, which meant there was a queue when people wanted to head up to the twenty-second floor for book launches in the Presidential suite (which was itself too small). There was no place to sit down and relax – one  bar was pretty much standing-only, the other was laid out like a coffee-shop. And the snack food provided during the con was disgusting.

On the plus-side, the location was excellent – lots of shops and eateries within easy walking distance. And even a museum of science and technology… which I didn’t visit. And a cinema. Given better use of the Hilton Deansgate’s conference facilities – and some comfy chairs in the mezzanine bar – it would make a really good venue. Having said that, Mancunicon was a victim of its own success. I was told they’d expected 700 to 800 attendees, but actually had 950 people over the weekend. It was certainly busy a lot of the time.

I made, as is my usual practice, less than a handful of programme items. I was on one – on space opera, ‘The Stars Are Your Canvas’, with Mike Cobley, Tom Toner, Alison Sinclair, Jo Zebedee and Gavin Smith. I think the panel went well enough, although in hindsight we didn’t actually interrogate our subject much, and by the end it had turned into a bit of a nostalgia fest for certain space opera properties… Ah well. Then there were the BSFA Awards (congrats to the winners)… Oh, and I made the NewCon Press book launch in the Presidential suite too. But the highlights of the weekend were, as ever, meeting up with friends, and those free-wheeling conversations you have in the afternoons while you’re sat round a table – including one discussion on neurology, theology and Game Theory with Simon Morden and Alex Lamb; another on the various media adaptations of Dune with Adrian Tchaikovsky; not to mention all those “catch-up conversations” you have with friends that aren’t really catching-up because you know pretty much what they’ve been up to since you last saw them thanks to Twitter and Facebook status updates… Of course, there’s also meeting new people. Which I did. And seeing many people I’d not seen for many years…

Oh, and for the record, the Traveller identity card I mentioned during the space opera panel? Here it is:

patent

I also mentioned Judgment Night, the Valerian and Laureline series, The Communist Manifesto and a coin that’s flown around the Moon:

IMAG0010_1

I didn’t do so well on the social front, and went to be early on all three nights. I’d developed a bad back about a month ago, and all that standing around wasn’t do it any good. As usual, I also ate badly during the day, thanks to the poor choices available (such as the aforementioned disgusting con food). On the Sunday, I nipped to a nearby Sainsbury’s and bought lunch there. I wish I’d done it on the previous two days. Twice, I had dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was pretty good. On the Saturday night, a group of us went to a nearby Indian restaurant. The food was good, but it was a bit too loud in there (a birthday party on the mezzanine, apparently).

I want to like Mancunicon more than I did. I think the two things that spoiled it for me were pain from my back and the somewhat feeble dealers’ room. I bought three books at the con; I usually come back with a carrier-bag full. In the past, I’ve spent hours browsing the books in the dealers’ room, but that took all of five minutes at Mancunicon. I suspect I was also hoping it would be more of a relaxacon, with places to chill out; and while many of the programme items looked interesting, the faff in actually getting a seat in the rooms put me off even trying. None of which is to say Mancunicon was a badly-organised Eastercon. On the contrary, it did extremely well – especially when you consider it was a rescue bid.

(Speaking of which, 2017’s Eastercon in Cardiff collapsed, but a rescue bid in Birmingham was announced at Mancunicon: Innominate at the Hilton Metropole at the NEC, GoHs Pat Cadigan, Judith Clute and Colin Harris. And 2018’s Eastercon will be Follycon in Harrogate, with GoHs Kieron Gillen, Kim Stanley Robinson, Nnedi Okorafor and Christina Lake.)

Oh well, perhaps I’ve been spoiled. Archipelacon is going to take a lot of beating. I did quite well with my own books (and I’m eternally grateful to Roy Gray for having them on the TTA table). It always surprises me – in a good way, of course – when people come up to me and say nice things about them I was hoping I wouldn’t have to carry a box full of Whippleshield Books back home, and happily I sold just over half of those I took with me. (The books are, of course, still available from the Whippleshield Books website here.)

In summary, a middling-to-good Eastercon for me. Mostly my fault – but also partly because the venue didn’t quite work as a con hotel. I wish I could say I came home fizzing with ideas and enthusiasm for writing projects… but I didn’t. I left at lunch-time on the Monday – it was absolutely hammering it down and I didn’t fancy walking to the station but a friend planned to order a cab… The journey home went without a hitch, and the cat at least was happy to see me and spent a good five minutes telling me off for disappearing on him. I did tell him but… Anyway, Birmingham next year – and I remember the hotel from the 2011 Eastercon… A good venue, but expensive and miles from anywhere, I seem to recall. But that’s twelve months away…

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One thought on “The wrong side of the Pennines

  1. Just wanted to say I always enjoy these con reports, mate. On a completely unrelated note– the whole taxi bidding system sounds like an utter nightmare.

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