It's that time of the year again, The FantasyCon, and this year it was held in Nottingham. Direction's to Britannia Hotel - one mile from station, hotel a few minutes walk from Nottingham Castle. Easy enough, I thought; leave train station, look for the castle and walk towards it. So left station, looked for the castle, couldn't see it, hopped in a taxi.
"Something wrong with the cab in front, mate?"
This was a taxi rank, and it seemed etiquette dictated that I jump into the lead vehicle. I would have put this matter right, but a woman jumped into the lead vehicle even as the driver was pointing this out to me; so he drove me to the hotel ... where I nevertheless gave the grumpy old sod a tip.
I booked in, and as I was waiting for the receptionist to clear payment on my room from my debit card, the dulcet tones of Chris Teague shattered the silence.
I turned around and there was Chris, accompanied by Gary Greenwood, who I hadn't seen at a convention in years. Having dumped my travel bag in my room, I joined them in the bar. We were soon joined by Steve Saville and Simon Clark, and we chatted for a while before I set off in search of some dinner. I'd missed the hotel lunch, so I hit the street and was scandalously over-charged for a cheese and ham toastie in a nearby deli.
The weather wasn't too clever, so we didn't wander too far from the hotel that night; and thereby hung a tale, for the barstaff were obviously unused to having a hoard of thirsty convention goers descending on the bar. Two barstaff and not enough beer to go round, hmph! Mutiny was in the air. Still, we were sure they'd get their act together the following day, when the convention would begin in earnest.
Slowly, the usual suspects began to arrive; Paul Kane and Marie 0'Regan, Stuart Young and Katy, Ramsay Campbell, the editors, writers and publishers ... one or two of the barstaff nearly fainted. Anyway, the night went well, with everyone indulging in the usual boozing and 'bullshitting' that precedes such an event. In the evening I joined John Tarvis, Tony Richards, Gary's Fry and McMahon, Stuart Young and his girlfriend Katy in the traditional hunt for a curry house, a quest that ended up in an all-you-can-eat-for-a-tenner joint called The Taj Mahal; a venue we happily directed Chris Teague to as we made our way back to the hotel.
The next day, the weather had cleared up a treat, so I set out to explore Nottingham. There was a Robin Hood Museum next to the hotel, and young ladies dressed as Maid Marian tried to lure the punters in; however, there was an £8 entrance fee, and as I'd been assured it wasn't worth it, I decided to visit the castle instead (which was a lot cheaper to get into, and a lot more interesting to see).
When I got to there, I found a group of convention-goers (led by Ramsay Campbell) waiting to go in. I followed them as far as the museum, then drifted away. A few hours later I knew quite a bit more about the city of Nottingham that I ever had (courtesy of a twenty-minute film show ... which never once mentioned Robin Hood!)
As I left the castle, I was approached by a woman looking for a pub that was, apparantly, built into the castle walls. I knew nothing about it, of course, but following the castle wall was a simple enough matter, and I soon came across Ye Olde Trippe To Jerusalem , 'The Oldest Pub In Britain'.
Now this is a very atmospheric little place, consisting of about half a dozen very small rooms. The back wall is the side of a mountain, and I couldn't resist partaking of the local brew, 'Cursed Galleon Ale'. This 'haunted' pub was quite a find, and I told everyone about it. Soon, it became 'the' place to visit (helped, no doubt, by the still struggling barstaff ...)
(Mind you, I did make the mistake of saying that I came across it while walking off the previous night's drinking session, which brough about the response "You were walking off last night's beer and you called into a pub for a pint? Somewhat defeats the object of the exercise!" Gary Greenwood doesn't miss a thing:-)
At this point, Mark West turned up and most of us went to the convention room for the interview with guest of honour, Clive Barker; who has lived for many years in The States, but still retains a wonderfully British sense of humour (a particularly salty joke cracked interviewer Paul Kane up so much, he couldn't ask the next question!).
After this it was into the dealer's room to purchase a few books, and once again, I bought more than intended, so will no doubt have plenty to read up until Christmas.
Then Alison Davies arrived with boyfriend Scott, there to promote her new book, 'Shrouded By Darkness', which is raising money for a charity called DebRA. Now Scott is a plain-speaking Scotsman, who responded to my 'How're you doing?' with 'Ahm bloody pissed, mate!' which pretty much set the scene for the evening.
Supper that night was taken in Ye Olde Trippe To Jerusalem, in the company of Alison and Scott, Chris Teague, David Howe and his wife, Gary Greenwood and a few others; and Mark West, who was somewhat perturbed at missing out on a curry, but quite enjoyed a burger while Scott held forth on the subject of ... Marmite. I never realized that a pot of goo could produce such a heated debate. 'Ah hate the fookin' stuff!' Scott said, and was promptly told off by a barmaid for swearing. It was put to a vote (which I abstained from, as I have no recollection whatsoever of actually eating the stuff) and it was agreed by a majority decision(including the barmaid, who described it as 'minging') that it was putridity in a pot. So now you know.
Food eaten, David Howe announced that it was time to get back for the raffle, so we dutifully trudged back to the hotel, Mark West announcing that he would be making tracks once said raffle was over. He obviously didn't know how long these things went on for!
And yes, it did go on, almost to The Witching Hour with Alison Davies waiting to tell her tales. It was the raffle where everyone won ... except me, although that was nothing to do with bad luck. All prizes are donated, and like most people who donate, I tend to use this event as a dumping ground for all my unwanted tat; books I'll never read again, DVD's that looked good but turned out to be a load of rubbish when I bought them; The FCon raffle got the lot. So, by the simple expedient of not shouting 'here' when my number was called, or holding up my hand when the cry of "anyone not won a prize yet?" preceded the handing out of yet more books, I managed not to walk off with anyone else's tat. (Needless to say, for the rest of the convention, unwanted books and video's could be found in various corners and crevices of the hotel, making it either a dream place for people with a passion for films with titles like 'Frankenstein and the Little Green Men From Mars', or a big headache for the cleaning ladies!)
Still, it finally came to an end, and we were all set for Alison's stories. Last year she enjoyed quite a big audience, but this time it was a more intimate affair; and she was as impressive as ever, reciting two of her stories from memory.
Then a most bizarre thing happened. An elderly lady, who we hadn't seen entering the room, approached the table in full Victorian dress (and, in fact, looking a little like Queen Victoria Herself) and, placing a plastic skull on the table, started telling her own story.
There were, of course, a few stifled giggles, but we had to admit she was pretty good; and like Alison, she did the whole thing from memory and delivered the entire recitation in a suitable dramatic style. Yes, she certainly had our attention, even if she had slightly delayed our presence at the bar. Still, being a Saturday night, that bar was open for the duration, so I didn't get to bed until 3'0'clock in the morning. (Pleased to report that the barstaff were finally starting to get that beer flowing by that time :-)
Sunday, and the build-up to the great FantasyCon climax; The FantasyCon Awards; and Stuart Young had actually got a nomination for his novella, The Mask Behind the Face. However, with people like Joe Hill up for the award, he didn't stand much of a chance, and he knew it; but it was, he said, nice to get a mention.
And sure enough ...
"And the winner for best novella is ... Stuart Young, for The Mask Behind the Face."
Now stuart is a master of words, as he amply displayed with his acceptance speech;
"Bu ... Burb ... bur ... th ... thanks."
And later in the corridor.
"Fucking Hell! I mean ... FUCKING HELL!!"
Back in the bar he ordered a bottle of champagne, and we toasted his most deserved success. He wasn't coming down from the clouds any time soon, and why should he? This was his big day, and I was glad I was there to share it with him.
Well, a celebration meal was in order, and where best to take it but at Ye Olde Trippe to Jerusalem; so off we went with Mark Samuels and his wife Adriana (clutching some Doctor Who stuff she'd won in the raffle) and a rather distinctive-looking chap called Gwilym Games, a fellow Welshman with a penchant for gothic clothes and the ghost stories of Arthur Machen. We ate, visited the pub's so-called haunted room, and had a few more jars of 'Cursed Galleon Ale'. Then we bid farewell to Mark and Adriana before making our way back to the hotel.
And that was it, the perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable convention. It seems that The Britannia will be used again in '07, and this is a good thing. Not only is the food excellent, but the hotel is very convention-friendly; on 'Floor R' is the bar, restaurant, and two main halls that can serve as a dealers room, and the panel room; so instead of going from floor to floor chasing up events (which has been a bit of a bugbear at past conventions), we have no need to leave that particular area. And as I've now developed a taste for 'Cursed Galleon Ale', here's to my next Trippe to Jerusalem.
(For more information on my fellow convention-goers, see below)