Mike Willmoth (mwillmoth) wrote,
Mike Willmoth

Trip 2015-04 London UK Eastercon

As part of being a Vice Chair for Sasquan (Worldcon Spokane 2015, www.sasquan.org) I decided to attend Eastercon in London, UK, to help our European agent run a fan table there and get the word out about the convention later in the year. I coordinated with friends from Virginia who expressed a desire to attend and tour London post-con, so we made our plans. We'd fly in the day before the con started (Good Friday, so we arrived Thursday), stay at the con hotel (Park Inn by Radisson Heathrow), then transfer to a less expensive hotel a bit farther from downtown London (Holiday Inn East Croydon) so we could tour the city like real tourists.

We departed Phoenix Wednesday pre-Easter, arrived Thursday pre-Easter and transferred to our hotel via the airport shuttle. It turned out to be a nice hotel with an excellent breakfast included in the price. As breakfasts go it was the best we've had in Europe anywhere! Our friends from VA arrived shortly after and we ate dinner at the pub across the way. We wandered around to orient ourselves with the hotel, then got online and crashed.

Friday we got our memberships after breakfast, then checked out all of the function space. Some of it was close to the lobby and some wasn't. Additionally, the dealers room didn't exist. Instead they had small function rooms along the cooridor between the two function areas with one, two or three dealers in each. Some were open most of the time while others were open part of the time. The convention had clearly marked signs listing their Code of Conduct Policy and I noticed another sign about "pegs" to delineate mood. I didn't find out what they were until the end of the con, but they used little tiny clothespins of different color to let folks advertise whether they wanted to be approached for a conversation, don't approach or something else. They were meant to be pinned onto the badge lanyard, but were so small I never saw any until Monday evening. Interesting idea though. Many US cons use ribbons, but this system allows you to change moods. I checked in with Sasquan's European Agent at the Sasquan Fan Table, set up a rough schedule and wandered around to check out programming. Overseas cons don't offer Consuites, but instead do discounted food & beverages in some sort of space. Dysprosium (2015 Eastercon) had such a space near the alternate function rooms on the far side of the hotel. Beer, wine and cider along with some food options like sandwiches or hot items. I found their soft drinks a bit high, so I thought I'd check out the bar in the lounge off of the lobby. It was worse! Strangely enough, the soft drinks sold in the gift shop were the least expensive so that's where I'd go mostly. We dined at the hotel that night, then I wandered a bit to see if there were any night life. Overseas doesn't do parties, either, unless they are in function space. So I chatted with a few fen and called it a night.

Saturday was much the same, except I had to set up a meeting with the 2017 Worldcon bidders so we could roll a die to determine who would get which floor. It turns out that the party hotel in Spokane had the requested three-room configurations available, but only one such on each floor. To be fair we settled on a die roll at Eastercon with a rep from each bid present for transparency. We ended up doing this on Monday as the Art Show was closing down, but it went well and everyone was satisfied with how it was handled. Paul and I took turns at the Fan Table throughout the day with us visiting programming here and there. Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files, was there with his wife so my wife, Jean, attended all that he had for programming. I managed to catch one such event. I checked out the Art Show which was at the end of the hall from the fan tables. Breakfast was again at the hotel and dinner was again at the pub across the street. There wasn't much else around. I did do a late lunch with Bay Area fans, but the food was ok but no big deal in the lounge. The big event of the evening was the Hugo Nominees Announcement that was live streamed online with reps at Norwescon, Eastercon, and another convention I forget. As many now know, the slates promoted by two groups, affectionately known as the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, got most of their recommendations on the ballot. This started a controversy that rambles on to this day. Being at one of the epicenters was, um, entertaining. Since I was part of the administering Worldcon I didn't say much of anything and one fan congratulated me on that stance. Because of the controversy Sasquan ended up with more Supporting Memberships (can vote for Hugos and Site Selection) than Attending Memberships, a first. We also set a record number of total memberships, over 11000! But I get ahead of myself. I got online after and conferred with the other Vice Chairs for Worldcon and we came up with a preliminary plan on how to respond.

Sunday was breakfast, fan table, programming, and lots & lots of Hugo discussions. Dinner was again at the hotel, then online.

Monday was the final day of Eastercon. We wrapped up the fan table, did the die roll mentioned above, said goodbye to new friends and old, and I had that peg conversation with a Norwegian fan who explained how the peg system worked & why he used it. Dinner was at the pub one last time. I got online before bed.

Tuesday we packed up, checked out, and transferred by van taxi to East Croydon. The driver had a tough time finding up, but finally did. Turns out it was almost up an alleyway off of a side street. Not your typical HIEx location. We checked in, got help from the staff with our luggage, and settled in for the stay. We walked around the town looking for dinner and discovered that West Croydon was to be avoided. We found a pub/restaurant on the way back and returned to the hotel for online duties.

Wednesday we did their breakfast, which was fairly lame compared to the Park Inn. Then we called for a taxi to go to the car rental place nearby. I rented a car so we could drive up to Warner Brothers' Harry Potter Adventure in north London. I returned to retrieve Jean and friends, then put in the address. Lo and behold it took us straight through downtown London! And we survived! I had booked tickets online and we got there plenty early. We waited until our time group was up and got in line, then walked through the exhibits. They were amazing. Room after room of clothing, props, stories of people and about the movies, etc. Hogwarts Express was in one part and it was clearly meant for children as the aisles they walked down was extremely narrow. I tried some butterbeer and it was butterscotch flavored. When we were done some hours later we found a place to eat dinner (Mexican food) and returned to the hotel. Turns out they had no parking available, so we had to drop the women off and park some blocks away. I got online and crashed.

Thursday I returned the rental car and took a taxi back to the hotel. We then caught a taxi together to the tour office downtown London for the Doubledecker bus tours. We had booked online and had to retrieve them there. Once we did we caught one and started seeing the sights. We stopped at a nearby restaurant upon returning to the office for dinner, then caught another taxi back to East Croydon. Meals in the UK cost about the same numbers, but in pounds rather than in dollars. So a typical meal will cost 1.5 times as much as at home eating out due to the exchange rate. This didn't seem to matter whether we were in a pub or restaurant.

Friday was more of the same. Breakfast, taxi, bus tours, dinner somewhere. This time I talked our friends into eating at a Japanese restaurant near the hotel. Much to their surprise they enjoyed it, so we went back once more a couple of days later. Since the bus tours were color coded we exhausted all of the sights on one line before visiting another. We also did the London Eye (giant ferris wheel), Churchill's war time rooms nearby, and toured the Thames River up and down.

Saturday I got the idea of walking to the East Croydon train station while we took a day off. I used it to go into Victoria Station in downtown London, have lunch, then walk back to the hotel. One way was about 1km, too far for Jean but not for our friends. However, Sunday we took a taxi to the train station then rode it into downtown. Unfortunately, to pick up our bus tickets we had to take another taxi to the downtown office again. Very annoying. Monday we visited the British Museum and Tuesday the Victoria & Albert Museum. Wednesday we flew home, arriving Wednesday due to the time differential and our trip was over.

We had fun at the convention and the Park Inn is a recommended place to stay, just for the breakfast alone save for the proximity to Heathrow Airport and downtown. Harry Potter's attraction is also a definite item to visit. Many people take the train there; they apparently have a shuttle between the studios and the station. Since we didn't want to risk missing it we rented a car which wasn't cheap, but exciting to drive downtown. Using the buses to tour London is a great way to get around and see stuff. Visiting museums is a must and spend at least one day at each one you visit. Don't try to cram in more than one. Being at the beginning of the Hugo controversy was interesting and getting Sasquan business, and having a high profile presence there, was worthwile. We had a fun trip.

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