Thoughts and ramblings of an ageing, music loving, Sci-Fi geek…

Roadtrip – Two conventions, some Lakes and some Mountains

This week has been time off work. Normally it’s just an annual trip to the Lake District which is in the Northwest of England for those unfamiliar with it. After the disaster that was last year, due to the other issues I was dealing with, I was looking forward to this and decided to combine it with a visit to a Convention with friends at the start of the week which was sort of on the way.

And, as often happens at the last minute, some guests from the TV show The Waking Dead were announced for an event in Birmingham on the second weekend of my break. A friend really wanted to meet them and as there were a couple of people I was interested in seeing too I said I’d drive back from the Lake District on the Friday and drive up to Birmingham on the Saturday morning.

So first up was a drive to Nottingham for Em-Con. This is a relatively new convention on the scene and I understand there were major issues with overcrowding and misjudging its popularity last year so this time they had moved it to the Capital FM Arena.

Although there weren’t any guests I particularly wanted to meet it was on my way up North, a chance to catch up with friends and see what the event was like.

Despite misreading the Sat Nav and having to queue for over 30 minutes just to get in the car park near the hotel, I made it. I’ve been to Nottingham a few times, mostly for gigs at Rock CIty which is a great venue but not really explored the city much. By the end of the weekend I think we’d walked around most of it.

Much amusement was had in the hotel bar catching up with everyone but it was an early start as one of our party was crewing the event and another was helping one of the stall holders. So while they went straight in, I had to queue for over an hour but this was organised quite well by the venue staff and although a bit chilly, the weather wasn’t too bad. Once the doors opened I intended to head to where I needed to pick up some tickets for the Q&A panels but we weren’t allowed into that area as Gold ticket holders, despite being let in early, were still sorting out their package allocations so headed into the main area to be faced with this view.

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My initial impression was that there weren’t many stalls and I don’t think any of the guests were there and crew seemed to be running around still sorting some things out. The signing area is the row of tables in the foreground of the above picture and during the day it seemed extremely confusing how people were queuing and who they were queuing for as there appeared to be just one big line in front of the tables.

Taking a tour round the stalls proved rather uninspiring, not much variety although a couple stood out. Firstly, the amazing art of Paul Shipper who one of my friends was helping. He really is very talented and has done some great posters for Star Trek, X-Files and others, some of which you can see in the photo below. The other was a stall selling roses made out of comic book pages, all different themes. Very interesting idea and as far as I’m aware unique.

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There was also quite a good display of models of the original Battlestar Galactica “Rag-Tag” fleet. Not screen used but put together from pictures. Thought they looked very good with the main model being 6-feet long and taking 2.5 years to build.

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Not really much else to say about this event. I wasn’t very impressed, things went wrong for others which it’s not my place to comment on but it felt like they’d jumped to this level a bit too quickly. Many people seemed to enjoy it but one of the key selling points was a full Red Dwarf cast reunion. This was let down on the day by Craig Charles not appearing and from what I was told, there was no real communication from the organiser about this. Big let down for a lot of people.

Also noticed a lack of signage and posters showing layout, times of photoshoots/talks etc and issues with photoshoot and talk tickets not being sent out meaning everyone had to collect on the day but pickup was slow so there’s lots of little things but they all help and shouldn’t be forgotten.

Even the after show party wasn’t great. Lovely venue but felt just like sitting in any bar. There was a band but with no introduction they came and went without much notice but sounded interesting. I hope the organisers learn from this but unless there’s a guest I really want to meet I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to return. It seems to be at a similar level to Wales Comic Con which has been running longer and built more slowly to get things right and is a much more enjoyable and better event.

Not a great start to the week but then it was off on the road again for a few days in the Lake District. An area I know extremely well having been going since I was very young but somewhere I just never get tired of.

Had a really good few days. No rain although it was overcast and misty a lot of the time which wasn’t great for photos but I did manage to get a few quite atmospheric ones. Here’s a couple and as ever the rest can be found on my Picasa site.

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Did a lot more walking than originally intended but guess that’s done me some good. Also visited The Lakes Distillery, the biggest in England apparently and discovered that I really liked their blended whisky. They’ve not long opened so have a few years to wait for their single malt to mature. They also produce Gin and Vodka and have won awards for the whisky so have made a great start.

I could write all day about what this area of the country has to offer and how much I enjoy going but I highly recommend you visit for yourself if you get the chance.

As always, the time went far too quickly and I was soon back on the road south to my friends. After a great evening watching The X-Files and chatting away until the early hours we set off up to the next event, all in need of it being a good one.

This event was MCM Birmingham. The second ever event I went to was an MCM one, back in 2003 in London. I’ve not been to one of theirs since. Mostly because they haven’t had many guests that I was interested in, cost, clashes with other events and just lots of stories about how badly organised and chaotic they were.

However with the knowledge that I wouldn’t have a huge amount to do, my friend knew how things worked and would be able to help make sure nothing was missed I thought why not give it a go? And I must say we all seemed to have a great day.

Despite arriving close to opening parking was easy, there was little queuing and we were soon inside. Heading straight to the signing area my friend pointed out where I needed to queue to buy the “smiley” vouchers that you exchange for autographs. This is done to keep the cash away from the guests but means having to queue to pay for the autographs and then queue again to meet the guest. The fact there was only one person dealing with this also meant the line moved slowly but I got what I needed well before any of the guests turned up. Also the queue for the photoshoot tickets was merging with this which caused a bit of confusion.

I then went to have a look round the rest of the hall before it got too busy and was impressed with both the quantity and variety of stalls. Much better than any other event I’ve been to for quite some time. I found one particular stall selling almost nothing but My Little Pony stuff. My nieces would have been impressed.

Vampire Ponies??

It was then back to the signing area and more queuing. Although there were no posed photos with the guests allowed they were all great to meet and I did get some pictures of them signing at least. Unlike some events there was no sense of pressure, no-one trying to get you to move on and it was a very good experience, provided you weren’t stuck behind someone with lots of things to get signed and who was talking a lot. Here’s Tom Mison from the TV show Sleepy Hollow.

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After this I joined my friends in the Q&A area where they had managed to get front row seats- WIN!! We sat through someone talking about Anime stuff being released in the UK but we were really waiting for The Walking Dead panel. This was quite interesting although some people in the audience clearly weren’t listening to the questions as there were some repeated but the guests responded well. Got some great photos and at one point Laurie Holden saw me point my camera at her and just posed directly for me. Unfortunately this is slightly blurred so I can’t use it but it would have been a lovely photo. Below are photos of Laurie and Tyler James Williams.

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After this we stayed in our seats waiting for Colm Meaney and listened to Chris Gorham, who I admit I sort of recognised but knew little about. As it turns out he was in one episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer so that was a little bit of interest.

Then it was Colm. Although I met him at DSTL in 2014, I missed his talk so was very keen to see this one. And he was very interesting and engaging to listen to. He’s been in so many things it’s hard to cover them all but he told some good stories and I got some great photos.

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Another wander round the stalls saw us all buying a few things at good prices and even though it was only mid-afternoon, we’d got everything done we needed to and with nothing else to hang around for we went for a good meal before heading home.

I’ve heard a number of horror stories about the MCM events but I guess that’s mostly about the London one. I found this very manageable and a good experience. Might have been a little different without my friend to help make sure I didn’t get stuck with a Virtual Queue ticket and was in the right place at the right time as it’s not all completely obvious if you’re new but it worked out really well, wasn’t stressful and I feel much better armed to tackle a London one again if I feel the urge to do so.

All in all, a tiring but very enjoyable week. Not a great start but definitely a great ending.

Next up is Wales Comic Con at the end of April. Definitely one of the best events to go to.

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