Yes, I was there too.

Reflective baby blue is so not my colour.

In which I discover that there’s nowhere to clip a radio to an evening dress.

Nine years ago, at the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow, someone who went on to become incredibly influential in my life who I had only met that weekend for the first time gave me a slightly aghast look and said, “what do you mean you’ve never even heard of LiveJournal?” We weren’t always carting around three different little magically internet-connected devices then (the first person I knew who got anything on a network a bit like the 3G we all now use was her husband a year or so later, and back then we all teased him a bit for his dedication being as such that he now had the internet in his pocket at all times) and so she dragged me bodily over to one of the laptops set up in the fan lounge and opened my first blog of any kind.

I was sixteen years old and that weekend changed my life forever. From there I was taken to goth clubs, introduced to people who were bisexual and polyamorous and who liked the same music as I liked and read the same books as I read. The first fanzine article I ever wrote was published in the fanzine that had won the Hugo that year; I was pleased with this in the way that only a sixteen year old trying very hard to be impressive can be. Nearly everyone I now count as a friend is someone I met because of a chain of events that started at that convention; the vast majority of all the people I’ve slept with or dated, the two close friends I’ve been living with for the past two years, practically everyone I know. I was in my late teens, looking for a life to be launched into, and the one I ended up shooting towards has been shaped by where it started in a thousand different ways.

I sort-of left fandom for a bit a few years ago. It was never supposed to be permanent, but it was a time when I needed to take a step back – I’d joined a roleplaying group whose own events pretty much ate the money I’d have spent on going to conventions, for long and complicated reasons I was concerned that a couple of people I liked very much indeed didn’t want me around and I hated the idea of causing awkwardness, once you’re out of the habit of doing something it gets easier and easier to stay away and harder and harder to go back, that sort of thing. There was never any question, however, that Dad and I would go to the London Worldcon. They were having a Worldcon in London, for god’s sake: why wouldn’t we be there?

Of course, the truth of it is that there is at least one reason we wouldn’t be there, and as a result of that very thing one of us wasn’t. We none of us expected my father to go as soon as he did, and while I briefly wondered when he bought my membership if he might not be too ill to enjoy it properly it hadn’t occurred to me in the least that he might have been dead for three months by the time the convention started.

This has been a strange weekend: simultaneously energising of spirit and knackering of body, filled with friends both old and new yet often remarkably lonely, an event that has made me feel like I’ve come back home but also one that made it clear to me I really have been away longer than I maybe should have gone. I’ve never been any good at actually writing proper conreps – I think the only one I ever did properly was the one that was printed in Plokta a decade ago – so in lieu of something that I’m still pretending to myself I might actually sit down and write later, have a series of bullet points.

Thursday

  • I was actually genuinely nervous as I arrived at the con early on Thursday morning; Dad wasn’t with me and I wasn’t entirely certain of the reception my return might receive and there was one moment when I almost bailed. By mid-afternoon however it had been shown that none of the social awkwardness I was worried about was in any way a thing and I’d actually been being stupid, I’d been to two panels and the opening ceremony, I’d caught up with a whole load of people, I’d drunk three pints and I was immensely relieved I hadn’t wussed out.
  • The Retro Hugo Awards, for which I wore the closest thing I own to a vaguely 30s-ish dress and looked (if I may say so myself) rather elegant although not at all historically accurate, were actually really very good fun. The metaplot worked well and the note from Beatrice Welles brought a tear to my eye.
  • There was no gin! This was a disaster! Except it wasn’t, because as soon as I mentioned the convention’s inherent ginlessness to bohemiancoast she went and fixed it. Which was excellent.

Friday

  • By this point in the con it was becoming painfully clear that the hard parts were mealtimes and the big staged Auditorium events. There were enough friends around that I could reliably just amble around the fan village till I saw someone I knew well enough to go over and join, but I wasn’t at the con *with* anyone and that was, at times, really very hard indeed.
  • I’m glad I sat in on the open rehearsal for a bit with dougs, even if I did cry a bit at Jupiter and then get embarrassed about bursting randomly into tears. Dad loved the Planets Suite, as do I. The orchestral performance itself was very impressive indeed, and probably the major highlight of my convention – the 86-piece orchestra was made up of members of the Royal Philharmonic and various other orchestras of that calibre, and there were several moments when I cried more just because they were so good. I particularly enjoyed the Haydn (there’s something incredibly restrained about The Representation of Chaos, isn’t there; it sits for so long on the brink of an outburst that never quite seems to come), the Doctor Who theme tune (that theremin player was so beautiful, and he seemed so very pleased to be there – it was lovely just to watch his face, not to mention the arrangement they played was a lot of fun), the soprano they had for Song to the Moon, the Holst again, and The Unanswered Question – which seemed to me to be both about humanity reaching out into the universe looking for life elsewhere and also about the ways in which we all do that to each other on a smaller scale – sometimes life feels like we’re all trapped inside our own heads, trying to reach out and see if there are really other real people who are just as complex and deep as we feel ourselves to be. Part of the human condition is in never being able to reach anyone else entirely, nor to be entirely reached.
  • Oh my god, the late Party Maven shift was exhausting. At least nothing went too wrong! Design flaw: there’s no useful way to clip a walkie talkie radio to an evening dress. Someone should get on that.

Saturday

  • I only made it to one panel on Saturday, and I was unceremoniously evicted from it a third of the way through because the room was overcrowded. What I was there for was really very interesting, though.
  • This was my big dressing-up-and-dancing night. I wore stockings and a corset and everything. The Barfleet party, with its star turn from d_floorlandmine and its terrifying shots, was the social/partying highlight of my con – I had an excellent time. Also, I went to bed at 6am. Whoops.

Sunday

  • Sunday morning was a hungover washout, but the afternoon was a success – two very interesting panels, a lovely conversation with someone I’ve known a bit for years but have never spoken to one-on-one or at length before and now feel like I know much better, and some excellent carrot cake.
  • I wholeheartedly enjoyed livetweeting the Hugo awards, and it was also pretty successful; I was the first person to post most of the results to Twitter, an author whose books I really like but who I’ve never met retweeted me a few times, and it made sitting there alone feel a lot less lonely. I was incredibly touched by the fact that Dad was listed and remembered during the memorial section, though I hadn’t thought to expect it and I did cry a lot.

Monday

  • Raising a memorial toast to my dad at the Literary Beers table on the last night was someone else’s idea, as it hadn’t occurred to me that it was something I could do – but a very good one it was too. I was so touched by the fact that people turned up, and I was immensely glad that I had the ability to buy everyone who did a pint on him. Dad’s pre-printed con badge was there too, as I’d picked it up from Registration earlier in the day. I hated the thought that after all those decades of convention-going his last ever membership would just get thrown away, so I brought it home with me.
  • I really like Dead Dog parties at cons – they’re often one of the best nights. This one was no exception, and it gave me a chance to properly catch up with people I’d barely spoken to all weekend because they were so busy and Worldcons are so big.

The problem with bullet-pointed lists is that they don’t reach nice conclusions, and now I feel like this post is just going to be left hanging…

…so I’ll just say again how this weekend was both excellent and difficult by turns (sometimes simultaneously), and how although I was keenly aware right through of the fact that Dad wasn’t there it was made a lot easier by how readily other people and the convention itself remembered him and called him to mind and listened to me when I talked about him. So thank you, for that: thank you all.

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In which I am not a very good mythological being

Today, I had a small timing accident at Surrey Quays overground station. It’s happened to everyone who lives in London: the person in front of you has some kind of problem with their ticket but you don’t notice in time to fall out of rhythm, so you swipe your Oyster card anyway and then they go through on it, thinking the problem is solved, and you’re stuck on the other side unable to get out. Resigned to a dull conversation, I went to explain my predicament to the nearest guard.

“I can let you through”, he says, “but first you have to answer three questions. You answer my questions, I let you through. Okay?”

Oh god, I think, I’ve found a jobsworth. I sigh internally and prepare myself to justify my entire journey to him so he knows I’m not trying to jump.

“First question: why are you so beautiful?”

My heart sinks even further. Not this again, for fuck’s sake. I muster a smile and shine it at him brightly. “Thank you”, I reply. “That’s very sweet.”

“No, no! Don’t just say ‘thank you’. Answer my question: why are you so beautiful?”

“Um. Good genes, I guess.” I wonder if I should be telling him how inappropriate this is, but the truth is I just want to get through the barrier and go home. My bag is uncomfortably heavy and my boots are hurting my feet. He would, technically, be well within his rights to make a fuss: check the CCTV, go through my Oyster card history, blame me for not paying enough attention at the barriers.

He laughs. “So you get good genes and I get bad ones, is that what you mean?”

“No! Aha. Oh. No. Um.” My heart is hammering a little because I feel trapped, obliged, and I don’t like it. The balance of power here is not in my favour, and not just because he’s clearly stronger than I am.

“And your eyebrows. I love your eyebrows. Do you shave them off?”

They always talk about my eyebrows, for some reason. I nod. “Yes. Yeah, I draw them on.”

He grins broadly at me and leans in closer. Our faces are far nearer to each other than I want them to be, now. “Next question: how many boyfriends have you had? I am sure you must have had…a thousand.”
Somewhat against my better judgement I seem to be playing his game, so I answer without thinking: “Oh, five or six.” This is bullshit, of course – the true answer to that question is a hell of a lot more complicated, but I don’t fancy getting into a debate about the definitions of a relationship with this man. Nor do I fancy coming out and having to explain that some of them were girlfriends instead.

“You are lying! A woman as beautiful as you, she must have had a hundred boyfriends. So then, my last question.”

I briefly contemplate pointing out that he’s had three already, but come to the conclusion that it would probably just prolong the experience even further. I’m feeling deeply uncomfortable at this point. But I nod anyway, and wait for him to continue.

“How many boyfriends do you have right now?”

I laugh, a little nervously. “Just the one”, I say.

“How long have you been with him?”

Are follow-up questions fair game? This man has clearly not read very much mythology. I kind of wish I was a dragon or a sphinx or something so that I could actually do something useful about this. All I say, though, is the truth: “A year. It was our first anniversary yesterday.”

He shakes his head. “I want to kill him so I can be with you”, he says. He’s smiling to show that it’s a joke. The only think that surprises me about this ‘joke’ is that it is by no means the first time someone has made it to me.

“On balance, I’d rather you didn’t”, I say. “I’m rather fond of him.”

“I could buy you so many more beautiful dresses, so much more jewellery than he does! I would treat you so well.”

Unconsciously I find myself checking my ears for earrings: the ones he gave me for our anniversary yesterday, the ones he gave me for my birthday last summer, the ones he gave me for Valentine’s Day this year. I adore all three pairs, and am forever obsessively checking to make sure they’re secure and aren’t going to fall out. I consider making some kind of slightly underhanded joke about how I’m quite sure that TfL doesn’t pay him more than my boyfriend earns, but it’s both irrelevant and bitchy so I refrain. “I’m very happy where I am, actually”, is what I say out loud, “and I’d quite like to go home.”

He leans in again, thwarting my attempt to take a step or two toward the barrier. “Can I come with you?”

I twitch a little. He’s actually getting slightly sinister now. “I’m sure that’s at least six questions”, I blurt out. “You said three, remember?”

There’s a horrible pause where I try not to think about all the things he might be about to do, and then he laughs loudly in my face. “Funny and beautiful!”, he says, and finally swipes the nearest barrier to let me through.
I stammer out a thanks and try to leave the station as quickly as possible. “I will see you again soon!”, he calls after me, and unfortunately he’s right – we’re at the station I use the most often.

This broad category of thing happens to me at least once a week, but it only gets this bizarre on about an annual basis. Sadly, today I didn’t manage to acquit myself quite as well as I feel like I did with the creepy Tesco employee back in 2010, but you can’t win them all.

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In which I briefly wax lyrical about the city of my bones

In which I briefly wax lyrical about the city of my bones

People seem to labor under the misapprehension that nature is something that happens outside of cities. That annoys me, a little; I love this city, and I love all the nature and wildlife that can be found in it. Life and growth burst out through every crack, every brick, every inch of London. The truth is, ‘nature’ is nothing more than the world around us – and really, concrete and coalsmoke are no less ‘natural’ than the sun rising over the Himalayas, or this daisy.

I like this daisy. it is one of the many, many daisies found on the patch of grass outside my boyfriend’s flat in Feltham. I’ve been enjoying them for weeks, but then – much to my dismay – someone came by and mowed them all down, scattering destroyed flowers and crushed petals all over the place. I was kind of upset. It had been lovely, watching them grow and spread and open and close, seeing their little flowerheads nodding in the low breeze. There were buttercups, too, and the whole thing was all the colours that late spring and early summer is supposed to be.

A few days later, though, they were back. For such tiny and delicate-looking little flowers, daisies are remarkably hardy things. I nearly got a bit allegorical about them for a moment, there.