Sunday, February 06, 2011

The SFX Weekender 2 - tl;dr.

Right, after the briefest of blog updates from Friday morning I'm now back in Sunny Coventry with proper internet access and heating so here's the complete review of the long weekend at the SFX Weekender 2 in Camber Sands. As mentioned in the other blog post I've never been to a Science Fiction convention before but having won tickets for this one, thought it might be worth a trip as the price of accommodation was vastly reduced - more on the chalets later though. That would be worth a blog post on it's own.

This is going to be a long one - It's going to cover a whole three days worth of Convention goodness.  Might be a good idea if you grabbed yourself a tea and some biscuits to provide sustenance during this long haul. I'll hang around while you do that, and won't be offended if you're going to say you'll return and then just bugger off due to a complete lack of interest in Science Fiction, or due to fear that you'll pick up geek just by association.

Right, got your hot drink? Let's go.

Having won four tickets Tara and I decided on taking along our great friends Liz and James. Liz is possibly one of the biggest geeks I know, which I mean in the nicest possible way. And James plays World of Warcraft and then somehow still remains relatively normal. We arrived in Camber Sands on the Thursday evening, and we thought it promising that the staff of Camber Sands had introduced a science fiction/fantasy themed game to get people in the spirit of the weekend. Navigating around the dozens of identikit grey buildings with a seemingly random numbering sequence on a dark evening with no street lighting trying to find where we were staying was indeed a Kafka-esque challenge but one we quickly rose to.

I'll briefly digress as well in that over the entirety of the weekend we didn't seem to come across many people who hadn't won tickets for the event.  That may be coincidence, maybe not.  Perhaps SFX had a shitload of tickets left over as the date of the event was approaching so felt the need to give them away.  I wanted to be special :(

If despondency hadn't set in by that stage, it certainly did when we saw our accommodation. To say that the regular grade of chalet at Pontins is basic in an understatement on a par with saying that Josef Fritzl was a bad parent. Admittedly I can't complain too much about how cold it was - we were the idiots who had chosen to go the Seaside in February after all - but the chalets are just generally grotty. From a sofa that looks like it's never been cleaned since the chalets were originally erected to the bedding that just feels damp and, well, used, words can't quite do justice to how grubby the place is. The television in the room had a small screen size I haven't seen in any television constructed after 1978, and had no reception whatsoever for any channel other than the SFX one on Channel 6 - which seemed to show nothing but Jurassic Park, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Ghostbusters. I'm not surprised Pontins went into administration - the best thing the Britannia Hotel group can do now they've taken it over is nuke the site from orbit and rebuild on the radioactive remains.  What was even more worrying is that there was a level of accommodation even more basic than our own; I can only imagine that this a hole in the ground with a blanket thrown into it.

So far, so bad. But we knew we wouldn't be spending much time in the room anyway - we weren't there for that. Preparing ourselves for the incredibly cold Sussex winds and rain we headed off to the main complex. Only prize winners and VIPs were there on the first night, so we'd beaten the rush for arriving and the bars shouldn't be too busy. Our first port of call was to the screening room which was showing Galaxy Quest - we hadn't intended to watch it all but James had never seen it (and thoroughly enjoyed it, as did as well), so as we had beer and seats it made sense to stick around. I always forget quite how good that film is, and as I said in the other blog post, it sets the mood up nicely for the science fiction convention atmosphere. After that we stayed for a premiere of Alice, a new Syfy channel series bastardising old literature much like Tin Man, but that was pretty bobbins so the Queen Victoria bar was our next port of call for some more beer. After James and I had decided that pitching the idea of an excrement based superhero called Brown Lantern to DC over the weekend would be a good idea, we decided things had gotten a little silly and it was time to call it a night.

Everything kicked off proper the next morning at 11:30 on the main stage.  Scantily clad dancing girls and a guy in an impressive suit recreated the opening sequence to Iron Man 2 (albeit without the whole flying through the ceiling bit).  Said females became a recurring theme throughout the weekend, whether they were strutting around in stilts, breathing fire or just standing there and looking pretty.  Whilst being lecherously drooled over by thousands of acne-ridden teenage Science Fiction geeks who had never been that close to a real woman before.  And I'm also ashamed to say that I was one of those geeks.  Oh come on, pretty ladies wearing next to nothing on a stage I'm supposed to be looking at - what's a man to do?

We attended an assortment of panels throughout the Friday which, to be honest, were really very good. Subjects varied from How to get started in Comics, Science in Science Fiction and What scares us in the 21st Century, to name but three. An assortment of industry names were attending these panels, including Paul Cornell, James Moran and Kevin J. Anderson.  The panels were entertaining and informative, especially with James Morans revelations about the nastiness of the personal threats he received when he dared to kill off Ianto in Torchwood. Kevin J. Anderson was charming and witty throughout which was a good job because he and Paul Cornell seemed to be involved in pretty much ever panel being held over the weekend.  Actually, thats a bit of an exaggeration but it certainly felt like it.

The guest of Honour was George Takei who was on the main stage mid afternoon.  He was absolutely charming and could have been on stage for the remainder of the day and I wouldn't have been bored.  A actor who clearly had a lot of respect for his fans and didn't resent the fact that he'd been typecast in Star Trek - Indeed, he seemed truly humbled by the love his fans had for him.  Brilliant.

An entertaining stage show ("How to survive a zombie apocalypse") was followed by two hours of Sci-fi themed cabaret from the Area 51 Troupe.  Fire-breathing, magic, hypnotism, escapology and a fucking huge robot - The mighty Titan.  

Titan was, without a word of a lie, incredible.  A totally convincing ten foot robot costume wandering amongst the audience whilst delivering pretty corny impressions. One of the absolute highlights of the weekend for technical achievement alone.

The evening ended with the mighty Pat Sharp (yes, that Pat Sharp) on the decks until the early hours, playing an assortment of popular crowd-pleasers. Much dancing was done (and a lot of beer drunk) and that just about drew a close to Friday.

Hangovers were abound on Saturday morning but - after I made a solo attempt to visit the beach - with both the wind and rain that was a bad mistake - we caught a couple of early morning panels, namely discussions about whether Doctor Who should still be classed a childrens show (hello again, Paul Cornell and James Moran) followed by the 2000 ad panel. I haven't read 2000ad in an absolute age but still hold a vague interest in it.

James and Liz attended a panel from Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter in which they discussed their forthcoming collaboration whilst Tara and I had a wander around the site (also sat in a Q&A session with Toby Whithouse and Russell Tovey from Being Human) and then popped back to the chalet for a quick kip.  In the screening room in the early evening they were showing Monsters which is a film I'd always wanted to see after I'd first heard about it - but unsurprisingly as it's not Big Mommas House 3 would never have been shown in my local multiplex.  As it was being introduced by the director, I was even more interested.  However, we were told in the screening room that the director, Gareth Edwards, couldn't make it.  And all because he was currently in Hollywood because he's just been given the director role of the new Godzilla movie, so I can't blame the man for that.   I really enjoyed Monsters, but the review of that is a subject for another blog post because this one is too long already, to be honest.

The big thing in the evening was the SFX Awards followed by a Maskerade (sic) ball.  To be honest, despite the entertainment value, the Awards ceremony was pretty shambolic.  Robert Rankin was the host and he's clearly been chosen because he's a genuinely witty character as opposed to any presenting skills he might have.  15 categories from which very few winners bothered to attend - still, a holiday camp on the Sussex Coast in February isn't the most glamorous of locations).  Still, at least Doctor Whos Steven Moffat and Russell Tovey were there to pick up their awards for Best TV show and Cult Hero of the Year respectively- and considering what Terry Pratchett is going through at the moment, it's understandable that he couldn't be there.  The most moving part of the ceremony was Terry Pratchett being given the Outstanding Contribution award - Rankins speech for this was genuinely moving.  Terry had made a short film to receive the award which was brilliant and got a huge round of applause from the audience; He explained how for most people getting a lifetime achievement means they're so old that it's about time they got rewarded with something just to shut them up, but as Terry said "Not in my case, because SFX have given me shitloads of awards".

A lot of people had gone to a lot of effort for costumes for the Maskerade ball - but not us, because we're inherently lazy.  A girl who had made an incredibly detailed Flood from Halo costume was my highlight.  Craig Charles was the DJ for the final night and I don't think I've ever seen any individual gurn quite so much over the space of the few hours he was on.  His face was constantly in a grimace of pleasure or pain, looking at times like he was trying to shit out a lego model without breaking it.  Still, a blinding Funk and Soul set, and a fantastic way to end the weekend.  The bar was open until the early hours but my old bones were playing up at around 2:30 a.m. so I made my way back to the chalet leaving the others to their beer.

It may seem like parts of this review are quite scathing (geeks are, after all, an easy target) but I can sum it up simply.  If not for the accommodation, it would have been absolutely brilliant.  The events laid on came thick and fast and even the ones I'd expected to be bored by proved to be entertaining.  The weekend just absolutely flew by.  However, the living areas were so absolutely terrible that it put a dampener on what was otherwise a brilliant and well organised event.  It's being held in North Wales (or 'Northern Ireland' as we overheard another guest saying - good luck finding that, love) in an apparently completely revamped Pontins.  If that revamping actually is a proper overhaul and not just buying some new curtains for the old shitty buildings, I'll strongly consider going again.

I hope you enjoyed the hot drink I warned you to get, and I apologise for the rambling.  Normal shortened blog post normality will be resumed next one, I promise.  Live long and prosper.


  1. I've always enjoyed conventions. This is because I am a massive, massive geek. The highlight of my life so far is meeting Sylvester McCoy.

  2. It's a shame we couldn't go, it sounds like you all had a great weekend.
    I told you I was suspicious of the competition thing! Still, if it's in a better location next year it might be well worth getting a subscription to get the free tickets. Even if it's grotty, you can always stay somewhere nearby and travel in.
    I'm looking forward to having a natter to find out more about what you saw and heard, and I hope you took a video of that robot!

  3. I took a video it was well cool. Very good explaination david i couldn't have put it better myself. xx

  4. Did you, by any chance visit the Dealer Room?

  5. We did indeed visit the dealer room; Tara purchased some excellent cards and a poster from Doctor Geof and I was pissed off that I didn't pick up an alien abduction lamp before we had to come home.


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