I should stress that this is not the fault of the Illustrious 2011 committee, who worked hard on putting on a good convention. Indeed, it appears that the majority of people did thoroughly enjoy themselves. But I found myself mostly biding time in the bar until I could reasonably go home.
However I was struck by the high price of drinks and food in the hotel bar – 4 pound per pint for keg beer or cider, and an average price of 15 quid for their main course meals. “Never mind”, I thought, “the hotel-supplied con menu will be better”. In the con bar, we found very decent ale for 3.20 a pint, and I cheered up a bit. But the food there was marginally cheaper, but not much – 5 pounds for a plain hamburger, 5 pounds for a hot dog (by which I mean an ordinary thin frankfurter in a plain finger roll), and 1.50 for a small cone of cold chips. Even on the day that I walked into the con food lounge at 12:30, expecting everything to be nice and hot, it was still cold chips.
Normally this would not bother me, but on a bank holiday on the Birmingham NEC site, there aren’t that many external alternatives.
The hotel breakfast was good, and I definitely made the most of it. The bar was also serving fairly decent baguettes for 4.50, tasty, but still a bit thin on filling.
All in all, it felt like we were being ripped off.
Enough about food. The programme was well arranged, with 60 minute programmes in a 90 minute grid, allowing lots of times between items. I really thought that this was a good idea, allowing people to get from one item to another, and even pick up a drink on the way.
The programme was quite heavily themed, along two topics – these were advertised as “Military SF” and “SF Through The Decades”. However it seemed to me to be more “Military SF” and “Women in SF”. Nothing wrong about that, but with a couple of exceptions, there was a large part of the programme that wasn’t of much interest to me. With no film or video programme, this meant that my con would be spent sitting chatting to people.
And this is where things fell down for me again – and this certainly was no fault of the concom! it just seemed to me that very few folk that I regularly hang out with were there. Some of these were for reasons I already knew, like having emigrated the country; but it hadn’t occurred to me to think about who would be there this year.
It wasn’t terrible, and I did have some very pleasant times there – it just seemed I was sitting around for a lot of the time in between those times. In the end, on the Monday, I asked the friend I had given a lift to, what time he wanted to go home. After dancing verbally with each other – “Is there any programme items you want to see”, “Would you like to get lunch” etc, we both realised we were of like mind. We said our goodbyes to people then, and headed off, with the con still going on.
I often tell people that I prefer to go to conventions where there is something else to do. My favourite cons have been places like Liverpool, Blackpool and Glasgow, where if I am in a lull at the con, I can go outside and walk around the shops or something. My weekend is normally a combination of consumerist tourism and fannishness. For this reason I haven’t bothered with cons in places such as Heathrow and the NEC, and until 3 weeks ago, I hadn’t planned to go to this one. I guess I really should have stuck with that plan.