I still haven’t worked out exactly why, but Eastercon left me very much underwhelmed.

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.

The first thing that gave me a bad taste about the con was the hotel. I had already heard that the hotel had pulled a couple of things with the committee – that the negotiated room rate that the committee thought was inclusive of VAT was, in fact, exclusive of VAT; that the hotel were charging ridiculous levels of corkage on any food or drink they themselves did not supply, causing the cancellation of some programme items. Neither of these actually affected me – due to an error on the part of the hotel, I managed to book a room at a remarkably lower rate than negotiated, and in the spirit that the hotel had previously shown, I held them to that rate.

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.


  1. April 26, 2011

    Apart from your low room rate, your description of the hotel pretty much matches my experience of it at DWCon last year. However, at DWCon they also steered fen into a second (noticably lower grade) breakfast room…

    • April 27, 2011

      They were doing that as well on Sunday and Monday, in spite of the main one seeming decidedly non-full. Granted, Saturday morning the queue for the original breakfast room was very long (caused among other things by the hotel person taking the room number then also escorting each person to a table while everyone else in the queue waited), so an extra room was not a bad idea, but the implementation was definitely odd.

      • April 27, 2011

        Yeah, the way it was done at DWCon gave fen a distinct impression that they were second-class guests.

      • chris
        April 27, 2011

        Unless I missed something (i.e. a completely separate breakfast room that I didn’t see), the additional room that got opened up was adjacent to, and linked to the main breakfast room, and was in fact their “fine dining” restaurant. As you’d expect, this had more smaller tables (2 and 4 seaters), so they were taking singletons and couples there, leaving the main breakfast room available for larger groups.

        However, we all shared the same breakfast buffet, so there was no “lower grade” breakfast.

        With regard to the Saturday morning queue, I was at the end of that queue at one point, and it moved a lot faster than I expected. When I was there, they had multiple people meeting and greeting, and another person was walking up and down the queue offering folk a glass of fruit juice while they waited.

        Having slammed the hotel for other practices, I have to say I thought the breakfast was well organised, with freshly cooked food.

        • April 27, 2011

          Hmm, it didn’t seem like “fine dining” to me (except that there was less of a walk from my table to the food). The food itself was the same, and good quality (although not in that room cooked on the spot as it was in the other room for the eggs). If they were sending singles and couples there it would have helped to explain that, rather than just saying “the room is full” (when it seemed mostly empty), and that would have allowed people to then explain that they were with a larger group or people a little way back down the line (they didn’t ask me, for instance, if I was with anyone). When I was there they seemed to be sending everyone to the other room, possibly because they were arriving in groups of less than four.

          Communication errors…

          As far as the staff were concerned in general, though, I was very impressed. Friendly and helpful and eager to find ways to do unexpected things. Not quite as impressed by the way several of the same people seemed to be there all weekend, I think they could have used some sleep at some point (the only one whose name I got, Nicola, seemed to be almost omnipresent, she apparently worked in every place at some time over the weekend from the bars to breakfast to restaurants, I don’t know if she ever got any rest).

          Incidentally, I enjoyed the convention. Perhaps it’s true what the concoms say, because I was “on duty” more at this one than most others (gopher and tech), that it’s more fun if you’re working it. Certainly the conventions where I’ve had least fun seem to be those where I have done nothing except “be entertained” (and disappointed when the ‘entertainment’ wasn’t up to what I wanted). I’ve noticed before that when doing tech I tend to get to items which I wouldn’t have thought interesting but turn out to be good, the same seems to be true of being a gopher…

          • chris
            April 27, 2011

            I think we might be talking about two different rooms, and that the hotel was using a different and separate room for overflow breakfast, which I didn’t see.

            The room I am talking about (where I was seated for 2 out of 3 breakfasts) was the fine dining room of their restaurant (i.e. fine dining is what it is usually used for), and the seats were more comfortable etc. It connected to the main dining room by a set of double doors, which were permanently open on Sunday and Monday, so many people may have seen it as one room. It was a slightly longer walk to the food, as it used exactly the same buffet as the main room, with the guy cooking his eggs.

            So I wasn’t told “the room is full”, merely led through the connecting doors to a table, and pointed at the buffet next door.

            On the Saturday, I hit breakfast quite late, which is why I got involved in the queue (it was also the one time I was seated in the main breakfast room). The other days, I was up by about 8:30, and didn’t need to queue at all – these days I was led through to the other room.

            It occurs to me – were you being directed to the “con food” area behind the lifts, by any chance? I ate there a couple of times, but didn’t venture there at breakfast-time.

          • April 27, 2011

            Ah, there were evidently three rooms then (no, the con food one past the lifts was further away, I ate there later in the day a couple of times). The “fine dining” section was where I had breakfast on Friday and Saturday (no queue to speak of on Friday), and yes I thought of it as one ‘room’ (with a divider).

            The other room was further down (almost at the end of) the same corridor, so behind the “fine dining” section. So you went past the entrances to the main room and then to wall rather than glass and a door in that. That does have some sotr of back passage to the kitchen, so most of the food was the same, but didn’t have the ‘live’ egg-cooking (or the porridge, but I don’t know whether the other room had that after the Friday).

            The staff in that extra room were great, just as in the main room (in fact they appeared slightly less harried and so slightly more friendly), but the impression I got from the ones on the door of the main room was that the “we’re full” was not entirely being accurate.

        • April 27, 2011

          At DWCon the other dining room was across the corridor from the restaurant. It was used to serve the Con-special lunch and dinner, but they also used it for breakfast. I think they probably got complaints…

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