Monday, 24 June 2013

Los Angeles and The Gallifrey One Doctor Who Convention 2011

Day One

On Wednesday 16th February 2011 I woke up early and began the longest journey of my life. A pre breakfast train to Kings Cross was followed by my first time on the Heathrow Express, despite my worries passing through the airport was a relatively smooth process, helped by a company of a couple of friends.

After a slightly frustrating wait we finally boarded the plane and I began my first ever flight. I was lucky enough not to have anyone sat next to me so was able to wander around sporadically, partly to reassure a nearby friend(a much more nervous flyer than myself)

Once our plane left the gate my excitement levels rose as we headed towards the runway but only once we’d reached the front of the queue were we told by the pilot there was a minor oil related problem with the plane and we’d have to leave the runway for it to be fixed.

About half an hour later we finally took off, Wow! The view of London from the air was spectacular, though Wembley Stadium was the only landmark I recognised, but there were more cool things to see. Later I spotted mountains(possibly Scottish?) and then when we passed over Iceland I was awestruck for several minutes as we passed over an alien landscape of volcanic rock.

I used the in flight entertainment to catch up on a couple of films I’d missed at the cinema in recent months, Monsters and Megamind and also watched some videos from my ipod. Sleep was largely a stranger to me on this first flight apart from a few short minutes during one of these videos.

After an amazingly long journey of over 11 hours we finally landed in LA, our decent brought us some spectacular views of the city and nearby area. I even spotted the Hollywood sign!

We progressed through LAX’s officialdom slowly but smoothly but our wait for the shuttle bus to the hotel was a rather lengthy 30 minutes.

Not long after checking in we met up with Chris a Canadian friend who recently spent over a year in the UK, he kindly invited us onto online radio show Radio Free Skaro not long after recording was complete I headed off to bed, though sleep wasn’t easy on that first night.

Day Two

Thursday began with an early breakfast and a wait in the hotel lobby for my tour bus to see the sights of Los Angeles, when I’d booked this tour a few weeks before I was sure that pickup wasn’t till 9am.

So I found a useful seat in the lobby a few mins early and waited, 9am came and went and I got anxious so asked reception where tour busses pick up and they advised I should wait right outside the front door of the building. Another few minutes went by and still no sign of the tour bus, by this time I was getting rather worried, thankfully I had the company’s number to hand and gave them a ring. They told me that pick up had in fact been at 7.30am, tension levels increased or as I said to the lady on the phone “So basically I’m screwed!” She went on to explain that as long as I could get “here” by 10.30am I’d be able to join the tour having only missed one stop. One lengthy and expensive cab journey later having been told where “here” was I arrived opposite Mann’s Chinese Theatre. A friendly nearby tour guide told me my tour company picked up across the road, so I tackled the nearby pedestrian crossing and headed towards the Theatre.

This being tourist central I soon met another tour guide who pointed me in the direction of my tour company’s booth, just round the corner. The lady at the window was friendly if somewhat unapologetic and after a couple of minutes of  what felt like a mixture of explaining and negotiating I was asked to wait nearby.

The group duly arrived on cue and I was able to join them. Our guide Bob was very knowledgeable about the city and it’s history revealing that the foot and hand prints outside the theatre came first, several years before the walk of fame and were the idea of the owner/founder of the business Sid Grauman.

We visited/passed a lot of interesting places on the tour. I hope you’ll forgive me not listing them all as memories of that day are already rather fuzzy due to tiredness but one highlight in the morning were the opulent shops of Rodeo Drive, we went passed several designer stores including one where an appointment with the designer alone would cost you $15,000 dollars(with no obligation to buy). Before reboarding the bus we had a look round Tiffany's who were exhibiting several pieces that they’d rent out to Oscar attendees this year.

For lunch we were taken to Farmer’s market, not remotely what I’d expected at all, but in fact home to a smallish mall and a 50s style diner. The driver explained what sort of shops were in the mall and more importantly for us how long it would take to get served in the restaurants. The diner was only a short walk from the bus and as I didn’t fancy shopping I headed straight for it. I had an appropriately American lunch of Hot Dog and “warm” apple pie. Strange concept that while ordering “do you want your pie cold or warm” despite this question throwing me sideways slightly it was the most amazing apple pie I’ve eaten in years! The last part of the tour took us through Beverly Hills and past the Hollywood sign, which we literally had seconds to photograph, one of our final ports of call was an old Mexican house and market.

 Not long after that we were dropped off near Mann’s and had to kick our heels for a few minutes while waiting for our third bus of the day that would(eventually) drop us off at our respective hotels, a seemingly epic length journey as our group seemed to be staying all over the city.

As I walked passed reception I bumped into a group of friends from back in the London area who’d also flown over for the con. After grabbing a bite to eat and chilling in my room for a while I headed to the first event of the con. Although the main con and it’s programme didn’t start till morning this was “Lobby Con” the first of what would prove to be daily gatherings of attendees in the Lobby to drink or just hang out and make new friends, it was also a chance to meet two of the hosts of the longest running Doctor Who podcast a show that originates from New Jersey entitled “Doctor Who: Podshock” this was also the moment I realised how liberal the hotel’s rules were as some people had shown up to this event armed with boxes from the local liquor store and the event even had it’s own official barman who held court in the centre of the room  mixing cocktails from a generous supply of boxes that surrounded him.

I didn’t partake that night or for that matter any night of the con, not for any moralistic reasons but simply as I’m not a big drinker anyway and Cider or “Hard Cider” as the Americans call it didn’t appear to be on offer.

The evening certainly also emphasized  the Mecca status of the event as I’d shared my tour with a friend from Australia and was joined for a while by two fellow countrymen of his, one who despite travelling for over 30 hours had more energy that most people in the room!

I stayed up pointlessly late that night but much fun was had by all and it certainly kicked things off with a bang.

Day Three

The first day of the convention didn’t require much rushing around as there was nothing scheduled till 11am. I was worried about getting lost finding one of the nearby eateries so I put the word out on twitter and face book in an attempt to recruit a “breakfast buddy” Sean from a Dr Who pod cast called “The TARDIS Tavern” volunteered and we set off in what I thought was the direction of Burger King, within minutes we realised we were heading in the wrong direction and Sean who’d attended the con last year proved invaluable in his(albeit year old) local knowledge and guided us to nearby fast food joint Carl Jnr’s. I ordered something called a “Breakfast Burito” I’m still not entirely sure what one is and it was a bit of a journey of discovery to eat. Turns out it was an omelette and bacon wrapped it thin pastry.

We headed back to the hotel as I had to join the queue for registration, there had been a brief window for this the previous night but as I’d not known the layout at that time I’d sadly missed that opportunity and ended up waiting in line as our American friends put it.
The wait wasn’t too long though and I soon headed off to my first panel of the event.

Gallifrey 101 was billed as an introduction to the whole weekend and despite having attended many cons over the years thought it safest to attend this in case our American cousins did things any differently, turns out they don’t! I sat next to a friend from Australia and the heat of the room and my lack of sleep the previous night did lead to a couple of “micro sleeps” but as I say it doesn’t sound like I missed anything important.

The panel finished in good time for me to dive upstairs to the hotel gift shop(a place I was to become rather familiar with over my stay) to buy a cheap packed lunch as the rest of the day was pretty full on with activities.

I made it to the main hall just in time for the first interview panel of the con Mathew Waterhouse who’d played Adric back in the 80s, he was interviewed by his publisher Tim Hirst in an effort to plug his book “Blue Box Boy” a sort of novelised biography of his time on the show, sadly I never managed to buy one of the limited edition convention editions they were selling that weekend for which he’d added a few extra pages. Mathew was very entertaining especially in describing his working relationships with directors and Tom Baker.

This was followed by an interview with actor Ian McNeice who’d played Churchill in “Victory of The Daleks” at the end of this panel I had to grab my gear and make a mad dash down the corridor to support a panel starring a Canadian friend of mine.

Radio Free Skaro in 3D was a chance to see three expert Canadian podcasters at work with their first live show recording a series of interviews that would so online less than 24 hours later. The guests were four writers a director of the show, our hosts never seemed remotely out of their depth, helped in part by the fact that a couple of them work in the industry themselves. This being a live show it started with a visual element, a rather fun and tongue in cheek title sequence that acted as a good warm up for the assembled crowd.

After this I headed back to my room for a late lunch and made my worst mistake of the whole weekend. As part of this meal I’d bought a large can of an American energy drink which I downed with obscene haste and headed back downstairs to check out the dealers room knowing it was a while yet till the opening ceremonies. My energy levels all day had been a bit all over the place and I’d hoped the caffeine boost would see me through to an appropriate slow down for bed time. How wrong could I be? As I looked round the dealers room my head began to race, not with thoughts but with a swirly woozy feeling that was rather worrying. Near the dealers room was TARDIS Plaza a rather grand name for a small room that was home to “TARDIS” Tara Wheeler and her husband David “The DH” Tara and her friends built a Police Box a few years back and she and David lug it by road to various events. I had a chat with Tara a fascinating and friendly lady who rapidly gave me the best advise I had while in the states. “Go back to your room and lie down” she explained that US energy drinks were a lot stronger that anything on our side of the Atlantic. So I took her advise as I was feeling rather odd by this point.

Sleep was not remotely forthcoming but I resolved to cut myself off from distractions and wind down before I did anything else. Over an hour later and sadly having missed the Opening ceremony, I headed back to the lobby to kill time and catch up with friends. Word was rapidly spreading of what I’d missed, that Peter Davison’s appearance that night had been proceeded by a short very tongue in cheek film he’d written, directed and starred in and was a follow up to a similar project he made last year when he had to miss the event due to his role in “Legally Blonde” in the West End.

I headed back to the main hall for a couple of events one of which I knew I’d have to cut short as I’d agreed to be interviewed by one of the Dr Who podcasters who hadn’t made it to the event.

Fraser Hines: The Time Travelling Scot was a one man show by the actor about his time on the show back the 60s. The format was that of a sort of live DVD extra with Fraser introducing clips and presenting rather funny anecdotes dressed in his trademark kilt.

This was followed by the dark horse event of the weekend “Mysterious Theatre 337: Castrovalva” which was basically a Dr Who version of an old American cable tv show Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in  which a group of four panelists with their backs to us conducted an extremely funny live commentary of Peter Davison’s first story, had I realised how wonderfully funny this panel was going to be I’d have rescheduled the interview but sadly having caught less than an hour of the hilarity I was making another mad dash to my room.

My interview with The Omega Podcast went well though by the time it was over sadly so was the hilarity in the main hall. I headed back there all the same to see if any of my friends were at the dance party now in progress. I couldn’t see anyone I knew so spent my time hanging out with friends in the corridors or upstairs at “Lobby Con 2” I don’t know if it’s possible for an event to be too sociable but I was certainly up later than I should have been again even though the company were very entertaining.

Day Four

I awoke after my first decent night’s sleep on American soil safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to rush around as things weren’t going to kick off at the con till 10am.

Now and again these events manage to secure exclusives, the one at this con was a special preview screening of a new documentary on an upcoming Dr Who DVD called “Come in Number Five” presented by David Tennant. I walked briskly to the nearby Burger King and ate out knowing I wanted to get a seat for the screening. I thought I was slightly late but when I arrived in the room they were still setting up the DVD player after a few minutes and much faffing around they tested the player with a Manga DVD, which for some reason they played for at least five minutes. Turning this disc off was met(rather oddly I thought) with applause from many assembled. OK now we’re getting somewhere, play the damn disc, I thought. They put it in the player only to greet us with a disc does not play in this region message on the screen, it was starting to get farcical by this point and someone was seen rapidly scampering out the room DVD player in hand to swap it for one that would work properly, not long after this they did return and kind of play the disc(sound only at first) but by this time I had to make a move to provide moral support to a friend appearing on a panel in another room.

My next panel was called “A Beginners Guide to Podcasting” A podcast is a an online radio show that you can download and listen to either on a computer or an MP3 player. There are now over 50 Doctor Who podcasters, they range from established shows on which the hosts review the episodes and interview the cast and crew of the show right through to more recently launched efforts with comedy sketches and songs and even a show dedicated to reviewing a different Doctor Who book every month. This panel though concentrated on a group of fans who’d only launched their shows in the past year or so, they ranged from the fairly serious Little Finish Podcast who review the Doctor Who audio plays through to The Happiness Patrol an international grouping who were among the few fans to track down, eye witness and report on the show’s filming in the Utah dessert late last year. Also on the panel were representatives from a couple British shows The oodcast who mix reviews with comedy and song and The Pharos Project a show so laddy it apparently only has one female listener! The panel went very well and not only highlighted the variety of formats but also people’s different takes on how seriously they take podcasting.

I then took and extended lunch break and didn’t return to the convention floor till mid afternoon for the Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding panel which was very good fun with Janet in particular pointing out how much attitudes had changed since their time on the show.

This was followed by a panel consisting of Neil Gorton and Rob Mayor of Millenium Effects who create all the monster/alien make ups for the show, their “victim” for their hour on stage demonstration was Sarah Jane Adventures script editor Gary Russell who they proceeded to turn into a Silurian in front of our eyes, sadly they ran out of time and I never  did get to see the finished result.

It was at this point loyalty set in and instead of seeing Peter Davison in the main hall I hightailed it along the corridor to a panel called “Fans behaving badly” which I’d had a few requests to record for people back home. The panel consisted of writers and one podcaster  and was about the way authors and producers are treated by their readers and viewers in online discussion forums and also more darkly the way some people had been threatened in the real world. The inspiration for this discussion was an incident at last year’s Gallifrey One where one attendee had a stand up blazing row with a writer from the Torchwood team about the death of beloved character Ianto Jones.

I took another break for tea but then headed back downstairs to join the insanely long queue for The Masquerade of Mandragora, a sort of cabaret show of skits and sketches put together by the many cosplayers at the event. The sketches were of variable quality and interest and ranged form the bizarre sight of a giant dancing Fez on stage to a lengthy comedy sketch starring many of the Doctor’s enemies. The Interval entertainment while the judges totted up their stores was a bit of a Gallifrey tradition a Dr Who themed game of Just a Minute which is normally chaired by Author Paul Cornell, this year Paul was a guest at another con back in the UK so Dr Who comic book writer Tony Lee stepped in the fill the void. As we’d long since passed the watershed and certain members the the panel may have familiarised themselves with the bar the humour was considerably bluer than you’d ever hear on Radio 4 but all the better for it!

After the results of the competition were announced I headed back upstairs and hung out way too long at another night’s lobby con.

Day Five

After breakfast on the Sunday I kicked my heels around the hotel for a bit then returned to my room to report on the convention in the first few minutes of that week’s Cultdom Collective Podcast, which I’m on nearly every week anyway. They generously let me hog about 15-20 minutes of the news part of their show then I rapidly made a move back to the convention floor.

First panel of the convention’s final day for me was an on stage interview with writers Jane Espenson and Doris Egan famous for working on shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Smallville but now had been hard at work on the next series of Torchwood which is being co-produced with American cable channel Starz.

After a leisurely lunch I headed back to the main hall for Doctor Who Podshock’s live show, Podshock is the longest running Dr Who podcast presented by Louis Trapani and Ken Deep in New Jersey and James Naughton in Yorkshire, UK. Last year James finally made it across to join them on stage but this year financial constraints and the fact that he was busy getting married while we were enjoying the convention prevented his appearance. Louis and Ken ably held the fort in his absence with Ken taking the lead in the on stage interviews while Lou dropped in the odd aside and question here and there. They’d manged to borrow many of the convention’s start names for this event, Producer Tracie Simpson, Actor Ian McNeice, Monster performer Paul Kasey, Actress Cush Jumbo(from Torchwood: Children of Earth) all donned the stage but their trump card was the first ever convention interview with Waris Hussain who directed “An Unearthly Child” the very first Doctor Who story all the way back in 1963. All the guests were interesting and entertaining especially Waris who went down a storm with his insights on early Doctor Who.

Next event in the main hall was a panel about Doctor Who: The Adventure Games, four free PC/Mac games that can be downloaded from the show’s official website. Gary Russell interviewed writers Phil Ford and James Moran and Actress Sarah Douglas the games are free in the UK and were released in the USA for a small fee but only about 50% of the assembled crowd(after a show of hands) seem to have played them. The crowd asked some interesting and informed questions and seemed happy to hear there will be a second batch of adventure games later this year.

I then made a dive down the corridor to catch a live DVD style commentary on Doctor Who: The Lodger, the show’s producer Tracie Simpson was being interviewed by Clayton Hickman but sadly the show’s writer Gareth Roberts couldn’t make it as he’d retreated to his hotel room, hopefully he’d not been over indulging at the previous “Lobby Con” Gareth and Clayton are flatmates and sometime co-writers so his spirit and ideas were still present for the commentary.

I then had a break in my room before heading back down to catch the closing ceremony, frustratingly from a seat near the back of the packed hall. All the weekend’s guests came back on stage one last time and a few annoucements were made by the organisers including the record attendance of 2000 people.

Some people had packed their bags and were flying home that night but I was staying one last night and had been invited to dinner by my friends from the Staggering Stories whose mascot “The Head of Pertwee” had managed to make in onto CBS’s “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” who were filming at the con that afternoon. That meal was probably my healthiest in days even though in reality Denny’s Diner is probably no further up the culinary scale that our own Little Chef.

Day Six

Thanks to the hotel’s free computers in the lobby I was able to check into my flight home before I’d even checked out of the hotel. But even though the con itself was over there was still plenty of friendly fans to hang out with and even some hi jinx a foot. “Tardis” Tara Wheeler not only owns her own Police Box but is as far as I know the world’s leading expert on the Doctor Who scarf. She’d managed to collor Peter Davison on his way to breakfast and invited him to unravel a fair amount of one of her scarfs. This event not only demonstrated Davison’s generosity but also highlighted the relaxed feeling of  equality that summed up the whole event.

When mid afternoon arrived me and my friends said goodbye to friends old and new and grabbed the shuttle bus to the airport. Turns out we weren’t the only ones departing at that time the “Shuttle of the stars” had Tracie Simpson(producer), Fraser Hines(Actor), David J Howe(Writer), Paul Kasey(monster performer) and Tony Lee(comic book writer) on board, all of the above joined us on our flight home. The journey home wasn’t exactly hitch free, so much for my plans to catch another film or two on the in flight entertainment as we were informed it was out of order. Tony Lee kept my part of the plane entertained for a while with a Cyberman impression he’d somehow created out of the bag of airline freebies on his seat. Thankfully I’d prepared for lack of entertainment on the plane and was able to watch some videos of my ipods and listen to a couple of podcasts  before amazingly but very uncomfortably catching a few hours sleep. I woke up only 90 minutes before we were due to land but the seat belt sign had been turned on as we’d hit quite heavy turbulence. I’d experienced a little of this bumpiness on the previous flight so can’t say it scared me. Our landing however was rather dramatic as we touched down out of rain clouds barely 500 feet above the runway.

I soon met up with my friends on the flight before we went our separate ways and headed home. I really enjoyed America and it was wonderful to finally meet up with some friendly fans on the other side of “The Pond” LA itself though I did find a very strange place obsessed with the here and now especially architecture though this does give the city a certainly “wow factor” I think it alienated me and my love of history and character in places. The people and the event however more than made up for any minor short shortcomings with the location.

I’m planning to return to LA and Gallifrey One in 2013 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. I’ll miss seeing those new friends next year but don’t think I’ll miss a city which perplexed this non driving cyclist with it’s worship of the motorcar.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

End of 2011, 2012 begins

This time last year I was under a fair amount of stress as I was in the final planning stages of heading on the longest journey of my life so far and also my first flight ever.

As some of you may know the journey was to Los Angeles, California for the giant Gallifrey One Dr Who Convention. To cut a rather long story which was told in another blog entry a few months back short the event was very enjoyable if somewhat fatiguing including a combined attack of jet lag and light headedness due to a rather powerful American energy drink that led to me recovering in my room instead of attending the opening ceremony.

Due to the sheer expense and the jet lag I’m opting out of Gally this year, my original plan had been to attend the event bi annually but having missed out on a ticket to one of the few British events that even comes close to Gally’s choice of programme and friendly sociable  atmosphere. I’m seriously considering changing that to annual from next year.

Sadly most of the large scale “cons” in this country esp ones in the London area aren’t really cons in any real sense of the word but instead seem to be cynical exercises in extracting as much money from fans as possible by charging them anything from £15 to £45 for an autograph. Thankfully most of the “talks” are either free or a lot cheaper which is just as well because a lot of these events are held in huge echoy venues not remotely designed for Q&As at all.

An increasingly large part of me wishes I’d started attending cons in this country back in the days when most of them were run by fans for fans. I didn’t really discovers conventions till the early 90s which seems to have been the tail end of that time. I have fond memories of Panopticon ‘92 a far from perfect event but the fact that it even had a screening/video room just goes to show how much these things esp in this country have changed.

Sadly the video room was one of the few things I didn’t manage to squeeze into my Gallifrey One experience which left me a bit miffed that it wasn’t active for longer as their programme of fan films was rather attractive.
While I’m back on the subject of Gally this blog entry is dedicated to various people who kept me company and helped me generally during that event.
There’s probably too many to list but it certainly includes the team from The Staggering Stories Podcast, who probably didn’t appreciate me hassling them with excited conversation as they tried to check into the hotel. It also includes Tardis Tara who gave me the best advise I had all weekend when an attack of light headedness probably brought on by poor diet, lack of energy and a caffeine overdose caused me to be one of the few people there to miss the opening ceremony. Also worth mentioning are Trev from The Doctor Who Podcast who I bumped into during my bus tour of LA the day before the con and I almost fell asleep sat next to the next morning as the con itself started! Finally I’ll thank Nancy and Lewis from The Happiness Patrol Podcast who along with Tara and her husband David kept me company during the long wait between checking out of the hotel and catching the shuttle to the airport.

Sorry, that got a bit long didn’t it for acknowledgements and I’ve managed to miss people out sorry Paul of The Pharos Project who did afterall guide me through my first airport experience.

Oh….what’s that? Think I’ve just seen a sign post saying “Get Back on Track!” So here we go let the rambling continue as I attempt to chronicle my fan and maybe even other activities during 2011.

Way back not long before I headed off on that epic length journey to Gally I attended my first residential, multi day sci fi convention. The event in question was The SFX Weekender 2, held at the rather aged Pontins Holiday Park in Camber Sands. The “Appartments” which was the rather over kind name given to the accommodation were rather drafty, built about 40 years ago and didn’t look like they’d changed much since then apart from possibly the odd change of appliance. My main memory of the accommodation was one evening when I decided to grill some bacon and the place turned out to be so small that I ended up dashing between the kitchen and the door to waft the fumes away that were setting off the smoke dectector!  In the end and in sheer desperation I opened the front door and took the suggestion of a passing stranger and temporarily removed its battery. Much as I love a bit of bacon that was the only meal I had of it during the con.

More fun happenings during that event included being on back to back pub quiz winning teams, one of which I joined by sheer luck on the first night as it was one of the few places to sit down in the packed pub.

Other fun happenings included a midnight screening of the horror classic An American Werewolf in London only slightly spoiled by the fire alarm going off at one point which immediately led to a rapid shout of “Press Pause” from Paul of The Pharos Project, we were only stuck outside for 5-10 mins but in the cold February weather conditions that was more that enough for many who had foolishly not grabbed their coats on the way out. To be fair to SFX the event on the whole was well organised and one of the few hiccups with this came on the day of Keeley Hawes’s panel and signing where the hot conditions of the venue caused her to cut the signing short and go home one of my few disappointments having lugged an Ashes to Ashes boxed set with me to no avail. It’s to my great regret that this year’s event has sold out because even though the rail journey there would have been complex it would have been well worth it for the event itself.

Having already covered Gallifrey One I’ll jump past it to Invasion which I attended a mere four days after landing back in the UK and therefore still rather jet lagged! I’ve been attending the one day Invasion Conventions since about 2005, they aren’t perfect events with their  almost  constant shepherding of guests and lengthy queues for autographs that make you miss seeing other guests take to the stage. Unfortunately 2011’s event was rather under attended and looks like it was the last this despite a guest list with every one from actors Rodney Bewes, Jacqueline Pearce and John Levine through to Writers Rob Shearman and  Nick Briggs(though I’m not sure about his presence due to my jet lagged memory!) Most memorable events that day were John Levine’s rather jaw dropping appearance on stage which some of you may have heard in episode 100 of my podcast Tim’s Take On through to me having rambley conversations with a sympathetic group in the signing room. Don’t the weather that day was ideal either not a huge contrast to LA but definitely more rain in one day than we had in one week there!

My fandom excursions briefly became more local back in March when Hyde Fundraisers came to Cambridge to exhibit their fan made Dr Who monsters and TARDIS in The Pitt Building, 6th Doctor Colin Baker was also on hand meeting fans and signing but sadly I wasn’t informed he be charging for his autograph so that’s another signature I lost out on in 2011 though thankfully one I already have in this case. So I had to make do with taking a few photos of him one of which he kindly posed for before heading for his lunch.

Fan fun switched to it’s more usual location of London again late March for the first of two visits to The Doctor Who Experience at Olympia Two. The Experience is a fun if slightly odd mixure of an “interactive” Doctor Who adventure you’re led through and a more standard exhibition which thankfully celebrates both classic and new series eras of the show though from what I hear it almost wasn’t that way. About the only frustrating aspect of this attraction is the compulsory nature of the “Experience” bit which if you’re on a repeat visit due to changes in the exhibition you might want to dodge. I’m sure some people would gladly pay a few pounds less simply to look round the exhibition and the shop. Summer of 2012 the whole attraction is moving to Cardiff Bay in Wales, it’s not known at this time if that premises is any larger than its London home which although far from tiny could probably best be described as medium sized compared to the huge exhibition at Earls Court a couple of years back.

April saw a more social event the Dr Who #twub crawl which was organised by Helen Thomas who at the time was working for a tour company. A group of nineteen of us headed down the Thames touring various pubs occasionally interrupted by the chance to see somewhere Dr Who had filmed over the years. We were an eclectic and fun bunch some came in cosplay even I who doesn’t normally indulge in such things donned a Fez bought earlier that day which certainly proved adequate protection from the sharpness of the wind, possibly the most memorable of the cosplayers was someone who’d come as the 11th Doctor but on a whim had bought a mop from a pound shop on the way to join us! Helen had been toying with plans for a picnic last summer to reunite some of this group but sadly so far that’s yet to happen.

Not all of my trips to London last year were fan related, over Easter I had a long walk round Westminster and the area around Buckingham Palace photographing and videoing the sights and sounds of London the day before the Royal Wedding it was kind of a mixture of star spotting and eccentric obsessives gathered on central London’s streets. Dead opposite Westminster Abbey where the service would take the next day and also opposite Buckingham Palace were two giant media villages so the world’s TV Broadcasters could have studios facing the key locations. The most memorable moment of this star spotting came in the early evening just as the Six O Clock News ended on BBC One it became apparent that its presenter George Alagiah has a bit of a heart throb following as a few of his younger fans approached him for an autograph.
The next day a couple of the roads in our neirbourhood were closed for a Royal Wedding Street Party, I popped out and managed to nab myself a few cakes but was too busy watching the main event itself on tv to enjoy the barbeque or the band, who stupidly scheduled their evening set during Eastenders! Still if nothing else I guess the event proved there is something approaching community spirit round here even if I still barely know most of my neirbours.

In late May I took the afternoon off and headed to London for my first experience of the Dr Who fan meet up known oddly as The Tavisode, this was the 5th anniversary of this event which by early evening consisted of about twenty of us and eat up roughly three booths of the pub. We even had a couple of members of that rare breed I tend to refer to as “Fan Royalty” if for no other reason than they’ve either reached some level of status through their work or have simply been around fandom so long that they seem somehow more important than some of us. There was a very nice 5th anniversary cake made by the aforementioned Helen.

Sorry this blog cuts off here, can't find a file with anymore of it in :(

Friday, 21 June 2013

End of 2010 blog, written Dec 2010

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to try to sum up my year in a blog entry, my mind is not exactly at it’s most focused today so the following is based on me trying to recall a few things inspired by photos I’ve taken memories that hopefully grabbing a lens on my mind will bring into better focus.

The year began for me by making a decision, unlike some of my friends I’ve not embraced foreign travel as much as I’d like. I had planned to embark on a coach trip to Paris back in the summer which sadly fell through with a letter from the coach company stating that the trip had been cancelled as not enough people had booked. The refund however proved to be an unexpected boost towards the decision I mentioned above, that being to finally bite the bullet and venture outside Europe and go on my longest journey to date.

For many years as a Dr Who fan and avid podcast listener I’ve enjoyed the reports from Gallifrey One, the annual LA based convention which as far as I know is the largest and most wide ranging Doctor Who convention in the world. At one point I thought attending the event myself was merely a pipe dream and wasn’t going to be possible but during 2009 I had a rethink and realised if I concentrated my efforts towards saving for a whole year then attending the event would be possible.

So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing and as I type this attending “Gally” as regular attendees have nick named it so no longer a dream but now a firm plan for early 2011. This future event still seems somewhat daunting though, I’ll admit. I speak as someone who’s rarely travelled abroad, so far having only visited France and Germany and still hasn’t flown anywhere.

Part of me will only believe the whole Gallifrey adventure is happening once I’m actually sat on the plane in mid Feb 2011, even then I still view it as a series of personal challenges, some of which though will no doubt be a lot easier than others.

To quote one of my favourite podcasters I’m drifting, this blog was meant to be about 2010. Like all years it’s had it’s highs and lows, looking back on photos for inspiration one has to admit it’s been mostly a positive year for me.

The first few months seem like a bit of a blur so I’ll start with May when I attended Invasion in London, a Doctor Who convention organised by Tenth Planet Events. The day was interesting, enjoyable but as always lacked the loose informality of similar fan organised events. The day ended for me with a dash through the rain to meet a friend in a pub. Samantha, an Australian fan over here for a few months this year was the reason for my dash. We know each other thanks to the weekly online get together that is otherwise known as The Cultdom Collective Podcast, a live show that goes out via the website every Sunday.

Also in May I attended my first ever protest when it was announced earlier this year that the BBC was threatening digital radio station 6Music with closure, listeners both through online campaigns and a couple of protests at BBC Broadcasting House made their voices heard. The 6Music protest I attended was a very friendly event with a fair share of celebrity speakers but also free cakes and badges on hand for the attendees. Sadly my Save 6Music badge was lost on a subsequent visit to London but the station was thankfully saved from closure and it’s audience did in fact increase to nearly a million. It also led to one of those rare occasions when I attended a gig. Despite being a big music fan over the years, live music has rarely been a passion of mine but after helping successfully save 6Music I went to 6Fest as kind of a vote of thanks towards people who’d contributed far more than myself towards the cause. The gig itself was entertaining, enjoyable and even led me to discover an indie band I’d not encountered before. The Modified Toy Orchestra may not be to everyone’s taste but they embrace the experimental side of electronic music that I’ve enjoyed hearing since The Art of Noise first came to my attention in the early 80s.

Jumping to the summer I attended the most memorable fan meet up of the year. Tony Gallichan of The Flashing Blade an entertaining and insightful Doctor Who podcast had had the bright idea of inviting his listeners to Hyde Park for a picnic. Roughly 20 of us attended in the end in weather so gloriously good we spent the whole afternoon sheltering under a suitably large tree. We talked, we joked some sang others even podcasted about the event overall the afternoon summed up fan gatherings at their best, a group of like minded people sharing each other’s company and a feel good feeling that comes from our mutual love of Doctor Who.

Reaching the Autumn, in September, thanks to friend and fellow podcaster Luke Harrison I attended Whoverville 2 a great fan run convention  held in the unusual venue of a train shed, the event was fun, interesting and certainly the most sociable convention I’ve attended this year. There was a wonderful feeling of equality between the guests on stage and the attendees, hopefully I’ll be able to make it to Whoverville 3 as there simply isn’t enough of this kind of event to attend.

One of the year’s musical highlights for me came back in July when I made a last minute decision to attend The Doctor Who Prom held at The Royal Albert Hall in London. As I was buying one of the proms for a fiver tickets I had to stay in a queue for a dauntingly lengthy six hours but thanks to the weather, atmosphere and company the wait wasn’t remotely as bad as it could have been. I’d never attended a classical concert before and didn’t quite know if I’d enjoy it but the wait and my position in the venue(the arena area) right in front of the orchestra made it an amazing night out. Thanks have to be passed on to both Sheldon Collins and Adam J Purcell who between them helped guide me back to the nearest tube station for my journey home.

Autumn and winter of this year have brought mixed fortunes with our family suffering a burglary, many items have now been replaced but a cloud still hangs over the event as some things can’t esp when laptops full of data were taken. Thankfully the year didn’t end on a total downer with another fan gathering in the shape of The Flashing Blade Winter Warmer on hand to lift mine and others spirits, in 2011 Tony is planning another picnic which will certainly be a highlight of next summer.

So, to end a busy year with much to look forward to in 2011 especially Gallifrey which still seems like a distant dream even though it’s now approaching quickly.


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Farewell Albion/Stuck in London: We’ve got a saga now

Saturday 1st June was quite an experience, one that left me with emotional highs and lows and a body that took a while to recover.

For a start it was a series of travel fails, I missed my initial(planned) train to London, was heading to fellow Dr Who podcaster David Keep’s farewell do in Crawley but had decided to stay overnight in the Capital.

Getting a later initial train wasn’t  a total disaster but I didn’t then check into my East London hotel till about 1pm and hung around there a little longer than planned so missed my first choice train at 1430 to Crawley for the meet up. I then managed to miss two further trains, for some reason the departure board wasn’t the easiest of things to read but thankfully did eventually find a train and got to Crawley station only about half an hour after the start time for the do.

Things started to look up at this point with a cheap, fast taxi ride to the pub for only £3.80. Then communication breakdown when I arrived and that british thing of not wanting to complain meant I accidently bought a beer instead of a cider, I am no fan of beer and it didn’t get drunk. Can’t help but partly blame the pub too who will go and sell beer and ciders with v similar names!

Thankfully the rest of the evening went well, there was a good sized turnout not sure of the exact figure but it was at least 18 of us. So many in fact that we spilled over onto another table. Oddly a suggestion that we join the two tables together wasn’t acted on(social apathy there?) Never mind even though this did unintentionally osterize The Pharos Project guys they seemed happy enough.

I’m not normally great at socialising when it comes to large groups but the evening seemed to go reasonably well, hopefully I didn’t go on at people for too long which can be a regular social fo par for me.

After much chat, a bit of drinking and a most enjoyable meal we returned to the more chilled(literally in temperate terms) confines of the pub garden.
I had originally planned to leave around 8.30pm for a 9pm train back to London but as Crawley is rather unfamiliar to me having only visited once before I’d sooner have not done the journey solo. No one understandably wanted to leave early so I waited for things to come to a natural end at around 10pm when Adam kindly gave me and a couple of others a lift.

After a few short minutes waiting on the platform my emotions dived into a rather dark hole as I realising what a thouroughly nice bloke we were loosing to the Americas in Dave Keep. Saturday was admittedly probably the first time I’d had a decent length conversation with the guy but I found his tastes were not unlike by own(it’s not every day I meet a fellow Danny Baker fan for example) I didn’t stand there on the platform blubbing my eyes out but I did have “a moment” and was worried that such a fun weekend was going to end on a low.

Thankfully at this point fate stepped in an Jo and Wyn walked onto the platform, they’d been a little late to the pub and had kept a fairly low key presence throughout the evening, but I was suddenly lonely and genuinely in need of some emergency socializing to lift my mood. I approached them and uttered the phase “oh well here we are the three stragglers!” and don’t think I stopped talking for about half an hour after that. Sorry guys if your reading this but conversation is kind of emotional therapy for me and your willingness to listen to this aging geek go on and on did lift my mood considerably!
Subjects ranged from tv, radio, music and song writing(I even sung to them a few self penned diddies at one point) I’m not always a good judge of character but it’s too their credit that they were prepared to listen to me and it did, to me at least develop into a quite interesting conversation(now and again my common sense took over and I listened too)

Eventually we went our separate ways and I arrived back in London, this kids is where it gets complicated!

Frustratingly I got to Victoria just as the tube was closing down for the night, don’t panic I thought there are worse parts of London to be in this is a bus station after all therefore there must still be a way back to my hotel.

Thankfully I rapidly found an information window and was able to ask the man behind it which buses I needed the first of these was the N15 which I was informed would get me as far as Canning Town(my hotel was at London City Airport) and from there I could catch another bus for the final leg of the journey.

The N15 I was informed could be caught in the Regent Street area, Victoria being a mystery to me I just kind of headed in the direction the man behind the information window had indicated and hoped for the best. I initially ended up on Park Lane a rather posh/rich part of London known for its designer stores and sports car dealerships. Some might say of my situation at this point that I was lost, no lost is not knowing where you are. I knew where I was, just didn’t know how to get to where I wanted to be. At this point my memory gets a little hazy but the next familiar place I remember stumbling across was Buckingham Palace of all things! I walked around a bit taking photos and trying get my bearings, sound in the knowledge that a) I’d seen the Centre Point buiding in the distance a few minutes before and b) The Mall nearby would take me to Trafalgar Square which is relatively close to where I needed to be.

It’s at this point that London decided it didn’t like me and as some of you may know this there are in fact two huge roads leading away from the palace, one is the mall and then there’s the other which especially at night looks near identical. The trouble with this other road is it doesn’t lead to Trafalgar Square but in fact Hyde Park Corner.

So again I was “lost” but at least if your in this part of central London roadside tourist maps are easy to find so I was(with the help of the compass on my phone) able to start heading towards the West End.

Eventually I realised I’d found Regent Street as I saw the familiar sight of the apple store, so I started looking at all the bus stops trying to find the right one for the N15. This took crossing the road in the end but I was now in the right place. They weren’t the most luxurious surroundings(there was sick on the ground…eww!) but there was an albeit badly designed seat and company, not that I was over willing to start conversations with total strangers though.

So the waiting began, half an hour went by many busses came and went none of them the N15, half an hour became an hour and I started to become rather worried after an hour and about 20 mins. I came to the conclusion a plan b was in order, among the busses that had stopped nearby I’d seen a few to Liverpool Street and thought “well at least I know there’s a taxi rank there, I can grab a cab back to the hotel” Talk about the best laid plans of mice and men!

I waited a little longer but then decided I’d have a bit of a wander afterall I was still near several bus stops so surely spotting a bus to Liverpool Street wouldn’t be impossible? It was, for some reason those busses had evaporated too! By this time it was gone 4am. Plan a had failed, plan b had failed so I resigned myself to the rather depressing plan c: wait for the tube to reopen.

I call this depressing because after checking signage outside a few stations I rapidly realised this was going to be a LONG wait even though dawn was slowly beginning to arrive in the capital.

I won’t say that central London felt scary at this time of day but equally I realised the best way to both stay safe and kill time was walk, so I wandered initially to Piccadilly Circus which was so brightly lit by advertising screens it felt like broad daylight. I stayed there a few mins entertained at first by a nearby busking sax player and then less so by a couple of guys with a beatbox radio so loud I was surprised the police patrol cars that passed every few minutes didn’t arrest them for breaching the peace!

Then I headed to nearby Leicester Square which felt less friendly but was surprisingly busy with a large if compact crowd gathered around some street dancers and a regular flow of customers to nearby food outlets who appeared to be open all night!

I probably spent the most time on Embankment as I could watch and photograph the sunrise from there and it was quiet enough to feel safe as well as being in easy reach of Embankment tube station when it eventually reopened.

The wait for the tube to reopen felt like the longest part of the night, it didn’t help that there doesn’t appear to be any 24 toilets in central London so despite my discomfort patience would be my only relief for that problem(central London’s tons of CCTV Doesn’t exactly encourage you to relive yourself behind the nearest bush or tree!)

Eventually, very slowly 6.45am arrived and I was able to enter Embankment an grab a tube to Bank for the DLR back to my hotel(it's only subsequently that I've found out that the the DLR opens nearly 90 mins earlier than the tube so I could have walked to Tower Gateway!)

Only once I got on the DLR did I risk a few sips of my water safe in the knowledge that I was fairly near to somewhere comfortable at last.

I finally got back to my hotel at 7.40am and despite having been told breakfast wasn’t till 8am I spied fellow residents eating away already.

I made a beeline for my room where both phone and ipod were put on charge and I had a much needed shower to warm up(my face was flushed red with the cold!)

After a healthy sized breakfast I checked out and caught a train home a good two hours later than originally planned but this did mean my Dad could give me a lift home.

Not sure if there’s a moral to the above tale, if my experience taught me anything it’s that London’s reputation as being dangerous at night is probably exaggerated especially when it comes to Central London but still I don’t envy anyone that’s homeless and has to sleep there.

I’m sure some of you reading this will be saying why didn’t you flag down a cab? Well to be honest even doing that appeared to be some kind of dark art, I'll reinterate that only taxi rank I even know of in central London is at Liverpool Street station and the busses to Liverpool Street had vanished too by the time I actually thought of this plan b at 4am. 

Thanks must be paid to Adam J Purcell who got me to Crawley Station, Andy Nunney who kindly bought be a cider in the pub and last but by no means last but by no means least to Jo and Wyn who hopefully enjoyed our lengthy conversation on both platform and train and may have in some small way saved my sanity for a while!

Nothing more to add, so cheers for now 


PS: You can see the photos I took here

and video of that sax playing busker here