31 Jul 2010

Sanctuary in the city

The city felt empty yesterday morning. It wasn’t, by any means, still hundreds of people in suits trudging along the footpath, weaving in and out of slack-jawed tourists hauling giant suitcases, tutting at those who cause them to pause in their single-minded get-to-the-office-by-nine scurry. But the air was cooler, cleaner, than it has been for a few days and summer holidays meant the train was less crowded. The lack of closeness in the air, having a seat to myself, the streets free of jostling, shouting school children, made me feel like there was more room in the commuter chaos I find myself swept along with every morning. I wear headphones with my iPod, rather than earbuds, in an attempt to force out some of the ambient noise: other people’s tinny, over-loud earphones buzzing sibilant hip-hop, whining secretaries bitching about colleagues on their phones, housewives incapable of turning off the keypad tones on their mobile devices, which chirp incessantly as they fumble through text messages. Sometimes I wonder if commuting deadens brains to the existence of other people.

The tranquillity I felt yesterday might have been the lack of these distractions Glass and steelon the train. Or the kind of English weather I moved here for - blue sky, cool sun, slight breeze. Or Chris Isaak’s ‘Speak of the Devil’ on my iPod. I felt indulgent as a result and as I was about 20 minutes early for work, I headed to Prét for a coffee and one of their tasty salmon bagettes and snuck up to a place I know behind my office that is usually empty before the working day begins. The building owners have termed it somewhat grandly as a ‘roof garden’ and technically it is a roof and there are things growing, but it’s mostly concrete and steel, looking over more concrete and steel. It’s quite pleasant in a sterile, corporate way, but the best thing is that in the morning there’s no-one there. So I sat, reading, eating my breakfast, looking up at the buildings occasionally when the sun came out. I like my job, I like the work I do and the office I work in, but yesterday, sitting outside, drinking coffee and contemplating the city around me, was by far the most enjoyable part of my day.

18 Jul 2010

Collectormania! (or why I went to Milton Keynes)

On a recent trip to Dorchester, for a music festival my chap was involved with, we decided to stay in Abingdon, about 15 minutes drive from Dorchester and an hour from Milton Keynes – the UK’s answer to Canberra (ie a ‘planned’ city with all the excitement and originality of a rat maze). This is only significant because this particular weekend it was host to *dramatic pause* COLLECTORMANIA! Now, historically I’m not a big attendee of communal sci-fi-related events, there’s a little too much interaction required for my taste and I know I’d look ridiculous in any form of character costume (though as a faux-redhead for the past 20 years, I have considered going as Agent Scully if she discovered Krispy Kremes). But I like seeing all the fans in their natural habitat and I love the chance to buy cool sci-fi and horror secondhand DVDs and CDs at very discounted prices. In the past I’ve acquired some funky jewellery, posters and unusual genre-specific books that I’d have to spend twice the money on ordering on the net – if I had even found them in the first place. Collectormania isn’t sci-fi only, there are also opportunities for those who collect sports merchandise and soft toys (no, mystery to me too), but the driving force behind this event appeared to be the myriad of ‘famous’ guests they’d managed to round up to get paid for photos, autographs and handshakes with the salivating general public. The Milton Keynes website is gone now, but the list of famous faces included, among about fifty others, Kate Mulgrew and Tim Ross (Star Trek Voyager), Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror, Spin City), Chris Barrie and Norman Lovett (Red Dwarf) and most interestingly, Linda Hamilton and Sir Patrick Stewart. Most of these people weren’t there on the Friday, which is probably just as well...

Now I’ve written quite extensively about my views on 'drive-by' fans (a phrase coined by an astute Twitter-mate of mine named Phil), so I won’t repeat it here, other than to say I understand it (kinda) but I don’t like it. Not from the actor’s point of view - why the hell not make money from saying hi to people agog with your famousness – but from the fans’, collecting an autograph, a photo, a three second ‘experience’ that’s about as genuine as paying for a Big Mac and having the server wish you a good day. But as I was happy to circumvent the queues and head straight for the merch stands, I figured the thousands of fans in their homemade Princess Leia and store-bought Star Trek costumes would be a good people-watch while I pored over books on the art of Ray Harryhausen and behind the scenes photos from the Indiana Jones films. My chap, supportive as ever, agreed to come along on the same basis – and I think he was curious about the mysteries of uber-fandom. Plus, in my role as railway-enthusiast WAG, I’ve been to enough model railway exhibitions in pokey church halls to make up for this geek digression.

The event was held at Stadium MK – a football stadium (this is not my photo, there are people in it) – and the stadiummk[5] organisers had set up stylish white lawn tents  and desks with chairs around the top level of the stadium (the covered bit behind the seating) – the weather is always dodgy in the UK, and the risk of damp celebrities too high to have them set upon the field. We arrived quite late in the afternoon, an accident on the M1 turning our two hour drive into four and half, despite trying two different detours around it, and although I wasn’t expecting hordes of people, being late on the first day of the show and it being a week day, I was anticipating a crowd. First indication something was amiss – not many cars in the car park. We could hear a variety of sci-fi themes being piped through the stadium Tannoy (we arrived to Space 1999 and departed to Voyager) and I shared a ‘watch out for tumbleweeds’ look with my chap as we got out of the car. Inside, we didn’t fare much better. Asking the volunteers at the front entrance where all the merch stands were, my chap was directed to ‘all the celebrities are on this level, round to your right..’ at which point another volunteer corrected our young helper with ‘we don’t use the ‘c’ word, dear, they’re ‘guests’’ (*snort*).

We walked round to the right, glancing into the tents to see Barry Bostwick in a very sharp suit discussing something with the folks at the ’door’ to his tent, Tim Ross and some ’lesser’ Voyager actors chatting and tapping pens on tables and Kate Mulgrew, rugged up against the chill stadium breeze, smiling and looking very blonde, sophisticated and lovely. But there were NO fans. I’m sure there were massive queues right round the stadium over the weekend, but at 3pm on Friday, you could hear crickets, even over the piped Best of Sci-Fi. To be honest, we felt a bit sorry for them all. My instinct was to offer them a cup of tea, just to break the awkward silence and relieve the boredom. I’m sure they’d had a lot of people offering them tea. Biscuits too, at least for the big stars.

We spent about an hour wandering around the vendor stalls, blinking at the vast array of lostboysposter[3]action figures, puzzling   over tables full of Beanie Babies and signed football tshirts, admiring a large set of hand-painted Alien dioramas and pondering the proliferation of ‘Team Edward’ badges (which I explained in rather too much detail to my chap when he asked what it was). We got three DVDs for £6, my chap bought a book on the history of Sherlock Holmes in film and TV and I spent entirely too much money on a silk-screened poster commissioned for a screening of The Lost Boys at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin Texas. Behold its awesomeness.

Then we got McDonalds and sat in a strategically designed park beside the motorway with a man-made water feature. Milton Keynes. It’s all happening there.