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  • Life’s too short not to be Leia: SFX Weekender 3

    2012 - 02.09

    This may require some explanation

    If the geeks do inherit the earth, rejoice my friends, because they know how to throw a damn good party.

    Now since arriving on the fair shores of Albion I’ve been no stranger to the writing, film, TV and comics fan scene, and there is photographic evidence of me prancing around in a wannabe Xena/Angua outfit at Discworld events. But I am telling you true, ain’t nothing I’ve seen could have prepared me for geektasm of an SFX Weekender. Or a Pontins Holiday Park, for that matter.

    Am I talking Swahili? Never heard the word geektasm? Fair enough, I probably made that one up. Put it this way: SFX Magazine hosts an annual Weekender consisting of talks, panels, screenings, merchandise trading, cosplay (costume play, aka legitimate dress-up for adults and yes, that is no euphemism), excessive alcohol, extraordinarily bad food and very little sleep. Walking into the bar at such an event is likely to look like this:

    Drinks, ladies?

    An SFX Weekender is a place where you can run into any character from the varied realms of SF, Fantasy and Horror and the people who created or bought them to life. Where you can be groped by Chewbacca in the bar, run into Paul Cornell in the cafeteria and hear Brian Blessed sing O Sole Mia ala Pavarotti (from about three miles away).


    It is therefore, in short, strange, surreal and very special.

    I was lucky enough to get a lift up with Tony Lee and Dan Boultwood. Lucky because they heroically waged battle against two hours of London traffic to get me where lesser mortals might have simply aborted. Jesus wept, but we made it to Prestatyn, Wales, in good time for me to join a 90-minute-wait queue in the frakking cold. I’ve seen HSBC process customers faster. Poor show, Pontins.

    Fortunately chivalry remained the order of the day as Dave Boggis – pillar of the Discworld community and yes, the inspiration for Anhk-Morpork’s current president of the Thieves’ Guild (and here you thought Terry Pratchett just makes all these people up) – elected to leave poor Rentawitch in the queue and take me for a drink in the pub instead. Win for me, commiserations for Renta, Amy, Kev and the 2,000 other poor souls left in the cold.

    Some two hours later, we first laid eyes on our ‘chalet’, a title that conjured ideas of adventure (fair enough), snow (near enough) and a reasonable degree of comfort (alas, no) if not luxury (I fall on the ground laughing). I had been warned about the carpets. First rule of Pontins Chalet Club: don’t look at the carpet. Don’t think about the carpet. Don’t even consider what might have previously been on said carpet. Where at all possible, avoid walking on the carpet and sweet mercy do not smell the carpet.

    Alas, an untimely train derailment on the Friday thwarted the arrival of several key guests, including Anthony Head, therein also derailing my planned stalkerage. This woe did however inspire a brilliant poem by Tony in the ‘Ready, Steady, Flash!’ flash fiction panel (illustrated below by On Your Left). This panel also introduced the most unforgettable use of the term ‘unicorn sandwich’ from fantasy, horror and erotica writer Stacia Kane. Yeah. You’re wondering now, aren’t you? One girl. Two unicorns. ‘Nuff said.

    Tony’s Zombies at Prestatyn, pimped out by On Your Left: http://yourleft.net/

    And Stacia wasn’t the only one to make me blush, I do confess. The weekend was quite an education for yours truly, though to be fair, that’s not saying much. From friends old and new I was initiated (not literally, you understand, it wasn’t that sort of weekend) into the world of key parties, cruising and dogging, the latter leading to one of many many many mouth-disengaged-from-brain moments: “oh, so that’s what was going on in Hounds of the Baskervilles!” You know. The flashing headlights Watson found on the moor. Naughty, Mr Gatiss. I blush again.

    Pity Rob Power, powerless to moderate a veritable force of nature

    Highlights from the stages have to include Brian Blessed being his utterly marvelous and inspirational self, announcing that he’s now a cosmonaut (the man is 75!); apologising for having to leave early on account of needing to feed his 3,000+ pets (?!) and having to be up at 4:30am to be turned upside down in some space machine; declaring war on Ben Kinglsey (triggering the creation of a Protect Ben Kingsley, let’s get Brian Blessed a BARONY! Facebook group, which you may join) and concluding with a passionate declaration of personal empowerment:

    “Nature doesn’t cheat. Every one of you has something that no-one else has.”

    Bless the man. We all did, with a standing ovation.

    Less sentimental but no less entertaining was the brilliant “Dan and Tony’s Audience Participation Comic Creating Workshop of Awesome”. It was perfectly titled and though their panels are already developing a reputation for Awesome, god only know what they’ll come up with next to top this one. It will probably need to involve a unicycle.

    Nothing out of the ordinary here…

    It was a simple enough concept: perform a comic script using victims volunteers from an audience asked to dob in its most heroic and villainous members. We chose well. There was heroism including somersaults and gallant hoisting of helpless princess across the shoulders of the Scarlet Blade. There was villainy and maniacal laughter from Baron Doom, not to mention inflatable swords, battles and yes, even lettering:

    Sound FX included

    There were even dramatic deaths which – on strict instruction – did not sound like a dubious sex act or any obscure and painful form of constipation.

    The death – or luxurious recline – of brave Bucky

    Seriously, Tony and Dan are not only officially the best-dressed men in British comics and a brilliant writer/artist team, but also incredibly generous gentlemen and if I’m totally honest, they made my Weekender. I doff my hoodie in their general direction and hope to one day be half as Awesome as they are.

    Now panels, talks and screenings a good convention make; stuffy awards ceremonies, a good convention can break. Not so with the SFX Awards, heavens no. I mean I don’t know about you guys, but I have never seen a master of ceremonies escorted in by an Imperial Guard. I had never seen the mad genius that is Robert Rankin act as a master of ceremonies and if you haven’t either, stick that on your bucket list because it is an Event with fully justified capitalisation.

    Robert Rankin Rocks. Hard. In many dialects.

    And after Neil Gaiman had run around several snowy fields shouting with excitement over winning Best Writer for “The Doctor’s Wife” and Brian Aldiss received a standing ovation along with his Lifetime Achievement Award and Stan Lee graciously accepted his Biggest Disappointment Award…

    …there was the Cosplay competition.

    And it was… amazing. The sheer effort. The breathtaking attention to detail. The extraordinary discomfort people voluntarily endured just to be someone else for the night.

    The competition was, in the end, won by a debut Cosplay couple plus child who came as aliens from Futurama – the babe in arms (and costume!) might have swung the audience votes but they were fantastic outfits and looked hideously uncomfortable so: RESPECT.

    And yes, I wore the Leia slave outfit. Tony had to spent the two days prior telling everyone I was going to do so, I had to buy two of those stuffaway expandable farm animal shopping bags (cow bag on the right, sheep bag on the left)  to… well… augment my assets (if anyone had tried to get up close and personal they might have been in for a surprise because the plastic pull toggles were taped up in my bust as well), and Amy Wheaton had to literally tape me (plus bags) into the ‘bodice’… but the deed was indeed done.

    I walked into a pub full of drinking and drunk SF fans wearing not a whole lot, and I survived. I did my best to tempt a broken ankle falling off the cosplay competition entry stage, but then given that I was in a dress (sort of), how else would people have known I was me if I hadn’t done something utterly inelegant?

    I cling to Ade Hill, trying not to look bloody terrified. This was a better moment.

    Now you have to understand that I pretty much live in two types of clothing: lyrca and jeans. Shopping ‘expeditions’ can result in me being found huddled in the changeroom breathing into a bag. Almost all of the decent clothes I have been spied in recently are begged, borrowed or bought from local charity stores.

    I am not used to being looked at in my jeans (the lycra is another matter). I am certainly not used to pausing for a dozen photographs just to cross a room. Slave Leia, as it turns out, is a very popular costume. If I’d actually thought this whole thing through in any detail beforehand, I would have tried out a few poses in a mirror at home because part of the fun of Cosplay is that you’re supposed to play the character you’re costuming. Ergo when guys with cameras asked for a photo, they didn’t want Adele-dressed-as-Leia with my usual congenial grin. Oh no. They wanted Leia, which meant a bit of a pout here, a bit of hip sticking out there, and a whole lotta leg peeking out the conveniently located skirt slits. Don’t get me wrong, I understand completely – I just wasn’t quite prepared for the continuous application of the compulsory pose.

    (speaking of compulsory poses though, no-one asked for the floor recline, for which I am infinitely grateful)

    By the end of the award ceremony I’d like to think I’d passed through the slightly terrified ‘is this sexy? I hope this is sexy. If not, I am afraid this is as sexy as this Leia gets, sorry mate’ stage and had managed to rationalise that if I just overlooked the suggestive chain around my neck, I was actually wearing marginally more than I daily wear to work, so it really wasn’t that bad. I relaxed to the point that a most excellent Captain Hammer actually got me on the dance floor.

    On the dance floor. Not only voluntarily, but also stone sober.

    It must have looked awful, and bless him, it took him five attempts and three demonstrations but thanks to his persistence, I can now confidently add the yo-yo to my list of skills. The sheer fact that he got me to ‘dance’ at all has several people who know me well suspecting that he may be in possession of genuine super-powers. It seems conceivable that this Captain Hammer may be an actual superhero, marauding as a mere mortal, marauding as a super hero.

    The mind boggles. I may need to lie down at this point.

    Doctor Horrible and Captain Hammer? I HAD to have a picture.

    Now Cosplay is a fascinating beast. The people who do it are a barmy, brilliant bunch, you couldn’t find a more entertaining crowd if you tried. Only at Discworld events have I previously met such open, friendly and genuine folk. It requires imagination, innovation, courage, performance, excessive amounts of sewing (not to mention gluing, stapling, knotting, taping and often a whole lot of hoping) and while you don’t have to be even the least bit mad to do it, it certainly does help. There are even semi-professionals, such as the Galactic Knights and Doctor Who crew, staple invites to all events geek.

    Tom Connor (11th Doctor) and Tors Webster (River Song) meet their new companion

    So amongst many other things, I learned on the weekend that I am a natural born Cosplayer. Alas, for it is an expensive hobby but one for which it seems I am fully qualified (seamstressing skills aside). It is also a hobby which engenders no shortage of raised eyebrows and cautious queries from the general populace, but you know what? To hell with that. Events like SFX Weekender bring together thousands of people linked by shared love for worlds of the imagination. Tony described it as the Christmas Party for the industry and he’s right. It’s a place where you are entirely welcome as yourself, but where you’re also welcome to play out the characters who’ve made you who you are. Being me is fine, but it’s finite and frankly, life’s too short not to be Leia, even just once.

    NB grateful thanks are due to Chris Boote, who gave me the magic ticket in the first place but alas, could not attend himself

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    3 Responses to “Life’s too short not to be Leia: SFX Weekender 3”

    1. Ow, it looks sooo exciting and amazing, lucky you to have been able to enjoy all that!

    2. […] With all that on my mind, and I spent the rest of Amazing Monday with Greg. I met him at SFX Weekender last year, dressed as slave Leia, he as Captain Hammer. I still call him Captain Hammer (he is more polite […]

    3. […] We’d managed to miss each other all the way through the party, hit right off on the way out and therefore hooked up on Facebook. Incidentally, at that party I also friended Ian Whates, who recognised me from my evening as Slave Leia a few months earlier at the SFX Weekender. […]

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