I drove down on Friday afternoon without incident and found a free space in the vast and confusingly-arranged hotel car park, then checked in and met entorien, my room-sharer. The rooms were pretty typical for a big convention hotel, with the unusual addition of a tiny balcony (shame there wasn't anything nice to look at from it).
The first challenge was to find Registration, which was hidden away at the back of the hotel with no signs to guide you to it (or even tell you when you had found it). After chatting to lucas_t_bear and friends in the bar for a while, we went off to join our guilds and ran into the_magician and hermi_nomi along the way. I went to the opening ceremony and a guild meeting (I had been placed in Conjurors), then went off to bed feeling a bit dazed and disconnected, like I did at the early cons where I only knew a handful of people.
On Friday I popped into the dealers' room to sign up to do some time on the convention desk (Redemption, Aetherica, LX 2009, Odyssey 2010, etc. were all sharing one space) before meeting up with sharikkamur and going to the first session of The Great Hedgehog Race (basically a DiscWorld themed version of The Great Egg Race), which was being organised by bonsaient. The task we were given was to build a device from junk (some was provided but we were also allowed to scavenge more from elsewhere) that was able to time a period between two and three minutes (the exact time required would not be given to us until the final event). The main rule was that it must not incorporate anything like an hourglass (due to the risk of inadvertently summoning Death). We spent the whole first session discussing different ideas and scrounging for additional materials.
The next thing I went to was Walk the Walk; a fun game loosely based on the postmen's initiation ritual from Going Postal. I volunteered to do the walk, which involved being blindfolded while a lovely Irish woman (Gheera??) guided me with her voice. At one point I went the wrong way and she was laughing so much she forgot to tell me to stop before I walked into the wall! Afterwards I had some lunch and spent some time on the con desk, then went to the second session of the Great Hedgehog Race, where we built and began to test the device. Later on was the Maskerade, which was pretty good - it seemed a bit bigger than we tend to get at Eastercon. The MC, Pat, had obviously been to the_magician's school of Bad MC Jokes and Puns. When he ran out of funny things to say about the red/green "keep waffling/introduce the next act" signal, people in the audience started shouting for Cat Stories, in the frostfox style (earlier in the con I met her in the lift and blanked on her real name, and found myself calling her "the mad cat woman who does MCing"). I particularly enjoyed the dark Morris dancing entry, featuring watervole on the
Sunday morning started off with another session of the Great Hedgehog Race, where we rebuilt part of the device that hadn't been running consistently and added a clock face to it as a bit of a decorative touch. I went to a talk by a chap from the Folklore Society, then another by a woman from the Orangutan Foundation, then had lunch before going to the final session of the Great Hedgehog Race, where we calibrated the device, got it running well and accurately, then left half an hour early. I spent some more time on the con desks, then in the evening I went to the Dragon Racing (I skipped the Gala Dinner as it was expensive and not really my scene). watervole had been roped in to run the racing and she recruited myself and a woman whose name I appear to have forgotten to be "dragon wranglers" which basically involved spending all evening running around setting up the dragons and repairing them when they broke. It was actually a lot of fun. I was introduced to the other dragon-wrangler as, "this is Alex, quiet but competent" - I like that! The inter-race entertainment was good too, especially the incredible high-energy string quartet who had us dancing and stamping our feet to classical music.
Monday morning I spent a couple of hours in my room working on my Around Ireland Rally route plan until the dealers' room opened, sat on the con desk for a while, then went to the gripe session where there were remarkably few actual gripes. Afterwards was the Great Hedgehog Race final, where I discovered that our device had magically stopped working overnight. About 45 minutes of tinkering later, I had it working again but the calibration had changed slightly so I had to apply a small correction factor to our previous calibration markings. I needn't have worried too much as we were only one of two teams whose timer worked correctly without human intervention to keep it running, and we were the only one who had got it working soon enough to calibrate it. There were three runs where we all had to set our clocks to a specified time, and the closest to the requested time won the round. In the first round our device was ten seconds fast. In the second it was six seconds slow. In the third round I now had enough data to calculate an accurate correction factor for the calibration scale. I set it to what I had calculated it should be, then after dithering over the decision for a couple of minutes I added another second on a hunch that it might run slightly faster than calculated. It actually ran bang on and activated a second late!
After the closing ceremony, once the dead
Tuesday morning after checking out, I got the_magician to drive a few times around the car park in Lintilla to get a bit of a feel for what he's let himself in for on the rally (*CRUNCH* "Oops, sorry, you did say to stop before changing into first gear.")
The drive home unfortunately was rather less smooth than the drive to the con. Firstly, when I joined the (very busy) M6 motorway, Lintilla decided she liked the look of the hard shoulder and conked out. The fuel pump points were sticking despite having rebuilt it relatively recently. In hindsight I probably should have tried simply cleaning them with emery but I had a spare (untested) pump in the spares box so I swapped them over. Luckily the spare worked OK first time and I got the rest of the way back without breaking down again.
The second problem was my worst yet encounter with Lorry Rage. The HGV involved was carrying beer, and I suspect the driver had been helping himself to the payload. He overtook me and cut in right in front of me, his bumper a couple of feet from mine, at 60MPH, only indicating after he had already started to pull across. I slammed my brakes on hard and sounded my air-horn, assuming at this point that he was simply your average incompetent driver who hadn't seen how close he was to me. A few minutes later he overtook a slower vehicle and so did I, but because I didn't want to be following a moron I pulled in in front of him instead of behind (indicating in plenty of time and leaving him a safe gap behind me). This really ticked him off (being overtaken by a Morris Minor tends to bring down the red mist in some drivers), so he drove up really close to my rear bumper, gave me a long flash on his headlights, and started to overtake me. I began slowing down at this point because this has happened to me several times before and I had a very bad feeling about what he was about to do. When his rear bumper was alongside my door he swerved left, almost clipping me, then when he was just clear of my front bumper he cut in front again. I again braked hard and sounded my horn for a couple of seconds. He reacted by slamming his brakes on so hard that his wheels locked and as I braked I passed through a cloud of his burning tyre rubber. I wasn't about to stick around any longer so I decided to speed up and get well ahead of him. I indicated and pulled out into the second lane. As I was about to start passing him, he pulled out right in front of me without indicating and I was forced to swerve into the third lane (luckily it was clear). I accelerated past, giving him various hand gestures as I went, and sped up to 70MPH to make sure I left him well behind. I kept up this higher-than-usual speed for quite a long time because I was nervous about what might happen if he managed to catch up.