Utopiacon - the Netherlands 18-20 October '02

Travelled by rail to reach the convention. Had originally planned to fly, but all the available seats for air miles were gone by the time we got around to booking. Well, I'd never tried Eurostar before, so here was my chance to try out the channel tunnel.

I was supposed to be doing a filk session at the convention and Nicolene had asked if I could manage any Stargate or Buffy filks. I had one Stargate one and no Buffy ones... I like Buffy, but I don't know the show off by heart. However, luck was on my side. The woman sitting next to me on the train to London was reading an 'Angel' novel. I promptly engaged her in conversation and proceeded to pick her brains on Buffy. Result? One complete Buffy filk and the first verse of a second one.

Arriving at Waterloo, I moved my cases over to the Eurostar terminal and checked in. It's more like an airline than a train. Passport and security checks, etc. On the train itself, I had a few moments dread when I realised I was sitting opposite two young boys and next to their mother, but they turned out to be delightful travel companions - even shared their sweets with me. The older boy quizzed me and his mother on the Incas (his mother was Spanish Peruvian, married to an Englishman) and he was enjoying one of the Horrible History series which are brilliant for kids. Did you know that you can make a percussion instrument of the toenail clippings of llamas? I did <grin>. I'm a folkie and I've seen those Peruvian groups with their pan pipes and toenails...

Eurostar arrived in Brussles and I said farewell to my travel companions.

Brussles Midi is an incredibly confusing station and I had real fun finding where to go. My ticket said 'not valid on THALYS'. I still don't know what THALYS stands for, but I gather it's some equivalent of a high speed train service. The station maps in English had run out, so I picked up one in German and managed to find the information stand where they told me how to find a slow train to The Hague.

I headed out to Den Hague (if one's being Dutch...) which took a couple of hours. From there, I took a tram to Scheveningen where the convention was being held. The Dutch have an absolutely wonderful tram system. What with that and bike lanes everywhere, I was pleasantly surprised by the relatively low number of cars compared to a similar English town.

Incidentally, Scheveningen is almost impossible to pronounce and sounds more like you're spitting it! (I'm told they used to check out possible German spies by asking them to say the name. If they couldn't pronounce it correctly, they weren't Dutch!)

After all this travelling with two heavy cases, I was feeling pretty knackered. Fortunately, the directions on how to get to the convention were very good, and the con hotel really was just 100 yards beyond the tram stop.

I staggered into the hotel in a strange country and the first person I saw was Gareth. There's something terribly reassuring about seeing an old friend in a strange place. Hugged Gareth in pure relief and said hello to Monique who was with him. Monique allowed me to dump my cases in her room overnight as I'd no idea where my hotel was and didn't want to have to carry the cases back and forth with a load of zines in them.

The rest of the evening is a blur, except that I fell in with a great group of Dutch fans who enjoyed filking - yes! and fannish card games - yes! and were also Stargate fans <smile>.

I remember Teryl Rothery (Dr Fraiser in Stargate) who is really petite and only comes up to my nose. The day after, I realised she was wearing platform shoes, so she's really even more petite than that...

Eventually remembered to ask directions and found my own hotel - which was indeed 5 mins walk as promised. I like hotels where you can turn up in purple dungarees with big gold stars on them and a purple velvet cape and a shoulder bag (no suitcases) and no one even blinks an eyelid. Not only that, they don't even ask to see my credit card. (I'd recommend Hotel Hage to anyone. The rooms are tiny, but they're cheap and clean and the breakfast and the staff are really good)

The next evening, I was to turn up in full blown United States Air Force dress uniform (and purple cape - it was cold and the cape was warmer than my anorack). Still no reaction apart from a friendly hello. (The lady in the hotel didn't speak much English, but we still managed to discuss the dreadful weather in a mixture of Dutch/German/English/hand signs.) Anyone who feels nervous about wearing fancy dress should definitely try a Dutch convention.

I had a long chat with Gareth, don't remember much of the details. He mentioned the problems he'd had with pain in his fingers while playing one part. I'd heard about that. It was due to the half-moon glasses he had to wear. Looking over the top of them made him hold his neck at an odd angle and (as I know all too well from personal experience) neck problems can cause pains in all sorts of places. He got some helpful exercises which solved the problem. He's also lost a couple of stone in weight and is now drinking white wine instead of beer. I think he's exercising more as well.

Apart from a nasty mark on the head (he'd slipped on a wet plastic bag a few days ago and hit the pavement hard) he was looking good.

As far as the rest of the convention went, I spent most of it in the dealer's room. All the fan clubs and fan dealers were in a corner together which was good as I was next to Hannie (DABF Dutch Angel/Buffy Fan club) whom I'd met at Red Rose earlier in the year and next but one to TovaDaq (I think I've spelt it right) the Klingon/Stargate bunch I'd met in the lounge the night before. If it hadn't been for them, I'd probably have found it a pretty dull weekend. I'm not big on guest talks and dealer's rooms and this con didn't have much alternative programme. Playing Stargate charades (in English) and a Stargate card game one of them had devised (you're goa'uld hunting suitable hosts for your children...) and filking and generally hanging out was fun. Most of them spoke very good English and my Dutch vocabulary crept up to about four words.

I'd been intending to wear Stargate fancy dress one day and Avon the next day, but ended up with the dress uniform both days. Firstly, because it had *pockets* and also a regulation handbag. Makes it much easier when you have somewhere to put money, and to keep passport and the like safe on you.

The second reason was Teryl's fault. I went to her Stargate talk (well, the klingons all went, so I went too) The uniform was actually a lieutenant colonel, but from any distance at all, and especially in a poor light, you can't tell the rank markings apart from major (one has silver oak leaves, the other gold). I asked her a question about her character's promotion (Fraiser becomes a Major round about the third season, though you have to work it out from the rank markings as you never see a reference otherwise to it) and she called me Major. So, I was 'Major' to half the convention from then on and to Teryl whenever she met me. (It was a small convention, so I saw her quite a few times) (Gareth's score was worse . He got both profession and rank wrong) Anyway, having got to the point where people were recognising me by the uniform, I decided I might as well stick with it. I knew very few people at the convention, so all recognition factors were helpful.

It paid off the next day. I was programmed to do a talk on technology transfer in Stargate, but it was given as in 'main hall'. I had to ask about that. It was the fan end of the dealer's room... Several items were 'main hall' and they weren't all in the same place. Didn't take me long to realise that if I had no idea where it was going to be, then other people would have the same problem - especially as they didn't get chairs or anything out when there was a programme item on (there were very few items on the secondary programme). As it happened, a couple of fans spotted the uniform and asked me if this was the Stargate item. I said sure, sit down on the floor. So, we sat down in a small circle on the floor and had a very interesting discussion on alien technology and who/how should be able to use it. I know other people still missed it though. A woman asked me later where it had been. I asked her if she'd noticed the group on the floor - she said yes, hadn't realised that was it.

Moral - programme items really need a defined space that can be easily identified. Chairs are handy too...

I sold a few zines, but not many. There weren't many B7 fans there, though quite a few people remembered the show from when they were young. I don't think it's been shown in the Netherlands for a long time. (NB. Holland is *part* of the Netherlands, not all of the country.) I think Gareth made a few converts though. He gave a reading of Edgar Allen Poe's 'A Cask of Amontillado' before the fancy dress competition and it went down very well - and very few of the audience had English as a first language.

I entered the fancy dress. Nearly didn't as I couldn't think of a sketch and I *hate* just walking round the hall in a costume. Thought of something about an hour beforehand and went with it. There were a lot of entries and the standard was very high. My personal favourite was one that didn't win. If any Stargate fans remember 'Urgo' he has a Dutch fan who could be his twin brother. Costume to match made of gorgeous fabric and a sense of humour that is scarily close to the character's. Remember Teryl Rotherey was a guest and think 'Try the paddles'... Suffice it to say that she remembers the scene and played her part perfectly.

I remember talking to Gareth later on about how people mark fancy dress competitions. He says everyone has their own method, but that his way is to award marks out of 20 and to always use the first entry as a base mark of 10. That allows him to go higher or lower if later entries are better or worse. THat sounds logical as you cannnot predict what the overall standard will be like and if you give the first one a really high or low mark, you can get caught out if the other entries are of a similar standard.

My own entry was a dig at America-centric TV. I gave a short speech to the President (in character as a USAF officer from Stargate) explaining the unreliability of many of our alien allies and how we could never be certain they had our best interests at heart. I suggested that we really needed reliable allies who had technology compatible with our own and who could be guaranteed to have Earth's best interests at heart. I ended with a pause, followed by: "I see, Sir -- We're still not going to tell the Europeans." That went down very well with the audience.

Not much else to tell really. I persuaded the con guests to donate some signed photos for the charity auction for Redemption (and gave each one a filk that I'd written for their character). Other guests apart from Gareth and Teryl were Neelix from Voyager and Morn from DS9) If anyone wants a copy of the filks, just ask. (the most popular filk of the convention was definitely the one I wrote for Harry Maybourne. Tom McBeath wasn't a guest, but I can dream. Tova'daq seemed to be Maybourne fans too...)

On the train journey back to Brussles, I had a really interesting talk to a Dutchman who's an environmental policy advisor to the European Commission. We covered everything from the need to tax aviation fuel to Dutch politics and British railways. I'm not sure why you always get interesting people to talk to on trains, but they beat planes hollow in that regard. He also warned me that Brussles Central and Brussles Midi are *not* the same station. Brussles Midi is actually Brussles Zuid (south). Go figure. That's the hazard of English/Belgian translation. Anyway, he saved me from getting off at the wrong station.

If anyone's considering a convention in a non-English-speaking country, I'd say 'go for it'. Fans who watch English language TV tend to speak pretty good English, the guest interviews are all in English, and the Dutch are wonderful people.

Last changed on 07th of November 2002 - Back to Conventions

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