trip report – UK, Ireland

September 5, 2014

So Loncon — the London Worldcon — took place in the same venue as Olympic fencing in 2012.  I thought that was pretty cool.  Also, Doctor Who actors David Tennant and Peter Davison went to the Hugo awards.  I did not, alas, so I can’t say I was in the same room as them.

This was my second Worldcon in another country, and I quite enjoy these, because the shape of the convention is familiar, but the content often isn’t.  New artists, new writers, diverse accents, getting confused with the money, being wide-eyed and distracted.

The convention building was a kilometer long, reportedly.  My hotel was at one end, the convention was at the other, so I did a lot of walking. Conventions always wear me out, but I spent this one in a bit of a daze, I’m afraid.  There were shadows at this con:  this was the first Worldcon without Jay Lake, and I kept looking for his shape in the crowd.  Also, Iain Banks was meant to be Guest of Honor but he passed away last year. He’s one of my favorite writers and I never got to meet him.  And I found out during the con that my brother’s family’s sweet dog Lucy had just died.  All cancer.  It’s crushing.

But there were friends everywhere to make things better, including several I’ve known since the year I went to school in York, and it was great catching up with them.

My trip had four phases: Loncon, visiting friends in Cambridge and York, Shamrokon in Dublin, and a Northern Ireland tour.  Plus, as much touristy stuff as I could in between.  It felt like I was gone a long time. But now, it all feels like it happened ages ago.  Here are some highlights, in bullet points.

  • After being out of touch for a time, I caught up with Shash, who was my best friend when I was at school in York. It was great.
  • Steampunk exhibit at the Greenwich Royal Observatory FTW.
  • Touristy things done in London: The Cabinet War Rooms (I kept thinking of Captain America) and Greenwich, which I probably could have spent more than a day at. So much to see, including at the Maritime Museum, the uniform coat Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was killed, with the bullet hole visible.  Yikes.
  • I was on the train, listening to Fairport Convention, when I got the sudden urge to compare and contrast the lyrics of “Hexamshire Lass” and “Kalamazoo.” How universal are upbeat songs about that small-town girl back home?
  • Barley Hall in York — a recreation of a 15th century merchant’s house — is marvelous. I finally got to see it and was much inspired.  Go see it if you can.  Everyone should go see York, it’s a great town.
  • Shamrokon: was fun because it was in a hotel and felt like every small regional convention I’ve ever been to. With about a dozen accents in hearing at any given moment.
  • Dublin: I’d been to Dublin 20 years ago when I was in college but everything’s changed. So I went back and did some things I’d done before: the Book of Kells, and the National Museum, which were both great. I have a new appreciation for them after 15 years in the SCA.
  • The Faddan More Psalter.  Every now and then I’ll walk into a museum exhibit and have a religious experience, because I’m just so moved and awestruck.  This is an 8th century manuscript that was dug up from a bog a few years ago. I saw the picture of what it looked like when it was found and wept. I can’t stop thinking about who made it, how it ended up buried — was it dropped? Abandoned? Stashed? What happened?!
  • Newgrange also blew me away. I didn’t expect it to.  On this trip I became rather obsessed with stone and bronze age Ireland. Everybody focuses on the Celts, but there were 3000 years of developed civilization on the island before the Celts came along.  These are the guys who built Newgrange and thousands of other tombs and forts and standing stones and so on, and we know almost nothing about them. I’m fascinated.
  • I didn’t go to Northern Ireland 20 years ago because of the Troubles.  Then, I spent one night in Belfast, and the armored cars and soldiers scared me back to the youth hostel.  This trip, I went north, and got confirmation from guides and others that staying out was probably a good call back then. But things are much better now, they really are.  The flags and slogans and walls are still up. But the soldiers are gone. I had a really nice time.
  • This last phase of the trip I was by myself, but part of an organized tour.  I travel solo quite often, especially when my choices are travel solo, or not at all.  Other folks on the tour kept telling me how brave I was, to travel alone.  Which seems strange to me, because I’m not doing it to be brave. I’ve found the world to be a generally welcoming place. I pay attention, I stay as safe as I can.  I see so much more than I ever would if I didn’t travel.

And that was most of my August.


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