Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Five Of Nine

Five things I learned at Nine Worlds.
  1. I'm still not a huge fan of conventions - too many people - but Nine Worlds does have the major advantage of being packed to bursting with panels offering insights and information absolutely critical for any cis-het white man to absorb if they want any chance of being a genuine ally. It's an open question how much I actually enjoyed the weekend, but I certainly feel pleasingly stuffed with knowledge. Indeed the process reminded me of nothing so much as the mathematics conferences I used to attend before I gave up research: learn cool stuff whilst getting drunk.
  2. Laurie Penny is tiny in person.  Plus, obviously, she's awesome. She didn't say a huge amount during the panel on Gender Fluid Time Lords, but her comment on how Missy dress sense is a reference to the suffragette movement was my second favourite observation of the weekend.
  3. My actual favourite observation came during the Is Horror Evil? panel (spoiler: probably a bit), though, where someone in the audience dressed as Squirrel Girl pointed out Nightmare on Elm Street is clearly referencing the US anti-war movement during Vietnam.  I got the chance to talk to Squirrel Girl (AKA Grace) later to get further details, and the theory is rather tasty. The key phrase here is "Wake up!" the central process by which the film's characters can survive, but also an anti-Vietnam slogan. Krueger is an indestructible enemy hiding from plain sight, unstoppable even when you burn him away (think napalm). The fear of the adults here is that they will lose a generation of children, just like the last generation of children. At first this idea confused me a little, since it implies that the original hunt for Freddy and his resurrection are both representing Vietnam, but after some thought of course that's obviously sensible. Vietnam was a long war. It may not have quite swallowed up multiple generations, perhaps, but if you think of the conflict in terms of the number of tours it involved, the idea of innocents becoming veterans and then watching new innocents go through the same wringer entirely makes sense.

    And of course, the parents want to tell their children how it really is, what they're really facing, but they don't dare, because society at large is putting tremendous pressure on them to say silent. Yes, the motivations and mechanics around not admitting to brutally murdering a paedophile are very different to not having a microphone to talk about horrific pointlessness of the war, but in each case there's a clear sense that these children are being denied the information they need to make sensible choices.

    Indeed, even the obviously fucking awful studio-mandated ending to the film makes some sense in this reading, because even when the anti-war movement wins, it only wins for about seven minutes. There's always a new group of subhuman brown-skinned enemy barbarians in foreign lands that needs to be bombed to keep us safe.  What links the parents and the children here is that both groups were/are absolutely convinced that proper procedure can't help them: that they have to take matters into their own hands.  And when Americans decide that, people die, and the whole damn cycle starts all over again. Freddy Kreuger isn't just the unkillable spectre of America's foreign boogeyman, he's the undying spirit of neoliberal interventionism.

    Joe Lieberman, yesterday
  4. The Radisson hotels (the Radisson itself and Park Inn by Radisson) at Heathrow have some real problems in terms of hiring enough staff and training them sufficiently well. I don't want to slag off the staff themselves too much - though some were rude and at least one was fairly sexist, which isn't cool no matter how much I want to punch upwards - but clearly something needs to be done. The Radisson seemed to have put no effort into putting on extra serving staff for a tremendously busy weekend, with the result that it could take ten minutes to get served at the bar even if no-one else was there. Jamie had to wait forty minutes to get a bowl of chips. There were also major supply issues: this is not the first time the hotel has hosted Nine Worlds, so I'm utterly bewildered as to how their restaurant/bar managed to run out of cider by Saturday afternoon. I saw one guy wait at the bar at the head of the queue [1] wait five minutes before he even got eye-contact, and was then brusquely told he couldn't have anything but lager. I confess to knowing almost nothing about business, but I still feel compelled to ask: what kind of business model involves not giving geeks sufficient access to alcohol? Not one, surely, that actually gives a damn about making money.

    Having said all that, the Park Inn by Radisson (where Jamie and I stayed) was much, much worse. Not at the time; the staff were nice and the room was fine. But the horrific snarl they've made of my bank account has utterly soured the whole experience. Upon arriving I was told that I not only had to pay £172 for the room, but a £50 deposit. Both these amounts would be payable on Sunday when I left, with the £50 swiftly returned to me once they'd checked I hadn't incurred any fees through the use of hotel facilities.

    On the morning of my departure I checked my bank balance and found things didn't add up. Without having told me, the hotel had blocked money in my account so I couldn't use it until I had paid them. Worse, they hadn't blocked out the £222 they'd mentioned, they'd blocked out £272, because the deposit is £50 per person, not per room, which no-one had bothered to mention. This caused slight consternation, but ultimately it didn't matter; I'd known I was coughing up £172 anyway, so I wasn't going to touch that money, and I trusted the £100 would be back soon enough.

    This is where things get utterly ridiculous. Upon leaving the hotel I paid the £172 for the room, which Park Inn then took from my account without releasing the hold on the £272 they'd blocked out. At this point then the money I could access in my account was £444 less than it was two days ago, for the sake of a £172 hotel room.

    Upon discovering this I phoned the hotel (it took two attempts to get someone on the front desk) and asked for the hold to be released. After initially telling me that was something I'd have to talk to my bank about (untrue; my bank had already firmly told me the hotel had to release the hold themselves), and being informed holds can take three to five days to clear (something that was not mentioned at all whilst I was at the hotel), I persuaded the woman I was talking to to contact my bank directly and have the hold removed. She said once this was done she would send me an email confirming this had happened.

    24 hours later, no email has arrived. I have had a tweet from the central Park Inn people asking if my money has been returned. I replied at 9:30am today and told them it has not, and I am awaiting a reply. The bank tells me I will have the money back by Friday if Park Inn doesn't claim it, which is of limited use since I have a major outgoing tomorrow that I need that money for.
  5. Not wanting to end this on a sour note, let's talk about my weekend highlight: the Star Trek track. I can't decide what I enjoyed more, Trek Pictionary or the panel on the future of the franchise. The former gave me the chance to flex my artistic muscles. Below is a photo of one of the clues I drew, taken at the exact point someone from the audience worked it out. Any guesses?

    I actually got to draw two clues, but the second one was I presume vastly too NSFW to be put up on the Twitter feed I got the above photo from. Fear not, though, my friends; I have broken out the virtual paintbox and replicated my triumph below.  Once again, feel free to guess away.

    The "Future of the Franchise" panel, meanwhile, was regularly interrupted (sometimes by me) by flights of absolutely wonderful fancy, starting with one panellist's strong desire to see a Trek show detailing the actuarial complications the Enterprise's voyages must surely bring. By the end of the panel we had concluded i) that the Federation stopped using money between Star Treks 3 and 4 purely because capitalism could not withstand the economic damage wrought by Kirk's insurance premiums for the Enterprise A, ii) that any new show should make it the highest priority to feature an alien race that looks utterly different to humans in every way except for their foreheads, and iii) Enterprise's last episode actually works if you assume Riker had written the holodeck program purely to kill Trip so he could get off with a mourning T'Pol, only to hastily and awfully rewrite it when his wife came in.

    So there you go. Nine Worlds. Overwhelming in the extreme, but rather useful with it, and by no means bereft of fun.

    I might even go again.
[1] It's not often we queue at bars, of course, this being apparently the only situation the British are willing to treat as a rugby scrum where pints are tossed out rather than balls,. Unless you stood at a very specific point at the bar here, though, there was literally no chance of you being served.

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