Or "How one fan from Wales and one from Israel descended on the Netherlands to see Dwight Shultz and Dirk Benedict"
It's dark and it's pouring down. A glance at the met office site during my last minute sweep for email and messages gives the wind at Cardiff at gusting 28 knots 40 degrees off the runway. Bigger aeroplane and ATPLs aside I can't quite switch off the student pilot side of my brain, which is jabbering that this is not weather to be flying.
The things we do for fandom!
I pack the few remaining bits and pieces and steel myself to venture out into the downpour. I have a nice half price ticket for the train because the station for the airport is brand new and still busy marketing itself.
I've allowed way more time than I needed to check-in and am now sitting in the terminal café with an odd sense of dislocation at being on the 'wrong' side of the runway. The flying club aeroplanes across the other side are still mostly tucked up in their covers against the rain. One particularly bold Cessna taxys out, then thinks better of it as a squally shower sweeps through.
To my relief the weather's improved by the time it comes to boarding and we climb into a calm, though overcast, sky before coming out on top of the clouds. They peeter out as we reach the north sea coast and I nibble at a reasonably good ham sandwich while watching the boats.
Back on the ground but seems as if we've been taxying almost as long as we were flying. This is a far, far bigger airport than I realised and I wonder how I'm ever going to find Franne and what on earth I'm going to do if I don't!
Fortunately however, the number of purple-clad wheelchair drivers is extremely low and we run into each other not long after I get through customs and start wandering in the general direction of the landside shops.
Much excitement and chatter and an immediate decision to tackle coffee first and foremost!
Dutch trains have stairs! We therefore book the services of a very happy chappy in order to get the wheely on and off without the need for undue acrobatics.
Into Utrecht! After some dicing with death across the station traffic lanes we collar a taxi. He gives us an odd look at the name of our hotel, and we discover later we could have walked there in about 5 minutes if we'd exited at the other end of the platform and used the pedestrian underpass.
Nevertheless the end result is the same and we roll into the hotel feeling quite impressed with having got this far!
We find a pleasant pub just across the road from our hotel for a mix-and-match dinner and make it an earlyish night.
'Buffet' style breakfast at the hotel. Lots of interesting looking things, but I'm not adventurous with food first thing in the morning so settle for boiled eggs, bread and butter and some sausages.
Queuing to get in. The venue proved to be about fifteen minutes walk from our hotel (less later in the weekend when we sussed out that the cycle path route suited the wheely far better!)
This e-ticket notion seemed to have backfired a little, the paper queue is far shorter as they just wave their tickets rather than having to seek out their number on a paper list and show ID.
We get in eventually. I think the number of tables and traders stall is rather less than at the last similar event (Memorabilia in Birmingham) that I attended. Autographs are running at around 15 and 20 euros, but you have to buy tokens at a central cash desk and then exchange then at the tables. This does not prove particularly popular as people are misjudging how many tokens they need and having to run back and forth ended up in queues twice as often.
Due to a ruckus I'll mention again later, the tokens were also not being accepted for autographs on the second day so those who'd bought in advance with the intention of coming back, were left out of pocket.
The queues are short, and the spaces between the tables wide enough to easily accommodate the wheely and allow us space to engage in an impromptu race with a Star Wars astrodroid!
We queue (of course!) for Dwight and Dirk, who are both wonderfully friendly. I'm not a big collector of autographs so hadn't be-tokened myself. I do briefly consider Dirk's second book as I have the first, but at 50 euros it was a little rich for my blood!
It didn't take much time to see everything we wanted to see, so we decide in favour of heading off early. We've got full tickets for the weekend and wristbands to get back into the VIP party in the evening and the rest of show tomorrow.
On the way out we spot a fannish-project A-Team van in the carpark and have a peer and a few photographs.
Franne decides to have a catch up on some much needed sleep, and I decide to venture off for some sightseeing as I'm all the way out here. So back to the hotel to lighten my bag as I'd be carrying it myself instead of slung over the wheely handle bars!
I'm back in the pub from yesterday drinking a series of coffees and resting after my afternoon's exploring. Utrecht really is a quite lovely city. I wandered through a market, ambled up and down the old city cobbled streets and along the canal wharves with their barrel-vaulted cellars, now mostly converted into shops and cafes, and went for a boat ride.
I did a bit of shopping for gifts, and ate loempia (sort of a spring roll type affair) from a market stall for lunch.
I also managed a bit of recon, locating the KFC and the proper way to the railway station.
The weather stayed balmy calm and calm, which considering I arrived with my coat still dripping Cardiff rain onto Schipol's asphalt, I was quite delighted with!
We arrive back at the venue for the evening 'VIP Party'. We're about a half hour early and then end up in the wrong lift, wandering the bowels of the convention centre, anyway!
I've forgotten my wrist band which I took off in case it got torn in my explorings, so dash back to the hotel to retrieve it.
A rumour is circulating that the evening bash has been cancelled. No one seems to know for certain what is going on and a sizeable proportion of the fans with tickets are milling about in the hallway. The news comes second hand from a security guard who advises people to "go home and check the website". Not exactly a stirling piece of PR given we're mostly a long way from 'home' and don't tend to pack computers in our suitcases.
Half hour after it should have started, it seems clear that the event will not be happening, and in fact there even seems to be some doubt about the daytime opening tomorrow.
The stories about 'why' become more varied and wilder as the evening wears on. Theories range from cash flow, to security, to the actors buggering off.
Still no member of the convention staff has shown up with any official statement or explanation and there are still about a hundred fans standing in the corridors.
About a dozen of us fall into conversation together and discuss it. The anger is to so much at the cancellation, if cancellation there actually is, but the utter lack of communication from the staff.
Screw-ups happen. But the least you can do is inform people when you screw up and give them an alternative. By this time we'd have happily had at the buffet, actor guests or no actor guests! Fans are more than capable of making their own amusement and as a rule enjoy each other's company.
consensus "Balls to this!" is declared.
A lot of the waiting fans are staying in the same hotel and a large group
of us retire there, to have our own party.
Rolling noisily through the streets of Utrecht, we undertake a bit of formation wheeling with another wheelchair user, and end up causing a traffic jam in he kitchen when a hotel staffer takes us in the service elevator!
The bar in question proves to be on the 21st floor and have a most fantastic view.
We rather take them by surprise and the barman is instantly overworked but we drown our sorrows and amuse ourselves loudly deriding the con organisers and setting the world to rights.
For me fandom is more about socialising with other fans in any case and the evening truly showed the best side of that aspect. We rolled back to our own hotel in the small hours for an Irish coffee then bed.
Sunday 25th September 2005
No queue this morning, but rather a lot of unhappy fans haranguing the convention organiser who has finally shown his face. One or two people were attempting to be more noble than I felt and offering their condolences and good luck for another attempt. Frankly though, I doubt there'll be one. They lost an awful lot of goodwill and trust with last night's performance.
My own opinion was they fell on their faces trying to be all things to all people. The tickets were overpriced for the casual fan, but there wasn't enough to do other than stand in lines for autographs, to hold the hard-core convention goer. The second camp felt ripped-off and the first camp didn't turn up at all--hence the cashflow fiasco of the previous night's cancellation.
We checked the time of the one event we wanted to see, the A-Team question and answer session then wandered off to find something else to do. The half-empty convention hall looked more like a warehouse than anything else by now.
"Something else to do" turned out to be explore Utrecht in search of an internet café (the cons one didn't work, having been set up in an area of the venue with no Internet access!), and nearly get run over by a bus due to me misinterpreting the unfamiliar road marking We also checked the railway station in order to book our wheely-help for the ride back to Schipol.
Once we find the right hall for the Q&A it proves to be one of the highlights of the trip. Dirk and Dwight are truly funny together and it really shows that they are good friends and have known each other a long time.
I wished I'd had a Dictaphone or similar, but the bits that stuck in my memory in no especial order...
The room was packed!
By the time we left the con it was teatime and I headed out for a second attempt on an Internet café (found but closed) and to bring back KFC for tea.
I then went back to the hotel bar for coffee, to add to my untidy collection of notes for this diary, and curl up with my flying magazine, while Franne grabbed back some more lost sleep!
Final drink in that nice high scenic bar at the next hotel over and set the alarms for the train tomorrow.
Monday 26th September 2005
I'm not a very relaxed traveller on the ground. Things always seem to take longer when you're on a deadline. True to form, overnight the ramps seemed to have steepened, the weight of the luggage hanging on the wheely doubled and the size of Utrecht Central Station more than quadrupled!
I all but flew up the stairs to the information point to meet our assistance, then got lost getting back to the platforms, by which time our helper had found Franne and relocated to the correct platform while I tore about looking for them!
How the hell can you lose a pal in a wheelchair I ask you? I was puffing like a train myself by the time I found them and got on board!
Franne all checked in and ready to go, quite an eyeopener the contrast in security flying El Al to outside the UK. They took some convinced that I wasn't about to try and sneak my own luggage on board as well as hers!
With that out of the way we headed for a café, to wait the hour before her departure lounge and my check-in desk opened. Quite good timing actually!
I like airports, I like the way everyone is so lost and confused they're far more friendly than they would normally be. You can chat with people in a café when normally you wouldn't strike up a conversation without someone you didn't know. We talked to a lady who got the time of her flight wrong and turned up 6 hours too early!
I've bid byebye to Franne at the gate and checked myself in (cunning self-service kiosks where you type in your ticket number and scan your passport barcode).
I spent half an hour or so wandering the shops, bought myself two little model aeroplanes from the gift shop. Two inches long in 1:500 scale and so perfectly detailed you need a magnifying glass to read the registration marks on the tail.
I thought the "Panorama Terrace" with a little stick-man waving to aeroplanes on the sign, looked promising, so followed an Escher-ish collection of staircases to find it. It turned out to be worth the walk, an open area up on the roofs of the terminal buildings, looking out over the manoeuvring area and one of the runways. Wonderful view, sunshine, and the smell of avtur and warm oil. I ambled about there for some time quite happily gazing at aeroplanes and watching takeoffs, and ended up in the Dakota Bar to drink a very nice hot chocolate in the very nice ambience (that's Dakota as in DC-3 aircraft, not the place incidentally!)
Very nice end to the trip indeed.
It sounds on rereading like I've done an awful lot of whinging about this con, but I really did enjoy myself in spite of the fluff ups! Does however reconfirm my theory that the best bit of these events is the company of other fans!
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