As I sit here at a table, in what passes for Kerry Airport's departure lounge, typing the story of my convention into my laptop, I realise with horror that I've fallen into the first-person present-tense style that I so hate in my writing class.
And so I stop typing, and think.
Okay, bollocks over. I am typing this in a restaurant cum bar thing at Kerry Airport (actually *the* restaurant cum bar thing - it's pretty much a two room airport, the room I'm in, and the other one with the check-in desks). But I'm not going to attempt to structure this entire post around a terribly clever structure involving a present-tense diary with past-tense flashbacks, because a) it might be okay in a novel, but in an LJ it would just be wank; and b) something interesting might happen on the flight home and it would be a right bugger trying to work out how to fit that in.
So I'm just going to write it...
...and here it is:
K2 - for those of you who haven't been concentrating, or who have just started reading this blog, and are thus reading it in reverse order - is a convention in County Kerry, in the Republic of Ireland.
Hmm... After a weekend of good natured discussions about the Ireland / Northern Ireland / United Kingdom political situation I'm now scratching my head wondering whether I should say "Republic of Ireland" or merely say "Ireland", and what the political connotations of either choice might be.
But on reflection, I think I will state that it's in the Republic, for the very good reason that if it was in the North, I probably wouldn't have gone. I remember a conversation at a previous convention where people were suggesting various Irish conventions we could go to. We got the usual suspects, and then someone suggested QCon, which is in Belfast. We, being English, came up with the typical response that you would expect Englishmen to come out with when someone suggests a visit to Belfast, this being of course an immediate shout of, "Belfast? Fuck off!!!!"
I suppose it is an ironic commentary on the status of Northern Ireland that we - citizens of the United Kingdom - are perfectly happy to travel to the 26 counties of Ireland that aren't part of the United Kingdom, but are decidedly iffy about travelling to the bits of Ireland that supposedly are.
(Before anyone from Belfast jumps down my throat, I'm aware that it is a lovely place, full of friendly people, and that the coming of the peace process means that if I were to take a bus from the airport to the city centre, there would be an excellent chance of my bus making it there without being set on fire en route).
But to fully cover every special interest group that might see significance in the geographical description that I might attach to the convention, I will give the following information:
K2 is a convention held at the Killarney Country Club, near (ish) Killarney, which is in County Kerry, which is part of one of the four Irish provinces (I think Connaught1, and if I had an Internet connection I'd check it, but I haven't - what with me being sitting in an airport bar, and I know I wasn't going to mention that because it's wank, but I want to cover my bases in case I've fucked up, okay?), with is part of the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the island of Ireland, which is part of a group of two islands (often referred to by inhabitants of the larger island as the British Isles, but I'm not going to hold fast on that point, because then I'm back in dodgy political territory) off the coast of Europe which, for any Americans reading this, is the large triangular shaped continent somewhere to the east of you. (No really, it's not just something the TV people made up).
I can't believe I've already typed more than 600 words, and my convention diary still hasn't reached the point where I've left my house. I really shouldn't type this stuff when I'm waiting at an airport with nothing to do and even less to say. But on the off-chance that any of you guys are still reading this crap (and I'll offer my thanks and congratulations if you still are) I'll get on with the story.
When I'd tried to book flights to Kerry, it turned out that London Stansted was the only place you could fly from, which was a bit of a pity given that I live right next to Heathrow. Still it did mean that I could say that'd I'd flown from all four of London's airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted).
At least it did until some smart-arse (I think it was MyNameIsFiki but I was on my third alcopop2 of the day so my memory is slightly clouded) pointed out that London does in fact have five airports, the fifth being London City (which is built on a slab of land between two former docks).
G. had phoned me earlier in the week to tell me that he couldn't make it on account of having some kind of sinus problem, so I ended up making the pretty boring journey on my own: tube to Liverpool Street, changing at Holborn, followed by the Stansted Express to - not surprisingly - Stansted (it's one of those "does exactly what it says on the tin" jobs).
I have to say though that the journey had that typical fragmented pattern that makes flying such a hassle. I left the house at 11 am and got to the convention at around 6pm, but in all that time, the longest I spent sitting in one place was the 80 minute flight. It's always the same: sit in this seat for twenty minutes; walk here; stand in this queue for half an hour; walk here. And so on. I had my laptop with me, but the only time that I ended up typing anything (an attempt at a second draft of chapter one of my novel) was on the Stansted Express.
The airport itself was okay. It's certainly more compact than Heathrow, and has quite a different feel. For the benefit of those who don't know how London's airports carve up the market, Heathrow tends to handle the more expensive scheduled flights, Gatwick typically does holiday charters, while Luton and Stansted handle cheap - i.e. budget - scheduled flights. The practical upshot of this is that while the departure lounges at Heathrow are full of businessmen and American tourists, Stansted's full of students heading to Europe and stag and hen parties3 heading for either Dublin or Amsterdam.
(When I was at the bureaux de change getting some Euros on my Visa card, a young lad marched up to the adjacent desk, shoved a single twenty pound note through the slot in the glass, and asked them to change it into Euros. I felt like taking him aside and saying: "For God's sake man, have some self respect! At least give them *two* notes!")
There was a hell of a lot of queueing though. The check-in for my flight wasn't supposed to open until 2pm, so I found somewhere to sit and read, then wondered back at around 1:55, finding it not only open, but with a damn great queue that took me near a half hour to get through.
And speaking of the hassles of not being able to just sit down whilst travelling by air, after typing that last paragraph I was forced to leave my perfectly good chair and table combo in the restaurant, pack up my laptop, and move through to the nasty table-less departure lounge (turns out that I was wrong - Kerry airport has *three* rooms!) that I'm currently sitting in, even though the plane I was due to fly out in hadn't even landed. (I've just watched it land and taxi in, now, as I type this paragraph). It sometimes feels like air travel companies are engaged in some kind of giant conspiracy to ensure that the endless hours you spend travelling are sliced up into a myriad of small segments, each too short to do anything useful in.
After checking in, I headed for the security check to get flight-side, figuring that I might as well get to my gate now, rather than risk leaving it late and having a long, frantic walk. This was probably a good move, because it took me another half hour to get through the security check. They were doing the full range of checks: walk-through detectors, wands, the works. I even saw them checking some woman's shoes.
I did get very excited, in a rather pathetic, geeky way, when I saw that there was a train to take you to some of the gates, but typically, it turned out that my gate wasn't one of those gates. (I was quite disappointed actually). But no, my gate was reached the old fashioned way, by walking.
And walking. And walking. And walking.
Turned out that it was at the every end of a long arm of departure gates that stretched out from the terminal.
So after all that, I had about half an hour to wait before boarding - not long enough to feel like you could usefully do anything, but long enough to get pretty damn bored. But from that point on, the journey was painless. I managed to get a window seat (Ryan Air don't assign you a specific seat - you just find an empty seat when you board), there were no delays in the flight (which isn't usually the case when flying out of Heathrow) and we landed at Kerry on schedule.
Kerry Airport was, well, small. The baggage hall (okay, that's *four* rooms) had only one conveyor, and was barely twice the size of my living room. I guess they don't ever plan on having two planes land at once. (Although they have somewhat optimistically provided *two* departure gates in the departure lounge, although since the "gate" is simply a door you walk through onto the tarmac, I'm not sure why you'd ever need two of them).
By this time I was quite desperate for a dump, so I was pretty worried about whether there would be any taxis outside. (I was figuring that it's not like a big airport which has flights constantly arriving, thus ensuring a ready supply of taxis). But I managed to find a cab - at least, it was a bloke in a parked car who said, "taxi?" when I wandered up with my case, and given the state of my bowels at that moment I wasn't going to quibble about issues of licenses, law and insurance.
The journey was uneventful, scenic (through a network of quiet country lanes), but more importantly given my condition, quick, only taking about twenty minutes. The "Country Club" proved - when the taxi crunched up the gravel driveway - to be an estate of terraced cottages (actually an illusion, because inside are hotel-like corridors), set in very attractive countryside with a range of mountains providing a wonderful backdrop.
I paid the cabby and wheeled my luggage into the reception area, finding an empty reception desk.
Now the stereotypical reaction of a British/American/urban tourist when faced with an apparently sleepy country hotel desk is supposed to be a repeated pressing of the service bell push until someone appears. I though, didn't do this, for the very good reason that I couldn't find a bell.
There was a notice taped to the desk listing the people attending K2, saying what room they were in, and asking them to sign in, but what I really needed at that moment was a key. (Actually, what I really needed at that moment was a bog, but I'm experienced in the ways of travel, and thus know that your hotel room toilet is generally located behind a locked hotel room door).
At other times I might have been prepared to wait, but as I've already said, I was on a timetable, and the clock was ticking down. So I phoned up my friend Natural20 who was the organiser of the conference. We then had the following mobile-to-mobile conversation:
Me: Okay, I'm here, but there's no-one at the desk.
(Unfortunately, Natural20 was in the bar at the time (something which to anyone who knows him will be of little surprise) and didn't catch what I was saying, thinking instead that I was asking how to get there. (I might also have been slightly "desperate" when I said it, thus reducing the clarity of my diction).
Natural20: It's the Killarney *Country* *Club*
(It sounded to me like he was laying extra stress on the phrase ?country club?.
Me: [Confused, wondering what that has to do with the reception desk being unmanned] It's a Country Club?
Natural20: Yes. It's the Killarney *Country* *Club*
Me: [Thinking that maybe there's a difference between a "country club" and a hotel, and that I'm being appalling stupid in an "English" kind of way by expecting a "country club" to employ someone to sit behind the reception desk] Sorry, I think maybe I'm missing some kind of cultural context about what a country club is...
Natural20: It's a country club, and it's in Killarney.
Natural20: [Sounding equally confused] ...in County Kerry?
Me: I know where it is! I'm here! At the reception desk!
Natural20: Well why are you calling me then?
Me: There's no-one here! I need the key!
Natural20: Oh right! Stay there, I'll be right over.
As it turns out, when he turned up, so did the reception desk girl, and I was able to get my key and head eagerly for my suite, and more importantly, its bog. That done, I took a look around, and found that I had an absolutely huge suite to myself, consisting of a bedroom containing a single bed and what looked like a double-bed on steroids, a large bathroom, and a main room with two single beds, two sofas, a nice-sized coffee table and a TV.
Anyhow, I got myself settled in, had a pot-snack type thing, and then headed off for the bar, asking directions from a random person who'd said "hi" to me when we arrived in the lobby at the same time, and who turned out to be BeckyL, who in an earlier discussion of getting to K2 had very kindly offered to give me a lift to K2 from the UK. (Her and her boyfriend Daryl were getting to K2 the relaxed way, by car and ferry, with guest-house stops as they drove across Ireland. I must admit, if there's two of you - and you don't have problems eating in guest-houses - it sounds like you could make a really nice holiday out of it).
In the bar were a few people I'd met before, such as Ashley and Hillary, Wookie, Stephen (of the classic "there's nothing to see, you bastards burnt it all down" statement4) and later on MyNameIsFiki.
I played a couple of games that evening. The first was Stonewall, which is the game I'd bought with me (there are no organised games at K2, so each person attending is encouraged to bring a game with them). Stonewall's a really fun game where the four players have to race through a maze which they are themselves building up. It has really nice wooden pieces, and the whole thing fits into a small cloth bag which makes it ideal for times like this when you need something you can fit into a suitcase. I'm quite chuffed to say that everyone seemed to really enjoy it. (I even heard the words "game of the weekend" being muttered). I played three games myself, but I also put it into the general "pool" of games, so there were quite a few other games of it played, and I had several people tell me how much they'd enjoyed it.
One quite interesting point did come up, relating to the fact that I'd guess that during the weekend no-one actually read the rules, because I verbally explained the rules to a couple of groups of people, and then they explained the rules to others. When I was talking about the game to one bloke on Sunday morning it turned out that in the game he played in (which had apparently been very enjoyable, with lots of cut and thrust and changes of fortune) they'd used slightly different rules from the ones I explained (which I got from reading the actual printed rules). Which made me think that you could actually do a really interesting experiment into how people communicate. What you would do is this:
1) Get a game like Stonewall.
2) Explain the rules to one group of people, and play a game.
3) Then allow them to initiate other games, explaining the rules to those players, who would go on to play other games, explain the rules, and so on.
4) Whilst the games were actually going on, you would record only when each game was played, and who played in it.
5) At the end of the weekend, you would interview each person who'd played the game at least once, and ask them to explain their understanding of the rules to you. Inevitably there would be different versions, with slightly different "house rules". You would then collate these into various distinct versions of rules.
6) Finally, you could take the various rules sets and the record of who played when with whom to track how the rules evolved and mutated, from one single "species" of rules to multiple "sub-species".
I'm not sure what it would prove, but I think it would be a fun experiment.
I also played two other games over the course of the weekend, both of which I enjoyed a lot.
The first was TransAmerica, which is a really fun railway game. I liked it because it had simple rules and was quick - you can play a game in about 30 minutes, which is important to me because I never seem to have time to spend three or four hours playing a board game.
The second game was a racing game, whose name I can't remember, where you flick wooden counters (representing cars) around a racing track. It's pretty simple, but surprisingly good fun.
The other big event of the weekend was of course the England-Ireland rugby match, which took place on the Saturday afternoon. For those of you who don't know, we (England) lost, which was probably a good thing given that I was the only Englishman in a room full of Irish people. I have to say though, that it was a very good atmosphere and made the match far more memorable than if I'd just been sitting in my living room, watching it on my own.
Saturday evening I spent playing games (TransAmerica and the racing game) and then ended up in the lounge with Stephen, Ocultado, and an American friend of Ocultado's (whose name I'm afraid escapes me) chatting about life, history and politics, and happily listening to them singing Irish folk songs whilst refusing to sing myself, killjoy that I am.
I spent Sunday morning chatting with various people, then headed out for the airport around half-three, and for a second time on the trip suffered the "Ryan-Air check-in queue trick". When I walked into the airport's main room at around 3:45, it was totally deserted, echoing even, except for one woman sitting at the information desk. The check-in desks beside her were unoccupied and powered down. I pointed at them and said something really stupid like, "Are they shut then?" to which she replied that they would open around four.
So I went into the adjoining restaurant and ordered a coffee (I wanted to order some ready-salted crisps too, but they didn't have any, so I was a bit naughty and ate a snack-bar from my backpack, ready to play the "discrimination against vegans" card if they complained - which they didn't).
Anyhow, when I finished my coffee, about ten minutes later at around 3:55, I wandered up to buy another drink, looked sideways and saw that the check-in desk was not only open and processing people, but had a huge queue of people leading up to it.
I have to say I was completely dumbfounded, just a tad paranoid, and wondering what the hell was going on? Ten minutes previously my footsteps had been echoing around a deserted airport, and now it was packed! Do the Ryan Air people hide behind the desk until I give up and wander away, and then immediately tell the fifty other passengers who are hiding around the corner to come up and queue?
Next time, I'm not going to go away. I'm just going to stand there, and force them to come out from their hiding places under the desks!
And that was pretty much that. I got another window seat, the flight actually landed twenty minutes early, and then via various train journeys I made it home. I think my main problem with the travel to Stansted is a psychological one: I live only a few stops down the tube line from Heathrow, so when I leave the baggage hall at Heathrow and head for the tube station I feel like I'm almost home. Whereas with Stansted I feel like my journey is only half-done. (But obviously, that's a problem related only to me and my geography, and has no overall relevance to the utility of either Stansted or K2).
I liked K2. Attendance was apparently down quite a bit on previous years, and I think this did harm the atmosphere somewhat. You didn't have that gamers everywhere feel. But the venue, the Country Club, with the pub next door, is great.
The rooms are nice, and there are various other facilities, such as a swimming pool, sauna, tennis courts and clay pigeon shooting. As far as gaming is concerned, you can play in the pub, in the lounge at the Country Club, or even in any of the suites that have a lounge area with a table. Also, provided you live near an airport with flights to Kerry airport (such as Dublin or Stansted) it's actually pretty easy to get to, and while I may have poked fun at Kerry airport, it does involve a hell of a lot less walking than a bigger airport.
I also liked the general theme of the convention. Although people can, and do, play roleplaying games, the focus is mainly on socialising and playing board games. As someone who enjoys both of these, something like K2 is definitely my cup of tea. So to any of you guys reading this, I'd say it's definitely worth checking out.
1Those of you who know anything about Irish geography will know that Kerry's actually part of Munster. Oops. I did say that I didn't have an Internet connection. To avoid further confusion, here is a map showing the Irish counties and the four provinces.
2I recently found out that Bacardi Breezers are suitable for vegans, so the orange version is my current drink of the moment. It's a nice change for me, although it does have the disadvantage of ensuring a constant stream of comments such as, "I didn't know you were a woman?"
3For any Americans (or confused foreigners of any persuasion), "stag night" or "stag party" and "hen night" or "hen party" basically translate to "bachelor party" and "bachelorette party".
4We first met Stephen during our first visit to Warpcon. The convention didn't start until Friday evening, but we'd arrived on the Thursday to give us a bit more time. That Thursday evening, we met up with a bunch of the Irish guys (including Stephen) in a bar. Stephen - who I should stress is a really, nice guy, and only meant the following in a jokey, friendly way - asked Mark what we were thinking of doing the next day. Mark replied that we were thinking of looking around the sights, and received an immediate reply from Stephen of, "there aren't any, you bastards burnt them all down." The next day we wondered around Cork town centre, didn't find anything of great interest, and then met up with all the guys at the convention bar in the evening, at which point Stephen asked Mark what we'd done. "Well we had a look around, but we couldn't really find any interesting places," said Mark. "Well I said you wouldn't, didn't I?" Stephen replied, "You bastards burnt them all down!"
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