BARCON 2 - Leamington Spa


by Graham Charnock

Original published in Vibrator 10, edited by Graham Charnock

(What is Barcon? New readers start here. Inthebar is a Yahoo group founded by Harry Bell after the collapse of one of many of Greg Pickersgill's attempts to do the same. It is a very sociable site and occasionally its members feel the need to get together and socialize in a less virtual environment, so we go away for a long weekend to an event that is so far from being a Con it more resembles a Garage Sale. No, wife-swapping is not involved.Last year it was in Lincoln. This year it was in Royal Leamington Spa. That is all you need to know.)

Well, for a start I very nearly didn't go, especillay since there was no be no wife-swapping. When I woke up on Friday morning a bout of rheumatic arthritis, or arthritic rheumatism, had set in overnight, as it has recently been known to do, and I could hardly walk. Pat suggested we postpone our arrival and go on Saturday instead, but I swallowed a couple of Ibuprofen and bit the bullet. There was after all no certainty I would be any better the next day.

And so we hit the road to Leamington Spa. Why do trips of this kind always seems to take longer going than coming back? I don't know, but this trip was no exception. It seemed to take hours to get there, and in fact it did, two and a half hours to be exact. On arrival though we were heartened to find Ian Maule in the car park sucking on a fake cigarette, you know, one of those electronic things can glows and dispenses a comforting puff of vapour as a substitute for contracting cancer. The receptionist was also out there as well but smoking a real fag. I gather she had already questioned Ian on his manliness and his inability to smoke a real fag like her. 'Ah, but can you do this?' Ian asked her, stubbing out his fake cigarette on his forearm. Ian offered to help me with my bag but I wasn't trusting him with two bottles of vodka and cheerfully kicked him in the shin whilst declining his offer. There was a big yellow bus called Jones The Bus, parked in the car park, which I gathered had earlier disgorged a load of Welsh trippers, I mean mostly old-aged pensioners, not hippies, although these days, who knows? Fortunately by the time we arrived they had mostly dispersed. We did meet Keith Freeman in the lobby though who accused me of being responsible for the hotel allocating him and Wendy a room that was already occupied by another couple. We didn't see a lot of Wendy during the weekend. Maybe she was already having a good time with the other couple.

Most people turned up in the bar during the course of the afternoon, including briefly Mark Plummer and Claire Brialey although Claire was obviously very sniffly from the attack of Ebola which would unfortunately curtail her attendance much beyond that night. Things soon settled down to discussing where various parties would disperse to for that evening's meal. Communal meals are a big part of basic Barcon programming. I was keen, in my anal way, to pin down a party for the Thai Elephant restaurant. Mark and Claire launched a counter proposal for a Cuban Tapas, and Pat who had lined up for the Thai immediately said she fancied that as well. Well, I fancied it too, but I was trying not to commit to too many top-heavy parties, which might leave others dining on their own. None of us would have minded so much if it was Brian Parker, but we do tend to look out for our own. The Mowatt/Haddock axis has already expressed a preference for non-fussy pub grub In fact Jim had already staked out his preferences by earlier ordering sausage in batter and chips from a chippy a short way away) so we left them, and Keith Freeman, to it. Those that went, enjoyed the Thai Elephant, so much so we agreed to downplay it and not to confess as much to anybody else. The Cuban tapas crowd had much the same reaction to their chosen venue as well I gather. Eating out at Barcon can become somewhat competitive.

I think photos exist of the Haddock/Mowatt party enjoying their meal also, but I suspect they have been heavily photoshopped.

Saturday dawned. It was raining, not heavily but insidiously. After digesting a splendid breakfast and sitting around scratching ourselves for several hours we loaded ourselves into two cars and went to investigate downtown Leamington, hitting the Pump Room with its cafeteria, art gallery and museum, where several of us pretended to be children and tried on ancient Viking helmets and took photos of each other. Thence to the Jephson gardens over the road to marvel at the Palm house and take cute pictures of squirrels. People (ie Rob) then decided they wanted to find a pub for a snack and a few beers, despite it being nearly that witching hour when pubs stopped serving food. We walked into the main shopping centre where we were even less likely to find what we wanted and I started getting a sinking feeling about the futility of the exercise which eventually resulted in my legs stopping working. I became distinctly grumpy and snarly and kneed anyone who came within striking distance in the groin. Despite me, people persevered and found direction to a pub some way out from the centre which not only still served food but had room to eat it in. This was the Fat Pug, a renowned swinging student venue which fortunately seemed fairly free from swinging students on a Saturday afternoon. We ate big hearty sandwiches (with chips). Pat had fish and chips with mushy peas, and I had humous with tortilla shovels (don't ask) People also drank pints of Fat Pug Beer.

Back at the hotel we drew lots for that evening's meal. Everybody seemed interested in Italian, but all the restaurants people tried were booked up (well, it was Saturday evening). We eventually found one called Niccolini's on the main Parade which could take a table of six. Then Mike and Pat Meara's party managed to book the same restaurant, and even later the Mowatt/Haddock axis also managed to book the same place. We had a sinking feeling that it was slightly suspicious that a restaurant had that much availability on a Saturday evening, but as it happened the food and everything else was perfectly acceptable.

Back at the hotel we gathered in the function room the hotel had somewhat grudgingly set aside for us, and indulged in a whisky tasting. There were five whiskies on offer but don't expect me to remember which was which. That sort of discernment went out the window fairly early on. The nest morning I managed to get up for breakfast, but I felt like a whisky zombie and immediately afterwards went back to bed to sleep for several hours (I awoke fitfully occasionally to find the Japan Grand Prix was happening on my television and it was always lap 33). In the meantime most other folks went to Kenilworth Castle and existing photos prove they had a good time. I was sorry I missed it. I was not the only one though. Mike and Pat Meara went off to investigate a Record Fair/Fabric Event instead.

Several people were leaving that afternoon. Sandra Bond, although she had only just arrived. And Brian Parker and Roy were off too. The Haddock/Mowatt axis were also due to depart because I gather like most young folks they had jobs to go to on Monday morning. The quorum that was left decided to round the day off at the Kayal Kerulean restaurant, another choice I can recommend if you are ever in Leamington (but why would you be?).

The meal was excellent (the first time I had tried dosa) and the staff attentive, if a bit slow. The owner was so impressed with us she even photographed us and put it on Facebook. Afterward we convened back at the hotel and I managed to get people to play Cards Against Fandom, a specially doctored version of the game to include fannish slanted questions whilst maintaining the original's often racy and frankly often sexist answers. Somehow the mix worked. Next morning by the time I had got up, everybody had gone, and soon so had we.

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