graculus: (coffee)
You'd be forgiven for thinking I didn't go on holiday this year, since I may have mentioned it in the run-up to actually going but then haven't posted anything about it over here - folks who follow me on Twitter will have seen some flailing about the trip, for reasons I'll detail in due course, but that's it.

A couple of years ago, I went to WorldCon in London (that's the World Science Fiction Convention, in case anyone reading this was unaware) and at the time there was a bid in to host a future WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland. In its lengthy history, the majority of WorldCons have been in the US and I was keen to support the idea of it being this side of the Atlantic again, so bought a supporting membership. The bid was successful and 2017 was therefore when it was due to happen - in 2014, it seemed like a long way away! Anyway, I felt I should support this plan in person and, if I was going to go to Finland, it seemed like a good idea to have other things to do...

Which is how I ended up with this year's holiday - first off, a week's hiking in a National Park near the Finnish-Russian before heading back to the Baltic, a few days in Turku (medieval capital of the country) and then back to Helsinki for the con and whatever else I felt like doing. That was also how I ended up getting up at 4am to drive to the airport to get a flight to Amsterdam, then to Helsinki and then another flight north, to Kuusamo. Or at least that was the plan, until Finnair overbooked my third flight and I got stuck in Helsinki for 18 hours.

I've travelled quite a bit and this is the first time that I've ever been caught by overbooking. I think I've been lucky in that I once got stuck in Paris on the way back from a trip to Canada, but that was because the flight in was delayed and I missed the connection, not the airline selling something it didn't actually have. What other business is allowed to work that way? The only positive thing I can say about Finnair was that as well as organising a hotel & meals, they gave me compensation there and then, while other airlines have a bad reputation for expecting you to claim later and then, oddly enough, taking forever to pay you back for what you've spent.

My main concern was that I was due to join a group and knew that they'd already left the Kuusamo area and travelled into the middle of nowhere, as well as being due to go bear-watching that afternoon and that was one of the main reasons why I'd chosen that particular trip! In the end, I spent the majority of my compensation on a very long taxi ride from the airport (200km, to be precise!) and arrived just in time to bolt down a cup of coffee, run to the loo and then go bear-watching. The bears were awesome and I'll post some pics at the weekend.

The rest of the week was spent hiking 10-15km a day, with our luggage being taken to the next place we were staying, then sauna and a swim in the lake if you felt so inclined (which I did, in two different lakes, while others in the group younger than me chickened out). I also had a go at canoeing for the first time - I've kayaked before, but this whole thing with one paddle and switching hands is far too much work! The only downsides to the trip were the mosquitoes, which loved me greatly despite bug spray, and that it was too early in the season for cloudberries by about a week! They were everywhere in the bogs we were crossing and I only found one that was ripe the entire trip. :(

Then it was a flight back to Helsinki and a train to Turku for a couple of days. It's a nice, compact little city and I liked it very much, though one of the main attractions was being able to go kayaking in the Baltic for the day. The trains in Finland are significantly cheaper than in the UK (though this isn't difficult) and I definitely recommend them.

Once back in Helsinki, we had a complementary travel card for the bus and tram system as part of being a WorldCon member and this got used a lot - I was staying in the city centre, near the train station, and could either get a commuter train (10 mins) or a tram (25-30 mins), usually depending on whether I could be bothered to walk to and from the respective train stations, since the trams were also frequent. I only managed to get a bit lost once, waiting for a bus that never arrived and then deciding to walk (and walk and walk) before spotting my hotel from a distance and navigating towards it by guesswork. That was also partly caused by my not trusting my instincts, as partway through this journey I'd got on a tram that was actually going the right way then second-guessed myself and got off a couple of stops later.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how easy Finland was for me as a vegetarian, though I think being a vegan might be significantly more difficult. Helsinki in particular seems to have embraced soy as an alternative to meat - the local burger chain, Hesburger, was doing soy burgers and tortillas, for example - while I ate a lot of potatoes and vegetables, it wasn't anything like as one-dimensional as my trip to Newfoundland a few years back where I pretty much lived on grilled cheese sandwiches for most of my time there.

Anyway, back to WorldCon. I think my main criticism would be about the panels, but that's probably because I've been spoiled by other conventions, NineWorlds in particular. The panels were short, scheduled for an hour but really limited to 45 minutes to allow for people to get to the next panel, which then turns into 30 minutes plus time for questions. There was a problem on the first day about getting in to some of the panels as well, with the convention having to organise some additional panel rooms for subsequent days, which meant that even then people were leaving panels early - I don't really see the point of going in the first place if you're going to do that. As a result, most of the panels I went to felt a bit lightweight and at least one suffered from a lack of robust moderation, or a moderator who wouldn't shut up and let the panellists talk. It was ever thus, I guess!

I knew a few people at the con but felt the lack of people to chew stuff over with, which I've become used to. Anyway, the next European WorldCon is going to be Dublin in 2019, so I guess I'm going to Ireland again in 2 years time! Hopefully more folks I know will go and help keep me entertained.

In general though, I'm glad I went and Finland is a very beautiful but expensive country. I ate a lot of chocolate and licorice, although the salty licorice they love so much (salmiakki) is vile and I don't know how anyone can eat more than one piece. I wish I'd been there for cloudberry season and also that the mosquitoes didn't love me so much. And yes, I did sauna naked - it's traditional, you know! - but put on a swimming costume for the lake because we weren't the only people there. I highly recommend the sauna + lake combination if you ever visit...
graculus: (Default)
We're almost at the stage of finalising my classes for September - it always seems a little odd to be thinking that I'll know my routine through to well past this time next year that far in advance, but it's the only way to do it, so there we are. From preliminary discussions, it's looking very much like a re-run of this year, two weekday mornings, two weekday afternoons and a Saturday morning class but less of them so I can enter some fencing competitions and have room to manoeuvre dates as required.

I'm starting to get disorganised in my head, because we're really on the home stretch now and I can almost taste the end of term. One more week and then it's half term and, at the moment, I don't have as many commitments in terms of invigilation as usual - I'm not quite so stretched for money and am teaching more hour, so I didn't offer as much availability as usual. At the moment I only have 3 exams for the actual half term week where previously I've worked all day pretty much every day, but I also have a bunch of stuff I need to get finished for my college course so there's plenty of reasons why I'm not so worried about that.

I also just picked up another, short-term, class through to mid-July but that's relatively stress-free as I've been given the okay to do without exams and it's easy for me to just re-use material I already have for a new audience. It's also extra money on top of my existing hours, so that's nice and will go a good way to paying for my expensive Finland trip. Of course, I made that trip (hello, WorldCon!) more expensive than it needed to be by adding on a hiking expedition beforehand and some time in Turku too, but I figure I may well never visit again so why not?

The only problem is that I also made the mistake of watching a documentary series about the Hebrides so now I want to go back and am wondering if I can squeeze a week in Scotland in there too before I start work again in September, though I may have to skip a potential competition to do it. I need to have a look at the dates and figure it out.
graculus: (oh please)
Finally met with my boss so now I know what I'm going to be doing next year, when my new teaching contract kicks in. I've been asked to do evaluations for a particular course that's currently running for the first time (which gives students an IT, ESOL and numeracy qualification) and then take over teaching the ESOL part of it when the next cohort starts after February half-term, right through to late July by the time we've done exams. It's only a little more in terms of hours than I was teaching last year, but it is the next level up from what I was teaching last academic year so that's another new curriculum and new things to figure out how to teach!

Anyway, in terms of my interview apparently there were a bunch of folks who didn't score as highly as I did despite being more experienced/qualified. Likewise the teacher I'm taking over from had never actually had an interview before and since this is a course specifically for jobseekers, that was one of the reasons I've been asked to take it over - the other was that my manager wanted someone with 'a bit more spark' (which doesn't surprise me, since the teacher I'm taking over from always reminds me of Eeyore).

Anyway, the way it's going to work next year is that I should be able to do a week's invigilation for the university before I start with this job, so that'll help out in terms of money. I'm currently temping 5 mornings a week which is a bit tedious but helps immensely in terms of regular income as I continue to figure out how much the tax office are going to give me back in the new financial year. ;)

If I'm going to get to London, it's going to have to be the first week in January, which is always risky in terms of weather, as the Celts exhibition ends that month. I've discovered I will in fact only be teaching 3 days a week, not 5, so that's a little less traumatic in terms of organising my life although my only opportunities for a block of time off will now be the same as school terms, which is not so good for getting anywhere cheap. That's not so much of an issue this year, but in 2017 I really wanted to go to Finland for a couple of weeks before WorldCon, which is the first full weekend in August so that's going to take a little bit of organising once I know what next academic year's timetable brings.

I'm going to do a separate post for books, since I've read some absolute crackers since the last book-related post back in June and possibly a TV post too over the next few days - currently really enjoying Jessica Jones (though I'm only 2 episodes in so far) and hoping it continues to be this good all the way through!
graculus: (Default)
Yep, now the dust has settled and I'm almost on top of Washing Mountain (just the ironing to go!), I figured it's time to write about my experiences at WorldCon. In retrospect, I'm not really sure what I expected it to be like - I've been to a bunch of fannish cons, both actor-focussed and fan-run, and I've also been to DragonCon so I guess that I probably knew more about what it was going to be like than I thought I did.

Read more... )
graculus: (the cleaners are not happy)
So, because I am dumb and didn't realise that the con actually starts bright and early on Thursday (tomorrow! eep!), my train doesn't get into London till about 3pm. Which means, by the time I have schlepped across to my hotel (Travelodge London City Airport, in case anyone was wondering) and then back to ExCel to register, I'm aiming for 6pm as a reasonable time to actually make it to a panel.

It's far too boring to list all the panels I'm looking at, but if anyone fancies getting dinner one evening, this is where I'm likely to be of an evening-meal-eating time:

Thursday - Capital Suite 9 from 8pm (two panels in the same room from 6pm!)

Friday - Capital Suite 7 from 9pm (after the 'Beyond Bechdel' panel, which I am determined to attend...)

Saturday - Capital Suite 14 from 8pm

Sunday - looking tricky at the moment as I currently have panels from 12 noon right through to 8pm when the Hugo Awards start. Clearly something will have to give!

Monday - Second Stage at 1.30pm. Maybe Monday is a good day for fannish get-togethers, if we haven't managed it already?

And on Tuesday I'm planning to go to Greenwich, for both the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum, with a side-trip to the church I included in one of my stories to check out some details on it and a visit to Mamuska for some lovely Polish nosh. Anyone wanting to tag along to any of this, please let me know!
graculus: (oh please)
In work news, I am counting down to leaving my current employers, as it's looking more and more like they're about to go down with all hands. Got some of my pay the day I was supposed to, though it was looking touch and go at one point as to whether anyone would get anything, the rest arriving in my bank account 2 days later. And then the director is sending snippy emails telling people to 'stop the chit chat' about the fact they haven't been paid/have little confidence they will and get on with their work. Looks like only a matter of time before they go under, if that performance is anything to go by...

In ferret news, poor Monty (had I mentioned I had to name at least one of the Lads, as he was off to the vet a while back and I didn't want to try and explain they didn't have names?) has suspected adrenal disorder and will be back at the vets on Wednesday for blood to be taken and a skin sample too. He's got a little monk tonsure now, with the bit of his head between the ears all wrinkled and bald - I'd noticed his head was warm, but hadn't put it down to anything other than the weather and then suddenly, no hair!

After going through the surgical side of things with Lily a few years back, which only really gave her another 6 months, I'm much more inclined to go non-surgical this time around. Research has moved on since then, with a hormonal implant usually used for chemical neutering being used to treat the symptoms of adrenal as well. It's not a cure, but at 5+ and with an already enlarged spleen, he's not the best candidate for surgery anyway - not sure if my vet would even want to operate, given it's still not particularly common and last time round I had to scour the Midlands for anyone who'd done the operation previously.

All of this will have to wait till after WorldCon, as I'm off down to London next Thursday for that. I've picked out a few panels etc. that I really want to attend but am still trying to not over-commit (which would be incredibly easy to do).

In non-fannish TV, Great British Bake Off is back! Is it wrong of me to want something to go horribly wrong? I was delighted last season (or was it the one before?) when someone used salt instead of sugar in something and next week is free-standing biscuit tableaux. Something is bound to fall over/collapse, though the likelihood of tears has dramatically reduced after the first exit of the series. I'm making a long-range prediction that Nancy is going to win, so we'll see if I'm right...
graculus: (oh please)
WorldCon, you are already traumatising me...

The schedule is out and I'm trying to figure out how to organise myself, which is not proving an easy task. *sigh* So much to see and do and choose from!

I've made life a little easier for myself (though missed out on things as well) by not realising that when they said the con starts on Thursday, they meant that's a whole day's worth of stuff, when I'm not actually going to be in London till mid-afternoon. Realistically, by the time I've got from St Pancras across to my hotel, dropped off my stuff and made it back to the conference centre and registered, it's probably going to be after 5pm.

I've also found my inner introvert squirming at the thought of signings and kaffeeklatsches so that gets a whole load of things off the schedule for starters. In all honesty, I'm not really sure if I want to get anything signed, not to mention I'd have to actually buy copies of one author's works if I did, since I only currently have them as ebooks. And then there's the whole 'what do you say?' dilemma, where 'I really like your books' seems not quite enough but my brain is currently struggling for anything more profound.

I keep reminding myself that I need to be realistic about the number of panels I can attend each day, especially given the size of the venues concerned, as well as my capacity to get something out of them. I also just want time to mooch around as well as the chance to have dinner with folks, but currently have nothing scheduled past 8pm anyway so there's always that.

I can't make my mind up if I want to go to the Hugo ceremony (which is Sunday night) or not but then I've voted and feel like I probably should. In case anyone is wondering, my votes were as follows:

Best Novel - Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
Campbell Award - Max Gladstone
Best Novella - Catheryn Valente, Six Gun Snow White
Best Novelette - Aliette de Bodard, The Waiting Stars
Short form dramatic - Orphan Black: "Variations under Domestication"
Long form dramatic - Pacific Rim

So, fellow attendees, thoughts on manageability? How exactly are we ever going to coordinate catching up with one another, other than by sheer chance?
graculus: (Default)
In work-related stuff, I am giving in my notice tomorrow. Technically I only have to give a week, but because I am not that much of an arsehole, I am giving them notice that I will be leaving in mid-September when the course I am teaching on finishes. So that's about 8 weeks' notice so they can try and get their disorganised selves in order and hire a replacement if they want.

My current employers are shockingly disorganised, to say the least. I mean, what kind of training company runs out of paper for the photocopier, not once but twice in 2 months? We've already all been called in to be informed that the manager is leaving, with no job to go to, which we think is financially-driven. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the company goes belly-up in the near future, so I feel like it's a good thing I won't (hopefully, though there's still time, I guess!) be around to see it!

Yep, I got the job I was interviewing for, with the folks with whom I used to volunteer, so it's all good. They have already started emailing me with offers of training though I haven't even signed a contract yet.

In other news, I am also going to be starting a college course in September, which is specifically designed for folks teaching ESOL. It's 4 hours a week minimum, so some more flexibility about working hours is going to be a good thing all round.

And last, but by no means least, it's almost WorldCon! \o/ Got a little space round the con itself to try and get some touristy stuff done too - the new galleries are going to be open in the Imperial War Museum and I've never been to either Greenwich or the Museum of London, so I have a few ideas on how to fill my time, not to mention a couple of restaurants I want to check out. Any London peeps/fellow Worldcon visitors want to play tourist too sometime, or just meet for dinner?
graculus: (Default)
Since I'm off to WorldCon in August (can't wait!), I just downloaded a significant amount of profic from the various Hugo and Campbell award packets and am looking forward to getting into (most of) it immensely.

Orbit Books' decision to only offer lengthy snippets of their 3 nominations in the Novel category means I probably won't be voting in that category though I already have a copy of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie in paperback so may have to break that one out instead. Kudos to the folks who publish Wheel of Time for including it in its entirety but I'm afraid I prefer variety over quantity so I can make a more informed decision elsewhere...

So, my reading list for the next two months looks like this:

Campbell Award nominees:

  • Wesley Chu - The Lives of Tao
  • Max Gladstone - Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise
  • Ramez Naam - Nexus

  • Sofia Samatar - A Stranger in Olondria
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew - various short stories, of which I'd already read The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly, which is both creepy and awesome.

    Novella:

  • Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages - Wakulla Springs
  • Catheryn Valente - Six-Gun Snow White
  • Brad Torgersen - The Chaplain's Legacy

    Novelette:

  • Brad Torgersen - The Exchange Officers
  • Aliette de Bodard - The Waiting Stars
  • Ted Chiang - The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling
  • Mary Robinette Kowal - The Lady Astronaut of Mars

    That's it, just about (once I'd also removed stuff which was part of a series/universe I'd previously tried but not enjoyed) - anyone else on my flist reading (or have read any of) the Hugo nominations or is it just me? ;)
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