QEDCon Weekend

Friday was difficult. The train journey and subsequent flight were an exercise in controlling my breathing so I didn’t lose my shit in public. But it was successful, and I arrived in Manchester without puffy eyes or a snotty nose, so that’s a bonus. I went straight to the hostel to drop my bag off and when I entered the dorm a drinking game was already well under way amongst the Belgian teenagers who were there. Apparently three other people had laid claim to my bed, but as it was the one I had been assigned I decided to be obstinate.

I headed out to the hotel where the conference was being held; luckily the train station, hostel and conference were all within a couple of minutes’ walk of each other. Upon entering the bar it was apparent that the party was in full swing; I spied a few familiar faces and mooched over for a chat. The atmosphere was excellent, everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and I was even recognised by a few folk I hadn’t seen in at least two years. I stayed for a couple of hours, but really wasn’t feeling in the most celebratory of moods so decided to retire at about 10.30.

I got to the empty hostel room and went to bed, only to be woken up an hour later by the drunk Belgians who opened the door, turned the light on and exclaimed loudly “she’s asleep! Be quiet” before bashing around for 10 minutes looking for their booze stash. I went back to sleep eventually, but was awoken again at about 2am to find one of the aforementioned Belgians crouched next to my bed, watching me. Unsettling to say the least. I told him to fuck off as pleasantly as I could, and to his credit he did.

The next morning I got up earlyish and went over for the start of the conference. It was great seeing so many people I recognised, and even more that I didn’t. The first speaker, after the welcome speech, was Deborah Hyde, who gave a fantastic talk about cryptozoology at Portsmouth SITP last month, but this time she was talking specifically about werewolves. It was, quite frankly, excellent. She has such an engaging manner, and the same enthusiasm for her subject whether she’s addressing a conference hall of 400 people, or a pub side room with just 15.

Picking the talks to attend was quite tough, I didn’t really fancy the “god” talks generally; it’s a bit over done in my opinion, and I never feel like I’ve actually learned anything, other than how high my blood pressure is capable of reaching. So instead I picked topics that I felt would actually be educational as well as entertaining. The Pod Delusion Live was excellent, and made (retrospectively) more excellent by the fact that they won an award later on in the evening!

The evening’s entertainment was just great. There was a gala dinner in the main hall, but I couldn’t afford it, so a bunch of us went to an Italian restaurant instead. This pretty much summed up the entire event for me; sure I wasn’t rubbing shoulders with the celebrity elite, but that wasn’t why I was there. I wanted to meet the people I follow on Twitter, and the people who I should be following, famous or not. And I did, to an extent. I’m very aware that I really wasn’t myself and I apologise if anyone felt I was being “weird” but my head was not in the right place this weekend; hopefully my friends can vouch for that. But anyway, we had dinner, and then went back to the conference for the evening, where we were treated with comedy and music, and it was excellent. Paul Zenon had me in agony from laughing, I will definitely be watching out for his next gig.

And then we danced the night away. After chilling in the bar for a bit, I wandered over to the main hall to discover Clio and Malcom leaving, because there had been no nerd dancing! So we fixed that, fairly successfully, even though the music was dire. At one point I figured that a tribute to Bob Holness would be appropriate, so the dance moves were studied (thanks Tom), and I even provided the sound desk with the Blockbusters theme tune, but alas, they couldn’t get it to play. Sorry Bob. We do love you really.

I got back to the hostel room at about 2am to discover everyone asleep, so I decided to be petty and get my revenge. Doors were slammed, lights turned on, and heavy things dropped. Yes I am 12.

Sunday morning I was utterly thrilled to meet Edzard Ernst after his talk about his exploits in CAM. He signed my copy of Trick or Treatment and turned me into a grinning buffoon. His talk was easily the highlight of the whole event for me, he has done so much research into CAM, and suffered for it too. When the Queen’s son is out to get you, and you still continue to fight, I will worship you as a hero.

Another session I really enjoyed was the SITP forum; it was basically a how-to session for SITP organisers, we shared tips, asked questions, and generally got some really good ideas about how to make our groups thrive. Even though Cork’s answer to everything seemed to be “find a castle”. Good for them though, I’m not jealous. Grrrr.

I’ve not gone into great detail on the individual talks, purely because someone with better literary and memory skills will, and also the talks were actually not the main reason for going. It was a wonderful social event, and a fantastic opportunity to spend the weekend with a bunch of awesome folk.

The closing night was great, if a bit odd. A few of us remained, chatting in the bar, and I got talking to a couple who had only been at QEDCon that day. We were having a nice conversation, when it suddenly became hijacked by someone else (I’m not going to say who, as I don’t actually know who they were) and the topic went onto something that I found completely abhorrent, so I decided to make a break for it, leaving the couple stranded with the hijacker. Sorry. Pirate rules. Anyway, we went out for Skeptics in the Curry House afterwards, which was great, and then back to the bar for yet more chatting and socialising. I should probably mention at this point that I had started to lose my voice (due to crying / toothache / etc) on Thursday night, so by this time I was positively baritone, and getting hoarser by the hour. To anyone I met for the first time: I’m normally a few octaves higher. Honestly.

And eventually I had to call it a night. From what I hear the party continued for a long while after I left, and well done to those who survived. I was elated to return to the hostel to discover an empty room- I actually got a decent amount of uninterrupted, unwatched sleep! The journey home was interesting though, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

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