A few weeks ago, Jon had an invite from the organiser of ‘CONVENTION! Event Horizon’ at the Royal Academy to go along and give a talk on mystery animals. The whole event was billed as: “A collaborative evening of performances, films, lectures and music ........ bringing together special invited guests the event is an unravelling of several conventions into one including animal liberation, cryptozoology and furry fandom”.
“OK”, I thought when I heard. “This sounds like it could be odd to say the least”. So, last Friday, off we went. We got to London at around 5.30 on Friday night, after an uneventful journey from Tiverton, and then tackled the London Underground to get to Great Portland Street, which was the nearest station to the hotel where we had been booked. Well, that is what we thought at any rate. Upon arriving at the reception desk, we were met with the kind of glance given when your bankcard is refused at the local supermarket’s check out. You know you have plenty of money in your account and that it must be some kind of bank problem, but no matter how many times you explain this to the checkout lass/lad, they look at you in a knowing way as if thinking to themselves “Oh yes, of course – I believe you”.
However, on this occasion Jon could produce emailed proof that the hotel, in whose foyer we were standing, was the one given us in said communication. A couple of calls to the event organiser and Royal Academy revealed that there had been an administrative cock-up and we had, in fact, been booked into a different hotel in the chain. Unfortunately for us, though, our ‘real’ hotel was now around half an hour away and, not being able to face another trip on the tube with suitcase etc, a taxi ride was utilised which would be billed to the event organisers as punishment for their crass mistake. Yeah, yeah I know we all make mistakes, to err is human and all that, but it is SO nice when someone else does it.
Once it was plain that it was not our fault, by the way, we were - in the end - looked after quite well by the ‘wrong’ hotel, being offered a cup of tea (and biscuits) while we waited for things to be sorted out. Having to pay for the tea and biscuits, I guess, was to be expected, but we made sure to take the uneaten biscuits with us!
Actually, luckily for us, it turned out OK in the end, because our hotel was just down the road from the Natural History Museum where we had planned to spend Saturday anyway, before heading to the Royal Academy for 4 pm in preparation for the event that night.
The Natural History Museum is a great place to spend a few hours and seems to have had a few additions since I was there last a couple of years ago. It has become more educational which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that some of the cases of preserved creatures seem to have been removed from the public domain. There were no cases of insects for example, not that we could see at any rate. These appear to have been replaced with educational pieces for children (and adults) to learn more about creepy crawlies rather than just look at long demised specimens.
Jon, by now, was having trouble getting around and his feet and legs were hurting to such an extent that we were wondering how he was going to manage the lecture that evening, and also how he was going to manage the journey home on Sunday. I think it was a combination of ill-fitting shoes and walking around more than he is used to more than anything else, but Jon being Jon was convinced that his feet were going gangrenous and that he would have to have them amputated. What is he like?
The event. Hmmm how does one describe it? I am not entirely sure. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. As an example, here is how one of the acts was introduced in the programme: “Two ways to reskin a cat – Reimarus-trumpeting bits o’lecture on animal aesthetics undermined by non-Cartesian wax-crayon gestural expressionism a la Congo the Chimp, occasional childcare, hotel shampoo-bottle on pie-tin percussion, amidst various polemical outblastings.”
Are you with me still? No? Fair enough. Yes? Really – can you explain it then please?
There were quite a few in the audience, made up mostly of young people with a smattering of older bohemiam types. But what got me, apart from those of my daughters’ ages who seemed to think that dressing up in furry animal garb (tails, bunny ears and weird cartoony head-dresses) was a really, really good idea, was that everyone’s facial expressions throughout were the same – stony-faced. I kept wondering whether they were really enjoying what was being presented before them or were they themselves thinking ‘what on earth is going on?’ Or is it the done thing to sit there in such silence – a kind of masochistic exercise they make themselves go through to prove something?
Perhaps it is just me. Perhaps I just cannot accept all this arty-farty stuff and nonsense. I do not get the point of it at all. I guess I should just accept that everyone has the right to express themselves in whatever way they choose and should just avoid such things in future – for my own sanity’s sake.
Jon was the sixth guest on, and I spent the hour and a bit before that telling him not to laugh (well not so loudly at any rate) and to stop issuing such raucous exclamations of the cursing variety (eg the occasional for f**** sake) as I did not think it would go down too well (as he was also a guest speaker) to be seen to be making fun of his co-performers. We were both wondering how he would go down amidst such ‘company’ and were, at one point, thinking of making a dash for the front door. However, surprisingly enough, the stony-faces cracked at his jokes, bodies seemed to become relaxed and there was almost a united sigh of relief heard that someone at the event was actually understandable. Even the bunny ears were waggling excitedly. All in all his talk went down very well and we had several people showing an interest in the CFZ and taking away leaflets.
Chris Clark arrived an act or two before Jon’s and when Jon had done his bit, we made our excuses and the three of us left to get something to eat. Before we left, though, we had an amble around the small art exhibition next to the event. I think the highlight of this was the piece that involved two skeletons – one chasing the other on a long platform. On closer inspection, you could tell that it was in fact Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner – brilliant.
We spent a pleasant evening at a Thai restaurant near Piccadilly Circus and left Chris to make his way home, while we went to hail a taxi back to our hotel. Just as we left the restaurant, the heavens opened and within minutes Jon and I were drenched to the skin and catching a taxi was impossible – there were none to be had as all were full of similarly drenched people such as ourselves. We eventually decided to catch the tube from Piccadilly to South Kensington, in the - as it happens - correct belief that we would be able to easily catch a taxi from there.
Don’t get me wrong, I like catching the tube. Many evenings in my youth were spent catching the Piccadilly line to Rayners Lane then changing to the Metropolitan to Uxbridge. Or switching trains to various places around the capital going to see bands. I love the whoosh of air and the smell as the train emerges from the dark tunnel, and the sounds of trains in adjacent tunnels as they trundle down the tracks. Not so much fun though, the crowded carriages standing nose to shoulder with someone who has just eaten garlic, but that is another matter.
We came back on Sunday - again an uneventful journey from Paddington to Tiverton - and were back at home by around 5 pm. Unfortunately, later on that evening Jon discovered that the stills camera card had malfunctioned and that all the photographs from the weekend had been lost. We did still have the video footage though which is at least something.
I couldn’t help thinking, “well what was all that about”, but at least the CFZ has spread its wings a bit further and can now count an attendance at the Royal Academy on its CV.