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BLOG Assembling The Geek Nation

Alasdair Stuart likens The Weekender to the Traken Union, where it all works out best if everybody is terribly nice to each other

I’m writing this on Sunday morning, one week after Weekender 3. One week ago I hugged my Superman travel mug like my life depended on it, inhaled a bacon sandwich and listened to the soundtrack to Matilda as we drove out of what seemed to be the only (relatively) warm part of the country and deep into the snowpocalypse and the at times equally ferocious feedback on the event.

It’s been fascinating to see how that feedback has mirrored the Weekender itself. After all, both the conversations people are having about it, and the event itself, coalesce out of nothing, flare brilliantly for a few weeks in everyone’s minds and then die back. It’s sort of the social equivalent of a Nexus 6 replicant, just without the murdering of renowned businessmen and the moral ambiguity. There were a lot of people in trench coats though, so that’s something.

There were problems, as there are with every convention I’ve ever been to and they’ve been discussed in detail elsewhere. So instead of the problems, I’m going to talk about three experiences I had there and what they’ve taught me, in particular, about solutions.

The first was on Friday, in Bartertown. If the Weekender is an associative nation then Bartertown is its Mos Eisley, a constantly busy hub of signings and stalls and throngs of people. I got talking to steampunk artist and genius, Doctor Geof and had originally planned to kill time for a bit before going to see the Sylvester McCoy talk. Geof’s assistant, Mavis, notable for having much more of a beard than anyone else I've known with that name, mentioned he’d like to see Mcoy and I offered to sub him. Mave, bless him, asked if I was sure and I assured him I was and off he went. I was behind a counter again, for the first time since I ran a comic shop seven years ago. Much to my surprise, it felt great, and the hour I covered for Mave ended up combining a wide variety of sales with Geof using me as a barker to attract customers. Like Mave, I’m a good talker and I ended up doing what amounted to an hour of stand-up comedy with pauses for occasional steampunk. Mave came back, thanked me vociferously and Geof asked me to pick something from the stall as payment. The ENLIST NOW! 1st Tea Regiment mug I chose is now my default work mug and I love it, because I earned it.

I did get a signed picture of Sylvester McCoy too, but that’s somewhere in Geof's stuff and that, like the Giant Rat of Sumatra, is a story the world isn’t quite ready for.

The second event happened on Saturday, again in Bartertown. Danie Ware is a fantastic author, one of the girls from The Girls’ Guide To Surviving The Apocalypse and senior events coordinator for Forbidden Planet. I’ve had the honour of publishing Danie a couple of times and, as I’d stopped by the Forbidden Planet stall anyway, I had a quick chat with her. She told me about what may be the most horrific journey anyone endured down to Prestatyn (eight trains, eight hours) and I asked whether she or any of the guys on the stall wanted a coffee. Ten minutes later, I was trying to work out how to carry three hot drinks, in hilariously rickety polystyrene cups, back to Bartertown. I managed it too, no burns or anything, and was greeted with vociferous thanks and good natured mocking about how their card machine hated my debit card. Not quite enough to stop me buying anything though, which was a relief.

Later that night, having spent the day existing on coffee and some actually rather good Shepherd’s Pie which, hilariously, I was given chips with (what’s more English than potato? More potato!). I was tired and hungry, and decided to turn in. The – oh let’s call it what it is – Kwik-E Mart at Pontins was surprisingly great and I stopped off there for some chocolate custard, toast and milk. The three food groups in hand, I was standing in line when a voice behind me said, “’Ere, tell ’er I should pay for ’em! It’s my turn!”

I turned around to see two manga cat girls, one pink-eared, one blue, in heated debate over whether or not it was fair that one of them had paid for the petrol, the booze and now wanted to pay for the food. She maintained it was; her friend wanted to pay her way and the whole thing dissolved into a remarkably good natured five minutes of banter where I made them laugh, they made me laugh and the first cat lady paid for everything. Their names were Michaela and Lucy if I remember correctly and they were drunk, happy and incredibly pleased that I recognised their costumes. They gave me a big hug, I made them laugh and they, the shop assistant and I were all smiling when we went our separate ways.

Three experiences, three groups of people and the same lesson underneath all of them; reach out, think beyond yourself and talk to the people around you. Chat to the other guy looking through the books, say thanks to a staff member when they’ve served you and the 90 people in front of you; compliment an author on their work if you see them; offer to buy someone a coffee; anything. Reach out, help even if all you’re doing is making someone smile. Be kind, be engaged, be polite and if something goes wrong and you’re in a position to help, even if it’s passing the information down the queue, simply and accurately, then do it. The Weekender is an associative nation we live in once a year, so set a good example, be a good citizen and reach out. You’ll be amazed at how many people reach back.