Well, we set off an hour and a half later than planned after a packing marathon (you know that scene in Carpe Jugulum where Magrat’s packing stuff for her baby and brings along everything but the ceiling? Uh-huh. And we were both hopeless at travelling light even before we acquired an extra person to pack for, so just imagine what we’re like now.) Then we got caught in driving rain and hideous traffic and took an hour longer than we’d expected on the journey, arriving to find an endless queue at the hotel reception, where the computer system was running slow. We waited and waited and waited in the queue, while civilisations rose and fell around us, which could have been interesting to watch but unfortunately we were somewhat distracted by trying to entertain an energetic and increasingly fractious toddler who had spent far too long cooped up in his car seat and was now due for a nap.
Having finally checked in, we spent even longer tracking down the cot that I’d booked for our room, only to discover that it was broken at one corner and looked as though it would crumble as soon as Jamie started his gymnastics. An enterprising staff member mended it with Sellotape, which is just as well, since it meant that at least it held together nicely when Jamie discovered how to climb out of it within twenty seconds of being put into it. Oh, and the expensive long-distance baby monitor we’d bought with a view to leaving him alone at night while we wandered off to distant parts of the hotel to enjoy ourselves? Barely transmitted a signal to the end of the corridor.
And I had a blissfully fantastic time.
The best thing about Discworld Conventions isn’t the specific events, as enjoyable as they are. It’s the comfortable feeling of slotting back into your place in the world, surrounded by like-minded people – offbeat sense of humour and varyingly insane. Conventions mean wandering the halls surrounded by people with nametags bearing names like "Lonecat" and "Death’s Secretary" and "Undecided", some of them in amazingly elaborate costumes. They mean stepping sideways into we-do-things-differently-here land, into a universe where you can cast aside everyday roles and bring new parts of yourself to the fore. And I relaxed and settled into it and revelled in it, as I always do.
There were so many people there that I hadn’t seen since the last convention. Emms, purple as ever (her hair dye had worn off when she first arrived, but she rectified that most impressively by the second day). Peter Ellis and Julie with their baby, about a year younger than ours and gorgeously adorable (I think he’s another James, as well, if I’ve got that right – can’t seem to find anything to confirm or deny this). Drew, Barry R., Ladylark, Aquarion, Lonecat, Jenny, Gideon, Gid, Suzi – all the well-known familiar faces.
I didn’t do too much in the way of actual scheduled activities. I did go to the Kaffee Klatch with Diane Duane and her husband on Saturday (Kaffee Klatches are a chance for a small group to sit and chat to their favourite authors about, well, anything and everything that takes their fancy, over a cup of coffee) and put my name down for the one on Sunday as well but didn’t get into that, and went to the party on Saturday night after Jamie finally fell asleep. I managed fleeting attendance at a couple of Alchemists’ Guild meetings before leaving to chase after Jamie (Barry stayed at both meetings and got involved in all sorts of complicated stuff involving exploding anti-frog potions and a film about The Seamy Side Of Life, jointly produced with the Seamstresses’ Guild). Most of the rest of the time, I was taking care of Jamie – following him around the hotel as he explored, sharing cheese-and-pickle rolls with him in our bedroom for lunch, sitting in the room while he fell asleep for naps and night-time so that I’d be ready to put him back pronto if he climbed out. And it was the most relaxing Con I’ve yet been to.
I never would have expected it to be humanly possible for any activity to be more relaxing with a toddler present than without, but it turns out that this is yet another way in which the rules of normal life are suspended for the duration of the Discworld Convention. At both of the previous Cons I’ve been to, I ran myself ragged trying to get to every remotely interesting-looking activity on the list. Yes, it was great fun – when I wasn’t too exhausted to care. It’s surprising what a relief it can be to stop trying to have fun and just chill out instead.
Jamie, meanwhile, was having the time of his life. All that corridor space to run around in! A room with light switches, a television, and a phone all easily within his reach! (In the unlikely event that anyone who works on room service at the Hinckley Hotel happens to be reading this, I’d just like to say that if you received any mystifying requests for "Unh! Agliagliagli!" in the past few days, you have my apologies.) And the lights – ah, the bright lights! The hotel has undergone complete redecoration since I was last there. Personally, I rather missed the forty-foot stone statue of Poseidon that used to grace the entrance foyer, but Jamie thought the tasteful light sculpture that replaced it was the best thing ever. A ledge to climb on with blue lights in! And a pillar to play peek-a-boo around! And more lights to look at, up at the top! And then he discovered the brasserie – which was named "Biers" for the weekend, in accordance with the Convention custom of renaming parts of the hotel after parts of the Discworld, but which probably should have been named "Toddler Heaven". Coloured lights everywhere, large-screen TVs, chairs to climb on and beer mats to grab – was it humanly possible for life to get any better?
Oh, it was a disappointment to him that the rule about Not Pressing Random Switches still applied even here (and, yes, still applied when he tried again five seconds later, and then five seconds after that…). But I compromised by letting him play with the switches on any plug-free sockets, while stopping him from pressing any switches that looked as though they might potentially do something. And, with all that space to run around in and ornamental trees to play with and people in funny hats to stare at, it actually wasn’t that hard to distract him, most of the time. The ratio of things he could be allowed to do to things he couldn’t just seemed to be a lot higher than normal, and that was a huge stress-reliever for us both.
We bought him his first Pratchett book in honour of the occasion. He absolutely loves it. I have no idea how many times we’ve read it over the past few days, but, believe me, it’s a lot. A LOT. And Daddy’s dragon imitations make it even better. He also enjoyed the freebie balloons that came in our Convention packs (including the ones that a few random people gave him because they didn’t want them themselves). He was a bit mystified by his free bookmark, but decided, after careful examination of the fringe of thin strips at one end, that it must be a new sort of comb.
He was a bit young for the scheduled children’s activities, but I did take him to the Bedtime Story Reading on Saturday, having heard a rumour that it was going to be Terry Pratchett himself reading from "Where’s My Cow?" It was, in actual fact, Stephen Briggs reading a story the title of which now completely escapes me but which was, unseasonably, about Christmas. I can’t say Jamie seemed overwhelmed with interest, but I enjoyed it, anyway. On Sunday, we took him on the "Where’s My Cow?" hunt (a search to find little plastic cows secreted around the hotel and to record their nametags) in which, again, he showed fairly minimal interest – he thought playing with the plastic teaset up in the children’s room was much more fascinating.
Apart from this, he just ran round and explored the hotel, except when we went out to dinner in the evenings and he ran round and explored the restaurants. I had visions of childfree people muttering amongst themselves about Those Awful People Who Let Their Toddler Run Wild And Bother Us When We Were Just Trying To Enjoy An Uninterrupted Meal, but not only did he not seem to be bothering anyone, people seemed positively to delight in the sight of his little face peeping around the edges of their chairs and smiling. While I of course already know that my son is an exceptionally beautiful and adorable child, it’s good to have independent confirmation of this fact from people who are possibly a mite less biased on the subject.
And, talking of restaurants, he got to try jelly for the first time. That was definitely one of the high spots of the weekend.
The Cons I’ve been to have marked different stages of my life – newly engaged at the 2002 Con, married and pregnant in 2004, mother of a small child this time around. What stories will I have to tell in another two years, when he’s almost four and old enough to talk about it all, to dress up for the Maskerade, to join in with the activities? I remember last time, curled up in an armchair in the Hub late at night, relishing the feel of my heavy bulging belly, and wondering, with a quiver of anticipation, what the next Con would be like. What it would be like doing the Con with a toddler. What my life would be like then. I looked forward so much to finding out. And it was, and is, every bit as good as I hoped.