I haven't done the Writing Workshop for ages, but one of this week's prompts was 'Tell us about something a little out of the ordinary that you did over the summer', and it seemed an excellent opportunity to get a post up about the Discworld Convention, which I'd wanted to post about but seemed to be fading away into the long list of Things I Meant To Blog About But Never Got Around To. So, that's the out-of-the-ordinary thing we did over the summer – went to stay in a hotel with several hundred Pratchett fans dressing up in strange costumes and doing funny things to celebrate their passion for their favourite author.
The convention got off to an inauspicious start when I booked in at the hotel reception to find the receptionist looking blank at my mention of accommodations for the children. No, she told me, we were only booked for a room for two adults, and no, they had no record of me asking for a family room that could accommodate two children as well, and no, there wouldn't be any spare cots in the hotel at the moment. I had visions of having to dash out and buy campbeds, but fortunately my husband realised the original booking e-mail would have been downloaded onto the laptop that I never travel without. He booted it up, found the search facility on my e-mail that I hadn't known I possessed, and, in less time than it took me to stammer "But I'm sure I asked for a room for the four of us but, um, I suppose I might have hit the wrong button somehow…" had found the original e-mail from the hotel assuring me I had successfully booked a room for two adults and two children. That settled that – a room with a sofabed for two was promptly found for us. We dragged the first lot of luggage up there, rang our friend Emms to arrange to meet her, and got on with enjoying the convention.
Which we did. This was my fifth convention, and the second since having two children; the last one I remember as a blur of running after Jamie as he headed up and down in the lifts, carting Katie around in the sling. I comforted myself at the time with the thought that at least next time would be better, but, as we got closer, I found myself doubting that – neither of the children is anywhere near the age of being able to be trusted to go off and play alone, and I found myself facing the prospect of trying to run after two of them instead of just one. But, when it came to the point, we managed. We traded off children in a kind of frenetic blur of working round the activities we most wanted to get to. Emms pitched in and helped out to an extent that probably qualifies her for sainthood. And we all managed to have a great time. The children tried out the swimming pool, and played in the hotel corridors, and joined the games session that had been arranged on the Saturday, and, somehow, we managed to keep them both supervised and still have fun ourselves. It was exhausting, made more so by sharing a room with the children – I don't think I got a full night's sleep while I was there for jerking awake at the slightest sound they made in case it was the start of a disturbance that would lead to one of them waking the other if not dealt with promptly – but it was still wonderful.
One problem we faced was how to deal with bedtime when both children were in the same room. Experience has taught us that, no matter how much we might want to put them both to bed in the same room, it just doesn't work. Put them to bed in separate rooms, and Jamie will fall asleep quickly while Katie will stay up and burble to herself for a while before eventually falling asleep – together, they spur each other on to new levels of excitement and keep each other up for hours. I remember once going to investigate shouts from Jamie to find the light on, the floor coverered with toys, and Jamie telling me indignantly "Mummy, I'm trying to have eleven hours of sleep but Katie keeps making me have zero!" My sympathy with this predicament was just a teeny bit hampered by the fact that Katie cannot in fact reach the light switch and, while I'm quite prepared to believe Jamie's story that he only turned the light on at her request, I do feel Jamie can't entirely be excused of culpability here. However, the moral subtleties as to who was to blame for the whole staying-awake situation were somewhat lost on Jamie, and the reality of the situation was that expecting them to go to sleep at the same time in the same room was not an option.
(I'm getting further off topic here, but, since I'm on the whole subject of 'Anecdotes Involving Offspring Keeping Each Other Awake', I can't resist mentioning the time I sang Jamie the first line of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' in response to his fascination with the game show of that name, and went back into their room later on to investigate the noise when they were meant to be sleeping to find that the two of them were lying side by side on the top bunk bawling out the lyrics of that one line with an enthusiasm that would have warmed Cole Porter's heart:
Sinatra Jamie: "Who wants to be a millionaire?"
Holm Katie: "I don't!"
and, having thus opened the category of 'Anecdotes Involving Jamie's Interest In "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire"', will digress completely and totally from the original topic to mention this exchange which took place on a slightly later occasion:
Jamie: "Who wants to be a millionaire?"
Katie: "I don't!"
Jamie: "So how much air do you want, then?
We now return you to our irregularly scheduled report on the Convention.)
Anyway, our current way of dealing with this problem – after much trial and error – is to put Katie to sleep in the cot in our room (where she still takes her daytime nap) and then move her once Jamie's sound asleep. This works fine at home but, of course, wasn't an option when the two of them were sharing not only the same room but the same bed, so the only option was to divide forces and children. On the first night I put Jamie to bed while Barry took Katie to the Bedtime Stories and the late-night rendition of 'Once More, With Feeling', which, after years of being unofficially sung by Convention members, has now moved to an official programme item (Katie apparently felt they should be singing 'Peppa Pig' instead); on the second night we switched over and Barry put Jamie to bed while I took Katie downstairs to check out the evening's events; and on the third night we gave Jamie a turn being the one to go downstairs with me while Barry put Katie to bed.
Jamie wasn't too keen on the musical event we visited during these after-bedtime shenanigans on the Sunday evening – I think it was a bit loud for his taste, and he was happy to come upstairs when Barry texted me to say Katie was asleep – but Katie had a grand time on the Saturday evening. We checked out the rooms where the musical members of the Convention were jamming together, and Katie was allowed a drum to bang on and a shaker to shake (though she really wanted to play the guitar as well, especially when she saw a ukelele that she was convinced was a Katie-size guitar), and we explored the hotel corridors, and then I took her to the Hedgehog Party that's always held late on Saturday night (which has nothing to do with hedgehogs, in case you were wondering – the title is a Pratchett reference the precise reasons of which are probably lost in the mists of time) and she played with all the balloons that were being blown up there while I caught up with a couple of people I hadn't seen for a while, sitting there chatting and relaxing and looking over at my beautiful little daughter playing a little way away from me. It was one of those perfect moments, a moment of feeling utterly suffused with happiness and contentment at how well life is going.
And then it was time to go home. All over for another two years. I'm so looking forward to seeing what it'll be like with a seven-year-old and a four-year-old, how the children will enjoy the convention then, what they'll make of it when they're two years older. What sort of people they'll be then, for that matter. But at the same time there was real sadness in the end of this convention, in knowing that I'll never again be there with them at these ages, never again get to experience the Convention through the eyes of such young children. It was hectic and it was exhausting, but, God, it was good.