What a weekend.
Actually, let me step a little further back in time to really set the scene. Last week I sent an application in for a job. It was a programming job in The City and was highly speculative. Or to put it another way, I applied because they were taking applications, not with any real expectations. The day after I heard back that they wanted me in for an interview before the end of the week. This set everything in motion.
So, Thursday I am in the car and charge down to London with almost no notice. This is a two and a half hour drive. Then I have my first high profile job interview for a very long time. This interview includes a technical section which is surprisingly taxing. I’m glad of the experience but I was definitely out of practice and it showed. Let’s say I’m not holding onto much hope that I’ll hear back. At least, not with a positive outcome.
Interview outcome aside, I’m back in the car. I’m not down. Like I said, I applied largely because I saw an ad, not with any real expectation. I look at the experience as a practice interview. The technical questions that threw me are now in my head for next time. It’s been good. Sadly, a three hour drive home awaits. There was some traffic.
When I get home I’ve been on the go for about 7 hours, all told. I walk into the living room, I tell Zoe that I’m no good to man nor beast and I pass out in bed.
This is not, in itself, a problem.
The problem is that I’m passing out really, really early in the evening. Which means I’m going to wake up and be wide-awake in the middle of the night. But it’s fine, I set my own hours.
This is not, in itself, a problem.
Just one thing. I’m driving to Edinburgh in the morning. So, a seven hour journey is fast-approaching. I’m not packed, having spent the day before in a panicked rush to London and back. I haven’t slept. I don’t know the city I’m driving to and as you may or may not have heard there has been just a tiny bit of snow. I’ll admit the weather and the drive into the unknown had me a little trepedatious when I set out but that passed. I had my traditional bag of eclairs, my girlfriend in the passenger seat, a service station fried breakfast to look forward to (a guilty pleasure), a Wil Wheaton audio book on the stereo and I’m away. If the weather’s good, the traffic’s calm and there’s no car disasters I actually really enjoy long drives. It occurs to me this is my fourth or fifth round trip to Scotland in the last two years. London and back is nothing to me now. I think it’s an awareness of having been in the States. The big ones. Arizona. Nevada. Texas. These are the kinds of places that give you a sense of perspective when it comes to two or three hour drives.
The drive up goes well but I’ll admit, when I get to Edinburgh I’m flummoxed. I get lost because I frequently struggle in unfamiliar cities. Whilst I love long drives on main roads, I despise navigating unfamiliar cities. This agitates me, stresses me and all this on top of some pretty extreme tiredness by this point. I’m not best pleased that I have to carry a fair weight of over-packing (my own fault) from the car park to the hotel because the hotel doesn’t have parking of its’ own but I am very relieved to arrive and head upstairs for our bed. And what a journey upstairs it turns out to be!
It turns out our hotel is entirely non-euclidean in nature. The lift has buttons up to the fifth floor and whilst I have witnessed it waiting at the 4th or 5th floor, according to the LCD panel next to the call button, we’re assured we can only take it to the first floor. This checks out with what I see on the upper floors, there doesn’t seem to be a place for it to stop. Already, I am suspicious. When you arrive at the first floor and exit the lift 90 degrees from where you entered it, you head out of the hotel as far as I can tell. A corridor that takes you over the next door pub. This is not overly strange, the pub is attached with an interior door to the hotel reception. Clearly they own both buildings. But then you turn a corner. And walk. And turn a corner. And walk. And turn. And walk. At this point I’m fairly sure we’ve doubled back on ourselves and spiralled into the centre of the building but our room has an exterior window. I am very, very confused. Oh, and the extractor fan in the bathroom makes a sound reminiscent of an elder God waking from a long, dark slumber filled with dreams that have enraged it. For the rest of the weekend I think we turned the light on in the bathroom twice. The dark was preferable.
Still, as peculiar as the hotel was (and it was) there was nothing unpleasant about it. The staff were friendly, the room was clean and warm, the towels were clean. All of the things that have made a hotel ‘bad’ that I have stayed in weren’t problems here. Oh, except that the TV was next to useless. Five channels of snow (ironically, given the weather and our reason for being in Edinburgh) but we weren’t there to watch TV so who cares? We make ourselves tea with our complimentary tea bags and have a rest before the Edinburgh Snow Ball gets going.
The show itself is fantastic. Larger, I’m told, than the last year. I was a little nervous because in my past I’ve been socially awkward. Very socially awkward. Here, of course, that’s something I actually have in common with a lot of people. We all, however, have ‘this’ in common. We’re all here for the same thing and it’s an incredibly welcoming crowd. I’m initially perturbed by strange people running up and hugging Zoe, welcoming her as an old friend. Of course, each time this happens they quickly cease being strange people and an introduction later become someone I know. I chat video games, iPhone programming, comics, music and, of course, Harry Potter. Then the show starts.
My Wizard Rock education isn’t the broadest. I’m no stranger to genre-music, having been listening to Trek music, Firefly music and general Nerdcore for years. I’ve heard some, of course. I couldn’t be with Zoe and not have. I like what I’ve heard too. A lot of the people who end up with the confidence to put out CDs or perform live tend to be remarkably talented or at least barefacedly confident enough to get away with it. They perform with spirit and heart and a lot of their material is really moving. It’s not just about the fiction either. One of the most moving songs of the night was RiddleTM‘s ‘For Jo’, which is a tribute to Rowling herself. Hardly surprising. It’s because of her that every person in that room is gathered together and why the people on stage are singing their hearts out. I think that’s when it becomes clear to me exactly what’s going on here. Suddenly I’m at a sci-fi convention with a group of people who, exactly like me before anyone thinks I’m casting aspersions, have found in the genre something to embrace and find meaning in that helps them explain and work through so much of their own life’s confusion and troubles. These are people who have found ‘something’ in Harry Potter far beyond the surface work.
Confession time: Right then I feel sort of like a fraud. Don’t get me wrong, I like Harry Potter. I’ve read all the books. More than once. I’ve heard the audio books. More than once. I’ve seen every film‚Ä¶ ok, most of those weren’t worth a second look but I saw them. I like Harry Potter just fine. Of course, I’ve heard the words ‘I like Star Trek just fine’ and I know precisely what they mean. ‘Oh God’, I think, ‘I’m here with Zoe, I’m not here like the rest of them.’ But here’s the thing: it passed. As the night went on and I talked to people, started to form what I think might be some genuine and lasting friendships, started listening to the music with these new appreciative ears I stopped being an outsider and started to become a part of the whole thing. At least, in part, because they welcomed me in. So, if you’re reading, thank you.
As well as RiddleTM we get to enjoy Romilda Vane whose voice is incredible, Siriusly Hazza P whose energy and vaudevillian comedy have to be seen to be believed and joining us from the US, Swish And Flick who got such an incredible response from the crowd and had seemingly limitless stamina. There was also merchandise, raffles and a spirit that this was all being done for charity.
Confession time: Wizard Rock is a field with a broad genre-range. It’s music about or inspired by Harry Potter, which leaves a lot of room in which people interpret very differently. Knowing my personal tastes, Zoe played me Swish and Flick first (I think) to get me hooked into Wizard Rock back when we first met. Personal and obligatory bias aside, Swish and Flick are my favourite WRock band. Zoe’s my favourite WRocker and I do love her music, more now since my revelation at the Snow Ball, but Swish and Flick is definitely my style.
After that, it didn’t matter how hard that hotel mattress was. I was asleep.
In the morning it’s time for Zoe to introduce me to Edinburgh a little. Admittedly, she doesn’t know it much better than I do but she does know it a little better. We head for the Elephant House. It’s a large, warm-coloured cafe that does proper tea in a pot with a strainer and full Scottish breakfasts complete with Haggis. It’s also a place J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of Harry Potter, apparently. Hence the association with Wizard Rock. Everything you need to know about the place itself is on the website. All I’ll say is if you ever get a chance to visit, take it. We liked it enough we had breakfast there both days.
Wondering around and shopping we duck in and out of clothes, shoe and book shops. Not to shop (except in the clothes shops were Zoe was hunting gloves) so much as to escape the cold. Good God. Apparently the pay day protests were in town but not knowing where Top Shop (if we’d known Zoe would have looked for gloves in it, I’m sure) or Vodafone were we didn’t see anything of it. I was in Edinburgh, but learnt more about the Edinburgh protests from Twitter than from witnessing. There was also a market sprung up in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle full of incredible smells. Buffalo was on sale. Honest to God. And so much cheese. We also found a coffee van that proudly declared itself to be ‘Torchwood Industries: Alien Technology, Time Travel & Coffee’.
When the afternoon rolled around it was time to roll up to the central library. Wizard Rock in libraries is apparently a tradition. One that had been in danger, if one of my new friends is to be believed (she wore a ‘Wizards do it in Libraries’ t-shirt that she was thrilled to be wearing again after far too long). All of the good karma that had kept the Snow Ball running flawlessly hit today. By the time the show got started, not everyone had had a chance to sound check. Zoe included. So she was naturally nervous about her upcoming set. Hell, I couldn’t do it if I had had a full dry-run through, sound check and a team of support staff so I’m amazed that she’s brave enough to do it at all. But hey, shouldn’t we all get amazed by the people we’re with from time to time?
As well as the bands from the night before, you see, the free Library Show (at which merchandise and raffle tickets were available, still a chance to give) had an extended lineup. Pumpkin Pasties performed for the first time and under far-from-ideal circumstances. A four-piece, only one of whom had managed to make it through the weather to the event. Still, rather than admit defeat she got up and self-accompanied herself through (presumably) all four parts. Under the circumstances, she did amazingly well. I was impressed enough to hear it was her first time playing in public. She was in front of a not-inconsiderable crowd and streamed to the internet with a serious-business speaker and monitor setup going on. When I heard she was 1/4 of the band and plugging away regardless, that impressed feeling only grew. Then there was the Lost Diadem. One half of the Lost Diadems, again, severed by snow from her bandmate. Again, rather than throw in the towel, the show, as it must have, went on.
And oh yes, Split Seven Ways. I love Zoe and to see her get up in front of everyone, braving nerves that would have sent me fleeing into the snow-covered night, facing a crowd that would have my tongue tied cats’ cradle style and performing four songs for such a worthy cause‚Ä¶ warm fuzzy feelings, people. Warm fuzzies.
The next morning we headed straight back to the Elephant House for breakfast again. It would have been nice to get together with people after the show and we almost did, the night before and that morning. Sadly the fates were against us here. Next year, we’ve made the promise to ourselves, we’ll plan ahead and stay in the hostel with the rest of the crowd so we can spend quality time with people. 🙂 We almost managed to hook up in the Elephant House for lunch but the weather was turning. Inches and inches of snow had fallen over night. It was actually very clear Friday and Saturday but Sunday was a snow-based apocalypse in progress. The gritters and ploughs had passed and I figured if we could make it to the main A-Road we’d get out. Highways Agency said the Edinburgh to Glasgow road and the motorway all the way south was clear. It was time to go home.
At first the drive back was free and clear. People moved slowly, cautiously but they moved consistently and that’s what mattered. We were making progress. Sure it looked like it’d take nearer 9 hours but we’d make it. This kept up all the way through Scotland, all the way through the north of England. It was only when we hit the last 30 miles or so of the journey things got‚Ä¶ troubling. Stopping for diesel I noticed one of my tyres was worryingly low-pressure. It had lost almost 25% of its’ pressure. I topped it up with air and crossed my fingers. I got through about 4L of windscreen washer. I even stopped to buy more. The windscreen continually froze and smeared with salt-water residue thrown up from the car in front. This was fine, until the washers froze over and I couldn’t clean the windscreen any more. Snow and ice were encroaching on the inside and outside line, funnelling traffic into the one good middle lane. Lunatics passing at 70 on ice. A spun-and-abandoned car on the side of the road, then another one appeared as portents of possibilities. The final straw was a big sign across the motorway alerting us to an incident between junctions 9 and 10 of the M5. This, by the way, would be on the last stretch of the road before our home town, off junction 10.
My parents live just off junction 9 so I decided to ditch the car there for the night and crash in the spare bedroom. We made it back this morning in my father’s car whilst my frozen-solid car thaws out in his garage. I’m told it’s feeling much better now and it just needed to get out of the cold for a few hours. So, we’re home safe and sound, the car’s tucked up warm and happy and we were a part of an event that raised hundreds of pounds to help fight cancer not to mention making or reaffirming friendships and having a whole bunch of fun.
Next year, though, I think we might fly. If the weather’s good, the traffic’s calm and there’s no car disasters I actually really enjoy long drives. Of course, these things don’t always hold true.