‘Bristol-Con is a one-day convention organized by the Bristol Fantasy & SF Society, under the auspices of the Bristol-Con Foundation’. Taken from the website: www.bristolcon.org/
This year the Bristol-Con event took place on the 26th October in Bristol at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bristol City Centre, which was very easy to find driving down from the Midlands. Parking outside the venue was free for the day, but a little cosy. We did manage to find a space and squeeze in, but there was a P&D car park close by so it wasn’t an issue. The Double Tree was a nice, contemporary hotel with direct lift access to the registration area. Initial impression of the venue was that it was smart and fit for purpose. I’ve been to a couple of bigger cons held in hotels that could have given Fawlty Towers a run for its money. The registration area was busy, but efficiently staffed by smiley helpful people. Registration was quick and so with goodie bag in hand I went for an initial scout of the dealers’ room. There were knitted daleks! Need I say more? Oh, okay, if you insist. As well as a goodly fistful of independent traders (did I mention the knitted daleks?) there was a Forbidden Planet pitch which I think indicates the regard in which Bristol-Con is held.
The registration area got a bit busy at times as it was directly outside of the dealers’ room and close to the art room as well as on the main route to where the panels were held, but the tide ebbed and flowed quite well as people dashed off to one or other of the two programmed event streams. Given the numbers, the convention space was big enough, any more, and it could have got a bit tight in certain locations, particularly for chair users and pram pushers of which I saw a few. If the con grows, I think a re-jig of layout might be in order, but from what I could tell the venue could handle a couple of hundred more without struggling. Having said that, it felt pleasantly busy; nobody likes being somewhere that’s rammed or that feels empty. Like baby bear’s porridge, the balance felt just right.
The bar also served food, like all hotels it was pub grub at gourmet prices. Meh! Such is life. Me and some chums nipped out for lunch and found a Japanese restaurant about ten minutes walk away. Although busy, the bar never felt over-crowded and there were plenty of places to sit. This is more important than it might appear. I went to one convention where the chair I was sitting in was whisked away by a zealous staffer on a mission. So, yeah, plenty of comfy chairs = gud. There was also a separate seating area in the hotel which was particularly useful for people with small children to hang out in away from the busier bar area.
Although not the be all and end all, it cannot be denied that in general, ‘tis the panels wot maketh the con and the guests of honour were Phillip Reeve, Storm Constantine and Mark Buckingham.
The programme was split into two streams and as one would expect, covered all things genre from books to science to comics and films.
One of the major minus points from my point of view, when it comes to conventions, is a lack of gender parity on panels. I, like all right thinking people, don’t buy that ‘we only pick the best people for the panels and, gosh o’lawks! Would you look at that? The best people are all blokes.’ It’s just BS and lazy. So I’m very pleased to report that there was loads of gender parity on the panels that I saw and was lucky enough to participate in. Really, the place was awash with equality; bloody stuff was everywhere. Well played, Bristol-Con, well played.
The panels I saw were interesting and, in some cases, like the moment the phrase ‘squidpunk’ was coined, highly entertaining. In my experience, having two streams can be a bit of a risk for smaller conventions as Peter tends to steal from Paul when it comes to audience, but from what I could tell, both streams were well attended. I regret that due to being on a panel (what can I say? They had a slot for a frothing fangirl), I missed ‘How to Poo in a Fantasy Universe and Other Grubby Goings On’. Come on, admit it, you’re intrigued, too.
There can be times at conventions when the event sags, when it loses momentum and that Life is Elsewhere, existential ennui settles in… just me?
Anywho, Bristol-Con avoided a lull, due in part I think to how and where readings were scheduled. They were between panels and performed in the same rooms as the panels instead of in the basement where nobody goes or in the cleaning cupboard in the haunted west wing of the hotel where they’re usually stuck. I think this helped to keep the buzz going as well as being jolly entertaining. As an ex-prop maker, I always enjoy looking round the art show and lamenting the lack of dosh that prevents me from becoming a generous patron of the arts. Bristol-Con was no exception. I was impressed by the high standard and variety of work on show at the event. I’m not sure how long art shows have been part of genre conventions, but having a good one is certainly an important element in keeping people entertained as well as enriching the environment and allowing space for artists to showcase their work.
Overall, I’d have to say Bristol-Con had one of the friendliest and most relaxed atmospheres out of the bunch of the genre conventions I’ve attended over the last few years. I’m not saying that most aren’t friendly or relaxed, they are, and I often marvel at the dedication of volunteers who make these gatherings of like-minded souls happen just for the love of it. It is more that Bristol-Con stood out in the whole chilled, friendly and efficiently run department; a first among nerdy equals that I look forward to attending again.
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