I've just spent a fantastic weekend in Manchester at Mancunicon, this year's EasterCon, which was held in the Manchester Hilton. We weren't staying in the Hilton - we were at a budget hotel across the town centre, which worked very well for us, though it did mean we had to curtail the last day of the con because of travel arrangements (the difficulties of living in a rural area with a limited bus service meant I had to leave Manchester quite early on the Monday to get back in time for the last bus home).
So, I come from Manchester - and Manchester has changed a lot since I last lived there. For a start, the Deansgate Hilton is new - and a prominent landmark (the eleventh tallest building in Britain, I think it was). We always knew we were going in the right direction to find it. The entrance was a bit of a wind tunnel though!
We spent quite a bit of time mingling in the main bar area, and meeting some lovely people (and sampling some good local beer from the Real Ale Bar - I don't remember the brewery, but the Black Swan was a very nice dark beer).
After the opening ceremony, the discussion panels, for me, were all about the local area. My Young Man went off to find out how to put twists in his stories, and came back full of ideas. I went to the science talk Jodrell Bank Explores the Universe. Jodrell Bank is fairly close by, and it was great to have scientists who work there to come and talk. There was a good selection of science talks during the weekend.
I learnt a lot - I had no idea that Jodrell Bank can link up with other radio telescopes all over the world to make one huge radio telescope, for instance.
There was a short film, When Galaxies Collide, showing 5 billion years of time squashed into just over a minute, which was a simulation of the Andromeda Galaxy passing through the Milky Way. "Shall I show it again?" Megan Argo asked, adding "I've never had anybody say no to that." She also said, with her first slide of the film poster from When Worlds Collide spliced with the galaxies in the background, that this was probably the most appropriate place she had ever shown it - she usually gives the talk to astronomy groups.
One of the other scientists talked about work they will be doing later this year, involving the event horizon of a black hole, which they were pretty excited about.
Later, I was reliving my youth, at the Alan Garner panel. It was a pity Room 6 was so small - there were several talks there where people were being turned away. In this case, the audience that managed to squeeze in were immensely knowledgeable about Alan Garner's work. On the panel was a lady who works with Alan Garner at his home, Toad Hall, which is open to the public occasionally (at which times, Alan Garner hides). She said that, if you timed it carefully, you could visit Toad Hall and Jodrell Bank and Alderley Edge all on the same day. Archaeological digs run at the Hall, all done on a shoestring - "It's like the WI running it," was one comment - and they have discovered Bronze Age artefacts on the site. Toad Hall itself is a medieval timber framed hall, which was disassembled and brought to the site from it's original site about fourteen miles away - you can do that with medieval timber framed buildings - they were deliberately built in kit form.
One of the speakers said that, although Alan Garner's work is steeped in myth and local legend, he doesn't have much time for modern Pagans, possibly because he doesn't want his work to be hijacked by a movement he's not particularly interested in (I think that was the gist of it).
She also pointed out the immense amounts of research that went into each book - Alan Garner learned Welsh for The Owl Service, for instance, and when there was an online discussion about his books (I think she said on the Guardian website) there were about a dozen people in the group, and between them they had the expertise that Alan Garner had on his own to write the story!
And, moving on to The Stone Book Quartet - that is his own family history that he's describing, and you can still go to see the church steeple that his great-grandfather worked on, and walls that ancestors of his had built.
And of course Boneland, the book that finishes off the story that started with the Wierdstone of Brisingamen fifty years after it started, brings us back to Jodrell Bank. Not many authors can do that with their work.
Sadly, what came out of the discussion was that Alan Garner is a writer with a deep connection with place, but also a deep connection with a fixed point in time. The audience was all around the same sort of age, and several had tried to get young teenagers to read the books, only to find that the teenagers were not terribly interested. They don't remember the clearance of the terraced houses (as in the beginning of Elidor) in the same way that we do, who saw it happening, for instance, and Alderley Edge is not so wild as it once was. To go down the old mine workings now, you need to be with an official group of cavers, while in the 1970s one of the ladies on the panel used to go exploring down there as a kid, with no caving equipment whatsoever.
In the evening, we ascended to the 22nd floor and the Presidential Suite for a magnificent view of Manchester by night and a Steampunk gathering, with a dramatic reading from David Wake's Steampunk series of books. He was the one taking a lectern around with him all weekend, ready to do a reading anywhere! My Young Man enjoyed the talk so much he bought the trilogy.