Monday, September 15, 2014

One Last Pic - the Souvenir Not Taken

There was one last photo I almost forgot to post. Good thing I remembered, because this one was just too good — or too horrible — to pass up.

Nearly every major attraction around the UK (ancient castles, occupied palaces, museums, churches, etc) sells basically the same touristy souvenirs: pencil sharpener catapults, medieval-style chess sets, pewter mugs, fridge magnets and the like; even their own custom-made spirits or wines. It's pretty rare, but sometimes you come across a souvenir shop with something pretty unique, like the sponge sticks at the Canterbury Roman Museum. (Don't know what a sponge stick is for? Do some reading on ancient Roman hygiene practices.)

But what we found at the back end of the souvenir shop in the basement of the White Tower in the Tower of London (not in the other TOL shops, just the one in the White Tower), was so unexpected, and goes so far beyond anything else into the shadowy realm where bizarrely cool and completely inappropriate intersect, that I just had to share a picture of it.

Behold (above): the do-it-yourself paper executioner's diorama.

That's right, you know those little dioramas you can buy for your kids at places like museums or Science World, where the kids cut out or detach little paper segments and fit them together, using tabs and slots, to assemble a structure like a famous landmark, maybe the Eiffel Tower? Same principle here, except the goal is to not to build a castle or a bus or something, but rather an executioner and his victim at the chopping block, and a torturer (sorry, "pain technician" for all of my fellow Babylon 5 fans out there) and his victim on the rack.

I had actually walked past the thing in a get-me-out-of-this-tourist-trap fugue, but my wife caught sight of it and pulled me over. And it nearly blew my mind.

The souvenir shop had it an assembled model under glass and attached to motors so you could see how the paper figures could pivot as they went about their grim tasks. Boxes of the diorama kits were stacked nearby for bloody-minded tourists to snag on their way to the till.

It was one of those items that comes out of nowhere that was just so very, very wrong, and yet because of its uniqueness among the other mass-produced tchotchkes and specific and accurate link to some of the sites and activities within the Tower, it was also perfect.

We had to turn our backs on it though, because even though it was only the first full day of our trip to the UK, I knew we were going to be bogged-down with books, and whisky and clothes that we'd buy along the way, and I didn't think we'd have room in our luggage or that we'd want the extra weight of it. Moreover, I couldn't think of anywhere in our house we could display the thing. We also thought of a couple of relatives who would really get a kick out of it, but decided against getting it for them, as others might get the wrong idea.

Still, you've gotta give whoever thought this item up (and whoever agreed to stock it in the souvenir shop) credit for coming up with something so horribly wacky as to be almost suitable.

Photos from Loncon3 - and Beyond - Part 2

So, my last post was a little misleading because while I put up a bunch of pictures from Worldcon, I failed to include the promised "and beyond" images. An oversight, as I had fully intended to put up a few more pix from our trip around England and Scotland, but started to get tired last night while blogging, and started to think the post was long enough, so I closed it off and left the title as-is when I probably should have removed the "beyond" reference. Oh well.

Anyhow, for those who are interested, here are a few photos from the rest of the trip. Not a comprehensive album by any means, just a couple of images that might be somewhat interesting from a geeky perspective.

You know how much I love dragons, so you can imagine how giddy I became when we were in William the Conqueror's White Tower in Tower of London and we climbed up to another level and saw this big fellow dominating a hall. Note how he's made entirely of bits of weaponry - from the pistol claws to the helmet shoulder bones to the rifle and spear wing bones - perfect for a historic building devoted to war and full of displays of implements of destruction.

Facing the dragon head-on, and catching a glimpse of his treasure hoard, hidden in his belly.

Gargoyles guarding the some of the buildings at the Tower of London.

St. Paul's Cathedral looking far less ominous than it did in Disney's Mary Poppins.

"Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist,..."

Well, you can't find AI-enhanced sports cars in the shadow of St. Paul's, but you can apparently get a plate of fish'n'chips.

From the British Museum: an ancient carving of a man fighting a dragon hand-to-hand (or hand-to-claw, as the case may be).

The Rosetta Stone.

Anyone else remember the opening from Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers?
Or maybe that shitty final Indiana Jones movie?
Here's one of the crystal skulls, on display at the British Museum.

One of the Moai of Easter Island, on display at the British Museum.

Wasn't there an episode of the old G.I. Joe cartoon where Cobra Commander animates some of the Easter Island statues to fight the Joes?

For some reason, I also kept thinking of John Lithgow as Dick in 3rd Rock from the Sun bleating about an incoming transmission from The Big Giant Head.

Didn't have time to stop in Woking, but I had to get a shot of the sign as the train went through the station. I would have liked to have gone into town for a couple of minutes to see the statue of the Martian war machine that's supposed to be there. Oh well, maybe next time.

One of the legion of barrow mounds on the plains near Stonehenge. It put me in mind of Frodo and Tom Bombadil and their barrow wight, and Conan's encounter with the tomb of the Atlantean king.

Stonehenge, in all its ancient magnificent ruin.

The great megaliths of Stonehenge had some unknown purpose for humans in the deep past, but now they're a perch for crows...

...and a backdrop for nerdy tourists.

One of the gargoyles guarding Canterbury Cathedral.

A cool carving of a dragon and a dog on the gatehouse in front of Canterbury Cathedral. Not sure if they represent something, being as close to the royal standard as they are, or if they're purely decorative.

The wreckage of Canterbury's old Norman castle.

Inside the walls of Canterbury's Norman castle, I found this view of two windows and the ruin of the central staircase really quite creepy. Like the face of Castle Grey Skull from the old Master of the Universe toys, except more time-worn, heavy, and somewhat unsettling.

A witch-dunking chair over the river running through Canterbury (also for poorly-behaving wives and bad businessmen).
As our boat went under it, I kept thinking of that scene from Monty Python's The Holy Grail with Cleese going on about "she turned me into a newt!"
Of course, being a redhead with green-blue eyes, I'd have been afraid of being put in that chair myself back in the old days.

How do you know you're in Scotland? When the stormtroopers wear kilts, of course!
I met this guy at the end of the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh on the Royal Mile. I was impressed with his local accents to his uniform. He was impressed that I was familiar with the 501st Legion. Saw another stormtrooper on the 'Mile a day later, but she wasn't wearing a kilt or flag.

The Sir Walter Scott monument in Edinburgh.
No offense to any Scottish readers, but when I saw this thing, my first thought was of the cathedral of the Church of Final Atonement (the Shrike Cult) on Lusus in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos.
It's a jagged, frightening kind of structure.

The Writers' Museum in Edinburgh, devoted to the Scottish holy trinity of Robbie Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
A cool-looking old mansion, with quite an interesting collection inside.
The courtyard in front of it is also the staging area to take the Edinburgh Book Lovers' Tour (guided by writer Allan Foster), which was definitely worth while.

A flying lion gargoyle on one of the buildings within Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle at sunset, in all its sprawling majesty.

Standing stones at the ancient cairn complex near Inverness.

See the round indentations carved into this stone in one of the cairns near Inverness? Our guide (and if you're in the area, you should go with Around Loch Ness and George Polwarth) said the consensus is that they were made on purpose, but no-one's sure what they represent. Maybe a constellation?

No tour of the Highlands is complete without a visit to Loch Ness. Aside from this fake plesiosaur beside a hotel on the banks, there was no sign of Nessie in the lake, just water the colour of stout.

Some of my plunder from the trip: a big stack of science fiction and fantasy books bought at the Loncon3 dealers' room and a couple of bookstores around London, a nearly 200-year-old illustrated collection of Robbie Burns poetry (purchased from antiquarian dealer The Chaucer Bookshop in Canterbury - very nice ladies to help you find what you're looking for among their shelves of interesting finds), and a few whiskies that are hard or impossible to find in my neck of the woods.

Another treasure brought back from the con: one of the t-shirts I bought from Ubertorso in the dealers' room. These guys make awesome t-shirts for companies from science fiction and other movies. I picked up this one for Quint's fishing charters from Jaws, along with an Encom t-shirt and Flynn's Arcade shirt from Tron - and a Hadley's Hope LV426 shirt (Aliens) for my brother.
The best part: just a couple of days ago, I was wearing the Quint's shirt while shopping at Costco, and I was approached by 2 guys with vastly different reactions:
The first guy came up to me in the parking lot on my way in and was interested to know where I'd gone fishing and what the charter had been like. I tried not to laugh as I told him it was a fake, and the charter company was from Jaws. He had to think about it for a minute before he got it, smiled, and walked away.
The second guy was a Costco employee who came up to me after I was leaving the checkout stand. His eyes were wide and locked onto the shirt as he walked over saying "Ohhhhhhhhh, that is so awesome! That. Is. Awesome! Only we would expect that!" He gave me a high-five and moseyed on his way. Well played, fellow geek. Well played.
I may have to buy some other shirts from these guys. I certainly regretted not having the money to buy more at the con.

Photos from Loncon3 - and Beyond

Well, the wife and I have been back from Loncon3 and the rest of our trip around England and Scotland for about two weeks now, and having sorted through the zillions of photos we took, I figured I'd share a few with you.

These are all from Worldcon, but I may share a few others from the trip in the next day or so.

Enjoy! - or feel free to mock.

The Helsinki 2017 bid wasted no time at Loncon - hitting up people lining up to register on the morning of Day 1 by handing out candy. I'll give the Fins a lot of credit, they want that Worldcon, and they want it bad, and they worked very hard to bring people onside.
Admittedly, I'm probably more likely to register and vote next year in Montreal's favour, because it's a Canadian city, a lot closer, a lot cheaper, and it would be cool for Worldcon to be there for Canada's 150th birthday and Montreal's 375th birthday. But, if it has to go to anyone else, I really hope it's Finland.
Still, I haven't eaten that candy yet. I'm afraid I'll lose consciousness and wake up a week later in an elk-hide tent in the middle of Lapland, trimming birch boughs for some crazy Finnish family's sauna (I'm looking at you, Mark Karjaluoto!).

The Loncon 3 program guides. Very cool. So cool, in fact, that I even lugged the big one back home to Vancouver, somehow finding room in my overstuffed suitcase.

"Take me with you, Doctor!"
Now we know why the Doctor keeps the door locked when he's out and about. Some people just aren't cut out to be Companions.

Vancouver's White Dwarf Books leaves its mark - or bookmarks, as the case may be - on the Loncon 3 freebies table.

Deadpool and his buddy were just so awesome, I couldn't pass up the chance to put them in the crosshairs - of my camera, that is. Bonus points to the cosplayer behind Deadpool's mask who did a fine job of imitating the assassin's banter.

A whisky bottle display and map of Scotland in honour of the late Iain M. Banks.

"...And onto this, bloginhood, destined to wear a receding hairline upon a troubled brow."


A Game of Nerds

My wife definitely looks more regal than I do.

(above) A multitude of Millennium Falcons

(left) A very detailed replica of Solo's ship

(above) Here's one droid the Jawas won't be loading on their sandcrawler. Delete that little sucker, Cyberman!

(left) A chorusline of cosplayers

(below) More cosplayers

This mini steampunk Dalek just wants to exterminate the contents of your coal scuttle.

This Dalek, a member of the Cult of Tiki, is known for having screamed at the Doctor: "You will hula! Hula! HUUUUULAAAAAA!"

The photo of this Drow isn't out of focus, he's just moving with incredible lethal speed.  ;)

This photo is out of focus, which is too bad, because Brian Aldiss was very entertaining as he shared a lifetime's worth of career recollections.