Four (Days) To Doomsday

Four (Days) to Doomsday
Arranging a convention and why you shouldn’t 

hilbredicks

Wednesday – three days to C-Day (Convention Day)

One of the trickiest things about running an event is that it is in the nature of an actor’s career that jobs come and go, sometimes without warning.  Only last year, for example, a touring production of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy starring our very own Colin Baker was pulled after the first tour date for reasons that never became entirely clear.  So it’s very difficult for them to offer you firm dates a long way in advance.

What you find is that, however carefully you budget, the sums are always in flux.  Sometimes you’ll ask a ton of people on the assumption they all say no, and find you’ve got twenty guests to fill four panels; sometimes a big name will pull out and you’ll find you’ve got a wad of cash to play with but no headline guest.  This year when we were first planning the day, one of our favourite contributors agreed to MC, only to call back ten minutes later having realised he would be on the wrong continent at the time.  It’s a lot to juggle.

Today is final confirmation today.  My tech guy, who is doing all our intro videos and running all the technical side, has been completely radio-silent for a week.  Best-case scenario: he’s died.  You can announce that at an event and people will just have to put up with shoddy sound.

But as an organiser you try to have other options.  I’ve sent another helper to go and learn how to edit videos; after six hours we have two minutes of the back of Paul Darrow’s head.

Fortunately today the tech guy answers the phone and he’s fine.  Apparently I’ve been worrying over nothing.  Rather than argue with him, I decide to agree and say I’ll see him on Friday.  I can always kill him on Monday, when I’ll have a whole year to replace him.

The rest of the day is spent checking in with all the guests and making sure they know their arrival times and places; organising who will be driving the guests where; reminding people that yes, they did promise to drive on the day and, in fact, they’ve known about it for six months; and being told that driving is impossible because of the price of petrol.  There is a limit to what people will do for a charity event, and apparently it’s 112p per litre.

Thursday – C minus two days

Today is the worst.  Today we take a big, steadying breath, swiftly knock back a belt of Dutch courage, and take a look at how the budget is doing.  We get all the guests’ fees in order.  Then we wander down to the hotel to pay for the guests’ rooms.  This year, since we’ve had a lot of work on, we’ve decided to treat ourselves to a room as well – we’ll stay the night of the event so we can have a drink with the guests afterwards.

When we get to the hotel the staff, who are charming and super with us every year, have a problem.  Their list of rooms doesn’t match our list of rooms, and one guest is going to find himself sleeping in the foyer come Saturday.  When we try to add another room to our order we find out that there is a huge wedding on at the same time and the place is completely booked out.  Damnation.  Our guest will have to have our room.  We’ll have to slip out of the post-match soiree and get a taxi home.

Back to our place, where our one of our fantastic assistants then drops off our box of special souvenir programmes.  We don’t normally do programmes, but it’s my tenth year of running conventions and I just wanted to mark it in a little way.  We’ve had the great idea of doing a limited edition raffle – numbering the programmes one to a hundred then, on the day, presenting a prize to the person with the programme that matches a number from the hat.

An even better idea would have been to mention this to the printers, but never mind.  I stay up till midnight with a stack of programmes and a felt-tip pen, numbering them off.

Friday – Who at the Hilbre’en

Today is the day of the Meet and Greet; a miniature convention-within-a-convention that we do the night before the main event.  All the guests who are staying in the hotel come down to the foyer for champagne and sandwiches, and you can buy a ticket to come in, have a drink and a butty, and talk to the actors and backstage team from the show.  It gives people chance to have more of chat than there’ll be time for in the queues tomorrow.

As a result as there are a million things to do, and the number one mega-urgent top priority job is: get my nails done.  I head down to the beautician for a damn good shellacking and a tweeze to the eyebrows.  As my fingers are being redecorated I get a message from one of my guests to say he’s en route to Lime Street Station and he’ll see me there.

He’s earlier than expected and I’ll be in the chrysalis a while yet, so I dispatch a minion to go and meet our guest.  How will our assistant keep the guest happy until I arrive?  He’s an actor, give him alcohol.  Now to get my hair done.

After successful beautification we head to the hotel foyer so I can greet the guests on arrival, make sure they’re happy with the hotel, and run through the plan for tomorrow with them.  I get a message from veteran character actor and good friend of the convention, Colin Spaull, who has kindly agreed to co-ordinate things from the London end so all the capital-based actors set off with a good idea of where they’re going and what’s happening.  He tells me that everyone has met at the station and they are on their way.  I also have a message from three lovely ladies who are doing their debut convention with us, and they too are en route.  I get a Coke from the bar and settle down to wait for the arrivals.

A text message arrives.  It’s from one of our guests who’s had a change of plan, and for a moment my heart sinks.  Are they really going to cancel on me the day before my event?  No.  As luck would have it, all he wants to do is drive up on the day instead of staying over, so he wants to cancel his hotel room tonight.  That’s OK, nothing to stress over there.

Wait a minute…cancel the room?  Then – there’s a room free for us tonight!  Never mind sitting alone in the lobby like a couple of numpties, we dash back home to pack an overnight back with makeup and wine.  We’re only staying one night so the bag only comes to twenty-odd kilos.  Just time to get back to the hotel and stash the bag before the guests start arriving.  We get them signed in and try to encourage them to get unpacked before the Meet and Greet kicks off – time is now starting to run short.

It’s nearly seven o’clock.  The bar is starting to get full and we are starting to hand people’s wristbands out.  I need to get changed but Bernard Holley, who has never been to us before, is in the bar with a drink.  Fortunately he’s good friends with Colin Spaull so I can leave them to it for a second.  I’m still one guest short and haven’t heard anything from him.  Is he OK?  Fortunately someone informs me that he has tweeted that he’s stuck in traffic.  Phew, so he’ll be here eventually.  I run up to my room and assay a quick change of attire.  Forty minutes, possibly a new record.

I get back down just in time to see our late guest arrive in a temper blacker than the inside of a lead-lined bank vault.  I pacify him with a hasty charm-and-booze assault, and tell him to go and chill out for half an hour in his room.  When he gets back down I can assault him again.

Meanwhile it’s 7.15.  The Meet and Greet was due to start fifteen minutes ago, everyone has their wristbands, the guests are mainly here, but the hotel has done nothing.  We start to move the tables around ourselves to form a buffet bar.  At the same time some of the brighter guests from the wedding next door have wandered in to use our bar because the queue’s smaller, though not by much.

I take the hotel barman quietly aside and remind him that we’ve paid in advance for the use of the room, and incidentally where’s the buffet and the fizzy wine?  He looks at me blankly.  He wanders away.  He comes back and tells me that we’re supposed to be there tomorrow night.  No, I say, that is a bad plan, because we are here now, and I show him the exchange of e-mails where I booked it.  “Oops”, he says, and he goes back to work behind the bar.

I wait.  Nothing happens.  My husband takes the barman aside and has a quiet word with him.  Nothing happens.  The wedding guests have taken all the seats.  My father-in-law takes the barman aside and has a quite word with him.  Nothing happens.

Finally, forty-five minutes after we were due start, the duty manager comes out and has a quite word with me.  She’s very sorry for the confusion and as a result, here’s some more champagne.  Also we can have a hot buffet instead of a cold one.  I announce that food will be served shortly to our guests and attendees, who accept this with the quiet stoicism of a bunch of people who had no idea what was supposed to be happening anyway.  Just about got away with it, I think.

Finally I can relax.  We’ll stay down here until 9.30 then go up to the room and be fresh for tomorrow.  Only one more job to go; our soundman agreed ages ago that he’d pick our MC up from Manchester tonight.  As I get my phone out to check with him, I see that I’ve had a message from our MC saying that there’s been a change of plan and he’ll be coming round tomorrow instead, and can we cancel his hotel room.

Saturday – Who at Hilbre 2014

I never sleep the night before an event.  There are too many items on the mental checklist, too many things going on to be pondered and considered and remembered when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Knackered, we head down to The Hilbre for the pre-show team meeting.  We’re always first to arrive, because we live nearest.  The Hilbre staff are all ready to go and lend a hand with the tedious task of setting the chairs up, at which some of our people are more use than others.  Four of our lot have wandered over to the technical corner and are pretending that the laptop will only work if they stare at it, so I have to drag them back to the stack of chairs and stand over them like an unusually glamorous foreman until the job’s done.

While we’re getting the sound checked, a couple of people have wandered in for their breakfast.  Then everyone else wanders in for their breakfast as well.  The Hilbre team, now completely up to their eyes in beans, ask if we can push the start back half an hour so everyone can eat.  Of course, it’s no problem, but it means a flurry of talk and text as we make sure everyone here, at the hotel, and not yet at either knows that the schedule has been changed.

When the last of the sausages have been gobbled and the plates are cleared away, we swing into action.  Everyone sits down, the panels start flowing, and my time of dedicated drivers starts the process of getting the guests from Lime Street to the hotel, from the hotel to the Hilbre, and from the Hilbre to the bar at the Hilbre.  The green room is full of guests, and also the four members of the team who seemed to think they didn’t have to move chairs.  Apparently they’ve now decided that they’re actors.  I throw them out of the green room because it’s where the guests get to talk to each other; they’ll have plenty of chance to talk to fans during the autograph signings.

The day goes smoothly, for once.  I have a text from Mark Strickson, who I have been told repeatedly by various people will not possibly make it to today’s event because he lives in New Zealand and is never, ever, ever coming back.  He says he’s five minutes away by the Morrison’s and orders me to get the drinks in.

I meet Mr Darrow in the car park and he brushes his hair in a hand-mirror before coming into the pub.  “Always look good for your audience,” he advises me, “so they’re on your side before you open your mouth”.

Finally there’s only Colin Baker to arrive.  Colin always drives to and from a convention on the same day, because he won’t spend the time away from his beloved family if he can help it.  Colin’s got a heart as big as the TARDIS interior, and ever since he learned of my mother’s cancer diagnosis (and subsequent successful treatment) he’s been asking when he’ll meet her again.  My mum and dad are in position waiting for him, and they are not-empty handed; mum has come armed with two freshly-baked cakes.

When Colin arrives he is utterly charming to both my parents, and he is instantly my mum’s favourite Doctor.  He in turn seems to be delighted by the offers of cake, and he immediately installs my mum as his PA for the day, entrusting her with all his gear and chatting to her endlessly.

All the guests sign a Liverpool shirt.   When everyone’s signed it we’ll auction it off for charity.  Our auctioneer, actor Paul Duckworth, is a staunch Evertonian and refuses to handle it, so I end up modelling it while he makes horrible remarks.  It’s the only item in the auction unrelated to Who, and it makes the most money.

Colin packs up and is ready to go.  We lead him out to the car park to see him off, and he tries to reverse into a pillar.  Fortunately my husband spots the danger and manages to warn Colin off before any damage is done; we don’t want that being his last memory of the convention.

Back inside we have wrapped up for another year.  The guests are back in the green room having a swift half before we take them out for a meal.  We slope back off to the hotel to get ready for the aftershow party – but that’s a story for next week; a story of alcohol, naughtiness, blood, ambulances, insomnia, amnesia, rubber gloves, coffee, poor timekeeping and curry.

Four (Days) to Doomsday
Arranging a convention and why you shouldn’t 

Wednesday – three days to C-Day (Convention Day)

One of the trickiest things about running an event is that it is in the nature of an actor’s career that jobs come and go, sometimes without warning.  Only last year, for example, a touring production of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy starring our very own Colin Baker was pulled after the first tour date for reasons that never became entirely clear.  So it’s very difficult for them to offer you firm dates a long way in advance.

What you find is that, however carefully you budget, the sums are always in flux.  Sometimes you’ll ask a ton of people on the assumption they all say no, and find you’ve got twenty guests to fill four panels; sometimes a big name will pull out and you’ll find you’ve got a wad of cash to play with but no headline guest.  This year when we were first planning the day, one of our favourite contributors agreed to MC, only to call back ten minutes later having realised he would be on the wrong continent at the time.  It’s a lot to juggle.

Today is final confirmation today.  My tech guy, who is doing all our intro videos and running all the technical side, has been completely radio-silent for a week.  Best-case scenario: he’s died.  You can announce that at an event and people will just have to put up with shoddy sound.

But as an organiser you try to have other options.  I’ve sent another helper to go and learn how to edit videos; after six hours we have two minutes of the back of Paul Darrow’s head.

Fortunately today the tech guy answers the phone and he’s fine.  Apparently I’ve been worrying over nothing.  Rather than argue with him, I decide to agree and say I’ll see him on Friday.  I can always kill him on Monday, when I’ll have a whole year to replace him.

The rest of the day is spent checking in with all the guests and making sure they know their arrival times and places; organising who will be driving the guests where; reminding people that yes, they did promise to drive on the day and, in fact, they’ve known about it for six months; and being told that driving is impossible because of the price of petrol.  There is a limit to what people will do for a charity event, and apparently it’s 112p per litre.

Thursday – C minus two days

Today is the worst.  Today we take a big, steadying breath, swiftly knock back a belt of Dutch courage, and take a look at how the budget is doing.  We get all the guests’ fees in order.  Then we wander down to the hotel to pay for the guests’ rooms.  This year, since we’ve had a lot of work on, we’ve decided to treat ourselves to a room as well – we’ll stay the night of the event so we can have a drink with the guests afterwards.

When we get to the hotel the staff, who are charming and super with us every year, have a problem.  Their list of rooms doesn’t match our list of rooms, and one guest is going to find himself sleeping in the foyer come Saturday.  When we try to add another room to our order we find out that there is a huge wedding on at the same time and the place is completely booked out.  Damnation.  Our guest will have to have our room.  We’ll have to slip out of the post-match soiree and get a taxi home.

Back to our place, where our one of our fantastic assistants then drops off our box of special souvenir programmes.  We don’t normally do programmes, but it’s my tenth year of running conventions and I just wanted to mark it in a little way.  We’ve had the great idea of doing a limited edition raffle – numbering the programmes one to a hundred then, on the day, presenting a prize to the person with the programme that matches a number from the hat.

An even better idea would have been to mention this to the printers, but never mind.  I stay up till midnight with a stack of programmes and a felt-tip pen, numbering them off.

Friday – Who at the Hilbre’en

Today is the day of the Meet and Greet; a miniature convention-within-a-convention that we do the night before the main event.  All the guests who are staying in the hotel come down to the foyer for champagne and sandwiches, and you can buy a ticket to come in, have a drink and a butty, and talk to the actors and backstage team from the show.  It gives people chance to have more of chat than there’ll be time for in the queues tomorrow.

As a result as there are a million things to do, and the number one mega-urgent top priority job is: get my nails done.  I head down to the beautician for a damn good shellacking and a tweeze to the eyebrows.  As my fingers are being redecorated I get a message from one of my guests to say he’s en route to Lime Street Station and he’ll see me there.

He’s earlier than expected and I’ll be in the chrysalis a while yet, so I dispatch a minion to go and meet our guest.  How will our assistant keep the guest happy until I arrive?  He’s an actor, give him alcohol.  Now to get my hair done.

After successful beautification we head to the hotel foyer so I can greet the guests on arrival, make sure they’re happy with the hotel, and run through the plan for tomorrow with them.  I get a message from veteran character actor and good friend of the convention, Colin Spaull, who has kindly agreed to co-ordinate things from the London end so all the capital-based actors set off with a good idea of where they’re going and what’s happening.  He tells me that everyone has met at the station and they are on their way.  I also have a message from three lovely ladies who are doing their debut convention with us, and they too are en route.  I get a Coke from the bar and settle down to wait for the arrivals.

A text message arrives.  It’s from one of our guests who’s had a change of plan, and for a moment my heart sinks.  Are they really going to cancel on me the day before my event?  No.  As luck would have it, all he wants to do is drive up on the day instead of staying over, so he wants to cancel his hotel room tonight.  That’s OK, nothing to stress over there.

Wait a minute…cancel the room?  Then – there’s a room free for us tonight!  Never mind sitting alone in the lobby like a couple of numpties, we dash back home to pack an overnight back with makeup and wine.  We’re only staying one night so the bag only comes to twenty-odd kilos.  Just time to get back to the hotel and stash the bag before the guests start arriving.  We get them signed in and try to encourage them to get unpacked before the Meet and Greet kicks off – time is now starting to run short.

It’s nearly seven o’clock.  The bar is starting to get full and we are starting to hand people’s wristbands out.  I need to get changed but Bernard Holley, who has never been to us before, is in the bar with a drink.  Fortunately he’s good friends with Colin Spaull so I can leave them to it for a second.  I’m still one guest short and haven’t heard anything from him.  Is he OK?  Fortunately someone informs me that he has tweeted that he’s stuck in traffic.  Phew, so he’ll be here eventually.  I run up to my room and assay a quick change of attire.  Forty minutes, possibly a new record.

I get back down just in time to see our late guest arrive in a temper blacker than the inside of a lead-lined bank vault.  I pacify him with a hasty charm-and-booze assault, and tell him to go and chill out for half an hour in his room.  When he gets back down I can assault him again.

Meanwhile it’s 7.15.  The Meet and Greet was due to start fifteen minutes ago, everyone has their wristbands, the guests are mainly here, but the hotel has done nothing.  We start to move the tables around ourselves to form a buffet bar.  At the same time some of the brighter guests from the wedding next door have wandered in to use our bar because the queue’s smaller, though not by much.

I take the hotel barman quietly aside and remind him that we’ve paid in advance for the use of the room, and incidentally where’s the buffet and the fizzy wine?  He looks at me blankly.  He wanders away.  He comes back and tells me that we’re supposed to be there tomorrow night.  No, I say, that is a bad plan, because we are here now, and I show him the exchange of e-mails where I booked it.  “Oops”, he says, and he goes back to work behind the bar.

I wait.  Nothing happens.  My husband takes the barman aside and has a quiet word with him.  Nothing happens.  The wedding guests have taken all the seats.  My father-in-law takes the barman aside and has a quite word with him.  Nothing happens.

Finally, forty-five minutes after we were due start, the duty manager comes out and has a quite word with me.  She’s very sorry for the confusion and as a result, here’s some more champagne.  Also we can have a hot buffet instead of a cold one.  I announce that food will be served shortly to our guests and attendees, who accept this with the quiet stoicism of a bunch of people who had no idea what was supposed to be happening anyway.  Just about got away with it, I think.

Finally I can relax.  We’ll stay down here until 9.30 then go up to the room and be fresh for tomorrow.  Only one more job to go; our soundman agreed ages ago that he’d pick our MC up from Manchester tonight.  As I get my phone out to check with him, I see that I’ve had a message from our MC saying that there’s been a change of plan and he’ll be coming round tomorrow instead, and can we cancel his hotel room.

Saturday – Who at Hilbre 2014

I never sleep the night before an event.  There are too many items on the mental checklist, too many things going on to be pondered and considered and remembered when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Knackered, we head down to The Hilbre for the pre-show team meeting.  We’re always first to arrive, because we live nearest.  The Hilbre staff are all ready to go and lend a hand with the tedious task of setting the chairs up, at which some of our people are more use than others.  Four of our lot have wandered over to the technical corner and are pretending that the laptop will only work if they stare at it, so I have to drag them back to the stack of chairs and stand over them like an unusually glamorous foreman until the job’s done.

While we’re getting the sound checked, a couple of people have wandered in for their breakfast.  Then everyone else wanders in for their breakfast as well.  The Hilbre team, now completely up to their eyes in beans, ask if we can push the start back half an hour so everyone can eat.  Of course, it’s no problem, but it means a flurry of talk and text as we make sure everyone here, at the hotel, and not yet at either knows that the schedule has been changed.

When the last of the sausages have been gobbled and the plates are cleared away, we swing into action.  Everyone sits down, the panels start flowing, and my time of dedicated drivers starts the process of getting the guests from Lime Street to the hotel, from the hotel to the Hilbre, and from the Hilbre to the bar at the Hilbre.  The green room is full of guests, and also the four members of the team who seemed to think they didn’t have to move chairs.  Apparently they’ve now decided that they’re actors.  I throw them out of the green room because it’s where the guests get to talk to each other; they’ll have plenty of chance to talk to fans during the autograph signings.

The day goes smoothly, for once.  I have a text from Mark Strickson, who I have been told repeatedly by various people will not possibly make it to today’s event because he lives in New Zealand and is never, ever, ever coming back.  He says he’s five minutes away by the Morrison’s and orders me to get the drinks in.

I meet Mr Darrow in the car park and he brushes his hair in a hand-mirror before coming into the pub.  “Always look good for your audience,” he advises me, “so they’re on your side before you open your mouth”.

Finally there’s only Colin Baker to arrive.  Colin always drives to and from a convention on the same day, because he won’t spend the time away from his beloved family if he can help it.  Colin’s got a heart as big as the TARDIS interior, and ever since he learned of my mother’s cancer diagnosis (and subsequent successful treatment) he’s been asking when he’ll meet her again.  My mum and dad are in position waiting for him, and they are not-empty handed; mum has come armed with two freshly-baked cakes.

When Colin arrives he is utterly charming to both my parents, and he is instantly my mum’s favourite Doctor.  He in turn seems to be delighted by the offers of cake, and he immediately installs my mum as his PA for the day, entrusting her with all his gear and chatting to her endlessly.

All the guests sign a Liverpool shirt.   When everyone’s signed it we’ll auction it off for charity.  Our auctioneer, actor Paul Duckworth, is a staunch Evertonian and refuses to handle it, so I end up modelling it while he makes horrible remarks.  It’s the only item in the auction unrelated to Who, and it makes the most money.

Colin packs up and is ready to go.  We lead him out to the car park to see him off, and he tries to reverse into a pillar.  Fortunately my husband spots the danger and manages to warn Colin off before any damage is done; we don’t want that being his last memory of the convention.

Back inside we have wrapped up for another year.  The guests are back in the green room having a swift half before we take them out for a meal.  We slope back off to the hotel to get ready for the aftershow party – but that’s a story for next week; a story of alcohol, naughtiness, blood, ambulances, insomnia, amnesia, rubber gloves, coffee, poor timekeeping and curry.

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