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12 August 2005 @ 02:20 pm
In Which Bill Works the Beer Festival  
The advantage of being on the train for a few hours is that you get a chance to catch up on your LJ writing. I haven't put anything down since I got to the UK because I haven't really had time to do more than just read emails (to make sure no emergencies existed or that no one was desperately trying to get in touch with me) and check bank balances/credit card balances/&c. I can't remember what I used to do before I was able to check bank activity electronically from thousands of miles away - spend a lot less and budget much more frantically in the last few days of the trip, certainly.

In the following travel history, I have neglected to describe each of the beers I tasted. I was faced with so many choices over the time of the Great British Beer Festival that I lost track of the beers I drank during volunteer breaks. I managed to note having tasted most of the Champion Beer of Britain contenders, but did not keep any real tasting notes - mostly because I'm at a point where "I liked it" is becoming good enough for me.

Monday - London

I arrived in London on Monday morning and, due to pre-arrangements with J and N, was easily able to get a key to my place of repose. There I showered and dropped off luggage before heading back up the tube to the Kensington Olympia station and my first day as a volunteer for the Great British Beer Festival.

I decided to buy an Oyster card this trip, as they don't expire and they max out each day at the price of a one-day travel card no matter how many trips you take. I hate having to take the time to buy a ticket for each trip, so I usually buy a travelcard anyway. I loaded up the Oyster with enough prepaid credit to cover a 3-day all-zones travelcard and, by the end of the London portion of the trip, still had around 20 quid left on the card. I think I maxed out one day but then was under the max for the other days so I definitely saved money. When I get home, the Oyster card will go into the Essential UK Equipment bin with the Vodaphone prepay phone and associated topup card, various and sundry UK power adapters, and the like.

Once back at the Olympia, I headed for the staff entrance. The documentation sent to volunteers after registration was very specific and well-written. Once I got into the staffing area, I found that things weren't quite as organized as the documentation implied (gee, where have I seen that before? *grin*), as teams were not really pre-formed from the volunteer lists. In fact, I found later on that the on-line volunteer form really wasn't used for either preferred volunteer hours or preferred volunteer location. I'll be contacting them early next year to confirm where I want to be (more on that later).

I had arrived at lunchtime, so they first sent me to the staff canteen and bar to get my lunch. The canteen was fairly standard, the food was cheap and good. The bar was impressive, with a line of more than a dozen handpumps along with a couple of pins of cider. Unlike the food, the beer was ... dare I say it ... free. My sense of responsibility warred with my greed, and I compromised on a fairly low alcohol session pint to have with my lunch.

Lunch finished, I returned to the staff room to be told that there was no definite assignment for me, that I should basically wander the floor and look for areas where I could lend a hand. I knew I didn't want to do anything involving a lot of heavy lifting, but the sound crew seemed very well staffed and there weren't many obvious things to do. As such, I ended up helping to set up the book stall, which involved (you guessed it) lots of heavy lifting.

We got the stall completed just as the bell rang for Beer-Thirty, and I stopped into the staff bar for a drink woth the other volunteers before venturing back into the tube system to head for Walkers of Holborn and the Tun.

As per the expected Jet Lag brain, I had forgotten my directions. Many conversations with grey_lady helped me get my bearings, so I arrived to find the various and sundry members of London fandom (including occams_pyramid and others) who had not yet left for Worldcon (or were not planning to attend). A pleasant evening ensued and I headed back to my lodgings (entering quietly so as to attempt not to disturb mine hosts but failing miserably) to sleep the sleep of the justly exhausted.

Tuesday - London

In spite of the best of intentions, I didn't manage to get out to the local tube station until close to 10 am, which was the time I had hoped to be at the Olympia. I arrived in plenty of time to get my volunteer activity sorted before the beginnning of the first session.

Again, there was no pre-existing assignment for me, so the staff resource manager put me on the list for a round of all possible jobs - never mind that I was only going to be available on Monday and Tuesday. For Tuesday, I was put onto Foyer (front entrance) duty. The permanent staff (volunteers who had chosen this area as their preferred work destination) and the heads of the area were very competent. With the "door warden" experience I had amassed over the years I was able to contribute immediately, including handling two stations simultaneously for a part of the evening, so I think I'd like to put this down as a permanent preference in future years. It's a great way to make sure everyone's experience is good going in, especially under difficult circumstances that included long bag search lines due to heightened security. I daresay the situation was handled very well, especially as we were able to keep the "no bags - go on in" line clear most of the time.

The first session was the trade session, meaning attendance was limited to members of the brewing industry and CAMRA members who purchased full season tickets. This was a pretty easy and non-stressful introduction to the check-in procedures, and I was able to handle various potential sticky situations without having to resort to sending those involved to the area head (earning a few "cheers, you handled that exactly right" from the area head when I reported them later).

As the trade session wound down, we completely rearranged the entrance ropes/chains in order to handle the first public session (which began at 5 pm), I was originally scheduled to go off-duty at 5, but since I was going to be waiting a while for mokatiki I volunteered to stay on duty until the first rush ended. Many of the attendees were amused to find an American at the top of the steps ushering them either to the bag search or no bag lines.

The rush died down a little after 7, so I packed it in and headed up to the staff point to pick up some half-price tokens for my off-duty use Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. While wandering back toward the food stalls, I managed to run into mokatiki and her friend Matt, so we spent the rest of the evening comfortably esconced at a table in front of the string quartet (who interspersed light classical pieces with such major works as "Fawlty Towers" and other TV themes).

We stayed on until last orders (when we had moved to another location and gone through some of the new brews, including an interesting beer from Empire called "Strikes Back" (that's Empire "Strikes Back", you see ...). I then once again made my way back to lodgings and failed again at being quiet (eliciting only an "I hope that's you" comment from the hostess) before crashing.

Wednesday - London/Peterborough

Wednesday had three purposes - to catch up on email (checking in to make sure ladyat wavs going to be OK getting on her way and also trying to confirm delivery of my Ashes ticket for the 13th), to meet with grey_lady regarding various UK Filk Con statuses and questions, and attending the GBBF as an attendee instead of a staffer. Well, four purposes, if you include getting up to Kings Cross station to meet with fleetfootmike for a brief visit in Peterborough before heading to WorldCon (as he and Anne were heading to Florida and not attending Worldcon this year, more's the pity).

The day very much went as planned. I was able to get to grey_lady and rdmaughan's network, take care of some 1812Tone items in preparation for a real live PR (which we promise will be out by the end of the month!), and head out for the Festival by about noon.

My session focus this time was to try to meet with a friend handled Able from the Pacer Digest, who is an Indiana Pacers fan from London. Unfortunately, his work situation kept him from being able to join me before I had to leave to catch the train to Peterborough. grey_lady finished up her workday early and joined me for a little while. The band for the day was excellent (a Celtic duo called "Band of Two") but was still a bit loud, so we seated ourselves in front of the Badger stand and near the belt-buckle stall - where I ran into Annabelle (an annual occurance, of course) and friend.

grey_lady graciously offered to accompany me to the location of my belongings and the subsequent tube station by car such that I would not need to carry down the street the (always far too much) baggage I had brought and accumulated. In spite of this, I was rather late heading toward King's Cross to meet fleetfootmike. My lateness - along with the fact that the FastTicket machine tried to eat my credit card - caused us to be well late for the train I was originally scheduled for. No matter - I turned out to have an open ticket and we in fact were able to catch the next fast service.

We were still appallingly late getting to Chez Whitaker, where sis and bro had ordered Chinese takeaway with the all-important ingredient Aromatic Crispy Duck. fleetfootmike and I picked up said munchables on the way home and thus we stuffed ourselves most satisfyingly. After giving up trying to reach the in-house wireless network (I have 8 profiles covering wireless networks in 4 countries on 2 continents and can access all of them but the one at the Mill House. Go figure.), we socketed in the old-fashioned way and I caught up on electronic communications.

More about the WorldCon portion of the trip later ...
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