Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Satellite 8 report addendum: Covid policy

In my Satellite 8 con report I completely forgot to talk about the con’s Covid policy.  In outline, they expected everyone to be vaccinated; to take an LFT before the con started; and masks should be worn in convention spaces when not actively eating or drinking.  I took my LFT the morning of the con and took a photo as requested which was duly checked at registration.  Technically,  I guess you could have taken a photo of some other test, but that seems like going to a lot of effort for something that’s really not hard.  If people forgot, the con had a stack of tests there and you could do one before registering.  I don’t know if anyone actually tested positive or stayed away because of it.

Masking during the con itself was intermittent at best.  In programme items, eyeballing the room (and obviously limited to the events I went to), I’d guess maybe around 50% of people were masked.  Probably less in the corridors and dealers room.  I tried to wear my mask where I could, but I ended up unmasked in the con bar, and for evening events.  The riskiest event was probably the ceilidh on the Friday evening, where we were dancing in very close proximity and nobody was masked (except Red the Wizard, who I was so impressed with remaining masked and hatted the whole event!  Must have been exhausting!).

I guess everyone has their own personal risk profile – and when I went on the Govan stones tour, we were taken by taxi, and someone did ask if we would prefer if everyone was masked or not (we didn’t mind remaining unmasked), but that’s the sort of new etiquette that will take some time to get used to.

All in all, I didn’t feel unsafe at the con.  Having everyone be vaccinated (although they didn’t actually check vaccination status at registration) and taking a test to show that you’re not contagious at the start gave me confidence.  And there was enough masking throughout to suggest that people were taking it seriously. I don’t know if they’re tracking any Covid infections from the con, but I’ve not heard of any so far.  I’ve taken a couple of tests in the days after the con, but I’m still coming out negative (which is positive, if you know what I mean 🙂  ).

Monday, 29 May 2023

Satellite 8 – my first SF con since the Before Times

I’ve spent the last weekend at Satellite 8, the latest in the long-running Glasgow SF convention series. This isn’t actually the first post-Covid Satellite con, but although I had my membership and was excited about Satellite 7 last year, I ended up coming down with Covid the day before it started, so had to miss out on the whole thing. Although Satellite tends to run every couple of years, on that schedule, the next one would have been in the same year as the Glasgow 2024 WorldCon, so they decided to run two cons in as many years and then take a break. I signed up as soon as I heard about it, but, in a first, my usual con-going buddies ended up not going this year, as did a couple of other regulars that I would usually hang out with when I wasn’t doing anything else. So this my was my first congoing experience where I didn’t have close friends who were also along. I was worrying about this right up to the wire, but as it was, everything worked out okay.

On the Friday night, I went for dinner with a friend, hung out for a few hours and came back in time for the ceilidh. I was also worried that I might struggle with finding a dance partner, if I wasn’t there with people I knew, but it turned out that that wasn’t a problem. I am, unfortunately, terrible with names, but I definitely danced with The Red Wizard, Ila and someone who I discovered several days later was Meg, the friend of a friend. There were several others too, but I didn’t get their names. This was my first ceilidh since Satellite 6 in 2018, I think, and I was quite out of practice. I thought I know the Gay Gordons, the traditional starting dance, but Red definitely needed to keep me right there – it took quite a while to find my rhythm (well, what little rhythm I ever have). I definitely warmed up after that and threw myself into it with my old abandon. The band could have done with a dedicated caller, someone who would have called during the first few iterations of the dances, as there were a few times when we pretty much all lost the plot a bit, but everyone had fun. I had to leave before the second half though, to get my train home. But while I was there, I still managed to dance every (formal) dance. I did skip the slow waltz that didn’t have any formal steps – one of the things I love about ceilidhs is that someone tells you what to do, and not having that, I was happy to sit that out!

I took an early night on the Saturday, heading home after the end of programming and had planned to do the same on the Sunday, when I was forced (forced, I tell you!) to stay right until the end of the Dead Laika Party by Naveed asking me if I wanted to come with him and his group for dinner. I had a box full of food waiting for me on my doorstep, but, what the hell, it’ll keep! So I went along, had some very interesting conversations with Ila (who turns out to be Naveed’s child), Brian and Caroline amongst others. There were discussions around bookshops and stories about cons past, and sleeping ten people in a twin room, which they say was a lot of fun, but to me sounds like the opposite. I do like my luxury though, and it was a different time.  After dinner we came back for the quiz which was already well underway.  Ila and I joined an existing team, while others sat and chatted, or had to leave at that point.

I’m really grateful to Naveed for including me in his group for this. I’m perfectly happy to go to programming on my own and even chat to people in the bar, but I would never have asked to tag along to a dinner group, or asked people I didn’t know well to come with me.

And right at the end of the con, at the closing ceremony, Meg introduced me to John Coxon, of Octothorpe podcast fame. I’ve been a fan, and regular correspondent, of Octothorpe for some time now although I’ve never actually met any of the hosts. I didn’t think that John was going to be at Satellite, given some comments by him on a recent podcast, so wasn’t really looking out for him, but it turns out that he’s friends with Meg and she took the opportunity to introduce us. I didn’t get a chance for a proper conversation, but I’m glad to have turned a parasocial relationship into a (sort of) actual social one. I hope that I’ll be able to tag the other Octothrope-ers at my next con, but given that I almost failed to find John at a con of about 150 people, I don’t know how much chance I’d have at a WorldCon, which will be an order of magnitude larger!

It almost feels not worth talking about the programming at Satellite 8, but that would be to do the committee a disservice. Satellite cons always have a strong science theme running through them and this year was no different. I went to both the day guest talks, on the Saturday from Prof Yvonne Perrie on using nanoparticles for drug and vaccine delivery; and on the Sunday by Prof Colin McInnes on exploratory engineering on the edges of known physics. I’ve been to other lectures (at previous Satellites, in fact) by Prof McInnes and he’s always great, but Prof Perrie was also very engaging and informative. As well as that, I went to talks on the future of print (it ain’t dead, whatever the pundits would have you believe); the economics of generation starships; Meg’s excellent interview with author guest of honour Chris Priest; a panel on how to fuel our society in the future and several others.  And thanks to Satellite 8, I’ve finally been to see the Govan Stones!  Despite having lived in Glasgow for over a quarter of a century, I’ve never actually managed to see the Stones, so when I saw that there was a private tour available, I jumped at the chance!  And I’m glad I did, as I’ve been learning bits about the Viking influence on Britain and this was another set of connections to add there.

The dealers’ room was small but perfectly formed.  I found a few of my dance partners from the ceilidh were dealers by day, as well as enthusiastic dancers by night (again, apologies, but I can’t remember names).  My haul was small but, I hope, well curated.  The art show was lovely, but although were several pieces I might have wanted to buy, alas this month has been tighter than I would like (pay deductions from my taking part in the UCU Rising strike action amongst other things conspired against me bidding).

I will, of course, grumble a bit at con bar prices.  £3.25 for a lemonade at the con bar and for tea at the hotel bar, while £2.50 for tea at the con bar for a much smaller cup is taking the proverbial.  It would have been nice if the con could have afforded to subsidise tea, as they’ve done in previous Satellites, but I appreciate that there’s too many areas to spend money and not enough of it to go around.

Over the course of the weekend, I had a lot of fun, and met a bunch of really nice new people.  I’m always immensely grateful to the Satellite committee stalwarts who run themselves ragged every time and then come back a few years later and do it all again.  My thanks – your effort is very much appreciated!

As for me, I’ve already got my WorldCon membership, and I’m eyeing up the 2025 Eastercon, which is coming to Northern Ireland for the first time.  I’ve got to support a con in the Old Country, don’t I?  And, of course, I’ll be definitely going to Satellite 9, whenever it happens!

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