Monday, April 13, 2015

Surrey Steampunk Convivial IV

So what exactly is Steampunk? Well that’s kind of hard to say, but believe me you’ll know it when you see it. From my limited exposure to it I would describe it as a revisionist alternative future dreamed up from the mind of HG Wells and other authors of the period. Imagine the future as the Victorian eccentrics would have envisioned it. Madcap inventors, fearless explorers, quintessentially English nutters and so forth. In practice it’s a great excuse to dress up, not that we seem to need one. Costumes are lovingly crafted from a combination of theatre costumes, dressing up boxes and antique shops. Top hats must have elegantly worked bronze goggles; cuff-links and watches must be elaborate and needlessly complex. Skirts could be voluminous or airforce sharp depending on your preference, ray guns sit alongside blunderbusses to repel imminent alien invasion. The transport of choice is the propeller-powered airship, or the flying steam train. Are you getting the picture yet?

With all this in mind it was particularly surprising to me to wake up one morning with a fully formed Steampunk short story bubbling up in my mind like some mad professor's laboratory experiment. But what to do with such a volatile thing? Well there seemed to be no other possible course available to me other than to write the darn thing down and then find a suitable Steampunk convention at which to unleash it on a unsuspecting public. But where would one find such a thing?

Step forward the Surrey Steampunk Convivial, brain child of one Ben Henderson (who directed, shot and edited Charlie’s Superbad video and who is pictured centre above) amongst others and now a regular date on the Steampunk calendar. Said event it now bi-annual or is that twice a year? Well whichever is more often, which is the latter, I think. So, missive in hand fresh off the coal-powered steam typewriter, I duly presented myself at the first Convivial of 2015 (on 22nd February) somewhat nervous as to how I might be received. I shouldn’t have worried after all, it wasn’t called a Convivial for nothing, oh deary me no! Barely had I set foot over the threshold when I was engaged in a friendly game of Jenga with complete strangers, complete with an fascinating discussion of the merits of three legged tables of the kind with an additional appendage. This was fairly typical of a wonderful and most excellent day that included some rather marvellous models in the Steampunk museum (pictures above and below), pop-up shops of wonder and bric-a-brac to peruse. Costumes of eccentric invention caught the eye at every turn. I was glad that my story reading was pretty much the first thing on the agenda, allowing me a chance to relax following my performance and enjoy the many splendid wonders on offer. Chief amongst my favourite events of the day were a performance from the ever splendid Dead Victorians (bit of a throwback here, but Paul Tkachenko aka The Maestro from the DVs played bass on my original recording of Lightkeeper), who entertained with some of the rudest and non-PC music hall numbers you could care to hear.

I also particularly enjoyed what is possibly the zenith of eccentricity – Tea Duelling! This turns out to be an archaic ritual basically consisting of dunking biscuits into cups of Earl Grey and attempting to out-wit your opponent by holding your nerve (and your biscuit) and consuming it whole before it crumbles. Yes it is as mad as it sounds. The prize for this worthy pursuit was the Nonsuch ashes (a burnt teabag) – but it was contested all the vigour and rivalry of chess grandmasters going head-to-head. In the end a Baron Munchausen look-a-like won the day, which seemed entirely fitting.

Following this there were other entertaining turns of opera singers, story-tellers and more musicians, and in the end I was sad to depart into the cold Surrey evening. Hopefully this humble description has whetted your appetite for what is fast becoming a national pastime. Perhaps you’d care to attend the next instalment; which is on 22nd and 23rd August. perhaps you’d also like to read my story. Well check out the first chapter here (drop me a line to get a copy of the whole thing) and let me know what you thought of the whole whizzo prang.

TTFN old thing.