Rolling Pone: A Grand Day Out Report from the First Ever Griffish Isles Pony Con

Rolling Pone: A Grand Day Out
Report from the First Ever Griffish Isles Pony Con, 19.05.2018

Foal Duke, International Affairs Correspondent, Manchester, 11.07.2018

It's a beautiful day in my back garden, with weeds higher than my knees and the dead sparrow really adding to the setting. The weather was just as wonderful last weekend when I was lucky enough to visit the very first pony convention in the UK* for two years - Griffish Isles, in Manchester, is just about as small as a con can get, but packs a lot of punch. Only one day long, but with two voice actor panels, a VA lesson, and some fandom history, it served as a fun lesson in maximum FUN with minimal cash, using every inch of its modest space to maximum for vendors and all your typical con sideshows. After the jump is a follow-up to the video interview with HypnoHooves, the con Chair, a few weeks back. We hope you enjoy it.

*ATTENTION: We are the SNP; we have assumed control of this article to announce that Bronyscot does not count as taking place in the so-called United Kingdom; vivat Sturgeon.

The Facts and Figures
The Convention itself took place at the St. Thomas Hall in North Arwick, just down the road from Piccadilly Station, about fifteen minutes easy walking distance from both there and Oxford Station; the venue is a church, home to the Greater Manchester Voluntary Centre Organisation, who deal in assisting charity and third-sector organisations in the area with networking, raising awareness, and recruitment - a small con with a modest venue won't raise too much in cash, but for a small charity like this, it's a lot. HH, busy like any good con chair, informed me the paying attendees totalled ~120, and there were 40 or so volunteers, vendors, musicians and so on. Venue's total capacity is 185, so not bad at all! This increased by 20 or so at the Power League bar later on, and the silent auction in the Centre raised £745, while the secondary auction at the bar raised another £650. The exact figures have not been calculated at this time.
Oh yes... I forgot to mention that the Con actually took place over two venues; the Centre in the day and the Power League five-a-side football bar just down the road in the evening. The venue is pretty nice but no elevator. More on that later.
The Con chair, HypnoHooves, has been involved in many GB-based conventions in the past, as we saw in the Rolling Pone intro video a few weeks back. The staff include him and Becca from the Lancashire meets, and Matt from the London group. People have come from quite far for these, including Scotland, the Netherlands and even as far as Czechia (Hi Flutterguy!). Noteable highlights at this con included two VIP guests - Lee Tockar and Elley-Ray Hennessey - and several music acts on the fan circuit including Coltastrophe.

So after a long train ride, I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly Station, and after a twenty-minute walk to the nicer part of the town centre, past the myriad buskers and street performers, I came to the St Thomas Centre. In all honestly, the venue is a bit hard to find from North Ardwick Green; the Centre has a sign, but the actual front door is around the back on the street behind it, down a really bumpy alleyway. This is mentioned to avoid any issues with Google Maps. Now, the venue itself, with the big tiled yard visible from N Ardwick Green, is full of weeds and the like. I honestly thought the con wasn't going ahead. I feared there was a bit of a Dashcon going on here... I checked with the venue staff and they told me it was still on. And sure enough, on Friday, the staff had all arrived and set up, with a large queue of people. Fortunately, unlike a lot of cons, the venue has public wifi, and it's good! Old building though, so a couple of steps and no ramp.
As I came in I spotted a couple of friends of mine, who for anonymity's sake I'll refer to as Errol and Smaug (both like dragons). Errol had only booked his hotel on Wednesday and fwas curious. As we went inside, most of the people were already seated (it was around 09:45) and Becca processed our tickets etc. The desk had free blindbag toys and Vimto sweets. There's a real sense of good-natured friendliness that you get at the smaller cons, and it didn't get much realer than this.
From the floor plan to the left, as you can see. most of the people in the con were sitting and ready for the opening ceremony, but a few were already milling around the vendor tables in the main hall, lining the walls, and even a Guitar Hero right there next to Manic Sculptor's table! When there's little space, you get crafty, and then you get other ideas; not only could some of the vendors sit and watch the proceedings, but everyone saw the vendors! The dealer's dens to the right had wide doors that allowed you to see in as you entered the main hall. Errol and Blaze were already getting stuck in. The main hall was already playing PMVs and fan animations, and there were the usual technical difficulties that saw the intro start a few minutes late, but things ran smoothly, and soon HH was out on the podium introducing us to Bobby, the griffin mascot of the Con and the usual health and safety rules etc. Quite informal. Despite the multiple noise sources, the vendors were able to hear the customers perfectly fine (I asked a few) and I could hear the speakers perfectly fine.
We were then introduced to Elley-Ray Hennessey, a veteran voice actor of thirty years and the voice of Mistmane from Season 7 as well as other roles. Interestingly enough, she was introduced to the show by Tabitha St. Germain, who is her close personal friend in real life. The first item on the agenda was her voice actor panel, leading in quite nicely.

11:00 - Elley-Ray Hennessey's Q&A Panel
How it feels to suddenly encounter a well-established fandom... Veteran insight and advice...

So this panel was something quite unique; you have a veteran voice actor, with a good few friends of similar experience involved in a well-known online fanbase, who has only just heard of it. This allows us a unique perspective on the experience of a newcomer suddenly finding themselves knee-deep in nerds, and sets us up well for the contrast with Lee Tockar, who was there right from the start and had the opportunity to watch it grow.
The panel started with a staff member, no doubt feeling pretty lucky, asking questions as you'd expect, followed by an audience session. The questions were generally typical of so many other VA panels, but a few stood out to me as being particularly well thought, and some of the answers Elley gave were quite striking. She knows how to stir your emotions, and this is part of what makes her such an excellent voice actor, as we'd see later on.
Elley was full of vigor that morning, and highly engaging. While it was a good six months ago now, keen eyes will recall that Mistmane is introduced by Rarity; Elley revealed that she actually was first recommended for the role - and introduced to the fandom - by Tabitha St. Germain, who is a close friend of hers.
She then gave the audience a few pointers on where to start with voice acting and how to use your emotions and your interpretation of the 'hero' to focus and define your skills, and she would expand upon this later on.

12:00 - Freaks, Geeks or Heroes?
This panel was a bit different; you don't often get examinations of the fandom in this fashion; the talk, given by Dr Andrew Crome of Manchester University, gave a frank and unabashed look at certain parts of the fandom people might rather forget.
The discussion started with a look at fanbases in general and how much of a challenge it genuinely is for female-centred pop culture to generate fanbases that are not too commercialised, dumbed-down or stereotypical, and how this ends up with so many fan bases being so male-centric. Because a lot of guys tend to go for action and adventure-oriented entertainment, they are less fussy about things being a bit dumber or simpler, and with media execs looking to save money and time constantly, simpler plots and characters are tempting to them. Plus, their habits of believing that male stereotypes about this are true they are more than happy to supply media that appeals to it, helping to fuel it. This also has an impact on shows for -women, and (more importantly) little girls, helping to pander to stereotypes according to both genders.

The general incredulity of the press and other outside observers to fanbases, seen as 'nerdy', goes up a notch with a something aime at little kids, another when across genders, and another with something as stereotypically cutesy and dumbed down as pony was (or is believed to be to those in the Press not acquainted with Generation 4). It is sensational enough that the tabloids don't need much effort (not that it stops them) and the more sensible press are swept up in this a little (all journalists socialise with each other, and the tabloid reporters get talking to the broadsheeters over cocktails in swanky Soho bars, so they come around to their way of thinking a bit).
The usual questions get asked about why, focussed on the weirdness of it all (if you're a real journalist, you should have enough real world experience to not let this faze you) and about the sexuality of the collector or fan. Now, if you ask me, that sort of fascination is pretty odd. Even those within similar media circles find it highly strange - not intriguing, but strange, alien even! - and one quote that stands out from the presentation is "otherwise rational high schoolers and college-age young ladies... with My Little Pony toys by the gross tucked away" by Hal Erickson in his Encyclopedia of Television Cartoons (1995). A cartoon historian of all people, which is nerdity on top of nerdity, finds it a bit bizarre. Clearly, part of the reasons these stereotypes exist, being fuelled by the media belief in them (and exgaggeration either deliberately by tabloid writers or simply by their typically melodramatic tendencies) is down to a lack of self-awareness of the same sort of behaviour themselves. Just look at any tabloid fawning over the Royals to the extent they write whole columns asking 'what if the Archbishop drops the rings???' whilst calling us weird. And their readers ape it. Props if it's a US tabloid with a readerbase that call themselves republicans.
Then comes the 'positive' sensationalising about how we are 'rebels', 'redefining American manhood' and so on. The problem this causes, as the discussion leads into, is the marginalisation of female and young fans (little boys liking My Little Pony is not that weird, as kids will watch anything) - or rather, further marginalisation: our very presence might make it seem a bit odd to parents with young kids and the media only serve to make it seem worse! This is especially bad when fans are made out to be 'weirdoes' in a poorly defined way, and of course the possibility of predatory behaviour comes up in discussion too; this boosts the fear and loathing a bit further, but also makes it seem like a safe space to would-be predators that read about it. This is why reporting has to be sensible and balanced. Interestingly, nobody seems to get wind of the one real (and harmless) perversion that is true - the cartoon pony fetish, of course. I mean, you'd think that would be something to cause a moral panic over.

The final segment discussed the idea of the fans as perceived by the show staff, and how the fan's actions can affect this. We looked at the discussion of fans trying to backseat drive as per Stranger than Fanfiction, the episode with the Daring Do Convention and RD's squabbles with a fellow fan, and how fans can still, you know, be nice to each other. Then we moved onto Once Upon a Zeppelin and the problems with fame and how people can be a bit too overbearing to their idols. The best part was saved for last: Fame and Misfortune! Further backseat driving, how fans seem to think they know better sometimes, and how they portray themselves to the creators vs how this affects them. Of course, I get the feeling that sometimes creators forget that portraying the fans in a certain light will, itself, give certain reaction, and might not do enough to prepare themselves for criticism ('snowflake' tendencies) for the inevitable outright bollocking from some of the fandom's nastier, gobbier quarters. Unlike a lot of the people that use the s-word, I don't feel that it justifies that sort of vile comment. I am of the opinion that they should, if possible, put up with the ruder ones and calmly answer their questions - after all, it is just random words on a screen and can't harm you; but, nobody said they had to just sit there and like it; being insulted like that stings a lot. So they should maybe take the piss a bit. Say, pointing out the hypocrisy of the person calling the artist a snowflake etc. and throwing a tantrum about a kids cartoon in the same (tweeted) sentence.

I had a rather interesting discussion about this with Dr. Crome with that in mind; MA Larson, of course, will always use a bit of humour if confronted on Twitter with moaning manchildren (here defined as people that act childishly over a cartoon they are a fan of, despite being an adult), and the moral for this episode was sound, even if the criticisms seemed to generalise the whole fanbase... so why didn't Larson defend it? Why did he distance himself from it? It's possible it was heavily altered behind his back, but by who and why? He was the chief writer at the time, so how would this get past him without him greenlighting or at least havig a hand in the production? Was he telling the truth or not? Dr. Crome was not too sure himself. I asked Mr. Larson on Twitter, and no response. Make of that what you will.
For disclosure purposes, I liked that episode and thought it was true, although it made out the problem to involve more people than is really true; in the fandom, such gibbons are a minority.

13:00 - The Cosplay Competition
Ah, yes, the cosplay... so many fine costumes on display... so many bloody furries, sweltering in the heat... all lined up at the back of the hall trying not to snag/scratch/stab each other with their horns/claws/swords. A good thirty or so people took part - a good quarter of the attendees! This is typical for small cons under 300 people. The costumes were varied and interesting, with a lot of good entries displaying a lot of effort. The Sphinx fursuiter got lots of appreciation and, unsurprisingly, so did the Tempest fursuiter, even a round of applause.

13:30 - Introduction to Fursuiting
Sadly, due to sudden hunger pangs (eat breakfast!) I was unable to capture this interesting panel by the veteran fursuiter Phil Sims giving you the whys, hows, and wherefore art thous of starting a fursuit crafting hobby and business. If anyone has a link to a video of it at all, even partly, let me know.

Travel, Accommodation and Other Advice
Most of the people at this Con, as with Bronyscot, came from Europe, especially the vendors; if you're coming in from Europe, book a cheap flight (that is, book it early) and try to look for cheap hotels; Ibis are now in business on this side of the channel, but make sure to look for Ibis BUDGET. There is one about fifteen minutes from the con on foot, but at late night when you're drunk, on a Saturday in wot-you-lookin-at-MANCHESTER, you might want to get a cab for about £10; Uber hasn't lost its licence for gropings as it has in London, so bear that in mind. There is a regular Ibis on the crossroads of Princess and Portland St., but avoid this as it is exactly the same as a Budget. The Budget is where all the fans were staying. The Con staff reccommended this one. ALWAYS check out a convention's soclal media, because you might find an unofficial Telegram or Whatsapp group chat where everyone is co-ordinating. Travelodge is alright.
Note that the best place to go is directly to Manchester airport by air and take the train or tram to wherever you're staying.
If you're coming from Glasgow or Edinburgh you can get a train directly to Manchester. If you live in the South of England, good luck to you. The best route by train is to London Euston and then from there to Manchester. Virgin trains are alright, but the food is a bit pricey. just be wary of yet another strike from train staff and/or lots of cancellations or sudden major timetable changes. Also replacement buses. Bear in mind the East Coast Mainline will be re-nationalised soon, and if there's any justice, Richard Branson will be flung off Beachy Head.
If you're coming in from Europe, especially if you're a vendor or musician, I suggest KLM or Virgin; excellent baggage allowances and direct flights. If you're coming in from America, try and do this as part of a touring holiday to see friends and/or a couple of cons or meetups on the mainland over a couple of weeks as it makes the con worth the money. If you're an American vendor, then the con is definitely worthwhile as a one day thing as part of a vacation because you can make a decent amount of cash; Igor of MLP Ties (interview soon) is able to make it to the Netherlands for Hearthwarming Con. Virgin Atlantic are good for you as vendors or musicians, albeit a bit expensive. Research a print shop near the con for your art, arrange a session via email in advance, print it there the day before the con and ship all your other crafts as fragile. Of course, check and double check with con staff as to what expenses they cover; or what riders (incentives or bonuses) you get.
If you find anything else a bit better, DM me at @RealFDuke.

This obviously applies to all North Americans attending all European Cons.
Travel in groups, especially if in costume, only go into pubs and bars with costume if you can't avoid it, and keep your wits about you. Manchester is friendly enough, but on a Saturday night it can be quite rough. At BUCK 2013 some random bastard tried to slam curry in my face and in 2014 someone tried to steal my hat; he regretted it soon after, as he saw the wizard staff on my belt - cosplay as something that lets you "have a good reason" under the law for carrying a blunt implement, e.g. an engineer or a wizard just in case. Note that this is not guaranteed to persuade the police in the unlikely event they stop and search you so take this advice with caution and any legal repercussions are your own responsibility, nobody else's. Try to avoid going around town in cosplay if you can avoid it. Plan ahead. Be cool and casual.

Food, Drink, Shopping
The Arndale Centre is the major mall in the centre of Manchester, near Piccadilly Station, is good for all your shopping needs; if you're a vendor and need some extra supplies urgently, they have a WHSmith for basic stuff, and for more involved e.g. Hossdick, er, Bostick glue, craft paper and so on, you can try the Ryman. Argos is your best bet for electronics, especially extra power cables for your tablet, power packs, adapter plugs, or mobile wifi hotspots if your mobile contract doesn't get coverage in Britain. Maplin's are expensive, but as they're going out of business everything's on sale. If you want to buy some plastic cartoon horses, Smyth's Toys are a good bet. There are also a couple of good costume shops, some of which do repairs and adjustments. Wilko are good for any miscellaneous things you might need. Think about what day you want to arrive, get there a day before, and run around for anything you might need.
If you're after a quick bite to eat, you can try Boots pharmacy for £3.49 meal deals or a Tesco's or Sainsbury's for similar things. Obviously you can get a curry or some other takeaway-type-thing from thekebab houses nearby (generally halal too) or the Esso accross the road. Use Just Eat if you want to order. The supermarkets also sell booze. You might also have heard of Greggs. Avoid them. These are a chain of bakeries; good for pastries and doughnuts, but pretty crap for hot food, including the perennial English fave, the sausage roll. Seriously, they cook them well, but they aren't allowed to keep them reheated, so you'll always get a cold pasty, hot pocket or burrito, and you have to pay extra to eat inside, even if there's no seats and it's raining. See, reheating them would require 20% VAT, not 17.5%, thanks to that stingy bastard George Osborne, who used to be Chancellor, and now runs the Evening Standard, and now you know what's wrong with the press.
Wetherspoons are the big chain pub in the GB and they are generally satisfactory, with decent pints for decent prices and somewhat eager to inform you of local history. 3 plates for £10 is a must as far as food goes. Only downsides are dingy lights and a few scruffy old gits, but people generally keep themselves to themselves as they all look like extras from Thriller so you lot should fit right in.
Usually at most one-day cons they meet up for a pub meet on the night before but this wasn't the case; always check their facebook or if all else fails, email the staff!

Con-Specific Highlights
In between panels I wandered around, looking at everything, as you tend to do, and I scored a brief advice spot on the art of vending with Greenfly, who was a little out of the way in one of the vendor rooms (see the map). The Not the Toilet Roll Game was amusing: buy an item from a vendor of £5, stick in the pot luck pile with the rest, get assigned to a pony team (Earth, Pegasus, or Unicorn) and draw names from a hat; if the name you draw matches yours, miss a turn, but if not then you swap your gift with someone from another team - who will end up with the bog roll / bum wad / shit tickets by the end and become Billy the Skid? Cack Halliday? Wipe Earp?
The Buckball was also interesting; you may remember in the intro interview a few weeks back, this was discussed. Again, pretty fun, it actually emulates the pony version pretty well (and it needs less paraphernalia than quidditch; try getting a broomstick on the Jubilee Line).
Of course, the usual con hits were there - My Little Karaoke, collectible card game (with a tutorial panel!), and gem shuffle game. However, they were soon abandoned by the few people in them (be fair, this is their first year) to see what was, in my opinion, the highlight of the day...

14:30 - Voice Workshop with Elley Ray-Hennessey
Now this, this was one of the big highlights of the day.
Elley is not only a veteran voice actor, but also an eager teacher of new, budding mic maestroes and she offers a service that is not only professional but also very engaging and fun. How do I know? Because she was kind enough to give us a free lesson!
Starting off slowly and building up, she was very, very good at stirring the emotions of the audience, who were sitting in rapt attention, until they were very eager to participate and responded to every question and statement she threw out there. The seating was nearly full, and hardly anyone was elsewhere, and perhaps only one or two quitely milling around the vendor hall, but even that had mostly stopped.
Firstly, she started out by explaining that her style of voice acting uses the chakras found in Hinduism as convenient reference points for what muscles to train, and in turn what sort of voices you use these for. They consist of the stomach chakra, chest chakra and various others such as the nose and throat, which you can then compress for (respectively) an angry villain role's voice, a fearful voice (often in conjunction with the stomach), a nervous nasal voice, or something light and jolly or even annoying and wheedling, like Trump when he's playing the wounded-kitten-victim act like all schoolyard bullies.
This might sound like mystical new-age nonsense, but it's not; it is a metaphor, and a very neat one. Joy voices require a clenched stomach and a lot of breathing to give the inflections, but angry voices and fearful ones don't tend to have that sort of breathing. Of course, this can vary, and there are no hard and fast rules, and my coverage here can not do it justice really, so I'll be giving you a full vid soon. No hard and fast rules, except one.
And that rule is: to get started as a voice actor, you need to visualise those you look up to, or your ideal 'hero' and try to bring that sort of personality and demeanor to your roles through your voice, by expressing your joy, expressing your love for others - which is love, anger and fear together - and being willing to risk things in expressing them.
But, to be a great voice actor, you have to learn to make it part of you as a person, not just your roles - living in joy, that is, looking for the positives or things you can make positive, and being willing to express these things out of love, by teling those around you your joy, anger or fear to help them understand things for their own good, and being willing to express them unconditionally and bugger what people think of you.

15:30 - Voice Acting Panel with Lee Tockar
And now we came to the other main event of the day; Lee Tockar, the voice of many fan favorites including Steven Magnets (the very first!) and Snips (the very Trixiest), sat down with us in the main hall for a Skype question/answer session whilst over in St. Louis. The panel particularly interested this reporter because Lee doesn't do that many interviews, even though the show's other supporting character actors have a similar workload of background and one-shot roles. Furthermore, because he was there from the start, he's had time to watch the fanbase emerge, grow and shape the show by showing their rabid wholehearted lust support for their bewildering favorite husbandos1 characters that inevitably made their way into the show; this makes him very experienced with us and there's a real rapport with him and his audience, and very smooth. This is in contrast to Ellie, who is still quite new to us and therefore more excited and emotive as this fandom has come as a bit of a surprise - bear in mind that she's been in the voice acting trade a good deal longer than Lee, so that should emphasis how unique this whole fandom of ours is. Both their styles of speaking serve to engage the audience well, however.
One interesting thing he revealed were his influences, which are quite varied: Frank Oz, Frank Welker and Mel Blanc. If you actually listen to his voices, you can genuinely hear them. Snips, for example, contains traces of Frank Oz - the little bugger sounds a bit husky and muppety, and this fits in with his character as an annoying, hairy, but utlimately well meaning little maniac (your typical real life miniature pony). I am so drunk right now. I want my waifu.2 Mel Blanc appears to come out a bit in Steven Magnets with a sort of lilting, effete voice, and Coriander Cumin I could murder a curry3 has a bit of Frank Welker too.
On the subject of foreign voices, Lee remarked that he finds these to be the most challenging; see, it's about being able to do them well enough to avoid being disrespectful (usually by being stereotypical) and balancing this against the need for something slightly over the top or cartoony without it getting too silly and becoming stereotypical that way. Of course, in England it's hard to do as everyone has a cartoon accent to begin with.4 Dick Van Dyke is the exception; that awful Cockney accent isn't an accent; it's a phenomenon.
1Will you stop this? It's not funny. --Capper.
2Seriously, stop it.
3I warned you; you're too drunk; someone get the duct tape.5
4And the whip. Don't let him get us sued for libel.8
5Here you go. --Sethisto.6
6What are you doing here? --Capper.7
7And all the roads that lead you there are HGMMF, MMMF. I'm on vacation.
8He's on vaction now in our editorial interrogation chamber. Stuck him in with KP. Should scare him sober.9,10
9Good. Otherwise he'll use up your footnote budg

16:30 - The Awards Ceremony
10Let me out of here. I can barely fit in this cell as it is, never mind with her ego squashing me up against the wall. Oh, oh come on, don't be like that. Capper you bastard let me out right now. She's starting to get violent, oh God oh God, let me out before I suffo HI all, it's Capper here. We've had to put him away for a bit until he calms down. He's starting to run out of air though, because KP started to talk about herself.
Anyway, where were we...?
Ah, yes. Despite the fun and games, everything had to come to a close eventually, and thus, we ended with the award ceremony. A wide variety of prizes were given for the cosplay competition and the other competitions, and the clear winner was the Tempest fursuiter from earlier, though other awards were given for effort and orginality, including one guy who cosplayed as Derpy cosplaying as the manticore. Flutterguy didn't win anything, sadly. There were a couple of bids left on the silent auction to give to their owners, but that was it. HH thanked everyone for attending and told them to look forward to next year, and then people slowly left. A quick chat with Elley, and she said she liked these smaller conventions because it's easier to interact with the fans and there are less minders keeping an eye on you; it certainly summed up the con's laid back but very professional atmosphere.
However, even with the vendors packing up and your dirty bastard reporter volunteering his services as a human crane, the day was only half over, and the evening was coming!

Note: this is what I have been able to garnish from Prof. Duke's drunken, garbled screams.

17:30 - The Power League Bar and Concert
A short walk away from the St Thomas Centre, and we were at the Power League. A nice venue, this was the home of the Power League five-a-side football, which is like regular football but with only half the number of pansies. Sadly, not many people took the Buckball up; give it a chance! The venue itself was spacious and with decent layout; you could use the booth tables at the back to play the now mandatory Cards Against Humanity session and see the bands up front, as was the case with Errol, Smaug and the Prof.
As the silent auction went underway... what the hell is that banging? What's that?11 Oh, you are, are you?12 Oh, you have, have you?13 Right then... alright, alright, stand back, coming in... wait, where are you... how'd you open the door?14 You bastard! Let me out...
Okay, everybody, sorry about that. Normal service has now been resumed. The evening's entertainment was incredibly fun. A little more low key than I would've thought, but still great all the same. There was a decent array of snacks and beer, though Beck's and Stella are a bit same-y, and I prefer the ciders (which were only cheap-o Strongbow or Stella Raspberry) but that's a typical Inglerlish Pub Like. The only real drawback was no food.
We ambled drunkenly down the road to the local curry house for dinner, which the staff at PL kindly let us take inside. As we walked back, Errol remarked that he came not just because of his intrigue, but also the atmosphere of small cons. Smaug felt a real closeness with everyone there, as if it was more homely; and really, I agree with them - I find these small cons, especially the single-day ones, have everyone sitting around and talking in a nice, laid back setting, even the guests of honor, and there's not a mass of people crowding them, so they have a very homely, friendly feel to them. Don't you?
Make sure you get to them. Whilst they're around.
The pub quiz came next, with the prize being free con swag with added bragging rights. We were subjected to all manner of difficult. strange and ultimately amusing questions that tested fan knowlesge and sorted the wizards from filthy casuals. We then had another auction to sell off - in the finest of con traditions - all the con badges, banners and other paraphernalia and heraldry, and some people were able to pick up their bids from the silent auction. Take, for example, this very cute little Flutterdash wedding sculpture from Manic Sculptor.


11I'm sober now! I'm sorry!
12I've topped up the footnote budget!
13Course I bloody have, lemme out!
14I said I'd make a video.15
15This was a long and arduous process that first started out as an artful negotiation with the chamber door AI appealing to its better nature as an intelligent, wholesome AI. But then, because the door is a bit stupid and only responds to basic instinctual stimuli, I was forced to turn it into an outright bribe towards its sense of happiness16 and then lust17. I was sadly reduced to appealing to its sense of importance18 and basically threatened to make it kill itself.18
16an intro video for his AI Singles profile.
17A porn flash of his nerdfu Twilight caressing his control keyboard.
18An analysis of door AIs.
18Three words: "Hosted by KP".

The ConcertWhile the entertainment was a little more low-key than I preferred - I had expected a small rock and metal concert like Rock Nessie at Bronyscot, but got more of a house-band type experience from the lads, who appeared at both - it was still full of atmosphere and life, if a little bit less suited for dancing. Not that it stopped people - Duke and Dame Flutterguy, I'm looking at you here.

Cracking Lazer and Steely Hooves were absolutely fantastic, and we were treated to some old fan classics from the earshredding Spitfire by Lazer to the sombre and somewhat moving Little White Horse by Steely. This song is pretty poignant for the fact it's all about Britty, the mascot for BUCK, and a perfect way to round off his set; to dwell on the memories of fandom days past, of conventions come and gone, of bright flashing lights and of friendships forged in the noise and heat of head-pounding raves with a guy in a Lyra costume, and drunkenly singing Anthropology on My Little Karaoke with this random guy in the heady atmosphere of lunchtime beers and the buzz of happiness and bonhomie knowing that him and his friends in their online club will soon be friends with you for life, and that you all can and will travel any distance to meet whenever and wherever for drinks and antics on a sleepy summer afternoon in beautiful surroundings, and of knowing that thanks to that little white horse you are doing this - all this - with some of the most unique, most creative, most kind and all round best bloody people in the world. And it didn't even go when Coltastrophe ripped it up with some excellent rock covers. And it didn't even go when the DJ came on for jams later on, with a wide variety of old and new pony-themed headbangers to dance like a madman to later on. And it didn't even go when HypnoHooves and his professional, swift and dilligent staff, who had run this convention with the doting precision and care that you would expect of them and their past folio, put this little griffin chick of theirs gently to bed and ushered us all out into the night - where we knew we would see it again next year. Because we knew that, although the roads were winding, and there were many things that I would like to say to you about it, I could only sum it up as this: Manchester had a convention again, and it looks set to grow, and more people will come, brought by past memories and eager to make new ones. Because we expect to see those memories again, old and new, comfortingly familiar and yet still refreshingly surprising; of a floor full of people jumping around in which I see Mr and Mrs Flutterguy dancing in the middle of it in a fast waltz, of all things, without a care in the world, like living symbols of our fandom, at yet another convention, yet still wandering how they managed it; of Pony's new voice star Elley-Ray enthralling and being enthralled by all the people as she sat amongst them and discovered their stories, told them how to use their voices to spin stories of their own, like Lee Tockar used to do back in 2011; of friendships and romances, of Peter and Amy New... Like I said, the best people in the world. Because while you might think there's no point - to which I disagree - I thoroughly recommend you make the effort to go while there's still time, and if you think there is little time left - again, I disagree - then that's all the more reason to go. Because, as Pratchett said, it might not last forever... But then again, what does? The memories, that's what.--Foal Duke, International Affairs Correspondent, Manchester, 19th May 2018--Contact at @RealFDuke if you have a story. DM me in confidence.--Special thanks to HypnoHooves, Becca and all the staff, and Smaug for watching my camera.

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