A Waider's-eye view of GaelCon '94


GaelCon '94 was my excuse for going back to Dublin for the last weekend in October. Nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Bren, Dec, Gropey, Pete, Diarmuid, Jas, Genie, Adrian and maybe even Johnno were also planning on converging on Dublin city; nor was it anything to do with the fact that once in Dublin, we would meeting up with JoeV, Bubu, JC and Huggie, not to mention a few other randoms. My excuse was nothing to do with the fact that Genie had announced to me previously that she and her SO, Paul, were going to have a Brehon wedding at GaelCon.

I didn't get to the Con. I heard bits and pieces about it from others, mostly bitching about some guy called Tom who I've heard people bitching about in previous years. I saw some of the group depart for the Con and reappear at JoeV's place after the Con. Personally I figured paying nine quid just to see a friend being weird in front of a crowd wasn't worth it, and anyway I was, as always, too goddamn lazy to go anywhere.

Friday, October 28

I took the day off work, sensibly as it turned out, since I had st00pidly booked myself on a flight from Stansted to Dublin rather than a much more convenient and hassle-free Bristol to Dublin flight. I wasn't thinking straight when I booked the ticket, I guess. I left Sunny Swindon[tm] at 15:30, arrived in London after 16:30, crossed London in about 45 minutes, and got to Stansted a bit more than the required hour before my flight.

I had my newly bought guitar with me, all wrapped up in bubble wrap and plastic (guess who doesn't have a flight case) which meant I had to sign a piece of paper that said the airline wasn't responsible if the plane happened to run over my bey00tiful axe. Fair enuff, I said.

I also got the random selection ticket to go and talk to the nice men with the big x-ray gadget. This is the second time this has happened to me in two months.

Stansted is one majorly gr00vy airport, with all sorts of neat-o design features and an electric bus service going from the main building to the terminal building(s). I was impressed by this gr00viness as I passed through to the boarding gates, clutching the bottle of Peach Schnapps I had bought in the Duty Free. Coming to a DSP party with drink is general considered a good idea.

Once on the plane, I settled into my Stephen King book (Nightmares and Dreamscapes, a collection of short stories. Pretty good stuff.) which I had started on the train. The hour-long flight included a drinks trolley passing by, the driver of which forgot to charge me for my drink so I (thoughtfully, gullibly, etc.) pressed the button for the stewardess to come and collect my fifty pence. The stewardess walked briskly up the plane, spotted that my light was on, said, "Oh, your light's on!", switched it off and continued on her way before I had a chance to point out that I had switched it on, it wasn't a spontaneous occurrence. This is the second time that this has happened to me also.

I arrived in Dublin, walked through miles of terminal building following signs saying "Baggage Retrieval ->" and "<- Baggage Retrieval" until I eventually came to the baggage carousel that served all Ryanair flights, three of which had just arrived from London. One of these being mine, obviously.

After several years of waiting, my guitar finally arrived, speckled over its plastic cover with rainwater but otherwise pretty much in the same mummified condition it was in when it descended into the bowels of Stansted. I clutched it under my arm and took off for the arrivals area.

I emerged from the gates and spotted JoeV and Linnet, his SO, waiting for me. We went outside to catch a taxi and discovered, bemusedly, that two Gardaí (the Gardaí are the Irish police) had taken it upon themselves to allocate people to the taxis in the rank. I guess they were bored. JoeV told the taxi driver where we were headed and we sped off to chez les DSPs, Dublin 8. On the way we talked about lots of things but mostly about hacking, as usual. Sad but true. Amusingly (for me) Linnet, although not a hacker-type herself, actually got the general gist of what we were on about and managed to pitch into the conversation occasionally. Obviously she's been spending way to much time with JoeV.

The DSP house in Lennox Street, or Linux Street as I insisted on calling it, is one of these nondescript 2/3-storey buildings with each floor rented out as a flat. (Actually, I have since discovered that the tenants don't even get a full floor - there are two flats on the top floor, and six more elsewhere in the building.) The DSPs are on the top floor, from where they send deafening music through the floorboards to the neighbours downstairs. The flat itself was a little, er, "cosier" than I had imagined, but a nice place all the same. The living room makes up most of the flat, and this is filled with a bookcase, large sofa, big TV, TV/video cabinet thingy, a chair or two, a beanbag and JC's new baby - a Gateway 2000 P90 with the Sound System from Hell - a MIDI-capable, SoundBlaster emulatin' card with a pair of small but enormously powerful speakers and a big fuck-off bass unit on the floor. The bookcase is laden with little pewter things, cassettes and books (surprise surprise) including masses of Calvin and Hobbes, of which more anon, and some SandMan comics. You'd never guess there was a bunch of hackers living here...

I dropped my bag and my guitar and accompanied JoeV and Linnet to Linnet's mother's place, encountering Jas in his typical attire - black - somewhere along the way. The trip to Linnet's mum's place was, I think, something to do with said mum departing the country on Saturday. Or something. I wasn't much into the details myself. Especially since, having done whatever it was we did, we took ourselves to the pub.

The pub was The Bleeding Horse, but I was disappointed to find it lacked all manner of rough-cut individuals the name suggested to me. However, the service was good - the bar critters circulated the place collecting empty glasses, and it was apparently quite acceptable to collar one and order "Beer, goddammit, and FAST!", although I didn't avail of this service - and the music was okay. I think. I'm not sure.

I was pleasantly surprised at the cheers I got on arrival - sure, I hadn't seen most of the group in about two months, but in all fairness, guys! I got some cheering and stomping, causing a lot of head-turning around the rest of the upstairs area where we were camped, and I hid behind JoeV until it died down.

I found myself a perch up on a ledge behind JC, Gropey (who came up and joined me) and Finbarr, another MicroCruftie. Finbarr insisted on hugging my leg on several occasions. I didn't object, my leg likes being hugged. Me'n'JC exchanged some miscellaneous chat about things I cannot remember (like a lot of things that happened over the weekend, come to think of it...) but I'm sure something about his consultancy company, J. Random Software Consultants(plug plug), came into it. Gropey and I conversed quite a lot, the noise level in the bar making it difficult for any of the others to exchange any more than gestures ("Yes, I want another drink!") with me. The whole group was working on this basis, including Joev and Linnet who appeared to be having a Serious Relationship Discussion[tm] (would anyone like to enlighten me further on this?). Gropey also spent some time taking swigs out of my bottle (Bulmers Cider, sweet, 6% alcohol) whenever he felt like it. I didn't argue too much - he's bigger than me.

Shortly before closing time, or perhaps during closing time, some anal-retentive bar critter came around and told myself and Gropes to remove ourselves from the ledge on which we were perched. We didn't object, since we were leaving anyway.

Bren and I accompanied Gropey as we staggered homeward, which turned out to be a mistake as Gropey was in a drunk/frisky/playful mood and decided to swing off both of us. Ouch. He's a heavy bastard. We continued up the street, swapping jokes. I launched into a particularly protracted sketch that I had heard on a tape, which continued as we entered a chip shop.

So I'm telling Bren this one about an American taking the piss out of the Scottish accent and doing it well, and Larry the PissMonster complete with thick-ish lip, broken nose, bleary stagger and langer accent tries to butt in. I'm not impressed, so I tell him to fuck off, turn my back on him and continue telling Bren the joke. So Larry gets upset, and does the stand-two-inches-from-my-face-and-threaten-me bit, I stand there trying to wish him away, and Bren tries to confuse the poor guy by talking to him and asking questions about his threats:

Larry: I'm an ex-boxer, see this nose? (points at broken nose)
Waider: (stares at Larry, willing him to go away)
Bren: Really? What division? Lightweight? Middleweight?

Eventually we managed to disengage from LtPM and joined the rest of our bunch outside, whom Larry had also decided he could take on if he had to, brave soul that he was. Personally I think the odds of one PissMonster, inebriated, versus a bunch of lads from Limerick (aka Stab City) would be a tad one-sided. IMHO, of course. And as regards fair fighting - if he felt he could take us all on, who are we to stop him?

Anyway, we arrived back at chez les DSPs and dug into the Peach Schnapps, my disk box of goodies, the PC, food, seating and guitars. Lots of fun was had with the PC - full multimedia while drunk does strange things to your head - and most of us watched the NovaStorm demo in awe. Game music and Full-Motion video straight from the CD takes some beating, and there's this wonderfully expensive sound every time something crashes into your ship - sounds suspiciously like a Porche in need of body work. Mind you, the gameplay is shite. Oh well, I guess you can't have everything.

As the night wore on, me and Bren decided a bit of guitaring was in order. So we played. And played. And Bren got a little carried away. Which is why JoeV emerged from his snug boudoir (which features a Linnet-wrap[tm] quilt) and proceeded to complain loudly at Bren. (Note: These two are brothers.) They argued for some time, while the rest of us sat around quietly and I played soft music on my guitar, and then Bren decided he was storming out to walk the streets of Dublin, thank you very much. Gropey went out after him to make sure he came back in one piece. The rest of us sat around chatting (except JoeV, who returned to the aforementioned boudoir) until Bren reappeared, damp and more sober, along with Gropey. This sorta stuff happens with us all the time - I think it must be an unwritten law that when we get together, at least one person must Fuck Off[tm], preferably while drunk; I've done it, as have Bren and Johnno, and perhaps other members of the group also. Anyway, we decided that 4am was a good time to crash, so we climbed into our respective sleeping areas (Gropey on the beanbag, Pete on the floor with a pillow which "Mr. Scum" Gropey subsequently appropriated and Bren and me on the couch.

Saturday, October 29

We woke early. I think it may have been around 8 or so. Either way, we commenced chatting about who snored, etc. Gradually the volume level rose until JoeV reappeared, with the quote of the weekend:

"I know, you're all the spawn of the Devil!"

We fell about laughing at this and I think that prevented JoeV from being overly pissed off - it's hard to be pissed off at a room full of friends who are falling about laughing, even if they are the spawn of the Devil.

Breakfast was large. People (indeterminate) went to Ye Shoppe, further people (indeterminate) cooked the resulting food, and all and sundry chowed down and generally stuffed their faces. My (flaky) memory seems to hint at a large fry for breakfast, which would be vaguely consistent with what I'd imagine we had for breakfast.

At this point, JoeV and I geeked out thouroughly - with a PC at hand, how could we not? The first thing we had to do was kick the thing into shape; we both felt that it was inelegant in the way it booted up, with random messages from the memory manager because it wasn't happy with the setup. So having optimized the bejesus out of the memory, JoeV and I set upon my disk box full of goodies. This somehow led on to a lot of mucking about with the Sound System From Hell[tm]; we pushed and poked at it for a long time, and played with the freebie Windows CD Player and the WAV player and suchlike. At some point during this hacking, JoeV was puzzling over something; I saw the problem, and pointed at something on the screen and said "Pull the lever, Joe". Bren promptly cracked up at this "technical talk".

I should note that it was at this time that two Long-Haired Freaks[tm] were seen to mosh in front of the PC while it was playing some particularly gr00vacious music. No Names Will Be Mentioned.

Being not totally allergic to vitamin D and the other joys associated with walking in sunshine, a troop of us eventually headed into town. The first place I recognised was Grafton Street, which is a pedestrianised shopping area in central Dublin, a bit south of the river Liffey. We didn't actually do much around here - apparently someone in the group had an agenda of some sort - but I did see someone from my home town of Youghal (about 150 miles south of Dublin). This is typical me; I leave the country for two months, come back for a weekend and meet someone from home. It's almost guaranteed to happen.

Our next point of reference/port of call was Dawson street. Dawson street is home to Forbidden Planet, Hodges & Figgis and Waterstones - bookshops all - and, factoid fans, the Dublin branch of Rank Screen Advertising (47 Dawson Street, Ph. 01-6798710) who are responsible for the wonderful adverts they play before feature films in most, if not all, Irish cinemas. However, much to my horror, we walked past all the aforementioned bookstores and took ourselves instead to the Virgin Games Store at the bottom of the street, where our true mission became apparent - one of the guys (I suspect JoeV) wanted to exchange a game he had bought there.

From Dawson Street, we wandered back across Grafton Street and down a few random side streets to a Chinese market where Gropey wanted to get some incense. On the way to the Chinese Shop That Sold Incense, we stopped off at any number of junk shops to look at more small pewter things and, well, junk. No purchases were made, however.

Our ever helpful tour guide, JoeV, pointed out the back of his new workplace while we were all busy observing a fire engine on the other side of the street, the driver (or perhaps one of the other occupants) of which appeared to be having a conversation with someone leaning out a second-floor window. No excitement was available, however; we surmised that the firemen had lost the fire or something.

At some point during this random excursioning, we wandered into a shop on Grafton Street helpfully named Game, where they sell, er, games. Also random hardware items. I flaunted my disgusting richness (ha!) by buying a SoundBlaster on a whim. If I wasn't such a cheapskate I would have gotten a better one, on reflection...

Eventually we gave up on the whole walking around lark and went back to the flat, where JoeV and I attacked the PC with screwdrivers, a joystick card and my new soundcard. Apparently the SoundBlaster emulation on the Sound System From Hell[tm] wasn't up to scratch, so trying out the Real Thing was in order. Upon powering up and running assorted setup programs, we discovered that we were in possession of the Bastard Son of Satan Joystick Card - its wonderful installation program took one look at the exisiting AUTOEXEC.BAT and decided nah, don't need that, and replaced it with a PATH statement and nowt else. Thankfully there was a copy of the AUTOEXEC.BAT lying around, so we didn't get totally screwed up...

I took to vegetating after getting the PC back up and running; Gropey and someone else (Bren? Pete? JoeV?) spent large amounts of time playing Wing Commander Armada head-to-head. Me, I stuck with Calvin and Hobbes. The rest of the guys find this stuff achingly funny, I don't agree with them entirely... (stop press: On his recent trip to Dublin (31/1/95 - 6/2/95), Waider finally grokked Calvin and Hobbes!) We also did lots more messing with guitars, and watched some tv. No doubt we fooded at some point too.

That night we watched videos. I remember that there were three of them; however, I can only remeber that two of them were "Reanimator 2" and the widescreen version of "The Abyss". "Reanimator Two" was full of wonderful one-liners and schlock horror stuff; "The Abyss" is immensely cool in terms of atmosphere, and it looks nothing like the abandoned nuclear reactor or whatever it was that they filmed it in. The alien that comes aboard the sub is especially neat. I did managed to stay awake long enough to see all three videos; everyone else spent some (or all) of the video-time sleeping. Crashdown happened at about 5.

Sunday, October 30

Sunday was very Irish - fuckloads of rain for most of the day. This meant that we spent the entire day vegetating again. More C&H, more TV, more Wing Commander Armada. Towards evening I phoned for a taxi to take me back to the airport, which duly arrived. Bren and JoeV accompanied me to the airport, mostly to see me off but also so I could give Bren a loan!

Had to persuade the taxi driver to let us off about 50p of the fare since I was the only one with money and what money I had didn't quite cover the fare. The taxi driver grumbled a bit but there wasn't a hell of a lot he could do so we got away with it. Inside we assaulted Burger King for to be feeding ourselves. I do like a good bacon double cheeseburger...

I went through the waiver of liability with my guitar again, then trekked off to my departure gate and waited for the plane. And waited. And waited. And finally got on the plane, and waited some more. It transpired that RyanAir, curse them, had lost a plane to mechanical fault or something (not lost it in the sense that it dropped out of the sky, just that it was grounded) and the only available spare plane was too small for the number of people booked into the flight. It took an hour for an assh... representative from RyanAir to ask people to leave the plane or something. I dunno what the final arrangement was, since I managed to keep my seat.

As a result of these shenanigans, I missed my connecting train in London and ended up phoning up a friend to ask if I could stay the night. Even getting to his place was fun, since he had moved and I didn't know where the new flat was. I finally got there using a combination of London Underground and a rather costly taxi-ride (halfway across London) and crashed for the night.

Monday, November 1

Yay! Finally on my back to Sunny Swindon. Got me a train from Paddington station (which features a large Paddington Bear in a glass case, incidentally) to Swindon at some hour that probably seemed obscenely early to me but was a regular occurrence for more normal people. On the way I purchased a sandwich, which was enjoyable for a good ten minutes then suddenly tasted rather sickening so I had to give up on it. After an hour of train I arrived in Swindon station, from where I taxied home, left in my luggage and buggered off to work.

Footnote: This was written in November 1994, shortly after the events described, and it shows. I've removed links that no longer link and corrected some HTML bogosity, but it's otherwise unchanged from what I'd originally written. Two other memories I have of the weekend, sans a chronological handle with which to place them correctly:
JC and I having a lightsaber fight. Well, actually, it was a sesame stick (aka "twig") fight, with sound effects provided by us both making the lightsaber noise as we battled. Sesame sticks do not make particularly good lightsabers.
Me and my bottle of peach schnapps. I poured a pint of it, which I proceeded to drink for the rest of the night, much to my later regret and regurgitation.
Dublin has changed somewhat, and I know it better. The Bleeding Horse is still a fine pub; The Virgin Game Centre is now Electronic Boutique, and Forbidden Planet have moved down to the Quays.

Waider "I know, you're all the spawn of the devil!"