Country Victoria in 1999 #GiveItUp125

Here are some photos from the trip that Kevin and I made following the World Science Fiction Convention in 1999. First up we have the Puffing Billy Railway, which made Kevin very happy.

And second, one of the best ways to get up close and personal with Australian wildlife, Healesville Sanctuary. (Sadly digital cameras back then had little in the way of zoom so these are the only good shots I have.)

As usual, click on any photo for a bigger image and slide show.

Up in the Sierras #GiveItUp125


I don’t have a lot of photos of my time in California because smartphones hadn’t been invented back then and digital cameras were still a bit dodgy. Also I seem to have spent most of my time photographing visits to science fiction conventions rather than tourist spots. However, there are a couple of records of tourist trips in Emerald City. This is one of them.

Kevin took me up into the Sierras to visit his mother. We timed to visit to coincide with a local Blues Festival, which I wrote about here. There are also photos here and here.

These days you can find good musicians on line, so here’s Craig Horton in action:

And here’s Steve Gannon:

Exploring Rome #GiveItUp125

On my way back from Bologna I spent a day or so in Rome seeing the sights. I barely managed to scratch the surface of the things there were to see. If you are going to Rome, you need several days, and you need to book tickets for the various attractions well in advance or you won’t get in. Even then you may have to queue a long time to get into the Vatican.

Anyway, here are some photos. Huge thanks to my dear friend Francesco Verso who met up with me in the evening and took me around the part of the city where he grew up.

To Bolongna and Beyond #GiveItUp125

Is it time for some tourism? I think so. Back in 2017 I was extremely fortunate to be invited to give a paper at a conference organised by the University of Bologna. Obviously I was looking forward to visiting the home of that famous pasta dish, but it turned out even better because the university’s conference facilities were in a small village well south of the city. That got me into contact with Italy’s violent history of roving gangs of mercenaries (condottieri) and with one of the world’s most famous writers.

My thanks again to Raffaella Baccolini and everyone else involved in the conference. There is now a book of the proceedings. And now, here are some photos (click on one for a slide show and comments).

We’re Live! #GiveItUp125

In case you missed the announcement on Twitter, yes, the #GiveItUp125 challenge is now underway. I am in Virtual Italy, and I’ll be posting Italian content on various social media throughout the day. There will be music, tourism, books, and of course food. Here, in best Blue Peter tradition, is one that I prepared earlier.

If you like what I’m doing here, please consider donating to One25 who are doing amazing work in Bristol, putting themselves at risk to help those who have nothing.

And now, time for that Zabaglione…

Some #GiveItUp125 Announcements


As you may have noticed, I reached my initial fundraising goal of £250 yesterday. It is great to know that I have something in the bank before I have produced anything. From tomorrow, however, the content should start streaming out, and that means plenty of opportunities to get people to contribute. So I have raised the target to £750.

Now that may seem a lot, but we are 33% of the way there already. And last year I raised £600, so I’m sure we can do it.

You may be wondering why there is a picture of bananas on this post. Well, last year Meghan & Harry Sussex made a Royal Visit to One25 (when they were doing such things) and Meghan decided to write “positive affirmations” on some of the bananas in the centre. That got all over the news. The folks at One25 have been a bit obsessed with bananas ever since, and several of them will be doing this year’s challenge dressed as a banana.

I do not have a banana suit.

But I have bananas. Six of them: one for each day of the challenge. So each day I will be channeling my inner (ex-)princess and writing a message on one (before eating it). For this I need your help. Each day I will be asking for ideas for that day’s message. It needs to be something short enough to fit on a banana, and sufficiently clean to be tweeted out. Tweet me ideas with the hashtag #GoBanana.

There’s more.

I’m delighted to announce that for the California and Canada legs of my tour I will be joined by the wonderful Nalo Hopkinson. Nalo currently lives near Los Angeles, but still calls Toronto home. Tune in to find out what she thinks of both cities.

And finally, when should you do that? Here’s the schedule:

  • Friday 15th: Italy
  • Saturday 16th: California
  • Sunday 17th: Australia
  • Monday 18th: Finland
  • Tuesday 19th: Canada
  • Wednesday 20th: France

Content will roll out here, on YouTube and on Twitter through each day. Enjoy!

Let’s Give It Up for One25!


Some of you will remember that last year I walked 125 miles to raise money for the Bristol charity, One25. Well, they are looking for help again this year, and this time the challenge is to give something up for 125 hours. Thinking of something was a challenge in itself because we’ve been forced to give up so much thanks to the pandemic, but I have an idea I think that you’ll enjoy. The image above is a clue. More on that later, but first, why One25?

One25 are a charity who work directly with street sex-working women to provide outreach, casework and essential resources for their future. 80% of women who street sex-work are homeless. In the strangest of times we now find ourselves in, One25 remain focused on keeping contact with women as much as possible and continuing to deliver services. They are doing whatever they can to make sure that some of Bristol’s most vulnerable women know that they are loved and not alone.

UK-based readers might remember that last year the Sussexes visited One25 and Meghan wrote on some bananas.

As a trans woman I am painfully aware that sex work could easily have been part of my life. Thanks to a great deal of luck and Kevin’s love, I managed to avoid that, but numerous people didn’t. High profile trans women such as Roz Kaveney and Janet Mock have written movingly about their experiences in the sex trade. Each year, when I help read the names of the departed at the Trans Day of Remembrance ceremony, I am painfully aware that many of those women died because they had no choice but to sell their bodies, and therefore had to make themselves vulnerable.

I have done several sessions of trans awareness training for One25 staff and have been very impressed by their openness and willingness to provide support to whoever needs it.

So, what’s the plan? Well, for the duration of the fundraiser, 1:00pm on May 15th to 6:00pm on May 20th, I am giving up living in the UK. I’ve had enough of this staying at home lark, and by the magic of the internet I am going to travel the world. And I’m inviting you to come with me. For each of the 6 days I will visit a different country. I will check out the tourist spots, talk to local people, try the local food, play the local music and so on. You will be able to follow it all on social media.

I have four of the six countries inked in. Australia and California are obvious choices as I have lived in both countries. Finland is next as I have been there so often. I’m going to do Italy because it gives me an opportunity to talk about Romans (again). The other two are as yet undecided. Croatia and Canada are obvious picks as I’ve been to each of them several times, but I’m open to persuasion to go somewhere else. It needs to be somwhere I can do a decent job of visiting. Suggest somewhere.

If you happen to live in one of those countries and would like to help by suggesting places to visit, things to eat, or music to play I would be very grateful. If you’d like to do an interview I would be over the moon. Do let me know.

And, most importantly, PLEASE PLEDGE. My fundraising page is here. No amount is too small. Every penny is gratefully received.

Convention Planning

I hadn’t been planning to attend Eastercon this year. However, with The Green Man’s Foe being up for a BSFA Award it seemed entirely appropriate that I should be there with copies to sell. You’ll therefore be able to find me in the Dealers’ Room. And if all goes well there will be something rather special Juliet-related available.

I warn you in advance that I will not be very awake. I will be fresh off a plane from Western Canada and in the middle of jet lag recovery. I may hide in my room quite a bit.

So that’s one extra convention on the calendar for this year. I also have one fewer. For complicated reasons I will be unable to attend Worldcon in Wellington. I am very disappointed about this as I have been looking forward to this particular Worldcon for 10 years, but my life gets complicated by things outside of my control. I would like to stress that this is not the fault of the ConZealand committee, who have been incrediably helpful, nor are the particular conditions affecting me likely to prevent anyone else from attending. Have fun in NZ, folks. I will miss you all.

Reflections on Belfast

I have been to Belfast three times this year, most recently for TitanCon. Each time I have been I have seen more evidence of increasing sectarian activity.

The hotels that Kevin and I stayed in were right in the city center close to the Europa. They were also just a short walk away from a notoriously Protestant area which was festooned with flags. The Union Jacks and Ulster flags are expected. The flags of the British Parachute Regiment are a particular political protest related to a criminal trial of a soldier. The Donald Trump MAGA flag was a reminder that nothing in this world happens in isolation any more.

Back in the days of the Troubles, the American-Irish community was known to have raised funds for the IRA. Now it seems like we have Americans providing funds for the other side of the dispute as well.

Belfast is a lovely city that has blossomed since the Good Friday Agreement. It would be a tragedy to see it collapse into sectarian warfare again. Unfortuantely that seems to be what some people, including some people in the current UK Cabinet, are hell-bent on making happen.

The Race for 2023

There has been some discussion on Twitter today about potential future Worldcon sites. Washington DC has been awarded the 2021 convention. It is probably too late to do anything about 2022, for which Chicago is unopposed. That leaves us with 2023 as the next possible non-US Worldcon.

Prior to Dublin the extant bids for 2023 were Nice (France), Chengdu (China) and New Orleans (USA). The New Orleans bid has, I understand it, collapsed. However, some US fans were busily organising a bid for another city. Apparently they viewed this as essential to prevent yet another non-US Worldcon. I think they have settled on Memphis but it was a bit confused.

The Chengdu bid is controversial for two reasons, one of which is that it is very hard to get into China. Elizabeth Bear told me that she has been denied a visa because she is a writer. That could happen to a lot of us. My own view is that a Chinese Worldcon won’t happen without government approval, and if that approval exists then it should be possible to set up a system whereby visa applications can be expedited. This is China, after all. If bureaucrats are told to do something they will do it. It is only when they have no instructions that they are dangerous. I know this is rough on my Chinese friends, who very much want to extend the hospitality of their country to the world, but they need to show that they can get people to the convention.

The other issue is personal safety. Clearly a lot of Americans are terrified of going to China. I know a lot of people who have been. That includes my boss, Berkeley. His husband, Duncan, has been working in China for several months, and Berkeley has spent a lot of time out there. Given that he’s never had any job other than Gay Activist, and this should be obvious from his social media activity, I don’t think that China is that dangerous for LGBT+ folks.

It is, however, potentially dangerous to Muslims given what is happening to the Uighurs at the moment. It is also extremely dangerous for anyone who has friends or family involved in the current protests in Hong Kong. That is a very good reason for not voting for China. Things may be different in two years time, but political change in China does not happen easily, and I can’t see their government backing off while neither the USA nor the UK has any interest in asking them to, and the EU desperately needs allies against the Trump-Russia axis.

That leaves us with Nice. It is a lovely city, just down the road from Monaco, and easily accessible by train from much of Europe. It may even be accessible by train from the UK if the Channel Tunnel hasn’t been blocked up Brexit fanatics by then. It also has excellent air links. It is not far from Spain (well, Catalonia) and very close to Italy, which makes it a good site for a European event.

The downside is that the Nice bid committee are largely new to Worldcon. As far as I can see they don’t have much involvement from the folks who run Imaginales and Utopiales either. They don’t have fans from other European countries helping them out. And I don’t know of any tradition of con-running in Nice. Organisationally, they seem to be a weaker bid than Chengdu.

We have two years to turn that around. I know a bunch of French fans, and I plan to talk to any I find at Eurocon this weekend. Being of generous spirit, I also hereby volunteer to take a short holiday on the French Riviera so that I can inspect the site. I may be nagging the Nordic, Croatian and Italian fans to help out too.

Finally I note that in these times of increasingly difficulty of international travel, and of burgeoning climate crisis, it is absolutely essential that we look at ways of making more of Worldcon accessible over the Internet so that people can participate without having to travel. The New Zealand convention is an excellent point at which to start. But that’s a big enough subject for a whole new post and I need to talk to Norm and Kelly first.

Tourism in Dublin

Some of you are in Ireland already, and many more are on the way. Obviously there is Worldcon to look forward to, and a fair amount of Irish history (particularly if you count yourself as part of the diaspora), but many of you will be interested in that thing that Ireland is justifiably famous for: alcohol.

I don’t know what the convention centre bars are like, but if they are rubbish I suspect that a lot of us will end up in the Porterhouse on Temple Bar. It happens to be just a short walk from my apartment, and as I recall it is the traditional Dead Dog location for Octocon. Anyway, they will have a good selection of microbrews.

Then there is the matter of whiskey. Are there distilleries? Yes, there are. Can you visit them? Of course. Here’s a quick guide.

First up, don’t bother with Jamesons. I understand that they don’t actualy make whiskey in Dublin any more, and in any case what’s the point in looking for whiskey that you can buy at home. Also Bushmills is in Ulster. Wait until you get to Belfast before asking for that. Thankfully Dublin has seen an explosion of craft distilleries in recent years.

The Tourist Information lady I talked to in Dublin back in February recommended Pearse Lyons and Teeling. My local whiskey shop in Bath added Liberties and Dingle. And there’s also Roe & Co, which I know nothing about. All of these places are right in the centre of Dublin in and around the Liberties district, so south of the river and west of the castle.

If visiting all of those places seems like a bit much, you should be able to get an overview of the field at the Irish Whiskey Museum. You can sample what’s available at the Dingle Whiskey Bar (at least I hope you can, they do have a connection to the Dingle distillery so they may be a teeny bit biased). And you can buy bottles to take home from the Celtic Whiskey Shop.

Most of these distilleries are quite young. I think they all have product available now, but it won’t have had much ageing.

That should keep you all busy during your trip. However, there’s one more place that I’d like to visit if I have the time. That is the Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum. I don’t suppose it is entirely devoted to Horslips, and Thin Lizzy do deserve a place. I gather that there’s another Irish rock band that is quite famous too. Anyway, it seems like fun.

An Ireland Adventure

This year’s invitations to do talks for LGBT History Month included one from Queen’s University, Belfast. I’d never been to Belfast before, and had a friend who teaches at the University who was able to put me up for the night (thanks Danielle!) so I said yes. It turned out that the cheapest way to get there was to fly to Dublin and head north from there, hence this little travel adventure.

Thursday started badly with heavy fog over Darkest Somerset. When I got to Bristol airport flights appeared to be coming and going OK, but mine wasn’t. I think the problem was that the likes of a 757 were OK, but the little turbo prop that Aer Lingus was using for my flight was too small to risk it.

I got re-booked on a later flight, but there was no time to fulfil my plan of going into Dublin and catching the train to Belfast. Instead I booked myself on an express bus from Dublin airport to Belfast. Thanks to Jon Turney for the travel advice. I normally travel very badly on buses, but this one was motorway pretty much all the way to Belfast. I actually ended up feeling much more sick on the short hop from plane to terminal at Dublin because we had a shuttle bus driver who thought he was in a rally.

The other reason I survived the bus trip was that I slept most of the way. I woke up when we got to Ulster and started making stops. We arrived in Belfast just before 17:00 and looking at the traffic I figured we’d be stuck, but there is a secret bus-only route that takes you right into the city centre. I’m impressed, Belfast.

By the way, that did mean that I was asleep when we crossed the border. There was no passport check at any point on the journey. That ease of travel will probably go away post-Brexit.

Having made it to Belfast on time, I did my talk. Huge thanks to the lovely students in the Queens LGBT+ group. We also had a great meal at a local Nepalese restaurant. There seems to be plenty of good eating in Belfast.

On Friday morning I was able to check out the trains. I caught a commuter service from where I was staying into the city, then the Enterprise down to Dublin.

It is worth noting that the main station for Belfast city is Great Victoria Street. However, the Enterprise leaves from Lanyon Place which is smaller and in a commercial/industrial district. The bus station is next to the Great Victoria Street station.

It is also worth noting that the train is much more expensive than the bus. I paid £30 for a Belfast-Dublin ticket on the train, and €8 for a Dublin-Belfast single on the bus. Of course I my case I can work on the train. On a bus I can only sleep or be sick. So the extra cost is worth it. Also the train has free wifi and a food & drink service, which the bus does not. The journey time is about 2 hours on the train. It is also 2 hours from Dublin airport to Belfast, because the airport is north of Dublin right on the motorway. If you get the bus from central Dublin you need to add at least an extra half hour to get out of the city.

There were no passport checks on the train either. I knew when I crossed the border because my phone told me that I had switched from a UK service to a (free) roaming provider. The free roaming will go way after Brexit too.

The other way that you can tell whether you are in Ulster or the Republic is the signage. In the Republic it is all dual-language. In Ulster it is defiantly English-only.

Having got to Dublin I spent an hour or two wandering around taking photos of things of interest close to the convention center where Worldcon will take place in August. I tweeted the photos, and you can find the thread here.

I also got into a lengthy conversation with a lovely Croatian woman who was working at the Tourist Information Office in Dublin. She gave me a lot of advice about places to visit (most importantly whiskey distilleries). But I’m saving that up for another post.

Thankfully my trip home was a lot smoother than the outward leg.

The Graz Armoury

One of the highlights of my visit to Graz — indeed the one thing I desperately wanted to do before getting there — was visiting the Armoury. They have an incredible amount of mediaeval and early modern armour and weaponry on show. There’s enough kit, I was assured, to outfit an army of 5,000 men.

Quite a bit of it is unused. The large collection of infantry sabres in one of the pictures below was ordered for the Napoleonic Wars, but Napoleon conquered Austria so quickly that the blacksmith hadn’t finished them by the time the war was over.

The prize item in the collection is the horse armour. It was sold to the museum for two pints of beer by a nobleman who had no more use for it. Decades later it is worth millions.

If you want to visit the Armoury, it is best to go in summer. In the winter it is open only for tours on a select few days. I happened to get lucky in not only picking the right day, but also getting a personal guided tour. Thanks Cristoph, that was awesome!

Welcome to the Armoury

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