Hanging with the Convention Crowd

DSC_0116 My daughter is a bit of a TV addict, at least with regard to certain types of shows. She has, over a period of 2 or 3 years, bought and/or watched via Netflix, all the CSI, X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Doctor Who, Sarah Connor Chronichles, Stargate SG1 and Atlantis…series. There doesn’t seem to be much she’s not shown an interest in! Add movies to this, in particular The Lord of the Rings trilogy (which she can almost recite!), and you get a picture of someone who likes a good yarn! A couple of years ago, she went to the London Film and Comic Con, in the hope of getting autographs and signed pictures of the stars of some of the shows she liked. This year, she persuaded me to go with her to this years London event (#LFCC2014), which was held at Earls Court.

I was a little reluctant, but decided to give it a whirl. The attraction of these events for many, is the chance to see the stars of these shows up close, and to buy merchandise from the hundreds of stalls to be found inside. For some, the opportunity to dress up also must not be missed – which works better for some people than for others! As we were riding the District Line tube towards Earls Court, it was obvious which passengers were going to be getting off the train with us! But that was nothing to what you can see when you actually arrive at the venue!

First of all, I was glad we’d bought tickets in advance; the queue was immense and was in effect being marshalled, not by a shaven headed chap in hi-vis vest, but rather by a Tuskan Raider…and much more impressive he was too! Guarding the entrance were various troops from Stargate, plus Bumble Bee, an Autobot from Transformers, and some others I didn’t recognise.

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Bumble Bee (Chevrolet Camaro)

Once inside, it becomes clear that this is a popular event; it was heaving. Even Darth Vader was struggling to get through the crowds with his Jedi powers, but considering the queues outside, it was going to get a lot busier. I was struck by just how many people were dressed in character, and frankly perplexed as to why they would do so. I am a fan of Sci-Fi and all sorts of other genres, but I actually felt a bit like a fish out of water; I couldn’t imagine dressing up as they did (although I did once pretend to be Col. Steve Austin when I was at primary school. I got picked on for that, so I stopped).

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A couple of ‘Jedi Knights’

I wondered what these people did when they weren’t dressing up. I saw a number of Khaleesi’s, several Cersei Lannister‘s (she’s just a bit misunderstood); some really good, others not so much. There were also some over-weight Jedi’s, a Spider Woman, a Black Widow, some Smurf’s, a couple of Doctor Who’s, an Edward Scissor Hands, a Predator (he was very good!) and many more I didn’t know. Some managed to achieve really convincing replicas of the costumes, others looked like they’d thrown it together the day before, although I suspect all were a labour of love for the wearer.

I mentioned the ‘stars’ who were in attendance to sign autographs (for a small fee); actually some of them were stars to be honest, although I didn’t actually see them. Initially, I wondered what would get these people to come along to such an event, but when I saw what they were charging, it’s a no brainer! The big hitters, were John Hurt, Ian Macdiamid (Star Wars and many others), Carrie Fisher (perhaps more icon than a star in the true sense), and Stan Lee co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, and many other fictional characters, i.e. a legend. These were justifiable draw’s but correspondingly expensive for squiggles and photos (c. £120 each for both)!

There were lots of others though, none of whom we paid to meet, but who could nevertheless be seen, and who doesn’t like a bit of celebrity spotting?! To meet them, you’d have to part with a minimum of £15, but more usually it was around £25 or £30, depending. Kind of a ‘star league’ based on price I suppose. In no particular order, these are those we saw in the flesh:

As you can see, quite a mishmash of genres covered and you might expect this to be unutterably boring for them, but from what I could see, the celebs really seemed to be making the effort to engage each person they met, which impressed me. I reckon there must have been about 100 ‘celebs’ there, some memorable, with queues a mile long, others sitting alone and waiting for someone to come along and get an autograph, and that looked a bit sad to be honest.

We stayed for a couple of hours, and on the whole, I rather enjoyed myself, watching the celebs, browsing the stalls and all that. I’m glad that I went although I’m not sure I’d go again; I think for now I’ll probably leave that for the future. There is something slightly alluring about the whole thing… ‘Whatever floats your starship’, as they say.

A Tuskan Raider marshalling the crowd

© Richard Debonnaire

Biggin Hill Notes

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Looking across the airfield, with the passenger terminal and control tower beyond the runway, and London in the background

Anyone who has seen my This is me page, can’t have failed to notice that I have a thing about aviation, and living near Biggin Hill Airport, I quite often mosey over there to see what activity is going on. Some times, there’s lots, others it’s very quiet.

Biggin Hill is a busy little airport, with a number of private jet and general aviation companies operating from it. With it only being a few miles from London, it makes a good base for the average ‘bizjet’ user to fly into and out of, and with only a 6 minute helicopter transfer direct to the City of London, its well positioned for the business traveller market, and that, also makes it an interesting place for the average aviation enthusiast.

First Light

Biggin Hill, is of course famous for the role it played as a fighter base in the 2nd world war, on the front line of air defence during the Battle of Britain. Much has been published on that subject, so I won’t venture far down that path, except to say that one of the best books I ever read about the Battle of Britain, is First Light by Geoffrey Wellum, a pilot, one of the few’ , during the battle. I highly recommend it (the BBC also made a film of it).

It’s with that sense of history in mind that I always think about Biggin Hill Airport. Time has moved on and these days it’s a civilian airfield, although the old gates still have the gate guardians of a Spitfire and Hurricane to watch over them. The main entrance for passenger’s is now on the A233 to the west of the runway but there are the many other charter companies and flying schools (as well as Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management HQ) on the south eastern edge.

The main road runs past the southern end of the runway and it makes for a good spot to photograph the aircraft as they go about their aviation business. There are all sorts of aircraft pottering around. I really like to see the sleek jets that frequent the place, although I’m only now really getting to know what these are, manufacturers, types, ranges etc., but there is always other stuff to see as well. Here’s a selection taken over the last couple of weeks (on only two visits!).

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L-R: Cessna Citation CJ2+ starting take off run, a Harvard trainer coming into land, the Supermarine Spitfire (adapted to take a passenger) and Cessna 650 Citation VII

One of the pictures I took recently was this of a Curtis-Wright Travelair, and I posted the picture on Instagram:

Curtis-Wright Travelair

In one of those strange occurances that only happens when using social media, one of the pilots of this particular aircraft, Carl, spotted it and asked if I would send him a copy to go on the website for Shipping and Airlines who own it, which of course I was happy to do. In return Carl invited me to visit their hanger at Biggin Hill to have a look around their collection of vintage aircraft, which have been lovingly and beautifully restored to airworthy condition by the engineers at Shipping and Airlines. It was a real treat for me to visit them and to get a close up look at the aircraft they have there, so thanks to Carl for taking the time to show me around.

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Miles Messenger

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Cockpit of the Miles Messenger. Timber framed and plywood skin.

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Cockpit of the Rearwin Sportster. Tandem seats, and pretty cosy!

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Rearwin Sportster

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Cessna 195

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Piper L4 Cub

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Dehavilland Hornet Moth

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Cockpit of the DH Hornet Moth. It’s like an old Rover!

The aircraft were spread out in the hanger, as they were readied for one of their regular outings, this time up Northampton way, so it was easy to wander around them and get up close to them. There is something wonderful to me, about the smell and feel of these aircraft; some made mainly out of plywood, others with a timber or metal frame with fabric stretched over it. The cockpit’s of them varied wildly from really basic, or open, to something more akin to an old 1940’s Rover, with a walnut dash and sprung leather seats. The smell was the same as well (my wife’s uncle owns a vintage Aston Martin DB5 – same smell!).

 

More information on these aircraft types can be found here, but I couldn’t visit without taking my own pictures to post on here..

 

© Richard Debonnaire