Sunday, 20 July 2014

Return to XenaFest

People talk about their "first convention" as if there was one massively defining event which they attended and suddenly became a con-goer. For me there were several. The one which I think of as my first con was a 'Buffy' event down in London when I was 17. This was the event where I met several of my convention friends, my first boyfriend (and my second and third boyfriends, actually) and was actually attending without parental supervision.

Before that I had been taken to the SFX weekender in Blackpool, with my dad taking care of me, and several years before that I had gone to Starfury's 'Chariots of War' convention in Heathrow, a 'Xena' convention held in a hotel which I would later come to know, love and get drunk in many years later.

My first convention. One of many.

But shortly prior to 'COW', my 13 year old self had gone, with my Mum and Dad, to a small, local 'Xena' event in a town hall in Coleshill.

This was 'XenaFest'.

I turned up, in my Callisto t-shirt which had been bought specially for the day, and which I am now wearing as I write this almost 17 years later, and spent the day begging my parents for merchandise and watching a selection of 8 episodes from series 4 which had been sent over on video from the States. This was of course back in the day when there were no internet downloads, and the wait between the US airdates and the UK could be up to a year, and that was if you had satellite. We were a terrestrial only household and as such had not even seen series 3 yet. Fortunately some other fans were able to fill me in on the essential back story for the series 4 opening (why is Gabrielle dead, and who is this "Hope" person they keep banging on about?) so I could sit back and enjoy the weirdness that was 'Adventures in the Sin Trade'. I remember revelling in the ridiculousness of 'In Sickness and in Hell' and being awestruck by 'Devi'. And most of all I remember how amazing it was to spend a day with other fans.

It was a wonderful day out for a young Xenite, but as 17 years had passed I had not held out much hope that they would still be going. So imagine my surprise when I learned that I had just missed one back in January!

It felt like a long wait until July, but it gave me time to get my crossover kit, bag and staff completed. Summer XenaFest fell on July 19th, and I turned up nice and early, all on my lonesome, in full costume without knowing a soul.

For a hardened conventioner, I was nervous as hell. I was used to knowing half the attendees, most of the staff, the organiser, the DJ and the venue like the back of my hand, but I was shaking with nerves at the prospect of walking into an unknown building full of unknown people. What if I was in the wrong place? What if I was the only one in costume? What if everyone else knew each other and nobody spoke to me?

But it has to be said that the Xena crowd were an immensely welcoming bunch and before long I was sat at a table being given glasses of wine and chocolates and trying to work out complex anagrams of Xena quotes for the quiz. (Incidentally, I am very aware that I owe some of my fellow quiz team members drinks, so do please come and collect at the next one as I will be bringing a small vineyard with me in order to make up by debt!) It was a wonderfully jovial and laid back afternoon, and as the evening drew on I was introduced to Anna and Andy and their teenage son, who had all come along dressed as Xena, Ares and Solan. Anna also had large quantities of wine with her, and was so delighted to have acquired a Gabrielle all of her own that I was presented with yet more alcohol.

Take me with you! Teach me everything you know!

As well as being more than a little tipsy, the vino had clearly lubricated my wallet and so by the time the charity auction came about I was more than willing to donate £45 for a stack of autographs. It was all for a good cause though, and it'll save me some pennies come convention season!

It was a truly wonderful experience, and I cannot say enough of a thank-you to the organisers and the fans who have kept the event going for so many years, and who made it such a welcoming event to attend. I'm counting down until the next one!

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