Friggatriskaidekaphobia. Also known as paraskevidekatriaphobia. Two ridiculously long words, one common condition; a fear of Friday the 13th. The powers that be, for reasons best known to themselves, had decided to start this year’s festivities on the Friday night, meaning that my one and only phobia was likely to get another outing. I don’t know what it is, it certainly isn’t rational, but although I don’t believe any supernatural force is acting to always make that day worse for me, something statistically speaking is out of whack in terms of my much higher propensity to bad luck on that day.
Certainly, the day arrived with an unexpected change. My draw winner, Fever Dog, had to drop out of the ticket he’d bought, resulting in a final week flurry of activity on the forum. Of the remaining three people in my draw, the next two had secured tickets and the last couldn’t make it at such short notice, which left only the Empire forum as a source of a replacement. Thankfully, there was a stag do of 1 that could become 2 thanks to my intervention, so HASHBROWN76 took on the role of Fever Dog for the weekend.
My plan, due to the need to be at home every night to do certain household jobs and also to sleep in my own bed, was in theory simple. I hired a car for the weekend at very low rates, which was upgraded to a Corsa free of charge (woo hoo!), and had the plan in place. Start work around 7 a.m., so I could then finish around three, drive down to Newbury Park tube station, park up the car for the very reasonable price of £2.70, then tube into London, possibly disembarking at Hoburn to allow me a casual stroll through London on a warm summer evening to arrive at the venue at around five for pre-con drinks and general socialising with all the lovely people from the forum, who had already collectively started calling themselves Forumites.
I like to consider myself a nice person; unfortunately the expression “generous to a fault” is one that could readily be applied to me. So when, at a couple of minutes to three, after my last conference call for the day had finished, I got a call from a colleague pleading for a report that evening, I felt I couldn’t say no. (Admittedly, the magic phrase “I’ll buy you a pint” was pretty much a deal clincher.) I also run various musical activities at my village church, including the choir, and they had very graciously granted me the night off, but I still had to leave music and arrangements out for them. So I left the village in the car at a little after 4:20.
Never mind, the wonders of Twitter allowed me to alert the other Forumites to my late running, if everything was on time I could still be there pretty close to six. Unfortunately, my original plan had revolved around heading out before the Friday rush hour; I was now driving slap bang into the middle of it. I headed down the A14 and onto the A11, at which those wonderful signs over the road started talking specifically to me, in the same way they always have since Steve Martin’s LA Story. My route had been due to be heading down the M11 and then onto the North Circular, taking the A12 up to Newbury Park. But the description of “severe delays” on the North Circular on the sign and the thought of being stuck in non-moving traffic at 7:30 caused my mental sat nav to recalculate quickly.
Now the better option looked to be the M25, taking the first turning off and approaching the A12 from the other side. As I got past junction 8 on the M11, the next sign popped up: congestion on the M25 at junction 29. As I would be coming off at 28, there was a good chance it would be backing up that far by the time I got on. Plan C then; off the M11 at junction 7 and down the back roads, taking me through Brentwood, then straight across and onto the A12. I was constantly moving, but this was adding serious time to my journey. I reached a garage in Brentwood at 5:50, and pulled over to grab a sandwich, realising this was my last chance to get food at a sensible time this evening.
Back in the car, and onto the A12. I now realised that I didn’t actually know at which point I needed to turn off, as I’d not been able to find the sat nav before I left home, and didn’t have time to hunt for it. Visions of driving up and down the road looking for the correct turn-off now filled my head, and all the while the burden of the extra ticket weighed heavily; not only was I going to be late, someone who’d paid good money would be stuck outside with no possibility of entrance. Thankfully, Newbury Park (pictured left) is a fairly distinctive building, so as I drove past the giant congestion charge sign I saw the turning for a tube station, and knowing it was at the end of the line, even though I couldn’t see the curving lines of the building, it seemed a safe bet, and indeed…
Wait, congestion charge? Was that saying I needed to pay the charge? What times does it operate anyway? Don’t you have to pay by a certain time to avoid a fine? Parking up and paying my ticket, my head was swimming. As I bought my tube ticket, I glanced around to see if I could see any leaflets on the charge, but nothing. Surely it didn’t operate this far out? Anyway, get on the train and get moving. 6:35. A quick use of my iPhone tube app confirmed that the journey was about 30 – 35 minutes, down the Central line and then the Waterloo and City, now that I’d abandoned my walking plans. Then we reached the first station… and stopped.
Apparently there was a signal failure around Tottenham Court Road, which had caused trains to back up along the length of the line. Trains were being moved on, but very slowly. I could now feel the blood pumping round my brain. We appeared above ground again near Leytonstone, and I could now use Twitter to try to get the Forumites to let my ticket buyer know that I was definitely on my way. As I later discovered, supplying a description of a man who was otherwise anonymous in a crowd of four hundred people may have helped that goal somewhat.
Finally the train crawled into Stratford, and my last change of journey option kicked in, abandoning the stop-start Central line for the comforts of the Jubliee line, all the way into Waterloo. Journey time 25 minutes. Current time 7:12. This was going to be more than close. This was going to be catastrophic. If all the rumours were true, I could be denying my companion for the weekend the chance to see a Stallone or a Statham up close. All I could do now was will the train to move faster. I played some movie related music on my phone; the Back To The Future, Part 2 theme got me in an ideal mood, but I skipped John Williams’ Home Alone theme. (How did that even get on my phone?)
What I have done over the last year is lose a lot of weight, nearly three and a half stone in fact. This has been done by use of a Wii and a lot of running on the spot; however a year’s worth of conditioning was now ideal for the sprint from Waterloo station, up three escalators, through the station and down the stairs, past the IMAX (love you, IMAX, but not tonight) and down the road towards the BFI Southbank (pictured). I’d been once before, oddly for a work seminar which had nothing to do with cinema that was in NFT2, so I at least knew the rough direction in which I was running. Somehow, I arrived in the building and wasn’t completely out of breath, so managed to ask between small gasps of air of one of the smartly dressed security men, “Where are the geeks hiding?” He smiled knowingly, and pointed me in the direction of NFT1.
What I was confronted with was a security desk that was starting to wind down, having already captured several hundred camera phones, and no ticket buyer. I’d posted details of my clothing and description on Twitter, so if he asked around he knew what to look for, but nothing. Ten minutes of frantic running in and out of the building led to nothing; my only gambit left was to see if he’d been let in. The explanation wasn’t easy, especially when the security guard didn’t believe I didn’t know what he looked like, but as it turns out, he was already in his seat. For once, being on the back row was a virtue – I took my seat and didn’t obscure a single person’s view in the process. And the first words I heard once in? “… Danny Boyle!”
Yes, not Stallone nor Statham, but someone much more interesting to a fan of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Danny was in promoting his new movie, 127 Hours. There’d been some footage which I apparently missed, but Danny himself was on top form, responding to questions eloquently and keeping the energy levels up in the crowd. There were more treats to come; Hammer and Tongs were in promoting someone else’s movie, but having seen the trailer and clips from A Town Called Panic, it was easy to understand why they’d signed up for that. For those that have seen the Cravendale milk ads, it’s like those, but really funny, and utterly surreal. The producers of Never Let Me Go, which I knew little about other than the cast, also dropped in and dropped a Judge Dredd bombshell in the process. Karl Urban is their man, and he will undoubtedly be better than Stallone, not that that would be difficult.
And all that flew by in the blink of an eye. Before I knew it, we were into The Expendables. The crowd laughed, and jeered, and applauded five separate times. (There may have been others; I had to take a toilet break, which I hate doing but which seemed fairer to my fellow con attendees than any other option, but in the process I missed almost the entire Willis / Schwarzenegger scene, which oddly may have actually improved my impression of the film.) I have reviewed that separately; safe to say it was the perfect crowd to see it with, and one of the few groups of people who may have made sense of its mere existence.
Finally, out into the party, which consisted of some obscure images being projected onto the wall while free drinks and crisps were handed out. I managed to secure the badge that one of the Forumites had so lovingly crafted, but after introducing myself to a few fellow badge wearers, and having a couple of people come up to me to tell me what a nice thing I’d done with the draw for the ticket (aw, shucks, it was nothing), I escaped to the relative sanity of the side passage. There I encountered The Nicest Man At Empire™, Mr Ian Freer, who it turns out had been the one to let HASHBROWN76 in so he didn’t miss the beginning, and would have secured him guaranteed passage to the other two days if I’d befallen some other tragedy on the way down. I passed on my thanks, chatted with some other attendees, then made my excuses. Now 11:30, the roads were clear, and I was home by around 1:30, having written my Expendables review on the tube. The last piece of information imparted, sadly, was that we’d been told to arrive for 9 a.m. and not 10 a.m. the next day, leaving me around five hours’ sleep. But based on the first night, it would be worth it.